Wi-fi doesn’t cause cancer, thinking about it does

29 Jul

And so the beast that will not die rears its ugly head again. It’s summertime, which is often synonymous with slow news time, so in tech circles that means it’s another inevitable round of “wi-fi is deadly.”

Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, kicked up the latest kerfuffle on Twitter the other day when she tweeted, “It is very disturbing how quickly WiFi has moved into schools as it is children who are the most vulnerable.” After the media proclaimed her to be waging war against wi-fi, she posted a long defense of her position and how it is supposedly backed by the large amount of science she has studied on the matter.

Her conclusion is that the current knowledge on wi-fi’s health effects is not decisive one way or the other, so caution should be exercised when using it. Some of the advice she offers is to not put wi-fi routers near sleeping children and to turn such devices off when they’re not in use, such as when you go to bed.

Where to start? How about with those suggestions? I don’t know of too many conversations that went like this: “Hey honey, I just bought a new wi-fi router. Where should we put it? How about on junior’s nightstand, right next to his head?” Honestly, I’m not a parent, but I wouldn’t even think of putting a router anywhere near a child - not for health reasons, but more likely because I’d worry about the kid breaking it.

As for turning routers off when they’re not in use… uh, how about the fact that they’re probably always in use? Computers and other devices, such as the Tivo for example, automatically download updates even when they’re not on. Some people also depend on wi-fi for their phones - the last thing they want to do in the middle of night if an emergency is taking place is wait for their router to boot up.

All of that is besides the point. Erik Davis, a technology professional in Toronto who runs a site called Skeptic North, wrote a post back in November that gave a thorough smackdown to concerns over wi-fi and other electromagnetic frequency radiation. He listed a whole host of agencies, regulatory bodies and health organizations that have found wi-fi and the like to be safe. That ought to be enough for all but the most conspiracy-minded, who will believe no matter what that all of the above groups are bought and paid for by the evil, monolithic wi-fi lobby.

Is the science decisive? That question is best summed up by this cartoon, which posits that the absence of fact does not confirm suspicion. If I could add to it, here’s an idea: You know what else, besides wi-fi, can give you brain cancer? Thinking about brain cancer!

I’m only joking, of course, but that statement has about as much basis in fact (if not more) as claims of wi-fi’s harmfulness.

Caution is always good, but spreading unfounded fear is not. If politicians were to put a chill on all new technologies until their long-term effects were fully known, which is what May has suggested with wi-fi, then we’d still be living in caves.

What’s most disappointing about her position is that it fails to account for all the positive effects of wi-fi. Wireless internet technology has had dramatic effects on improving productivity, lowering costs and even helping the environment, which is the Green Party’s central tenet. With better wi-fi and internet access in general, people can travel and commute less, thereby limiting their emissions.

When it comes to students, wi-fi is also a much cheaper and practical way to bring internet into the classroom. It’s way more preferable for already cash-strapped schools than the alternative, which is to either go through the costly process of wiring themselves with ethernet cables or going without the internet completely.

In the absence of actual facts proving that wi-fi is harmful to our health, the Green Party should be embracing it rather than condemning it.

(Image courtesy Alex Grey)


Posted by on July 29, 2011 in internet


2 Responses to Wi-fi doesn’t cause cancer, thinking about it does

  1. Marc Venot

    July 29, 2011 at 3:37 am

    I don’t understand why there is an outdoor and an indoor limit?
    What is your proposed boundaries?

  2. Daryl Vernon

    August 7, 2011 at 9:36 am

    “Thorough knockdown” by Erik Davis?? You failed to provide the correct link. I recall some inept articles at that website on topic, with lots of commentary shredding what was written by resident or visiting skeptos. Your “whole lot of agencies”, are filters so you don’t get to see the real science attesting to harm — like from the vast majority of independent scientists, vs the “no harm” claim from the vast majority of industry-connected. That comparative stat does not raise an eyebrow? This writer knows of no 20th century precedents (there are so many!) for serious misbehaviour in blocking science about public health danger from getting out to journalists like himself, and so responsibly to the general public? (See, eg Michaels’ Doubt is Thier Product, Krimsky’s Science in the Private Interest, McGarrity & Wagner’s, Bending Science, Shiv Chopra’s, Corrupt to the Core…)True, it can be daunting to face that supposedly august panels and agencies are corrupt, by culture or more grossly by insinuation of industry & its abettors. But what use journalism if you don’t dig a little? Paul Brodeur did a masterful job way back in the ’70s, and created a public furor about the dangers of wireless, from which industry & abettors learned of the necessity to sufficiently co-opt the main media (see eg Palango’s writing on this) — he was first writing about it in New Yorker mag…what about Macleans doing some real journalism worthy of the name on this dire topic?

    As for May’s intervention, it is to be hoped she will deepen her familiarity with these matters, and follow her good intuition and lead on it in Canada as Greens have done in the Europe — but which this writer is obviously ignorant about, despite his linking to May’s blog item, in which the Council of Europe document, adopted by the Parliamentary Asembly, incl. rather tough words for such a format and venue, that have the whiff of his “conspiratorial” — and they are on the mark. The rapporteur? A Luxem. Green. Canada lags badly, it’s time for May to step up. But will Nowak do some basic research worthy of his position, or just superficially shoot from the hip & get it quite wrong, adding to public misinformation?

    Internet is great indeed, smart metering can be, too — to be great they do not need to be wireless; to be safe — in accordance with so much science already for public health judgement purposes, more so than for any other harmful agent! — they must not be wireless as they are e.g. in Ontario where I am, and have had such dangerous “meshed” meters replaced.


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