Twenty First Century Physics Meets Powerwatch

We return once again to the love of my professional life: Twenty First Century Science. In section P2 we study electromagnetic radiation which might seem like real science and indeed there are elements of it (once you get past the bit about testing sun-creams, that is). When we reach the activities relating to microwaves, though, my woodar starts going off.

There is discussion about the possible dangers of microwaves from mobile phones etc. The unit mentions that damage from microwaves is very difficult to ascertain but rather than conclude from this that if we can’t see any damage to human tissue then maybe it doesn’t exist, it implies that we don’t know what damage is being done.

The icing on the cake, though, is the COM environmental microwave detector. It will look suspiciously familiar to anyone who saw the infamous Panorama programme/Powerwatch infomercial a few months back. It is the little hand held job with the green, amber and red LEDs to tell you whether or not you are being irradiated.

One of my colleagues tested a microwave oven with it and reported that he had to retreat a couple of metres from it before the lights went to green. 

We are told that no-one knows what the safe level of microwave exposure is but the manufacturers of this device are obviously fairly confident they know. And indeed it would appear that they know what the dangerous level is.

A little internet investigation shows that this device is sold by a site with rather close links to Powerwatch and that it also sells antiradiation paint and other expensive items that will allegedly protect you from the alleged electrosmog that surrounds us.

The electrosensitivity brigade is fond of conspiracy theories so here is one for them: Would the sellers of expensive items to protect you from “electrosmog” not have an interest in convincing us that use of an ordinary domestic device, or walking around a town that is a broadband hotspot, will expose us to dangerous levels of microwave radiation?

I would have no objection to a device which merely gave a numerical result for the intensity but I feel that those red LEDs are intended to alarm. The syllabus itself does not suggest this particular device but it is appearing in the education supply catalogues, so this is the one that many Science Departments are likely to purchase.

I already have problems with the low science content of this syllabus but now it would appear that woo is being stirred in. And the government wonders why there is a skills shortage in this country.

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