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Cellphones and Radiation: Berkeley's Silly, and Harmful, Pandering to Fear
A decision requiring cellphone retailers to warn customers of possible radiation risk typifies the emotion-based way that democracy can supersede intelligent government risk policy-making.
A recent decision by the Berkeley (California) City Council offers some informative, and scary, lessons about how society struggles to intelligently regulate risk. The clearest and scariest message of all is: In the scream-fest that is democracy, government policy-making sometimes reflects emotion more than objective analysis. Which doesn’t make for the most intelligent evidence-based decision-making. Which means that the way the government tries to keep us safe may not be keeping us as safe as we would hope.
Berkeley required cellphone retailers to inform customers
If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. This potential risk is greater for children.
Pretty bland stuff. No reference to cancer, which San Francisco tried to include in the label they mandated a few years ago, which was shot down in court when the cellphone industry sued. The Berkeley warning is the same language already in the fine print on the instructions that come with the phone... as required by federal law.
But that warning is buried in fine print few people read, which is insufficiently alarming for the advocates who campaign about the dangers of electromagnetic radiation from cellphones (as opposed to the ionizing kind the comes from nuclear sources)... despite overwhelming scientific evidence that this form of radiation, at such weak power levels, is not known to cause any human health harm at all. (Except — guys might not want to keep their phones in pockets too close to their testicles. It warms the sperm factory that works best at lower temperatures — that’s why testicles dangle dangerously outside the body in the first place — and lowers sperm count and quality.) The advocates want to sound a radio-phobia alarm that the evidence just doesn’t support.
The Berkeley City Council heard all the evidence that cellphone radiation is not a risk. But advocates cited their own research claiming it does pose a risk, including the risk of cancer.
(This included the 2011 ruling by the International Agency for Research on Cancer — IARC — that evidence of a connection between cellphone use and brain cancer was “limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, (two types of brain cancer) and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers." IARC qualified their finding this way: "A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered ... to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.")
This is what happens with a lot of risk controversies. To attack the mass of evidence on one side, advocates build their case on the bits and pieces and hints that cast any doubt on that evidence, no matter how unreliable or thin or biased that evidence. Creationists do it. Climate change deniers do it. GMO opponents do it. Vaccine opponents do it. Cast a glimmer of doubt. If doubt means there might be even the hint of danger, we’re off to the races of fear and precaution, and the bulk of the evidence be damned.
If all our governments behaved the way the Berkeley City Council did, we’d have all sorts of caveats written into our curricula about evolution — just what creationists are trying to do. We’d have a wait-until-we-know-more approach to climate change — what the coal industry and arch conservatives would prefer. The use of biotechnology to improve agriculture would have to await years more research. Or at least we’d have to have labels on food warning about GM ingredients, or on vaccines warning about all sorts of phantom fears.
Labels — the public’s right to know — have intuitive appeal. But when they are unsupported by the bulk of the evidence, they can perpetuate a blanket, knee-jerk fear that results in all sorts of opposition to all sorts of things that could do us a lot of good. In this case, the fear of radiation that flies in the face of hard facts perpetuates resistance to power lines that could carry energy to cities from solar and hydro and wind sources out in the country; opposition to cellphone towers on schools or churches that would benefit from renting the space; and fear of smart meters on homes that radio electricity demand back to generators who can adjust supply — which increases the efficiency of our energy system and helps combat climate change.
The problem with labels founded more on fear than evidence is the kind of government response to risk that it represents. Democratic, but not particularly intelligent. You and I are stuck with a subjective, emotion-based risk-perception system that mostly works to keep us safe, but sometimes leads us to worry about some things too much (radiation, "chemicals") and some things not enough (climate change, skin cancer from solar radiation). But you and I aren’t setting policy that impacts everyone’s lives. Government officials are. They have a profound responsibility to human and environmental health to do better.
Image; Getty Images
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.