Sydney Morning Herald led down the rosy garden path by Lyn McLean
Saturday September 03rd 2011, 12:02 pm

image: xkcd

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Tim Elliott has allowed himself to be suckered by Lyn McLean, dowser, ‘energy healer,’ ‘crystal healer’ and self described expert in the harms of exposure to radio frequency signals:

Ear-bashing: feeling the heat in a city that forever beeps
Tim Elliott
September 3, 2011

MARTIN PLACE has plenty; George Street pulses from moderate to high; the QVB is surprisingly low, but parts of Market Street are swimming in it. It’s radiofrequency radiation, and according to consumer advocate Lyn McLean, “we are essentially living in a sea of it”.

Ms McLean, who advises federal and local government on “electropollution” and runs her own company, EMR Australia, recently took the Herald on a tour of the city centre, together with a radiofrequency detector that measures levels of radiofrequency radiation.

“Because of the proliferation of mobile phone technology, cordless phones and wireless networks, most people are continuously exposed to low-level radiofrequency radiation,” Ms McLean said.

Chronic background exposure, like that routinely experienced by city workers, was thought to be harmless as it was below the limits set by regulatory agencies, including the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. In May, however, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a statement saying radiofrequency radiation was “possibly carcinogenic”, classifying mobile phones as a category 2B carcinogen, similar to the pesticide DDT and engine exhaust.

Ms McLean said the agency’s statement was important because it underscored what she regarded as the deficiencies of the standards governing RF exposure. “Mobile phones currently comply with the safety standards, but if mobile phones are possibly carcinogenic, what does that say about the standards? she said. ”The standards only protect against short-term, high-intensity exposure, enough, for example, to heat the body by one degree Celsius.”

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association regards the exposure standards as sufficient.

In the CBD, low-level RF radiation is continuously emitted from a range of sources. Even standing on the Town Hall steps, Ms McLean’s Acoustimeter RF detection device registered 1000 microwatts per square metre. This was well below the Australian agency’s uppermost limits for mobile phones and wi-fi usage, which are between 4.5 to 10 watts (10 million microwatts) per square metre. But as Ms McLean pointed out, “This device shows ambient levels – what you’re exposed to on top of your own mobile phone or wi-fi usage.”

Walking south on George Street, the level jumped to 2500 outside Woolworths then up 5000 outside the police station and Energy Australia. Heading north, through the QVB, it dropped to 25 to 50, but leapt to 25,000 at the corner of Market and Kent streets. The readings in Martin Place varied from 5000 to 10,000.

The highest levels Ms McLean sees are in people’s homes. “Cordless phones can be the worst. If you have it by your bed you’re basically being irradiated the entire night. Same goes for baby monitors.”

Mr Elliott did not consult any real scientists for this story, instead allowed himself to be guided by a complete con-artist with no qualifications whatsoever in the field where she claims expertise. Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this story is shot through with errors and distortions which serve only to alarm the reader.

Let’s unpick them all, one by one.

First and foremost, there is no reliable, peer-reviewed evidence that exposure to non-ionising radiation in the form of radio waves is harmful to humans. None. Ever. In fact, there’s solid evidence to the contrary, as revealed by the Interphone study. There’s 6 billion mobile phones in service at present and no evidence that the prevalence of cancers (or any other malady) has increased in correlation with the explosion in numbers of mobile phones and other radio signal sources.

The WHO’s classification of radio signals as ‘2B’ or ‘possibly carcinogenic’ also includes coffee and pickled vegetables. ‘2B’ is NOT a class of known carcinogens. It is a list of substances or effects which WHO scientists think may merit further investigation to find out if they are carcinogens, though no evidence indicates they are known carcinogens at this time.

Ms. McLean’s “Acoustimeter” is not a standard piece of test equipment. The name of the device would seem to suggest that it measures sound. The measurement scale of this device is designed to produce very scary sounding numbers. 25,000 MICROWATTS PER SQUARE METRE? Terrifying, right? It’s supposed to be. Consider that one microwatt is .000001 watts, a vanishingly small figure.

Common AM radio receivers (yes, receivers, not transmitters) have a device in them called a ‘local oscillator’ which generates a very small signal which is used to demodulate the audio component from an over-the-air received radio signal for amplification and playing through a speaker. Local oscillators normally generate about 500 microwatts (normally expressed as 0.5 milliwatts). Bear in mind that there’s no evidence that exposure to non-ionising radiation, especially in the form of radio signals, poses any health hazard, so what’s the point in measuring such minuscule field strengths anyway? Yep, no point at all.

Did you know that there’s 4928.9 microlitres in a teaspoon? OH NO! RUN FOR THE HILLS!

Lyn McLean is a charlatan- a plain old con-artist. She has convinced herself that radio signals are a hazard and has gone looking for evidence to support her conclusion, precisely the reverse of how the scientific method works. Worse, McLean earns a crust by selling books describing her false conclusions, which are specifically designed to frighten people who do not have the technical knowledge to understand her falsehoods. Once they’re scared enough, McLean will happily sell RF field-strength meters (which produce meaningless readings) and ‘RF shielding paint’ to these poor, frightened people. Both articles stand a very high probability of doing nothing at all- aside from lining the pockets of the snake-oil seller. CHA-CHING!

Tim Elliott completely failed as a journalist in this story by not consulting actual experts in physics and biological effects of non-ionising radiation. Instead, he allowed a well-known con-artist to write his copy. Nice free-kick for the charlatan, though. SMH could have at least charged McLean standard advertising rates!

This is utterly shameful journalism, normally only seen on News Ltd. outlets. The Sydney Morning Herald is usually above this manner of fearmongering rubbish. How on earth did Elliott get this story past the edotirs?

Credibility is the only product of a news op- yet this is the very sort of nonsense which completely destroys the credibility of otherwise reliable news sources.


5 Comments so far
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Aside from anything, I don’t think that people actually know what radio frequencies are. Using a phrase like “If you have it [a cordless phone] by your bed you’re basically being irradiated the entire night.” is calculated to conjure up an image of nuclear radiation, which is an entire electromagnetic spectrum away from radio energy. It’s depressing that even this very simple science is not understood by a person calling themselves a ‘journalist’.

I’ve put Lyn McLean on my watchlist.

Comment by anaglyph 09.11.11 @ 12:36 pm

Elliott doesn’t necessarily need to understand the science- but he SHOULD know the journalists’ craft. When you’re writing as a journalist, you ALWAYS confirm the commentary of your sources- and Elliott didn’t. He let this nutcase write his whole story.

And yeah, the repeated use of the term ‘radiation’ was designed to do only one thing- confuse the reader by implying that radio signals have some relation to the stuff you find in a nuclear power plant’s core.

I’ve covered the difference between ionising & non-ionising radiation numerous times- here, here, here, here, here, here and here… and also in a few other places. The nut is that anyone who writes a story on purported hazards of radio signals and who doesn’t make it clear that there’s no hazard from non-ionising radiation is only trying to frighten their readers.

The science is crystal clear. There’s no controversy, there’s no conspiracy to suppress teh troof: there’s no hazard from radio signals. Period, end of story. Anyone who maintains otherwise is confused, lying or is trying to make a buck off ignorance.

Comment by weez 09.11.11 @ 12:51 pm

This is hilarious:

Author: liam (IP:,
It fathoms me how this idiot (machinegun.blahblah) has an opinion of RF exposure limits and it seems everything else. Yeah, lets listen to this fools opinion on something he is in no position to provide any valid information.

‘It fathoms me’? What? Do you know the meaning of the word ‘fathom’? Apparently not.

You’re complaining about my presentation of science when you can’t even write a cogent sentence. Maybe the problem is less about what I wrote and more about your abject failure to understand what I’ve written.

If you’re a functional illiterate, commenting on blogs probably isn’t your best option for a pastime.

Comment by weez 10.05.15 @ 3:08 pm

Liam, you only get one chance to be stupid in my comments. Welcome to automatic deletion.

Comment by weez 10.13.15 @ 9:56 pm

As is often the case, the commenting provides bonus entertainment.

Comment by anaglyph 10.14.15 @ 6:30 am

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