How leaders can slow the flow of junk science

“Radiocommunication and broadcasting services are important for all Canadians and are used daily by the public, safety and security organizations, all levels of government, wireless service providers, broadcasters, utility companies and other businesses.”

That’s how Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains opened his response to a petition calling for cell towers to be banned within 305 meters (1000 feet) of schools.

The petition, presented by Liberal MP Ron McKinnon (Port Coquitlam, BC) apparently on behalf of some constituents, read:


  • It has been proven by L. Lloyd Morgan, Santosh Kesari and Devra Lee Davis in their study “Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults” that children are more vulnerable to the effects of exposure to radiofrequency/microwave radiation due to their thin skulls and developing brains;
  • No laws currently prevent the installation of cell towers near schools and playgrounds;
  • Safety Code 6 has not had a major update in the last 30 years despite the number of new technologies created during this time; and
  • MWR from wireless devices has been declared a possible human carcinogen.

We, the undersigned, Citizens (or residents) of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to:

  1. Update Safety Code 6 to restrict the installation of cellular towers/antennas within 305m of all schools and playgrounds; and
  2. Request a buffer zone for playgrounds and schools.

The 2014 Morgan, Kesari and Davis study (referenced in the petition) can be found here. I won’t go into the numerous problems with that paper, but note that the authors do not appear to call for changes to tower siting.

Indeed, as I have written before, “If you want to reduce exposure to radio frequency (“RF”) energy from mobile devices, then we should be putting base stations in every lightpost in the city.”

It would probably drive the petitioners crazy, but the way to reduce exposure to RF energy in schools would be to move towers closer, not farther away. The greatest exposure you have to mobile EMF radiation is from mobile devices, not the towers. How can you minimize that exposure? As I wrote,

If you are concerned about being exposed to RF energy from mobile services, then it seems to me that you would want to limit to output required by the devices. These are the transmitters that are closest to you, whether you own a device or not. The radios in these devices adjust power based on the strength of the signal from the tower. So, my logic goes that if you want the phone to dial down the power, make sure that it has access to 5 bars of network signal. The logical progression is that we need more towers in order to reduce exposure to RF energy.

The response to the petition from Darren Fisher, Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, said “Based on the available scientific evidence, there are no health risks, including to children, from exposures to the low levels of radiofrequency EMF emitted by cell phones and antenna installations.”

It further addresses some of the misstatements in the preamble of the petition. “It is misleading to say that Canada’s guidelines have not been updated. Rather, Safety Code 6 was updated as recently as 2015, to take into account recent scientific data from studies carried out worldwide.” Further, “No single scientific study, considered in isolation, can prove or disprove the existence of an adverse health effect.”

Minister Bains’ response stated clearly, “no adverse health effects will occur from exposure to RF energy at the levels permitted by SC6 [Safety Code 6].”

This petition should have been turned back by the member of parliament. The rules don’t require MPs to accept a petition, and “In accepting to present a petition, an MP is not necessarily agreeing with the opinions or request set out in the petition.” Still, one would hope that our elected leaders would be equipped well enough with the tools to educate constituents, and refute junk science.

In the COVID-19 era, there is lots of new junk science being published in sketchy pseudo-academic journals, such as the “Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents” that proudly proclaims in its call for papers “Easy and fast submission: No registration; No password; No papers to be filled out; No submission by invitation”. Last week, it published (and then apparently withdrew) a gem of disinformation “5G Technology and induction of coronavirus in skin cells”, authored by a group from Rome, Italy; Saginaw, Michigan; and Moscow, Russia. The abstract read, in part:

In this research, we show that 5G millimeter waves could be absorbed by dermatologic cells acting like antennas, transferred to other cells and play the main role in producing Coronaviruses in biological cells. DNA is built from charged electrons and atoms and has an inductor-like structure. Inductors interact with external electromagnetic waves, move and produce some extra waves within the cells. The shapes of these waves are similar to shapes of hexagonal and pentagonal bases of their DNA source. These waves produce some holes in liquids within the nucleus. To fill these holes, some extra hexagonal and pentagonal bases are produced. These bases could join to each other and form virus-like structures such as Coronavirus. To produce these viruses within a cell, it is necessary that the wavelength of external waves be shorter than the size of the cell. Thus 5G millimeter waves could be good candidates for applying in constructing virus-like structures such as Coronaviruses (COVID-19) within cells.

Fortunately, the National Institute of Health is now showing this paper as ‘withdrawn’ and the original Journal is no longer showing it on its website. You can find a scathing review of the paper on Extreme Tech. It should never have been listed by NIH in the first place.

Retraction Watch has a review of the paper’s retraction in its post, “Paper blaming COVID-19 on 5G technology withdrawn” and Elisabeth Bik, writing in Science Integrity Digest, says it may be the worst paper of 2020.

More agencies need to be bold in identifying and clearly responding to junk science. In his response to the petition, Minister Bains ended with a more conciliatory tone than I might have used.

ISED has a collaborative and consultative antenna siting policy that ensures land-use authorities (LUAs)¹ have a say in the location of towers in their communities… Working together, LUAs and proponents can find solutions that address reasonable and relevant concerns or point the way to alternative antenna system siting arrangements. Cooperation between LUAs and proponents through clear and reasonable protocols can result in the development of new and enhanced wireless services in a community-friendly manner.

I might have more clearly defined what “reasonable and relevant concerns” can be. For example, ISED and the proponents (including carriers, public safety agencies and other non-commercial entities) should be sympathetic to aesthetic concerns and responsive to finding solutions.

Despite the obvious hesitation to antagonize any segment of voters, shouldn’t our leaders be willing to call out ungrounded fears and disinformation being spread?

If it walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, can we agree to clearly calling out the quack?

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