Wifi and the Effects of Crying Wolf

The issue of parents paying for mobile phones and data plans for school use has hit a nerve with some reader. But the conversation has veered away from parents' opinions about cell phones as an educational tool.

We've received vehement comments from members or fans of Citizens for Safe Technology -- whose motto is "empowering the public to protect children and youth from unsafe wireless technologies." Most of them refer to possible negative side effects of cell phones:

"Many scientists are now discovering wireless radiation causes a stress like response in our bodies releasing hormones that increase anxiety, depression, fatigue, and inflammation to name a few."

Another brings up the issue of risking children's safety for wireless industry profit.

"Wi-Fi and other wireless "learning aides" in school, embraced naively by parents and educators with the shameless encouragement of the wireless industry, are not the blessing they appear to be."

And one discredits altogether the benefits of using a mobile phone in class.

"As a parent, this thought is scary to me. As a teacher, the suggestion is LUDICROUS to me. Health issues aside, I can just envision my intermediate aged students texting, msning, facebooking etc.etc..when they are supposed to be working."

For as many studies that can connect the use of cell phones to cancer (none of which were linked to in any of the comments), there are as many or more that show the connection to be loose and inconclusive. A lengthy feature in last week's New York Times magazine about cell phones and cancer concluded with the following:

It’s absolutely worthwhile identifying these, so that we can focus on the real carcinogens around us. If we lump everything into the category of “potentially carcinogenic,” from toxic potatoes to McCarthy’s grave, then our scientific language around cancer begins to degenerate. The effect is like crying “wolf” about cancer: the public progressively numbs itself to real environmental toxins and becomes disinvested in finding bona fide carcinogens.

To keep ourselves on the right path on environmental carcinogens, then, we need not just standards to rule carcinogens “in” but also standards to rule them “out.” The final, definitive trials on phone radiation may settle this issue — but, as of now, the evidence remains far from convincing. Understanding the rigor, labor, evidence and time required to identify a real carcinogen is the first step to understanding what does and does not cause cancer.

All that said, do I want my daughter sleeping with a cell phone under her pillow? No. And when I use my cell during a phone call, I always err on the side of caution by using a headset.

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Still, I'm not sure the alarmist theories of tossing aside all Internet-based or related technology is the answer. Furthermore, for critics to frame the issue as if parents are sacrificing or endangering their children by allowing them access to the Internet is irresponsible and inflammatory. The use of fear tactics on either side only degrades the conversation.

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