unizeit Schriftzug

Facts about radiation

Is 5G causing serious illnesses across the country? There are strong fears about the latest mobile communications technology standard among various sections of society. However, one expert calls for calm.

© iStock / iYok-photo

Within the framework of the lecture series “Wissenschaft und alternative Fakten” (science and alternative facts) presented at the end of November 2020, Professor Alexander Lerchl from Jacobs University in Bremen focused on the current debate about 5G and attempted to make the distinction between sound knowledge, mere conjecture and deliberate falsification. He concluded that while not all questions on this subject had yet been answered, the concerns of possible risks to health seem to be vastly exaggerated.

Lerchl, who acquired his knowledge as a former chair of the Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation of the German Commission on Radiological Protection, among other positions, explains that the fifth generation of the mobile communications network is not really new. On the contrary, at least until now, it has been using the same frequencies as the current and still dominant LTE standard and, in doing so, it simply uses a different network protocol. “This protocol can be thought of as like a language,” explained the expert. Continuing with this illustration, what he considers to be the major advantage here is the fact that the language of the 5G process can transmit a very large amount of information using a very small number of characters. It is therefore simply a compression process that, like JPG for photos or MP3 for music, shrinks very large data packages to volumes that can be transmitted quickly.

The expert explains why compression makes sense with the help of some impressive figures: between 2010 and 2018 alone, the volume of data transmitted across the German mobile telecommunications network grew from 65 to 2,000 million gigabytes and has therefore increased thirtyfold. If this growth was primarily due to a sharp rise in video streaming during this period, Lerchl supposes that the Internet of Things with applications ranging from autonomous driving through to the digital factory could be an even greater driver of data in future.

But what is the cost of this turbo technology? The concerns expressed across the Internet and sometimes taken up by well-known organisations like Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) detail a broad spectrum of supposed side effects ranging from sleeping problems and difficulty finding words through to cancer. Lerchl categorises all of this in just one sentence: “None of that is scientific.” The biologist refers to extensive studies that state there are no health problems to be concerned about as long as mobile communications remain within the specified limits for electromagnetic radiation.

Even if the 5G standard uses other wavelengths in future, beyond the frequencies that are normally used at present, Lerchl thinks it is “extremely unlikely” that this could change anything in terms of its safety. This is demonstrated simply by comparing UV radiation, which has been proven to be damaging to health, with radiation occurring in mobile communications when, for example, the new 40 gigahertz frequency for 5G is introduced. Nearly 20 times more quantum energy is created through UV radiation with frequencies of over 750 terahertz (1 THz = 1,000 GHz) than with the new 40 GHz frequency. According to Lerchl, it is “physically impossible” for 5G to cause illnesses through ionising effects at this frequency.

The professor recommends a simple plausibility check here: “If mobile phone radiation caused cancer, logically it would develop first in the head. However, while mobile phone use has grown continuously over the last 20 years or so, cases of brain tumours have not only not increased, they have even fallen slightly.”

Author: Martin Geist

More and more facts and fakes

Alternative facts caught on as a concept four years ago when Donald Trump was sworn in as President and claimed that more people had attended the ceremony than ever before. As was easily proven, it was a brazen lie. At Kiel University, it was the trigger for the lecture series “Wissenschaft und alternative Fakten” (science and alternative facts).

According to its initiator Michael Bonitz, professor at the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics, the lecture series is all about “using scientific methods to distinguish between fact and fake.” This approach is designed to bring a little clarity to debates characterised by emotion or ideology as well as explain how the science itself works. “That is often a lengthy process,” said Bonitz, stressing that acknowledging ignorance is also part of the process. “If something does not appear clear-cut, it needs to be flagged up and areas that require further investigation need to be identified.”

The series is currently in its seventh run and remains unwavering in its mission to provide lots of scope for discussion, allow sceptical voices to be heard too and promote the active involvement of students and young researchers. The current team of organisers comprises Hanna Campen, Lukas Deuchler, Monja Gronenberg, Tobias Hahn, Patrick Ludwig and Elisa Rosati. According to Professor Bonitz, the great success of the lecture series is due not least to this broad basis, which also ensures that the subjects under discussion always keep pace with the times. (mag)