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A field trip for September

James Randi is embarking on a whirlwind cross-Canada lecture tour hosted by the Center for Inquiry Canada, starting in Vancouver. Randi will be signing books and speaking on human psychology and how easily it can be manipulated to make people believe in psychics, UFOs, ghosts, and other paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.

This unique and provocative lecture is not only educational, but highly entertaining. It attracts persons of all educational and social backgrounds and provides a rational perspective on the seemingly paranormal and otherwise unexplained happenings in our day-to-day life. Randi illustrates how a “politically-correct” attitude has blinded most scientists, who should know better, to the fact that they are not proficient at detecting fraud, often managing to fool themselves when the prize is sufficiently attractive. And he puts up a million-dollar award as bait!

6:00 PM Doors Open
6:15 PM Book Signing
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Lecture and Q&A

General Public: $15 advance, $20 at door
CFI Canada Members: $10

To purchase tickets, please visit

Thursday, September 22 · 6:00pm – 8:30pm

Denman Cinema

1779 Comox Street
Vancouver, British Columbia

“The dangers of smart meters” event June 15, 2011

(Update: In this article I point out logical fallacies in the film we saw. For more skeptical information about this issue please see this article on Skeptic North.)

I counted about 25 people at this presentation, described on the YYJ Skeptics in the Pub Facebook group as lecture on wireless hydro meters. Patrick, Fiona and I were the (identified) skeptics in attendance.

The lights were out when we got there, and stayed out the whole time we were there, which made it heard to take legible notes. I thought of using my iPhone, but I worried I might be asked to leave if I did. The emcee didn’t introduce himself, nor did he say which organization was sponsoring this event, nor did he give an agenda for the evening.

Jetliner exhaust in the sky

Apparently, the trails left by airliners are "chemtrails" left by government agencies out to make us sick. But that's a conspiracy for another day ...

At the front of the room a computer was set up to give a presentation. The background wallpaper on said computer was something about “chemtrails.” Patrick and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. “It’s gonna be a fun night,” I thought.

There was someone walking around monitoring something (radio frequencies I suspect) with a device. It seems this is a crowd that doesn’t go much for wireless technology of any kind. We wondered if they would zero in on our phones, but they didn’t.

The movie:

Turns out they wanted to show us a video from Google movies – which turned out to be a full-length “documentary” called Public Exposure: DNA, Democracy, and the Wireless Revolution (watch it if you truly have nothing better to do with your time). There was an URL given: It turns out to be a defunct site that is now a holding page for all sorts of products that will shield you from nasty radiation of all kinds (Tin foil hats? Wait – they’re coming!).

Here are some random notes (and my added observations) from the video:

  • Film is about 10-11 years old. Latest date named in film is 2000.
  • Radios, TVs, radar and microwaves emit energy over 10,000 times what we we were exposed to before all this technology came about, and “our cells are like antennas” catching them all.
  • Shot of a baby’s crib. Dire music.
  • A breast cancer survivor on why she got sick: “my hunch is military” i.e. radar stations.
  • “Many wealthy people can afford all the toys. We’ve surrounded ourselves with toxicity,” says breast cancer survivor.
  • “Scientists say…” (said many times; unnamed scientists of course). RFs are “oscillating fields” unlike the earth’s electromagnetism. That’s why they’re more dangerous even though of comparable intensity (Moving the goalposts fallacy).
  • Neil Cherry – New Zealand (bad audio!) appears. (Neither he nor anyone else in this film ever describes the actual mechanism of cell/DNA damage that’s supposed to occur from RFs. It’s just asserted.)
  • Soviets have (had? Geez this film is old!) “radio-frequency weapons capability” – they irradiated the US embassy causing leukemia in two ambassadors. (Consistent conflagration of the effects of ionized versus non-ionized RFs. Just for the record, non-ionized RFs like the ones emitted by TVs, cell phones, smart meters, wifi signals are tens of thousands of times below dangerous levels. If the Soviets did irradiate the embassy it was with ionized radiation, the dangerous kind.)
  • There is apparently a “Radio Frequency Sickness Syndrome.” More on that later.
  • Calif legislator (Didn’t catch name, didn’t want to watch the film over again to get it.): “we take action with less information than other standards of evidence. All we need is a potential impact.”
  • Linda Evans appears as celebrity spokesperson. (Autism gets Jenny McCarthy and this movement gets Linda Evans — in a film at least 10 years old?)
  • “Microwaves alter DNA. Microwaves alter the brain.” (These are asserted without explanation or citation throughout the film. There are some “scary” pictures of RF-“radiated” brains of babies, children and adults but it’s never explained why this is dangerous. It’s just asserted without evidence.)
  • Former cell phone exec gets brain cancer, attributes it directly to his cell phone use, without any evidence. (Then why aren’t all cell phone users getting brain cancer? Or at least a substantial chunk of us?)
  • “Maybe we don’t have conclusive evidence – but we have all these studies.” (This was the most hilarious statement in the film actually.)
  • An Asian scientist relates his experiments on RFs and rat DNA published in 1998. (Looks choppy – like they’ve heavily edited his comments. Reminds me of “Expelled” treatment of Dawkins, Myers et al. Wonder what we’re NOT hearing from this guy’s remarks.)
  • Previously-seen CA legislator demonstrates installation of copper-based paint and silvery curtains in her office to protect herself from RFs. (Oh geez – Where are the tin foil hats? Wait – they’re coming!)
  • Motorola funds research that “spins the science” and covers up the “DNA damage.”
  • (At this point I’m thinking − aren’t they here to talk about smart meters? Wifi wasn’t even invented yet when this film was made, let alone smart meters.)
  • Blake Levett, a self-described “science journalist” (which irked the real science journalist with us!) “We’re 20 years away from holding this industry accountable”
  • “The younger generation in 10 years’ time will be damaged.” (Ok it’s ten years on — where’s the evidence?)

The “tin foil hat” brigade

Tin foil hatThis was at the point in the movie where it got extremely strange. In demonstrating the debilitating effects of “electrosensitivity” they talked to a Swedish guy who’d taken to wearing a stainless steel suit complete with spacey headgear, all day every day. That was it for me, it was an hour into this “lecture” and I really had better things to do with my time. I would have liked to listen (politely) to what the people in the audience had to say, but I couldn’t wait for the gong show video to be over.

The trouble with “science-y” documentaries

The biggest problem with the video was the heavy reliance on the fallacy of “correlation equals causation.” It was simply asserted (many, many times) that because the increasing rate of cancers is correlated with increases in radio-frequency exposure (cell phone towers, radar stations, etc), therefore RFs must be causing cancer, or that because someone got a cell phone and held it to the right side of their head, that’s why they got brain cancer on the right side.

Never mind the actual mechanism whereby this could happen has never been shown to exist, or that there are any number of factors that could cause clusters of cancer: the documentary even failed to show evidence that the cancer clusters in question really were epidemiological anomalies. If RF-emitting towers. Devices, etc really do cause cancer (or even “electrosensitivity”) why aren’t similar clusters found everywhere there are a preponderance of cell phone towers and radar stations?

The aftermath

I left the screening at the tin foil hat – er – stainless steel suit guy and didn’t wait for the movie to end. I was followed by Patrick and Fiona, the real science journalist, who had confidently left her son playing games on her smart phone in another room of the community centre. We chatted for a while, then Patrick and I retired to the Beagle for a beer. We had already agreed we would try to take a low-key approach (it was hard to contain our chortling though) and be respectful of the people in attendance. However, we’re not sure we have the stomach to sit through incredibly boring pseudo-documentaries and then sit through the inevitable credulous discussion afterwards. We certainly have a lot of respect for the people who do.

We vowed to be on the lookout for this kind of misinformation at public meetings like school board or city council, and make sure to provide rational voices to counteract the misinformation.

Tin Foil Hat photo by EightK, used under Creative Commons license.
“Chemtrails” photo by taomancer, used under Creative Commons license.