The Precautionary Principle

On the surface, it’s hard to argue with the precautionary principle. It sounds logical. If something is not proven absolutely safe, then we should avoid it. What parent would not want to take a cautionary approach when they believe the health of their children is at risk?

In reality, applying the precautionary principle to the issue of WiFi is deeply flawed for a number of reasons.

  1. The Precautionary Principle reduces complex issues to black and white and removes any nuance from the decision making. There is no room for critically analyzing risks versus benefits. It completely ignores that there may be benefits that outweigh the risks by throwing a blanket over the entire debate.
  2. No organization or scientist can ever guarantee something is completely safe because nothing is. Cherry pits and apple seeds contain cyanide. Should we ban cherries from schools because they are dangerous? No. We rationally weigh the health benefits of cherries against the potential risks. This is the same approach we need to use when debating whether or not WiFi should be allowed in schools.

Applying the precautionary principle to the issue of WiFi is deeply hypocritical when we ignore the fact that our schools are filled with things that have actually been scientifically proven to be harmful to our children. Children are injured each year due to punctures caused by pens and pencils, yet we do not ban pens and pencils in our schools because they serve an important pedagogical benefit.

We need to take this same balanced approach weighing out the pedagogical benefits of WiFi with the possible risks. When we do that, restricting WiFi can be seen as the equivalent of removing the library from our schools, and places crushing limits on our educators when it comes to choosing the best pedagogical tools to educate our children.

Government of Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency. “Natural Toxins in Fresh Fruit and Vegetables,” March 20, 2012.

Fisher, Sarah B, Matthew S Clifton, and Amina M Bhatia. “Pencils and Pens: An Under-recognized Source of Penetrating Injuries in Children.” The American Surgeon 77, no. 8 (August 2011): 1076–1080.

Seethaler, Sherry. Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort Through the Noise Around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies. FT Press, 2009.

32 comments on “The Precautionary Principle
  1. dyr2 says:

    funny you should cherry-pick cherries

    what you say about PP & its application is so off the mark, it would be hard to know where to begin in rebuttal

    but let me agree with you – PP does not apply to wifi-ing children & staff — it is way past the pt of precaution, now is time to talk of avoidance, protection, replacement, etc

    • Scott Leslie says:

      Daryl, clearly this issue is close to your heart. Is there someone close to you that you believe is suffering from the effects? I can imagine that would be stressful if you believed this. Indeed, we are all faced with a large multitude of risks, everyday, and as a parent I know when it is my children involved, it is difficult not to be over-protective.

      My understanding of the precautionary principle aligns with wikipedia’s definition:

      “The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an act.”

      While I understand how frustrating it must be to someone who deeply believes in the dangers of non-ionizing EMR, not only is there NO wider suspicion beyond the (very small, albeit extremely vocal) group you seem to belong to, there IS scientific concensus that there is no risk, no possibility of risk. There are some basic ways to challenge this – demostrate the mechanism of action for how non-ionizing can cause any of the things you claim they do. Do so without invoking mysterious, as yet to be invented force.

      Until there is some plausible linkage, there is no difference from your arguments to arguing that “we should stop letting people wear a particular shade of blue sweater to school because the frequency of the electromagnetic waves (e.g. light) they reflect may cause depression in those forced to look at them.” And at least in my example, one could make a plausible connection between the medium (light) and interaction with brain states (witness Seasonal Affective Disorder.)

      • dyr2 says:

        Scott, more fruitful discussion with you can be had after you dig in to substantive dissenting material that arguers of your side never seem to want to do, in reliance on info-filtration. Read what is adduced in, eg. the Bioinit. 2012, there are summary sections. Browse the compendium of sci abstracts. Search on the web a bit more and see how widespread and international the outcry is.
        I’ll check back on these pages later.

        • Scott Leslie says:

          I have read the BioInitiative Report. In fact more closely than I expect many of the folks arguing against wifi have. I agree with its critics; it’s quality is incredibly uneven. It mixes studies together that look at EMR in the 33Mhz to the 900 and up range, as if these were identical. It often cites studies that when you look at them, were done using clearly ionizing levels of radiation. Indeed many of the sections actually state that no positive connections with the purported health risks can be found. If that is the sum total of the “substantive dissenting material” (and my searches of anti-wifi sites indicate it is held up as the gold standard, pretty much the ONLY one) then it is unsurprising to me that it has not been received more favourably by the larger scientific community, who can’t ALL be “in on it.”

          • dyr2 says:

            “It mixes studies together that look at EMR in the 33Mhz to the 900 and up range, as if these were identical”

            this kind of approach is just that of the regulator you trust, they do not test each freq. but extra/inter-polate

            more germane are things like modulation pattern, cw vs pw, resonance, biovariability, cumulative exposures, and so on, effectively ignored by your regulators (actually, again, I must have said somewhere already here, your prov./local health bodies have unused regulatory power, they reflexively defer to Code 6, unexamined, such is the culture)

            if you indeed examined the sci lit you would see its own great unevenness, certainly no basis for assurances of safety

            the new bionit. as before is a compilation of individual scholars, so tight cohesion is not to be expected, it is in an singular genre, heroic actually in facing organized opprobrium, in sharp contrast to the en bloc opinions of info filtration groups you fall back on, the new bioinit’s made mightier than earlier version by the inclusion of so many prepared to stand with the originals, which list continues to grow

            “clearly ionizing levels of radiation”

            if you are referring to a pack of to my mind strange studies both applying eg xrays & rf, that is not of much interest here

            if you mean levels of experimental exposure are often high/very high, “thermally”: so, i agree, that is a sad fact of the built-in impatience of the lab world — will your group of wifi proponents fund a costlier long term study? yet there are many studies indicating low level rad harm, plenty, see eg just in this review from a few years back put out in nrc press

            long term harm has been known for more than a generation esp from older work in e. euro occupational research, see this Cdn doc even from the era, warning disregarded

            “no positive connections with the purported health risks can be found”

            indeed, it is built-in prob. with whole of biophysics & so much western sci as i see it – the “Humean” vulnerability on top of that, too; but this is exploited to the hilt in our get away with what you can prevailing culture – starter antidote to which are the loud voices e.g. of dangers of emf advocates

          • Scott Leslie says:

            Ah joy, Daryl, you are back. I had hoped your break might be a little longer.

            With your mastery of the science you are clearly an electrical engineer or bio-medical researcher. Have you published extensively on this issue? Can you provide some citations?

  2. NK says:

    Reading this I am so grateful for parents who brought to legislation the Anaphylaxis law – the Sabrina’s law. It took 6 years and it was not initiated by the Health Canada or school boards. Pupils at risk of anaphylaxis still have a responsibility to take care of themselves, but we all have a role to play in creating safer environments for them. Education and training enable us to be prepared for the unexpected and respond appropriately in an emergency. How many lives would be lost if we would still waiting for Health Canada to step up?

    Health Canada was not in a big rush to protect Canadians in cases like thalidomide, tainted blood, DDT, asbestos, even with BPA it took ten years to finally ban it as a precaution. When it comes to the kids can we go back in time if we are wrong again?

    I can certainly understand the fascination with new gadgets, new forms of technology. But does it mean that we have a right to make others suffer? When we know that there is something we can do to prevent this, we can’t live in a world of denial. We still have a choice available to us. Money should never be more important than a person. EHS is a reality of a 21st century.

    All you need to do is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, someone who suffer from RF presence. I think they deserve to have an access to education/work just as anybody else. A bit of compassion will only make this world a better place.
    But I guess no one can provide with “link” to compassion – either you have it or you don’t.

    • Scott Leslie says:

      The problem is, medical doctor’s don’t agree that “someone who suffer from RF presence” actually IS suffering from that. I have sympathy with people who are concerned that their children are hurting. I get why that motivates them to try to do something. But that doesn’t translate into then accepting that what they’ve identified as the source of the problem IS actually the source of the problem.

      Two different 2 surveys of multiple studies in which purported sufferers were asked to describe whether they were feeling anything both in the presence and absence of EMR ( cf Rubin, James; J Das Munshi J, Simon Wessely (March–April 2005). “Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: a systematic review of provocation studies”. Psychosomatic Medicine 67 (2): 224–32. and Röösli M (June 2008). “Radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure and non-specific symptoms of ill health: a systematic review”. Environ. Res. 107 (2): 277–87.) both showed they were unable to distinguish between exposure to real and fake electromagnetic fields.

      • dyr2 says:

        plenty of med drs are, esp in longer-exposed europe, many declarations signed even (see eg Freiburger appeal from a decade ago), but med profession with all its watchdogs is well known to be slow to admit new understandings, esp in NA

        leading edge in mainstream med is in euro., eg Dominique Belpomme at ARTAC in France, Austrian med assn even has a protocol on how to deal with ehs
        (see eg )

        rubin et al have been sharply criticized, one study they did had a “sham” exposure still emitting emfs! and unreported are those who abandoned participation in provocation studies – notoriously difficult anyway

        you have to look a bit more deeply, good that you have made a start (& don;t forget to check for researchers’ connexions to industry & abettors – 2/3-3/4 of independent research indicates harm, the opposite for those traceable to industry connexion! 3 studies now reporting on this)

        • Scott Leslie says:

          Please, please, slow down. You are rambling and incoherent. Complete sentences appreciated, if indeed you are out to converse rather than comment bomb.

          Please also quit citing Magda Havas as if she had credibility on this issue. It’s tiresome.

          • dyr2 says:

            I’m not citing Magda – who is a heroine on these issues, by the way, regardless of occasional inaccuracies sometimes of import but mostly small in context

            have a look/listen to the Parl HESA hearings on the dangers of wireless esp Apr 2010, you owe it to yourself if not done already, since this was a squandered Cdn do some political corrective, meetings 12 & 13 via

            at those meetings you will see on the side of right a witness from all levels, more general to microscopic, or here listed vice versa:
            Panagop. looking at DNA fragmentation, Golds. at cell electricity, Johans. with sci overview, Sasco as epidem., Magda with enviro sci overview, Therrien as citizen at the top – at the top, yes, a you & i must be when it is a ? of public policy, not only about sci

            Oct 28/10 meeting also had worthy sci testimony from Blank; if most of the rest was of little value

            overall the testimony was devastating even in such constrained circumstances to the status quo; there was political manipulation at the committee which resulted in the lamest of recommendations, (anyway basically ignored by the current crackpot govt)

            look – wifi & all exploitation of rf are amazing tech, but as with so much else in human hands, what should be of highly specialized use has been wildly magnified in its generality, and one grounds for rolling it way, way back are health & enviro effects

            have a meditative look a this graphic
            re the rf region, what makes us think that that need not be clear for biological flourishing altogether?

          • Scott Leslie says:

            Daryl, I hope others have an easier time understanding you. I do not. I guess you have so many comments to post on so many different sites it prevents you from writing coherently. In any case, I did in fact take the time right now to read both of the proceedings of both meetings 12 & 13 of the Commons Committees on Impact of Microwaves on Human Health. It looks like the same set of folks arguing both sides of cases, to little effect, except the Committees recommendations do at least offer you a platform to then approach various scientists, scientific and government bodies and ask them to act on their recommendations. Have you done that? Do you hav the rejection letters from these groups stating that despite the committees findings they don’t feel it necessary to do any more studies? These would be useful steps to take and offer a lot more credibility that this issue is being surpressed, rather than simply ignored.

        • dyr2 says:

          Just noticed – is this not rude – you are calling me by something other than my wordpress screen name. Why?

          The HESA recommendations were useless and spoke almost not at all to what they heard. Two Liberal MPs who could have been pivotal in supporting what NDP & BQ MPs might have recommended, were replaced at least sec by stronger establishment loyalists (who were not at HESA meetings to hear scientists’ testimony), leading to the limp result incl censorship of much submitted to HESA. Other mischief to report on that. But would you care? Whiffs of malfeasance seem irrelevant to you, even when dealing with protection of the young.

          Cf Council of Europe, after hearing similar testimony, report from May 11:
          Rebut that more responsible attack on icnirp (& hc) standards from a more august body.

          Somewhere else you poke at ‘EHS”. I regret that that problematic term prevails among advocates & clinically. Nonetheless, the ice is breaking in angloland as an Aussie tribunal just recognized it for purposes of award for occupational injury.

          In Israel, leaked to the press and all over mainstream, was an est 100,000$ out of court award for head injury from kill, er, cell phone use.

          What insurers backed away from long ago, anticipated “catastrophic” payouts, is closing in. And you want to push more on a vulnerable segment of the pop. while this cruelly plays out? Shame on you if that is the case. You must look past your comfort zone in reliance on info-filtration, if you are genuinely into getting at the heart of the matter.

          • Scott Leslie says:

            Is your name not Daryl? Hiding behind screen names is a favourite tactic of the VERY SMALL but VERY VOCAL community of anti-wifi adherents who insist on imposing their beliefs on everyone else about dangers that are not recognized by any of the bodies we’ve decided as a society set standards and policies on this. Doing so brings costs both infrastructural and also through the disadvantages wired access have. Calling you by name is simply trying to make it clearly how few are part of this very vocal minority trying to hijack the issue.

          • dyr2 says:

            Too much info for you, leslie? You don’t like small things? Have I messed up your tidy webpages? How small but unvocal of you to beg off arguing to the points. We have decide as a society? No room for dissent? If there is, then it is suggested you honour the essential place for dissent in our polity, and offer parents who don’t genuflect so easily to your authorities, a place for their children if they feel they must go to public schools, where there is exceedingly low manmade emfs – that would mean, wouldn’t ya know it, no wifi, the favourite toy of the hour.

            I’d rater hijack your webpages than see your followers get duped.

          • Scott Leslie says:

            Daryl, as various people have tried to make clear, we encourage you to pursue your crusade with policy makers and regulatory bodies in whose jurisdiction this lays. Local schools boards are not the place for this. I know you feel like you’ve been so convincing in your arguments, but you haven’t, and you are trying to convince the WRONG PEOPLE. Call this deference to authority if you like. Everyone, including yourself, defers to authority every single day by:

            – driving on bridges we trust that engineers used science to make sure they wouldn’t suddenly collapse
            – flying in airplanes we trust won’t fall out of the sky
            – using appliances trusting they won’t randomly shock us because they’ve been built to standards.
            – etc, the list goes on and on

            Have there ever been mistakes? Sure. Are there risks when choices are made? As with everything. But as the WHO page on “What are electromagnetic fields?” ( puts it:

            “most scientists and clinicians agree that any health effects of low level electromagnetic fields, if they exist at all, are likely to be very small compared to other health risks that people face in everyday life.”

            You claim a preponderance of evidence to the contrary. It’s not like people, including Health Canada, the Committee on Canadian Health, and many others, aren’t aware of these. Yet they have yet to be swayed. Perhaps that will change. I doubt it as the evidence isn’t as compelling as you make it out.

            Good luck, Scott

    • Clint says:

      NK, I agree with you – I am also grateful for those who brought in the anaphylaxis law as I have a son with life threatening allergies. However, there is an incredible difference between allergies and WiFi.

      Anyphylaxis is an actual, proven medical condition with symptoms that can be replicated over and over again. Give an anyphylactic kid a peanut in a blind study, and they will react. The same cannot be said for health conditions associated with WiFi. Symptoms anti-wifi advocates associate with wifi cannot be replicated in blind studies that would convince health officials that WiFi causes health problems.

      Additionally, there is no pedagogical lose to removing specific foods from schools. That is, there is no negative teaching and learning implication to banning peanuts in school, for example. However, I believe there is for banning wifi. There are strong pedagogical reasons to enable internet access, yet no pedagogical reason to have a peanut in a classroom. Peanuts serve no teaching and learning purpose. Wifi does.

      • dyr2 says:

        Yes, you agree then with the comment I brought form pioneer emf researcher, Frey, that it will take something like heads actually falling off for guys like you & your “health” bodies to be convinced. Let’s wait it out, on with the wifi! (And you’re a teacher, or talk about educating people?)

        • Clint says:

          Wait, wifi now causes decapitation? I missed that study.

          • dyr2 says:

            And you miss something else again – with your attitude, just as heads will not actually roll nor bodies pile up in the street like that directly due to these wireless exposures, it is not possible to get that you and your charges are in danger. It is not about protection from danger, but assimilating to the what the powers that be would have you assimilate to. Completely uncritical mindset on a critical matter, and you claim to be fostering the next generation of thinking minds. Heaven help us.

    • Clint says:

      I do have a great deal of sympathy for parents who are trying to identify why their child may be sick. I am a parent. I know the pain we feel when our kids are sick. We want to do anything and everything to help them get better, including exploring every conceivable option, both inside and outside established medicine.

  3. dyr2 says:

    I thought you were sayin’ g’bye, scott-o.

    You must not be correct about where authority lies re deployment in schools. Boards or likelier school principals must be able to say yes or no. Thus approaching them, where the buck likely legally stops, the ultimate say or power to have say is had, seems precisely where anti-school-wifi should focus, at least in part. (“Health” Canada is not only deaf, its predecessor, Health & Welfare Radiation Protection Branch, seemed to be the go-to place for leading US wireless pushers, afraid they must have been of their own EPA, before it was gutted. Canada ever the corporate-financial playground, servant to whichever empire is on top.) I dunno how it is in BC, maybe it is wilder than in Ontario, ed. ministry more directly dictatorial to boards & principals. But even with the power, few or none will buck the trend, which makes it an effective order from on high.

    When it comes to responsibility for prospective rf-induced harm, no one will take clear responsibility, everyone points to the other guy, and the industry & abettors slip up the middle, with guys like you effectively or directly egging them on.

    “Health” Canada puts out a Code. No one has to follow it except when it’s directly under fed. rule. Provinces all have direct overriding health jurisdiction, but none dare to examine the issue, and all defer like good sheep to HC. It takes NO expertise to dig in a bit, to the history, to the sci., to the personal accounts of harm, all piled up higher than for any other toxicant — and that is what makes it so tough for so many to admit that it ain’t as you’re being assured. Exploitation of the rf spectrum, it’s akin to $, almost everyone thinks in terms of it, it is hard to get people out of it even when their financial system is on the brink. Or akin to reliance on fossil fuels to a ridiculous extent, it becomes unimaginably hard how to do without or rearrange lives more sensibly.

    RF, manmade emfs generally, are far more dangerously xenobiotic than is close to admitted even in the sci lit to date. This promises to be the third great modernist undoing – re $, fuel, e-smog. You’re slow to get it, fine. Maybe you do get re the other pillars of modernity coming undone.

    But all we see from you is, well, counsel to go on being sheep-like. When it comes to disturbing what is at the centre of differentiating humans – the brain – being sheepish about that is not what one should stand for.

    Do you want me to spill study quotes all over your webpages? You’ll say, something like, if the socially-accepted experts say they give little weight to such studies, you’ll just buy that line.
    Add it up, asbestos, lead, thalidomide, tobacco, and on & on & on, your public health authorities in the main put industry & financial health ahead of public & enviro. It’s the culture of it all. It has been horribly compounded in the past generation by “risk analysis”, which relies on unexamined (dis-)valuations. (A good book tying these two topics together, rf standards & the infection of risk talk into public health, is one I might have quoted already, The Procrustean Approach by Don Maisch, available online.)

    No, when farther away authorities are deaf or abdicate, one has to turn to locals, so boards & principals seem exactly where to direct advocacy, Local boards of health , or whatever you call them in BC, would be good focal points, too. Bypass your medical officers, ultimate say I expect is in political hands.

    But again, I restate, I have put by now a wealth of material for your readers’ consideration, and next to nothing of it has been taken up. How can you educate responsibly without self-educating first? Responsible fellow citizens are crying out. At least you should campaign for giving them a choice, while you happily weaken by irradiation those under your “care”.

    • Scott Leslie says:

      Daryl, FYI, I unapproved your last comment because you’ve decided to descend into name calling. And as to spending all my time engaged with your crew, well, I have a job and a life.

      • dyr2 says:

        I don’t know what name-calling you mean. You, Mr Leslie, engaged first in unfair online play by venturing to name this commenter other than by posting name. I couldn’t care less that you claim to have identified me. But your tactic is just more of the same of missing the point, arguing around & failing to face the points raised. You must have missed that I have been playing on your own naming misbehaviour. The real reason for expunging comments of mine, must lie with the relative richness of content, compared to paucity shown in yours.

        Why don’t you & friends come clean about what connexions you might have to proliferation of wireless in schools? That would be a more relevant naming. What keeps you from standing to really face what is put to you?

        As for not having time, I tried to show that I was posting in a hurry before by using clipped or altered form, and that irritated you. So you must have noticed I have taken a bit more time to respond in a more orderly fashion. Is that getting too intimidating? At least hurried if partly difficult reply is better than running away. Someone had plenty of time to churn out these misleading webpages. Let him/her relieve you of your untenable position.

        I wondered straightaway out loud here whether you’d stoop to post removal. Why not return my post with problematic parts excised? Afraid of the content? Are you really trying to provide a place for democratic discussion in the public interest?

        • Scott Leslie says:

          Daryl, the only “name calling” I stooped to was calling you by your actual name, which you appear to not want to have linked to your views by choosing to post anonymously. You on the other hand have taken to calling myself and others not using our given names. I chose to not publish the post rather than alter it as altering it seemed to be an equally slippery slope. Siple solution, stop the taunting, trolling and name calling.

          “Connexions” [sic] to the proliferation of wireless in school? I do not work in K-12. Never have. I own no stock in any wireless companies or technology companies, never have. No part of my livelihood hinges on this. Neither does any of the other people I know who have commented on this site. As I have stated elsewhere, a few of us do work in the field of “educational technology,” in higher ed, e.g. the use of technology to enhance learning, and as such our “connexion” is that we’ve seen, umpteen times, the potential benefits that access brings. We’ve also had the misfortune to sit in some of the sessions where anti-wifi adherents brought their cases and witnessed the strategies of shoveling a bucketful of numbers and studies at non-scientists and then declaring it obvious to anyone what these mean.

          “Are you really trying to provide a place for democratic discussion in the public interest?” Not particularly. You have plenty of other sites you control on which to spread your message. Please, use those to point to this one and ramble on there. Comment threads are so easily hijacked by the likes of yourself, they do not lend themselves well to cogent discussion.

        • Scott Leslie says:

          P.S. Daryl, where did you get your PhD from?

  4. dyr2 says:

    I am forced to accept your evasion, but not before pointing out usual errors.

    I control no websites. I do happen to be able to write commentary in the public interest quickly, from having spent a good chunk of time doing the real research your group lacks, thus feel empowered and motivated.

    How could you possibly know my name? With don’t you disclose how you come to your surmise? Is that not fair play? This is wordpress and requires a login, that is why and old nom d’écran was used of necessity to login. Why would I adopt another name? Why does it matter? Why pick on me & not other commenters on the side of right? You are scoring an “own goal” with this.

    The slippery slope we are at the bottom of is in public wireless exposures — will you regret having been associated with harming the young, once even your authorities turn? Just doing your patriotic job. Your mono-dimensional arguments need supplement, and you are encouraged to repost the wrongfully expunged comment, no slope to slip on, I willingly submit to your censorship of the parts that offend you…or would that be all the substance brought that shames your lack of argument? Who’s calling whom names? Hijacker, troll, …

    • Scott Leslie says:

      Daryl, a quick google of your email address gives your name, your prolific contributions to many websites on this topic, your political party affiliations, even your street address. Perhaps all of these are incorrect and you are simply hijacking someone else’s email address to post to this site. It doesn’t reveal any higher degrees or scientific credentials associated with that name. Why to do this – it’s nice to know who you are talking to and what their agenda is.

      As to other users – some are using real names, some are using better pseudonyms than yourself. People have been asked a few times why they choose to do so. They haven’t responded.

      “will you regret having been associated with harming the young” – no of course not Darryl, clearly I am out to harm the young.

  5. dyr2 says:

    You surely know more about me than my supposed name. You tell us.

  6. dyr2 says:

    So what is my agenda? How would speaking of an address email & other contribute to anything other than simply more evasion?

    Theoretically neutral onlookers, look at the material put before you, beyond the info filtration that Scott & friends salute. If they dare to let comments remain all.

  7. Most people who are familiar with technology and blogging know that a troll is not a creature under the bridge, but rather this: