The Great Wi-Fi Swindle

Last week, BBC’s Panorama did an expose on the Scientologists, a cult that believes we are all imprisoned space aliens. This week, the same programme is purporting to prove that wi-fi fries your brain. And so, the cosmic balance of the BBC’s sensible/face-slappingly idiotic halves is once again restored.

I don’t really know where to start. James Randerson gives it a gentle booting in the Guardian, which broadly sums up the response, but no words can quite describe the sheer appallingness of comparing a mobile phone mast signal from 100m away with a wi-fi signal from 1m away and coming up with the scare statistic that the latter is 3 times more powerful than the former. So I have to get this off my chest. Indulge me.

If the two signals were exactly the same strength, the inverse square law would mean that with a distance differential of 100, the 1m away signal would be 10,000 times more powerful. So, taking that into account, you can conclude from these figures that the wi-fi signal is more than 3,000 times weaker than the mobile phone mast (3,333 point 3 recurring, but who’s counting?). The mobile phone mast which, lest us forget, there is no evidence causes any harm in the first place.

It beats me why they stopped their. If they had compared a wi-fi signal from 10 cm with a mobile phone mast signal from 1 km away, they could have shouted about wi-fi being 30,000 times stronger than mobile phones. That sounds much scarier. And why not? There’s nothing particularly significant about 1m and 100m – just two numbers they plucked out of the air.

Compared to all this, Scientology sounds positively evidence-based, and at least Martin Durkin can come up with a couple of impressive looking graphs. On which point, I recommend everyone picks up a copy of this week’s New Scientist, which rather satisfyingly eviscerates the Great Global Warming Swindle point by point (in fact, the online version appears to have even more myth debunking).


  1. While I get your point, surely part of the reasoning is you can stand within 1m of a laptop, but in the normal scheme of things you won’t get within 10m of a mobile phone basestation as they’re usually at the top of very tall poles.

  2. …and you put mobile phones right up against your ear, 0cm away. Do the maths.

    The point is, you have to compare like with like. Yes, you may conceivably be 1m away from a wi-fi station, but you are also quite likely to be 2m away (0.75 x the strength of a phone mast 100m away) or 4m away (0.19 x the strength of a phone mast 100m away). You might be standing 50m away from the mast (where the signal is 4 times stronger than it would be 100m away) or 150m away (where the signal is 2.25 times weaker than it would be 100m away).

    If all that barrage of statistics sounds meaningless, it is because they are. The only facts out of all this is that wi-fi signals are thousands of times weaker than phone mast signals and that after 20 years there is still no evidence to suggest a causal link between mobile phones and any health problems, let alone links with mobile phone masts.

  3. And so, the cosmic balance of the BBC’s sensible/face-slappingly idiotic halves are once again restored.

    Great stuff James! Good to see you the other day, though I see that the BBC curtailed our fascinating conversation to some extent!

  4. Perhaps if you’d watched it you would have seen that what they pointed out made total sense. I would now be 1.5 meters away from my old wifi point wer it not for the fact that me house is now hard wired. So yes, the BBC’s measuring was correct.

    What about the evidence form Norwich they showed which highlighted that Radiation levels in Norwich are actually dangerously high because of wi-fi ?

  5. Nich, that section on Norfolk was just simple scaremongering. After walking around using phrases like “Went into the red there” and “We’re getting quite high readings here” Kenyon went into the NewsNight interview and said about this segment “We didn’t make a big point of that, it’s so far beneath the limits”, admitting that the levels detected were incredibly low and way below dangerous levels. He’s either incredibly dense not to notice the disconnect or deliberately misleading people.

    This was one of the worst documentaries the BBC has done in a long time.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.