Accusations of Anti-RFID Bias Are Deserved

At least one reader feels I've been unfair to bloggers and journalists. While there are certainly some who cover radio frequency identification objectively, the evidence suggests most jump all over every negative news story about the technology.
Published: August 11, 2008

I received an e-mail from an editor at a Dutch health-care site who felt my recent editorial, Good and Bad News About RFID in Hospitals, was unfair to bloggers and publications picking up articles on radio frequency identification. At first, I thought he was joking—but no, he was serious.

In that opinion, I wrote, “It’s clear the media and bloggers adore negative news about RFID.” As evidence of this, I reported that when I searched for “JAMA” [the Journal of the American Medical Association] and “RFID,” Google returned 150,000 Web pages containing information about a JAMA report claiming RFID could have a negative impact on health-care equipment (see Researchers Warn RFID May Disrupt Medical Equipment, A Sobering Warning on RFID in Hospitals and Dutch RFID Interference Study Is a Worst-Case Test).

This compares to nine pages returned by Google when I searched for a study conducted by Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, which showed RFID systems had no impact on medical equipment (see New RFID Study Finds No Interference With Medical Devices).

My correspondent pointed out that the Purdue study had not yet been published. That’s true—and there are now 618 references returned by Google (up from nine), so the study has received a little more play in the interim, though it certainly doesn’t come close to the coverage the negative JAMA article has received.

My correspondent questioned my numbers and said they mean “nothing.” But I think the number of pages on Google is a pretty solid indicator of relative interest in a particular topic or person. I would say, for instance, that the fact that Google returns 13,600 pages for “Mark Roberti” and 19,600,000 for “David Beckham” indicates the world has a greater interest in the popular football (soccer) player than it does in me. (“Sex,” by the way, returns 856,000,000 pages, while “arachnology,” the study of spiders, returns 105,000.)

To further illustrate my point that the media loves negative stories about RFID, I did a search for “Katherine Albrecht,” a well-known opponent of RFID. The result: 50,400 pages—nearly three times the number my name returns, and 17 times more than Bill Hardgrave, director of the University of Arkansas’ RFID Research Center, a well-known expert on radio frequency identification.

Albrecht, on the other hand, is certainly not an expert on RFID. She can’t discuss the many RFID applications, or the benefits to businesses and consumers, so why is she quoted so often? It’s simple: because she has negative things to say about RFID—and journalists love negative articles. (Yes, I know she wrote a book on RFID, but a lot of opponents write polemics and get published, for the same reason journalists publish biased article—it’s assumed that’s what people want to read.)

I apologize to all serious bloggers and journalists who really do want to inform people. It’s wrong to lump everyone together, but it seems to me that the facts support my view that most editors and bloggers love negative news about RFID. Here’s some more evidence, for those not yet convinced.

(Note: The plus signs tell Google the word must be contained in the page, and the quotes tell Google the term in quotes must be in the page.)

Search Term Pages Returned
+RFID +privacy +invasion   29,400
+RFID +privacy +abuse   215000
+RFID +”big brother”   419,000
+RFID +consumer +benefits   129,000
+RFID +consumer +savings   62,600
+RFID +”consumer benefits”   3,840
+RFID +”benefits to consumers”   5,170

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.