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Wi-Fi Threat to Trees Rooted in Shaky Stats

Published on December 10, 2010
by Carl Bialik

Recent headlines in international newspapers, on television news and in technology blogs highlighted a startling statistic from the Netherlands—70 percent of urban trees are sick, up from 10 percent a few years earlier. Coupled with a second recent Dutch study that found trees exposed to Wi-Fi transmitters suffered damage to their leaves, the number painted an alarming picture of city maples and oaks withering and dying from exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

But statisticians, urban foresters and even the researchers themselves say it is too soon to declare an urban tree epidemic, let alone to blame Wi-Fi. The Dutch tree figures are from a study of 600 trees in one small city this year, and the apparent jump in tree illness is based on a misleading comparison.

Meanwhile, the study linking leaf damage to Wi-Fi is so preliminary that it hasn’t been written up, let alone peer-reviewed and published in an academic journal.

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