Will nobody think of the bees?

Once upon a time, the Independent was a serious newspaper, taking serious stands on serious issues.Then, noticing that it wasn't selling very well, it hit upon the idea that it could attract more readers by sacking half its editorial staff.

Once upon a time, the Independent was a serious newspaper, taking serious stands on serious issues.

Then, noticing that it wasn't selling very well, it hit upon the idea that it could attract more readers by sacking half its editorial staff. I don't quite follow that logic, but then I'm so clearly unsuited for high command in publishing that it's a miracle they let me press the buttons in the lift.

And now the paper is showing all the signs of P45enitis. In particular, it's decided that Wireless Kills. In the regrettable absence of actual corpses, though, it's had to take a somewhat oblique approach. We've had mobile phones slaughtering bees (and causing mass starvation across the planet), and now it's time for Wi-Fi Fries Bairns' Brains.

The observant will note that both stories exhibit one characteristic of mainstream pseudoscience pseudojournalism. The headlines are questions - "Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?" and "Is the Wi-Fi revolution a health time bomb?" - which wouldn't be necessary if the answer was "Yes!". And if the answer's not yes, what's the news?

The news, in both cases, is that nothing remotely approaching a danger has been found. The bee problem has been described since the late 19th century when the only person with a mobile phone was Marconi, and there are plenty of theories why it might be happening. One 'limited' study is of no news value whatsoever, even for Mobile Phone Owning Bee-Keeper News, so why go mad in a national?

And what to make of a paragraph like "Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up."? So, no sign of an acceleration in cancer rates then - and if there was, none that it's caused by radio waves as opposed to, say, toxins leeching out of the plastic casing or some other environmental factor quite unconnected to mobile phone usage. It may have escaped the Independent's notice, but our lives today are very different to those of twenty years ago and new materials and behaviours are constantly appearing.

There's no darn proof that (a) anything's going on and (b) if it were, it's got anything to do with mobile phone usage. Yes, there are in-vitro tests that show that if you irradiate cells you can induce changes, but compared with what we know happens when you inhale a lungful of city air the link to any form of risk is just not there.

One of the few figures quoted is that "an official Finnish study" (so much better than the unofficial sort) showed that if you get a brain tumour, it's "40 percent more likely" to show up on the same side as you use your mobile phone. Brain tumours are nasty, but it doesn't really matter what side you get them on - the question is, how much more likely is it you'll get a tumour at all? There have been plenty of studies, yet "proof is still lacking".

"Studies reveal a worrying incidence of symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and memory problems.": yes indeed, among newspaper editors considering their falling circulation.

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