Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Several years ago, I signed up for "Google Alerts" about the purported link
between "cell-phone radiation and cancer." It's a great service. I get
hundreds of Alerts about cell phones, almost all of which are dead wrong.
That's fine; what I'm trying to figure out is why reporters so consistently
get it wrong. I tried doing an additional search for "Einstein." It was,
after all, Einstein's Nobel Prize winning 1905 paper on the Photoelectric
Effect that introduced the concept of wave/particle duality. Einstein
described electromagnetic radiation as discrete packets of energy (now
called "photons") equal to the wave frequency times Planck's constant.
Photoemission is thus possible only for photons of energy greater than the
ionization threshold (about 5 eV for metals). That's in the ultraviolet
region of the radiation spectrum, starting at the blue limit of the visible
spectrum. Ultraviolet radiation can create mutant strands of DNA that are
the seeds of skin cancer. That's why you should avoid tanning salons. You
should also avoid sticking your head in microwave ovens with the interlock
disabled. Microwave photons from cell phones, microwave ovens, smart
meters, and Wi-Fi all have energies about a million times too low to create
mutant strands of DNA. Better you should worry about the impending solar
maximum. Microwaves can cook your goose, but you will die cancer free.
The most recent book warning about cell-phone hazards is "Disconnect,"
Devra Davis(2010, Dutton). Does Disconnect mention Einstein? Well," it
quotes him at the start of chapter 11, "The right to search for truth
implies also a duty." That's it. It makes no mention of his work, but last
week something called "The Environmental Health Trust" issued a press
release urging the United States to require health warning labels on cell
phones. The President of the Environmental Health Trust is Devra Davis. The
press release called for donations to support its work
David Brooks, a sort-of conservative New York Times columnist, commented
this morning that fertility rates in the Arab world have been declining for
three decades. Well, not in Afghanistan, which tops the 133 sovereign
states of the world with a fertility rate of about seven. But war and
poverty always make the fertility rate go up. Afghanistan is at the top
with a rate of around seven.
Nobody knows. Science is the process of eliminating supernatural
explanations. The Higgs boson is the only elementary particle predicted by
the Standard Model of particle physics that has not yet been observed
experimentally. Its not for lack of trying. As Drew Baden points out, the
$5 billion Large Hadron Collider has been rummaging through all the drawers
in the house trying to find the Higgs. There's still one drawer they
haven't opened. They're getting ready to pry open the last drawer.