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Education The Media Science

BBC Kicked out of School Over Wi-Fi Scaremongering 279

h2g2bob writes "Ben Goldacre reports that the BBC Panorama team, while scaremongering over the dangers of Wi-fi, were told to leave the school because even the kids could see it was dumb: 'When the children saw Alasdair's Powerwatch website, and the excellent picture of the insulating mesh beekeeper hat that he sells (£27) to protect your head from excess microwave exposure, they were astonished and outraged. Panorama were calmly expelled from the school.' Should we be pleased that the kids can out-think TV producers?"
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BBC Kicked out of School Over Wi-Fi Scaremongering

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  • *GASP* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VE3OGG ( 1034632 ) <VE3OGG@[ ].ca ['rac' in gap]> on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:41PM (#19285175)
    You mean children might actually be able to differentiate truth from fiction? But that's unpossible, how can their schools control them then?


    I've seen similar situations -- namely when some high school students saw Bowling for Columbine. Teacher couldn't believe they might actually be able to see flaws in the reasoning...
  • While the BBC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MemoryDragon ( 544441 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:42PM (#19285187)
    normally is an icon of good journalism, I see a tendency worldwide that scaremongering for the sake of getting more viewers takes more and more over. Call it how you will but Michael Moore basically brought this excellent into perspective in bowling for columbine.

    This scaremongering is one of the causes why people are more concerned over a handful of dead people in the western world per year caused by terrorism than thousands and thousands of people dead caused by traffic. I personally think this scaremongering is a misuse of free speach and the problem is, if a system or right is misused too much in it will end up dead...
  • Good on ya (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jayemji ( 1054886 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:46PM (#19285221)
    Those kids are alright. They were skeptical of something that was total baloney. Granted, it may have been obvious drivel, but the fact that they spoke up at all indicates that they will at least speak their minds.
  • Re:While the BBC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rlp ( 11898 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:48PM (#19285239)
    normally is an icon of good journalism

    No, the BBC used to be an icon of good journalism. They've gone downhill dramatically the past few years. What really saddens me, is that the same is true of "The Economist". I was a long time subscriber, but finally gave up about a year ago.
  • Quick!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:49PM (#19285243)
    Somebody forward this to Jack Thompson!!! His claim that children cannot differentiate reality and fiction from video games is now null and void!!
  • by DreadfulGrape ( 398188 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:57PM (#19285295)
    We should be pleased from the standpoint that these kids could clearly see bullshit for what it is. TV news & documentary producers no longer care about accuracy, so long as they can scare their audience and get them worked up over imagined fears.
  • by Dulcise ( 840718 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:04PM (#19285331)
    What makes me pleased about reading this article, is that the school protected it's pupils from the producers pseudo-science, and didn't allow them to continue. Hopefully this will mean in the future these children will know to be weary of sensationalist TV shows & films.

    I hope all schools are instilling the same sort of thinking (looking for scientific method) in their pupils, it might result to a smarter tomorrow :)
  • Re:*GASP* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:04PM (#19285337)
    While I generally agree, I do strongly oppose home schooling. What your kid would miss out is the contact with other kids, not just their friends but actually finding a way to work together with people they didn't choose but that were "forced" onto them. Much like they'll later encounter in business life.

    Rather, I'd suggest schools that actually encourage pupil creativity and that promote the use of their intellect. Those schools exist, though you'll hardly find any public schools that are run like that. There, your kids would probably rather be dumbed down so they don't mess up the class average.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:09PM (#19285369)
    People don't want to listen to information. Information is like school, and school was boring, right? People want to be entertained, at best they can be convinced to sit through some spectacular show that gives them a few tidbits of "information" between the explosions and stunts.

    I can see it in our TV program. About 20 years ago, we had talk shows (no, not the Springer kind. Talk shows where experts discussed controversal topics. And with discussed I don't mean "support the official opinion and nod heads", but real discussion), we had news that deserved the name (with reporters that did dig deeper, and didn't only bring up dirt but real information), and we had entertainment above the pie-in-the-face level.

    Then we got private TV and the quality of our public stations went where the viewers are: Basement level.
  • Uh, did anybody read the article? I don't find anything in it about the kids detecting the BS. It was the science teacher who realized that the Panorma crew was pulling a scam and threw them out. Kudos to him, but this episode doesn't tell us anything about the ability of the kids to detect nonsense.

  • Re:*GASP* (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:21PM (#19285455)
    "While I generally agree, I do strongly oppose home schooling. What your kid would miss out is the contact with other kids, not just their friends but actually finding a way to work together with people they didn't choose but that were "forced" onto them. Much like they'll later encounter in business life."

    About a couple of years ago a home schooling advocate was telling me how the public school system was specifically created to push social programs through, and indoctrinate our children. When I first heard it, I chalked her up as a fringe nut case. Since then my child started reading at 2, and is now reading full books having just turned three. I started to consider home schooling, as putting a child with a 3rd or 4th grade education being put into a class full of kids where SOME of them have a kindergarten education, can only lead to problems. The only real argument anyone has ever made in favor of public schools is the same one you made, which is, coincidentally the same argument that the home schooling 'nut case' made. That is that public school is not about learning the three 'R's, but a social program.

    Honestly, if all that you expect from public schools is to force your child to interact with the kind of people they don't want to be around, then you have already accepted that our public schools are no better than prisons. Of course even in you rationalization, you are incorrect. I don't know what country you live in, but here in the US, I have yet to have, or even hear of a (legal) job where if you decide to quit, someone with much more power than you, will come and drag you back to the job. Last I heard, the police can't arrest you for playing hooky from work.
  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:30PM (#19285509)
    Also, should we be ashamed that TV viewers still put up with this crap? (or even watch TV anymore?)
  • by Peter Simpson ( 112887 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:38PM (#19285553)
    >I also wonder why they put up huge fences, and warning signs around transmission towers?

    So people won't climb them and fall off, or steal the copper ground wires. Lawyers are much more dangerous than the electromagnetic radiation from those towers.

    >I'm not keeping my mobile phone near to my reproductive organs any longer than necessary.

    It's probably your brain you want to watch out for...it doesn't transmit when it's on your belt (only for 5 seconds every 10 minutes). It's full on when you're holding it up to your ear.

    >I wouldn't dismiss the health effects just yet. Give it a generation with high intensity signals and see how we are going.

    I agree with you there.
  • WRH! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xtifr ( 1323 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @05:45PM (#19285607) Homepage
    Michael Moore? I think you give the man too much credit! What about William Randolph Hearst [wikipedia.org], whose scaremongering successfully helped start a war, and for whom the term "Yellow Journalism" was coined? I agree that it's a significant problem, but it's hardly a new or recent phenomenon. (Though I suppose an argument can be made for a primarily American origin, which makes it sad to see the BBC succumbing.)
  • by 21st Century Peon ( 812997 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @06:04PM (#19285771)
    While I still think that the TV Licence is a great way to pay for my TV, and can often produce splendid telly (Life In The Undergrowth, The Day Today, Doctor Who, What The Victorians Did For Us to name but a few), the dragging down of the once-great Corporation to the level of the lowest commercial channels (yes, Reality TV - I'm also talking about you) brings a mournful tear to my eye.

    Britain used to make really good documentary shows, too - Dispatches, anyone? Q.E.D.? Channel 4's Equinox, I seem to recall, could also be counted on for a refreshing brain-jiggle. You wouldn't catch 'em making anything like that anymore, of course - not when there's slaggy morons to build into role models.

    And if they produce a "Deal Or No Deal"-aping enormobrowed-yahoos-receive-unearned-prizes celebration of dimwittedness, I'm fairly certain my head will explode. (Man Alive, I sound old.)
  • Prove it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 26, 2007 @06:20PM (#19285925)
    No, I don't mean in your own setting, but in a double-blind one with actual scientists. If she could prove that, it might well be interesting.

    As for me, I can't detect wifi, but I can hear very high frequencies, and you might be surprised by some of the annoying electronic gear that gives them off. Now *that* can sure cause a headache, but it's just sound, not radio.

    Also, does she get like this around microwaves, too? There are more things to detect than radio, y'know, and if she was really sensitive to radio waves, I'd expect her to have gone batty long ago given all the broadcasts. So I'm not the least bit convinced that you've isolated the actual problem, sorry.
  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @06:34PM (#19286045)
    Or are you genuinely comparing reportage of the verifiable doubling of corn prices because of US bioethanol policy and resultant riots in Mexico, the verifiable destruction of rainforest to grow palm oil and soy beans for fuel feedstocks [biofuelwatch.org.uk] and the verifiable release of methane from rotting vegetation, submerged below hydroelectric reservoirs with the speculative ramblings of a journo with no statistic evidence that 2.4Ghz spectrum microwave emissions cause anything other than mild localized tissue heating?
  • by siodine ( 984411 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @06:54PM (#19286221)
  • by celardore ( 844933 ) * on Saturday May 26, 2007 @06:56PM (#19286239)
    I live in the UK, and I love being able to say I don't pay for a TV licence. I genuinely don't receive TV, and have even had a TV Licence inspector come into my home to verify this.

    Which is an awful shame, because many television companies are producing quality entertainment worldwide, but I'm not allowed to view it because the BBC need the UK population to fund them directly through taxation.

    *sigh* BBC, you command no respect from me. I like your news site, but as a British citizen, I don't appreciate the heavy-handed, guilty-until-proven-innocent tactics you adopt with regards to licensing. BBC, you are never going to get a penny out of me. I promise you.

    Do I miss TV people ask. No, I have bittorrent.
  • Re:Prove it? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KillerCow ( 213458 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @07:17PM (#19286427)

    Have you had that verified by scientists in a double blind study?

    Yes, because we all have everything verified by double-blind studies. Why, just this morning, I was all set to leave the house, but I needed to conduct a double-blind study to verify that my shoes were tied. I mean, I can't trust anything to my own senses.

    Supporting the GP, I too can here the high-pitched hiss from some electronics. CRTs are the most noticeable. I verified this through years of my brother leaving the TV on after playing console games. He'd turn the console off (so there was no sound and a black screen), but leave the TV on drawing power. I didn't have to see him playing and leave. Sometimes he would turn it off, sometimes he wouldn't. Sometimes I would wake up, come downstairs in the morning, and hear it ringing before it was anywhere within sight. There was never a false positive.

    I've got a TV that I picked up at the salvation army in my house now. When the screen is all white, it makes this hissing sound. When it's black, it doesn't. It's loud enough (and low enough) for normal people to hear it. That's probably why it was at the SA.

    Can you not hear a monitor powering up? There are no audio components in there. Maybe one moving part to establish a physical electrical connection. But how do you explain the rest of the sounds? What about monitors that hum when their flybacks start to go? So we can hear them when they power up, and when they are defective, but no one can hear them when they are just "on"? That doesn't seem right.

    What about the hum from a high voltage transformer? An old streetlight? These all make sounds, and are electronic equipment, but no-one doubts them. Why can't other electronics make sound too?

    Electronics are not 100% efficient. Most energy is lost through heat, but it would be foolish to think that the electricity -> radiation conversion is 100% efficient. Some of it is lost to vibration. All of those electrons whipping around create little magnetic fields. All those transistors switching create oscillations in them. All those cheap metal components held in place be the cheapest possible metal solder and flexible plastic bits. It's not hard to imagine that sympathetic vibrations can be created.
  • by KillerCow ( 213458 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @07:32PM (#19286565)

    Should we be pleased that the kids can out-think TV producers?"
    The right question is: "Should we be surprised that the kids can out-think TV producers?"

    The right question is: "Should we be surprised that the kids have been lulled into a sense of unquestioning trust of our corporate overlords and technology?"

    Lead additives to paint and blinds turned out to be totally safe (not). And the blue ditto machines were too (methanol exposure). Mercury fillings (banned in Europe at least). All those banned pesticides that we used to think were safe. Oh, and cattle being fed ground up cow brains (mad cow) and shot full of all kinds of hormones and antibiotics are safe too!

    Yes, a tinfoil hat looks stupid, but how do we know that these kids wont turn out to be analogous to the kids being fogged by DDT?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 26, 2007 @07:40PM (#19286615)
    Tsch, cynic. I find your post ever-so-slightly snobbish. 'People' are like that? Are you and I not 'people', then? It's hardly like slashdot is America's last bastion of critical thought, either.
    I find the notion of some 'golden age' of intellectual entertainment 20 years ludicrious at best. I'm sure that whatever measure you set yourself for whatever media you choose (TV, radio, news, books and the internet), there'll be more good stuff available now than 20 years ago. That the ratio of what you like to what you don't has fallen a lot should hardly come as a surprise, and to claim it is because 'the people' are stupid and just want to be entertained is just pandering to the mods.
  • Re:*GASP* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sigma 7 ( 266129 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @07:46PM (#19286671)

    While I generally agree, I do strongly oppose home schooling. What your kid would miss out is the contact with other kids, not just their friends but actually finding a way to work together with people they didn't choose but that were "forced" onto them.
    This is not an issue with homeschooling, as these issues still persist (or are significantly worse) in public schools. For example:
    • The social structure in public schools bears no resemblance to either a realistic or healthy society. Problematic children are given free reign matched only by the Grand Theft Auto series, where the authorities "forget" about problems.
    • Contact with other kids is "forced" with a false statement saying that contact is always good. As a result, you have taunting, exploitive relationships and other negative social aspects that get learnt as status quo.
    • Working together, most cases of elementry or high school assignments, means one person collects work in an assignment. Unlike most RPGs, where characters can join together to eliminate weaknesses (or join together as in Chrono Trigger), the best person simply takes the brunt of the work with others parasiting off of the best person.
    • While you didn't raise this point, public schools teach at a fixed rate - 110 hours of training without adjusting content to the skill of the pupil.
    • The business world is not equal to a public school. Adults can walk away at any time, complete with years of experience and possibly additional information, if they are "forced" into a hostile envrionment.

    • You can wonder why public elementry/high schools have these problems, while colleges and universities don't - it's based around the same principles, but most of the obvious issues appear to vaporise as soon as the setting changes.

      You could try looking at the following issues when opposing homeschooling:
      • Course content doesn't match what should be taught. For example, it may be deficient in math, or put undue weight on some topics (e.g. be mixed with religious fundamentalism.)
      • Course quality isn't guarenteed. If there's a problem with the course content, it may go undetected in one-time schools.
      • Cost is higher. You either need to take time off work, or need to hire a tutor.

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @08:28PM (#19287015)
    Step 1. "Put Mind-Fogging juice in an exciting product everybody wants. In fact, make the Mind-Fogging juice a primary component of that product."

    Step 2. "When people start asking, 'Is Mind-Fogging juice safe?' you give a lot of money to PR agents and have them stand guard over the media, propping up stories and studies which make people asking the question look like alarmist idiots, while working to remove funding and media attention from those trying to answer the question honestly."

    Step 3. "Offer misleading scientific facts to the public such as; 'Mind-Fogging juice cannot possibly burn brain cells, because there simply is never enough concentration during the use of the Exciting Product to cause brain cells to burn.' --all while studiously ignoring the fact that Mind-Fogging juice at low dosages has a narcotic-like effect which causes the brain to function poorly."

    Step 4. "As one of many on-going efforts in this campaign, promote 'The Dangers of Mind-Fogging Juice' expose stories which are over-the-top and stupid. Then you let the public feel as though they are coming to their own conclusions about the relative safety of Mind-Fogging juice, while patting themselves on the back for feeling more clever and informed than the purveyors of such stories. --This is easy to do scince, like any religion, the consuming public is more than willing to hear only calming reports about their beloved Exciting Product and to use any excuse to not think about any possible problems."

    Step 5. "Sell even more Exciting Products which use Mind-Fogging juice, since this makes people even less able to sort truth from fiction."

    Step 6. "Repeat as needed."


  • Re:Prove it? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by loganrapp ( 975327 ) <loganrapp@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday May 26, 2007 @09:25PM (#19287449)
    The point being that doctors tell her she's imagining it. That's the impetus for doing the double-blind study. If physicians are saying it's not possible, well, your little experiment in your home isn't going to convince them. They'll say, "oh, that's cute," and then move along to referring you to a psychiatrist.

    So, no, it's not silly at all to suggest it, sir.

  • by kevorkian ( 142533 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:22AM (#19289527)
    What does religion have to do with it ?? and while it really has no bearing on this .. No I am not religious.

    My point was that there are things that people can sense. it may not make sense .. but they can. just because you cant does not mean that they cant.

    how skeptical one should be as a default is left up to the person. If someone was to tell me they drove a car at 90 mph on the highway , I would tend to trust that they have. if they said they have driven at 250 mph on the same highway I would tend to not.

    Being able to simply sense that a radio wave is present is not outside my realm of believability. If he was to say that she could tell if the access point was using wap vs wep , I would tend to discount that. It has nothing to do with religion.

    is being able to detect radio waves really that unbelievable ? its simply a form of electromagnetic radiation. your eyes have eloved to detect a small range of the same type of radiation, what we call visible light. Why is it such a stretch to believe that some people could detect different frequency's of the same type of emission ?

    Think about it this way. its the same thing as if you were blind , and someone told you that they could see things.It would be rational to be sceptical about that as a default ? Or if you were deaf. Or even if you were color blind. Would you be skeptical about someone that said they could see different colors?


  • by hughk ( 248126 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:14AM (#19289775) Journal

    The people enforcing the TV licenses in the UK have nothing to do with the BBC and you are right, they do behave obnoxiously tending to scare people into paying but it is a tax that only applies to those with the means to receive TV programs. However they do enforce the collection of a fee that the BBC mostly benefits from.

    I guess you haven't travelled much. Modern programming costs money, lots of it. In Germany you pay for a TV license, actually more than the UK and they still carry advertisements. As for the US, it the ads are intrusive. For most satellite TV you pay for a subscription AND you get the ads. There is a wonderful story about a Top Gear program that was particularly acerbic towards a car where the manufacturer's CEO threatened to pull the advertisements, he was somewhat confused when informed, they carried no advertising. For the Murdoch empire, they tread carefully to avoid offendinfg advertisers. The BBC doesn't have to do this.

  • Re:*GASP* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DamnStupidElf ( 649844 ) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:29AM (#19290125)
    While I generally agree, I do strongly oppose home schooling. What your kid would miss out is the contact with other kids, not just their friends but actually finding a way to work together with people they didn't choose but that were "forced" onto them. Much like they'll later encounter in business life.

    Just because a child is home schooled does not mean they are shut-ins. There are team sports, neighbors, extended family members, and plenty of other "forced" contacts. The best public school can offer in terms of social training is a zero sum game of how many children can be packed together before they start shooting each other or become total nitwits. I was home schooled, but I don't find that I have problems working with people. If anything, I abstract my interactions with people quite a bit more than I might have if my social skills were being fine tuned by the great unwashed masses. I definitely know that all the time I spent programming is worth way more to me than a public school education.

    Rather, I'd suggest schools that actually encourage pupil creativity and that promote the use of their intellect. Those schools exist, though you'll hardly find any public schools that are run like that. There, your kids would probably rather be dumbed down so they don't mess up the class average.

    I can't tell if you think public school or home school is worse. If all public school is good for is to learn how to deal with obnoxious people you see every day, couldn't they have some sort of training program you take for a month or two like they give to prison guards or mental health workers?
  • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:54PM (#19293637) Journal
    Anyone who refuses to pay this and is proud should really be ashamed.

    It may be good value, but I find it worrying that someone who feels it isn't good value for them, and they don't want to pay for it, should be ashamed.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban