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Earth Science

Study Hints Ambient Radio Waves May Affect Plant Growth 298

dwguenther writes "A Lyons (Colorado) area woman with no academic pedigree has published a scientific paper in the International Journal of Forestry Research about the adverse effects of radio waves on aspen seedlings. Katie Haggerty, who lives north of Steamboat Mountain, found in a preliminary experiment done near her house that aspens shielded from electromagnetic radiation were healthier than those that were not. 'I found that the shielded seedlings produced more growth, longer shoots, bigger leaves, and more total leaf area. The shielded group produced 60 percent more leaf area and 74 percent more shoot length than a mock-shielded group,' she said." This was not a definitive study, as its author readily admits — it's hard to see how a double-blind study could even be designed in this area — but it was refereed.
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Study Hints Ambient Radio Waves May Affect Plant Growth

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  • Not mine. (Score:2, Funny)

    by seanonymous ( 964897 )
    Mine prefer Drum and Bass
    • by mrmeval ( 662166 ) <<mrmeval> <at> <>> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:31PM (#32819220) Journal

      I modulated a 1 kilowatt microwave HERF gun with a microwave stirring device rotated using motor controlled by a PWM signal to vary the speed using an audio source playing White Metal at some plants and the all died. RADIO WAVES ARE EVIL!

      • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

        Did you try to play it backwards?

  • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:28PM (#32819178) Homepage

    ... that one day AM radio would be the death of us all.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Torodung ( 31985 )

      Good point, maybe if they took Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck off the air, the plants would get better. She should try shielding them from just their programs.


  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:28PM (#32819184)
    some plants grow really well when exposed to blue/red light combination from LEDs in a closed room. also, way cheaper and more unobtrusive than using incandescent lamps. (disclaimer for the well-informed slashdotters, i grow hot peppers for my pizzas).
    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:32PM (#32819236)

      Sure you do, we all grow our "peppers" in a closet lined with tinfoil.

      • by siddesu ( 698447 )
        double-lined. i need to protect them electronics from the alien EMP.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by shaitand ( 626655 )

        fscking amateurs. foil absorbs light and causes hotspots on your "pepper" plants. You are better off with flat white paint or reflective mylar.

        Of course if you weren't really growing peppers but something like medical marijuana then you'd want to know that experimentation shows that grow is no better under targeted spectrum LED than it is under select HID lighting. In fact, it takes just as many watts of LED to get the same effect so you don't save electricity there.

        The only real benefit to LED is less heat

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          If it uses the same wattage how is there less heat? All light eventually becomes heat.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by shaitand ( 626655 )

            Not light that is expended/converted to sugars via photosynthesis.

            The LEDs only emit wavelengths that are used by the plants. Using the right HID lights for the stage of growth does well but nothing like the efficiency of LED.

            600w of LED should be bright but when it is targeted at the plants almost everything is absorbed so you only see a very faint purple (red+blue if you are colorwheel illiterate).

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Nebulo ( 29412 )

          Foil absorbs light? I think you've been "smoking" too many "peppers".


        • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @09:28PM (#32820504) Homepage Journal

          "fscking amateurs. foil absorbs light and causes hotspots on your "pepper" plants."

          LOL. I have *NO* problems with any of my foil-lined boxes. ANY improperly-done reflective job will create a hot spot, INCLUDING MYLAR, which is the stuff we use for an EMERGENCY BLANKET.

          "Of course if you weren't really growing peppers but something like medical marijuana then you'd want to know that experimentation shows that grow is no better under targeted spectrum LED than it is under select HID lighting. In fact, it takes just as many watts of LED to get the same effect so you don't save electricity there."

          Dead wrong, sir. I am a licensed medical patient, as well as a breeder for the Dutch (I preserve landrace genetics found in the wild across the globe,) AND I do indoor NFT hydroponics sheds across the globe which are illuminated by LED, and your statement is factually incorrect. From wheat, to tomatoes, to medical cannabis, I've regularly achieved higher yield per kilowatt-hour with LED versus HID. Also, with LED, the resulting product is more potent, as there is no green or yellow light, which plays an inhibitory and regulatory role in most non-marine flora.

          In fact, I replaced 832w of *VERY SELECT* HPS and T5HO lighting with 350w of my specially-designed LED lighting and get the same results.

          I know why LED panels fail to yield. That research went into my own panels. Also, most panel manufacturers use the CHEAP 1w diodes. Those bottom-bin pieces of garbage aren't worth the sapphire substrate they're laid upon. That's also incidentally why the garbage LED panels are so cheap.

          • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:19PM (#32830936) Journal

            "Dead wrong, sir."

            I'm sorry but I fail to see how your complaints about your custom HID lights and custom LED panels relates to the common commercial solutions to which I referred.

            As for aluminum foil, it absorbs 20% of the light you shine at it and converts it to heat. Mylar of proper thickness absorbs only 5%. Nothing used outside a specially crafted lab mirror reflects anywhere close to all the light and even then the mirrors are generally (must be?) made for specific spectrum.

            There is nothing to say you couldn't make a diffuse reflector out of aluminum in fact I have seen them (not for walls but as light reflectors). Regular, out of the box, aluminum foil WILL cause hotspots. I've never been foolish enough to use it but I've seen it.

            Growing for the dutch, or growing for a dispensary in Cali doesn't impress me. I've been hired as a consultant for Dutch and Cali commerical and private growers.

            That said there are a number of other factors that could account for the discrepancy between the results we see. I would be far more interested in hearing more detail about the panels you are using the results you are seeing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          I don't know anyone who's used LEDs, but a friend was growing some high grade bud using banks of CFLs. More light than halogen, with FAR less heat and electrical consumption, and the plants grew faster and bigger than with halogen.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by shaitand ( 626655 )

            Halogen? Halogen generally isn't a useful spectrum for growing bud.

            What you want is Metal Halide for veg and High Pressure Sodium for flowering.

    • by toastar ( 573882 )

      Incandescent lamps... Lawls

      a 250 HPS goes a long way and it's cheaper then thousands of LEDs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Khyber ( 864651 )

      Don't even need an enclosed room. We use LEDs in greenhouses all the time to extend photoperiods.

      Works really well.

  • Otherwise the plants would be dead!
  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:29PM (#32819206)

    Have the plants taken care of by one person and judged/reviewed by another who only sees them when they are moved to the review area. Since this is just seedlings using large plant pots should be fine.

    • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:38PM (#32819316)

      Have the plants taken care of by one person and judged/reviewed by another who only sees them when they are moved to the review area. Since this is just seedlings using large plant pots should be fine.

      Now probably isn't the best time to tell them the Sun is a giant radio, amongst other things.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        Indeed. I just wanted to point out that the "researcher" kept an unnecessary bias in the experiment that basically makes this entire study worthless. Confirmation bias is real.

      • by thrawn_aj ( 1073100 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:52PM (#32819508)
        No no. You see, the sun is natural. Which means that it only emits magic sprinkles and unicorn dust. Only the teh ebul radio towers are out to get us.
        • What difference does it make? I doubt her shielding discriminated against sun radio.

          not all radiation is equal, there are different types and they have different effects. The sun emits light, many wavelengths of which are good for plants many are not. UV for example is notably bad for plants.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sjames ( 1099 )

          I see your point, but it's also true that all life on Earth evolved with the solar emissions, none evolved with microwave QAM emissions (for example).

          It's not time to order radio silence by any means, but followup studies are warranted.

      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:52PM (#32819518)

        This shit has been going on forever. They keep changing their target, but it is always the same tune: Radiation is bad, X is radiation, so X is bad.

        When I was a kid the target was high voltage distribution lines. They said those were bad for kids, caused cancer. They had a data point, kinda, in terms of one community. Of course upon further study there was actual radioactive shit there (Radon IIRC). At any rate because of the serious nature of this, it was looked in to. Long term studies were done, looking at kids who grew up near these lines. I am probably a data point in one of those studies as our house was under some large lines when I was young (that's why I know about this shit, Mom was worried).

        Well, now there's many decades of results compiled and guess what? There's no difference at all. They don't do shit.

        Now any scientist could have told you that, the radiation is non-ionizing, hell the waves are millions of meters long from 60Hz power. The nuts weren't doing science, they were just being nuts.

        So this is more of the same shit, same as the "cellphones kill honeybees" and so on. They do not consider it logically, they are just reactionary.

        • <nutcase>Hey man, like the Sun is bad. There's like people everywhere getting skin cancer, and those doctor dudes will tell you it's the Sun's fault. So like, this all goes back to the radiation can kill ya, man.</nutcase>
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by c0lo ( 1497653 )

          The nuts weren't doing science, they were just being nuts.

          So this is more of the same shit, same as the "cellphones kill honeybees" and so on. They do not consider it logically, they are just reactionary.

          I have some problems your "the same shit": to me is a valid "data point", worth investigating further. TFA:

          The paper was later accepted for presentation at the North American Forest Ecology Workshop at Utah State University in Logan last June. As a result of that presentation, her paper was accepted to be published in a special edition from the workshop of the peer-reviewed online International Journal of Forestry Research.

          Does the peer-reviewing automatically make the preliminary findings true? No. But it certainly does make the paper worth more to my eyes than the correlation between toxo infestation and World Cup results [].

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by riverat1 ( 1048260 )

        The vast majority of the Sun's EM radiation is in the visible and ultraviolet range. The worst of the UV is intercepted by the ozone layer and life on Earth is well adapted to the visible light range. It would be interesting to compare the relative strength at ground level of the Sun's radio frequency emissions to those from terrestrial sources.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, the Sun isn't all that bright in the radio. The brightest source in the radio sky is Sag. A*, the center of our galaxy.

        (Or so I was taught the summer I did research at the VLA.)

  • Double blind study (Score:5, Informative)

    by bunyip ( 17018 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:30PM (#32819210)

    it's hard to see how a double-blind study could even be designed in this area

    In the medical field, it means that both the patient and the doctor evaluating the symptoms don't know who received a placebo.

    For this experiment - setup two antennae in front of some seedlings, have a different dude turn one of them on. The person measuring the seedling growth doesn't know which were exposed to radio waves. That's all you need to make sure the study doesn't have some bias in it.

    • by martinX ( 672498 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:38PM (#32819312)

      I don't see why you'd need a double-blinded study in this? The double-blinded study is to account for patient reporting bias ("I feel a little better today - I think those new Addrexo pills are really working") and patient-selection bias by the doctors.

      In this case the plants aren't reporting anything, it is a simple measurement, or series of measurements. And is anybody really calling into question the biases of biology RAs? Once again, take the measurements, report the results, draw conclusions, suggest reasons, conclude: "more research needed".

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:46PM (#32819406)

        The study surely needs to be blind from the researchers point of view, this sort of this is just begging for confirmation bias.

      • by moonbender ( 547943 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:51PM (#32819488)

        If any of the researchers are used to talk to their plants while gardening, they shouldn't mention the experiment to the seedlings, though. You know, just to be sure.

      • by flowwolf ( 1824892 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:52PM (#32819524)
        When it's a medical study, it's accounting for a patient's bias.
        Scientists can have bias as well, this is why researchers use the double blind method to eliminate their personal bias from the results.

        Personally, I think the shielding worked more as a cozy for the plant and gave it a more stable immediate environment upon which to grow. Perhaps even the faraday cage was diminishing the light around the geraniums, so they spent more energy growing their leaves bigger to compensate. Given my personal bias, I wouldn't of published yet since I know there couldn't be a correlation. There are any number of reasons why a bias of opinion might be involved and there is any number of reasons why plants in a cage could grow better than plants not. I doubt she had the soil, in which the roots were, wrapped with a faraday cage either.

        • by n3umh ( 876572 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @08:51PM (#32820224) Homepage

          Personally, I think the shielding worked more as a cozy for the plant and gave it a more stable immediate environment upon which to grow.

          Read the paper. Haggerty had two cages, one of which was RF-transparent fiberglass which was close to the same air and light blockage as the aluminum faraday cage.

          I still think it will come out that something else was the cause.

          But as far as personal bias, a good scientist is aware of their own biases and tries to do things that are somewhat antagonistic to their own point of view. This isn't perfect, but that's why you use objective measures and report all your methods. Someone else can try to reproduce the experiment, improve upon it, control for more things, etc.

          It is possible that subconcious/unconcious biases in plant care play a role here, but anyone can repeat the experiment, and it's very likely that those repeating it next will be VERY skeptical to the idea that RF is at fault and will be very careful not to baby the RF caged plants.. and if biased they'll be biased the other way. That's a good outcome of such a publication.

          Many repeated experiments by people who are skeptical of each other average over personal biases.

        • Radio waves don't penetrate the soil much. Unless the Faraday cage was tapered down to barely big enough to go around the trunk as it comes out of the ground I imagine it would shield the root area reasonably well anyway.

      • by jbeach ( 852844 )
        In theory, because plants are living things, they could benefit differently from different sorts of attention paid to them. It's a slight possibility, but not so completely impossible that it isn't worth ruling out for a valid test. []
  • No double-blind? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @07:30PM (#32819214)
    Why not create two sets of identical-looking Faraday cages [], one metal and the other non-conducting plastic. Randomly hand them out to experimenters and let them figure out which is which after the results are in.
    • Build a large Faraday cage in a greenhouse. So you've got a nice area for plants with no stray radio waves. Then, put in antennas that will transmit the radio waves you want at the frequencies and power you want. Build several such greenhouses and fill them with the plants you'd like to test. Have them so that they are all controlled in terms of humidity and so on to be the same, but have the radio settings assigned by a computer randomly. At the end of the experiment, go around, have a look at the plants,

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      Make one ferrous metallic (steel), one non-ferrous metallic (aluminium), one non-metallic (plastic) and one gaseous (just to see the confused look on your face).

    • Make two real Faraday cages.

      Put a real radio broadcast antenna in each.

      Only turn on one of the antenna.

      This also eliminates other possible causes for variation, like "plants grow better in a metal cage" or "A faraday cage gives a plant better shade"

    • Re:No double-blind? (Score:5, Informative)

      by metrometro ( 1092237 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @09:09PM (#32820350)

      Yeah, that's pretty much what she did. Wasn't double blind, but she used real Faraday cages and placebo cages in fiberglass, along with another non-caged control. Should be easy enough to replicate, only with uninformed interns watering the plants.

  • Hints? Might? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 )

    Come back and talk to me when you have a more definitive study. Something statistically significant that doesn't focus on one species in one location. Oh, and let's see the methodology used to make sure it is actually a sound experiment because an American amateur scientist is did this one and I really don't trust most of my fellow Americans to do amateur science correctly.

    • Re:Hints? Might? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by n3umh ( 876572 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @08:17PM (#32819832) Homepage

      I have a deep concern about over-stating the dangers of RF radiation... honestly, though, I don't see anything wrong with the PAPER and would say that Haggerty
      approached the experiment in an appropriate scientific manner.

      Come back and talk to me when you have a more definitive study.

      This is not a perfect experiment... no experiment is. But the methodology is laid out. The experiment is reproducible, and that's what matters. I think it may spark interest in study... very likely from people who are VERY skeptical that RF could be the cause, and that's perfect.

      I think that it's probably the case that something else is the cause, not RF. There are things that aren't controlled for. But you or anyone else can do a better experiment. You're right to be skeptical of a single one, but that doesn't mean Haggerty's work wasn't valuable.

  • it's hard to see how a double-blind study could even be designed in this area

    Well, half of the double-blind part is trivial: the seedlings aren't going to know whether they are in the experimental group or the control group.

    The other half isn't entirely impractical. Plant seeds in a number of sites with similar background RF levels, and mount visually-identical "transmitter devices" at each site. The people collecting growth data at the sites will not be informed which transmitter devices are actually trans

  • Double blind studies exist to control for the placebo effect. Unless trees are aware that they are being experimented on, this is not an issue (they're already "blind"). This is more like a physics experiment than a medical one: you need to control all the variables and only change one at a time, and use objective measures to determine the effect. Leaf area and shoot length sound like excellent measures in this regard. If there is an opportunity for experimenter bias to creep into any measurement (for
  • by ridgecritter ( 934252 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @08:23PM (#32819896)
    You might be able to double-blind the Faraday cage if the screen material consisted of (for the active cage) wire overcoated with plastic and (for the inactive cage) fiberglass threads overcoated with the same type of plastic, the intent being to provide two cage materials that look and feel alike (bump into them and they both have the same stiffness) but only one of which provides the RF shielding function.
  • Presumably, the double blind experiment is to avoid some sort of Hawthorn Effect?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      A double blind study is to prevent placebo effect as well as experimenter bias. I guess they are worried that the trees might feel compelled to grow more if they were told that there are no radio waves...

  • Not from the emitted RF, that doesn't have enough energy to break chemical bonds or really have much of any effect on a cell, but standing in line for seven hours unprotected in the sun waiting to pick one up on the day or release will almost certainly increase your risk of skin cancer.


  • The Effects (Score:5, Funny)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @10:38PM (#32820992) Journal

    Once it's shown that radio waves are detrimental to aspen seedlings, there will be:

    1. Signs posted around transmitter towers saying "WARNING -- Radio waves can be detrimental to your leaf area development". In both English as Aspenic.

    B. Pictograph version of the same for Aspens that read yet.

    Three. Non-animal subjects committees at arboreal research centers defining then testing for proper and ethical treatment of seedlings, such informed consent.

    IV. Radical vegans, rejected Greenpeace applicants and overly sensitive hippie hangers-on 'rescuing' seedlings from Torture Hothouses because they're being tested 24 hours a day and not allowed to sleep.

    Cinco. Smarmy, crooning, sexy but aloof modern folk singers moaning out a somewhat relevant lyric while you see pictures of abused seedlings, then their eyes tearing up as they beg you "Won't you please help? Think of the seedlings."

    === 100 years pass ===

    99. Members of the Poplar* Peoples' Front forming a picket line around the Deciduous Students Union, carrying signs made of rock (no living material was harmed in the making of these signs) in their branches, demanding representation of their own kind among elected officials (Vote Yeast, Not Beast) and protesting the deplorable treatment of some of the more 'culturally mature due to greater experience evolving' and 'third forest' species (Smile Mold Is People Too) while Jefferson Floodplain sings "Up against the wall... Up against the wall, Carbonizers" from their hit album 'Nothing Can Stop The Shape of Leaves To Come and then giggle when you start to turn blue and gasp because you have cyclic respiration and can't read sentences this long without stopping for air whereas their constant bidirectional respiration means they can talk for hours straight without stopping once.

    * Not misspelled, you meat chauvinist pig.

  • by RockDoctor ( 15477 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @02:24AM (#32822362) Journal

    ... particularly that with wavelengths between around 350 and 700nm.

    • Practically every person who has ever died of cancer has been exposed to electro-magnetic radiation between 350 and 700nm.
    • Sexually Transmitted Infections are more frequently reported in people who have been exposed to electro-magnetic radiation between 350 and 700nm.
    • Many drowning victims have been exposed to electro-magnetic radiation between 350 and 700nm in addition to their obvious exposure to DHMO.
    • Drug dealers and terrorists frequently use electro-magnetic radiation between 350 and 700nm in performance of their terrorist acts (including growing "peppers" for their pizzas).

    I think that the journal publishing and the amateur scientist published should attempt to grow their seedlings in complete absence of electro-magnetic radiation between 350 and 700nm. That'll teach them something that every troglobite population on the planet learned millennia ago.

  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @04:58AM (#32823178)

    No, I'm serious. My suspicion is that she shielded the successful plants with something that contains trace nutrients that are lacking in her local soil.

    For example, if her shielding was composed of steel chicken wire, then rainwater will pick up iron and zinc from the wire before it falls on the ground, both of these are essential trace nutrients for plant growth. In particular the rich red colour of the leaves in the experimental group speaks of a good supply of iron.

    Alas, I've not seen the paper. If she's doing it properly her control plants should be growing through a layer of what she's using for shielding, instead of inside it. I suspect this is not the case.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dugeen ( 1224138 )
      My thoughts exactly, there is a classic example of this involving a farmer who, believing his fruit trees were being affected by radio waves, surrounded them with wire mesh containing zinc.
  • The Sun. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @06:16AM (#32823612)
    The Sun is among the other sources of radio waves streaming down to the surface of the earth. I would suggest that man made radio waves are not automatically the cause. Although we broadcast strongly on particular frequencies in most areas background radiation drowns out total human output but across a wider spectrum. Plants may be sensitive to changes in background radio sources, for example we're in a period of unusual solar activity. []

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan