In the first place, nobody denies that certain harms and damages, which actually and visibly afflict men, animals, the fruits of the Earth, and which often come about by the influence of stars, may yet often be brought about by demons … Malleus Maleficarum, 1486
HUMANS have long believed in the power of evil, or harm, to be transmitted invisibly through the air.
The Malleus maleficarum, or Hammer of witches, was a medieval dummies’ guide to witches, instructing readers on how to unmask, interrogate and ultimately burn them.
While the Malleus’ intricate demonology saw the root cause of evil in supernatural creatures who seduced the all-too-willing witches, these days we are more likely to nominate government conspiracies as the source of all that is bad in the world.
Whether it’s fluoride or vaccines, vocal lobby groups accuse authorities of exposing them to terrible danger while hiding clear evidence of harm.
The motives for this unscrupulous behaviour on the part of decision makers are rarely clear, although vague allegations abound of people being in the pocket of Big Pharma, Big Vaccine, Big Windpower … take your pick.
Strangely, the conspiracy theorists never seem to raise the far more likely scenario of leaders being in bed with Big Coal, but there you go…
The latest alarm about invisible airborne danger relates to the impending upgrade of mobile technology with the roll-out of 5G (5th generation) services.
Mobile phone radiation has long been blamed for everything from cancer to autism, though the evidence really isn’t there to support such claims.
Prolonged staring at a screen might affect your eyesight, or perhaps your mental state, and checking your phone while driving undoubtedly puts your health at risk. But cardiac health, asthma, infertility?
For the fearful, though, it appears self-evident an upgrade from 4G to 5G must be bad.
After all, 5 is bigger than 4. Also, the 5G radio frequencies are “weapons grade” and, according to one online petition, will “kill our children”.
“NEW 5G WIFI IS COMING AND IT WILL KILL US ALL. THIS IS SERIOUS!” the petition declares.
New technologies can of course bring unexpected health risks. Vigilance and rigour should be our constant companions.
But the evidence at our disposal does not suggest 5G will destroy humanity.
The University of Sydney’s Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman wrote earlier in 2019 about the lack of evidence for any link between mobile phones and cancer.
“If they cause brain cancer, where are all the bodies?” Professor Chapman asks, pointing out mobile phone use has now been widespread for more than two decades.
Mobile phone alarmists are relentless opponents of almost every new form of communication, he writes:
“Every time there’s a new generation of cell phone or electronic technology, they crank out the same fear-mongering stuff. Cult-like, they wake every morning to spread the word about the deadly rays they believe are being foisted on the world by the evil telecommunications industry. They follow in the hallowed footsteps of those in history who raised health alarms about railway travel, electric light, ordinary phones, radio, TV, electric blankets, computers, microwave ovens, wind turbines, and solar roof cells …”
Could 5G pose a higher risk than previous generations of mobile technology?
The frequency range used by 5G is well below levels considered potentially harmful by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, according to Australian researcher and adviser to the commission, Rodney Croft.
The commission had considered the exposure associated with 5G in great depth and restrictions were set well below levels shown to cause harm, Professor Croft told the BBC. To be fair, some experts have called for reassessment of those “safe levels” in articles published in Frontiers of Public Health, and The Lancet Planetary Health.
If you want to hang on to some kind of conspiracy theory all is not lost.
The New York Times suggests the 5G fearmongering is being promoted by Russia with the aim of undermining Western technological development so it can gain the advantage.
Head spinning? You might want to pick up a silver-coated antiradiation skull cap to protect you from all those harmful electromagnetic waves. Yours for just $59 from a host of online retailers.
Alternatively, the Malleus maleficarum has some useful tips for warding off the invisible enemies of the air.
Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based health and science writer.
The statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the official policy of the AMA, the MJA or InSight+ unless so stated.