Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Life-sentence for one mistake

What would it feel like to be forced to change your career, be prevented from working with the people you choose, in the job you love and are skilled at, all because, during a time when you weren't at your best due to illness, you made a mistake?

Today I met a lady who is trying to put her life back together after this pretty much happened to her. The mistake she made was, admittedly, quite serious and potentially dangerous, but in the end noone died or was harmed.

At the time the lady explained that she was suffering from depression, and had allowed herself and her home to get into a mess. An unfortunate accident alerted neighbours, who raised the alarm. Having 2 children at home meant that social services got involved, and the lady was served a caution for child neglect. and yet, rather than being treated with compassion and support, this single mum was made a pariah.

Of course when cases like Baby P hit the headlines we are all sickened and are desperate to see more stringent measures against child abuse. Remorselessly abusive individuals must be prevented from having access to children and other vulnerable people, and somehow the law must deal with this.

However when decent, ordinary people get into difficulties due to personal circumstances and health issues, it's extremely sad that they are tarred with the same brush instead of getting the help and support they need.

As a result of her mistake, as a result of others' insensitivity and prejudice, and as a result of inflexible new legal restrictions, this intelligent and articulate lady now finds herself with a criminal record, no career as she was sacked from her job, and total uncertainty about the kinds of references her former employers are writing for her.

Nevertheless she is taking action, looking for new opportunities for herself and not allowing herself to dwell on the injustice she feels she has experienced.

We all make mistakes. We'd like to think that we can be forgiven for them. Instead this courageous lady will carry a prison sentence around with her for the rest of her life.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bad Science plagues us once again

As Swindon becomes the first metropolitan area to have its own wi-fi blanket, there is a lot of public concern in the town about the safety of electromagnetic frequency radiation. Same with mobile phone masts. Noone wants a comms company to put a mast at the bottom of their garden, nor adjacent to the school their children attend.

Quite so. The inverse square law indicates that the closer one is to an emf transmitter such as a mobile phone mast or handset, or a wi-fi base station, the greater the power. And it's not necessarily a good thing to hang out there too long.

However the inverse square law also indicates that the power decreases rapidly with distance. So the power in the middle of the street 30m away from a wi-fi base station is 900 times weaker than at 1m. And a mobile phone's field is 10 000 times less 1m away from you than when its 1cm away from your ear.

This all seems like common sense. Furthermore emf radiation has been bouncing around the place forever, not just in the cosmic background radiation that has been bombarding us since the Big Bang, but also more recently in the TV and radio emissions we take for granted, never once thinking that having too many episodes of Eastenders bouncing around the ether might be in any way bad for our health. Ahem.....

So why oh why do certain alarmist members of the public choose to wave scare stories under our noses about the dangers of this and that radiation from too many transmission masts? Seeming technical experts write impassioned and authoritative sounding letters to local rags, whipping up public feeling against the encroachment of new technologies whose safety record hasn't been proven (similar to the Eastenders argument I would suggest.)

Upon closer inspection these correspondents' sources, themselves presented as 'technical experts' and members of this and that [pseudo] scientific community, are revealed to be pedlars of products to combat the adverse effects of the wrong type of electromagnetic radiation, to the tune of between £50 and £150 a whack.

Conspiracy theoirists abound, and are all the more convincing for their confidence and charisma. And what is astonishing is that their arguments become more compelling for innocent members of the public than the fundmental scientific facts freely available to anyone who cares to look in any Physics A level text book. The clue is in the difference between ionising and non-ionising frequencies. First type bad, second type not so, and also the type we're talking about with emf radiation.

I guess this is what Richard Dawkins would call the God Delusion - our in-built propensity to want to believe in a baseless unlikelihood over actually checking the ubiquitous and readily available facts.