Human nature vs. science

What do global-warming skeptics, parents who believe childhood immunization causes autism and cell phone antenna opponents have in common? The natural human impulse to accept science that confirms their preconceptions and dismiss that which does not.

The latest example of this phenomenon is the vocal opposition to placing cell phone antennas atop the Ashland Cinema building.

Opponents are convinced that radiation from cell phone antennas is a health hazard. The problem is, scientific studies have found no conclusive evidence of any harm from cell phone antennas.

On the same day that the Ashland Planning Commission approved the antennas and opponents vowed to appeal to the City Council, the results of a new study found no increased risk of cancer in children of mothers who lived near cell antennas while pregnant.

Not only is there little evidence that cell antennas are harmful, using cell phones themselves — which emit radiation directly into users' brains when held to the ear — has not been found to increase the incidence of brain cancer either.

In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded by cell phone radiation, radio and television broadcasts, wireless Internet transmissions and more. Ashland already is home to cell antennas. The only reason new ones were proposed was to improve cell coverage in that part of town.

None of that matters to those who have made up their minds that cell phone radiation is hazardous, or that human-caused climate change is a hoax, or that vaccines cause autism. Or, for that matter, that the vapor trails visible in the sky from passing jet planes are really evidence of a nefarious government plot to spray poison on the unsuspecting populace.

The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists is that human civilization is causing changes in global weather weather patterns. But those who cannot accept this simply dismiss the science as flawed or, worse, as deliberately manipulated for political ends.

On the immunization issue, a single researcher, since debunked and stripped of his medical license, fueled years of controversy by declaring that vaccines caused autism in children. To this day, some parents refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the benefits of preventing serious disease outweigh any risk from the shots.

Science has improved the lives of human beings in countless ways over the centuries. It has identified new health risks and found ways to prevent or eliminate them.

Sometimes, as in the case of cell phones, science cannot find clear evidence of harm. That doesn't necessarily mean no harm will ever be found.

But until it is, insisting that cell-phone antennas are harmful without science to back it up makes little sense.

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