My neighbour Dot, who is approximately 90 years in age, was trudging carefully along the road with her shopping trolley-come-walking aid, in the March rain. I brought my big umbrella to bear on the situation, to preserve her snowbird coiffure from the ravages of nature, and walked her, weatherised, to her door.
As we slow-stepped past my house, she stopped, pointed up and asked me quizzically, “What are those things on your roof ?” “They’re solar panels”, I enunciated very loudly, for Dot is almost completely deaf. I mimed the description, “They take in the sunlight and turn it into electricity”. “I say !”, said Dot, not entirely convinced, and just a little perplexed.
I thought back to a couple of days ago. I was doing a little Spring clean and tidy at the front of the house, and my neighbour DD called out a hoy as he walked past. After exchanging pleasantries and enquiries he admitted, “We never did get those solar panels.” He had seen my photovoltaics and had called round to ask about the installation about a month ago.
I asked him why he decided against the solar revolution in his own home. Apparently his wife had done some research on the Internet and decided that she didn’t like the sound of all those electronics in her home – “electrosmog”, Wi-Fi radiation, mobile phone mast “sudden death syndrome”, whatever it was, she was suspicious.
But all I have in the cupboard under my stairs is an inverter – it transforms Direct Current from the solar juice into Alternating Current to feed into the National Grid. It doesn’t radiate anything. Yes, the microinverters that I chose specially for some of the panels on the roof are communicating wirelessly with the Internet, but the main inverter for the rest of the panels is not transmitting anything by radio or microwave. He wouldn’t need to have Wi-Fi anything to have a solar system – but his “better half” was just plain dubious.
I said to DD, “It’s just crazy people on the Internet. Don’t believe it”. But it was a lost cause. You can’t argue against a person’s spouse, however much you know – the sanctity of their negotiated relationship, their union, has to guard their democratic decision-making against any outside opinion.
How come people know so little about electromagnetic radiation ? Why do they fear so much ? Why is there so much disinformation ? I mean, if we shouldn’t have wireless fidelity communiations networks and radio and microwave appliances and electronics at home, because of some perceived but ultimately spurious concern, we should have cause to throw out all our television and radio sets, and ban all radio and television airwave broadcasting, for it is pervasive – as I am wont to say “You have BBC Radio 2 passing through you quite safely all the time !”
I remember I was shocked when I found out that there are people who won’t use microwave ovens because of the “radiation”. Yes, microwave ovens leak a bit, but it’s non-ionising electromagnetic (EM) radiation, so the worst thing it could do is interfere with your wi-fi or possibly set off a car alarm. It’s not going to give you cancer. You would need ionising EM radiation to cause DNA mutation and cell damage and create the pre-conditions for oncogenesis, and a microwave oven doesn’t produce that – although sunlight does – which is why we are advised to use suncream (although there is an ongoing debate about whether the risk of skin cancer needs to be offset against the health problems resulting from a reduction in natural Vitamin D production from the lowered exposure to natural sunlight).
My elderly neighbour’s fear of 21st Century technology, and my other neighbour’s female partner are a worry – they are symptomatic. The lack of education about basic Physics, Chemistry and Biology extends even to really smart people I consider wise. I had an interesting conversation with a friend visiting recently, who was reluctant to have wi-fi Internet at home because of potential health risks – even though all the studies ever done have never concluded that radio communication could ever cause biological damage. Shampoo and toothpaste are more dangerous than the side-effects of a little brain warming from a mobile phone next to your ear.
My friend was gracious enough to allow me to walk her through some of the basics of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the interaction of radiation with matter, and although she didn’t find me utterly convincing, at least she is intelligent and curious enough to read a little more, and I’m sure she will shift her views based on factual evidence.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. The lack of scientific understanding is widespread, and continually present in the media – journalists and reporters often relay meta-narrative about science – the political debates, the accusations of malpractice – rather than actual progress in science.
A lot of the people I meet get their opinions and knowledge of science from newspapers, TV and the radio, but the broadcasters, journalists and news editors often have a very poor grounding in science. If we are to throw our TVs out of the window, we should do it because science correspondents are so misguided, not because of stray electromagnetic radiation. How on Earth can people know what’s real and what’s dross when the sources of information they rely on are warped or unfactual ?
Reflecting on the implications of these situations leaves me in despair. I just cannot believe that people have such little science in their mental framework, despite top quality education services.
Without knowledge, the people perish. They cannot make the right decisions as a social democracy, and they can be forced to accept things that don’t work by elite technocrats, who are often financed by special interests.
Everybody that works in public life, with duties of service to the peoples’ common administration, should have adequate science education.
And if they don’t know something, they should know somebody who does.