Please Stop Believing Facebook, Especially When It Comes to Science!

A picture from a high school experiment that has been hyped on Facebook.

As I was scrolling through Facebook, finding my historical twin and learning what my friends are eating, I noticed a post on my wall. It was from someone I know only through Facebook, but I read her work from time to time, because she is a really good writer. Her post contained the picture above and linked to an article entitled, “WiFi Experiment Done By A Group Of 9th Grade Students Got Serious International Attention. THIS Is Why…” She asked if I knew whether or not the results were legitimate.

The experiment went like this: Students took 12 trays of cress seeds and put 6 of them in one room and 6 in another room. The six trays in one room were next to two WiFi routers, while the 6 trays in the other room were nowhere near a router. They tried to keep everything else (temperature, amount of water given, etc.) the same for all 12 trays. The article says:

After 12 days what the result spoke was clear: cress seeds next to the router did not grow, and some of them were even mutated or dead.

Obviously, then, WiFi routers produce something that kills (and apparently mutates) cress seeds.

I told my Facebook friend that the post reminded me of something that was popular a few years ago. It was an experiment where a person watered a plant with regular water and watered another plant with water that had been in a microwave oven. After several days, the one watered with microwaved water died, while the other one flourished. Obviously, then, microwave ovens are bad for you. Of course, the heart of science is being able to replicate experiments, and many people found that they couldn’t replicate the reported results. Indeed, the Mythbusters did an episode showing that microwaved water didn’t harm plants in any noticeable way.

Well, some people have tried to replicate the results of the cress seed experiment. Not surprisingly, the results are nothing like the Facebook post. However, some experiments did see some effect. For example, here is an experiment that was published in a Romanian Engineering Journal. It does show that while all the seeds did grow, the plants next to the WiFi router didn’t grow as well as the plants that weren’t near a WiFi router. Now, if you read the article, you’ll see that the plants were really close to the router. I don’t know many people who grow their plants that close to a router.

Here’s another attempt to replicate the experiment. It was not published in a scientific journal, but it seems to control variables much better than the one that was published. It found no difference between cress plants grown near a wifi router and cress plants grown nowhere near a WiFi router. Of course, if you look at the setup (pp. 20 and 24), the plants aren’t quite as close to the router as they were in the published experiment, so that might be part of the reason for the different results.

In the end, then, there is simply no way to definitively state whether or not WiFi signals are bad for plants. At minimum, they aren’t as bad for plants as the Facebook post would lead you to believe.

Of course, most people don’t worry about plants. They worry about whether or not WiFi signals (and cell phone signals and other sources of electromagnetic radiation) are harmful to people. Unfortunately, the answer is roughly the same as it is for plants: We really don’t know. Some studies see adverse health effects due to electromagnetic radiation, some studies do not. One good comprehensive review of those studies can be found here. A more recent one focusing specifically on childhood cancer can be found here.

Of course, the main point of the post is simple: Don’t believe something just because you read it on Facebook. That should go without saying, but unfortunately, it needs to be repeated time and time again!

19 Comments

  1. cjl says:

    Stop believing facebook about news, too!

  2. Dana says:

    My husband found a bunch of cool experiments like this to do online and spent a month doing them with the kids. Not one of them were replicable. He got frustrated. I told him the kids learned a valuable lesson about the importance of replicating experiments, knowing your sources and how easy it is to deceive people with images and video.

    1. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

      Here’s a cool experiment my brother in law sent me (We tried it ourselves so we know it works). It’s in Portuguese, but the Father is telling his kids that the oregano represents addictions and evil in the world, the detergent represents the Holy Spirit, and the finger represents us when we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts: https://youtu.be/VSQopzv4ruI

      1. Jay Wile says:

        I have students do a version of that with diluted soap to measure the width of soap molecules. It’s neat to see it used with a spiritual application.

        1. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

          Do you happen to have a video of that experiment? And if not, would you be willing to take the time to make one?

          If you’re too busy, don’t worry about it, I’m just curious to see how it’s different from the experiment I posted.

        2. Jay Wile says:

          I don’t have a video. The differences are that the bowl is bigger and the soap is dilute. As a result, it doesn’t push the floating material all the way to the edge of the bowl. The size of the circle can then be measured, and using some calculations, the width of the soap molecules can be determined.

        3. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

          Interesting, thank you for expounding

  3. John D. says:

    Too true. Not to mention YouTube videos and religion. Have you seen the Zeitgeist section on religion? It’s laced with outright speculation and lie delivered in deadpan factual assertion. Even though it’s older, I still get people telling me that Christ never existed and is just a thinly veiled literary device based on the Egyptian god Horus.

    Also lots of people out there re-peddling “Aron Ra” info right now.

    1. Zach says:

      I ran into the “Jesus is based on Horus” thinking over a decade ago. The arguments sounded plausible, but it was far different than the standard Egyptian mythology I was familiar with. I did a little digging, and found that it was based upon a book by a single author, which may have been published in the 19th century (I can’t recall). Little in that book meshed with what was and is known of Egyptian mythology. It sounded good to itching atheist ears, however, and was promulgated. It’s similar to when I took cultural anthropology in ’91. The teacher told our class that cannibalism was a lie made up by Western Missionaries to demonize native peoples. This later fell out of vogue in anthropology circles, yet it was accepted dogma for who knows how many years.

      1. Jay Wile says:

        That’s exactly the problem, Zach! Most people haven’t been educated on Egyptian mythology, so that nonsense sounds plausible. In addition, most people won’t take the time to investigate it, so they end up believing and repeating something that any person knowledgeable about the subject knows is utterly wrong.

  4. Lawrence Dol says:

    I think what’s most sad is that this even had to be said.

  5. Nathanael says:

    Great article Doctor Wile, very true! I find it interesting that the experimenters, to my knowledge, did not fire up a spectrum analyzer or some controllable high frequency transmitter to monitor and perform the experiments. I mean would not a WI-FI device be a terrible wave source, as the signal modulation and or power level may very based on network traffic!!!

    1. Jay Wile says:

      The second experiment I posted (the one that wasn’t published in a journal) tried to do that. He tried to keep the EM exposure constant. See page 20.

      1. Nathanael says:

        Ah, did not see that. Awesome! Thanks 🙂

  6. Charles Rhett says:

    No reason wifi frequencies would cause the color change or any change without constant, prolonged exposure for much longer than the router can probably even last. HJ Muller said it is likely that all radiation given time will cause mutations. So, I definitely do not keep my cell phone on my lap or my laptop as your gametes are much more susceptible.

    It reminds me of one time when I was at the airport and they made everyone go through the xray machine. I opted for a pat down and TSA freaked out. The female guard began yelling “male assist” and another disgruntled male employee came over to begin going over the pat down procedure. He had a little knowledge and mentioned that I was going to get doused in the airplane which is true. However, I quickly explained that radiation effects are based on thresholds. Yes, we get radiation from everywhere and as long as we keep the rads to a minimum we allow our bodies to do what they were designed to do. What if the airport xray puts my dosage over the threshold? No one really knows how much radiation they are already exposed to so it is my opinion that if given the option then you shouldn’t willingly douse yourself.

    Radio waves are much weaker and I am not sure why any wifi router would be producing any ionizing radiation. The idea here is that I hope to be able to use wifi my whole life and die before the effects are felt. If it takes 100 years of constant exposure then I would deem it safe, avoiding backscatter xray at the airport of course.

    1. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

      I feel for you Charles, I go through the same headache every time I travel!

      However, most airports don’t use X-ray machines, they use millimeter wave AIT (advanced imaging technology) machines, which, according to the TSA website: “… is safe and meets national health and safety standards. This technology uses non-ionizing radio-frequency energy in the millimeter spectrum with no known adverse health effects. It does not use X-ray technology.” https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening

      Whilst opting for a pat down I have been reminded at least twice by TSA employees that the signal from the AIT scanners is “no more dangerous than the signal from your cell phone,” to which I reply “I’m claustrophobic,” which is true, at least when it comes to stepping inside of machines that scan my body!

      I think the appropriate phrase describing AIT body scanners is that they cause “no KNOWN adverse health effects.“

  7. Charles Rhett says:

    Thanks for that Alaska. I think you and I are on the same page. 🙂

    1. Alaska Nivanuatu says:

      My pleasure Charles. Maybe an
      experiment should be done in which plants are passed through an AIT scanner once daily, and compare them with plants that haven’t passed through an AIT scanner.

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