Holford Jumps on the Wi-Fi Broadband Wagon – and gets it badly wrong.

So, with all this hot air blowing around about the inevitability of our imminent deaths due to mobiles and Wi-Fi, it is no surprise that Patrick Holford starts using his extensive physics knowledge to keep us safe from the evils of the ‘New Big Pharma’, the mobile-wifi-EMR conspiracy of ‘Vested Interests’. Patrick rids his home of Wi-Fi and in doing so starts a new experiment in the dangers of EMR – but that is to come.

Patrick has sent his latest missive from 100% Health e-news, entitled ‘Wi-Fi Health Warnings: Is Your Broadband Harming Your Health?‘. The short answer ought to be of course, ‘No’, but instead Patrick subjects his subscribers to his flaky knowledge of electromagnetic theory. Let’s pull his email apart…

At the heart of his email is the message that ‘most people don’t realise how easy it is to create an EMR free home.’ Obviously, EMR is a big evil that your family needs to avoid. Patrick begins his email,

The more research I read on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation (EMR), from mobile phones and especially from wireless networks (wLANs, otherwise known as Wi-Fi) installed at home, the more convinced I am of the importance of creating an electromagnetic free home environment.

Now that would be quite a feat in that electromagnetic radiation pervades the universe. There is no escape from it. But of course, let’s not be pedantic, Patrick is just concerned about removing from our houses the frequencies that have been implicated in mobile phone causing cancer, wi-fi worries and electrosensitivity induced by domestic appliances. Why this broad range of frequencies is dangerous to human health is of course at the heart of the controversy. Patrick has obviously seen enough evidence to convince him that something is afoot. Many of us are going to need a little more convincing.

In order to free of us of dangerous EMR, Patrick proposed we get rid of our wireless broadband networks and replace them with something allegedly less dangerous. However, in doing so, Patrick displays a remarkable lack of knowledge about the issues. He says,

The big problem with wLANs is that, unlike your mobile phone, they are on and broadcasting, 24 hours a day. The signal also has to be very strong, which is why you can often pick up a wireless network from two houses away, and it gives off radiation similar to emissions from mobile phones and phone masts.

Now, Wi-Fi is not a strong signal. It broadcasts at less less than 0.1W. Compare this with the EMR given out by a light bulb at 100W, or the million watts output by a TV transmitter. Wi-Fi does not need strong signals, it just needs to broadcast locally, usually within a building. A mobile on the other hand, needs to transmit many hundreds of metres. Even then it can do this on incredibly low power consumption. The battery in a mobile is tiny. This is made possible because modern electronics can be very sensitive. You just do not need strong signals to do the job. Take the transmitters in the Voyager spacecraft, now on the limits of the solar system. They broadcast back to Earth with much less than 300W of power – that is, enough power to light a living room. The fact that Wi-Fi barely gets next door, just shows how low-power the transmission is. These tiny radio power levels are one the main reasons scientist are so sceptical of the dangers of Wi-Fi and mobiles. But more on this later.

Patrick proposes the following:

Instead of wLAN you can use ‘dLAN’. This safe alternative is simply a box that plugs into any mains socket, with a lead that plugs straight into your computer. In effect it turns your household mains wiring into a hi-speed network.

These dLans, made by companies like Devolo, are rather quite neat. Many people use them because data rates can be much higher than Wi-Fi, they are much cheaper than installing dedicated wiring, and signals can get through thick walls easily.

dLans work by sending signals through your mains circuits and to specially adapted plugs. In slightly technical terms, the a/c current is modulated with a high frequency signal to carry the digital data. The frequencies are so high that your iron and Corby trouser press do not notice. However, and this is the important bit, electrical engineers have a technical name for long lengths of wire with modulated signals on them – aerials.

Yes, Patrick has turned the rings mains in his home into one mighty big aerial, spraying digital data EMR all over the place. It is an inevitable consequence of the physics of using a dLan. So, instead of ‘no invisible EMR zapping your family’, Patrick is adding a whole new frequency range of EMR into his house. He adds,

I’m now working on converting my neighbours, with their wireless networks, to convert to dLAN so we can create an EMR free street!

Uh no, Patrick. You are just adding to the EMR noise in your street. Hi Fi buffs are well aware of this problem and spend a small fortune ‘cleaning’ their mains to prevent interference problems. The mains is a high voltage, high power transmitter, and is very noisy. One of Patrick’s radiation detectors ought to tell him that.

Devolo actually discuss this problem on their web site as they have anticipated their more electrically aware customers might have questions about it. In fact, the problem is so severe that it is quite a security risk as a baddy in the street, with appropriate inexpensive receiving equipment, could pick up the EMR from the mains and snoop on your network. As a result, all network traffic on the mains should have a high level of encryption applied to prevent electronic evesdropping.

Devolo point out that the EMR from their network is somewhat lower than from a mobile phone, but is not too much different from a Wi-Fi network power. However, as Patrick points out, the network is going to be on all the time, and if Patrick is downloading dodgy bit-torrent files 24 hours a day, the total exposure could be ‘significant’. The frequencies associated with the dLan are closer to a mobile too.

Let’s use the electrosensitivy lobbies arguments here and see how they go. (Tongue firmly in cheek from now on, if you don’t pick up irony…)

First, do we trust the Devolo web site? They have a huge vested interest after all? Also, Devolo say the EMR power from their dLan is very low and no thermal effects can be expected. Trust them to say that. We all know that it is the non-thermal effects that we need to be worried about. Studies on stork nesting habits and sperm mobility prove it. The frequencies emitted by the dLan could well have subtle non-thermal effects on delicate cell structures, inter-cellular signalling, brain membranes and the immune system. Cancer is a possibility that cannot be ruled out.

It is also worth noting that Devolo can provide absolutely no evidence that their dLan is completely safe. There have been no long term studies on human health on exposure to the frequencies emitted by their networks. We at HolfordWatch call for more research to be done and the government should call a moratorium on rolling out such networks to schools.

If Patrick wants to use his family, and his neighbours, as a trial into the safety of such networks, then fine by us. But don’t impose this unknown and unproven technology and its EMR burden on the rest of us.

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19 Comments

Filed under Electromagnetic Radiation, electrosmog detector, EMR

19 responses to “Holford Jumps on the Wi-Fi Broadband Wagon – and gets it badly wrong.

  1. Anonymous

    ‘Wi-Fi Health Warnings: Is Your Broadband Harming Your Health?’
    says the same email alert I received.

    Yes! is the reply

    Broadband – wLAN or not- gives Holford an accessible forum to distribute his weird ideas that definitely do
    ‘Harm your Health’.

    i’ve long considered the Broccoli-for-Brains logo on the Food for the Brain franchise (oops – charity for THE KIDDIES), some form of subliminal messaging.

    Read this, adopt the practices and you too can have a brain of green mush – but full of anti-anaemia chlorophyll

  2. Shinga

    But, do I take it that converting your domestic wiring into an Ethernet network without the hag of specialised, insulated cable to prevent losses or crosstalk, is not really a problem? Because, after all, if you believe this, you have probably already had your walls etc. protected by shield fleeces or special paint to deflect the EMR of ordinary electrical wiring. Or, is Holford advocating a technology that is more expensive and less flexible than Wifi and would also need you to spend around £8k to shield you from it?

  3. Jon

    thanks for the comments. Hm, even if you’d already painted/fleeced your walls, I wonder if these supposed shielding products have been thoroughly tested for efficacy (tin foil helmets can apparently amplify signals in certain frequency ranges, after all)? Also, would you need to shield your plug sockets and the dLan sockets, too?

  4. Shinga

    Oddly enough – you can purchase shielded light sockets and powerpoints or you can purchase shielded cable for a retrofit. However, with both of these solutions, you are budgeting for serious expenditure, so possibly, wearing a tinfoil hat that is grounded by electricians is the way to go, albeit the trailing wires might be a trip hazard.

  5. Jon

    Ah- that’s interesting. I guess to be really safe, as well as your shielded plugs you’d need to build some kind of EMR filter into the sockets for when you plug any appliances in? But then doing this would stop the dLAN working…

    You’re probably right about the tinfoil helmet being more economical.

  6. Anonymous

    Usually people who accuse others of being arrogant and opinionated are themselves both these things. I think your blog is a joke but with a bit of luck not many people will find it. What you need is to develop a bit of compassion and an open mind.

  7. UKdietitian

    Bit of compassion and an open mind?
    Ah, just like Patrick. Plenty of faux compassion and an open mind works wonders for selling nutrition courses/ programmes/books/ supplements/ therapies/ pills/ lifestyle aids/Nairns oatcakes/GMTV freebie advertising slot etc etc.

    Anonymous fails to note what is truly interesting about this blog – which is why it’s gaining popularity – is that the site solely disputes the statements made by Holford. Nothing ad hominem.Its the message not the man under scrutiny.

  8. Jon

    ukdietitian- thanks for the support.

    Anonymous- glad you found the site funny: they do say that laughter’s the best medicine ;) I’m also delighted that you agree that it’s important to keep an open mind: for example, we should be open to discussing the potential benefits of certain Alzheimer’s drugs or the risks of taking some antioxidant pills.

    Oh yeah – and the site traffic is growing very nicely. Thanks for asking.

  9. Le Canard Noir

    Arrogant and opinionated?

    Where do I accuse anyone of that? What I suggested is that Holford does not know what he is talking about – very obvious here when he talks about Wi-Fi.

    Anonymous, care to share with us why this is ‘a joke’? Where have I got this wrong?

  10. Anonymous

    Here’s a new blog on wi-fi and health risks, with some attempt at an even-handed approach:

    wifirisks.com

  11. Jon

    anonymous- thanks for the link. However, I don’t think that an ‘even-handed’ approach means accepting nonsense as a worthwhile argument. A lot of the scare stories about wi-fi not only lack any evidence of negative effects, but also (as discussed in this blog post) appear to misunderstand what EMR is.

    There are also ethical issues here. As Goldacre argues “Symptoms [of electrosensitivity] are real, they are subjective, some people experience them very severely, and this is real distress that deserves our compassion. Alternatively, you could cynically exploit them – and mislead them, and frighten them – to sell your quack products, your newspaper, your TV show, and your freelance articles.” Faced with this choice, the last thing we want is to be ‘even-handed’.

  12. ach

    “an open mind”?

    Important, yes, but when you ignore the multiple provocation studies and cherry pick from poor methodolgy and anecdote, it rather leads one to agree with Richard Dawkins that “there is such a thing as being so open minded that your brains fall out”

  13. Persiflage

    One of the things that makes me giggle the most about this sort of thing is the volume of unfounded accusations of a conspiracy between mobile telcos and Wi-Fi manufacturers…

    I can tell you this for an absolute fact: until very recently, the mobile telcos have HATED Wi-Fi as a technology. The thought of some long-running cloak-and-dagger collaboration is as laughable as the idea that $cientologists are in league with the Institute of Psychiatry.

    Telcos such as Orange have launched legal challenges in many cities against the provision of free Wi-Fi on the grounds that such networks are “anti-competitive”. Ubiquitous free wireless access is nothing short of terrifying to telcos because it potentially short-circuits their entire business model.

    It’s only in the last couple of years that they’ve bowed to the inevitable and started to incorporate Wi-Fi into their handsets and “multiplay” offerings in a belated attempt to claw back some revenue from the technology.

    Most networks still attempt to hobble the use of Wi-Fi on handsets to prevent the use of free VoIP applications… The concept of the WiFi “industry” itself is a pretty nebulous one, but the idea that they’re in cahoots with mobile phone providers in some sort of dark conspiracy makes me splutter coffee all over my keyboard whenever I read it.

  14. James Barlow

    I used to sell and install wireless equipment (note – if there is a EMR conspiracy then I didn’t get the memo).

    I had tremendous problems at one house where I couldn’t get a wi-fi signal from the main body of the building into a new extension. After discussion with the home owner I discovered that the insulation of the adjoining walls was held in place by a compartment made of foil-backed plywood. It was very effective at blocking 802.11g signals.

    If you are looking to reduce your exposure to EMR, then I’d suggest constructing a wearable foil-backed wooden compartment to shield your core internal organs – a few example designs are available on the web:

    http://tinyurl.com/2yzvzc

  15. Anonymous

    Many years ago I worked for what was then the Post Office Engineering dept which, in those days, dealt wit radio interference as well as repairing telephones. It never ceased to amaze me how many poeple thought that they were being tortured/monitored/tapped or tormented in some way by electricity.
    It seems nothing has changed

  16. Simon

    According to the bbc we dont have enough plug sockets anyway. What’s this going to do blocking up one in every room? More overloaded 4-way sockets leads to more fires leads to more deaths than EMR has ever caused.

  17. Anonymous

    Has anyone ever consider the reason these people report on the health problems of anything related to obtaining information is to prevent people from finding out just how rediculous their knowledge of the subject is.

  18. Pingback: Patrick Holford Refers to Someone Else as Inaccurate « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  19. Pingback: Patrick Holford and Q-Link: Boyd’s Galvanic Batteries with a C21 Update? « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

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