social phobias: nuclear

San Francisco is at it again. Greg Kumparak reports that the city is requiring cell phone shops to warn customers of potential radiation hazards. Again.

“Hey, didn’t something like this pass last year?” Yep. Well, almost. The Board Of Supervisors approved an ordinance requiring each cell phone’s radiation absorption level (or “SAR”) to be posted on the outside of its box, but that law was stifled after the CTIA Wireless Association filed a lawsuit against the city. … This second swing at the new law is a bit more lax: gone are the specific radiation details posted on each box, instead replaced by general warnings that cell phone shops will need to have at hand.

This is after the WHO came out with a ‘maybe’ on the topic. That was another of those fear items where they couldn’t find any data to support their thesis but couldn’t find anything to prove a negative. Greg has this problem, too.

Sure, we’re all stupid and easily confused by scary numbers — but this is something that we don’t quite understand yet. A few “So, uh, cell phone radiation might be bad for you, we’re still investigating” signs are the least we can do.

There aren’t any “scary numbers” and we do indeed understand the phenomena. That just isn’t enough for the fears. Responsible scientists know that they cannot prove a negative as there is no way to create certitude of any single point in an infinitude. What is known is that there is no evidence to date of any of the proposed ‘radiation’ hazards from cell phone use and there is no known mechanism for creating such a hazard.

Related to this are the reports that the U.S, Nuclear agency head has noted that there were no adverse health effects from the Japanese nuclear power plant tsunami and earthquake damage. That is nestled in with the ‘radiated beef’ stories. Something about nuclear phenomena stimulates irrational fears despite the fact that it is one of the most easily measured pollutants that has the most well known effects.

Social phobias like this create laws and those laws spread additional fear and uncertainty as well as create unnecessary costs. With cell phones, the costs are mostly a nuisance. With power plants, the costs are much more significant and include the health effects that result when there is insufficient power for needs such as air conditioning in a heat wave. The FUD Mongers do need to be held accountable.

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