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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Mobile In Gas Stations - Anatomy Of A Techno-myth

The Economist writes, The debate over the safety of mobile phones has little to do with science. Excerpts with edits and comments:

Adam Burgess, a researcher at the University of Kent, in England answers the question- Can mobile phones cause explosions at petrol stations?. For the concern rests not on scientific evidence of any danger, but is instead the result of sociological factors: it is an urban myth, supported and propagated by official sources, but no less a myth for that. Mobile phones started to become widespread in the late 1980s, when the oil industry was in the middle of a concerted safety drive. A precautionary ban on the use of mobile phones at petrol stations was imposed,in large part, a response to the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, when 167 people died in an explosion on an oil platform off the Scottish coast. The worry was that an electrical spark might ignite explosive fumes.
By the late 1990s, however, phonemakers—having conducted their own research—realised that there was no danger of phones causing explosions since they could not generate the required sparks. But it was too late. The myth had taken hold.Despite the lack of evidence that mobile phones can cause explosions, bans remain in place around the world, though the rules vary widely. Such concerns are part of a broader pattern of unease about mobile phones. There is a curious discrepancy, Adam Burgess notes, between the way that such phones have become indispensable, and the fact that they are also vaguely considered to be dangerous. The safety of mobile phones would appear to be not so much the province of the hard science of physics, as of the soft science of sociology. Some belief's are indeed very difficult to dislodge!!.

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