WiFi Witchfinders

Eight years ago, there was something of a storm surrounding the safety of WiFi or wireless networking. Although the World Health Organisation published detailed information stating clearly that there was “no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects”, some spotted what they thought were weasel words concealing another conspiracy to prevent us from knowing the truth.

Amazingly there are still sites which spread FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about this, claiming for example to “explore the potential dangers of Wi-Fi with these 10 facts” (which are not, of course, facts at all, but more FUD).

I therefore make no further apology for repeating what I wrote then, just in case anyone still believes in such witchcraft.

As high technology becomes more commonplace, the irony is that scientific literacy is in deep decline.

Sciences at school are watered-down ultra-safe activities that bar pupils from getting a passion for real experiments, and are too often taught by those who lack any passion themselves. So few children go on to study sciences in the Sixth Form, and universities are abandoning core subjects such as physics, chemistry, and engineering, delivering fewer good science graduates, and still fewer enthusiastic teachers. Fresh young scientists are accordingly increasingly rare in the UK, Europe, and even the USA.

Declining scientific literacy means that science is becoming a minority, even cabalistic, pursuit. Society’s understanding of science is falling steadily to the point where to most it may as well be alchemy. But at the same time, those profoundly ignorant of science are determined to express opinions about science, and to exercise their rights to regulate it. The same lawyers who have just been putting the case to ban a mobile phone mast on grounds of safety, will leave court discussing the next case on their mobile phones.

A new target in the witch-hunt against the dark conspiracies of scientific devils is wireless networking. School governors, teachers, council officials and our esteemed elected representatives are now starting to ban wireless networks from schools and other places that young people might congregate, because no-one has proved that the “microwave radiation” emitted by wireless networking devices is completely safe.

I have bad news for these concerned but tragically misguided folk: we still expose our young people to lots of radiation that is known to cause cancer and other serious medical conditions.

By letting our children go outdoors when the sun is shining, we expose them to ultra-violet radiation, a very potent carcinogen that takes a high toll of young lives every year. Far from being able to prove that solar radiation is safe, we know that it is dangerous, and therefore pupils should surely be kept indoors, in the shade, at all times, unless their entire skin surface is covered.

We also allow our children free access to drinking water; if you have seen the effects of drinking more than about 20 litres of water a day (please don’t try this), you will know that it makes people very ill and damages the brain. Such a toxic substance, known to be dangerous and sometimes even fatal – particularly if you fall into it – should clearly be rigorously controlled.

Of course the words that are the true stigmata of the scientific devil are “microwave radiation”. These are similar microwaves to those that cook food quickly in the school kitchens and our homes, make ships’ radars work, establish our position on our car satellite navigation system, and deliver satellite TV to our screens.

Non-scientists are unable to distinguish between non-ionising radiation such as radio waves (including microwaves), and the deadly ionising radiation that slaughtered the innocents of Hiroshima and Chernobyl. They also lack insight into the impossibility of proving that anything is completely safe: you can see a million white swans, but unless you can prove that you have seen every swan that exists and will ever exist, you cannot conclude that black swans do not exist.

As I have written in other articles, there are several good reasons for not implementing wireless networking, but health risks and safety from “microwave radiation” are not among them.

Any school or other organisation that refuses to use wireless networking on grounds of health risk or safety is making a public declaration that their understanding of science is medieval at best, and that their decision-making is as rational as that of the Spanish Inquisition. If you wish your children to be educated in that sort of stimulating environment, then you can be safe in the knowledge that they will be cocooned away from scientific devils, and safely shielded from depravations of the twentieth century.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 23 issue 3, 2007.