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A paper claiming a potential link between wireless technology radiation exposure and COVID-19 symptoms cherry picks studies to support its theory and underwent a biased peer review process.
While research is ongoing about the potential health effects of radio frequency exposure, current evidence does not support claims that the radio frequencies used in wireless technologies pose a health hazard.
Finding a journal or academic paper indexed in a reputable research database like PubMed does not guarantee rigorous, high-quality research.
Another iteration of these problematic assertions resurfaced in the form of a paper published on Sept. 29, 2021, in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research.
"Their analysis revealed a clear overlap between the effects of wireless communication technologies on the human body and the symptomatology of COVID-19 disease," a blog post on the paper said. "In other words, the electromagnetic radiation from wireless technologies, including and especially 5G, can cause the same symptoms as COVID-19!"
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5G, or the fifth generation of cellular networks, refers to a new standard for the internet that promises higher internet connection speeds and quality. Concerns about 5G and wireless technologies stem from exposure to the radio frequencies that allow these technologies to work.
The authors of the paper, however, cherry pick studies that support their claim, and acknowledge that their findings do not prove a link between 5G and COVID-19 symptoms. The paper also underwent a biased peer review process conducted by vocal anti-5G advocates.
Longstanding fears about wireless technology and its potential health risks are difficult to quell, in part because research is still ongoing. The World Health Organization, which has been investigating the potential health impacts of radio frequency exposure since 1996, states that there is no proven causal link between adverse health effects and wireless technologies.
"It’s important for people to realize that the ultraviolet waves from the sun are many thousand times higher frequency than 5G," said Theodore Rappaport, a professor of electrical engineering and radiology at New York University, in an interview with USA Today. "People should be more concerned about wearing sunscreen outside than using their 5G cell phones."
As for 5G's effect on COVID-19 infections, the World Health Organization and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, which evaluates the health risks of radiation exposure from devices like cell phones, both have issued statements dispelling this false link.
The authors of the study are an adjunct professor in the mind-body medicine department at Saybrook University and a radiologist not currently affiliated with an academic institution. They proposed a hypothesis that exposure to "wireless communications radiation," including 5G, may have increased the severity of COVID-19 infections.
To prove their theory, the authors compared select studies on the biological effects of wireless communication radiation exposure with studies on COVID-19 disease progression. They claim that observed symptoms shared by the two conditions — such as blood clotting, inflammation and irregular heart rate — imply a potential link between them.
However, the authors of the paper state outright that "none of the observations discussed here prove this linkage." They go on to say, "Specifically, the evidence does not confirm causation. Clearly COVID-19 occurs in regions with little wireless communication. Furthermore, the relative morbidity caused by (wireless communications radiation) exposure in COVID-19 is unknown."
Even one of the papers they cited on COVID-19 and 5G said, "The fact is that there is no link between the COVID-19 virus and 5G cell phone technology or 5G base-station communication towers. These are totally different constructs; they are not even close."
The authors of the paper also acknowledge that they only selected sources that supported their theory, ignoring papers that showed negative results. "We did not make an attempt to weigh the evidence," they wrote. Of the over 30,000 research reports on radiofrequency radiation exposure the authors note are available in the literature, they only cited 90. One of them is an anonymously published 2014 paper by one of the authors, which is not peer reviewed. Eight others are authored by the peer reviewers who evaluated their paper.
Notably, of the 10 listed reviewers, two of whom requested anonymity, half are vocal public opponents of 5G. They include vaccine skeptic Ronald Kostoff; Martin Pall, whose own theory about a connection between 5G and COVID-19 was shared on social media by actor Woody Harrelson; and David O. Carpenter, whose efforts at circulating inaccurate data on the health risks of wireless technology stoked fears over 5G. Two other reviewers signed a 2017 petition urging the European Union to stop the rollout of 5G.
We reached out to the editors of the journal but did not hear back before publication.
There are other signs that the study wasn’t credible or rigorously reviewed, even though it was published in a journal that could be accessed through the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s research database.
This paper was indexed in PubMed Central, an archive of open access papers from biomedical and life science journals managed by the NIH's National Library of Medicine. While distinct from PubMed, a search engine for the NLM's MEDLINE database of journals, articles from PubMed Central are also indexed in the search engine. The Journal of Clinical and Translational Research is currently indexed by PubMed Central, but not MEDLINE.
While both PubMed Central and MEDLINE screen journals before they are indexed, the review standards for MEDLINE are considered to be far more rigorous. PubMed includes citations from around 30,000 journals; MEDLINE has around 5,200.
Journals seek to get indexed in PubMed because it increases their credibility and exposure. Some of these journals, including predatory journals that publish low-quality articles and financially exploit scholars, use PubMed Central as a backdoor method of getting indexed. Other academic databases also face similar issues in screening for journals with flawed peer review processes.
"If a predatory journal is confined on its website, which is often of low-quality, the chance that patients or scholars will read and cite these articles is very low," said Andrea Manca, a professor of physiology at the University of Sassari in Italy, in an interview with The Scientist. "The problem is that when they are displayed in the most popular biomedical database that we have, there are many (people) who think if a journal is on PubMed, then it is fine — which is not true, unfortunately."
Researchers have called for more stringent standards for journal acceptance in PubMed and PubMed Central. But until these standards are raised, both scholars and lay people will need to approach all papers with a critical eye.
A blog post claims that a study found clear evidence that 5G technologies can cause COVID-19 symptoms.
The authors of the paper, however, themselves acknowledge that they cherry-picked studies supporting their own theory and state that their findings do not prove any potential link between 5G and COVID-19. Though the paper was indexed in a reputable research database, this does not mean that the research is high quality or underwent an ethical and rigorous peer review process.
Correlation does not equal causation — but even these correlations are suspect.
We rate this claim False.
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