14th December 2018, Volume 131 Number 1487

Susan Pockett

Properties of the various standard divisions of the electromagnetic spectrum are summarised in Table 1. Table 1: Divisions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Region of spectrum Frequency (Hz) Frequency (GHz) Gamma…

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For many years there has existed good scientific evidence that radio frequency emissions like those put out by cellphones and their base stations, electricity smart meters and WiFi cause a number of biological effects likely to result in cancer, dementia and other diseases. However, the official narrative in New Zealand remains "causation not proven", "more research needed"—and in the meantime, it's fine for everyone to be involuntarily exposed to unmonitored levels of such emissions, more or less all the time. It is suggested that this narrative actually constitutes a giant experiment in its own right, an experiment which is (1) completely unethical (in that none of its subjects has given informed consent to participate) and (2) so badly designed that it actually makes 'proving causation' impossible, by preventing comparison of the health of an exposed group with that of a non-exposed group, because the latter no longer exists. Some recommendations for how to start implementing at least a weak version of the precautionary principle are offered.


This paper argues that the prevailing official narrative in New Zealand concerning the relationship between public health and the radio frequency emissions (RF) from cellphone technology, WiFi and electricity smart meters is scientifically and ethically flawed. The main regulatory document in the area, NZS2772.1:1999, is 20 years out of date and ignores existing laboratory evidence disproving its core assumption that the only biological effect of non-ionising radiation is tissue heating. This and further laboratory evidence for harmful effects of RF continues to be ignored, nominally on the contradictory grounds that (a) cellphone manufacturers say their products now emit less RF than early models, so early lab studies exposed tissue to RF levels higher than those now relevant (b) given the lack of actual data on population exposures either then or now, all laboratory evidence is unconvincing anyway. The offical narrative further opines that since there exist both laboratory and epidemiological studies concluding that RF is not biologically harmful, as well as studies concluding that RF is harmful, the appropriate response is to count up the number on each side, declare the “weight of evidence” to be such that “causation is not proven” and, pending unspecified further studies, continue exposing to unmonitored levels of RF the entire population of the country, none of whom has given informed consent to participate in the experiment. This approach is obviously unethical. It is also unacceptable scientifically. First, the algebraic model is flawed: studies that do find a harmful effect of RF are not invalidated by differently constructed studies that fail to find an effect. Secondly, while causation is relatively easy to study in the laboratory, it is difficult if not impossible to prove epidemiologically, given that (1) the very narrative under discussion has ensured that there is now no unexposed control group and (2) interpretation of timeline correlation studies is hampered by changes in the way new cancer registrations have been recorded over the years and the perennial problem of multiple possible causal factors. The present paper concludes that a precautionary approach is justified, and ends with a number of specific suggestions on how to start implementing such an approach.

Author Information

Susan Pockett, Honorary Academic, School of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland.


Susan Pockett, School of Psychology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland.

Correspondence Email


Competing Interests



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