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Posts Tagged ‘media’

I Guess I Have to Retire From Blogging Now

April 6, 2011 3 comments

xkcd has (once again) said it all. Basically summarizing my entire blog in a single cartoon.

 

There’s just…nothing left for me to add. What more can be said? What am I going to do with my time now?

I guess I could try knitting…

 

Radiation From Japan Reaches Canada. RUN! PANIC! AAAAAH!

March 22, 2011 2 comments

File:Radiation symbol alternate.svgOne day, I think I’m going to open up a news website or newspaper and there is going to be a front page headline that reads “LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!”.

This is getting ridiculous.

New outlets, including CBC, ran an article today and yesterday about increasing radiation levels detected in Canada and in Iceland. The cause of this radiation is attributed to the crisis with the nuclear power plant in Japan. So just how big of an increase in radiation was there in British Columbia?

Gary Holub says increased radiation levels were expected, and are less than the increase in radiation levels Canadians would see naturally when it rains.

Holub stressed that the increase poses no health risk to Canadians.

Seriously? Less of an increase than when it rains? Yet the CBC chose to run a headline which said: “Increased Radiation Detected by B.C. Monitors“.

Scientific American reported what the U.S. Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency had to say about the increase in radiation.

They said the radiation amounted to one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from natural sources such as rocks, bricks and the sun.

This increased level of radiation is not even newsworthy, let alone worthy of a scaaaaaaaary headline. Everyone on this side of the pacific ocean has nothing to worry about.

Actually, unless you are one of the heroic Japanese workers trying to restore power to the nuclear plant, you have very little to worry about.

Does nobody remember that there were victims of an earthquake AND tsunami in Japan recently? Are we only paying attention to the nuclear plant now because news outlets love the fear generated by the word “radiation”?

Donations to the Japanese relief effort can be made through The Canadian Red Cross

Other places to make donations can be found here.

Relative Radiation

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

With the current crisis in Japan with the nuclear power plant, the media has latched onto the public’s fears of radiation.

And y’know what? I understand that fear. Radiation is invisible. It could be anywhere and you won’t know it until it’s too late.

But I am not afraid. Why?

The thing is that I know how much radiation we get on a daily basis, and how it compares with certain medical procedures and working near radiation sources, like a nuclear power plant. Most people do not, and the media plays on those fears to drive up ratings.

Thankfully, Randall Munroe of xkcd fame has created another wonderful (and timely) poster illustrating the relative doses associated with doing certain tasks or living near certain places.

Click on the image see the large version.

Some of the most interesting comparisons:

  • You get more than 3 times the radiation dose living within 50 miles of a coal power plant than you do living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant
  • Flying round-trip from New York to Los Angeles would give you the equivalent dose of living within 10 miles of the Three Mile Island accident.
  • Living in a stone, brick, or concrete building for 15 years gives you a larger radiation dose than anyone got from the Three Mile Island accident.
  • Using a CRT monitor for a year gives you a larger radiation dose than living next to a nuclear power plant for a year (but then again, who uses CRT monitors anymore?)

So while the Japan nuclear crisis is indeed serious, it is no reason to stop using nuclear power in general.

Oh, and the radiation dose from cell phones is zero, because phones don’t generate ionizing radiation and they don’t cause cancer. Relax, people.

Of Psychics and Serial Killers

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

It was announced on Monday that the remains of four women who were buried near a Long Island beach were most likely the victims of a serial killer.

The women are supposedly prostitutes who advertised on Craigslist, which is where the killer most likely targeted them.

It is a horrible and sad story, and hopefully the police will catch the bastard before he hurts anyone else.

But of course, the media has found a way to make the story even worse with this little gem about a psychic who “predicted” where the bodies would be found. As reported in the New York Post:

A psychic eerily predicted where the victim of a suspected serial killer could be found — nine months before cops dug up the corpse and that of three other young women on a Long Island beach, police sources said.

In April, the clairvoyant, hired by the desperate family of Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of Buffalo, chillingly saw “her body buried in a shallow grave overlooking a body of water,” the police source said. The psychic also said “there was a ‘G’ in a sign nearby.”

Fox News has also run the same story on their website.

This makes me sick. Melissa Barthelemy was missing since July 12, 2009. So 10 months later, a desperate family willing to do anything to find her, turned to a psychic to try to find her.

This psychic took these bereaved people’s money and gave them nothing. Absolutely nothing in return.

What did they actually predict? After being missing for 10 months, the odds of the poor girl being dead were unfortunately pretty good. So nothing there.

Next the “psychic” told them that her body was buried “overlooking a body of water”. You are in New York! On the Eastern seaboard! There is water everywhere. If the poor girl was killed, odds are pretty good that she would turn up somewhere near a “body of water”.

The “psychic” also said that there would be a “G” in a sign nearby. And Melissa Barthelemy was found near Gilgo Beach. That’s pretty good, right? *facepalm*

They didn’t say if the “G” would be in the name of the lake, or the town, or a nearby store, or the hi*g*hway.

Simply looking out the window of my office, I count no less than 5 signs that contain the letter ‘G’. She certainly played the odds on that one.

But psychics don’t care if their predictions are vague. That’s the whole point. Horoscopes do the same thing. “You will face a difficult decision today.” Thanks horoscope, even though I face difficult decisions every day, you got that one right I guess.

If this “psychic” had this great power, why couldn’t they predict anything useful? Like the name of the lake, or a road, or the face of the serial killer? Because psychics don’t have a great power. They makes vague “predictions” and, after the fact, overzealous news outlets try to fit the facts to the vague predictions. This person is a con-artist who takes the money off grieving people.

So whoever this “psychic” is that took advantage of the Barthelemy family should be ashamed of themselves. These people have lost a family member and the idea of someone profiting off their misery makes me physically ill.

Update (April 14, 2011):

As it turns out, this psychic was even more off than I had originally thought. It seems that Barthelemy was not buried in a grave at all. She was found above ground in a wooded area, just like the other victims.

Also, even though she was found at Gilgo Beach, there was no indication that there was a sign nearby at all.

So again, chalk this one up to psychics taking blatant misses and spinning them so they seem like hits.

Fail.

University Banning Facebook? But…How Will We Know Where the Keggers Are?

September 14, 2010 Leave a comment

       

I’m getting older. I’ll be 26 next week in fact. And yes, I remember when I was in University and had not even heard of Facebook!       

Times have certainly changed. Social media has revolutionized the way young people…well, all people, communicate with each other. Facebook has 500 million users. Just Bieber has 5 million followers on Twitter, and I recently started using TweetDeck.       

So when I heard that Provost Eric Darr of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania has decided to ban all social media for the first week of school, I had some mixed feelings.       

Students will be unable to access social media sites from any campus computer, including their personal computers if they are in residence. The idea is to get the students to think about how much they are using these tools, and they are supposed to write an essay detailing their experience as well.       

When it comes down to it, I don’t like this idea. It will be interesting to see how people react without Tweeting or creating events and inviting friends. But to force an entire campus out of their social network is extreme.       

Its seems far too reactionary to me as well. I grew up without internet access until high school. I was introverted and nearly threw up on myself with nervousness every time I went over to a school friends house for a birthday party. I just was not good at socializing.       

But then ICQ and MSN Messenger came along. I could talk to people outside of school. It helped me learn that socializing was not some scary skill that only the popular kids were born with. It could be learned. It made me more confident and I was able to translate that confidence in face-to-face interactions.       

ICQ Logo. The first online social media tool I ever used.

This whole fear of social media is growing a bit tired. People from previous generations don’t understand it, but that’s fine. My grandparents didn’t understand rock music which was supposedly corrupting the world’s youth. My parents didn’t understand video games, but I still turned out to be a well-adjusted person who didn’t go around stealing cars or thinking I could fly.       

So lets not force kids to abandon Facebook and Twitter. Especially during the first week of University when they are away from home for the first time and have friends going to different schools across the world. Let them keep in touch.       

A better solution would have been to get volunteers to try the experiment and document it in a school newspaper. The experience would be interesting to read about. But then again, if they can’t use Facebook, how would inform their friends that they should read it?

Be Afraid of Your Wi-Fi! Be Very Afraid!

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Wow. I cannot believe this is still in the news.

Its one of those things you hope only happens once and you never hear about it again. Like the Star Wars Holiday Special.

But unfortunately, the Wi-Fi hysteria remains in the news. This time with a couple of new foot soldiers. They include a drama teacher from Brock University, and a self-proclaimed specialist named Barrie Trower.

And perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but the reporting of this story in the CBC is really starting to irk me. Lets explore shall we?

I wrote previously about the parents in Simcoe county in Northern Ontario were claiming that Wi-Fi was making their children sick. The supposed dangers of Wi-Fi has been dismissed by teachers, the World Health Organization, Health Canada and scientists worldwide; as it should be.

But proponents of the evils of technology continue to drag the story out and spread fear throughout the community. With a little help from their friends, the news media.

Take, for example, this audio clip of an interview on CBC with Barrie Trower.

Barrie Trower on CBC Metro News

Trower claims to have worked for the British military in the 1960s on experiments dealing with low-level microwave radiation. He claims that they caused adverse health effects; everything from affecting the blood brain barrier to the immune system. He is quite vague and never explains what frequencies or power levels of microwaves he studied.

A couple of my favourite quotes from the audio file are these:

I have a document here…it lists all of the illnesses that  children and adults can get from very low-level microwave radiation. And it specifically says on the top…this must be kept secret…the ordinary general population must not be told because it will affect industrial profit.

What is this document? Who wrote it? There are no specifics given about the origin of this mysterious document. Trower claims he gets it from the freedom of information act, but if that were true he should have given us the specifics so we could look up the document for ourselves. I am skeptical…

When I saw Wi-Fis being put in schools at the same powers and the same levels that were used in the 1960s for experiments, I knew straight away that there were hidden dangers to the young children.

You knew straight away, did you Mr. Trower? What about when Wi-Fi was being put into offices, Universities, laboratories, airports, and coffee shops? Did you not think there was a danger then? It seems interesting to me that only when the story about the Simcoe area parents came out, did Mr. Trower decided that he should reveal to everyone about the secret 50 year old experiments that he did with microwaves.

Nor has Mr. Trower provided and clear arguments or evidence (at least, to the news outlets) that Wi-Fi poses any sort of threat to anyone.

And what about the other British scientists that performed these experiments? I find it odd that they all wouldn’t want to come out and save chidren’s lives if they thought that Wi-Fi was dangerous.
While the interviewer sounds slightly skeptical, he fails to ask the right questions to point out the weaknesses in what this man is saying, so thats YOUR fault CBC.

Now lets move on to the drama teacher from Brock University, one David Fancy. Said Fancy,

It’s not necessarily up to me to say that they cause harm. I think there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they do. But we certainly can’t say with any conclusive level that they’re safe.

Actually David, yes we can. There is a large body of literature which has studied and reported the effects of exposure to microwave radiation. The conclusion is that at the frequencies and powers associated with cellular phones, cell phone towers and Wi-Fi, the exposure level does not pose any danger.

In fact, 1 years worth of exposure to a wireless signal is roughly the same exposure as you would get in a 20 minute cell phone call. And in a recent large scale study, the long term effects of cellular phone use has not shown any mal-effects over the past 10 years.

Now, just to be fair, there is a small smattering of studies which suggest a health effect from low level microwave exposure, which these fear-mongerers can spout of the top of their heads. However, one has to take into account the entire volume of literature, not just a few isolated studies (most of which have had their conclusions contested).

You see, when a subject is studied as much as RF radiation, there is bound to be some random noise in the results of individual studes; particularly if the studies involve small sample sizes. This is completely expected. What is important is what the overall picture of the studies is, and that picture is that Wi-Fi is safe.

You can all relax now.

This all would be clear in the news stories, if the news outlets bothered to get an actual expert opinion. Why haven’t the CBC gone and interviewed physics Professors or doctors or biologists or RF engineers? Doesn’t this seem like an obvious thing to do?

Apparently not, and its having an effect. On a CBC poll about 1/3 of parents are concerned about Wi-Fi and its health effects. Kudos CBC on causing fear in these parents minds.

Sadly, talking to Physicists doesn’t boost ratings (unless maybe its Phil Plait) so we won’t get those opinions in the news. You have to go and search them out yourselves.

Wi-Fi the New Danger to Children…Apparently

August 16, 2010 2 comments

Well, as if we didn’t have enough to be afraid of in the pseudoscientific world, now we have to be afraid of our wireless internet connection.

Parents in Barrie and other northern Ontario towns have called the public school board to remove its recently installed Wi-Fi system because, they claim, it is making their children sick.

The symptoms include memory loss, trouble concentrating, skin rashes, hyperactivity, night sweats and insomnia.

These are extremely non-specific symptoms, and most of them can describe pretty much every young child I know at some point in their lives.

Said one of the parents:

“I’m not saying it’s because of the Wi-Fi because we don’t know yet, but I’ve pretty much eliminated every other possible source.”

Really? You’ve eliminated EVERY possible source? Thats quite a bold statement when it comes to environmental factors.

Now, its hard to blame these parents for looking out for their kids, but this is a clear cut case of poor understanding of technology and media hysteria.

Oh yes, I’m talking about YOU CBC!

For example, take the “expert” they got to comment on this story, one Professor Magda Havas from Trent University (in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, incidentally).

So what does this professor say? From the CBC article:

Claims by Health Canada that Wi-Fi is safe provided exposures to radiation are below federal guidelines are “outdated and incorrect,” based on the growing number of scientific publications reporting adverse health and biological effects, Havas wrote.

Havas did her Ph.D in Botany, so what makes her an expert electromagnetism, I have no idea. But from her website (note the advertisement to her book at the bottom), it seems she is involved in fear mongering for just about every junk science theory about electromagnetism affecting humans, including the dangers of power lines and cell phones (all these technologies have repeatedly been shown to be safe).

It amazes me that they couldn’t find an actual expert in electromagnetism to comment on this story. But then, it wouldn’t increase readership would it?

But shall we interrupt this exercise in bad science and bad science reporting for some REAL science?

The energy deposition from a typical wireless signal is roughly 100 times less than exposure to a cell phone (which remember, has been shown to be a perfectly safe level). It is also thousands of times less than current government regulated safety levels, AND is less than normal background radio frequency radiation. Maybe that rat-bastard Ryan Seacrest and his Top 40 crap is making us all sick!

Now how about a bit of logic? The parents claim that these symptoms go away on the weekends. This makes no sense as children are exposed to wireless signals at their home, at the mall, the airport, restaurants, pretty much everywhere. If it was the Wi-Fi and these children are truly sensitive to it, they should be sick virtually all the time.

And what about children living in an apartment building, where there are literally dozens of wireless signals in their vicinity. Shouldn’t they be affected at home as well? Shouldn’t this be more widespread?

Ok, so when I start freaking out about stuff like this, my lovely girlfriend invariably asks “So what COULD it be, if not the Wi-Fi?”

My Lovely Girlfriend. Yes, I have one!

Well, remember these symptoms: trouble concentrating, hyperactivity, insomnia, night sweats. This sounds like me when I was a kid. I was always having trouble sleeping and running around like a madman. These tended to go away on the weekend though, when I could just relax and play video games. Also, kids don’t like school; they could get stressed out and cause these symptoms, which would of course go away on the weekends and in the summer. They may be staying up too late on weeknights, so sleep deprivation could easily cause some of these symptoms.

Want to know what I really think is happening? I think a child got sick with something, and an over-zealous parent read something about Wi-Fi being dangerous on the internet. They heard that the school had recently installed Wi-Fi and BAM! you got yourself the perfect storm of fear.

If you take nothing else from my blog, please take this: Correlation does NOT equal causation.

Just because these children got sick after (several months after, which is kinda weird. Shouldn’t they have gotten sick right away?) the school board installed wireless networks, does NOT mean wireless networks made these children sick.

I could just as easily say the sun rose after my alarm clock went off this morning, therefore my alarm clock caused the sun to rise. It is a logical fallacy and stories like this are riddled with them.

So don’t worry folks, your internet is just fine. Continue using your laptop (to read this blog, hopefully) and your cell phone without fear. With every new technology there will be those who try to convince you its bad. And unfortunately, there will also be protective parents to make a fuss over it.