A letter to Reggie

Hi Reggie, 

I’ve tried to be as brief as possible, but still tell the full story.  Sorry it’s so long.  Thanks again if you take time to look at this stuff.  Happy to answer any more questions if they arise.

If you’ll permit me, it feels important to open up with a little bit of explanation about why I care so much about this.

These sorts of products use physics and science concepts coupled with fear, uncertainty, and doubt to trick and take advantage of people to sell them things that are based on misleading “facts.”  These are either outright lies, or they fail to tell or understand the full story.

I get particularly defensive about the “science” products, because this is my domain, where I have chosen to dedicate my life and work.  For me, being a scientist is no different than being a painter, musician, craftsman, artisan, or anyone who works to bring new ideas, thoughts, or creative concepts into the world.  I pour my life into it.  When that gets twisted to tell a different story, like a quote being taken out of context, I get upset.  When someone tries to use that and take advantage of others, either for money or power, it’s dangerous and scares me.  We’re seeing a lot of that these days with respect to global warming, computer security, etc.

With science, it can be especially difficult to bring true facts to light.  I don’t ever just have the full quotation I can point to to say “here, see? that’s not what I said.”  It takes compiling published resources spanning potentially decades, or designing new experiments, or building new devices.  All of this takes time and money that frankly we don’t have.  We’re underfunded and overworked as it is.  I commend your request for me to test the device, that is exactly what we should demand of science, but if I test this one device, someone will “redesign” it and make a new claim.  Am I supposed to test that one? And the one that comes after?  Who will pay for this?  I’d also encourage you to look up something call “Russel’s Teapot” discussing where the burden of proof lies.  He argues it lies with someone making a strong claim (such as one that goes against currently understood science), not on others.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

Clarity of message and established facts is excruciatingly important in our current world and political climate.  It’s unfortunate, but there do have to be some gatekeepers that we just have to trust.  No one person can hold all of the knowledge any more.  In these situations, I ask that those who have dedicated their lives to the study of a field be acknowledged as the gatekeepers, rather than people pushing a product with one page of evidence supporting it.

The problems with SYB’s claims:

It’s important to remember that they are first and foremost trying to sell you a product, therefore any self-published results, as these folks have done, should *always* be taken with a grain of salt.  They also play substantially to “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” arguments in their literature.  The best example is by calling electromagnetic radiation a “Class 2b Carcinogen” without explaining what that means.

A class 2b carcinogen is something that is “possible carcinogen,” however there is not enough evidence to say for sure https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504984/.  Other “Class 2b carcinogens” are coffee, styrene, ginkgo biloba extract, diesel fuel, dry cleaning… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_IARC_Group_2B_carcinogens. The list is long, and most people still drink coffee on a daily basis without panicking about the carcinogenic effects.  Consider all of the new worlds that cell phone technology has opened up.  Are we going to ignore all of that?

This is a perfect example of exploiting a lack of knowledge, calling something a scary name, when really it obscures the true level of risk associated therewith.  Another good example is the dangers of “dihydrogen monoxide” (http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html) (SPOILER: it’s just water, called something scary-sounding).

There are also no claims of human tissue protective capabilities.  Pretty important when that’s really why they’re selling this product.  Why?  If you make that sort of claim, the FDA is likely to get involved and they might require that your product become 510k cleared for use (https://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/deviceapprovalsandclearances/510kclearances/).  The burden of proof is much larger there, and it is wildly complex to conduct such a study, hence why you never see that sort of evidence brought up to sell this sort of product. 

The root of the matter:

Are radio waves safe? 

Short answer: Yes. 

Longer answer: Yes, just don’t stand next to a high-powered radio antennas.  

Radio waves physically cannot cause you the same sort of damage that ultraviolet, X-ray, or gamma radiation can.  High energy radiation (called “ionizing” radiation) damages DNA; radio waves have at least 10,000x less energy than that.  Radio waves do exactly one thing that we should pay attention to: heat water http://teachnuclear.ca/all-things-nuclear/radiation/biological-effects-of-radiation/effects-of-ionizing-radiation-on-dna/.  The key here is power.  

By way of analogy, consider standing next to the PA system at a concert versus listening to your laptop speakers.  One will make you go deaf, the other won’t, the music is the same though.  There’s too much physics to go into all of the details, however here is a reference https://www.fcc.gov/general/radio-frequency-safety-0, and if you’d rather something non-governmental, here’s Boston University: https://www.bu.edu/ehs/ehs-topics/radiation-safety/rf-safety/radiofrequency-rf-safety-manual/ ).  Ultimately, it’s all about the power, with a splash of frequency-dependence.

If you stand close to a high power radio antenna (>1000 Watts) this *can* and *does* cause unsafe, localized heating of human tissues.  I think someone brought this up in the IG comments.  I do not refute that.  Similarly, being inside of a running microwave is very very bad for tissue.  Microwaves are similar in photon energy to radio waves, and the way that they work is by using that localized heating.  However most microwave emitters are ~700-1000 watts, and the food sits directly next to them.  

If you’re at all far away (a 1/2-1 football field is more than plenty) from a high-powered radio source though, you’re fine. 

Cell phones use very low power transmitters, between 0.6 (typical) and 3 watts (if the cell phone is far away from the nearest antennae) (source: UC Santa Barbara, https://www.mat.ucsb.edu/g.legrady/academic/courses/03w200a/projects/wireless/cell_technology.htm).  This power level is far below the thresholds given in the FCC guidelines and the Boston University sources. Just the motion of all your cells and blood and muscles will dissipate any thermal energy.  In fact, using your muscles will probably heat things up more than these power levels will.  There’s not danger here.

Do these cell phone cases shield you from RF? 

Yes.  Sort of.  From one, tiny, low-powered RF source in your pocket or purse.  And the one in question only shields in one direction.  What about all of the other sources of radiation?  Most aren't dangerous, but they are there.  No one is shielding themselves from those. 

Flip your keyboard over and you’ll see a little FCC logo.  This means it has been through testing and complies with emissions regulations.  So too does your cell phone.  It also doesn’t mean *anything* regarding a devices health benefits.

To wrap up

This isn’t necessarily a clean, easily digestible list of reasons or sources for why these devices don’t work. I apologize that that doesn’t exist.  I could outline what would go into a well-controlled test of this (it's challenging), however this has gone on too long already.  Maybe I will work to put together a little youtube study or something that allows us to show this using some steaks or something.  :-)  Again, it's not that these devices don't *shield* it's that they're shielding you from something that can't hurt you, and trying to take your money in the process.  And they mislead people in order to sell those products.

If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate it.  This has been a pretty surreal night for me writing this up.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if there’s anything else.