Dom Post on Wifi in schools

January 9th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Parents want the best for their children, and parents’ voices must always be taken seriously. It is understandable that parents at Te Horo school wanted to remove wi-fi from the junior classes after the death of a pupil at the school. This was a tragic event and all parents would obviously want to avoid it happening again. So the school decided to be safe rather than sorry.

Still, the decision is rather odd. The evidence suggests that wi-fi is safe. The Ministry of Health does not believe magnetic fields from wi-fi equipment in schools pose a health risk. The school authorities themselves admitted that the decision was not based on safety grounds.

Board of trustees chairman Steve Joss said the school had consulted widely, and the decision to turn off wi-fi in the junior classrooms was not about safety. “We don’t have concerns about safety with the wi-fi,” Mr Joss said. “But we received enough feedback from parents not wanting it in the junior school that we decided to switch it off.”

This seems to mean that the school is bowing to the wishes of parents even though there is no evidence to back them up. This is not a very good precedent to set when making decisions about children’s education. It’s not unlike the situation of Hamilton, which banned fluoride in its drinking water after the concerted action of a lobby group, although there is no evidence that fluoride is unsafe.

It is much the same, ignoring science and giving into a small pressure group.

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27 Responses to “Dom Post on Wifi in schools”

  1. Joanne (177 comments) says:

    I’m haven’t seen any evidence which points to the child dying because of wifi.

    I had a malignant brain tumour in 1986. I was 16. There was a special ward room for younger kids. One wee baby girl was born with a tumour. Wifi wasn’t available back them. Neither were cellphones. It happens. It’s tragic. There are no real definitive reasons.

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  2. flipper (3,268 comments) says:

    What has been the incidence of brain tumours since the introduction of cell phoned – allowing for population increases, and improved methods of identification???????

    This Wi-Fi stupidity is a repeat of past nonsense.

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  3. Peter (1,468 comments) says:

    It’s a disgrace an *education* establishment should make this decision.

    This is not education. It’s peer pressure. Why are they bowing to irrational peer pressure?

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  4. Reid (15,513 comments) says:

    I would say the jury is still out on this since the phenomena is too young for any meaningful data to be gathered so its really rather foolish to come strongly out on one side or the other.

    I would also say there are massive vested interests involved and we know what often happens to “science” when those come into play, don’t we. Just look at history. How long did it take the media for example with the tobacco research to stop pretending the evidence of cancer wasn’t just coming from a crazy bunch of kooks. Why I recall reading some tobacco ads even featured an endorsement by the US surgeon general, who probably didn’t want to be seen to be completely mental by siding with the “kooks,” as they were, at the time.

    I’m also surprised some are skeptical of AGW but completely willing to go with the “science” on this wifi, given the vested interest dynamics of the two are quite similar, it just seems inconsistent.

    But hey, don’t let history and inconsistency get in the way of your defence of WiFi because I’m sure you can find any number of websites to back up your “informed” perspective and some of them probably even have a “.gov” extension, which makes them twice as reliable, doesn’t it. After all, when has the govt or the media ever been known to be wrong?

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  5. projectman (190 comments) says:

    “…parents’ voices must always be taken seriously.”
    Only in the sense that they should be listened to. If their concerns are unfounded that should carefully and courteously be explained to them. A lot of fears in life, generally, are based on lack of knowledge and understanding.

    “It is understandable that parents at Te Horo school wanted to remove wi-fi from the junior classes after the death of a pupil …”
    No, it isn’t understandable. See above.

    “This was a tragic event and all parents would obviously want to avoid it happening again.”
    Tragic, yes. It seems the school decided to take to path of least resistance instead of backing their decision introduce WiFi in the junior school in the first place, which presumably had a good educational basis.

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  6. Than (368 comments) says:

    I would say the jury is still out on this since the phenomena is too young for any meaningful data to be gathered so its really rather foolish to come strongly out on one side or the other.

    Radio has been in widespread use since about 1900, including systems that use the SHF frequencies wi-fi operates on. If radio waves produced tumours then people who work with radios a lot (marine radio operators, radar technicians, etc.) should have had marked increases in tumour rates. No such increase has been found.

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  7. beautox (406 comments) says:

    It’s sad that even the Dom Post writes such technically illiterate things like “The Ministry of Health does not believe magnetic fields from wi-fi equipment in schools pose a health risk”. How about magnetic fields from magnets?

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  8. dubya (200 comments) says:

    Te Horo is Wellington’s ‘Granola Belt’ and popular with organics apparatchiks. The same crowd who carp on about fluoride, immunisations causing autism, and so on. Best ignored…

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  9. Weihana (4,475 comments) says:

    Reid (14,636 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 10:27 am

    I would say the jury is still out on this since the phenomena is too young for any meaningful data to be gathered so its really rather foolish to come strongly out on one side or the other.

    The jury is also still out on whether God will smite us for watching too much porn.

    Who holds the onus of proof? As with most things in life absolute safety is impossible (though people will never stop demanding it). But if something has proven value then that should not be dismissed on the mere possibility of harm despite no actual evidence and no known mechanism to support the theory.

    Just look at history. How long did it take the media for example with the tobacco research to stop pretending the evidence of cancer wasn’t just coming from a crazy bunch of kooks.

    What evidence do you have in this case to support your analogy? “We can never be sure” is not evidence.

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  10. backster (2,000 comments) says:

    The Science proves they are safe WiFi, Fluoride, Thalidomide.

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  11. flipper (3,268 comments) says:

    Reid says….

    “I’m also surprised some are skeptical of AGW but completely willing to go with the “science” on this wifi, given the vested interest dynamics of the two are quite similar, it just seems inconsistent.”
    ***
    Oh, horse manure.

    AGW is politics, and fraud writ gi-normous, not science.

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  12. Weihana (4,475 comments) says:

    flipper (2,946 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 10:51 am

    AGW is politics, and fraud writ gi-normous, not science.

    … cause Fox News said so. :)

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  13. mandk (684 comments) says:

    Not sure we are getting the full story here, DFP.

    How do you know it was a small pressure group?
    And how do you know the parents’ objection was based on concerns about magnetic fields?
    It could be that parents took the opportunity to object to wifi in junior classrooms on educational grounds. I’m not at all sure I would be comfortable with computer based learning for my 6 or 7 year old. Young kids have far too much screen time as it is.

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  14. Reid (15,513 comments) says:

    AGW is politics, and fraud writ gi-normous, not science.

    Duh. Why do you think I used the danger quotation marks around “science?”

    “We can never be sure”

    What about: it’s too early because the phenomena is too new for health effects to show up if there are going to be any, don’t you understand?

    Radio has been in widespread use since about 1900, including systems that use the SHF frequencies wi-fi operates on.

    Humans have never lived in such a saturated electro-magnetic environment as we do today, that’s why we need data on it, which we don’t yet have, since it’s only been going strong for around 10 years and that’s not long enough.

    General note to most of the above commenters. Science is about being skeptical, not accepting. My position therefore follows the scientific method more closely than yours does.

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  15. Than (368 comments) says:

    We have over a hundred years worth of data. How many more centuries would you require before accepting radio is safe?

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  16. peterwn (2,933 comments) says:

    And sooner or later someone will trip over the Cat 5 ot USB leads that will be running everywhere.

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  17. Ed Snack (1,535 comments) says:

    Than, I don’t think we have 100 years of data of exposure at the current levels for these specific frequencies in the new Wifi routers, not even close. As I noted on the other thread, I’m reasonably convinced from actual experience that some people are sufficiently sensitive to the latest frequencies to be made to feel really unwell when in close enough proximity. I’ve had to pull a new Wifi router out of an office area for that reason. The older unit, lower power and just the a & c bands (I think) doesn’t affect them at all, but switch on the new one and I have 1 strongly affected, one less so, and another with an even weaker affect. It could be the “nocebo” affect but with my testing that would require the user to know if the unit was on or off, and it was physically inaccessible (locked room) and although accessible to a system admin, not to normal users. And these people did not feel unwell when the unit was in place but not transmitting. I would need better testing to be sure though, but it’s not necessarily garbage.

    So something does possibly affect people, I don’t know the mechanism and I don’t know if it is just short term.

    Note that almost all the testing on this “non-ionizing” radiation seems to concentrate on the heating affect in tissue, and that testing seems pretty solid. I would like to see some good double blind testing done though, mine was too ad-hoc to qualify and people certainly can convince themselves to feel unwell. But I did try by telling the people that the unit was on and ask them to tell me how long it took for them to fell ill when it was actually off, and all of them reported that they actually felt OK and that perhaps the symptoms were not repeatable after all. Then (couple of hours later) I surreptitiously turned it on and they soon started to report the symptoms starting. That’s why I do think that maybe there’s something in it for these specific frequencies and higher power levels; I could remove the symptoms with the unit on if it was moved far enough away. So it has both an apparent cause relation and a power relation. Note though that it has no apparent affect on me at all.

    So some skepticism is warranted, just IMHO.

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  18. Weihana (4,475 comments) says:

    Reid (14,638 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 11:01 am

    What about: it’s too early because the phenomena is too new for health effects to show up if there are going to be any, don’t you understand?

    Humans have never lived in such a saturated electro-magnetic environment as we do today,

    Not true. We have had electrical appliances and power lines etc. for a very long time.

    Also, you are aware that if you turn on a light bulb you are in a “saturated electro-magnetic environment”? :)

    General note to most of the above commenters. Science is about being skeptical, not accepting. My position therefore follows the scientific method more closely than yours does.

    Science is about empirical validation. Skepticism does not justify ignoring evidence and your position towards the claim that EMF’s cause cancer is not being skeptical.

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  19. Weihana (4,475 comments) says:

    Ed Snack (1,288 comments) says:
    January 9th, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Than, I don’t think we have 100 years of data of exposure at the current levels for these specific frequencies in the new Wifi routers, not even close

    Why should these specific low frequencies cause trouble given that other home appliances also emit low frequency fields?

    I’m reasonably convinced from actual experience that some people are sufficiently sensitive to the latest frequencies to be made to feel really unwell when in close enough proximity.

    Humans are highly susceptible to cognitive bias.

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  20. Than (368 comments) says:

    Ed Snack, there is nothing new or special about the particular frequencies used by wi-fi.

    Frequencies of 2-5 GHz have been widely used for a long time (1950s or earlier) in applications like point-to-point links and radar, transmitting at much greater power (typically tens or hundreds of watts) than wi-fi (~100 milliwatts). There are tens of thousands of radio/radar technicians and operators who would have been routinely exposed to these frequencies at much higher power than wi-fi, over decades long careers.

    If these frequencies were harmful it would show up in the health outcomes of radio professionals versus the general population. It doesn’t.

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  21. wikiriwhis business (3,276 comments) says:

    ‘This seems to mean that the school is bowing to the wishes of parents even though there is no evidence to back them up.’

    It is though about democracy and parental sovereignty which has strongly been dismantled in the 21st century.

    No politician uses the term sovereignty any more. it is an out dated concept as the world movs into global govt and corporate emperical sovereignty to supress competition.

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  22. Ed Snack (1,535 comments) says:

    Than, you might be correct about the exposure, but just saying that my specific experience is that some people do appear to be sensitive and reliably (I would like better testing though as the nocebo effect is very well established) so to chronic exposure. The symptoms weren’t instant, develop over time (say 1-2 hours), and this is properly only 2 people out of about 60, most people report no affect.

    If it is relatively rare maybe it has been not recognized. I tend to be skeptical, but this one does intrigue me, I would really like to see testing on it and not simply dismiss it as “unscientific”. My first reaction was just that. I ostentatiously turned it off and put it in the server room connected but turned off. Left it off for 2 days, no issues, everyone fine, then without notice turned it on. Complaints followed. That was the start, then the “on when it was off test”. As I said, my “sufferers” were able to tell if it was on or off when within range. If (and I agree it is still if) they can detect it, how certain can we be that there’s no affect given that the symptoms are quite unpleasant.

    I know wiki is not necessarily a good source, but it does cite WHO as cautioning against possible hazards with non-thermal impacts of non-ionizing radiation; and notes “The scientific community and international bodies acknowledge that further research is needed to improve our understanding in some areas. Meanwhile the consensus is that there is no consistent and convincing scientific evidence of adverse health effects caused by RF radiation at powers sufficiently low that no thermal health effects are produced” which seems about my position: not outright dismissal but doubtful.

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  23. Than (368 comments) says:

    Ed Snack – How sure can be we be? Well, as I said before, there are thousands of people whose jobs meant being exposed to significant levels of these frequencies for years or decades. That’s a pretty big sample. And the health outcomes for these people are not statistically different than for the general population. To me that is solid proof that RF signals, at levels significantly higher than what modern devices are permitted to transmit, pose no health risk.

    Regarding your anecdote about people getting sick from wi-fi, I admit I’m very skeptical. Wi-fi is ubiquitous in the modern world, and if only a couple of hours exposure could produce those kinds of symptoms (even if only in a tiny percent of the population) that could be easily verified.

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  24. Chris2 (703 comments) says:

    The first heavy users of high power two-way radios were the California Highway Patrol in the mid 1950′s.

    These men spent their entire careers using 50 watt radios to communicate across the State of California. If anyone was going to get cancer or suffer brain damage as a consequence of using powerful transmitters with aerials but a few feet from them, it would have been these officers.

    None did.

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  25. cha (3,529 comments) says:

    These men spent their entire careers using 50 watt radios to communicate across the State of California.

    Ditto all those, myself included, who’ve spent a lifetime working with and in and around HV plant and installations. Lottsa girl children though.

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  26. jonno1 (76 comments) says:

    @Reid 10.27am. It’s interesting that you should conflate smoking, EMFs and AGW. The first two involve the science of epidemiology, the latter politics (or, if you prefer, ideology).

    The definitive work on the link between smoking and lung cancer was first postulated by Sir Richard Doll in 1950. Based on his observations, many controlled epidemiological studies were undertaken, and by 1955 the evidence was overwhelming – a pretty short time frame. That’s not to say that the tobacco industry didn’t resist those findings, but the evidence was unequivocal.

    Next, EMFs. This came to the fore when epidemiologists Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper published a paper in 1979 suggesting that “wire codes” (essentially the size of nearby power line conductors) correlated with the incidence of childhood leukaemia. This study was carried out in Colorado, raising the question of whether correlation indicated causation, and spawned many hundreds of controlled epidemiological studies (still ongoing). The end result was that the hypothesised link could not be proven to exist. Some studies show a slight positive correlation, but these are not statistically significant. Clearly there were confounding factors in the original study, possibly industrial pollution of some kind, or maybe just clusters.

    I had the privilege of meeting Nancy Wertheimer at an EMF conference in the US in the late 80s, by which time she had acknowledged that the study was flawed. It was, however, extremely important in terms of demonstrating the importance of scientific method, which essentially is to attempt to disprove an hypothesis.

    So, of these two hypotheses, one was proven and one was disproven. The reason why EMF studies continue today is simply because “you cannot prove a negative”, ie there will always be an element of doubt remaining.

    On the subject of AGW, regrettably its proponents have painted themselves into a corner, but lack the integrity to gracefully acknowledge their error. This is the antithesis of science.

    Back to EMFs, or non-ionising radiation. The official NZ position is summarised for the layman in this booklet: http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/electric-magnetic-fields-your-health.pdf. This summary is in turn based on the findings of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which can be researched via Google but gets a bit technical.

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  27. Left Right and Centre (2,388 comments) says:

    Right – so – if I’m to join the ‘Reid’ camp – I’m going to have to wait for three to four decades of adequate time to test a new technology before it can be, to the best of our knowledge, deemed ‘safe, we’re fairly certain of’.

    Would you rather die now or die waiting ?

    Comparing today with the fifties is a bit dumb. Most folks went to work at age 15 back then and every source of higher learning was effectively zero compared to today. Look at us here. I’m asking the internet as many questions as I can think of and the web has a damned good crack at all of them. From the comfort of my lounge 24 / 7. Beat that 1950s.

    I’ve been to Te Horo. I think it was driving a hardware truck out of Pram. Interesting place. Around that area are some gem premium properties that you’d never ever see unless you’re taking them their latest costly materials for the next big little project. Palatial mansions in the middle of nowhere down long winding dusty two track drives boxed in by two rows of giant trees…. I felt like I should’ve paid an entry fee when pulling in.

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