Arrogance of the elites
After reading Hsu Shih-jung’s (徐世榮) opinion piece, it occurred to me that a similar event is happening in the US as well (“Experts vs the people: democracy in jeopardy,” March 17, page 8). President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is hellbent on signing an economic cooperation framework agreement while US President Barack Obama is equally determined in ramming through sweeping changes in healthcare. While the people in Taiwan are supportive of a vibrant economy and the people in the US want to see improvements in healthcare delivery, both heads of state have gone far beyond their constituents’ comfort zone.
The concern for the majority in Taiwan is that its sovereignty will be lost if its economy is overly influenced by China, while the majority of Americans either don’t want or have concerns about government taking on a significantly greater role in their healthcare. Ma wants to cut a closed door deal with China without giving Taiwanese the option of a referendum. Obama wants to pass healthcare legislation with “50 percent plus one vote.” What both of them fail to realize is that on issues with major societal ramifications, a broad supermajority consensus is preferable, maybe even required. While they both have comfortable majorities in the legislative branch, neither of them has that broad public support.
What is really sad is that both men are traveling around their respective countries in a futile attempt to convince the public that their expert opinions should override any concerns. The arrogant “just trust me” or “you will assimilate” sales tactics simply won’t work. As Hsu said, in this age of easily accessible information, the elite cannot simply ignore a well informed public. Those who go against the wishes of their people on major issues risk being removed from office either by vote or by force.
Rectifying bad science
This morning I got an e-mail from Michael Repacholi, former coordinator of the WHO’s Radiation and Environmental Health Unit, regarding a story in the Taipei Times (“Taipower accused of endangering health,” March 14, page 2). He wanted to help Taipower clarify the issues.
In 2008, I wrote a book, Electromagnetic Phobia (電磁恐慌), published by the National Taiwan University, and Repacholi offered a foreword for it, after C.K. Chou, chairman of a division of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a top-notch authority on electromagnetic field safety, explained and translated the content to him.
The aim of my “popular science” book was to correct the misinformation that people have received from some activists and media, who say “electromagnetic fields [EMFs] endanger health.”
There are international safety standards on EMFs, supported by the WHO and tha IEEE and most developed nations. These standards have been long tested, based on copious peer-reviewed evidence. In contrast, activists’ claims are based on little evidence or on non-scientific anecdotes, or even guesses, but activists make their assertions loudly and the media love them.
As long as an EMF is within the standard, there is no need to worry about its health effects. We rarely encounter EMFs that go beyond the standards in our daily life. We are well protected.
Many people are worried about EMFs, and they protest against these “innocent” power or communication facilities. People’s health, society and the nation are seriously hurt, not by EMFs, but by inaccurate perceptions. We need to learn the “real” science behind EMFs’ effect on health. We should feel at ease being neighbors of power substations or mobile-phone base stations, or using microwave ovens and the like.
I encounter these kinds of protests from the media almost everyday. It is very sad that our society is wasting resources — manpower, time, media coverage — on needless, unproductive issues. Lawmakers usually are not science majors, and tend to side with scared people, often for political reasons. I have been invited to many “public hearings” held by lawmakers, purportedly to resolve conflicts, but what usually happens is more emotional protests are generated.
All in all, it is messy and a waste of resources.
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