“Kills trees” is the new “causes cancer”

(Edit: Angry Mob has a good post on this subject)

The Daily Mail has a doozy of a headline today: Is wi-fi radiation killing off trees? Study blames computer signals for dying leaves.

As if our magnificent trees didn’t have enough problems, they’re now being threatened by our emails.

When they’re not being assailed by some foreign bug or moth, there’s often a council official looking for an excuse to cut them down.

Now researchers say radiation from wi-fi networks that enable our burgeoning online communications may be their latest enemy.

Damn those foreign bugs and those council officials and those emails threatening our magnificent trees!

The study is – of course – unpublished, and the press release is so far only available in Dutch. The gist of it, according to the Dutch Antenna Agency (via Google Translate), is that researchers grew various plants in a climate controlled room. Of these, ash trees appeared to have brittle, discoloured leaves if grown close to a wireless access point – by close, we’re talking on the order of 50 cm, and maize and thale cress seemed to have delayed flowering. However, since the experiment is unpublished (indeed, it won’t even be presented to a conference until February of next year), all we have to go on is the press release. We don’t know how the experiment was controlled – after all, all the symptoms could have been disease or dehydration – there’s no mention in the press release of control groups, and we can’t know how statistically significant this result is.

The Antenna Agency also mentions previous studies showing that wi-fi had no effect on the growth of beech and spruce trees, and paraphrases the researcher thus:

He warns strongly that there are no far-reaching conclusions from its results. Based on the information now available can not be concluded that the WiFi radio signals leads to damage to trees or other plants

So in other words, this study (which has not yet been published) may make some interesting observations, but it most certainly does not blame wi-fi for killing trees. Oh well, Daily Mail, it’s just that the lead headline in your science section is completely wrong and will scare people unnecessarily, it’s not like that’s a big deal or anything.

  1. #1 by Dendrodoa on Monday, 13th December 2010 - 15:50 GMT+0100

    Surely, at the end of November, the thing making the trees look sickly and dead is, erm, Autumn.

    And one climate-controlled room does not a study make.

  1. Tweets that mention “Kills trees” is the new “causes cancer” « Atomic Spin -- Topsy.com

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