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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bloggers Killing Trees? Dutch Study Says Wi-Fi Harms Plants

Here's something to drive a stake through a green blogger's heart: researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands have found that wireless Internet signals may harm plants:

The study exposed 20 ash trees to various radiation sources for a period of three months. Trees placed closest to the Wi-Fi radio demonstrated a "lead-like shine" on their leaves that was caused by the dying of the upper and lower epidermis of the leaves. This would eventually result in the death of parts of the leaves. The study also found that Wi-Fi radiation could inhibit the growth of corn cobs [René Schoemaker, "Wi-Fi Makes Trees Sick, Study Says," PC World, 2010.11.19].

Corn cobs?! Could we bloggers be reducing crop yields? Oh no!

But hold the iPhone: the media is headlining these results a little more confidently than are the Dutch researchers. Lead researcher Dr. Andre van Lammeren says the results are preliminary:

I think it's too early for alarm about this. The study that we have completed was a pilot study over three to four months, and we want to continue work on the issue now with more controls [Dr. Andre van Lammeren, in Greg Wiser, "Wireless Internet Hubs May Damage Trees, Study Finds," Deutsche Welle, 2010.11.26].

The research summary notes that the leaves manifesting the apparent damage sat 50 cm away from the Wi-Fi source for a few months. So even if this study demonstrates actual harm, it just says don't set your houseplant on the same table as your router.

Deutsche Welle also reports contradictory prior research from a Swiss forestry agency that found wireless Internet signals causing harm to spruce and beech trees only when researchers cranked up the wattage past elgal levels... and even then the harm came from thermal effects, not the signal itself.

Also not addressed in the Dutch research: the comparative harm to trees if we converted all our e-mails and blog posts and research reports back to paper.


  1. And if you want a good chuckle, or want to be terrified at the seeming state of humanity these days, go read the comments at the linked PC World article.

    Perhaps being at a research university for the last few years has skewed the way I look at things, but I'm profoundly distressed to see comments like "I find it rather funny that all of these purported studies give no specific details upon which their studies are based so they can be corroberated by other sources." and "More liberal non-science done by America haters who want us all to revert back to the stone ages. Yawn."

  2. Good grief. Some people just can't take science as science. It's as if they're intimidated by anyone who does actual research and thus has more authority than their comment-section spitballs ever will.

  3. Nonsense.

    Electromagnetic (EM) fields at radio wavelengths (such as those produced by Wi-Fi equipment) make plants grow faster and live longer.

    Any ham radio operator who lives near a farmer can tell you that radio waves make chickens lay more and better eggs, make cows give more milk, and cause their kids to catch colds and flu less often.

    Heck, the best defense is a good offense. May the best bull win.


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