Canadian University Creates Hot Spot for Junk Science: Wi-Fi and Warnings

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The British technology news site The Register reports that the president of Canada's Lakehead University has restricted the creation of Wi-Fi networks (which allow people to access the Internet through the air without wires) on campus, out of concern that the networks' radio transmissions might cause leukemia and brain tumors.

We've written about the groundless fear of radio waves and electric and magnetic fields (EMF) before on FactsAndFears. Lakehead University doesn't even contest the fact that there is no good evidence suggesting EMF dangers but has decided to take a "precautionary" approach simply because some studies of the subject are "inconclusive."

Of course, some studies of every subject are inconclusive. If this were to become sufficient reason for bans and warnings, there would be even more cancer warning labels on everything under the sun (assuming the things were permitted to be sold in the first place, and assuming there was no regulation forbidding them to lie under the sun, which can actually cause skin cancer) than there are already.

And speaking of sunny places with an excess of cancer warning labels, we can't help wondering what will happen in California if paranoia over EMF there leads to calls to ban Wi-Fi. San Francisco is home to a lot of environmentalists fearful that modern technology causes cancer -- and it's also a fount of new computer technology scheduled to introduce citywide Wi-Fi. Will there be calls to prevent San Fran Wi-Fi on health grounds? Perhaps calls to put the cancer warning labels mandated by California's Prop. 65 law on Wi-Fi hotspots -- in mid-air perhaps, if the radio waves themselves can't be labeled?

We know nothing with certainty, and if that is to become sufficient grounds for the precautionary banning of every new development -- not to mention old ones, like radio -- we may as well cut to the chase and retroactively ban civilization. There were no computers, cell phones, or electrical power lines in prehistoric times, which is why everyone back then lived extremely long, comfortable lives in states of perfect health. Or I may have the historical details on that wrong, but I don't want to do a websearch to check, in case it gives me leukemia.

Todd Seavey is Director of Publications at the American Council on Science and Health (, where he edits