A recent story that has been making the rounds is one that seems to have it all: brilliant young aspiring scientists, underdogs shaking up the world and fear of wifi and phone RF radiation.
Your wireless router could be murdering your houseplants
Are you slowly killing your houseplants? Probably! But there might be a reason (other than neglect) why they’re all yellow and wilty: your Wi-Fi router.
An experiment by a handful of high school students in Denmark has sparked some serious international interest in the scientific community.
Five ninth-grade girls at Hjallerup School in North Jutland, Denmark, noticed they had trouble concentrating after sleeping with their mobile phones at their bedsides. They tried to figure out why. The school obviously doesn’t have the equipment to test human brain waves, so the girls decided to do a more rudimentary experiment.
They placed six trays of garden cress seeds next to Wi-Fi routers that emitted roughly the same microwave radiation as a mobile phone. Then they placed six more trays of seeds in a separate room without routers. The girls controlled both environments for room temperature, sunlight and water.
After 12 days, they found the garden cress seeds in the routerless room had exploded into bushy greenery, while the seeds next to the Wi-Fi routers were brown, shriveled, and even mutated. See for yourself:
Teacher Kim Horsevad told the Daily Dot that her students did the test twice with the same results. She was quick to point out that while the students did the experiment to test only one variable to the best of their ability, it is a high school experiment and this isn’t a professional study.
“Some of the local debate has been whether the effects were due the cress seeds drying up because of heat from the computers or Access Points used in the experiment, which is a suggestion I can thoroughly refute,” Horsevad said. “The pupils were painstakingly careful in keeping the conditions for both groups similar. The cress seeds in both groups were kept sufficiently moist during the whole experiment, and the temperature were controlled thermostatically. The computers were placed so that the heat would not affect the seeds, which was verified by temperature measurements. Still, there may be confounders which neither the pupils or I have been aware of, but I cannot imagine what they would be.”
Well, the photos are certainly pretty dramatic, but that does not mean that this should be considered hard confirmed science. After all, it was not peer reviewed and was done by high school students. That said, it’s the message rather than the messenger, and it’s not impossible that non-professionals could discover something to shake up the scientific world.
The Problems With This Experiment:
I am all for teaching students about science through hands-on demonstrations. But in this case, there are a few things missing that are critical. One of the most important is the basic idea that all experimental results should be viewed critically, but especially when they fly in the face of established science. It can be summed up in the statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” If something is well established by science and your experiment seems to indicate something else, you should probably examine your experiment critically and repeat it (perhaps several times) before jumping to the conclusion that you have valid results.
Even professional scientists who try very hard to control their experiments. For example, last year, scientists at a neutrino observatory in Italy took measurements which seemed to indicate the neutrinos were traveling faster than light. They scratched their heads and checked their equipment repeatedly, repeated the experiment and finally concluded there were no flaws in their methodology and indeed they did record neutrinos exceeding the speed of light. Then, however, they found there was a loose cable. Oops.
Many studies have been done on RF radiation and biology and the results refute this. Even if we assume that there could be an effect, it is all but unthinkable that it could be this dramatic. If this was the case, then it would seem impossible that plants could grow near high power transmitters, which they clearly do.
Given that it flies in the face of logic and established science, anyone who gets these results should look at them with an abundance of caution and only consider them valid after repeated examination and conducting the experiment several times.
There are a few obvious things that could account for this:
- The seeds were apparently in different rooms, so it’s impossible to know that the conditions were the same. One room may have had higher or lower humidity or more or less sunlight. Apparently temperature was measured, but we have zero info on other factors. The experiment should be repeated under more controlled conditions or by switching the rooms repeatedly.
- It’s possible that the behavior of those who were caring for the seeds comes into play. Since this was not a blind experiment and since we don’t know the procedure for measuring water or other factors, it’s entirely possible one sample received more or less than the other.
- It could be fraud or dishonesty. No, I am not saying that it was, but it would result in more press. As a result, it is important that this be conclusively ruled out before the results can be considered reliable.
- One of the batches of seeds could have problems. It might be dead or infected with fungus or any number of other things. It’s impossible to tell because this was only done ones, so there is no large sample to compare.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 at 6:39 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Education, inverse square, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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