Local politics has a new voice that wants decision makers to value science over ballots.
Scientific Victoria was a notable presence at the recent Capital Regional District board meeting where, for four hours, emotional presentations were heard about the safety of tanning beds for people under the age of 18.
“Our goal is to encourage, or to advocate for, the consideration of science in local decision-making,” said David Bratzer, founder of Scientific Victoria, a recently-formed citizens’ group that asked the CRD board to base its votes on peer-reviewed medical research.
Scientific Victoria’s first issue was supporting the bylaw banning underage indoor tanning.
Founding members include Karen Dearborn, president of the Quadra-Cedar Hill Community Association, and Dominic Bergeron, a Camosun College biology department chair with a PhD in molecular biology.
Bratzer is recruiting qualified members of all stripes for both boards, including people with masters degrees or higher in hard sciences to join the scientific advisory team as he begins to speak publicly on Scientific Victoria’s second cause, also related to radiation.
“There was credible medical evidence, suggesting that young people are more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation, but the opposite is true with Wi-Fi,” he said. “There is no credible, peer-reviewed evidence showing that long-term exposure to Wi-Fi causes harm.”
Bratzer, who works in law enforcement, says his motivations for founding the non-partisan organization stem from School District 61’s decision to form a committee devoted to investigating potential health risks of Wi-Fi. The technology had already been deemed safe by an internal review in the spring.
The prospect of completely banning Wi-Fi from schools is both unlikely and potentially very expensive, said school board chair Tom Ferris, who also sits on the Wi-Fi committee.
“I think the fact that someone’s relative is ill is a motivation for wanting to investigate the issue, but it’s not necessarily a reason for (changes to be made),” Ferris said.
Ferris calls the issue, as with any debate involving children’s health “very difficult,” adding that the board will likely be most interested in scientific studies during its decision-making processes.
Karen Weiss, whose teenaged son has “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” spoke on Jan. 24 to the school board’s committee on Wi-Fi. She wants Wi-Fi replaced with hardwired alternatives.
Plenty of research confirms the risks of Wi-Fi, she says, adding that her son’s symptoms, including powerful headaches that come on when he’s near cellular towers, speak for themselves.
“He’s not a magician; he can feel it,” Weiss said. “We’re not making this up. We don’t want this to be happening.”
Bratzer, quoting potential costs associated with replacing the technology, became genuinely concerned that Wi-Fi may be banned throughout the district — even though agencies such as the World Health Organization, Health Canada and every provincial medical health officer has stated there is no empirical evidence that Wi-Fi poses a risk.
“If it starts in our schools then it may actually spread to other institutions, so there is a bit of a concern here that this may be just the beginning,” he said.
Wi-Fi itself may still mark the beginning for Bratzer. The long-term goals for Scientific Victoria don’t include re-hashing the sewage debate but will likely involve future environmental issues.
Scientific Victoria isn’t the only organization aiming to bring scientific research to the forefront of policy-making.
Last October, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada launched PublicScience.ca, a website devoted to the inclusion of scientific research in federal politics.
“They’re doing on a local level, what we’re doing on a national level, so we’re working in parallel here and I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Ray Lauzier, chair of the science advisory committee of the Professional Institute of Public Science Canada. “In one way it’s neat to see that there’s a local initiative but, in another way, it’s distressing to see there’s a need for a local initiative.”
PublicScience.ca was formed in part as a way for scientists in the civil service to share information with the public.
In recent years, there has been a movement within government to channel information through communications specialists.
That has resulted in some information not being released, Lauzier said, creating the perception that politicians are manipulating how scientific work is being made public.
For more on Scientific Victoria, see scientificvictoria.org.