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Apple Magnetic Monitor
by Luby Prytulak, PhD
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First posted 03 May 2013 04:11pm PST, last edited 11 Nov 2013 11:47pm PST

My Computer Monitor Yanked My Fork Out Of My Pie

Did my fork ever surprise me when I slid my dessert close to an Apple monitor!

On the left below is shown an approximately six-year-old Apple monitor, to which metal objects are not strongly attracted.

On the right is an "Apple LED Cinema Display", "27-inch LED-backlit widescreen display with iSight, speakers, mic, and MagSafe power", purchased in 2012, of which the same cannot be said.

In a better world:

  1. Apple would inform consumers of large elevations in the strength of the magnetic fields emanating from its new products, like the elevation in magnetic field strength from old to new monitors illustrated below.

  2. Apple would provide information as to the possibility that such elevated magnetic fields could corrupt data stored on nearby hard drives or on solid-state memory devices.

  3. Apple would cite at least one authority taking the position that the magnetic-field elevation illustrated below is harmless and should be of no concern even to people working within a couple of feet of it for many hours a day, and at the same time Apple would also cite at least one authority taking the position that such a magnetic field is best avoided because its effects have not as yet been adequately researched.

  4. Apple would provide data comparing magnetic-field dosage, as well as electromagnetic radiation dosage, incurred from use of each of its products, taking into account the proximity to vital bodily organs of each field source or radiation source when the product is positioned in typical use, as for example pressed against the side of the user's head, or resting on the lap of a seated user, or resting on the abdomen of a reclining user.

  5. Apple would offer clarification of its thinking on the possibility that exposure to electromagnetic fields or electromagnetic radiation may resemble thalidomide in being harmless to humans in adulthood, but damaging while they are in the process of development.  The question is relevant to pregnant women working at computer terminals.  It may also be relevant to children working at computer terminals because their brains are still undergoing development.  The question may be particularly relevant to Apple because of the frequency with which school computers happen to be Macs, and perhaps because of the particularly strong fields emanating from some Apple products.  The foremost question that Apple might wish to address is what reputable authorities are ready to vouch for the safety of a youngster sitting in front of the Apple monitor shown attracting kitchen implements below.

  6. Apple would have anticipated the consequences to someone with a pacemaker leaning over a monitor to reach something behind it, so that his chest was actually touching the monitor.

    Modern pacemakers are designed to be tested or reprogrammed with the use of a small magnetic external to the body.  Static fields can close reed switches and cause the pacemaker to enter test, reprogram, bypass, etc. modes with possible injury.  [...]

    Effects of time varying fields are similar to those of static fields with a few major differences.  First, an electric current can be induced when a conductor is in a time varying field.  The human body is a conductor and so is moving blood.  In such a field small currents not normally present in the body can be produced.  Usually this is not a concern, but pacemaker users could be at risk.  The induced currents may cause the pacemaker to incorrectly start pacing or even prevent pacing when it is actually needed.

Apple magnetic monitor. Is it safe for data, students, children, people with pacemakers?

But Don't We Live In A Safe World?

Recurring exposés inform us that manufacturers cannot be trusted to produce safe products, and that governments cannot be trusted to detect hazardous ones.

For example, it was neither manufacturers nor governments who made the discovery that our food and drink is contaminated with arsenic — it took Consumer Reports to do the job.

Consumer Reports logo
Arsenic in your food
Our findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin
Consumer Reports magazine:  November 2012

Consumer Reports Arsenic in our Food
Our analysis found varying levels of arsenic in more than 60 rices and rice products.

Organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice—new tests by Consumer Reports have found that those and other types of rice products on grocery shelves contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels.

Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life.

Following our January investigation, "Arsenic in Your Juice," which found arsenic in apple and grape juices, we recently tested more than 200 samples of a host of rice products.  They included iconic labels and store brands, organic products and conventional ones; some were aimed at the booming gluten-free market.

The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice.  In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms.  We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.  Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike.   [...]

Apprehension on the arsenic front would be somewhat allayed had the Consumer Reports exposé resulted in a monthly government report on arsenic levels in the various fruit juices and rice products being sold in the US and Canada.  But if no such report is available, then perhaps it is reasonable to wonder whether we are more arsenic-free today than we were before the Consumer Reports revelations.

And, relevant to education, might it not be possible that arsenic poisoning interferes with learning?  And might not some of the symptoms of arsenic poisoning (headaches, confusion, drowsiness) be dubbed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with the result that on top of poisoning the child with arsenic, the adults under whose supervision he finds himself proceed to suppress the symptoms of that arsenic poisoning by drugging him with Ritalin?

Symptoms of arsenic poisoning begin with headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, and drowsiness.  As the poisoning develops, convulsions and changes in fingernail pigmentation called leukonychia may occur.  When the poisoning becomes acute, symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, and more convulsions.  The organs of the body that are usually affected by arsenic poisoning are the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver.  The final result of arsenic poisoning is coma to death.

Arsenic is related to heart disease (hypertension related cardiovascular), cancer, stroke (cerebrovascular diseases), chronic lower respiratory diseases, and diabetes.

It has been hypothesized in the above Wikipedia article that exposure to lead, to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to organophosphate insecticides can cause ADHD, and one may wonder whether arsenic has been ruled out as another such hypothesized cause, or simply hasn't yet been considered.

Perhaps also relevant to the question of effect on academic performance is that in its earlier report on arsenic in fruit juices, Consumer Reports cites a study linking arsenic in water to diminished intelligence

But, to return to the question of whether we live in a world so safe that wondering about health consequences of Apple monitors is unjustified, many examples, of which arsenic poisoning is only one, seem to invite the answer that we do not live in such a safe world, and that questioning the propriety of any marked increase of radiation should be welcomed as tending to protect health.

I Have A Personal Reason For Distrusting Computer Monitors

The head of the ulna of my left hand is permanently enlarged, and the thumb of that hand suffers from stenosing tenosynovitis (trigger thumb), and the wrist of that hand is permanently weakened and susceptible to pain.  Unusual exertion, which my right hand tolerates without protest, is capable of reducing my left wrist to a condition in which simple everyday movements become acutely painful.  Unscrewing the cap of a jar has been at times too painful to manage.  Continuing to play classical guitar has become impossible because fingers and thumb cannot be placed as needed without pain.

Close contact of the hand with a CRT monitor may have caused tissue damage in wrist

This abnormal and debilitating condition began to develop shortly after I had been typing much numerical data into a computer, and while proofreading would place my left hand right on the computer screen so as to not lose my place as I looked back and forth from the numbers on screen to the numbers on paper.  My left hand, then, was in contact with the screen for many hours a day over many weeks.  The hypothesis suggested is that the unusual exposure of my hand to the radiation from a computer monitor permanently injured my wrist.

And why not?  A person's two hands share the same genetic inheritance, enjoy the same blood supply which brings each hand the same nutrients and toxins, so if only one hand suddenly begins to deteriorate, it seems reasonable to search for some unusual events that have impacted that hand alone, and in the present case we do find such unusual events in the form of close and prolonged exposure to a computer monitor.

Unavoidable Digression to the Topic of Scientific Method

The scientific researcher in such areas as psychology or education or health is committed to a certain belief that the layman will find unfamiliar and strange, and perhaps even shocking and repugnant — it is the belief that the only things that can be trusted to be equal in this world are random samples of sufficient size.  For example, if half of an available 40 students are assigned to Group A and the other half to Group B, and the assignment is random, then the scientist will trust that the two groups are equal to each other in every conceivable way.  Any groups created other than by randomization, or if too small, will be assumed to be unequal.

If an educational researcher, then, wants to compare Teaching Method A to Teaching Method B, he will want something like two groups of students who are equal in every conceivable way because then he can teach one group using Method A, and the other groups using Method B, and if one of these groups later performs better on some test, the researcher can be confident that the teaching Method caused that difference in performance.

But the researcher cannot perform the same experiment on two existing classrooms of students, as these groups were not created randomly, and thus must be assumed to have been already unequal, before they began to be taught using Methods A and B, and that these pre-existing inequalities might be responsible for any later performance difference.  For example, the first class might perform better not because they were taught using Method A but because they had been smarter or harder-working to begin with.

And randomization with insufficient sample size also fails to produce pre-treatment equality.  For example, a researcher with only two students available flips a coin to decide to teach Dick using Method A and Jane using Method B.  He's got the randomness, but not the sample size.  One student per group is too few to guarantee the pre-treatment equality that is necessary to perform a proper experiment.  One inequality is already evident — Dick is male and Jane is female.  Any performance differences that might arise could be caused by this gender difference and not by the Method of teaching.  And the researcher knows that if he keeps on looking, he will find many differences between the two students beyond only their gender.

Well, what happened to my two hands can be considered to be a naturally-occurring experiment — one hand gets exposed to some treatment but not the other, and health consequences follow.  However, this naturally-occurring experiment is defective because it violates both requirements of pre-treatment equality of groups — the assignment of hands to treatments (strong radiation or weak radiation) was not random (no coin was flipped, no computer-generated random digits were relied upon), and in any case one hand per group is as unacceptably small as had been one student per group.

But if the two groups could not be assumed equal prior to exposure to the monitor, if they must be assumed to have been different even before the experiment began, then maybe it was these other differences that caused the health of one hand to deteriorate but not the health of the other.

So, those are the rules, and more closely examining the naturally-occurring experiment in which my two hands served as guinea pigs will convince us of why the rules are necessary and indispensable.

Specifically, living out in the country, as I do, necessitates often donning work gloves and eventually wearing them out.  Looking through the collection of all the gloves that are not yet so decrepit as to have been thrown out, I find that six of them lack a partner, and that five of these are for the left hand and only one for the right.  As the single right-hand glove is the most worn of the six unmatchables, and in fact is the most worn in my entire collection of all gloves, were I to discard one glove more from my collection, it would have been this one, which would have left me with five unmatched gloves, all from the left hand.

Unmatched work gloves found on Luby Prytulak's ranch

The explanation for this curious imbalance between left-hand and right-hand unmatched gloves might be that the right hand tends to do the harder work, and so the right-hand glove wears out first and is discarded, whereas the less-used left-hand glove continues to be serviceable and is retained.  It needs to be understood that what may be the urban practice of donning only matching gloves, and discarding both in the eventuality of one becoming unwearable, finds weaker adherence in a work situation where absence of fashion consciousness, together with higher frugality, call for the less degraded member of a pair to be kept in service even when its partner has been discarded.

But to return to scientific method — even two objects as seemingly identical as a person's two hands cannot be assumed to be equal.  My right hand was bound to be stronger because for many decades it had done all the hammering, all the sawing, all the screwdriver turning, all the tennis-racket swinging, all the handwriting, and so on.  Therefore, whenever a situation arose in which both hands were subjected to the same rare and extreme stress, say that of lugging furniture down a stairway, it was the weaker hand in which something was more likely to snap, and it is such an injury resulting from unaccustomed strain, unaccustomed to the left hand but familiar to the right, rather than the proximity to a computer monitor, which might have caused left-hand injury and brought on the accompanying symptoms.

This is what is called an alternative interpretation, highly valued in scientific thinking, and not the sole alternative interpretation, but more likely one of many, and these would be available no matter which hand it was that is exposed to radiation and suffers health setbacks.  Had it been the right hand that I had been pressing against the screen, for example, one alternative interpretation would have been that I sleep mostly on my right side, and thus with circulation to my right hand reduced compared to my left.  Reduced supply of oxygen and nutrients to the right hand for several hours each day and over many decades could then have been blamed for the deterioration of the right wrist.

What a properly-conducted experiment accomplishes is the elimination of all alternative interpretations.  The reason that correlational data never allows confident cause-effect conclusions is that it always comes infested with a multitude of alternative interpretations.

What Kind Of Monitor Matters A Lot

In any case, my monitor at that time had been a cathode ray tube (CRT), whose radiation characteristics are entirely different from those of modern monitors, and so my experience is not directly relevant to the Apple magnetic LED monitor in question.  But my experience does have the indirect relevance of encouraging the recognition that whoever exposes us to elevated radiation of any kind may be following principles of avoiding harm to others no higher than the principles followed by Kellogg's or Uncle Ben's or Gerber or Quaker Oats or Minute Maid or Welch's — when they feed us arsenic.

Is It Just Me?

My single hand particularly exposed to monitor radiation and particularly damaged is not a strong reason to be concerned, but maybe there exist more such hands.  For example, Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and of Square has had an experience not unlike mine, but he interprets it differently:

Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square 

Dorsey remembers that his wrists ached "from years of programming."  He tried using keyboards with layouts that minimized finger movement, but they didn't help much.

TWO-HIT WONDER: Jack Dorsey, of Twitter, is now making big money at Square — and is out to prove that he's more than a lucky man.  The New Yorker, October 21, 2013, pp. 48-59, p. 53.

Seems to me that the wrist strain experienced by a computer progammer is trivial, and that the damage is more likely to come from the hands being the body parts closest to the monitor, and therefore exposed to the strongest monitor radiation.

Were people experiencing "repetitive strain injury", "carpal tunnel syndrome", "stenosing tenosynovitis", and so on at the same rate when they worked at typewriters, which by the way require quite a bit more finger and wrist exertion than do computer keyboards, or did these conditions begin to occur in epidemic proportions only after the introduction of computer monitors?  I put in years in front of a typewriter without experiencing any wrist problems.

And yes, it's not just Jack Dorsey and me.  It is an epidemic:

The U.S. Department of Labor has concluded that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the "chief occupational hazard of the 90's" — disabling workers in epidemic proportions.

Currently, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome affects over 8 million Americans.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the #1 reported medical problem, accounting for about 50% of all work-related injuries.

Presently, 25% of all computer operators have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, with estimates that by the year 2000, 50% of the entire workforce may be affected.

Only 23% of all Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients were able to return to their previous professions following surgery.

Up to 36% of all Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients require unlimited medical trearment.

Women are twice as likely to develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as opposed to their male counterparts.

While women account for about 45% of all workers, they experience nearly 2/3's of all work-related Repetitive Strain Injuries.

Surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the second most common type of surgery, with well over 230,000 procedures performed annually.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSHA) reports that by the year 2000 one half of all office workers may suffer symptoms of CTDs.  If the incidences should rise as NIOSHA predicts — 50% of all office workers will be averaging a CTD cost of $2,000 each.

I see a problem here.  Millions of people who work in front of computer monitors are experiencing health problems, and yet millions of children sitting in front of computer terminals is considered by many to be the way to improve their education.

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