Don’t Get Me Started: This is your brain on bad science

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Urban Planning

Don’t Get Me Started: This is your brain on bad science

Salt Lake City to be test dummy for 5G-and-beyond technology.

The next, next big thing in telecommunications will be prototyped in Salt Lake City over the next five years. With funding from the National Science Foundation, a consortium of telecommunications corporations and universities will spend $100 million to prototype and test 5G and beyond, let’s call it 5G Plus, in what’s been dubbed Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research. PAWR.

5G Plus promises to give every one of us the ability to live stream video, float through virtually augmented realities and access account activity on our Swiss bank accounts on a by-the-second basis or whatever it is we need a bigger data firehose for. Autobots/driverless cars and the internet of things will thrive on 5G.

There won’t be just one microwave micro-web—there will be four or five. Each of the major telecommunications providers will be trying to improve signal strength and the user experience by saturating our environment with micro-doses of microwaves. You won’t be able to go to the bathroom without being asked whether you want to use two-ply or three-ply paper by your digital toilet paper dispenser.

To do all of this, 5G Plus will blanket urban areas with many small microwave transmitters, each with a range of around 150 feet. Old-fashioned cell phone transmitters have an effective range of 5,000 to 10,000 feet. A cell with 10-12 transmitters can cover an area of a couple of square miles. It will take somewhere around 1,000 5G transmitters to cover the same area.

While microwaves are not ionizing radiation, like X-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet waves, which can damage DNA directly, microwaves can rub polar molecules like water together and heat them up. Viz. our microwave ovens, which are well-shielded and well-regulated.

This heating effect in humans has been observed with microwaves in a phenomenon known as the microwave hearing effect, where zappees (test subjects) hear audible pops.The phenomenon is poorly understood and may be only the visible/audible part of an iceberg of physiological effects on our bodies and brains.

Not all of Salt Lake City will serve as the test zone. A strip from the University of Utah to West Temple between Second Avenue and 5th South will be blanketed with “small wireless facilities,” most of them on existing utility poles. Others will be placed in vehicles.

Questions about the safety of cell phone use, on the current bands, are still not satisfactorily answered, even as we rush towards the next, next big thing. It would be nice to think that 5G Plus would be well regulated, but the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the airwaves, is what political scientists call a captured regulator— meaning it’s a stooge for the telecommunications industry.

The question as to whether (and how) dozens of microwave transmitters per city block will impact the health and well-being of area residents may not be answered to everyone’s satisfaction for a long time.

One would hope that such an experiment would include a public health component, to answer the question of whether this new technology is safe. But the parties involved don’t have time to wait for a good answer, and they are afraid of a bad answer.

Wicked problem

Many scientific problems are relatively easy to solve. They lend

themselves to analysis with a few variables. Other scientific problems can be described as “wicked.” They have many variables, too many to yield a solution using current analytical techniques and data collection limitations.

The divide between simple and wicked problems is the difference between the “hard” sciences—mathematics, physics and chemistry; and the “harder” sciences—physiology, psychology, sociology and political science. E=MC2 is child’s play compared to figuring out the lifetime effects of environmental stressors on large populations.

When it comes to the physiological effects of exposure to radio frequency waves, most studies that show no effect didn’t actually measure exposure to radio frequency waves, but rather relied on self reporting to estimate exposures. Such studies can seem to have validity by virtue of the large number of data points and relatively long time frames. But none of them have data for more than a minor fraction (an eighth or tenth) of a human life span. One study done on rats attempted to assess the effects of RF/millimeter wave radiation over a period of two years. Strangely, the only “statistically significant” effect was a slight increase in testicular cancer in male rats. Two years is a lifetime for a rat, but hardly a blip for humans. Aluminum jock straps may soon be de riguer for family men. One commentator dismissed the findings as irrelevant because the results aren’t applicable to humans. Why, then, is such a study being conducted?

Your brain on politics

In the 2018 legislature, State Senator Curt Bramble got a law passed and signed by Governor Herbert titled the Small Wireless Utilities Deployment Act. The bill greases the skids for installation of 5G Plus, outlawing any real citizen input. “We don’t want cities to prohibit the deployment of these small cells,” he told Fox 13 News.  One stated purpose of the bill is “to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.” The unstated assumption of the law is that cities and town shouldn’t have a say in the health, safety and welfare of their public.

How refreshing, if Curt Bramble came forth to the citizens of Utah with an acknowledgement that he received generous campaign contributions from Comcast and AT&T. It would be nice if he let us know if he talked in private with lobbyists from the telecommunications industry and that in the best interests of the citizens of Utah, he was running a bill to eliminate the ability of local jurisdictions to regulate the emplacement of radio transmitters.

But he didn’t. With politicians like Curt Bramble, who needs scientific studies?

John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST.