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22 May, 2007

Woo without wires

I didn't catch it myself (I was too busy stressing about css... yes, really) but last night's 'Panorama' TV 'documentary' on the alleged dangers of wifi transmitters in schools seems to be receiving near-unanimous criticism as bad science.  Even the BBC's own website seems to be distancing itself from the programme.

One of the best perspectives appears in the comments at Tim Worstall's blog; like Ben Goldacre, I don't see a way of linking to the comment, so I hope no-one minds my reproducing it here. Philip Hunt observed that:

Wifi uses frequencies of 2.5 GHz to 5 GHz, and power levels of transmissions are typically around 1 W.

However there is another technology also used in schools that emits electromagnetic radiation and is potentially more dangerous, because:

1. this other technology emits radiation in the range of 450-750 THz, i.e. 100,000 times the frequency of Wifi; which means that each electromagnetic particle (or "photon") will carry 100,000 times more energy and is therefore 100,000 times as potentially damaging. Furthermore there are structures near the human brain which have been scientifically demonstrated to be especially sensitive to radiation of these frequencies.

2. this other technology uses more powerful transmitters that typically emit 60-100 W. Furthermore, these transmitters are typically kept on all the time (unlike wifi which transmits in bursts), which increases the total amount of energy radiated over a given time.

These facts suggest to me that this other technology is potentially a lot more harmful to health than wifi might be (although having said that it is entirely possible that neither technology poses a significant harm to health), and that consequently if wifi is to be investigated as a risk to health, this other technology should be investigated much more rigorously.

The name of this other technology? light bulbs.


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