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A Not-Very-Smart Debate on Smart Meters

by Brian Dunning

August 5, 2011

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Donate This morning I had the pleasure of going on the Bill Good show with guest host Mike Smyth at CKNW radio in Vancouver, Canada. Many Canadians are concerned about possible health effects from wi-fi and smart meters, so they had me on to debate Joshua Hart from This web site is dedicated to the cause of opposing smart meters (as you might have guessed).

Their page shows a long list of ideological reasons to oppose smart meters. Since they provide more granular reporting than does a once-a-month meter reading, utilities can see whatever data they want about when you're using their service. This gives some people a perfectly legitimate privacy concern, as well as other concerns like potentially higher charges for on-peak usage. These are perfectly valid arguments, and everyone's opinion on them is equally valid.

But Joshua goes one step further. Only one of his many reasons to oppose smart meters is health concerns, but since that's what's in the news, it was the entirety of what we discussed today. He threw at me the basic arguments that science is accustomed to hearing:
  1. The World Health Organization recently reclassified radio frequencies as a carcinogen. Not true. Responding to public outcry for even more study of this question, they classified it as a "possible" carcinogen -- basically, the standard classification for most manmade substances and technologies -- to permit WHO researchers to do yet another study on it. If you want to know what the WHO's true position on RF is, read their statement here.

  2. Smart meters bathe people in microwave radiation. Not true. Radio is far below microwave on the EMF spectrum. You can easily verify this for yourself: Do a simple Google search for "emf spectrum" and you can see the difference. You might also want to check with your local public utility to see on which frequency your smart meters transmit. It's simple radio, most similar to police radio. We should expect to see similar health issues.

  3. We're seeing a "cascade" (as he put it) of scientific research showing that radio causes cancer. Not true. You might come to this conclusion if the only sources you read are websites like Joshua's that are dedicated to anti-radio ideology, but if you look instead at what the research has shown, this would be a bizarre conclusion to reach. The WHO link above does a good job of giving the current understanding, as does this article from Scientific American.

Joshua's real low point (and I'm sure he regrets it) was when he asserted that scientific study is an insufficient safeguard because "we still don't know how cigarettes cause cancer." If this is an argument he's used before, he's revealing that he doesn't even take the most basic effort to inform himself on current science. I will refer Joshua to the #1 (National Cancer Institute) and #2 ( results of a Google search for "how do cigarettes cause cancer".

An audio download of our debate (25 minutes) should became available at this link and should remain up for about a month.

Ideology is fine. Making up bad science to scare people into supporting your particular ideology is not.

by Brian Dunning

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