Scare Waves

A lot of people are getting angry and scared about new mobile phone masts being erected in their local areas; the vast majority of these masts are for 3G operations, which have a smaller coverage area than current mobile phone masts.

People don’t like the masts because they think they might be harmful to their health. It’s a perfectly understandable concern that happens to have no scientific basis. Of course, this has never stopped people in the past, and so residents try to avoid using the health argument when opposing 3G masts (because they know they’ll probably get beaten) and instead use things like planning grounds and so on.

This sort of thing irritates me because the central issue – whether or not 3G masts are dangerous – is being sidestepped. It’s a very seductive idea, that the invisible energy pouring out of these masts might cause, for example, cancer, but there’s no scientific reason to believe it.

The problem is, most people don’t understand the scientific process. Take, for example, North Cornwall MP Paul Tyler, who asked the Home Secretary David Blunkett to ‘reveal the scientific and medical data which proves they are safe.’ Mr. Tyler clearly doesn’t understand that you can’t prove that anything is safe. Sure, you can prove that something is dangerous, and you can say that you are almost certain that something is safe, but you can’t prove that it’s safe, at least in the classical sense.

And even if the data were released, I don’t think that the anti-mast campaigners would be satisfied; there’d be claims of bias and they’d point to the one or two studies (out of the dozens or hundreds) that agreed with their view. Have these guys heard of type 1 errors? Have they hell. The belief that all studies are equal and you can just pick the ones that you like is absurd.

All of this is a shame, because statistics isn’t a particularly difficult concept and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be taught compulsarily in schools. Neither is the idea of science being a process rather than a magical corpus of facts – but that isn’t taught well either.

This reminds me of an article in the Times today about opposition to RFID. The argument is the familiar one of privacy – if retailers don’t remove the RFID tags from items after you’ve purchased them, then it’s possible (although pretty difficult and unlikely) that someone could scan your tags remotely and figure out (for example) what you bought from the supermarket, what clothes you’re wearing, and so on.

I sympathise with this view; I wouldn’t like to be scanned to see what I have on me. But RFID tags do have other uses outside the store; for example, they could help microwave ovens and fridges identify them and so provide cooking or refrigeration instructions. One possibility is that your fridge could provide you with meal suggestions based on its current contents. Another is that the tags could aid with faster and more accurate recycling.

The answer seems simple to me; give shoppers the explicit choice to have the RFID tags removed at checkout, and also identify them prominently so that can be removed later. But the argument doesn’t seem to be based on reason as much as ideology. For example:

Caspian [an anti-RFID group] claims to have almost 6,000 members in 15 countries, with Britain now a �core constituency�. �What makes us powerful is that 78 per cent of people oppose this technology on privacy grounds, and 61 per cent on health grounds,� she said. No health risk has been identified.

Why is it good that 61% of people oppose RFID on non-existant health grounds? I cannot even conceive of a way that RFIDs could harm your health; they’re low powered, short range and they’re practically never ‘on’. Privacy grounds are all very well and good, but is it something to be proud of, that the public oppose a thing for completely the wrong reason?

Another excerpt from the article:

Ms Albrecht says that her interest stems from her religious convictions. “When I was eight years old, my grandmother sat me down after a visit to a grocery store and told me that there will be a time when people will not be able to buy or sell food without a number, referring to the Mark of the Beast, Revelations xiii,” she said.

“I made a promise to myself at eight years old that if there was ever a number to buy or sell food, I would stop what I was doing and fight it.”

Well, what the hell is that supposed to mean? All items at supermarkets already have barcodes. RFID tags are just another piece of technology that helps you locate and identify things. You might as well campaign against mobile phones because they let the ‘authorities’ locate you any time, anywhere.

3 Replies to “Scare Waves”

  1. RFID chips interfere with the body’s energy flows in the same way as
    magnets and crystals, only bad not good. This effect is markedly worse
    during full moons and transits of Mercury.

  2. It’s only a small point, that doesn’t really affect the main thrust of your argument, but a main reason why people raise planning objections to 3G masts is the fact that they simply think that they are ugly, and really don’t care that much about the health grounds, and so raising it under a planning objection is all well and proper.

    Health grounds should be dealt with on a national level and not on the micro-level of individual planning applications.

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