One year ago, the parent of a Portland Public Schools student sued the district with claims a new Wi-Fi network in his daughter's middle school was poisoning her and potentially harming other students.
As WW reported, there's no scientific evidence for such claims (see "Wi-Fi Woo-Woo," WW, July 13, 2011). The parent, David Mark Morrison, who works as a rare-book dealer, is part of a pseudo-scientific movement that claims Wi-Fi and related technologies cause everything from brain cancer to infertility to digestive complaints.
Most studies that adherents cite as evidence haven't been published or peer-reviewed in reputable scientific journals. Some anti-wireless websites sell literature and protective charms, including amulets and crystals.
Morrison's case might have been easy to label as frivolous and, it seems, might have been headed for an early dismissal.
Not so. Portland Public Schools officials tell WW they have already spent $172,559 in public money to defend the district against Morrison's claim that PPS's Wi-Fi network has harmed his daughter.
The case against PPS has dragged on in U.S. District Court in Portland, with hundreds of hours billed by PPS's outside counsel, the law firm Miller Nash.
"The fact that the plaintiffs have so many purported experts, all of whom we had to research and depose, really added to the cost, as did the extensive discovery requests," PPS general counsel and board secretary Jollee Patterson told WW in an emailed response to questions.
The legal expense comes at a time when PPS is strapped, and the City of Portland recently diverted $7.1 million to help bail out the district.
Morrison did not return WW's message. Nor did his attorney, Shawn E. Abrell of Camas, Wash. Last year, Morrison told WW he thought studies contradicting his beliefs were corrupted by industry.
One Morrison expert PPS attorneys have had to depose is Barrie Trower, who claims he worked on a "stealth" microwave warfare program for the British Navy (noting he had no rank because he refused promotions) and was assigned to a secret British prison housing "spies, dissidents, international terrorists [and] gangland killers.â
Trower claims a bachelor's degree in physics earned in night classes, has been repeatedly turned down by Ph.D. programs, and says he recently traveled to consult with "the king in South Africa" on Wi-Fi dangers. (South Africa abolished the monarchy in 1961.)
PPS has its own $400-an-hour expert, Brown University professor of epidemiology David Savitz.
"In the case of Wi-Fi exposure," Savitz writes in his declaration, "there is no epidemiologic evidence whatsoever that counters the lack of biological support for a potential health hazard."
The school district's attorney, Bruce Campbell, argued in court filings that Morrison's experts present "fringe views outside the mainstream of science by witnesses who are not qualified to offer their opinions.â
In a written response to Campbell's motion to strike his testimony, Trower concludes flatly that "Wi-Fi uses a similar frequency to a microwave oven."
Sadly, though, you can't make popcorn with a Wi-Fi router.