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The New York Times and fear mongering about the Apple Watch and wearable tech

The New York Times Styles Section giveth. The New York Times Styles Section taketh away.

Last week, The NYT Styles Section published an excellent deconstruction of the pseudoscientific activities of Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe, by Courtney Rubin. Although skeptics might think that it was a tad too “balanced” (as did I), by and large we understand that this was the NYT Style section, and seeing a full-throated skeptical deconstruction of The Food Babe’s antics in such a venue is just not in the cards. That’s what I’m there for (not to mention other skeptics like Steve Novella), such as when I responded to Hari’s “rebuttal” to the NYT article.

This week, things are different. This week, the NYT Styles section has printed pseudoscience.

I’m referring to an article by Nick Bilton entitled The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech. It’s an article that’s so obviously designed to take advantage of the high level of media interest in the Apple Watch since Tim Cook announced it two weeks ago. I’d say it was click bait, except that, this being the Gray Lady and all, at least the editor resisted the temptation to slap too obvious a clickbait headline on it, but the article starts out in a way that makes its author’s intentions quite clear:

In 1946, a new advertising campaign appeared in magazines with a picture of a doctor in a lab coat holding a cigarette and the slogan, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” No, this wasn’t a spoof. Back then, doctors were not aware that smoking could cause cancer, heart disease and lung disease.

In a similar vein, some researchers and consumers are now asking whether wearable computers will be considered harmful in several decades’ time.

We have long suspected that cellphones, which give off low levels of radiation, could lead to brain tumors, cancer, disturbed blood rhythms and other health problems if held too close to the body for extended periods.

Yet here we are in 2015, with companies like Apple and Samsung encouraging us to buy gadgets that we should attach to our bodies all day long.

Got it? To Bilton, the Apple Watch and Samsung’s competitor smart watch are just like tobacco. No, not exactly. More specifically, to Bilton, assurances that the Apple Watch and Samsung’s smart watch are safe are like the assurances of physicians used in tobacco advertising used seven decades ago to falsely assure smokers that cigarettes were perfectly safe. It’s an old gambit beloved by cranks promoting a cell phone-cancer (or wifi-cancer) link. Bilton also stretches his facts a bit; back then many doctors did strongly suspect that smoking tobacco was not safe. Indeed, it was suspected as early as 1912 that cigarette smoke might be causing lung cancer. As I’ve discussed many times before, the Germans produced epidemiologic data in the 1930s and 1940s linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer. Around the time of those ads, it’s true that it wasn’t yet firmly established that smoking was strongly linked with lung cancer. That wouldn’t come until the 1950s, and it would still take a decade for the evidence to become undeniable to all but tobacco company shills. Indeed, most physicians seven decades ago didn’t accept the link, but it’s going a bit far to say that doctors “were not aware that smoking could cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.”

Be that as it may, the implication is clear and intentional: Cell phones and “wearable tech” are health hazards that, although some suspect them to be harmful, are just not yet widely recognized as health hazards yet. Sure, Bilton buries that assumption under JAQing off, but the message is very clear. Worse, he cites research that is largely discredited and certainly unconvincing to try to make his point. That’s not his worse sin (more on that later), but let’s look at what Bilton writes next first:

The most definitive and arguably unbiased results in this area come from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a panel within the World Health Organization that consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries.

After dissecting dozens of peer-reviewed studies on cellphone safety, the panel concluded in 2011 that cellphones were “possibly carcinogenic” and that the devices could be as harmful as certain dry-cleaning chemicals and pesticides. (Note that the group hedged its findings with the word “possibly.”)

This is about as ignorant of the science (or disingenuous) as it gets. Thankfully, I covered this particular report in great detail when it was first released; so I don’t have to go into great detail. Basically, as I pointed out at the time, quoting David A. Savitz, a professor in the departments of epidemiology and obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University and a researcher on environmental exposures and health, who said, “With few exceptions, the studies directly addressing the issue [cell phones as a brain cancer risk] indicate the lack of association.” Moreover, all the “positive” studies come from one group, Lennart Hardell’s group in Sweden.

So what happened? Basically the IARC categorized cell phone radiation as a Category 2B carcinogen, which is by definition “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” It’s a list that, in addition to having chemicals like DDT on it, includes coffee, pickled vegetables, carrageenan, and carbon black. In any case, it’s clear that in making its determination the IARC relied on both on case control studies including Interphone, and the Swedish group of Hardell et al (the only group that consistently reports positive associations between cell phone use and cancer), and, as Lorne Trottier explained, the process by which the IARC made its evaluation was hopelessly flawed. It’s not a good study. Moreover data from Hardell’s group is suspect.

Nor are the other studies that Bilton lists. Guess which study he cites first? A 2007 study by Hardell’s group. However, the overwhelming evidence from other groups’ studies is that there is no detectable link between cell phone usage and brain cancer. Bilton recognizes that but does his best to portray it with as much fear, uncertainty, and doubt as he can. It’s a tour de force of spin:

There is, of course, antithetical research. But some of this was partly funded by cellphone companies or trade groups.

He even quotes a disclaimer in a negative study published in the BMJ that acknowledge that a “small to moderate increase” in cancer risk among heavy cellphone users could not be ruled out. That’s scientific language. Scientists have to acknowledge the limitations of any study they publish. If they don’t, peer reviewers make sure that they do. It doesn’t mean that there is a serious possibility being acknowledged that cell phone use might actually cause cancer. It’s just the usual cautious language scientists employ. Ditto the statement by the CDC cited by Bilton that “more research is needed before we know if using cell phones causes health effects.”

It’s as pure an example of not putting enough stock in the well-characterized basic science that tells us that radio waves do not have sufficient energy to break chemical bonds and directly cause mutations. Although I sometimes get into hot water for being critical of physicists who, seeming to operate from a Cancer Biology 101 understanding of carcinogenesis, declare carcinogenesis due to non-ionizing radiation to be impossible, it is nonetheless not incorrect to consider any link between cell phone radiation and human cancer to be highly implausible from a mechanistic standpoint based on physics. As I like to put it, it’s not homeopathy-grade implausible, but pretty damned implausible.

Now here’s where Bilton goes completely off the rails. After rhetorically asking “what does all this research tell the Apple faithful who want to rush out and buy an Apple Watch, or the Google and Windows fanatics who are eager to own an alternative smartwatch?” Bilton cites Joe Mercola:

Dr. Joseph Mercola, a physician who focuses on alternative medicine and has written extensively about the potential harmful effects of cellphones on the human body, said that as long as a wearable does not have a 3G connection built into it, the harmful effects are minimal, if any.

“The radiation really comes from the 3G connection on a cellphone, so devices like the Jawbone Up and Apple Watch should be O.K.,” Dr. Mercola said in a phone interview. “But if you’re buying a watch with a cellular chip built in, then you’ve got a cellphone attached to your wrist.” And that, he said, is a bad idea.

Not only does Joe Mercola have no special expertise in cell phones, cancer, or epidemiology (and proves it with his claim that cell phones are only a problem if they are using 3G bands; actually they’re not a problem using 3G or 4G LTE), but he’s a complete quack, whose quackery has been documented on this blog many times. He’s antivaccine. He’s also promoted Tullio Simoncini, a cancer quack who thinks all cancer is caused by a fungus, something that makes his being invoked as an authority on cell phones and cancer particularly risible. I mean, seriously. Can Bilton not even Google? If he did, he would have immediately seen links to articles like:

At least, these are the articles that came up when I did a quick Google search of Joe Mercola’s name. You get the idea. Even in the Style section, you’d think the editors wouldn’t want to cite a quack as any sort of authority in medicine. I mean, seriously. Bilton ought to be ashamed, and the editors of the NYT ought to be mortified. Not only does he recycle every dubious cell phone-cancer trope out there, but he couples that misinterpretation of existing scientific evidence with quoting a quack who sells supplements. Hardell, as bad as his studies have been and as biased in his views as he’s obviously become, is at least a legitimate epidemiologist. Mercola has no such qualifications or even anything slightly resembling any legitimate qualifications to be discussing epidemiology.

I suppose I should be more forgiving, as Bilton is a tech writer and this is the Style section. (Certainly it’s clear from this article that he has no business whatsoever writing about anything related to medicine.) I can’t be. It may be “just” the Style section, but it’s still the NYT.

In the meantime, no doubt Bilton’s defenders will label me a “shill” for the cellular industry or Apple. It’s true that I’m a happy Apple customer, complete with a MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and iMac, but I bought all those with my own money. On the other hand, maybe Apple will give me a new Apple Watch for defending its honor.

Nahhh. That’s not how Apple rolls.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

145 replies on “The New York Times and fear mongering about the Apple Watch and wearable tech”

Every serious newspaper has to have a style section nowadays. It’s great because you can lighten your load immediately by putting it straight in the bin without having to check it for intelligent content.

The biggest health hazard posed by the iWatch is/was Apple’s witless Whole Pantry app deal with “terminal brain cancer survivor” Belle Gibson. There’s been a big blow up in Oz about Gibson this month that (unlike Ainscough) has gone largely unmentioned in the northern hemisphere.

I’m one of those physicists who really can’t wrap their head around any supposed mechanism how radio waves could possibly cause cancer. They just don’t have enough energy!

I used to play with radiation for my degree! I held radioactive material in my bare hands. They were encapsulated, mind you.

It’s funny. People over- and underestimate the dangers of radiation. Often at the same time.

“They just don’t have enough energy!”

Unfortunately, most people have no idea what energy is.

Furthermore, many people don’t believe “the dose makes the poison”.

Instead they believe that any detectable amount is dangerous.

This contributes to a ton of fearmongering.

Don’t have enough energy to do what, specifically? That’s the question. Not enough energy to break chemical bonds? Certainly. But carcinogenesis, we now know, is far more complicated than just breaking DNA chemical bonds to cause mutations. Most physicists I’ve seen making this argument argue from a very simplistic view of carcinogenesis (hence my Cancer Biology 101 crack). Does this mean that I think there currently is a plausible mechanism by which cell phones can cause cancer? No. However, unlike the case for homeopathy, for this question I cannot yet rule one out, knowing what we know about carcinogenesis.


I’m well aware of the Belle Gibson case. Readers have been peppering me with stories about it. Here’s the thing. Simple fraud just doesn’t interest me nearly as much as normal human cognitive issues that lead reasonable people to fall for woo. So I just haven’t been interested enough in the case to research it and do a blog post. Maybe I will, but, given that it’s now relatively old news, more probably not. The window has passed, unless something new comes up.

In my case it’s much of anything, really.

If there’s an effect, which I highly doubt, we wouldn’t be able to detect it due to the much higher level of the natural radio background.

Dr. Mercola said in a phone interview.

I hope he was not using his mobile phone.

@Orac: no worries, not dictating your blog.:) I just found it unreal that NYT would be painting bright red target on their ass with such blatant OMG RADIATION!!!1! nonsense when there’s a perfectly good, tasty iWatch-y hook on a genuine scandal that they could’ve partied with instead.

Heck, even notorious online gossip rag Gawker is delightedly putting the boot in, replete with righteous (and strangely familiar) gutting of NYT’s quoted expert “Dr” Joe Mercola. I daresay the Gray Lady will be feeling that burn for weeks.

If cell phones caused brain cancer to any significant degree, we would surely have seen a huge increase in incidence over the past few decades. We don’t, so I will save my energy for worrying about other threats to our health, such as climate change and pollution (as a vast cloud of smog drifts over the UK).

I would not buy anything made by APPLE for ethical reasons, but the idea of a watch that acted as a phone ect, sounds like a great idea. I am so sick of rhe masters of woo stating woo such as,
1 People are allergic to the 21st century due to the chemi cals produced today.
2 People are made sick due to the electro magnetic radio waves being emitted via smart phones and smart electricity meters.
3 Canxers caused by mobile phones
It would be far more important to check how a company such as APPLE treat those poor soles who work 70 hours per week assembling their products amd the poor miners and their children as young as 8 years of age, who risk their lives sand mining for APPLE. This makes 1st world woo masters misguided beliefs seem very crivolous indeed.

I’m curious to know from this group, opinions of the linear no-threshold model as it relates to radiation exposure and risk. Clearly it’s been meritorious since its implementation with the data that we had at the time. But in the same vein I’ve seen it described as overly conservative and to expect that, when forms of radiation surround us every day, is there really such a thing as ‘as low as reasonably possible?’ Or wouldn’t background radiation be a reasonable level of safety? I’ve read other ‘studies’ (I put that in quotes because, well, it’s been stuff from Google searches…so take what you will from that) that suggest even a hysteresis – that some levels of small doses of radiation can be beneficial. What are the opinions of those present?

Pretty amazing that when you google “Joe Mercola” three of the links on the first page are either SBM or RI articles.

I think that says a lot about the reach and influence of the work Orac’s doing regarding quacks. We need more of that.

We are talking about the style section of the New York Times. The target audience is people who have more dollars than sense–a category which includes the woo-prone rich. The editors know their audience.

@Pris: I also have a physics background, and I agree that radio waves are nowhere near powerful enough to affect ordinary chemical bonds. For that, you need UV radiation (which is why you need sunscreen if you will be out in the sun for an extended period). But I also know that protein folding depends on hydrogen bonds, which are much weaker than ordinary chemical bonds. I don’t know how much weaker–I’m not a biophysicist–so I can’t dismiss out of hand the idea that GHz waves (which include cell phone transmissions as well as wireless networks) might have enough energy to affect those hydrogen bonds. That’s as opposed to power line EMF, which is either 50 Hz or 60 Hz depending what country you’re in–that’s definitely too low a frequency.

I am aware that denaturing a protein won’t by itself cause cancer. But there could be indirect effects: perhaps the protein that would have repaired DNA damage in some cell was thereby prevented from doing so. But I haven’t seen any evidence that GHz waves actually do cause cancer, so there is no reason to think that there is a physical mechanism for something that doesn’t happen. So I agree with Orac: this isn’t as stupid as believing in homeopathy, but I’ll want to see solid evidence of an effect before I do more than speculate idly about a causal mechanism.

Harobed: no worries on the typo. I understood what you meant. But as I’ve been rereading a lot of Pratchett lately, I immediately thought of the Feegles’ cry of “Crivens!” They take very few things seriously other than drinking and theft from the “bigjobs”, so perhaps “crivolous” is a good word for them. 😉

I think the whole radio waves cause cancer thing is ridiculous. Never mind the physics — if they did, we’d surely have seen a massive surge in cancer, and we just haven’t.

Mercola. . . holy Scheiße. He couldn’t get Charlotte Gerson to weigh in on the topic? Maybe a coffee enema a day keeps the Apple cancer away?

Anyone clever enough to determine whether or not his comment on the NYT site is true?

“I see that the title of the article has been changed from “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?” to “The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech”, and that the original tweet linking to the article has been deleted.

If there’s an effect, which I highly doubt, we wouldn’t be able to detect it due to the much higher level of the natural radio background.

If cell phone caused cancer, or any other health problems, we’d see it first in the people who maintain the cell towers. They are around radio transmitters in near constant operation, in addition to their own phones. When they start turning up with problems, I’ll start worrying.

The same with power lines. When the workers in power plants, who spend all day around the generators and transformer fields get sick from 50 or 60 Hz, I’ll start fearing my house wiring.

Wow, that’s really disappointing to hear about Bilton. I’ve heard him on the This Week in Tech podcast a few times, and he seemed like a rational person.

Of course, TWiT is no stranger to crackpots. They often feature tech writer John C. Dvorak, who default reaction to everything under the sun is to call it a scam with no evidence.

Dvorak also co-hosts a twice weekly conspiracy theory podcast with Adam Curry, whose love of tin foil hat bat-shittery is well known.

I hope he was not using his mobile phone.

He was, actually; the article makes wry note of that. Mercola excused the seeming hypocrisy by saying that technology is an unavoidable part of life these days. Makes sense, I suppose, coming from one who has exploited the technology of the internet to forge his millions.

The thing I find funniest about the whole “doctors didn’t think smoking was harmful” is that I never met a doctor who didn’t think it could be (in my 50+ years), and I have some books printed in the 1800s that have an excerpt from a religious magazine that points out that those who use tobacco (smokers, chewers) have a higher risk of cancer. Of course, being religious, they also linked it to crime and alcoholism, but the facts are there.

Yeah, seems that did happen. . .

“Update: within an hour of posting this, the New York Times had changed the title of the article in question to “The Health Concerns in Wearable Tech”. They also deleted the tweet below. I don’t know whether other changes were made – there is no record of the post-publication edits on the page.”

Johnny — There certainly are hazards associated with working on power lines, but rather than carcinogenesis, they tend to involve, say, instant death.

@Eric Lund:

I agree.

My problem is mostly one of scale. The sun is a huge radio emitter. Cell phone emission just drowns in that sea of background radiation.

King James I of England assailed tobacco as dangerous to the lungs all the way back in the early 1600s:

Have you not reason then to bee ashamed, and to forbeare this filthie noveltie, so basely grounded, so foolishly received and so grossely mistaken in the right use thereof? In your abuse thereof sinning against God, harming your selves both in persons and goods, and raking also thereby the markes and notes of vanitie upon you: by the custome thereof making your selves to be wondered at by all forraine civil Nations, and by all strangers that come among you, to be scorned and contemned. A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.

Sure, he didn’t use the word “cancer,” and he was writing mostly out of personal antipathy to the practice, but still, the notion that no one realized smoking was harmful till the 1950s is patent nonsense. There were any number of tracts released in the 1800s deploring the practice of smoking, not just on moral or religious but also health and hygienic grounds. Ellen G. White, best known as a prophetess of the nascent Seventh Day Adventist movement, was particularly vociferous in her condemnation of smoking (and meat eating and sugar consumption and coffee drinking and any number of other loathsome vices).

I’d be interested in how / if radio waves could impact the human body. It’s been a while, am rusty and this is a poor comparison but…
Consider light which passes harmlessly through glass because it doesn’t have enough energy to interact with the Si. However when it hits a human body it clearly does interact because we can see people.
Much higher energy UV however cannot pass through glass and we know of the damage it can do when it hits human skin.
So continuing the “logic” is it possible that there is a mechanism for RF (and I need to check the frequencies for 3 / 4G) to interact chemically or atomically with human bodies?
(For the record I’m firmly of the opinion that there is no connection between cancer and mobile phone usage but just letting my mind wander)

Nice to see you took this on. I fumed and ranted, and mentioned this article at your NSSOBlog. The title really bugged me so it’s a small comfort to read here that it was changed. Thanks to RI and SBM, I was able to spot every fallacy and even recalled your finer point on the physics involved.

When I first heard about it, I admit I had a brief surge of I want for the Apple watch. It was quickly squelched when I learned a) the price, and b) it would only work with iPhone 5 or newer, and not my antique 4S. So now I have a Fitbit Surge instead. Sure, it’s a monochrome display, and doesn’t (and won’t) have all sorts of apps, but it has a decent clock face, monitors my heart rate and other useful things, and communicates with my iPhone 4S wirelessly.

The only adverse health effects I’ve had so far is a bit of contact dermatitis from wearing it a bit too tightly (still learning how loosely it can worn while still reading the heart rate) and lax strap hygiene. I don’t expect anything worse, either; certainly not cancer from the Bluetooth wifi.

Phlebas @30: The difference between what happens with visible light and UV light is how they interact with the body. The less energetic visible light photons excite vibrational modes (or sometimes electronic state transitions) in the molecules that absorb them. Organic molecules are complicated enough that you can approximate the discrete quantum states as a continuum. These photons pass through silicon glass because glass does not have any vibrational or electronic modes in this frequency range. Indeed, most simple molecules do not, which is why you can see the sun on a clear day (but clouds contain ice crystals which can scatter light)–their vibrational modes are in the infrared, which is why CO2 and methane are greenhouse gases (in particular, they absorb in the frequency range at which bodies the temperature of the Earth tend to radiate thermally), and their electronic modes are at higher frequencies, in the UV.

What happens when you move far enough into the UV range is that the photons become energetic enough to eject electrons from molecules. This is more of a problem because that electron can travel a considerable (on the molecular scale) distance away from the source molecule, and as a result the chemical properties of that molecule can change substantially. For instance, sodium metal is a highly reactive substance which can produce an explosion in contact with water, but take away an electron (e.g., by putting it in contact with the poisonous gas chlorine) and the resulting ion is not only much less harmful, but actually essential for terrestrial life (as is the chloride ion which absorbs the extra electron).

Visible light has frequencies (and therefore energies) eight orders of magnitude higher than the GHz waves that your cell phone uses. Above I mentioned hydrogen bonds in proteins, which are much weaker than ordinary chemical bonds–but I don’t think (I’m not sure) they are eight or nine orders of magnitude weaker. It’s not that there are no effects–microwave ovens also operate in this frequency range–but microwave ovens are much more powerful than your cell phone transmitter. If you are foolish enough to sit in an operating microwave oven, you may have problems (there is a reason you must close the door in order to turn the microwave oven on). Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about.

Harobed @ 11:

I read this kind of bullshıt all the time, and I am constantly amazed at the irrationality.

Why is Apple the only one tarred with conditions in the factories where their equipment is built, but all the other tech giants whose stuff is made in the very same factories are innocent?

Why is absolutely the only one of these tech companies to put any pressure on Chinese and other factories to ameliorate those conditions, absolutely the only one to write conditions into their contracts requiring such improvement, also the only one identified with poor working conditions?

I won’t buy anything not made by Apple for ethical reasons!

Well, that’s a lie–it’s because I won’t pay money for crap.

With the radio waves, I don’t just think of their low energy, but a variation of it, their long wavelength and so their low resolution. Radio frequency wavelengths are on the order of meters, it’s hard for me to think of any way they could interact with things as small as cells?

That doesn’t mean that radiowaves can’t cause cancer or any illness, I just can’t imagine some kind of interaction with individual cells.

As I type this from my iPhone and am on my way to pick up a couple MacBooks (the wife is coming over to the dark side), I can’t help but think of that veterinarian in Baltimore who testified before the Maryland General Assembly about smart meters. She said she had concerns over the radio transmitters in them causing cancer. When asked for evidence, she actually said, with a straight face, that her evidence was the lack of evidence because the smart meters had not been tested for cancer-causing ability. That’s oncology 101 in Crosby’s Labyrinth, I guess.

Eric Lund @34:

H-bonds definitely aren’t 8-9 orders of magnitude weaker than covalent bonds. Maybe 2 orders of magnitude if that.

The N-H…O hydrogen bonds that are common in proteins have a strength of 8 kJ/mol, compared to a few hundred kJ/mol for typical covalent bonds, which is what I think you mean by “ordinary chemical bonds”.

@The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge:

I read this kind of bullshıt all the time, and I am constantly amazed at the irrationality.

Why is Apple the only one tarred with conditions in the factories where their equipment is built, but all the other tech giants whose stuff is made in the very same factories are innocent?

Actually, there is a name for this kind of strategy, where you pick one prominent example to boycott from an entire industry that all do the behavior you’re opposed to. It’s easier to boycott one company than an entire industry, and the more focused boycott exacts more financial pressure on the one company than an unfocused boycott would be on any individual company. Furthermore, if it works, at least there will be one ethical provider in the market, and it scares other companies, who might think they are next.

Apple is an ideal choice, since Apple prides itself on its selectiveness in sourcing more than most companies, and it directly targets the kind of people that are perceived to be the most likely to join the boycott.

Why is absolutely the only one of these tech companies to put any pressure on Chinese and other factories to ameliorate those conditions, absolutely the only one to write conditions into their contracts requiring such improvement, also the only one identified with poor working conditions?

The fact that they did so in response to the boycott probably encourages the boycotters to continue. They would think that the pressure is obviously getting to Apple, so if they keep it up Apple will probably give in completely to their demands.

I know stuff about cell phones has been popular for years I am surprised that fears about wifi has not made it into the mainstream media. It has all the scary bits of cell phone waves with the bonus that it is pretty much all over and you cannot get away from it by just not using a device. In addition the conspiracy theories that you could make about are pretty much written at this point. ex. The government wants to create public wifi so they can kill people off for the NWO.

Regarding why Apple gets singled out for bad labor practices, I think a lot of that sentiment can be traced back to an episode of This American Life, wherein a fella (Mike Daisy, it was, I just looked it up) recounted the experiences he had when he traveled to China and visited the factories Apple sources from, Foxconn in particular.

The story was retracted because it turned out Mr. Daisy had fabricated a number of things, but I’m sure the story made a huge impact on the popular consciousness when it comes to Apple.

I personally don’t get why anybody would want an Apple watch thingy, but that’s just me. I have a cell phone – a flip phone – that I use for making phone calls, of all things, and I have a laptop, which I can turn off and put away that I use for computing. Macs are overpriced and Windows sucks, so I run Linux.

@AΓ: Thanks. So you would need to be in the infrared range to get a photon energetic enough to break a hydrogen bond. That’s useful to know.

@Garnetstar: The relevant physics here involves photons, so localization isn’t the issue. It matters more whether some cell is affected than which specific cell is affected. These waves are at least small enough in wavelength (a 3 GHz wave has a 10 cm wavelength, roughly the size of my hand) that you have multiple wavelengths within the body. Resonant cavity effects are theoretically possible, though I doubt the human body can provide a cavity of sufficient quality. Power line EMF has a wavelength of either 5000 km or 6000 km, depending where you are. The latter is very close to the distance between Boston and Zurich.

Appears the NYTimes Public Editor understands the concerns on Nick Bilton piece on wearable tech:

However, given a chance to reconsider his piece Bilton is oblivious to the error in his piece and his approach. It also appears he (and his direct editor) haven’t learned anything from this episode.

Fear mongering is a great way to drive readership. Something I thought the NYTimes was more resistant to, but this episode sadly proves otherwise.

I have to deal with this kind of crap all the time from the True Believers at No, people, Scientists did not say that cigarettes were safe: Scientists said that cigarettes caused lung cancer and heart disease. Tobacco executives paid attractive people to dress up like scientists and say that everything was safe, but the complicity of a small gang of mercenaries hardly constitutes a Scientific Consensus.

Yet, the True Believers pound the table and stamp their feet and scream that the Scientists lied to them about smoking AND THEREFOR no one can ever trust a scientist ever again. Which, conveniently, gives them license in their own minds to believe any damn fool crackpot notion they want and to enforce that belief as progressive orthodoxy.

@ Orac

I guessed I missed those articles when looking through the blog archives.

They did have a clickbait headline at first. They changed it after seeing so much pushback.

The original headline was “Could wearable computers be as harmful as cigarettes?”

Part of the reason Apple gets singled out for working conditions is that it’s practically the only company in its market that could slightly raise its prices without committing financial suicide. Most of the other players are competing on price, so if one decided to pay its suppliers a little more and raised prices to make up for it, it would just lose sales to a competitor who didn’t.

I say “slightly” and “a little” because direct (“touch”) labor is actually a much smaller percentage of a manufacturer’s cost than most people think; it’s about as optimized as you can get. Therefore, even a fairly substantial increase in direct labor costs for something like a phone could be compensated for by a $10-$20 increase in retail price. Apple can afford to do that on its own; most of its competitors couldn’t do that unless they were all forced to.

All that said, there is still a fair amount of reverse snobbery and resentment behind the way Apple gets singled out.

powerful enough to affect ordinary chemical bonds. For that, you need UV radiation

I dunno, photosynthesis and human vision seem to work OK in the visible-light spectrum.

In the response by the NYT’s public editor the author (Bliton) says that he is no longer going to talk on the phone for an extended period of time without using a headset. And that he will keep it away from his “soon-to-be born son” to protect his developing brain.

To which I say: Mr Bilton, where do you keep your phone?Perhaps in your pants pocket? Right next to your gonads? (where most of the rest of us keep our phones also.)

Folks here please correct me if I’ve mis-remembered this, but aren’t rapidly dividing cells at greater risk of damage from radiation than non-rapidly dividing cells? And as I recall, the brain of an adult doesn’t generally go through rapid division. Unlike the cells that produce sperm.

If cell phones really did cause cellular damage, wouldn’t we have seen a wave of infertility or congenital birth defects?

Or maybe I should wear foil pants as well as a foil hat.

Oy. I saw Bilton’s response. Fingers itching…might need…to…deliver…a…little…more…Insolence…

Yet, the True Believers pound the table and stamp their feet and scream that the Scientists lied to them about smoking AND THEREFOR no one can ever trust a scientist ever again.

We see the same thing on the political right with climate change. In the 1970s some scientists were discussing Milankovich cycles, and noted that in the absence of atmospheric forcing we would be on our way to the next ice age. Global warming pseudoskeptics cite this discussion as “scientists were predicting global cooling in the 1970s,” and therefore, their models can’t be trusted. They just conveniently ignore the caveats about what adding CO2 to the atmosphere would do. That’s been known since 1896, when Svante Arrhenius published a couple of papers on the subject (one in Swedish and one in English–I’ve read the latter). His calculations of the magnitude of the effect are in the middle of the range today’s atmospheric scientists estimate.

Actually, the parallel is even closer. The same think tanks and PR firms that were denying the tobacco-cancer link as recently as the 1990s are involved in sowing FUD about climate science.

I understand the Perspex Personage’s urges. One wonders if there is a term that combines the meaning of not-really-an-apology with not quite-doubling-down.

If cell phones really did cause cellular damage, wouldn’t we have seen a wave of infertility or congenital birth defects?

Well, there’s the TSUNAMI OF AUTISM, natch.

My favorite current example of risk management was the North Korean decision to close their borders to protect the population from ebola.

My favorite current example of risk management was the North Korean decision to close their borders to protect the population from ebola.

Closing their borders, and keeping them closed for so long rather surprised me. I regularly read the “news” from KCNA, so I am quite used to reading stories that are written to elevate the DPRK higher than others, so I expected stories to be written about ebola, especially if or when there were cases in the US, ROK, or Japan. But I did not expect the borders to be closed, suddenly doing that is not good for the little bit of business they have. I expected it to be used, especially internally, to bolster their image. Closing the borders for 4 months seems to suggest the leadership really did believe their own hype.

Orac, they did have a clickbaity title, they just changed it dishonestly after criticism, as you can see the admission of it in the response from the editor, and on the URL itself. It was pure clickbait.

Orac, they did have a clickbaity title, they just changed it dishonestly after criticism, as you can see the admission of it in the response from the editor, and on the URL itself. It was pure clickbait.

(This may be a double comment, sorry got the email wrong.)

“…disturbed blood rhythms…”

My goodness that sounds positively dreadful. And to think, I have a wifi enable defibrillator buried in my chest and wired directly into my heart. I am terrified just thinking about it. Good thing I have an implanted defibrillator to shock away all those disturbed blood rhythms my implanted defibrillator is causing.


their vibrational modes are in the infrared, …, and their electronic modes are at higher frequencies, in the UV.

I see, Eric Lund #34. But what of ‘rotational’ for the ensemble ‘continuum’ of an organic molecule? I’m just speculating, but I picture the bifilar DNA and especially the coil-spring RNA sort of ‘twisting’ back and forth causing a parametric change in overall length as it does so. In other words, key physical sites on the molecule become overly ‘jittery’ — I’d not want to try and dock to a ‘jittery’ space station; Would it not be similar for transcription/folding?

It seems to me that a possible mechanism for genetic or metabolism error would be due to the EM radiation being transduced to mechanical shaking.

If the protoplasm can be considered a dielectric within these small scales then the coiled molecule might constitute an ‘antenna’ which may resonate to higher order harmonics of microwave energy.

Just how long is an RNA strand if stretched out straight? I do wonder if millimeter wave energy is not getting pretty darn close to ringing with its fundamental at that dimension.

Millimeter waves occupy the frequency spectrum from 30 GHz to 300 GHz. They’re found in the spectrum between microwaves (1 GHz to 30 GHz) and infrared (IR) waves
The way not to worry about the exposure would be commercial application of micropower impulse technology whereby EM energy is spread out across a wide band such that any given frequency is below the noise floor — ‘Tuning’ is accompished with a precision timer instead of tightly selected frequency.

It just works better at much lower overall power. It has better range and vastly reduced interferance with even many units transmitting close together. Also, *multipathing* is eliminated– I think of it like bats all bunched together coming out of caverns using the same frequencies but able to track with their own individual ‘pings’.

Using *time domain* this way would allow your router and watch to also concurrently serve as a nifty see-through-walls radar with the data stream. A double plus good perk is that, since there is no interferance with other devices** , the FCC can go decommision itself with extreme prejudice.

**indeed, detection/interception or jamming is improbable without the exact timing criterea for the ‘channel’ — Hmm. ‘Somebody’ wouldn’t be able to hack or spy what they can’t detect; Amongst sustainable government agencies, no such agency has a problem with that.

Dim Tim –

Cellular phones and Bluetooth operate below 3GHz, so what 30GHz has to do with the question is…questionable. Building a 30GHz transmitter isn’t easy (that means expensive), and I doubt that you have ever even seen one, or even been within a mile of one. The 30-300GHz band has nothing to do with the discussion.

Radio waves can cause damage to living things. I know, because they have hurt me. Even 0Hz can hurt. It causes burns. You can even break an arm jerking away from a shock. Radio waves can even kill, if they knock you off an antenna tower.

But they don’t cause cancer.

“It’s true that I’m a happy Apple customer, complete with a MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPad, and iMac, but I bought all those with my own money.”

Apple fans can behave like a cult. See “Apple triggers ‘religious’ reaction in fans’ brains, report says.”
Smokers often deny health risks of tobacco, especially second-hand smoke, even though they paid for it themselves. They’re not shills, but they have cognitive dissonance.

Even if cell phones caused cancer, Apple Watch wouldn’t be as bad as the iPhone. The watch doesn’t have a cellular antenna in it, and you don’t hold it up to your head like an iPhone.

In the nyt response linked above, the author says in future he’ll use a headset. But headsets have miniature electromagnets for the audio transducers, don’t they? and won’t these inevitably emit some radiation? These will be very close to the head – in the case of in-ear ‘phones, virtually in the head. Couldn’t get much more power to body cells than the rf from the ‘phone itself?
Loads of question marks, because I’m not a physicist – and will be pleased to be corrected by anyone who knows what they’re talking about.

“Indeed, most physicians seven decades ago didn’t accept the link, but it’s going a bit far to say that doctors ‘were not aware that smoking could cause cancer, heart disease, and lung disease.'”

Ok, how do those past doctors compare to current doctors like oncologist John G. West, who found a link between carrying a cell phone in the bra and developing breast cancer? Were those doctors dismissed too?

If cell phones aren’t a good analogy to tobacco, then what is? What health hazard is currently not accepted by most – but not all – physicians, but will turn out to be real? BPA? Marijuana? Pickled vegetables? No way to know, is there.

Have you heard of Tumor Treating Fields, or Optune, by Novocure? Low-intensity EMFs can treat cancer but not cause it?

“TTFields are low intensity, intermediate frequency, alternating electric fields that disrupt mitosis and cytokinesis. TTFields exert physical force on charged cellular components that is sufficient to stop normal cell division processes, specifically the formation of the mitotic spindle from tubulin dimer proteins. TTFields also exert a physical force on other components of the cell during division, a force which is sufficient to cause cell death prior to division.”

oncologist John G. West, who found a link between carrying a cell phone in the bra and developing breast cancer

Memory reminds me that John G. west’s theory has been covered here before. Dr West did not come across as particularly competent.

@herr doktor

Ok, did the first doctors who found a link between tobacco and cancer come across as particularly competent? If so, why didn’t they convince most doctors?

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