The rollout of 5G is one of the most anticipated events in humanity’s technological history. But what about the 5G health concerns?
It’s the night before Halloween in 1938 and, as the tale goes, radio audiences tuning into Orson Welles’ reading of War of the Worlds are driven to panic.
Apparently listening to an ordinary radio broadcast, the public hear of an unfolding Martian invasion and a chaos of heat rays, poisonous gas and alien war machines. The news account is met with hysteria.
Someone hearing this story for the first time may find it laughable that people could be so easily duped. Welles himself denied expecting any such response.
But the experience would have taught the celebrated young dramatist a few lessons, one being the power of information or, more specifically, a lack of information. Those who were agitated by the radio show were those that had missed the start of the episode giving the context for the story. It was a vital piece of the puzzle.
The illusion of an alien invasion was created as much by what those listeners did not know, as by what they did. It is the difference between missing information and misinformation.
In the ongoing controversy about 5G’s ostensible health risks we are seeing both.
What the 5G health?!
The rollout of 5G is one of the most anticipated events in humanity’s technological history.
Though the name implies that 5G is simply a new generation of 4G, it is in fact a radical new telecommunications system. It is expected to revolutionize the way we work and live, enabling at scale highways of driverless cars, AI-driven national security, real-time intercontinental surgery, and smart cities. For most people, though, 5G promises unimaginably fast internet.
The incredible speed and super-low latency that will deliver many of 5G’s revolutionary benefits rely on a total restructuring of the physical and virtual networks. Most of the tall radio masts we have grown accustomed to will eventually give way to smaller transmission stations packed together in extremely high density.
This intense concentration of cellular nodes is fundamental to 5G’s viability. Current networks work in radio frequency (RF) bands below 6 GHz. 5G will be able to operate in radio frequencies between 24 and 300 GHz, though networks will initially function at the lower part of that range.
It is these extremely high frequencies that necessitate a massive network of transmitters and antennae, as the millimeter waves associated with these frequencies are not able to travel far and struggle to penetrate solid objects.
However, it is these same high radio frequencies that are feeding growing fears of 5G health risks. In an argument that is becoming increasingly polarized, 5G has been accused of causing cancer, neurological damage, cellular degradation and a host of other awful health effects.
This is partly a continuation of the EMF debate that goes back to powerlines in the 1980s, and the belief that emerged in the 1990s that cellphones cause cancer. However, those concerns didn’t receive anywhere near the amount of air time that is being used to discuss the potential 5G health perils.
This has something to do with the rise in digital media and the ability to spread opinions virally. It is also due to the urgency of 5G implementation: from the public to the private to the military, demand for the fairytaled network of the future is high. There is a global race on for 5G ascendancy; governments and telecom companies are moving ahead fast. Too fast, say critics.
But what about the health concerns? Is it possible that there is so much noise about the negative effects of this technology because they are of genuine concern? Answering this question requires a sober assessment of the evidence, but unfortunately scientific discourse is increasingly being blurred by paranoia, missing information and misinformation.
Time for tin foil hats?
The worldwide rollout of 5G technology has been met with a wave of suspicion. This is not entirely surprising; the creation of a 5G network has all the ingredients of a great conspiracy theory.
Massive telecommunications corporations installing technology that nobody really understands. The promise of new antennae and transmitters fitted seemingly everywhere. Operations within a high-frequency ‘millimeter’ bandwidth most commonly believed to correlate with microwaves. Billions of devices connected in a massive Internet of Things (mIoT)…
What secret agenda might underlie this campaign of 5G installation? The more extreme pundits see 5G as a critical part of a clandestine campaign to entrench the slavery of the human race in service of a secret society of power-hungry overlords. Alternatively, it’s a “depopulation technology,” again in the service of the “Cabal”. Another popular video proclaims 5G to be the “extinction event” for humanity. “5G is a weapon,” says renowned conspiracy theorist, David Icke.
What is the weapon for? Suggestions include the sterilization of the human race, the spread of cancer, mass crowd control and behavior manipulation, installation of a global fascist state, or the deep state’s mining of our every data for nefarious purposes.
Some of these suggestions are patently ridiculous, while others contain enough plausibility to generate millions of views on social media. Examples include a false claim that the testing of a 5G network killed hundreds of birds in the Netherlands. Another bizarrely declared that hazmat suits are required to safely install 5G hardware.
However, not all 5G-opponents are driven by fear of global plots against our species. Numerous scientists without conspiratorial agendas have weighed in against the establishment of 5G networks with concerns about the impact of this technology on human biology.
Science against science
A popular thread in mainstream media has been the claim that 5G health related disinformation in the United States is being driven by Russia. RT America, a Russian-owned news station in the US, stands accused of being a mouthpiece for the Russian government, unleashing ‘a firehose of falsehood’ on the American public.
The strategy is ostensibly to disrupt the domestic rollout of US 5G in order to give Russia time to catch up to the United States in 5G development. And, while ‘the Russians are spreading conspiracy theories’ does itself sound like a potential conspiracy theory, the case against RT America appears strong. US intelligence agencies have identified the network as a major disruptor in the 2016 US elections, and in 2017 the Justice Department forced RT America to register as a foreign agent.
The broadcaster has also been guilty of repeatedly airing sensationalist stories about the life-threatening, cancer-delivering 5G health dangers without providing scientific corroboration. However, this does not mean RT America fails to draw on any scientific authority. Experts on the show have included notable anti-cellular activists like Dr Martin Pall and Dr David Carpenter.
Dr Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, has been fiercely campaigning against various forms of EMF, including cellular technology and 5G, for decades. He has called 5G “very frightening” because ”nobody will escape the radiation”.
Dr Martin Pall, PhD and Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences at Washington State University, has been quoted as saying “the 5G rollout is absolutely insane” and described 5G as “the stupidest idea anyone has had in the history of the world.” In a recent report, Pall proposes eight types of ‘great harm’ that can be caused by electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure.
Last year, Dr Sharon Goldberg gave expert testimony at a Michigan House 5G Small Cell Tower Legislation hearing stating that there was no question: “Wireless radiation has biological effects, period.” She went on to explain that these effects included cancer, cardiomyopathy, and neuropsychiatric effects. “So 5G is not a conversation about whether or not these biological effects exist. They clearly do.”
Despite Dr Goldberg’s views, the Michigan House of Representatives Energy Policy Committee still voted by an overwhelming majority to proceed with the rollout of 5G infrastructure. Critics name this as another example of political and economic motives trumping citizen well-being. But could it be that the anti-5G argument simply isn’t strong enough?
The weight of scientific consensus appears to be against these campaigners. Dr Carpenter’s assertions have been directly challenged by Oxford cancer researchers, one of whom suggests that Dr Carpenter’s views have been “widely dismissed by scientific bodies the world over.” The American Cancer Society states that there is “very little evidence” of cell phone towers causing cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that current evidence doesn’t confirm negative health effects from low-level EMF, though it does name radio frequencies as “a possible carcinogen” – not exactly conclusive.
Extremists have wrongly declared that high-frequency RF will literally cook us alive, and research proving the harmful effects of 28 Ghz beams doesn’t mimic the power levels at which these beams will be broadcast in a 5G network.
In the highest end of the EMF spectrum, we find ionizing waveforms like gamma rays and x-rays. These are dangerous to biological cells and have been proven to cause cancer, but the RF designation for 5G frequencies is well below those at which ionizing radiation operates. Furthermore, there is no evidence that radio frequencies in the 5G range can even penetrate human skin.
Cell phones are the most accepted piece of technology in the history of mankind. There are now more cell phones than there are people on the planet. According to a recent UN study, more people on earth have access to cell phones than toilets. We’ve had the exposure to RF pollution in the mass market at 900 MHz since 1985 and at 1800 MHz since 1994. Despite having been subject to RF “pollution” for decades, trends in mortality or disease show no evidence of ill-effect. Billions have been spent on testing cell phones impact on brain cancers without finding any conclusive evidence. Increase in average life expectancy in these decades were remarkable. The trends in brain cancer were flat or downward during these years.
Who to believe about 5G health risks?
Those against 5G accuse the commercial and political establishment of steamrolling the public into accepting 5G without due process. They argue that the literature and scientific inquiry declaring 5G safe is either funded by corporate and political interests (misinformation), or it intentionally ignores critical issues (missing information).
These are not conspiracy theories. These are not individuals hailing the reign of an alien species of lizards. Instead, they believe that the geopolitical and economic value of 5G is so great that institutions and corporations may be willing to cut corners to get 5G implemented. Given the number of times public trust has been betrayed in recent years, this is a plausible notion.
But, that does not make it true.
Those for 5G declare that the conversation is missing credible peer-reviewed studies proving the 5G health dangers. They object to the belief that the technology’s high frequencies will cause harm to humans, offering in return studies showing exactly the opposite.
Like their pro-5G counterparts, they claim the other side is guilty of misinformation and deliberate oversight.
Once one removes the distraction of fantastical conspiracy theories and partisan outrage, one finds a debate of genuine significance. The potential benefits of 5G technology are so great that it will require a huge fallout to prevent it from becoming a reality. Will universal health defects be that cataclysmic event, or are these cries of alarm the work of over-zealous doomsayers?
In truth, we don’t know enough yet to be 100% sure. This is technology is in its commercial infancy and only time will reveal its full social, economic and biological impact, if any.
Until then, though, we can be certain that plans to roll out 5G will proceed at full speed. Rather than fighting the inevitable arrival of the 5G network, we are better off spending our time planning how to cybersecure 5G networks.
For over 30 years, Marin Ivezic has been protecting people, critical infrastructure, enterprises, and the environment against cyber-caused physical damage. He brings together cybersecurity, cyber-physical systems security, operational resilience, and safety approaches to comprehensively address such cyber-kinetic risk.
Marin leads Industrial and IoT Security and 5G Security at PwC. Previously he held multiple interim CISO and technology leadership roles in Global 2000 companies. He advised over a dozen countries on national-level cybersecurity strategies.