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5G fear: Is it science, or is it Russia?

The next step in wireless communication, known as 5G, or fifth generation, will, its backers say, usher in a new era of self-driving cars that communicate with each other, interconnected factories and blazing-fast download speeds. Its critics — including some in Southern Oregon — say it poses frightening health risks: brain cancer, infertility, autism and heart tumors to name just a few. But does it? And where is this “information” coming from?

Not from reputable scientists, who say 5G poses no more risk — and probably less — than existing 4G technology.

A story last week in the New York Times points to a major source of anti-5G claims: RT America, the U.S.-based television network formerly known as Russia Today. U.S. intelligence officials have called RT America “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.” RT America has aired seven stories so far this year warning of the dire consequences of 5G after running only one in all of 2018. Its stories are distributed on cable, satellite and online streaming, as well as YouTube and Facebook.

RT America segments tend to use marginal sources with sensational claims, the Times reports.

Because 5G uses higher frequencies than 4G, opponents claim it will be more dangerous to humans. Experts, however, say the opposite is true: Higher frequencies of radio waves are less able to penetrate human skin, meaning internal organs are less vulnerable, not more.

A federal study released last year found some evidence that cellphone signals might cause brain cancer in some male rats. The catch: The study involved 2G radiation, not used in decades and far lower in frequency. Not only that, but the cancer risk, such as it was, resulted from the rats’ exposure to radiation far in excess of even heavy cellphone use by a human, so the likelihood of any risk to humans was remote.

RT America tends to feature 5G critics whose claims have been discredited by legitimate researchers and experts, according to the Times.

Why is a Russia-based television network so interested in drumming up doubts about 5G? Good question. Even as RT America continues its dubious reporting, Vladimir Putin is pushing hard to roll out 5G technology in Russia.

A RAND Corp. study of Russian propaganda in 2016 called the techniques employed by RT America and other Russian “news” sources a “firehose of falsehood.”

Keep that in mind if you see YouTube videos, Facebook posts or other online content using the logo “RT.” And also be aware that many Facebook accounts posting comments are really Russian trolls working around the clock to spread disinformation.

Making sense of complicated new technology is hard enough without Russian propaganda spreading bogus information. Don’t fall for it.