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University Bans wi-fi as Health Concern 693

BaltikaTroika writes "A Canadian university has banned wi-fi, since the university President sees a possible link between electric and magnetic fields and brain tumors. According to the head of the university, "the jury's out on this one, I'm not going to put in place what is potential chronic exposure for our students." Is anybody outside of this university's administration concerned about this?"
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University Bans wi-fi as Health Concern

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  • by Benwick ( 203287 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:58AM (#14782583) Journal
    But it's not like all those other electro-magnetic waves just hit the walls of the campus and stop dead in their, uh, tracks...
  • by LackThereof ( 916566 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:59AM (#14782585)

    Better ban cordless phones, too, and everything else that uses 2.4 Ghz.
  • by Chalex ( 71702 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:59AM (#14782590) Homepage
    Have they also banned cell phones? Because students tend to hold those next to their heads instead of on their lap. Since the power drops off as 1/r^3 (roughly), the distance between your brain and the antenna is a big deal.
  • More tags (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MeanMF ( 631837 ) * on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782591) Homepage
    [+] Tinfoil, helmet
  • DIfference? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kickboy12 ( 913888 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782593) Homepage
    How's wifi different than any other radio signal? Sure, it's a different frequency and bandwidth, but radio waves are passing through us all the time. Are they gonna ban radio stations now cause it might be cancerous?

    Seems a little far-fetched.
  • by EraseEraseMe ( 167638 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782594)
    Carcinogenic inks in the paper
    Vending Machines
    Pesticides on the grass
    Asphalt roads
    Air Conditioning
    Natural Gas heating
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782595) Journal
    I don't know of ANY wi-fi product that even radiates half a watt. What a pack of blithering luddites.

  • What about TV? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782597)
    Better watch out, 50 years of ABC broadcasts are gonna leave you sterile!
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:01AM (#14782599)
    But Canucks really can't take the risk of losing any more brain cells.

    What? This thread is going to be stupid Canadian jokes, stupid American jokes, and some dufus trying to prove how smart he is by showing some fucking thing about ionizing radiation.

    We ought to send those guys some aluminum foil hats.
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:03AM (#14782609)
    I've read the article, and this, I hope, is a joke.

    There are many benefits to studying at Lakehead University. Ubiquitous wireless Internet access, however, isn't one of them.

    I'm sure living in a grass hut is nice and all, and yes, everything (might) cause cancer.

    This place deserves what's about to happen. I hope, maybe, that something was taken out of context. Maybe. Otherwise I don't even know where to start.

    100% safe? NOTHING is 100% safe. Nothing is even 100% certain in science, except maybe that you will fail dynamics if you don't do your homework.. heh

  • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:09AM (#14782626)
    See, now we have to pan wireless keyboards and mice... oh, and cordless phones, too - those operate on the same bandwidth as wireless networks, so obviously they're a HUGE problem. Seriously, this is just being afraid of new technology. I guarantee you this guy never thought about all the wireless stuff being used CONSTANTLY by people on campus.

  • by Raindance ( 680694 ) <johnsonmx&gmail,com> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:15AM (#14782658) Homepage Journal
    You're absolutely right.

    And aside from this proximity issue, cell phones often get above 1 Watt of output. Wifi devices tend to be between 20 and 100 miliwatts.

    Anecdotally, I get a terrible headache that lasts for hours if I talk even 30 seconds on a cell phone. I'm probably not typical, but I'm certain cell phones aren't as harmless as most folks (and regulatory agencies) think.
  • most stupid ban (Score:3, Insightful)

    by beast6228 ( 472737 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:20AM (#14782677) Homepage
    This is the most stupid ban I've seen in a long time.

    Yes, the high frequencies that wireless networks use can be dangerous to cells,since higher frequencies and radio waves are more dense. but basically the whole spectrum can cause damage as well. As we speak now, there are radio waves passing through our bodies. These come from television, amateur radio, broadcast radio, public service radio, cell phones and other wireless services.

    Wireless networks are generally low power and you would have to be sitting directly near your antenna before you would be affected. A cell phone will probably fry your brain faster, since it's right next to your head.

    An amateur radio operator told you that!
  • by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:30AM (#14782715) Homepage
    There's a possibility that anything could be dangerous. There are a lot of studies on the effects of electromagnetic radiation. Not *one* ha shwon any harmful effects at the levels we're here talking of. (indeed not one has shown harmfule effects at a level 100 times higher than the one we're here talking of.

    If we are to ban everything that is "possibly" dangerous, then we need to ban everything. Literally.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:30AM (#14782721)
    Except it's not a point source and in the near field, power increases with distance to a maxima, and in the transition field, power is inversly proportional to distance. Only in the far field does it revert to the standard inverse of distance squared.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:34AM (#14782735)
    "the jury's out on this one, I'm not going to put in place what is potential chronic exposure for our students"

    No, the jury isn't "out on this one". That would imply there is evidence that WiFi causes any sort of health consequences- and further, that it is equal to evidence it does not. That's simply not the case.

    People have been looking for this supposed cancer/mind-ray/whatever link to cell phones and other wireless devices. They still haven't found it. That doesn't say "the jury is out"- it says "research conducted thusfar has found no evidence."

    It's like doing a study on whether there are little green moon men. Twenty research projects are conducted, scouring the moon with telescopes and satellites, and researchers say, "well, we haven't seen any green moon men." Then some nutjob comes along and says that "the jury is out on whether there are little green men on the moon!", simply because the researchers (like proper scientists) guardedly said "we didn't see any moon men", not "there are no moon men."

  • Re:DIfference? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @03:11AM (#14782870) Homepage
    Different frequencies of radio waves get absorbed by different things. Microwaves, X-rays, ultraviolet light, and gamma rays, for example, are small enough to be absorbed by our bodies, so they're a potential health concern. Radio waves transmitted by radio stations are much larger so they can work their way around things which are in the way, and need long antennae to be absorbed, so aren't a health concern.

    Also the amount of waves you send is important as well as the frequency. WiMAX, for example, operates in the same band as a technology generated by the military to incapacitate enemy troops(!), but it couldn't be harmful because it's not aimed in any direction in large enough amounts to have any noticeable effect.

    But yeah, banning wifi for health concerns is bogus. I'd expect this from a scare tactics journalist but not from the head of a university.
  • Re:Should I Be (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Mathiasdm ( 803983 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @03:14AM (#14782881) Homepage
    Since you're posting on slashdot, you won't have much use for them anyway!
  • Re:DIfference? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by austad ( 22163 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @03:23AM (#14782909) Homepage
    Your analogy makes no sense. A lightbulb emits light from the UV to the IR range, and a laser emits a specific frequency which could fall anywhere in there. IR is less dense (wavelength-wise), but it will still burn you. I don't understand where you are coming from here. A laser is powerful at lower wattages than a lightbulb because of its focused directional beam, which you mention, but then go on to argue that higher frequencies are more directional, which they may be, but have you ever seen the radiation map things for a 2.4ghz antenna?

    Anyway, it's in the millwatt range, and people aren't putting their heads or their crotches on the access point and nothing is going to happen. This guy that banned wifi is a complete idiot.
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @04:10AM (#14783039) Journal
    If he's worried about electromagnetic waves he should ban electrical use on campus, magnets, and wave a compass around all steel desks and filing cabinets.. then have them degaussed (someplace else, of course, to keep the evil degaussing waves away).

    And, of course, inspect all staff for magic magnetic bracelets and fire those wearing them. Except those working in the school's Department of Magick.

  • by beeblebrox ( 16781 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @04:44AM (#14783136)
    I'd ask him about his/the school's financial interests in payphones, calling card marketing to the students, student ISP et cetera.

    I'm not sure what the situation is in that school, but I remember one school in the US (SJSU) where the phone system on campus, including dorms, was owned by the school. Your telephone bill came not from AT&T or MCI, but by SJSU. In another case, in a university in London many years ago, the regular BT payphones in halls (dorms) were replaced by some other company's boxes, presumably under some contract where the school got some (legal) kickback for the exclusive contract.

    Such a setup would make for some suspicious conflicts of interest now that WiFi phones are available, including ones that use Skype.

    I'm not saying there's anything other than innocent Luddism going on here, but it's worth a look under the carpet just in case.
  • by Jordan Catalano ( 915885 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @05:00AM (#14783191) Homepage
    Problem is, at the distances for cell phones, YOU'RE the one doing all the absorption.
  • Re:DIfference? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak ( 773371 ) <obsessivemathsfr ... .net minus physi> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @06:03AM (#14783338) Homepage Journal
    How's wifi different than any other radio signal?

    Because it's a powerful new technology. I'm not kidding here. This is how non-techs actually think about these things.
  • "... president Fred Gilbert won't allow it until he's satisfied EMF (electric and magnetic fields) exposure doesn't pose a health risk, particularly to young people."

    The article makes it obvious he was trying to be a big hero at a town hall meeting. In actuality, he knows nothing about electromagnetism, but is not afraid to pretend that he does. We see a lot of that in recent years, as people pretend to know more about computers than they do.

    Anyone worried about radio waves causing cancer can try to make that theory work. There is a huge barrier, however, in the form of a very very small number: Planck's Constant []. Planck's constant = 6.626068 × 10-34 m2 kg/S. It's that 10**-34 that makes it difficult for low-energy electromagetism like wireless transmissions to interact with chemical reactions. Thirty-four zeros is a LOT of zeros after the decimal point.

    Off topic: I've linked to the Encyclopedia Britannica above because the article about Planck's constant is very short. The article in Wikipedia is long. I've frequently seen the Encyclopedia Britannica be misleading because of the severe limitation placed on size of the articles due to paper costs. Wikipedia does not have that problem.

    Cheney: Killing small animals and Iraqis for fun and profit.
  • Let's do the math (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @08:19AM (#14783595)
    What really worris me is a university president that is ignorant of basic physics and math. Let's do a back-of-the-web-page calculation:

    Assume: Sunlight is electromagnetic radiation too.

    Full sunshine hits you with about 1000 watts per square meter.

    Assume: Your body has one square meter of frontal surface area (John Belushi, not Kate Moss).

    So on a sunny day you're getting hit with 1000 watts of electromagnetic radiation, heating you up considerably. Much as if you were in a restaurant-strength microwave oven.

    Assume: I'm too lazy to look up the exact power, so let's assume a Wi-Fi antenna puts out one whole watt (greatly exaggerated).
    Also assume you're standing three feet from the antenna.

    A rough guess: your body is going to intercept about 1/40th of the emitted radiation.

    So we have on the one hand, sunlight at 1000 watts, and wi-fi at 1/40th of a watt, a difference in intensity of 25,000 times.

    And while exposure to sunlight for like 10 years will eventually cause wrinkles and skin cancer, very few students or staff stay in school for the proportionally requisite 250,000 years, three feet from a hot-spot antenna.

    More likely you'll die of terminal boredom.

  • Re:DIfference? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lahvak ( 69490 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @09:01AM (#14783703) Homepage Journal
    How's wifi different than any other radio signal?

    It costs the college money to implement, they don't have the money, so they are looking for any excuse so they won't look bad for not having it.
  • by beyonddeath ( 592751 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @09:25AM (#14783810)
    If you have ever done any research on universities in canada you would know that lakehead isnt exactly the best school to attend, either academically or otherwise. So this is no real surprise as they are just trying to appeal to some strange subset of youth that think cell phones are dangerous to use so as to boost admissions.

    The way I figure at least these people will get a little education, better than not attending a university at all, so let Lakehead have its coffee.

  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @11:57AM (#14785056)
    Wow. What a body count.

    The posts here read like a grassrooting effort by some telco, except it's probably just a bunch of ignorant geeks who believe whatever they're told by big multinationals and their own beloved government. Oh, it hurts to read this site somedays. . !

    There have been a lot of studies by reputable researchers which suggest that low power EM has numerous detrimental effects on the nervous system which have nothing to do with ionizion and cell destruction due to microwave heating. There are other mechanics [] at work.

    Yes, I've met hysterical protesters who have used super-soakers to shoot magic indian water at cell towers. They do look silly. --As do hoards of poorly informed parents with bad research and high emotions.

    But even sillier are people who cannot make the distinction between a valid concern and an emotional protester with a squirt gun. Think: What if somebody came along jumping up and down with a goofy hat and spittle flying from his mouth insisting that the Earth orbits around the Sun? Would you be so disgusted and put off that you would instantly flee into the welcoming arms of the alternate corporate/government sales pitch for a Flat Earth? You might think you wouldn't be fooled, but the evidence of every day public behavior strongly suggests otherwise. A good example is the current war in Iraq; a lot of people here bought that pack of lies when the government came selling them. Indeed, most people garner most of their knowledge from television, and television has a vested interest in misleading us.

    Honestly. A little critical thinking from all the so-called skeptics is in order here, I think.


  • A poem of sorts... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HamOpMW ( 879501 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @12:37PM (#14785490)
    Fred Gilbert still sees no problem with cell phones, bluetooth headsets, or the standard satellite dish(s) at most Universities (wifi uses on avg 100mW), but the wifi has got to go?

    Oh, don't forget the occasional lightening storm, or solar flare (or the "northern lights") but the wifi has got to go?

    Not to mention the municipal wireless network (used by police, fire, and more) brodcasting at at more than 1 watt, but the wifi has got to go?

    And least we forget... The HUGE head of Mr. Gilbert, which is now creating it's own electromagnetic poles, but the wifi has got to go?

    It's very hard to understand how this guy made it to the position he's in. I can't imagine a guy (who probably stands infront of the microwave at home (900Watts or more)) saying I won't allow wifi unless you can prove it doesn't hurt anyone. That's like going into surgery and coming out telling the doctor, I don't trust medications, and won't be using anything you prescribe. But anaesthesia, that doesn't count.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:22PM (#14785885) Homepage Journal
    It's probably like those people who think they're allergic to everything artificial. They'll buy a used car because they can't smell it offgassing, but of course it's all plastic all around them, it is offgassing (which it will do until it's been entirely depleted by heat and UV damage) and they're driving around through a world full of artificial pollutants, they fill their own fuel tank, et cetera. Their belief that they're allergic to all this stuff is so strong that they cause a reaction. I personally am allergic to both cats and dogs, but that allergy was affecting me before I even knew what an allergy was...
  • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:47PM (#14786118) Homepage
    "Ever stop to check who pays the bills for those two studies that counter every study showing a problem?"

    That's an ad hominem attack. If you have a scientific basis for your objection, I would really love to read it.

    "Subthermal levels of radiation can still affect the biological function of polar molecules, which can in turn can cause carcinogenic compounds to end up where they don't belong"

    Where is it that these carcinogenic compounds DO belong, exactly? You're waving your hands.

    "Radiation does not have to cook an organism to harm it. It simply has to cause it to malfunction."

    Now demonstrate that the radiation from wifi repeaters is more harmful than, for instance, exposure to the Sun.
  • by geobeck ( 924637 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:04PM (#14786294) Homepage

    This comes as the British Columbia Institute of Technology, or BCIT [], is about to introduce its own Mechanical Engineering degree for those who have completed the two-year Mecanical Design diploma. Previously, the only way for a Mechanical Technology graduate at BCIT to finish his Engineering degree in two years was to transfer to Lakehead.

    Let's look at the pros and cons of finishing your degree at Lakehead as compared to BCIT:


    • Well-established degree program


    • Summer school bridge program required
    • No wireless Internet
    • A tin-foil-hat president
    • Moving from Vancouver, BC to Thunder Bay, Ontario for two consecutive winters

    Anyone else see a slight enrolment falloff coming?

  • by Wilson_6500 ( 896824 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:43PM (#14786655)
    Someone who doesn't know that electromagnetic fields include magnetic fields will likely not be able to comprehend a deep mathematical development of the fact. Unless they're a math major, they won't even get past Grandparent's "tensor" in his first paragraph. Science gets a black mark every time a scientist responds to a layperson's question with a development that buries the layperson in what they will take to be garbage.

    I think a better response would be "No, they are the same thing. The proof is extremely boring, but maybe this example/anecdote/etc. will make it clear." Use a thought experiment if you can; don't give a full treatment unless you know you're talking to someone that should have a background that will allow them to understand what you're saying. Failure to do so makes scientists look arrogant and detached from reality, and the last thing any scientist needs these days is to be dehumanized.

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