Wi-fi seems omnipresent and inexorable. It spreads its invisible tentacles like — and with — Starbucks, gradually blanketing the globe with its fell signals, conveying gods-know-what unknowable messages to our hidden cellular structures. But slowly, surely, the valiant forces arrayed against wi-fi have been growing. Uncaring of the conveniences of modern living, defiant in the face of peer pressure, undeterred by the utter lack of serious scientific evidence supporting their case, a motley but proud band of druids, people with tingly thumbs, the chronically mentally ill, and the unemployable-except-in-local-government has gathered to fight wi-fi hegemony. Now they have a new ally — British academics. Possibly having run out of opportunities to boycott Israel, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers is taking stern action:
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for classroom wireless networks to be suspended immediately until research has properly considered the threat to health.
Members said they were concerned by scientific reports linking wi-fi with impaired concentration, loss of short-term memory, chromosome damage and increased incidence of cancer.
Exactly what scientific reports are these? Are they peer-edited? Reputable? Well . . .
Colin Kinney, Cookstown High School, in Cookstown, Northern Ireland, who highlighted the issue at the ATL's annual conference, cited international experts who had called for caution when introducing wi-fi technology.
He said research from Sweden had warned about the increased cancer risk and the Government there now funds shielding agents, such as foil covered rooms and anti-radiation point.
Mr Kinney said a Government scientist from Austria had called for wi-fi to be removed from schools claiming there was evidence of 'increased symptoms as well as increased cancer rates'.
Ah, yes, the scientist from Austria. I think he's related to my Canadian girlfriend, who I totally scored with at summer camp. He's related to the other unknown and unspecified experts, too. They all study wi-fi together, and it rocks.
Meanwhile, there is no credible scientific evidence that wi-fi causes harm.
The Health Protection Agency has said that sitting in a wi-fi hotspot for a year results in receiving the same dose of radio waves as making a 20-minute mobile phone call.
The teachers' position is simple: why not just wait until someone proves it is safe?
'Should we force our pupils to use it without long-term safety studies being carried out? I don't believe we should.'
The answer, of course, is that (a) it is virtually impossible to prove that something is safe, (b) the people opposed to wi-fi aren't satisfied with existing scientific studies find no health risk, and there is no reason to supposed they will suddenly become satisfied with further studies, and (c) people asserting that a new technology is harmful ought to carry some sort of burden of proof.
A cynic might wonder whether the Association of Teachers and Lecturers is concerned that wi-fi, with its omnipresent link to the internet, offers students an opportunity to access views, and knowledge, that the Association does not spoon-feed them.
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