Sunday, December 19, 2021

Scientific American Created Confusion about 5G's Safety: Will They Clear It Up?

February 19, 2020 (Links to open access articles added on 12/19/2021)

In September 2019, Scientific American, the oldest, continuously published monthly magazine in the U.S., published an opinion piece on its website entitled, “5G Is Coming: How Worried Should We Be about the Health Risks? So far, at least, there’s little evidence of danger.” 

The piece was written by Kenneth Foster, an emeritus professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Foster is a member of a committee that sets exposure limits for wireless radiation and consults for industry and government. His article discussed the controversy about the rollout of 5G based upon widespread concerns about the adverse impact of this technology on our health. Foster argued that exposure to radio frequency radiation (RFR) from 5G will be similar to, or lower than, current levels because of the deployment of many “small cell” antennas. Hence, 5G exposure will comply with current RFR exposure limits that protect against “excessive heating of tissue.” 

Although Foster admitted that research on the effects of long-term exposure to 5G millimeter waves was lacking, he restated the FDA’s position that "[t]he available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits.” Thus, “the request to ‘stop the distribution of 5G products appears too drastic a measure. We first need to see how this new technology will be applied and how the scientific evidence will evolve.’”

In October, Scientific American published an opinion piece which I wrote entitled, “We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe:The technology is coming, but contrary to what some people say, there could be health risks,” that rebutted Foster’s article. My piece is reprinted on my Electromagnetic Radiation Safety website. 

In the eleven years that I have been writing about the effects of RFR exposure, I anticipated that my response to Foster would provoke an attack by industry-affiliated scientists so I began my piece as follows:

“The telecommunications industry and their experts have accused many scientists who have researched the effects of cell phone radiation of "fear mongering" over the advent of wireless technology's 5G. Since much of our research is publicly-funded, we believe it is our ethical responsibility to inform the public about what the peer-reviewed scientific literature tells us about the health risks from wireless radiation.”

I laid out the evidence that rebutted many points in the Foster piece and concluded:

“We should support the recommendations of the 250 scientists and medical doctors who signed the 5G Appeal that calls for an immediate moratorium on the deployment of 5G and demand that our government fund the research needed to adopt biologically-based exposure limits that protect our health and safety.”

About two weeks later, Scientific American published an opinion piece that attacked me and my article: “Don’t Fall Prey to Scaremongering about 5G: Activists cite low-quality studies in arguing radio-frequency radiation is dangerous, but the weight of evidence shows no risk.” This piece was written by David Robert Grimes, a science writer, cancer researcher, and physicist. 

Shortly after Grimes’ piece was published, the International EMF Alliance sent a 5-page letter to the editor of Scientific American that critiqued Grimes’ flawed interpretation of the science. Subsequently, Microwave News published a story entitled, “Open Season on 5G Critics: First NY Times, Now Scientific American,” reprinted by TruePublica, that criticized Grimes’ ad hominem attacks and explained why “it’s Grimes who gets the science all wrong.” The article raised the question “Why Did Scientific American Publish Grimes’s Hit Piece?"

Scientific American originally informed me that they would not publish a rebuttal to Grimes, but in January 2020 they invited me to submit a rebuttal. Two weeks after submitting my rebuttal, Scientific American sent me the following message:

“Thanks again for your recent submission, but we’ve decided against running it. You raise some valid points, but this is clearly a field where we’re a long way from definitive answers and the editors here have agreed that continuing this point-counterpoint argument in our opinion section is not the best way to serve our readers.

What we’ve decided to do instead is to commission an independent journalist to look at all of the evidence gathered so far and give readers an objective sense of what we know, what we don’t know, why uncertainty exists, and how scientists are trying to gather the evidence that governments and consumers need to make the most informed decisions possible.”

My unpublished rebuttal to Grimes, “5G, Public Health and Uncomfortable Truths” appears below.


5G, Public Health and Uncomfortable Truths

Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D.
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley
February 19, 2020

“So there really is no research ongoing. We’re kind of flying blind here, as far as health and safety is concerned,” proclaimed U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, chastising the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a Senate committee hearing on the future of 5G last year. This quote captures the reason why more than 270 scientists and medical doctors have signed the 5G Appeal, a petition calling for a moratorium on the deployment of 5G technology until we can establish safe exposure limits.  It is also one reason why I wrote about the status of the research and government and industry spin in “We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe.”

In an opinion piece that attacks my article, David Robert Grimes, a physicist, claims the research that finds radio-frequency radiation (RFR) is harmful is based on “low quality studies,” and that the weight of the evidence shows “no risk.” He repeats the mantra I have heard from other physicists in the ten years I have been studying the effects of cell phone radiation: “there is no known plausible biophysical mechanism of action for harm.” Grimes argues that my article “pivots on fringe views and fatally flawed conjecture, attempting to circumvent scientific consensus with scaremongering.”

Grimes’ arguments suffer the same biases he projects onto others (e.g., cherry-picking). His narrow perspective on the “mechanism of action for harm” seems shaped by a physics paradigm that can explain health risks from ionizing radiation (e.g., X-rays), but not from RFR (e.g., microwaves or cell phone radiation) which is non-ionizing. However, biologists have proposed various mechanisms that explain RFR effects. If not for his gaslighting and misrepresentations of published data, I might be charitably inclined to appreciate this debate. But Grimes aims to deny reality and discredit the preponderance of peer-reviewed science which finds low-intensity RFR can be harmful to our health.

The differences between the physicist’s and biologist’s perspectives could have been resolved decades ago had military and Telecom industry interests not interfered to ensure that RFR would be minimally regulated by policy makers. Microwave News has reported about these influences on scientific and policy developments since 1981. A recent Harvard monograph exposes how industry controls the FCC, the agency responsible for regulating RFR exposure from wireless technology in the U.S.

It is untrue, as Grimes argues, that RFR from cell phones cannot harm us because there is no mechanism. Numerous scientific studies provide evidence about mechanisms by which low-intensity RFR causes biological effects, including DNA damage in humans as well as animal models. For example, scientists who study RFR acknowledge that oxidative stress, an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants, is a common mechanism by which RFR harms living cells. The uneven number of oxygen-containing electrons in free radicals allows them to react easily with other molecules. A review of 100 experimental studies on the oxidative effects of low-intensity RFR found that in 93 of these peer-reviewed studies “RFR induces oxidative effects in biological systems” leading to “cancer and non-cancer pathologies.” The review concluded, “the oxidative stress induced by RFR exposure should be recognized as one of the primary mechanisms of the biological activity of this kind of radiation.”

In an ideal world, I would agree with Grimes that “science is not conducted by petition or arguments to authority; it is decided solely on strength of evidence.” However, health authorities and policy makers have for decades relied upon industry-funded scientists who provide them with biased analyses that dismiss the peer-reviewed evidence unless it supports their sponsors. This is why independent scientists have sanctioned collective action.

More than 240 scientists from over 40 countries have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal, a petition that raises concerns about the public health impacts of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF), especially from wireless technology. All have published peer-reviewed research on EMF and biology or health – totaling over 2,000 papers and letters in professional journals. Based upon solid evidence of harmful effects, these global experts urge public health leadership organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), to establish more protective EMF guidelines and precautionary measures, and perform public education about health risks, particularly to children and developing fetuses.

Grimes cites the WHO’s current position that “no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” Setting aside the politics and limitations of that specific WHO declaration, note that the WHO’s own cancer research agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified RFR as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 2011. Last year, an IARC advisory group of 29 scientists examined the peer-reviewed research for RFR cancer risk published during the previous eight years and prioritized RFR for re-review. Hence, the IARC will likely upgrade the carcinogenic classification of RFR in the next five years.

Cited by Grimes is the one major cell phone radiation study conducted in the U.S. since the 1990’s. In 1999, the FDA recommended that the National Toxicology Program (NTP) research the carcinogenicity of cell phone radiation. The results of this $30 million study were published in 2018 after extensive peer review by EMF and toxicology experts. The NTP found “clear evidence” that cell phone radiation caused heart cancer and “some evidence” that it caused cancer in the brains and adrenal glands of male rats. The study also found significantly increased risk of DNA damage in rats and mice of both sexes exposed to cell phone radiation.

Whereas, most toxicologists consider the NTP methods the “gold standard,” Grimes erroneously implies that the NTP study’s “methodology and low power” would increase the likelihood that the study obtained spurious results. Statistically, a “low power” study has the opposite effect. Low statistical power means a study would be less likely to detect a real effect, not more likely to yield spurious effects. Grimes has thus repeated an industry-promoted canard about the study which reflects a complete misunderstanding of this basic statistical concept.

Characterizing the Interphone study among “large and robust trials, with careful controls and large sample groups” Grimes nevertheless misrepresents the study’s results. Careful reading of Interphone reveals a statistically significant increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma  among long-term heavy cell phone users. The researchers found that the excess glioma risk held up when the data were subjected to many different analyses (Appendix 1). Additional analyses that corrected for a bias in the study demonstrated a dose-response relationship between glioma risk and mobile phone use (see Appendix 2). 

Followup papers using the Interphone study data found that the excess tumors were primarily located on the side of the head where people held their phones, and in the part of the brain where cell phone radiation exposure was greatest, the temporal and frontal lobes.

Although three sources of case-control data  have found an association between ten years of heavy mobile phone use and glioma risk, glioma incidence may no longer be the best potential correlate of increased mobile phone use as Grimes implies. Long-term heavy mobile phone use is associated with various head and neck tumors in case-control studies including acoustic neuroma, meningioma, and tumors of the thyroid and parotid glands. In some countries glioma rates have increased in certain subgroups (e.g., older age groups, specific types of tumors or anatomic locations), if not overall. In many countries, including the U.S., thyroid tumor incidence has increased in recent years, and two case-control studies provide evidence that cell phone use may be responsible.

Bigger is not necessarily better. Besides the large Interphone study, Grimes cites the Danish cohort study as evidence that cell phone use is safe. However, this study has serious methodologic problems due to a wholly inadequate exposure assessment. Hence, the results from this study are not reliable.

The Telecom industry claims that their cellular technology is safe; yet, there are no safety studies on exposure to 4G or 5G cell phone radiation. Moreover, the weight of research evidence regarding exposure to 2G and 3G radiation finds harm including sperm damage in males, reproductive harm in females, neurological disorders, DNA damage and increased cancer risk.

There is room to disagree about the implications and quality of scientific studies, but it is disingenuous to disparage other scientists and employ industry talking points in the process, as Grimes does. The public has a right to know about the health risks of RFR. As Senator Blumenthal argued: “I believe that Americans deserve to know what the health effects are, not to pre-judge what scientific studies may show, and they also deserve a commitment to do the research on outstanding questions.”