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[Note: I was, unfortunately, unable to complete a post for today due to a situation that came up over the weekend. I will definitely be back next week, though. Sorry about that. Fortunately, we have this post from Braden MacBeth ready to go.
– David Gorski]

Joe Mercola strikes again.

Dr. Joe Mercola recently released a new book titled EMF*D: 5G, Wifi & Cell-Phones and How to Protect Yourself. Given the author, I felt compelled to give it a preorder. Major telecom companies started rolling out 5G networks in select cities throughout 2018 and 2019, and much larger expansions are expected this year. 5G can offer up to 100x times the speed and a 50th the latency compared to 4G networks. While 5G does use some new technology, it isn’t particularly interesting. But Mercola argues in EMF*D that 5G networks, Wi-Fi, and other non-ionizing radiation can cause serious health effects. So I’m going to point out how why he’s wrong, and what he’s really trying to sell readers.

That’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.

EMFs from cell phones, Wi-Fi routers, and 5G networks cannot cause anyone and negative health effects. So in the first chapter Mercola uses the oldest trick in the book to try and convince readers that EMFs could harm them, by teaching them the science at a basic level so when he lies about the science at a higher level, he seems truthful. The first chapter titled “Understanding EMFs” begins with an explanation of EMFs you would find in any basic science textbook. Electromagnetic waves are vibrations between an electric field and a magnetic field, and they have a strength based on the frequency with which they oscillate. EMFs with a high enough frequency such as X-rays, ultraviolet rays, and gamma rays carry enough energy to ionize atoms. When this happens in the human body it can cause mutations in DNA that can lead to cancer.

EMFs with lower frequencies such as the radio waves in your cell phones, very-low frequency waves in Wi-Fi routers, and extremely-low frequency waves in power lines and electronics, are non-ionizing and can’t harm you. Mercola gives a fairly decent explanation of these concepts. He then proceeds to lie and claims that these lower frequency EMFs are actually ionizing and cause DNA damage through a “different mechanism”. Ionizing radiation from high frequency EMFs causes DNA damage through a variety of different mechanisms, but the one Mercola focuses on is the generation of hydroxyl free radicals. A hydroxyl free radical is a highly reactive oxygen species that has lost an electron, and can mess with basically every chemical structure in the human body. Mercola states:

It’s true that non-ionizing radiation, by definition doesn’t have enough energy to break the covalent bonds in your DNA, or produce hydroxyl free radicals that do the same. However wireless radiation results in DNA biological damage that is nearly identical to the harm caused by ionizing radiation. It just it in a very different way that very few people are aware of. Non-ionizing radiation from your wireless devices actually creates carbonyl free radicals, instead of hydroxyl radicals that ionizing radiation gives rise to that causes virtually identical damage to your nuclear DNA, mitochondria, proteins, cell membranes, and stem cells.

Now, there are multiple levels of stupid to be appreciated in this statement. Mercola acknowledges that non-ionizing radiation doesn’t have the energy necessary to create free radicals. Then he proposes mechanism that involves the generation of a carbonyl radical through… ionization! So the statement debunks itself, but it’s so much worse. The generation of a carbonyl radical isn’t a hidden mechanism nobody knows about, it’s called a Norrish reaction. Guess what kind of radiation gets to generate the carbonyl free radical used in a Norrish reaction? Ultraviolet light.

It gets worse when he begins to talk about electricity in a section titled “Understanding the Importance of Pulsed vs. Non-pulsed EMFs”. He begins by explaining the difference between alternating current and direct current. Alternating current is pulsed at a set frequency and travels both directions in a circuit, while direct current travels in one direction in a circuit continuously. Mercola argues that the electric grid should be run on DC power because the human body can tolerate DC power better than AC power because…? I personally haven’t touched any power lines recently and cannot confirm, and I’m not looking to try. To back up this very odd statement he claims:

In fact, when there are variations of more than 20 percent in the Earth’s natural magnetic field during magnetic storms or geomagnetic pulsations that occur due to changes in the solar activity cycles, there are increased rates of animal and human incidents, including nervous, and psychiatric disease, hypertensive crises, heart attacks, cerebral accidents, and morality.

Wat. He cites two books written in 1977 and 1978, both apparently written by Russian parapsychologists, which are available on Amazon for 70 dollars each and probably don’t support what he’s saying. I was unable to find any study that even vaguely resembles what he’s talking about in a credible journal. There is no identifiable mechanism through which low-frequency EMFs can harm you, but Mercola is perfectly happy to make up complete nonsense that ignores basic science to make it seem that way. The question is, if you already paid $12 for the book, what’s he trying to sell you?

The hustle: Dirty electricity

Everything Mercola does is meant to sell you something, whether it be something he sells directly or something someone else pays him to promote. EMF*D is no different, and tries to sell you products that prevent the generation of “dirty electricity”. Mercola defines “dirty electricity” as “all electrical and magnetic fields from any frequency above 50/60 Hz”. He claims that dirty electricity occurs as transient pulses when AC current is converted into DC current and can have a frequency as high as 100 kHz. He can’t be talking about transient voltage surges from lightning or EMPs, which cause outages. I don’t know what he’s talking about and he probably doesn’t know either. Mercola never really gives any further explanation what the health risks of dirty electricity are or any evidence that it actually exists.

According to Mercola, dirty electricity is everywhere; it’s created by cell phone towers by the ton, computers, monitors, and TVs. The reality is that “dirty electricity” isn’t real, and it’s a term created by grifters to scare people into buying their junk. Mercola suggests later in the chapter that you should purchase “dirty electricity filters”. What do these filters actually do? Nothing, but Mercola references a study where researchers installed “dirty electricity filters” into school classrooms and asked them about their well-being and their students behavior with and without the filters installed. 55% of teachers reported improved symptoms, and 18% reported worsening symptoms including frustration, irritability, and fatigue.

The results of the study are interesting because it shows that if you design your study poorly enough, you too can statistically significant results (see the Hawthorne effect). Dirty electricity isn’t a real thing so the installation of “dirty electricity”, or filters for it, would have no effect on any problems teachers may be experiencing. The questionnaires sent out to teachers had a very poor response rate and only 18 of the 55 teachers responded enough times for their responses to be considered in the results. The study concludes:

This preliminary study needs to be repeated in other schools. If the Graham/Stetzer filters are as effective as they appear to be, then the dirty electricity in schools, homes, and offices can be reduced until other methods are in place to minimize the production and distribution of this form of electrical pollution.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves and start doing that I feel like there’s a few key pieces of context that we should understand. The brand of filters used in the study are from a company called Stetzer Electric, and they link directly to Magda Havas’s website. I’m just saying there’s probably a conflict of interest here. Furthermore, putting these filters in schools not only would be a colossal waste of money, it could also cause a lot of schools to burn down. According to a report in The Daily Examiner, one of these devices caught fire in someone’s home and the electrician who looked at the device described it as “a ticking time bomb”. This report bothered Dave Stetzer so much that he felt the need to put up a notice on his site:

Please be advised that false and fraudulent allegations have recently been posted on the internet against Stetzer Electric and its STETZERiZER products. Stetzer Electric has brought a lawsuit for defamation, fraud and intentional misrepresentation against the individuals making these statements.

The bottom line is that these products are a scam, and could potentially be dangerous. Dirty electricity isn’t a thing, and the fact that Mercola tries to sell you on it is enough reason to never take anything he says seriously.

5G isn’t going to kill us all.

The second chapter of EMF*D is titled “5G: The Biggest Health Experiment Ever”, as if health is something one considers when downloading cat videos at lightning speeds. Mercola states that the real risk in 5G is that 5G uses extremely high frequency radiowaves also called millimeter waves (MMW), which are in the 30 to 300 GHz range on the electromagnetic spectrum. Mercola doesn’t provide any reason why this presents and health risks, there aren’t any. MMW radio waves are already used in many devices such as space telescopes, police radar guns, and security scanners. MMW, like the radiowaves used in other technical devices, have no negative health effects (not to mention being longer than, and therefore less energy than, the visible light you are bathed in every day and are using to, you know, read this article). But Mercola, counter to common sense and basic physics, argues otherwise in EMF*D, makes tons of absurd claims about the risks of 5G including causing cataracts, cardiac arrhythmia, pain, suppressed immune system function, and my personal favorite: Thanos snapping 40% of all insect life on the planet out of existence.

For example, Mercola cites a study claiming that up to 80% of people can detect the presence of MMWs on their skin. Both studies he references are published in predatory journals, and I was unable to find a full text of either. Mercola also claims that MMW’s can caused increased electrohypersensitivity particularly in postmenopausal women. I find this claim interesting, since electrohypersensivity isn’t a real medical condition. Unfortunately there is a small set of people who are convinced that they are sensitive to EMFs. However they are attributing symptoms to EMF exposure when in reality their symptoms are caused by something else or aren’t attributable to any medical condition. A study conducted for the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority found that people who claim to be EMF-sensitive have physical symptoms, however the symptoms are not correlated with exposure to EMF radiation and may occur because of the conscious expectation of such symptoms. Mercola makes so many claims about the health risks of 5G and EMFs I literally can’t debunk them all or this post would be longer than the book itself. So just as a catch-all I’m going to state that there’s no plausible mechanism through which 5G cell networks could harm you. 5G is significantly different than 4G from a technical standpoint. 5G networks will have a much higher download speed, lower latency and require different technology to deploy. But otherwise, they’re using the same physics to do the same job, just using a slightly different part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Non-Solutions to Non-Problems

Since Mercola’s book is dedicated to trying to prove that EMFs are going to irreversibly harm you, he has to give sell his readers something they can do to reverse the “damage”. Mercola claims, in short, that the damage done to your DNA from EMFs can be repaired by PARP enzymes and PARP enzymes consume a very large amount of NAD+. This will cause a deficiency of NAD+, which is required for lots of other processes in your body, and these deficiencies will cause cell death. Fortunately, Mercola has simple solutions to increase your NAD+/NADP levels like getting enough sleep and reducing your EMF exposure. However, my personal favorite recommendation he makes is to get more molecular hydrogen (H2), which inhibits NADPH oxidase increasing the level of NADPH in your cells. How can you get more molecular hydrogen you may ask?

According to Mercola, there are many ways to take hydrogen therapeutically but many methods are ineffective. Fortunately Mercola sells hydrogen water tablets on his site, which he claims create molecular hydrogen when you dissolve them in water. There are a few problems: the tablets don’t create molecular hydrogen in water, molecular hydrogen isn’t a proven treatment for any medical condition, and you don’t even have a NADPH deficiency to begin with because EMFs from electronic devices won’t hurt you. Molecular hydrogen isn’t hard to make, it’s just that generally it involves doing things like running electric current through water (irony!), or adding stuff to water and heating the mixture at very high temperatures and pressures to generate hydrogen gas. The ingredients in Mercola’s tablets include: Magnesium, Dextrose, Malic Acid, L-Tartaric Acid, and Adipic Acid. What does all of this stuff do? None of the ingredients would cause a reaction that would generate a chemical reaction yielding molecular hydrogen. It would just dissolve in the water and give it a slightly tart taste. His tablets are a scam, they don’t even create molecular hydrogen, and wouldn’t provide any health benefits if they did.

Finally, Mercola recommends taking niacin supplements to increase the levels of NAD+ in your body. Unless you have a deficiency in niacin deficiency (pellagra), which has really obvious symptoms, you don’t need to take niacin supplements. You certainly don’t need to take niacin supplements because of NAD+ deficiency from DNA damage from EMFs. EMFs used by cellphones don’t cause DNA damage, and that’s not how this works; that’s not how any of this works. If your cells were really low on NAD+, they can just make more NAD+ through de novo synthesis. NAD+ is a necessary cofactor to make a lot of metabolic reactions work. It’s like coffee in the break room: you kill the joe, you make some mo.

Mercola also makes a number of suggestions for how to prevent dangerous EMF exposure. Mercola highly recommends hiring “EMF specialists” to come to your home and look through your electrical wiring to identify problems that cause strong electromagnetic fields to be created. If that’s too expensive for you, you could buy an EMF meter for $200-400 to identify sources of EMF exposure in your home. I think, much like computer programming, it’s a bad idea to mess with the electrical wiring in your home as long as it works. While there probably is some sort of oddity in your home’s wiring that makes no sense that could be fixed, if it works, don’t mess with it. The best outcome is you’ll rip up your home for no benefit. At the worst you could electrocute yourself or knock out the power to half your home and will be relegated to showering at the YMCA for the next 2 months.

Mercola also recommends making some technical changes to your home network. Mercola recommends switching your entire home over to Ethernet. The problem with this is that it’s pretty rare to find a home with the wiring supports this unless you want to run really long Ethernet cables all throughout your house, or have all of your devices in one room. You could hire someone to wire your home this way, but it’ll cost you a lot of money. The only benefit to Ethernet over Wi-Fi is if you are super worried about consistent network performance.

Now my personal favorite suggestions that Mercola makes in this chapter are for if you really need to use Wi-Fi or your cell phone. If you must use Wi-Fi and are still wanting to reduce your EMF exposure, you can buy an EMF-shielding mesh cloth or box to wrap your router in to reduce the EMF levels. Think about this for a minute. Wireless routers work by emitting EMFs, if there are no EMFs, there is no signal. If the mesh reduces the EMFs the router emits, you will have to stand closer to the router to get the same level of signal to connect to the router. So these products are scams, regardless of whether or not they actually reduce the amount of EMFs emitted by the router. There are many more suggestions that are even more ridiculous but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. The EMFs emitted by your home’s electrical wiring and your devices are harmless, the science is clear. There is nothing to be worried about.

Conclusion: Counterfeiting reality

5G/EMF conspiracy theories have been on the rise as seen in the most recent COVID-19 5G conspiracy Dr. Gorski debunked recently. These sorts of ideas on social media have already pushed conspiracy theorists to attack 5G towers because they believe the towers cause the coronavirus. These EMF conspiracies used to be a lot more niche, but that’s not the case anymore. Last October, Scientific American allowed a guest Joel M. Moskowitz titled “We Have No Reason To Believe 5G is Safe“. While skeptics might be aware Scientific American has been to editorial rigor what Velveeta is to cheese as of late, the average person is going to assume that there is some level of truth to Moskowitz’s claims by virtue of his opinion piece being in Scientific American. There isn’t any level of truth to Moskowitz’s claims, EMFs from electronic devices have no health effects.

Books like EMF*D, articles on news sites, fake experts, and EMF safety organizations all contribute to this illusion that there’s this “other side” to a debate about the safety of 5G or EMFs. If they’re able to convince people that EMFs from routers and telephones can cause health effects, these people will begin attributing subjective symptoms to these benign radiowaves. They will look to these websites and their surrounding communities for support, and will buy what they are selling. Taken to the extreme, they will uproot their entire lives. In the Netflix’s Afflicted series, one woman was convinced that moving to a national radio quiet zone in Green Bank, West Virginia was the only way she could find relief for her symptoms.

People like Mercola want to make people feel as though they have to keep track of all the EMFs they’ve been exposed to and look for ways to reduce their exposure. They want to turn people into hypochondriacs and social outcasts. Mercola’s advice for carrying a cell phone is to place it in airplane mode or a Faraday bag, both of which defeat the purpose of having a cell phone. A phone in airplane mode or a Faraday bag cannot make or receive calls, you won’t even receive notification that you received a call or a text until you take it out of airplane mode. I’ll never claim to be an expert on dating or social interaction, but I don’t think people want to hang out with someone when making plans means a 2-3 day game of phone tag every time. It also makes it hard to go out to lunch with your friends when you spent all of your money on $200-a-bucket EMF shielding paint or ripping up your home’s electrical wiring for no reason. EMFs from electronic devices can’t hurt you, sometimes you can just have a good thing in life without wondering what serious health problem it’s going to cause you down the line.

While EMFs from cell phones and other electronic devices don’t cause negative health effects, the information that those EMFs carry can cause people to do things that result in harm. While there has always been and is always going to be Internet misinformation, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Internet misinformation has had an unprecedented negative influence on our society over the past 5-6 years. This isn’t a technical issue or an issue with tech companies not wanting to fix it. These websites operate on a scale that companies can’t police without spending more than they actually make, crazy that may seem. However, these companies should step in more when things get out of hand (or ideally before).

When it’s proven that books, videos, articles, and posts are created in bad faith and perpetuate misinformation that can harm people, they should be removed. When users are trying to scam other users, they should be banned. Mercola is a perfect example of a user posting in bad faith. He pitches at least 10 products to readers in this book that are all based on health misinformation. Mercola has over 250,000 followers on Twitter, and recently peddled nebulized hydrogen peroxide as a treatment for COVID19. Users like this aren’t adding value these sites, they remove value from these sites. If you can’t take anyone’s information at face value on Twitter without wondering if the user is a snake oil salesman or a bot, are you going to use these sites as much? Of course not.

So Amazon please, remove EMF*D from your store. You’ve already done a lot of good by removing documentaries such as Vaxxed, and Cancer Can Be Killed and that has had a hugely positive impact even if the effects aren’t apparent. It’s clear you don’t want information that can harm people on their store, so why not make it a rule? Amazon has entire page dedicated to restricted products not already specified in the terms of services; why not add products that perpetuate flagrant health misinformation and health conspiracy theories to that list? Conspiracies like the ones presented in Mercola’s book have already done enough harm, you’re just clearing junk off your store.

EMF*D isn’t uniquely terrible compared to other books and documentaries I’ve reviewed, but it’s by far the most cynical. It’s not enough to sell people ineffective, unproven treatments for health conditions they do have. Mercola has to take it a step further and try to convince people whatever random aches and pains people might feel on a regular basis are attributable to the roll-out of 5G cellular networks, or Wi-Fi in order to sell them junk. 5G won’t cause any negative health effects to anyone except maybe if you use 5G to access Mercola’s websites or books.

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Posted by Braden MacBeth

I'm a software engineer in Pennsylvania.