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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Ignorance is spawning a climate of tech fear

From mobiles frying brains to limits on the mobile spectrum - it's all tosh

Written in a Vancouver diner and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service in London a week later.

Why are people predisposed to being damagingly negative rather than curious and rational? Perhaps it's because it's a lot easier and people really like bad news.

During a typical year I will attend and present at numerous professional conferences, as well as at company, government and university events. Of late I have noticed a very definite trend in the rise of negativity and hopelessness.

Frequently, a presenter will take his or her chosen topic and deliver it according to the following general formula:

  • The bogeyman is coming to get you
  • He is big and ugly
  • He is going to do bad things to you
  • It really is going to hurt
  • And there is nothing you can do about it
  • And there is definitely no escape

Having sat through at least 30 such sessions over the past months, I have noticed something very significant. The nay-sayers have all been wrong. Not in a small way, but in a big way. Indeed, they have been so wrong that I have been moved to challenge the presenters.

What then transpires is mildly astonishing. We are subjected to badly researched materials and facts, misunderstood data and statistics, distributions for data and phenomenon that are assumed to be Gaussian - bell-shaped or normal - but which clearly are not, vested interests and axe-grinding, and a general ignorance of the technology and current developments at the core of the topic.

I know I am not a polymath and I like to think that I know what I don't know, but I have always read widely, asked a lot of questions, challenged, and been happy to be challenged. To me, being wrong or off-centre is a learning opportunity and not an excuse to side-step or leave early. If I don't know, or I'm uncertain, I say so.

Let me give two examples from the same sector to highlight the problem.

Statement one
Everyone knows that mobile phones and radiation from phone masts will cook our brains

Response
Wrong. There is not a shred of evidence to this effect - quite the reverse. Roughly speaking - and highlighted by Bernard Leikind in Skeptic magazine - chemical bonds in the human body require well over 100 kJ/mol depending on temperature and type. Mobile phones and mobile masts, however, only deliver 0.001 kJ/mol - that's a 100,000:1 discrepancy.

Question
Why isn't this information published and widely accepted? Why do those chasing their tails looking for this non-threat continue to research and conclude that...

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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