5G: Conspiracy Theorists, Technology Shylocks and the Echo-Chamber
By Senator Iroegbu
Summary: There are five to six key conclusions that sufficed in the ongoing debate about the possible benefits and potential consequences of 5G Technology to humanity with particular attention to Nigeria.
•One: There is no proven evidence linking 5G technologies to the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as being championed by conspiracy theorists and religious leaders, warning against the emergency of a one world government also known as the New World Order. It is even ridiculous to suggest so but nothing stops people of faith from warning their members on how global events impact on their life as long as it is hinged on the truth.
•Two: There are inherent weaknesses and deficiencies in human inventions, hence the need for continuous research and development for improvement.
•Three: In as much the proponents of the technology sounds persuasive by cleverly marketing only the inherent benefits, the overwhelming commercial interests will ensure that the ‘economic Shylocks and greedy profiteers’ would never disclose the other side of the coin–the potential dangers, hazards and threats of these technologies to civilization just like any other scientific and man-made inventions were found to be deficient.
•Four: What could have been a robust debate to help inform, educate and enlighten the silent majority about the likely benefits and dangers of 5G technology as well as possible ethical challenges have been lost in the cacophony of voices trapped in the echo chamber of extremism. Opposing minorities have hijacked the debate and there is urgent need for a common ground approach for the greater good of all.
•Five: The ongoing debate about the effects of radiation, wireless and radio frequency technologies including 3G, 4G, 5G and the forthcoming upgrades like 6G as well as 7G on human health is an old one. The study and research findings are inconclusive for now.
•One vital question: Does Nigeria and rest of the world need 5G Network? The probable answer is yes but at what cost? The answer is yet unknown and this is what has generated debates across the globe.
What are the issues?
For a while now, there has been a raging debate over an alleged connection between the Fifth Generation (5G) Technology and the invasive Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has left the world’s socio-economic and health systems lying prostrate. As ridiculous as this sounds, significant population of global community seem to believe that the spirited efforts by governments, scientists and commercial entities to install the 5G Network in various cities of the world is dubious, thereby pitching two dominant but minority groups–the conspiracy theorists and greedy merchants–against each other. But in all their arguments, there are hollow between.
The religious zeal deployed by the conspiracy theorists in evangelizing their message and the arrogant as well as extremist counter narratives by the proponents of “5G technology at all cost without scrutiny”, has blinded reasoning.
Consequently, the gulf in the context and content of messages being championed by the proponents and antagonists of this novel technology have silenced the moderates and squeezed out neutrals from what could have ordinarily led to an objective brainstorming for the greater good of all.
For the fact that the language being deployed by those evangelizing the gospel of 5G technology against their opponents who have called for caution, is sometimes extreme, vile and condescending that it has only managed to kill off enlightened discourse–thereby deviating from the rare opportunity to address all the fears and concerns–but successful in bullying the neutrals into silence.
Unfortunately, it is not everyone invested in the ongoing quest to know the efficacy or impairment of 5G technology to human development and civilization that are conspiracy theorists. It could assumed that what aggravated the ugly debate in this instance is for the fact that some of the major antagonists of the 5G are Clergymen–warning their members of an emerging anti-Christ superintended new world order–which irked those whose stock in trade nowadays is to mock and ridicule the Church. In their obvious irritation and passionate zeal to score some cheap points of “I told you so”, they displayed intellectual arrogance that ended up alienating the very constituency they sought to preach the gospel of technology. They have inadvertently turned what should have been an enlightening discussion into an echo chamber–a metaphorical description of a situation in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system–both parties ended preaching to the convicted.
Nevertheless, we will be missing the point if we completely focus the attention of the discourse on the idealness of 5G technology and its expected offshoots like 6G (said to being currently developed by China, Us and other countries) as well as 7G (as reportedly being championed in Japan). The fact is that opposition against 5G predates COVID-19 and the nascent conspiracy theories. In fact, the debate about what the mainstream scientists described as “unwarranted fears of wireless technology”, has been an age-old one as well as the opposition against novel or existing technologies have been long entrenched in progressive societies, not only championed by conspiracy theorists but some non-conformist/fringe scientists as well as mainstream activists and religious groups.
Why the interrogation on 5G and its subsequent variants is a patriotic duty that should be sustained, is for better understanding of its benefits and inherent weaknesses. It is also for the fact that no technology and human invention is ever perfect but continuous interrogation helps to ensure improvement on existing technologies as well as invention of better ones.
More importantly, governments, companies and individuals with economic interests have been known to be insincere about the hazards of concerned products and technologies being beautifully packaged and marketed for public consumption. It has always been for the commendable efforts of ever vigilant media, citizens and customers that have helped to expose some of these hidden death traps. Examples of how certain products being packaged for human consumption became a poisoned chalice abound. For instance, there is this popular case in Kano State, Nigeria, involving the Pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and Neimeth using children as a Guinea pig for their drugs with deadly outcome. According to Reuters, Nigeria accused Pfizer of being “responsible for the deaths of 11 children and permanent health problems for dozens of the 200 children involved in the Trovan trial, and Neimeth was under Pfizer’s control at the time of the epidemic”.
Similarly, there many examples where supposedly reliable products and technologies have turned out to be lethal to human health including that of Johnson & Johnson as was reported by BBC to has been ordered by court in 2018 to pay $4.7bn (£3.6bn) in damages to 22 women who alleged that its talc products caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
In the past, some of the most reliable companies have also faltered as witnessed in the Boeing 737 Max plane crashes as well as Samsung, Toyota and Volkswagen amongst others that have had to recall their faulty products in one time or the other.
Currently, the world is in a race against time to “rescue the environment” that was and still being devastated by technology-based human activities. In essence, technology and 5G health hazards could be real and not just a conspiracy theory, if the focus is not hijacked and narrowed only towards its unproven links with COVID-19.
In addition, have we also analyzed the likely threat of 5G technologies to Nigeria’s national security and how it could be mitigated? Again, certain inventions have shown to cross the boundaries of ethical standards and it will be important to ensure that these technologies are subjected to such verifications.
More importantly, the debates bordering on the “need to know and understand”, is critical because past experiences have shown that most companies and individuals as well as government officials with entrenched economic and commercial interests will most likely not reveal potential hazards that threatens their profits. For profit purposes, these actors have in the past found culpable of packaging and endorsing harmful products for public consumption just as it’s currently being championed by some vested interests. For doubting Thomases, an
Abstract from the US National Library of Medicine entitled: ‘The History of the Discovery of the Cigarette-Lung Cancer Link: Evidentiary Traditions, Corporate Denial, Global Toll’, serves as an eye opener. The report noted that it took years before scientists accepted the fact that smoking cigarettes leads to cancer and by the time hundreds of thousands or even millions might have been killed. “As late as 1960 only one-third of all US doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established. The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization”, the report stated.
On the 5G itself, it is commendable that both the Minister of Communications and Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), have cleared the doubts over the technology, its alleged links with the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential threat to national security.
NCC was explicit that “there is no correlation between 5G Technology and COVID-19, adding that 5G, which is advancement on today’s 4G technology, is designed to transform the world positively. It is also more heart-warming to know that while there is no deployment of 5G in Nigeria at the moment, NCC had in late 2019 approved trial test for a period of three-months ”to study and observe possible health or security challenges the network might present”. It was revealed that relevant stakeholders including members of the security agencies were invited to participate during the trial but it would be good to know the findings of this trial, which NCC said has been concluded and installation decommissioned.
But writing in howtogeek.com, a science blogger Dave Johnson, cautioned that before we can conclude on 5G, “it is worth pointing out that the latest health fears about radiation are not happening in a vacuum (there’s some physics joke in there, no doubt)”, adding that “concerns about 5G are the latest iteration of decades of headlines about the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. We have seen controversies about everything from the health risks of Wi-Fi to smart meters”.
Johnson further explained that the electromagnetic hypersensitivity, for example, is a hypothetical disease in which certain people experience debilitating symptoms in the presence of radiation like cell phones and Wi-Fi, adding that at the root of all concerns about cell phone networks is radiofrequency radiation (RFR), which is anything emitted in the electromagnetic spectrum, from microwaves to x-rays to radio waves to light from your monitor or light from the sun.
He however, clarified that RFR is not inherently dangerous but the problem becomes discovering under what circumstances it might be. Quoting scientists, he stressed that the most important criterion regarding if a particular RFR is dangerous or not is whether it falls into the ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. According to the report, non-ionizing radiation is not dangerous to human health because it is too weak to break chemical bonds and included in this category are: ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, and everything with a lower frequency, like radio waves as well as everyday technologies like power lines, FM radio, and Wi-Fi with Microwaves as the lone exception–non-ionizing but able to damage tissue.
On the other hand, he noted that frequencies that are above Ultra Violet (UV), like x-rays and gamma rays, are ionizing and the good news is 5G is within this category.
Also intervening on this raging debate, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Yale and the editor of Science-Based Magazine, Dr. Steve Novella, noted that it is understandable for people to get concerned about radiation, but clarified that “using the term radiation is misleading because people think of nuclear weapons—they think of ionizing radiation that absolutely can cause damage. It can kill cells. It can cause DNA mutations.”
Meanwhile the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011, weighed in on the age-long debate by classifying RF Radiation as a Group 2B agent, defined as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Also a recent study was released by an Agency under the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program (NTP), on the cell phone RF radiation, discovered that high exposure to 3G RFR led to some cases of cancerous heart tumours, brain tumours, and tumours in the adrenal glands of male rats. It however, noted that the study is not conclusive enough to determine if it is applicable to humans and urged scientists to continue testing “new networks as technology evolves, to make sure the technology we use every day remains safe”.
It is also worth to note that as recent as February 2020, US Senator Richard Blumenthal criticized the relevant US Agencies for insufficient research into the potential risks of 5G, but stressed that the NTP study shows that research into radiation risks is difficult and often inconclusive, meaning it can take a long time to make real progress.
As a parting short, NTP, Novella’s and Johnson’s conclusion are apt, in that as at today, everything we know about 5G networks indicate that there is no reason to be alarmed. After all, Johnson noted, there are many technologies we use every day with a substantially higher measurable risk. “With 5G the hazard is low—but non-zero—and the actual risk appear to be zero. We have picked up no signal in the real world”, Novella added.
In a nutshell, continuous and sustained research into radiation risks is needed as some studies though inconclusive have shown that being excessively connected to RF can cause psychological issues including: distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression. The use of technology apart from being a potential threat to mental health could also have negative repercussions on physical health such as vision problems, hearing loss, and neck strain amongst others.
To be continued….
Senator Iroegbu is a media practitioner, consultant and security analyst
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