Wi-Fi scares - schools are missing the point
9th Apr 2009 | 11:55
Unions should concentrate on actual problems instead
Our kids are growing up in a confusing world. Marketers use pseudo-science to flog their products, online misinformation abounds and newspapers are all too happy to run scare stories that don't stand up.
That means teachers are invaluable: we rely on them to help our kids separate fact from fiction, truth from trash and scaremongering from science. Which is why it's so depressing that the teaching union ATL has resurrected the killer Wi-Fi scare.
To recap: there's absolutely no evidence that Wi-Fi is dangerous, and because it's much less powerful than mobile phone communications it's very unlikely that it can be dangerous. Reports claiming that Wi-Fi eats brains, makes you sterile or gives you face cancer are based on shaky science, and the claims of electrosensitives - that is, people who feel negative effects from Wi-Fi - simply don't stand up to analysis.
This information is easily available, but it seems that Colin Kinney, a teacher in Cookstown High School, hasn't looked for it. According to Rate My Teacher Mr Kinney is "a legend" who "rocks", but while it seems he's a great English teacher, the one thing he isn't is an expert on electromagnetic radiation.
Mr Kinney is behind the motion at the ATL conference demanding schools get shot of their Wi-Fi. It's a gift to the newspapers - whose education correspondents, like Mr Kinney, aren't scientists - and a guaranteed parent-scaring, newspaper-selling headline. But when you read the reports, it all falls apart. If we were grading Mr Kinney's efforts, we'd have to give him an F.
First of all, he apparently confuses mobile phone masts with wireless routers - according to the Daily Mail. "He said Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, had called for a precautionary approach when siting masts near schools." - and demands a long-term study into Wi-Fi, apparently unaware that such a study is nearly complete.
He also mentions the Swedish use of tinfoil hats - well, anti-radiation paint - and instead of coming to the logical conclusion, which is that the Swedes are completely nuts, he persuaded the ATL to lobby the government to investigate the "considerable biological and thermal effects" of wireless networking - despite an investigation already being in progress, and there being no evidence of "considerable" anything.
If newspapers and teaching unions are really worried about kids becoming sterile or contracting cancer, they should forget about Wi-Fi and throw their considerable weight behind campaigns for comprehensive sex education and cervical cancer vaccination - and instead of giving killer Wi-Fi all the coverage, the newspapers could highlight the unions' campaign to get asbestos out of our schools. When we've dealt with those very real problems, then we can start worrying about Wi-Fi.
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