In my final update, I just wanted to point out some of the conflicts between the public and technology that have ensued since the Simcoe County, Ontario, as well as discuss a couple of studies that did not get a lot of attention but were interesting, none the less.
WiFi and Cell Phone Towers
Since the release of the report from HESA last fall, CASS has been approached by branch leaders and members to supply our brief on cell phones and WiFi to a few communities who were approached by public groups to block or change plans for the deployment of various telecom equipment. The first request came from Melanie and Dennis Stoiber, who created the SkepParents.org blog, out in Maple Ridge B.C.
Maple Ridge, located in the Lower Mainland of B.C., east of Port Coquitlam and Burnaby, was the site for local NDP MLA Michael Sather’s public form on WiFi, held on March 9th. Thanks to the Stoibers, CFI Vancouver, CASS and others were able to represent science and reason at the forum, which was heavily populated by those promoting the unfounded “dangers” of wireless technology, like that twit Curtis Bennet.
The response to the skeptics at the meaning was telling, as detailed by Westcoast Guy in the comments the Levitt and Lai post, here. When they cannot represent the science properly, they resort to ad hominem attacks, something not unfamiliar to readers of Skeptic North.
This has not stopped attempts down the road from Maple Ridge, in Port Coquitlam, from succeeding. Local residents as well as the Port Coquitlam school board opposed the placement of new cell phone towers near an elementary school and managed to put enough pressure to have the tower placement reconsidered by Rogers Communications Inc. Similar efforts are also happening in Surrey B.C., just down the road, and I expect similar events will result.
The Orillia City Council was approached by a similar group wanting to halt the installation of WiFi networks in a new library being built there. We submitted a brief to them but have not heard back.
Finally, a group in Havas’s home town is opposing efforts there to limit WiFi distribution in Peterborough and surrounding communities by the school board. We were informed that not only are IT professionals part of the opposition group, but it also involves colleagues of Prof. Havas from Trent University who are fed up with her non-scientific and fear-based antics (source for this is all personal communications).
These and other efforts across Canada are part of a growing mis-informed movement of such groups like stayonthetruth.com, the Wireless Radiation Safety Council and citizensforsafetechnology.org . The commonality between all of them is a severe mis-trust of governmental health policy and a collection of anecdotal stories detailing various symptoms misattributed to wireless and cell phone technology. There are no organised efforts to counter these groups in most places, and it does not take much cajoling to get 500 people to sign a petition to oppose the building of a cell tower in a community (who here has not vilified Rogers, Bell, or Telus at some point, really; not that difficult to hate.) Along the same line, efforts to oppose Smart Meters, which use wireless technology to communicate energy usage back to the utility, are being opposed by these groups as well.
Skeptics and wireless professionals concerned that the hysteria is unfounded have tried various measures to confront these groups but they are well supported and have fear on their side. If you need support in your own jurisdiction to represent the science, let us at CASS or your local CFI branch know, and we will provide you with scientific and well-reasoned arguments you can present to your own local city council or school board. Science does not seem to be winning the battle in Canada, and it will take a diversity of reasonable voices to stand up to this mis-representation and pseudo-scientific fear-mongering.
Back in April, hot on the heals of the Volkow et al paper I reviewed here, was this obscure paper published in arXiv, from a theoretical biologist from Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S.. As reported here in April, the paper tries to link photon stacking as a cause of altering chemical bonds in a molecule within the cell. Bill Bruno, the study’s author, equated such interactions with an optical tweezer, a fascinating device used to manipulate very small objects through radiation pressure of the photons.
Bernard Leikind, who has a PhD in physics and who authored these articles on cell phone dangers, used the above link to the Standford site on optical tweezers to illustrate the absurdity of Bruno’s assertion about cell phones (personal communication April 2011):
First look at the paragraph Modern Optical Tweezers that is between Fig. 2 and Fig. 3. You will notice that it is hard and requires great technical and scientific skill to create these effects. Put another way, optical tweezers are nothing like the radiation from a cell phone or a WiFi unit, (except that both are forms of electromagnetic energy).
Next look at and study Fig. 1 and the explanation. Everything in this figure has to do with the relative size of the illuminating radiation, the distance over which the intensity of the radiation varies, and the size of the object that they plan to move. (In the first paragraph, “forces in the pN-range” refers to pico-Newtons. A “pico” anything is 10-12 of it. If you hold a 1 kg mass, keeping it from falling, you exert about 10 Newtons upward. So a pico-Newton is a tiny force, but researchers are moving tiny objects too. A nm is a nanometer, 10-9 meters.) They are talking about infrared radiation. The wavelength is around 1000 nm = 1 micron. The wavelength of cell phone (or WiFi) radiation is around 10 cm = 100 mm = 100,000 microns = 100,000,000 nm. One hundred million nanometers is bigger than one thousand nanometers. Cell phone radiation or WiFi, even if it were coherent as in a laser, could not be focused to a tiny enough spot or to produce a change of intensity over a small enough region to produce a relevant force on any molecule or other cell-sized object.
It is pretty clear: getting the photons from the cell phone all to stack up coherently on that one chemical bond is nearly impossible and as such this idea will remain theoretical and implausible. It is important to note that no one has ever shown microwave radiation from cell phones to be a cause of cancer and the evidence for DNA damage is slim to none, as outlined by Lorne Trottier in this recent review of the studies to date, on his site www.emfandhealth.com.
Recently, SciCurious from the Neurotic Physiology blog reviewed this study about cell phones and sperm, and the large flaws in the study, and this study about bees and cell phones. I will not go on about these two studies as she has done a fabulous job of reviewing them. The bee study showed a possible effect of cell phones on bees, and SciCurious originally accepted the study as a good science that suggested a possible cause to collony-collapse disorder. In science, opinion rarely stays put and later that week something amazing happened: Sci changed her mind!
Of course, this is how science works, we follow the evidence and revise our opinion based on new data, and that is just what Sci did. She spoke with the experts, looked at the data in its entirety and came to a different conclusion: CCD is probably not caused by cell phones. It is too bad those cherry picking the science to prove their own point are unaware of this fact.
This is just a short piece today; a sort of clean-up of all of the things on my desktop. No doubt there will be more vitriol posted on this site about us “skeptos” and our immovable opinions and my attempts to call EHS “psycho-somatic” (which I did not.) Let them post it, and other more rational readers will no doubt counter these ramblings with their own reasoned opinion. I will leave this topic for a while but we at CASS will continue to be a resource to those endeavoring to counter bad science and dubious claims in the public form.
bee photo by Severnsjc and used under Wikipedia Commons licence