Annoying pseudoscience

Recently FB has reincarnated this article from last year.  It presents a breathless summary of a class project done by a handful of high school students in Denmark.

White on
white translucent capes
—Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”

The idea was spawned by that omnipresent “cell phones cause <insert your favorite issue here>” meme.  In this case, the students decided that their lack of concentration in class was due to sleeping next to their cell phones.

The class experiment that the students did was take some seeds, divide them into two groups. Put one group in the main room, the second in an anteroom right next to a wifi router.  The hypothesis being that the wifi router — which apparently “[emit] roughly the same type of radiation as an ordinary mobile phone” — will kill the seeds.

Lo and behold, the routers killed *all* the seeds.  As in, *all* of them.  This should raise eyebrows, right there. I mean, dumping Agent Orange on the seeds probably wouldn’t kill them *all*.  

Although I suspect some fakery here, let’s just go with the idea that the routers killed the seeds and are a good analogue for cellphones.

Wifi routers run at about 2.4 GHz (2.4 billion waves per second.)  Cell phones in Denmark run about about 2.6Mhz (2.6 million waves per second).  That’s about 1,000 fold slower. This is roughly the difference between infrared (ie., heat) and X-rays.

Also, cell phones emit power at about 250 milliwatts (though this number changes with different models and uses).  A light use wifi router emits about 400 milliwatts. Another factor of about two.  By the way, your body heat is running along at about 100 watts (about 200 times greater).

I won’t bother going into the science of radiation absorption, but the song remains the same there.

We dance on the strings
of powers we cannot perceive
—Rush, “Freewill”

Wifi and cell have nothing in common that matters.  Even if wifi killed all the seeds, it doesn’t teach us anything about cell phones.

Speaking of infrared, apropos of nothing at all, wifi routers in closed rooms do generate a boatload of heat. Heat actually does kill seeds… by cooking them. I’m just saying…

I think the students should be commended for a cool idea and doing the test. BRAVO! I hope they continue to do science — the world needs more people who try stuff.  

And, not to beat a dead horse, but the math does matter.  One of the scientists who (breathlessly) praised the study and was going to be involved in a replication may have made up her data on a similar study.  Ahh, the joy.