Snake oil for cellphone radiation in a New York Times “Science Times” ad?
Science and the Media:
Misleading students about supposed alternatives to evolution theory is said to exact social costs. In a New York Times “Science Times” advertisement, does some similar cost arise from promoting a device that purports to protect cellphone users from electromagnetic emissions and cancer?
To what extent, if any, should a public science forum—in business to make money—insist on scientific fact when it comes to paid advertising?
The 11 March “Science Times” contains a full-page (p. D5) color advertisement—a photo of a young, smiling woman talking on a cellphone that has affixed to it an object the size and shape of a button. The headline says: “NEUTRALIZE HARMFUL RADIATION.” The subhead calls the button a “shield,” gives its brand name, and calls it “award winning and clinically approved.”
Brief text at the foot of the page calls the “shield” a “silicon based micro processor that neutralizes harmful radiation” and explains, “The device is distortion and noise free to communication devices, effectively neutralizing electromagnetic radiation of the device it is applied to.”
The Federal Trade Commission’s “Cell phone radiation scams” web page says there’s “no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from...electromagnetic emissions.” It links to the National Cancer Institute’s page “Cell phones and cancer risk,” which says there’s “no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.”
Yet this “shield” product’s own web site includes, along with much else to report, a warning that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.
One of the site’s four main, rotating pages shows, under the headline “Shield them,” a child whose laptop has the button “shield” affixed to it. The text, attempting to borrow the Times’s credibility, says, “Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices.” The attribution line cites “The New York Times” in the Times’s own special script for its name.
Another page reveals the shield’s cost, $39, and calls it a “patented fractal matrix resonator built with nano technology.” Another advertises, at $199, an index-card-sized version of the shield, calling it “a 9 core silicon based micro processor that provides universal protection from electromagnetic radiation of the broadband frequencies.” The page stipulates that the “device does not cause signal interference” and advises, “Activate by carrying the device on the person in a pocket, purse, wallet, etc.” Bits of text elaborating on that message advertise both a “front” and a “rear amplifying antenna” and a “thermal infrared absorbing layer” for “harmful thermal emission.”
A three-minute video on that page reports that cellphones and power lines present an “electromagnetic radiation pollution” problem, that scientists have determined cellphone use to be carcinogenic, and that the advertised device “absorbs the harmful waves and transforms them into harmless components by decomposing oscillations of electromagnetic fields.”
Another page calls “the influence of electro-magnetic radiation a serious health risk.” It offers comparatively extensive text, including this paragraph:
The main element of the [“shield”] is a special ring type fractal diffraction lattice (FDL). FDL represents the universal spatial-wave Fourier analyzer that is capable of differentiating across a wide spectrum of frequencies and electromagnetic field oscillations of any type (background, technological, biological). It works by decomposing them into the harmonious components and transforming them into a more coherent state.
An FAQ page claims that the technology “has been proven by several studies conducted by scientific, medical, and physics institutes.” It cites no sources.
Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.