Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of witches and wireless

In1692 in the village of Salem Massachusetts, two young girls, the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, began to have violent fits where they screamed strange sounds, threw things, contorted themselves into strange positions and acted as though they had been possessed. The girls complained of being poked by pins and pinched, yet the local doctor could find nothing physical that caused these symptoms. Soon other young women in the village began exhibiting similar behaviour. The cause of these "possessions" was at that time considered to be witchcraft, a capital felony crime in the colonies. The three people charged and the trial that resulted has been popularized in the cinema and on the stage. That story was only a small part of the wider hysteria in colonial Massachusetts that eventually resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of over 150 individuals and the eventual execution of 19 people.
We think things like that don't happen anymore, the results of that particular mass hysteria had catastrophic effects on human life for individuals and families who listened, often uncritically to the testimony of local experts. Mass hysteria still happens today. How many times have you heard stories of buildings being evacuated after the discovery of a mysterious white powder? The white powder eventually is identified as chalk or something equally innocuous, but the irrational fear stems back to those days after 9/11 when all white powder was assumed to be anthrax spores.
So when I read about parents in the Barrie Ontario area that want the Simcoe County School Board to remove Wi-Fi routers from their schools because of their affect on children, I though witchcraft. Parents are complaining that their children are suffering from headaches, dizziness, nausea, racing heart rates, memory loss, trouble concentrating, skin rash, hyperactivity, night sweats and insomnia. Skin rash! All of these symptoms began apparently after the 14 local schools had wireless installed.
The experts are lining up; Ontario's Chief Officer of Health, Health Canada, the Simcoe Board and an assortment of government agencies all claim there is no danger and no evidence to support the parents' claims. The parents have Prof. Magda Havas from Trent University and the NDP Health critic France Gelinas who think the matter deserves further study. Everyone has an ulterior motive here, except maybe the parents. Prof. Havas does work on the potential dangers of non-ionizing electromagnetic energy - big motive.
This type of story - cell phones cause brain tumours, high tension wires cause leukaemia and on and on have been fashionable for as long as those technologies have been around. I hate to quote the WHO, but they say no evidence for any of this.
Interestingly our nearest star, the Sun, produces a wide range of both ionizing and non-ionizing radiations - huge amounts - but of course it's natural radiation. It's the "man-made" stuff we need to be concerned about, you know like organic and chemical - chemical bad, organic good. Simple solution: I'm wearing an aluminum foil hat right now to protect me, maybe it will help those poor kids too.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what these people would think if they only knew that billions of solar neutrinos pass through their bodies every second of every day of their lives?

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