Oh, how embarrassing. Earlier this week, Elizabeth May, the leader of Canada’s Green Party, took to her Twitter account and declared war on Wi-Fi. To think I very nearly voted for these clowns in our recent election. Lesson for my American friends: just because you find all the major parties unpalatable doesn’t mean that the fringe parties aren’t even worse. Meanwhile, can someone please get an environmental movement going that isn’t anti-science and anti-technology?
Give her credit: she did manage, with rare ability, to hit not just one but all of the “idiot politician talking about science/technology” notes: 1. Moral panic: “It is very disturbing how quickly WiFi has moved into schools as it is children who are the most vulnerable.” 2. Deluded citation of long-disproven theories: “It is one prevailing theory re disappearance of pollinating insects.” 3. Misleading deception that comes this close to outright lying: “The World Health Org lists EMF as a possible human carcinogen.”
Wait, what, the WHO called Wi-Fi possibly carcinogenic? Other so-called environmentalists seem to think so too. But no: it turns out that what they actually said (PDF) is: “The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer1, associated with wireless phone use.”
The WHO was worried about phones, folks. Not Wi-Fi. And that was in May. Recently, a major study of the subject concluded: Regular users of mobile phones were not statistically significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with brain tumors compared with nonusers … The absence of an exposure–response relationship either in terms of the amount of mobile phone use or by localization of the brain tumor argues against a causal association.
But instead of backing away from her claims, Ms. May went ahead and doubled down on them. Hey, why let irrelevant things like facts and science get in the way of important stuff, like outrage and luddite paranoia?
I hereby coin Evans's Law: Technology + Politics = Facepalm.—
Jon Evans (@rezendi) July 28, 2011
See also: “internets“; “series of tubes“; and the recent trend of Twitter protests, such as #fuckyouwashington and #OpPayPal. To be fair, Jeff Jarvis, who spurred the former, has a thoughtful, nuanced, and to my mind accurate perspective on the subject. But at the same time, it strikes me as exactly the kind of meaningless and inconsequential thing that Malcolm Gladwell was talking about when he pooh-poohed the role of social media in political change.
Now, I ultimately strongly disagree with Gladwell, but protests only matter if they grow into movements. Movements might use hashtags, but a hashtag is not a movement. Did any of the #fuckyouwashington or #OpPayPal tweeters start following each other? Was there any coordination? Or was it just a random and meaningless eruption, telling no one anything they didn’t know already? (“What? Many Americans are angry at Washington? Stop the presses!“) Anonymous claims that #OpPayPal resulted in the closing of 35,000 PayPal accounts. Even assuming that’s true, and that those were all active accounts (which seems unlikely) then their big protest has brought down less than 0.035 of 1% of PayPal’s total accounts. Big whoop.
That equation above cuts both ways, I’m afraid: politicians tend to be idiots about technology, and most techies aren’t very bright about politics. Which is really too bad—because each is thoroughly disrupting and transforming the other, whether they like it or not.
Image credit: Joe Mott, Flickr.