The Cost of Pseudoscience

Much has been written about the scare tactics and pseudoscience of the anti-wi-fi campaigners. Most of the time, the discussion is around wasted resources and the potential for lost productivity in taking a technological step backwards. In Santa Monica, the cost is potentially huge in straight dollar figures.

Denise Barton has a number: $1.7 billion, plus another $1.7 million every month thereafter.

Barton, known amongst City Council regulars for her detailed reports during public comment periods, filed a claim against City Hall for that hefty sum alleging that new “smart” parking meters were impacting her health.

In the claim, Barton asserts that radiation from the wireless signals emanating from the meters, which is similar to Wi-Fi Internet or cellular waves, is causing ringing in her ears, ear infections and tightness on the back, left side of her neck.

Fist of all, this is an absolutely ridiculous number, even if there was any good science behind the claims, which there is not. The Assistant Finance Director, Don Patterson, wrote to the Santa Monica Daily Press.

“The Wi-Fi is very low level and only communicates between the meter and the sensor, about 5 to 8 feet,” Patterson wrote.

Furthermore, the cellular communication only occurs when the meter is in use, like when a person uses a credit card to put time on the meter or when a car arrives or departs.

“It’s the same as someone using a cell phone walking on the sidewalk,” Patterson wrote. “The meters comply with all necessary regulations related to wireless communication.”

The new parking meters are using the latest in wi-fi and computer technology to update the way we park and pay for that parking.

The devices first grabbed headlines across the country when it was revealed that sensors installed in parking spaces zeroed out meters after a car exits its spot, ending the friendly practice of leaving time on a meter for the next parker.

City Hall defends them, saying that the new technology will help make parking easier and more convenient by providing real-time information about which spots are open and which are taken.

That prevents people from circling around in search of parking, which causes traffic and pollution.

The meters also open up spots on the street by preventing “meter-feeding,” the practice of staying in a spot longer than the allotted time by putting more money in the meter.

There are pros and cons to the technology, but public health is certainly not one of the cons. As a commenter on one site put it: “1.7 billion dollars will buy a lot of tinfoil hats.”

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