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Lack of Care in Reporting can Mislead Greatly Re Tin Whiskers

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  • Folks,


    To be fair and thorough myself, I want to point out two things:

     1.       Several media, not just Circuitnet,  picked up the original story regarding tin whiskers as a possible cause of Toyota’s problems. The original article appears here:

    2.       Temporarily ignoring the poor science at the root of the “claim”, I maintain that editing out the key phrase “may be” from the original story contributes to an increased misunderstanding of the actual facts.

    Now, here is my original post:

    I know and respect the team at Circuitnet, but it seems like they made a pretty serious goof today.  Their top story today had headlines stating: "Tin Whiskers Behind Toyota Recall."  The link to this story takes us an article with the title "Electronic Tin Whiskers may be behind Toyota recalls."

    So we start with a headline telling us that tin whiskers are behind the recall and when we go to the main article we see that tin whiskers may be behind the recalls.  The person that the article is quoting is Keith Armstrong an EMI (electromagnetic interference) expert.  In this article Armstrong states that EMI may be the culprit in Toyota brake malfunction.

    From what I see in the article, Armstrong has no data, and has not looked at a failed Toyota brake system.  He is just arguing that EMI may be the culprit.  Who knows?

    Armstrong is then quoted as saying that tin whiskers, in the lead-free solder, may be to blame for the recalls and he then references work by John Barnes.  Barnes' exhaustive summary has nothing to say about tin whiskers in Toyota braking systems, just a bit about tin whiskers in general, in the over 1,000 pages about lead-free issues.  Armstrong is then quoted as saying that the tin whisker problem, "has caused serious problems in the computer industry previously."  The article at this link is dated 12 November 2002 and is simply a call for papers on tin whiskers at a conference.  Strong suggestions for having no data!

    I don't want to minimize the concern for tin whiskers, but the headline in Circuitnet and the article it links to have nothing factual to do with tin whiskers in the Toyota recall situation.  Given the seriousness of this situation, this misleading reporting is troubling indeed.

    Dr. Ron

    PS: One commenter to the main article points out that Toyota uses leaded solder in the brake electronics.  I don't know if this is true, but given the RoHS exemption that auto electronics has for lead, it would not surprise me.

    In summary: double Yikes!!

    Note: THe image is from