This is going to be a long post, folks. But I promise you, it’s worth it.
Last week I wrote a post about the WiFi manufactroversey going on in my home county of Simcoe. As a quick reminder: An ad-hoc parents committee was formed to petition the Simcoe County School Board for the removal of the WiFi infrastructure because they claimed that the WiFi microwave signals were causing a list of non-specific symptoms (such as nausea, difficulty concentrating and insomnia) in several of the kids . The apparent symptoms went away on weekends, and the parents group still blamed WiFi.
After writing my post (which was later re-printed at the National Post blog, Full Comment), I was content to let the issue pass. Then earlier this week I noticed a related story that got a decent amount of traction. It seems that Rodney Palmer (communications adviser of the Simcoe County Safe School Committee, or SCSSC) and his group flew in a “Cold War era-weapons expert” to talk to the media about the dangers of WiFi in our school.
This is not atypical behavior of those that peddle fear in the face of science. They will often ignore vast amounts of scientific data and consensus opinion, and cling onto every fringe “expert” they can get their hands on who agrees with them. Last week, Professor Magda Havas of Trent University (who has a career vested in being generally anti EMF) was their principle supporter from the land of academia. This week, it was a weapons specialist (in “stealth warfare” please, oh please, let it be Solid Snake!), Barrie Trower (damn), who provided many soundbites, and no specific information beyond this empty quote:
“When I realized these same frequencies and powers (as weapons during the Cold War) were being used as Wi-Fi in schools, I decided to come out of retirement and travel around the world free of charge and explain exactly what the problem is going to be in the future,”
It’s never explained in what capacity these same frequencies were used for. My guess is that they were used for communication between controller and weapon, but the way Trower explained it, you’d think that these frequencies were intended to decimate buildings or launch some kind of EMF warfare.
I thought it odd that the Simcoe County Safe School Committee would go to the trouble and expense of flying an ‘expert’ over from the United Kingdom so that he could speak to the press in support of the anti-WiFi cause. So I did a bit of research into the involved actors.
Trower himself is of little concern. He’s a retired British Military scientist who has made it his post-retirement career mission to preach bad science and fear mongering. When an older English gentleman tries to scare you, it carries a lot of gravitas in the press, but he’s just a lone voice here.
Magda Havas herself is several kinds of wrong. As noted above, she’s built her academic career on terrifying people in, and out of academia, about the hidden dangers of EMF’s of seemingly every kind: from microwaves to laptops and cellphones. She stands almost alone in her opposition to EMF’s in general and WiFi in specific. I would hazard to guess that many of her supporters no doubt find this ‘other’ nature to her academics to be an appealing narrative, one where a heroic scientist dares to question the establishment of her colleagues who continually berate her and laugh at her, exclaiming, “They laughed at the Wright Brothers too!” However, being laughed at and isolated from your colleagues is not a pre-requisite of rightness, and Havas remains, to the best scientific knowledge that we have today, wrong.
What about the Simcoe County Safe School Committee itself? The same committee that started all this WiFi hullabaloo, latched onto a fringe scientist like Havas as an expert, and even flew over an antiquated non-expert from the UK?
Their communications advisor, Rodney Palmer has been the most vocal member of committee. He’s on record as having equated WiFi signals to pesticides that were once thought safe, but now we know how dangerous they are (a non-sequitur if I ever heard one), and saying such a demonstrably false statement as “No amount [ of WiFi exposure] is safe”.
The Rabbit Hole
I noticed that the SCSSC’s “About Us” page listed Palmer as the operator of a “health related business in Collingwood”. Following a hunch, I did a little bit of digging into Palmer’s online presence. Follow me on this one, and please remember, this is not searching for patterns in the noise on information: I was searching for information on Havas and Palmer themselves:
- According to the About Us page, Palmer “operates a health related business in Collingwood Ont. Rodney worked for 20 years as a journalist in Canada and abroad. He was the CTV News Foreign Correspondent and Bureau Chief in India, China and the Middle East. He was nominated for a Gemini Award in 2002 for Best Foreign News Reportage, and was awarded the Canadian Radio and Television News Directors Award for Best News Reporting for his work in Israel and the West Bank.” SCSSC Policy Advisor Patricia Naylor was also nominated for a Gemini in 2002 (more on her later).
- In 2007, at the Whole Life Expo, a Rodney Palmer gave a talk titled “Our Toxic Marketplace what Every Family Should Know.” The Palmer on this page is listed as having ” worked as a journalist for twenty years and traveled to more than 40 countries. For five years he worked and lived in China and India.” Could these two Rodney Palmers be the same person?
- Professor Magda Havas is on the testimonials page in support for the SaunaRay (Yes, THAT SaunaRay, based in Collingwood, in Simcoe County)
- The President’s Message page for Sauna Ray is written by Rodney Palmer.
- The domain for SaunaRay.com is registered to Patricia Naylor (Policy advisor for to the SCSSC)
- The domain for the SCSSC (safeschool.ca) is registered to Rodney Palmer
- As is public record, Rodney Palmer is the owner of SaunaRay, and there can be little doubt that this is the same person as the one who is in the press warning about WiFi. It may not be a slam-dunk case, but it certainly is a 3-pointer from far-court.
So that is the brief tale of my ‘down the rabbithole’ afternoon where I discovered all sorts of links into various pseudo-sciences and vested interests. The SaunaRay article I did a while back taught me plenty about the claims of that particular company, including their fear of EMFs (check out the person quoted in the link. Does the name look familiar?), and laughably poor science.
They key players here are clearly Professor Havas, and Rodney Palmer. Havas’ career is deeply entrenched in this topic, and I suspect that she thinks that if she can influence policy enough to have WiFi at least temporarily banned in Ontario schools, that will be a nice feather in her academic cap. Palmer sells wooden boxes that emit a small mount of heat.
Now, admittedly, I’m no physicist (Surprise!). But I do know that the EMFs that are being talked about (radio, microwave, and in the case of SaunaRay, infrared) fall under the category of “non-ionizing radiation” (visible light also falls under this category). Ionizing radiation refers to an EMF emission that has sufficient energy to alter the structure of molecules. For example: UV light ionizes molecules (which is why we wear sunscreen), so too do X-rays (which is why dentists get behind a lead shield when they look inside you). Non-ionizing radiation simply doesn’t have enough energy to do cause damage to our cells, or our molecules (Sorry Solid Snake, Barrie Trower, you’re wrong) (addendum provided in the comments section here and here). There *may* be cause for concern for workers who work with radio waves over a long term, but to the best of my knowledge, the research has yet to determine anything concrete, and is far from conclusive.
I’ll repeat: microwaves and radio waves, and all other forms of non-ionizing radiation CANNOT affect our molecules. There just isn’t enough energy (sorry Magda Havas, you’re wrong too). Since both infrared and microwaves are non-ionizing, I wonder why Palmer sells a box that emits one kind of safe radiation, but is trying to get you to stop using another?
Let’s be perfectly clear: this issue raised by the SCSSC is not about WiFi. It’s all part of a larger narrative that involves a general phobia of all things even remotely related to EMF’s. The names involved this time (Havas, Palmer) are long standing advocates of EMF safety (in much the same way as I am an advocate for pants safety), and they will continue to latch onto any public scare, no matter how real or invented. I’m definitely not accusing Havas or Palmer as intentionally deceiving anyone, but I am challenging their ability to objectively look at their own arguments, the broader body of research, and to put their pride on the shelf for just a moment. You don’t need to fly a guy over from the UK when an afternoon of skilled Googling would suffice.
While covering this story, I would expect any remotely credulous media outlet to point out that the principle actor in this endeavor to ban a perfectly safe technology (Palmer) is also in the business of selling some decidedly non-scientific overpriced wooden boxes, and is a bit of a small celebrity in the ‘Wellness’ community. While that connection alone does not make Palmer wrong, or even dishonest, it does, however, throw serious doubt on his credibility, and the credibility of Havas, his known supporter for other issues. It looks less like a rational attempt at protecting children and more like a tiny intellectual racket. Emphasis on the “tiny”.
And Another Thing….
I’ll remind you, there is no cause for concern from EMF’s and anyone trying to sell you something to block them, is trying to scam you. Whenever anything related to EMF’s come up in the news, look into some of the people involved, and you’ll likely find a surprisingly small number of predictable people saying predictable things that go against much of what we know. They’re not champions of truth, they’re just wrong.