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Postscript to the Telecom Tales

The New Mexican’s Tom Sharpe has done a reasonably good job this week untangling the issues in the proposed new telecommunications ordinance, but I winced when I saw that he was planning to devote a full day of his series to the “health effects” of electromagnetism. The paper has embarrassed itself before by taking wild assertions from self-proclaimed experts at face value and doing little or no fact checking. We get much of the same this morning.

Before approving publication of the story, an editor should have insisted on a prominent paragraph noting that the majority of biophysicists, epidemiologists, and research oncologists who have studied the matter find no reason to believe that the low-level microwave radiation from cellphones or wifi is worrisome. But it’s Mr. Sharpe’s second article that is so dreadful that I feel like using it this spring at our Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop as an example of how not to cover a complex issue.

After giving a fringe group an open mike, the New Mexican had a responsibility to focus on what the science really says. Instead we get a profile of a local “healthy home” consultant, Daniel Stith, who concedes that his evidence about the supposed dangers of wifi (and a slew of other things) is “more anecdotal … versus some kind of study.” We also hear from someone named Vicki Warren, who teaches courses on “electrosmog” and is allowed to go on for seven paragraphs reeling off misinformation that could have easily been checked.

It is not enough to counter all of this propaganda with some quotes from a Motorola spokesman. This “he says, she says” approach is lazy journalism that creates the false impression that science is simply a matter of opinion, and that there are two equally weighted sides to every story.

Related Posts:

Electromania at City Hall
Electromania, Part 2
Electromania, Part 3

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review