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I got an email with a link to a Facebook page with information about some obscure Princeton University research on how decorative refrigerator magnets increase the risk of cancer due to consumption of irradiated food by the fridge users.

For several months, they were feeding two groups of mice: the first group with food kept in a refrigerator, and the second group with food kept in a refrigerator as well but with several decorative magnets on the door.

The objective of this experiment was to see how electromagnetic radiation (that coming out from the decorative magnets on the door) affect food items. Amazingly, rigorous clinical studies stated that the group of mice that consumed the "radiated" food had as much as 87% higher probability to get cancer than the other group of mice.

Even though it sounds absurd to me, can this be true? Also is there any indication that magnets actually become so dangerous when they come in contact with electric devices?

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    Whether or not your post is spam, that facebook page reaks of spam so I've flagged it. If you can find a link (perhaps to Princeton University) that doesn't look like clicking it might infect my computer then I'll try to answer :) – Russell Steen Jun 9 '11 at 20:44
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    Pretty quick google search (LINK) reveals fairly easily that this is almost certainly a complete hoax. – Hendy Jun 9 '11 at 21:25
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    @Russell Steen: The last paragraph on that page, "Kindly pass this information to your contacts," is the big red flag for qualifying that as spam in my books (+1 for noticing that). I just flagged it as "spam" too. – Randolf Richardson Jun 9 '11 at 22:18
  • @Russell and the other flaggers: I didn't see anything wrong with the link (though I don't know if it looks different if you are logged in with Facebook), I still removed it and quoted the relevant passage. Just as a reminder, each spam flag causes an automatic downvote on the post, if a post is deleted by spam flags this carries a -100 reputation penalty for the user. – Mad Scientist Jun 10 '11 at 6:21
  • Ok, i didn't know that a facebook page can infect your computer. I also had no intension to spam anyone; I was actually wondering whether it's true or not. – Elijah Saounkine Jun 10 '11 at 6:42
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You have good reason to think this sounds absurd, because, well, this is absurd. The answer to your question is unequivocally, "no!"

The first warning signs:

  • Grammatical/typographic/formatting errors in the warning itself.
  • Asking to "Kindly pass this information to your contacts." - Eric Idle said it best, spam spam spam spam.
  • The misnomer of calling what should be "irradiated" food "radiated" food. Radiated food would just be food emitted from someone or something, which would be a great idea for a super-power...
  • If this was a legitimate study, it would be groundbreaking, and would be receiving enormous media attention. Just think about how many official studies and media buzzes one encounters (and how many questions have been asked on this site) regarding cell phone radiation and health. Wouldn't this be an even bigger bombshell?

To put a little actual backbone into it, though, check out this site; it does a nice job at quickly and simply debunking this.

To summarize the finer points of the above link:

  • Check out Princeton's research page - you won't find it there!
  • The author claims to have contacted Princeton about this, and received the following reply from a spokesperson (granted, without seeing an email, this is just as specious as the claim itself):

    To confirm, we are not aware of any such research affiliated with anyone at Princeton and unfortunately we do not know where or why this e-mail chain started.

    We appreciate you informing your readers that this e-mail is a hoax.

  • Don't forget, how do you think refrigerator doors stick when closed? Magnets! Furthermore, many electric motors (like the one that makes refrigerators work) generate electric and magnetic fields on their own - certainly larger than the miniscule one produced by a refrigerator magnet.

  • The above site also links to the National Cancer Institute, a great source for this kind of information. Looking at this linked page, one can see (with regard to humans):

    No consistent association between magnetic fields and leukemia or brain tumors has been established.

    And to follow up on the whole mouse thing:

    Animal studies have not found that magnetic field exposure is associated with increased risk of cancer (2). The absence of animal data supporting carcinogenicity makes it biologically less likely that magnetic field exposures in humans, at home or at work, are linked to increased cancer risk.

So no. There is nothing to worry about with refrigerator magnets. Unless you eat them. That might be a problem.

(I also think a fair name for this whole fiasco could be: decorative magnets, how do they work!?)

  • Just realized @Hendy's link yields the page I primarily cited as the first result. Good link! – erekalper Jun 15 '11 at 18:59
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    Another thing you can easily verify yourself, but which is taboo for an answer as original research, is, to try to get any influence of such a magnet on the other side of the door measured (stick a thin, iron nail or something against it). It doesn't work - the door shields the magnetic attraction against the other side. Now try to shield a the magnetic field of the earth from a compass with a refrigerator door. Doesn't work? Now be puzzled: Which magnetic influence is constantly around apples, onions and other fruits and vegetable? For months, not weeks. – user unknown Mar 4 '12 at 2:47

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