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Should We Trust Science?

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

This article is a slightly edited excerpt from the book Are Electromagnetic Fields Making Me Ill? by Brad Roth.

A disturbing aspect of the debate over if 5G cell phone radiation is dangerous is the tendency of many people to mistrust science. A widely-shared conspiracy theory about a link between 5G radiation and Covid-19 is the most flagrant example of this. A relationship between Covid-19 and 5G radiation is rejected by the biomedical community. For such an association to be hidden, as some claim, by “elitist experts” would require a cover-up involving thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of scientists — physicists, biologists, chemists, epidemiologists, virologists, medical doctors — from every country in the world.

A large fraction of Martin Pall’s book 5G: Great Risk for EU, US and International Health! dealt with the alleged corruption of federal agencies in the United States and their refusal to take his radio frequency health claims seriously. He wrote that the Federal Communications Commission has acted “in wanton disregard for our health.” The subtitle of Devra Davis’s book Disconnect included The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It. Paul Brodeur’s book Currents of Death asserted there’s an “attempt to cover up [the power line field] threat to your health.” Robert Becker, in The Body Electric, declared that “lay people… cannot automatically accept scientists’ pronouncements at face value, for too often they’re self-serving and misleading” and that “science is becoming our enemy instead of our friend.”

Really? Such claims are absurd. Becker, Brodeur, Davis, and Pall tell stories about how scientists have lost funding for their research when investigating how electric and magnetic fields affect our body and attribute these loses to corruption. I wonder if the real reason might be because funding agencies concluded that research on radio frequency hazards was unlikely to lead to important results. Might those agencies have decided that their scarce funds ought to be spent on more promising studies?

Many times I have participated in reviewing grant proposals for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (Fig. 1). I’ve never seen any evidence of deception. Instead, these agencies bend over backwards to avoid even the slightest conflict of interest during a review. They ensure each proposal receives the fairest hearing possible. I have, however, witnessed reviewers agonizing over difficult and painful decisions about how to score proposals based on the research’s significance and innovation.

Fig. 1. Peer reviewers evaluating grant proposals for the National Institutes of Health. (From
https://public.csr.nih.gov/ForApplicants/InitialReviewResultsAndAppeals/InsidersGuide)

I don’t believe there’s a cover-up. Sometimes proposals aren’t funded because scientists don’t think the research will advance the field. When a reporter for the New York Times asked Eleanor Adair — a pioneer in studying the risks of microwaves — about the calls for more spending on research into health effects of electromagnetic fields, she responded that the money “could be much better spent on other health problems. Because there is really nothing there.”

Is there a conspiracy to hide the danger of cell phones? If so, all the biomedical researchers who conducted critical reviews and meta-analyses would had to be complicit in the scheme. Funding decisions on grants and agency recommendations are not made by bureaucrats; they are made by consensus among experts, our nation’s top scientists. No one’s trying to keep anything secret. Scientists don’t hide; they seek.

This is not to say that scientists never make mistakes. The reason for peer review is to force scientists to convince other scientists that their ideas and data are sound. It’s a self-correcting process, which occasionally makes short-term errors, but finds the truth in the long run. Scientists who challenge existing doctrines are valuable, because they force researchers to reassess their fundamental assumptions and beliefs. On rare occasions, a maverick scientist overturns the prevailing dogma with a novel paradigm shift. Far more common, however, is that when mavericks find themselves opposed to ideas widely-accepted within the scientific community, it means the mavericks are wrong.

Dangers arising from cell phone radiation strike me as unlikely, but not inconceivable. However, allegations of a vast plot, with scientists colluding to conceal the facts, are ridiculous. Scientific consensus arises when a diverse group of scientists openly scrutinizes claims and critically evaluates evidence. Science is the best way to debunk conspiracy theories and uncover the truth.

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Brad Roth

Brad Roth

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Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.