The Daily Mail headline: ‘Is wi-fi radiation killing off trees? Study blames computer signals for dying leaves‘.
The claims made at the start of the article:
As if our magnificent trees didn’t have enough problems, they’re now being threatened by our emails…
Now researchers say radiation from wi-fi networks that enable our burgeoning online communications may be their latest enemy.
Trees planted close to a wireless router had bleeding bark and dying leaves, according to the study in Holland.
The revelation will raise fears that wi-fi radiation may also be having an effect on the human body and supports parents who have campaigned to stop wireless routers being installed in schools.
So, not only does the research reckon that trees are dying because of Wi-Fi emissions, but the Daily Mail goes a good few steps further and suggests that the study adds weight to the paranoid Mail readers who believe that it also damages the body. The reporter – Niall Firth – really is taking bad science reporting to new lows when you skip to the end of the article for the nugget of truth:
The Wageningen University scientists behind the research, which has not yet been published, said that further studies were needed to confirm their findings.
The Dutch health agency issued a statement, stressing that ‘these are initial results and that they have not been confirmed in a repeat survey’.
It added: ‘There are no far-reaching conclusions from its results. Based on the information now available it cannot be concluded that the wi-fi radio signals leads to damage to trees or other plants.’
Other scientists have expressed scepticism. Marvin Ziskin, a professor of radiology and medical physics at Temple University in Philadelphia, said: ‘Stuff like this has been around a long time. There’s nothing new about wi-fi emissions. Scientifically there’s no evidence to support that these signals are a cause for concern.’
But Niall Firth – although he must have read this – still went ahead with the introduction of the article and the bit about how such research was likely to encourage fearful parents to worry more about Wi-Fi in schools. He does find time to mention the worried parents one last time:
In 2007, a BBC Panorama documentary found that radiation levels from wi-fi in one school was up to three times the level of mobile phone mast radiation.
Scary stuff… Then you read the ‘however’ that follows it:
However, the readings were 600 times below government safety limits.
So parents do not need to be worried then, even though the start of this article clearly tries to ramp up the fear.
As for that headline, well, as usual if the Mail is asking a rhetorical science question the answer is 99% likely to be ‘NO’.