'That this is even a debate in the 21st century should concern any educated person' - Macleans.ca

‘That this is even a debate in the 21st century should concern any educated person’


Brian Dunning responds to Elizabeth May’s wi-fi concerns.

For a politician to be frightened of a tiny, low-voltage device that generates a shadow of nature’s everyday state, at a natural frequency, betrays an unacceptable level of disdain for basic science and knowledge of nature … No branch of science is ever closed. Science is itself the search for new information, and is constantly improving; but when fundamentals are well understood and then confirmed by decades of testing, we can usually be pretty well assured that any new discoveries will not be as Earth-shattering as some politicians seem to fear.


‘That this is even a debate in the 21st century should concern any educated person’

  1. While I admire Brian Dunning’s spirited defence of wi-fi, this is small potatoes in the scheme of things.

    Of far more concern are the politicians and schools who promote creationism, and refuse to consider or accept evolution.

    Or those who can’t understand climate change, and therefore simply deny it.

    Or those who are anti-vaccine, or who believe in crystals and ‘natural remedies’, or exorcism,  or the rhythm-method, or ‘praying the gay away’

    All of these are actually the dangerous things in our society.

    • “Or those who can’t understand climate change, and therefore simply deny it.”


      “Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years.”


      NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. 


      Recent research has suggested that relatively cold UK winters are more common when solar activity is low (Lockwood et al2010 Environ. Res. Lett. 5 024001). Solar activity during the current sunspot minimum has fallen to levels unknown since the start of the 20th century (Lockwood 2010 Proc. R. Soc. A 466 303–29) and records of past solar variations inferred from cosmogenic isotopes (Abreu et al 2008 Geophys. Res. Lett. 35 L20109) and geomagnetic activity data (Lockwood et al 2009Astrophys. J. 700 937–44) suggest that the current grand solar maximum is coming to an end and hence that solar activity can be expected to continue to decline.


      • Says Tony, as he proves he doesn’t understand climate change and simply denies it.

        • “Climatologists are puzzled …. ”

          How am I supposed to ‘understand’ it if climatologists don’t understand it either? 

          I am not deny anything, I am waiting for something to be proven. Maybe I will believe in global warming when the earth starts to warm. 

          Q: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

          A: Yes, but only just. 


          • Tony…quotes or partial quotes taken out of context…… that you think make your point, only show you don’t even understand what the point is

            I’m not going to argue climate change with you….even on your dying day you’ll deny it….even if you have a palm tree growing outta yer ass.

          • We all need goals in life OriginalEmily1, and I think you should aim to do better than a pigeon. 

            Thanks for laugh, Colbert Report.

            Superstitions arise as the result of the spurious identification of patterns. Even pigeons are superstitious … 

            He is a fan of old-style liberalism, as in liberality of outlook, and cites “The Science of Liberty” author Timothy Ferris’s splendid formulation: “Liberalism and science are methods, not ideologies.”

            “The Believing Brain” ends with an engaging history of astronomy that illustrates how the scientific method developed as the only reliable way for us to discover true patterns and true agents at work.


            Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

          • @Tony_Adams:disqus 

            And more of your out-of-context ….not to mention off-topic…quotes won’t help you either.

  2. Ms. May is an intelligent person, but this whole incident has really highlighted the fact that she has zero formal education in science at the post-secondary level.   As such, she lacks the basic tools that are needed to distinguish between science and snake oil, and between reasonable causes for concern and unsubstantiated alarmism.

    The solution is simple: Elizabeth May needs a Science Advisor.  As GPC leader, May needs a credible, reputable scientist to guide her through the minefield of kooky pseudoscience that exists on the fringes of the environmental movement.

    • Unfortunately, no matter who she picks, it’ll be someone that supports or at least tolerates the Greens, and is accordingly likely to have the same general disdain for basic science. 

      I’ll say it again – after this embarrassment, I’d like someone to ask her about vaccines; that’s where the real red flags for crazy are.

      • We already know that she believes in invisible men in the sky who watch everything you do, love you very much, and need lots of money.

    • I have zero formal education in science at the post-secondary level (if you don’t count that astronomy course I took in first year at Queen’s, which I don’t) but I know that a policy of yanking wifi from schools currently has no scientific basis.  I’m not sure that education in science at the post-secondary level is needed in this case.

      • Fair point, but I’m assuming that Elizabeth May felt justified in her anti-wifi stance after reading alarmist pseudoscientific anti-wifi literature. 

        Some education in science at the post-secondary level would undoubtedly have helped her distinguish between legitimate science-based caution and sketchy claims like this one.

  3. An excellent rebuttal. Lizzy’s little tirade is a perfect example of how kooky the Greens really are. Their scientific beliefs are closer to the Unabomber’s than the mainstream science community.

    • I don’t think it’s fair to say all Greens are kooky because Ms May is uninformed about the relative dangers of EMR. We don’t say that all all Conservatives are evolution-denying snake oil purveyors, despite the fact that our Science Minister is one.

  4. Postrel ~ One Best Way: 

    With some exceptions, they oppose not only the future but the present and the recent past, the industrial as well as the postindustrial era. The reactionary vision is one of peasant virtues, of the imagined harmonies and, above all, the imagined predictability of traditional life. It idealizes life without movement: In the reactionary idea ….. 

    Although they represent a minority position, reactionary ideas have tremendous cultural vitality. Reactionaries speak directly to the most salient aspects of contemporary life: technological change, commercial fluidity, biological transformation, changing social roles, cultural mixing, international trade, and instant communication. 

    They see these changes as critically important, and, as the old National Review motto had it, they are determined to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!'” Merely by acknowledging the dynamism of contemporary life, reactionaries win points for insight. And in the eyes of more conventional thinkers, denouncing change makes them seem wise.

    By personal history or political background, many reactionaries are classified as leftists. Whether cultural critics or environmentalists, however, that label fits them awkwardly. Their tradition-bound views of the good life make them true conservatives. 


  5. As to Elizabeth May, she is not a Luddite….she is however a lawyer, and is studying for the priesthood.

    • I’m not sure how you think that’s a rebuttal to anything. Lawyers and priests can be, and frequently are, as ignorant of areas outside their personal expertise as anyone. 

      I’m a lawyer. That doesn’t mean that if I expound at length about a miracle Cool Whip-based cure for cancer, it’d be any more demonstrably therapeutic than the same thing pitched by a high school drop-out.

      • It means she’s well educated, and not a Luddite.

        I’m aware that doesn’t mean she knows anything about science, most people don’t.

        Including Rae, Layton and Harper.

        • Some of the most ridiculous Luddites are well-educated upper-middle-class professionals and academics who ought to know better.

          • Entirely possible, but she isn’t one.

  6. What a bunch of pretentious close minded _______ most of you are.  In my opinion, this is the first legitimate science based issue put forward by the Green Party and the position taken is wholly consistent with the evolving science concerning the long term effects of human/microwave and radio frequency interplay as is related to human health within this grand electromagnetic human exposure experiment of ours. Firstly,there is absolute proof of the existence of unfortunate people among us who are electro hypersensitive (EHS) and, over time, we shall become aware of what, if any, are the true risks and dangers to the rest of us, but do not expect those and their paid spin artists who are gaining much wealth from the technology to properly research and openly advise us of the risks of that same technology.

    Some of these meters (I have counted over 10 variants of the meters available to the power providers) are just an avoidable part of the worrisome exponential increase in electropollution with consequences that may well become severe and may be better understood through independent scientific research in the decades to come.  7 of the variants of electrical metering equipment available appear to represent little potential for negative human heath outcomes and 3 represent, on a risk scale, increasing potential for negative human health outcomes with wi fi being the most potentially dangerous, especially if your meter is a regional gathering and broadcasting point for other meters in your neighbourhood. 

    Our history shows that the authorities are very slow to regulate any dangerous technology, and that the industry can be adept at delaying any government action for several decades using various tactics. The examples of tobacco, lead, asbestos and many chemicals, drugs and food additives show that when the bottom line is threatened, the lives of the innocent are of little concern as long as there is no general public outcry or widespread contrary public outcry and the negative evidence can be explained away or out rightly suppressed.


    • These devices, over a 20 year period, emit the sum total EMR dose of a 30 minute cell phone call. This is just a non-issue.

      Cell phones emit far higher levels of EMR than wifi. If you want to wage a war on EMR, go after cell phones. Good luck–you’re going to need it.

      • SMART METERS LINKED TO CANCER.Utilities & Health Departments based previous safety claims on World Health Organization (WHO).June 1 2011, WHO says Wireless Smart Meter radiation is linked to CANCER (possible human carcinogen – same as Lead, DDT, etc), and that means it also damages bodies & brains (including children’s) in many ways, other than cancer.1. WIRELESS SMART METERS – 100 TIMES MORE RADIATION THAN CELL PHONES.
        Video Interview: Nuclear Scientist, Daniel Hirsch, (5 minutes).
        http://stopsmartmeters.org/2011/04/20/daniel-hirsch-on-ccsts-fuzzy-math/2. WIRELESS SMART METERS – CANCER, NERVOUS SYSTEM DAMAGE, ADVERSE REPRODUCTION AFFECTS.
        Video Interview: Dr. Carpenter, New York Public Health Department, Dean of Public Health, (2 minutes).
        http://emfsafetynetwork.org/?p=39463. THE KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE IN STOCKHOLM (the University that gives the Nobel Prizes) ISSUES GLOBAL HEALTH WARNING AGAINST WIRELESS SMART METERS.2-page Press Release:http://www.scribd.com/doc/48148346/Karolinska-Institute-Press-Release

        • I notice that you mention DDT and Lead as other Group 2B carcinogens (Which covers substances which are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.  This category is used for agents, mixtures and exposure circumstances for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals) but why just those two???

          COFFEE has been classified by the WHO at the same exact level.  If Ms. May is really concerned about Group 2B carcinogens she ought to be going after Tim Horton’s first.

          • ” (……….. etc)”.  As to Ms. May, I neither blindly support nor do I advise M. May or any other political leader although I do acknowledge that, in my view, Ms. May has taken the proper position with respect to the issue being discussed herein and too, with her vote against Canadian/Libyan military involvement.