Wi-fi madness

· rants ·

I caught the end of a really dreadful Panorama programme on the supposed 'dangers of Wi-Fi' yesterday, and was glad that I hadn't seen the rest, because I might have put my own health in danger by lobbing a heavy object through the screen of my TV. After a bit of calmer reflection later on, I wondered if I'd got an unbalanced view of the show by only watching the end. Perhaps they had presented the scientific evidence in a thorough and balanced way at the beginning, and it only degenerated into doom-laden narration and sinister, pulsing Wi-Fi router graphics at the end?

Judging by the write-up on The Register, the whole thing was uniformly bad. They managed to compare the radiation level tens of centimetres from a laptop with that hundreds of metres from a mobile phone mast, all without mentioning the inverse-square power law. 'Evidence' was talked about without giving any details of the methodology used, whether the studies were performed double-blind, or whether the levels of exposure used in animal studies were in any way comparable to normal exposure levels in humans.

People are bad enough at understanding and making decisions about risk and probability without presenting a one-sided account like this, unsupported by evidence. How many of those who protest that Wi-Fi in schools is harming their children drive their kids around in cars or let them play in the sun without sunscreen?

I'm tempted to use a recording of the programme as a teaching aid for my students. Their task would be to identify every instance they can find of scientific inaccuracies, distortions or subtle manipulations of the viewer, perhaps with a small prize for the person finding the most errors. At least then this Panorama programme would have some educational merit.