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.
- 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.
- 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. http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/consumer-centre/fact-sheets/specific-products-and-risks/natural-toxins/eng/1332276569292/1332276685336.
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.