Monday, January 06, 2014

What You See Is All There Is.

Or Night of the Radio Frequency Dead

Remember the Alar scare from the 80's?  Feed mice enough of the stuff they used to spray on apples to choke a hippo -- about 5000 gallons a day scaled up to human proportions,  and they sometimes might get sick and so therefore according to what passes for logic in America, it's TOXIC and so much so, there were instances of people calling up toxic waste facilities to ask whether apple juice was too dangerous to dump along with the nuclear waste.  Flush it down the toilet and the world might just end. Of course in the real world, nobody really could demonstrate any ill effects.  There are after all enough people who don't feel well at one time or another to keep the Chicken Littles clucking about toxins and selling us things to make it go away. People still believe it's deadly, but then people still believe lead foil on the outside of a wine bottle will make the wine poisonous and that degradation of  someone's DNA would turn it into OJ Simpson's and WiFi at Starbucks will lower your sperm count.

Does eating Gluten give you "grain brain" and make you fat?  No reason to think so but that some entrepreneur wrote a book and advertises on the internet, but all it takes is a handful of people who say they feel good after eating Doctor Bonkers' breakfast cereal to provide "clinical results" and don't bother to teach them about statistical regression or the Placebo effect or deprive them of that holier than thou status one gets from a gluten free diet.  I mean there's a "study" of mummies that proves wheat killed off the Egyptian aristocracy even though it's total fact-free bunkum. It's all I know, so that's all anybody knows.

Think we've learned anything?  No, we haven't and with statistical and clinical support or without it - especially without it -we're still willing to fear that something is making us sick even if we're not sick - something other than the double bacon cheeseburgers with special sauce or the cigarettes or all that TV and video game couch time. Besides it doesn't matter if you buy the magic berries of the week and it must be true if it's on Oprah.  I'm tempted to say there is no truth, no science, no knowledge any more, only marketing.

I remember when TV would make you blind and color TV would give you cancer and you would get melanoma  even on a cloudy day in Yellow Knife wearing a shirt and ski mask. Nuclear testing would produce giant ants and medical advance would piss off God as much as building a ziggurat over 70 feet high once did. None of us are old enough to remember the scares about how taking a train that went over 20mph would make your blood boil and the Telegraph would leach away the electricity from your brain and give you neurasthenia and of course there were dire predictions about electric light and the Telephone - and Ohmagawd, now there's radio and there are "activist groups" to make sure we're properly misinformed and hysterical.

Absence of evidence always seems to trump evidence of absence.  That cell phones after extensive research don't really seem to cause cancer or kill bees, has little effect on belief nor does the fact that police radios put out far,far more power and the police aren't keeling over from neuresthenia - nor the ham radio operators with their 1500 watt transmitters for that matter. That Fluoride in the water doesn't melt your bones and that the Measles vaccine really does prevent measles and condoms really do work for prevention of disease is as demonstrable and more so than than the hard fact that Neill Armstrong didn't take one great leap for mankind in some studio in Pasadena.  It doesn't matter. As Barnum said, there's one born every minute and not one of them has a clue about what a 'study' is, what statistics teach us or what scientists are doing these days.  

An article in the local paper the other day told us about the "environmental activist group" that was suing to opt out of the "Smart Meter" program that eliminated meter readers and that can tell the electric company if your power is out and what you peak usage time is.  They use "radio frequencies" insist the activists and although not one of them can cite any evidence that the microscopic amounts of RF these meters use will in any way affect anything living or dead and despite the many years of research and the 100 years of experience users of high power radio equipment have logged, they're convinced that these meters will produce immense ecological damage.  Of course in this town there's a contingent that is sure the meters are only there to let Obama listen to your thoughts.  I wish I were joking.

These are the same kind of people that will become hysterical about "cell phone frequencies" without any idea what those frequencies are, how they behave, what other equipment uses those bands at much higher power levels and are likely to mumble something about roulette when asked about the inverse square law.  Are they the same people who talk about 'going green' and  'saving the planet' when they unplug their cell phone charger to save a milliwatt hour per year?

Who knows?  So anxious is the human mind to find causal relationships in chaos.  When one unrelated thing follows another, it's enough and as the man from the paper says, "maybe these meters are the reason we have so much more autism."  Maybe indeed and the less information he has about radio frequency emissions or human developmental problems the more speculation seems justified by random events. One always prefers a plausible story to a discussion of mathematical probability and the more so when the plausibility is based on ignorance.  As Daniel Kahneman calls it:  WYSIATI, or What You See Is All There Is.  If I don't know the science, there is no science.  I've always called it the "I don't know, therefore. . ." fallacy or the Argument from Ignorance, but either way if I don't know exactly how the pyramids were built, even if someone else does, it must be space aliens and by the way, my front porch light burned out yesterday and my knee hurts this morning -- those compact fluorescents emit radio frequencies after all.

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