I love Northern California and have lived here most of my life. But as enlightened as this part of the world likes to think it is, we have a strain of know-nothing technophobia that masquerades as progressive politics.
I'm thinking of two recent events: One is San Francisco's grandstanding decision to make cell phone retailers post meaningless numbers as a shield against an unproven cancer threat; the other is the outbreak of whooping cough in Marin County, blamed in part on parents who refuse to inoculate their children.
Sure, it's easy to hate the wireless companies for their high prices and terrible customer service. And if there were a documented health risk associated with cell phone use, those profit-hungry bozos would be as willing to fess up to the problem as the tobacco companies were to acknowledge the link between smoking and cancer. But no one has proven that cell phone use poses a health hazard, and quite a bit of science says it doesn't.
It's equally easy to hate big pharma; we all know how quick it is to sacrifice profit for the public good. But like it or not, science has proven over and over again that vaccines don't cause autism, and when administered properly save lives -- not only those of the kids who are vaccinated, but the lives of children and adults they otherwise might infect.
This is an IT blog, so I won't go on about the vaccine issue. But I'll bet that many of the same people who won't let their kids get a potentially life-saving shot are also beating the drums about the supposed dangers of cell phones.
And here's the bottom line: If the San Francisco ordinance stands, it will set a precedent that could result in a stream of lawsuits challenging everything from the building of cell phone towers to the use of wireless equipment in your own home and workplace.
Cell phones? Not in my backyard
Giving consumers information is a good thing. But that information should be useful.
The ordinance passed in San Francisco requires retailers selling cell phones to post information on what is called the "specific absorption rate" (SAR) of its products. The SAR rates measure the amount of radio wave radiation absorbed into the user's body tissue.
What's wrong with that? Quite a bit. To begin with, very few consumers have any idea what SAR means. Even if they do, posting a number that has no real context falsely indicates that a phone with a lower rating is safer than one with a higher rating. What's more, the FCC already limits the amount of radiation a cell phone may emit.
Those warning signs don't provide useful information, and late last week, the CTIA, which represents the industry, filed suit to overturn the ordinance.