Presumably, Ms. Scarry is referring only to radio waves, but still, frequency inverse wavelength is important and needs to be specified. More seriously still, Ms. Scarry completely ignores some essential aspects of EM transmission: the distance factor and the coupling factor. The first one is responsible for the fact that radiation of a given frequency and intensity can cause considerable damage at a distance of feet, say, but be perfectly insignificant at miles.
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The second one is responsible for creating damaging interference at the proper frequency, or range of frequencies, but be quite ineffective if it does not "couple" properly to receiving device, i. Hence no sweeping statements can be made, without careful quantitative analysis, claiming that a military craft was seen in the vicinity, and hence could have caused the death of hundreds of people. Let us look at the "distance factor" in a little more detail. Electromagnetic field strength at large distance from a radiating antenna goes as the reciprocal of the distance between source and receiver , and field intensity as distance squared.
For a plane flying at 20 thousand feet, say, in the process of gaining cruising altitude 33, feet , radiation intensity just outside the aircraft would be about ten to one hundred thousand times less what it would be in the immediate vicinity of the emitter. If we take into account the impedence of the atmosphere, the shielding effect of the fuselage, and the fact that adequate radio transmitters would normally be located miles away, we very quickly arrive at a total attenuation of the order of hundreds of thousands, at least!
Scarry might argue, distance can be compensated for by emitter power. But if such electromagnetic power can destroy airplanes tens of miles away, think what it would do in the immediate vicinity of the emitter. Unless the emitted beam be well focused and directed away from sensitive objects nearby, depending on radiation wavelength and antenna size and shape, deleterious effects in the neighborhood would be unacceptable: automobile gas tanks would explode in the emitter station's parking lot, coffee would boil in the director's office, food would cook in the cafeteria, computer data would be destroyed in the secretarial offices, television and radio reception would be perturbed in homes for miles around.
As for monster emitters on military aircraft or Navy submarines nearby, major Scarry bugaboos, they exist only in the realm of science fiction: radiation energy emitted from planes and ships, military or civilian, is severely limited by the amount of power which can be generated on board. Moreover, radiation emitted from inside an aircraft would be many orders of magnitude more effective than radiation emitted far away, so that the microwave ovens in the plane's pantry would turn out to be far more dangerous than a powerful high-frequency emitter somewhere on land.
Should we then give up that delicious hot food so greatly appreciated by discerning travelers on commercial airlines? Neglecting the distance factor, as Ms. Scarry implicitly does, is completely equivalent to what is done in attempts to justify astrology, another popular myth, based of the influence of gravity. Since gravitational force also decreases with distance-squared, it is easily shown that the gravitational influence of the flower pot in the mother's room is far greater on the baby than that of the relative positions of the sun, planets and constellations at the birth of the child!
To illustrate Elaine Scarry's apparent misunderstanding of the coupling effect, consider the following example taken form her first NYRB article, covering the TWA flight. She writes : "Electromagnetic interference can jam equipment, burn out electrical circuits, and even prompt explosions as when, driving near a blasting area, one is instructed to turn off a car radio. Electromagnetic interference of course is a real and well-documented effect, as can be observed, for example, when the operation of a vacuum cleaner causes "snow" to appear on your television screen nearby, to use an analogy suggested by Dr.
Peter Ladkin , Professor at the University of Bielefeld, a licensed private pilot, and an expert in safety and failure analysis of computer-related accidents in commercial aviation. To pursue that analogy further, Ms.
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Scarry's handling of XEMI then amounts to having your vacuum cleaner burst into flames when your television set is turned on. She tends to confuse emission and reception. That surveillance and tracking by military ships and planes can be accomplished over considerable distances is common in our high-tech age, but that does not imply that interference, or better yet destruction, can be brought about at such distances by electromagnetic interference.
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These misconceptions bring up some interesting ideas which would forever alter modern warfare as we know it today and modify international relations between superpowers as well: if the Scarry XEMI scenario were correct, it would no longer be required to resurrect the Space Defense Initiative "Star Wars" defense with its costly and unreliable missiles, which currently have the unfortunate tendency to miss their targets, even in ideally programmed tests. All that would be required is to turn on the military's powerful tracking radars which already exist and zap the incoming enemy missiles out of the sky by a XEMI mechanism, thereby avoiding the deployment of a missile-based defense system which promises to be the biggest boondoggle in human history.
It seems obvious that Ms. Scarry has misunderstood the whole concept of electromagnetic interference, and has handled it in an anecdotal, rather than quantitative way, leading to incorrect conclusions. Blaming electromagnetic radiation for all sorts of evils, of which it is innocent, is not new.
Radio waves are prime candidates for "junk science" an equivalent term , permeate almost all space, are unseen and unfelt by humans, are therefore "mysterious", and produce "radiation", a word which generates dread in most of the population. Chapter 7 of Dr.
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Park's book is particularly relevant here, as it deals with the fairly recent history of the publication by the New Yorker of a series of articles by Paul Brodeur on the erroneous idea that electromagnetic fields generated by high-voltage power lines could predispose people living nearby to contracting cancer. Of course, after a great many lengthy investigations it was discovered that the correlation between power lines and cancer did not exist. Actually, those costly investigations were unnecessary, as any competent scientist knew perfectly well that the probability of finding such correlations was virtually nil.
Nevertheless, investigations and counter investigations went on for years, so that, to quote Dr. Presumably, Mr. Brodeur and the editor of the New Yorker believed that they were performing the useful function of enhancing public awareness of the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. As in the present case, mysterious coincidences were reported, and technical experts had been found who would back up Paul Brodeur's fanciful claims.
A repeat performance is now in the making, this time involving the fear that cell phone electromagnetic! Foolishness certainly, fraud no, although the tally of absurdities appears to increase steadily from "TWA" to "Swissair" to "EgyptAir", as I shall now show. As mentioned earlier, the circumstances surrounding the EgyptAir accident differ markedly form the other two; it is therefore more difficult for Elaine Scarry to justify her belief in a common cause XEMI for all three events. Nonetheless, Ms. Scarry sticks to her guns and writes in a footnote of article 3 that " the TWA and Swissair accidents appear to be 'unmistakably electrical'; in the case of the EgyptAir accident, there is persuasive, but not unmistakable, evidence that the accident could be electrical", the latter statement being clearly incorrect, as we have seen.
To make her case, Elaine Scarry is then forced to use a brand of creative writing that one would not have thought possible from a Harvard professor of literature. Here are some examples of her prose. She tells us that "powerful military radars" were monitoring the EgyptAir flight; then: "It is not hard to think of reasons why EgyptAir might have become an ordinary -- or even an extra-ordinary -- target of intense observation. EgyptAir was, first of all, a foreign carrier from a country that is not always regarded as a close United States ally.
Second, it was carrying, in addition to its civilian passengers, thirty three Egyptian military officers, including one brigadier general " . Would a B-movie Hollywood director buy such a scenario? I doubt it, but apparently the NYRB had no misgivings! There follows what I call an orgy of subjunctives of the type: " Of course anyone is entitled to make any suppositions he or she pleases, no matter how silly, but does that constitute valid arguments in cases as serious as these, in a publication as serious as this one?
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By the time that article 3 had been published by the NYRB, the most probable cause of the accident had already been leaked: suicide by the relief pilot el Batouti. Thus, Ms. Scarry is forced to go into denial mode, and tries mightily to avoid stating the facts as they are known at the time. For example, she mentions the famous cockpit conversation see above , a key element in the case, only in a footnote, then proceeds to put a completely fanciful spin on the words uttered . In the body of the text she replaces the suicide version by her favorite literary subterfuge of suppositions and innuendoes, as follows: "it may have been that all subsequent command actions were initiated by the pilots, desperately trying to regain control of the plane and making the best decisions they could: those actions may have been a highly competent effort to save the aircraft or they may have been , however admirable , less competent.
It is possible that all four of the key events -- automatic pilot shutdown, steep dive, split-elevator anomaly, engine shutdown -- were caused by electromagnetic interference or that only some of the four were caused by electromagnetic interference, the rest by pilot intervention and attempted rescue.
In the Scarry interpretation, el Batouti has now been transformed into an admirable -- though ultimately unsuccessful -- savior of terrified passengers. Thus, Egyptian pilots are described as admirable , whereas careless US military personnel possibly but not necessary in the area are assumed to be choking the ether with death rays. I think we have here a perfect example of deliberate distortion of reality in order to conform to one's own preconceived and erroneous notions.
Elaine is very much concerned about EgyptAir's authorized shortcut: "The possible dangers within the warning zones and corridors would arise not from munitions but from high-powered radar or other electromagnetic signals from fixed ground transmitters or from transmitters on craft passing through the area". Just passing. Consider now the results of more technical analyses. First it was necessary to find out what sources of electromagnetic EM radiation were active at the time and place of the accident. Scarry's article on Swissair , is a very impressive one indeed: it is about pages in length, contains many technical drawings and photographs, many in color, and considers not only the possible effects of external electromagnetic interference XEMI , but also internal YEMI, say the latter possibly arising from radio signals originating inside the plane itself, as from passenger-operated devices.
The theoretical work is impressive: standard but advanced mathematical techniques are used, such as Green's function and integral equation methods. The NASA report also summarizes the findings of the Joint Spectrum Center in table form, giving the EM characteristics of dominant emitters such as frequency, power, distance to the aircraft, polarization, energy density and so on.
Certain energy values mentioned in the NASA report puzzled me, particularly since they seemed to have been misinterpreted in other publications based on this report. I therefore contacted some of the co-authors of the NASA report. In particular, I talked to the one person who had performed the calculations pertaining to XEMI who pointed out that the calculations were very rough ones and had to be conducted in a very short time, presumably under political pressure.