This commentary considers research needs for radiofrequency (RF) energy above 6 GHz, including in the “high band” of 5G New Radio (NR) communications systems that exists just beneath the mm-wave band (30–300 GHz). As of late 2020, approximately 100 RF bioeffects studies have been published involving exposures above 6 GHz, encompassing a wide range of exposure levels and frequencies. A majority of these studies report statistically significant effects of exposure, many at exposures within international safety limits. This commentary examines 31 genetic damage studies involving RF exposures above 6 GHz in the context of two sets of quality-assessment criteria: 1. “Risk of bias” (RoB) criteria used for systematic reviews of health-related studies; and 2. a broader set of criteria for research quality from a different scholarly approach (metascience). The 31 studies report several statistically significant effects of exposure on different markers for genetic damage. These effects, if real, would have great potential significance for carcinogen risk assessment. However, the studies as a group have significant technical weaknesses, including small size, failure to meet multiple RoB criteria, naïve use of statistics, and lack of prespecified hypotheses and methods of analysis, all of which increase the chances of false discovery. Here we propose a “carrot” (adequate funding to support high-quality research) and a “stick” (more stringent review of bioeffects manuscripts, including explicit instructions to reviewers to assess study quality) approach to increase the reliability of RF bioeffects studies to facilitate health agency reviews of this socially controversial topic.
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Vol. 196 • No. 4