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29 July 2011

Oh, Elizabeth May...

Cross-posted from the Winnipeg Skeptics blog.

Now, I've criticised the Green Party before for basing their policies on ideology rather than on sound science. I've also criticised journalists who should know better for swallowing outlandish fear-mongering about EMF without a hint of skepticism.

Now all the threads are coming together.

Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada's Green Party and the first Green candidate to be elected to federal office, recently took to Twitter to criticise BC Hydro's Smart Meters, pausing only to take a swipe at WiFi in schools.

Honestly, I'm getting really tired of fighting this fight, and I'm starting to understand what Randi means when he talks about "unsinkable rubber ducks". Science writer Brian Dunning (of the award-winning Skeptoid podcast) addresses some of May's claims directly in today's Ottawa Citizen:
For a politician to be frightened of a tiny, low-voltage device that generates a shadow of nature's everyday state, at a natural frequency, betrays an unacceptable level of disdain for basic science and knowledge of nature. There are reasons that we chose radio as a means for delivering information. It's natural, it's easy, and it's the way our environment works. One can try to argue that radio is used because it's cheap and profits can be easily made, with a reckless disregard for health, but claims of health effects rapidly disintegrate under even the simplest of scientific scrutiny.
Dr. Steven Novella has also addressed the issue of health concerns over EMF several times in the past. From one of his recent posts on the subject:
To give a quick summary, there is no convincing data to link cell phone use and brain cancer. Epidemiological studies have not found an increase in the incidence of brain cancer following the widespread adoption of cell phones in the mid 1990s – as one would expect if there were a causal relationship. Further, large scale studies have not found any consistent correlation between cell phone use and brain cancer.
And finally, one last LOL-worthy tidbid via reddit:

Tips o' the hat to Eric Davies and Tim Herd.


  1. So which were the non-ideology based parties again?

  2. I'll let you know when I find one.

  3. So not tooooo tangential to this post I am curious if you consider economics a science (given the role that plays in party platforms). Now I am not really interested in 'theories' of economics which certainly structure themselves as sciences I am wondering more about 'natural' economics if that makes sense.

  4. I'm not sure exactly what you mean. I don't know very much about economics, but based on my fairly limited understanding of it I certainly wouldn't consider it a science. The predictions of various economic models don't strike me as exceptionally testable in any practical, controlled fashion.

    The fact that I don't consider it a science doesn't is in no way meant to be disparaging, of course.

    Of course, I'm not a scientist either. You might want to ask one of them. :)

  5. Just throwing it out there. It is becoming apparent (at least to myself) that a greater understanding of late-modern capitalism is desperately needed so I didn't know the extent to which economic theory gets batted around in 'skeptical' circles.

  6. I know a lot of people who agree with you, and although science, religion, and (to a lesser extent) politics all get batted around at Drinking Skeptically, economics does come up from time to time. I try not to express firm opinions on matters about which I know very little.

  7. For the record, I have several friends who have run for office under the Green Party banner, and I agree with quite a bit of the party platform. Among the major parties, however, they do not best represent my position on many major issues, and their disdain for science-based policy seems (to me) to be greater than that of the Liberals or the NDP.

  8. Yet another skepto website, demonstrating utter cluelessness on the dangers of wireless, Heaven help us from their misleading the credulous. You even refer to Dunning's useless piece. See there deever's comments, for example.Greens happen to be leading on these issues in Europe, why Eliz. May referred at her blog to the Council of Europe doc adopted by their Parl Assembly -- knowledgeable rapporteur, a Green. Non-knowledgeable skeptos, mr. startleddisbelief & commenters.

  9. I'm not sure what you're after, ck872. Ad hominems and other non sequiturs aside, your comment seems bereft of content. You rail against this "skepto website" and its "utter cluelessness", but provide neither evidence nor arguments. Instead, you refer to a pseudonymous commenter on a different site whose sole interest seems to be cherrypicking studies that support his or her preconceptions.

    For those interested, the "Council of Europe doc" to which ck872 is referring can be found here. It is probably unsurprising that the draft resolution seems motivated more by politics than by science, and (like nearly all EMF scaremongers I've encountered) is adept at presenting only the evidence that supports the desired conclusion, even when the vast body of research on the subject is either equivocal or dead negative.

  10. The draft resolution really goes off the rails on the subject of electrosensitivity:

    "In light of the above considerations, the Assembly recommends that the member states of the Council of Europe ... pay particular attention to 'electrosensitive' persons suffering from a syndrome of intolerance to electromagnetic fields and introduce special measures to protect them, including the creation of wave-free areas not covered by the wireless network..."

    The document goes on to say that Professor Dominique Belpomme, an "expert specialising in clinical medicine and oncology confirmed ... that a syndrome of intolerance to electromagnetic fields (SIEMF) does exist".

    However, according to the WHO:

    "The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals. Well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure."

    The fact that the Council of Europe is concerned about "[t]he potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment" says absolutely nothing about the state of the science.

    Unless you'd care to supplement your rhetoric with evidence, kindly go away.

  11. Go away, eh? I've had much dealing with skeptos, even at their premier Cdn. site (also as 'deever' -- my name is Daryl Vernon if you crave the de-anonymity), eg very recently same topic all over webpage and elsewhere. So I need not really repeat myself for this genre of commentary. Are you really interested in the actual science & history, in all its complexity & ugliness, I'd be glad to point you other than to yea-saying orthodox bodies & panels that filter info for you. In my experience, skeptos simply rest satisfied without ever really looking.

  12. I'm not sure what a "skepto" is, but if you think that skeptics "simply rest satisfied without ever really looking", you demonstrate that you have no understanding of scientific skepticism.

    I agree that you have no need to repeat yourself in this forum. But, as I said, you are free to either provide evidence or to leave.

    Your characterisation of the WHO and other scientific bodies as "yea-saying orthodox bodies & panels that filter info for you" is laughable. Portraying the scientific establishment as a vast orthodoxy against which a courageous few fight the good fight has long been a favoured gambit of creationists, geocentrists, and perpetual motion cranks. It's sad to see it deployed here.

    I can see why you post under a pseudonym, as the top Google hits for your name still reference the 2008 email controversy.

  13. I've had plenty of dealings with skeptos, who themselves demonstrate blinkered views about what constitutes evidence, and are oblivious to science & scientists themselves as anthrpological subjects of scrutiny.

    You must be completely unaware of the history of scientific travesty in bioeffects research and public policy reliant thereupon. Maybe start with Michaels' Doubt is Their Product, Krimsky's Science in the Private Interest, McGarrity & Wagner's Bending Science; on regulatory corruption on EMF, see (online) Maisch's The Procrustean Approach; on how science by PR dominated behind the push for mass cell telephony, Motorola whistleblower Kane's Cellular Telephone Russian Roulette (online).The list is long -- why do you know nothing about these & like titles & their contents?

    What do you know about how the WHO was captured on EMF via ICNIRP & IEMFP? A glance at the COE doc May refers to reveals shockingly strong language about that in such a venue. Means nothing to a skepto? How could a responsible person condemn a politician going out on a limb without reading her back-up, incl. the influential Bioinitiative Report (start with maybe section 14 to get a sense of how complexity has been avoided to great public health detriment; online as well).

    That's surely enough to get you started, if you care to actually look, which given what I've seen among skeptos, is very unlikely. (But onlookers might, which is why I bother.)

    As for the Green Party, I have had no affiliation for around two years. What you must have picked up on a websearch, would be crumbs left from a libel incident, dismantled after a year, but still leaving its impression, we see.

  14. I actually read an article that talked about EMF and bird clutch failure. In any case, it appeared from the research that living close to cell towers affected the survival of the bird's young (only if buildings were not in the way). They didn't determine, however, if it was a parental behavioural change or something else. I've been waiting for someone to redo the study - but haven't seen anything yet.
    As for causing brain cancer - that's a load of bull.
    So I'll be a fence sitter until I see that other study re-completed. It was as I recall, a Russian study in a lower-impact journal.

  15. Interesting. I assume that this is the paper that you mentioned? I'd also like to see the results replicated, but they don't strike me as incredible or implausible. We don't know what mechanism may be responsible, but while we may be genuinely concerned for the (apparently quite minor) effects on wildlife, these results are not relevant to any concerns about human health and well-being.