Factors that risk being left out of the equation

May 12th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, electrosensitivity, mail, medicalisation, scare stories, statistics, times | 173 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday May 13, 2006
The Guardian

“Electromagnetic fields stemming from gadgets such as kettles, computers and microwaves, contribute towards a cloud of unseen emissions – even when they are switched off.” It’s a sinister idea, and “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” is sweeping the nation, or at least the Independent and the Daily Mail last week. Symptoms include fatigue, tiredness, headaches, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances: and since these are real symptoms, causing genuine distress, the problem deserves to be considered seriously, and carefully.

There are two things the newspapers left out of their stories: the first is the scientific evidence, and the second is a very crucial nuance. We’ll deal with the evidence first, because science is “hard”. There have been 31 studies looking at whether people who report being hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields can detect their presence, or if their symptoms are worsened by them. A typical experiment would involve a mobile phone that was hidden in a bag, for example, with each subject reporting their symptoms without knowing if the phone was on or off.

31 is a good number of studies, and 24 found that electromagnetic fields have no effect. But 7 did find some measurable effect, and because I have a reputation for pedantry to uphold: in 2 of those studies with positive findings, even the original authors have been unable to replicate the results; for the next 3, the results seem to be statistical artefacts (details below); and for the final 2, the positive results are mutually inconsistent (one shows improved mood with provocation, and the other shows worsened mood). It’s a slightly obsessive form of value for money you get here, but it’s value nonetheless.

Meanwhile the “nuance” here is in whether recognising distress is the same as acknowledging causality. It’s easiest to see with examples. According to the Daily Mail, Health Protection Agency spokesman Dr Jill Meara “said household appliances could be health hazards to some. She advised those with a condition called electrical sensitivity to stay away from such devices such as kettles and microwaves.” As far as I can see, what she actually said was: “There is no proof that the symptoms are caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields, but people still have real symptoms. There is sufficient uncertainty that it is worth telling members of the public practical things they can do to reduce exposure in case they feel they are suffering from these fields.”

The Mail go on. “The WHO, meanwhile, has described electrical sensitivity as ‘one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences’. It ‘takes seriously’ concerns about the health effects, adding that ‘everyone in the world’ is exposed to the emissions, while ‘levels will continue to increase as technology advances’.” And yet, in the very same report from which they are quoting, WHO make it clear that there is no scientific evidence to link the symptoms to electrical fields. In fact they say this: “EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual.”

This is a frightening area for any compassionate person to write in. Of those who play to the evidence, the the Today program on Radio 4 says this: “sceptics fear they are preying on the fears of people who are ill and desperate, another manifestation, they say, of the hypochondriac society.”

That’s harsh. I don’t think people who report being hypersensitive to electrical fields are hypochondriacs: I think they have real and distressing symptoms, but I also think, in the light of the evidence above, that electromagnetic fields probably aren’t causing those symptoms, and they may remain unexplained for the moment.

But explanations are what everyone wants, and not just for reassurance and meaning: in the age of science, it’s as if our culture demands that we have a biomedical explanation to justify the very existence our symptoms and distress, otherwise they’re simply not valid. If there is no real explanation, then perhaps a “placebo” explanation – like “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” – can have almost all the same properties as a real one.

Statistics:

The 31 studies looking at whether electromagnetic fields can have effects on sensitive individuals are examined in this excellent review paper from 2005:

iddd.de/umtsno/emfkrebs/rubin2005emf.pdf

Before we look at the apparent positive results in 3 of the 31 papers, it’s important to remember that none of this is to “trash” those papers, or ridicule their authors: they are not in the same category as a Gillian McKeith article, and these are technical criticisms of the kind you’d hear at any academic journal club taking a critical look at their work. These points are all also covered in the discussion section of the review paper above.

In one case there is the question of whether it was appropriate to use a one-tailed significance test. Using a one-tailed significance test makes the assumption that electromagnetic fields can only have an effect in one direction (for example, if you were measuring “mood”, then it would assume that EM fields could only possibly worsen your mood, and not improve it). This, I would argue, is not a valid assumption, with such an illusive and inconsistently measured effect as sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. A two-tailed significance test allows for the fact that the exposure (electromagnetic fields) could have an effect in either direction, and is more appropriate. One-tailed tests are often more likely to give a positive result, which is why it is wise to be cautious and only use them when you are sure the effect you are measuring could only go in one direction, to avoid false positives.

In the other case there is the issue of multiple significance tests being performed. This is a similar problem to the one we considered a few weeks ago here in the discussion on cocaine use doubling (according to the front page of The Times): essentially, the more significance tests you do, the more likely you are to turn up a positive one merely by chance.

And lastly, a personal note: the symptoms that people are currently attributing to electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unpleasant and often disabling, even if the electromagnetic fields are not the cause of them. Calling people who believe they experience symptoms because of electromagnetic fields “hypochondriacs”, weak-minded, or oversensitive: is offensive, unhelpful, and most damnably of all, untrue. Denying the reality of people’s symptoms is similarly offensive and unhelpful. I will give no quarter on this.

EDIT March 2007:

Another 5 studies have come out since that review was published, all negative. They are:

Rubin GJ, Hahn G, Everitt B, Cleare AJ, Wessely S. Are some people sensitive to mobile phone signals? A within-participants, double-blind, randomised provocation study. BMJ 2006; 332:886-889.

Frick U, Kharraz A, Hauser S, Wiegand R, Rehm J, von Kovatsits U et al. Comparison perception of singular transcranial magnetic stimuli by subjectively electrosensitive subjects and general population controls. Bioelectromagnetics 2005; 26:287-298.

Wilen J, Johansson A, Kalezic N, Lyskov E, Sandstrom M. Psychophysiological tests and provocation of subjects with mobile phone related symptoms. Bioelectromagnetics 2006; 23:204-214.

Regel SJ, Negovetic S, Roosli M, Berdinas V, Schuderer J, Huss A et al. UMTS base station-like exposure, well being and cognitive performance. Environ Health Perspect 2006; 114(8):1270-1275.

Wenzel F, Reibenweber J, David E. Cutaneous microcirculation is not altered by a weak 50Hz magnetic field. Biomed Tech (Berl) 2005; 50:14-18.

EDIT July 2007:

A 37th provocation study came out last month:

Oftedal G, Straume A, Johnsson A, Stovner LJ. Mobile phone headache: a double-blind, sham-controlled provocation study. Cephalalgia 2007; 27:447-455.

Negative. Same results as all the others.


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173 Responses



  1. EoR said,

    May 13, 2006 at 12:11 am

    Of course, the scientific process is too longwinded and careful. Much better to have helpful media types to trumpet their scare stories to give us all “electromagnetic sensitivity”. Currently doing the rounds here in Australia are reports of a number of cases of brain tumours at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Coincidentally, the building they work in also has a mobile phone tower on it, and we all know how dangerous those are. The obvious and immediate link has been made and, no matter what is found as a cause (if any) the public will only remember the screaming. For the interested, reports are at www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200605/s1636828.htm and www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2006/s1637532.htm

    Which is not to say that the phone tower isn’t causing brain tumours, but there seems to be no evidence of a causal link. Which has never stopped the media.

  2. hairnet said,

    May 13, 2006 at 8:15 am

    Do these papers make any attempt to define an ‘electromagnetic field’. Sitting in front of a light bulb will bathe you in electromagnetic waves, what increased levels of electromagnetic field are they considering? 2x, 3x or an order of 10??

  3. hairnet said,

    May 13, 2006 at 8:19 am

    HAve just scanned the paper.
    It mentions EMF only in vague terms which I find irritating. If this was a study on poison X then I would expect levels and amounts involved to be written up. A line such as ’15 People were exposed to /some/ poison’ would in my mind be unacceptable. Unless you deliberatly targetting the study at psychological effects.
    Maybe this mentioned in more detail in the original papers?

  4. jeremymiles said,

    May 13, 2006 at 10:29 am

    In my experience, the only reason people want to use a one tailed test is because it halves your p-value, and therefore gives you a statistically significant result.
    Bland and Altman (not Bland and Bland, as it says on the paper) writing here: bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/309/6949/248 say “In general a one sided test is appropriate when a large difference in one direction would lead to the same action as no difference at all.” This is clearly not the case in these studies – if it was found that kettle leads were good for us, we’d soon have people charging extortionate amounts of money for them (oh, hang on …).

    jeremy

  5. JQH said,

    May 13, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    I would like the journalists on the Mail and Independant to explain how electomagnetic fields are generated when no current is flowing. If they ever tried measuring the intensity of an electromagnetic field they would have noticed that it drops to zero when the current is switched off.

  6. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 13, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    hairnet: if somebody suspects a phone is triggering their symptoms, then a phone is the right thing to use to assess that. the studies expose subjects to the sources which they themselves suggest are the triggers for their symptoms.

  7. RS said,

    May 13, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    “one-tailed tests are often more likely to give a positive result”

    ‘Often’?! I can think of only one situation where they aren’t.

  8. hairnet said,

    May 13, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    But ben, that person is saying they have x symptoms because of exposure to y. How on earth can you make the logical step to it must be EMF doing the harm? A test of exposure to mobile phones i could just about swallow, but exposure to /the/ EMF? surely a competent experimentalist could not take it seriously?

  9. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 13, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    person x is saying they have symptoms because of exposure to y: expose them to y and see if they get the symptoms.

  10. hairnet said,

    May 13, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    But when writing yout experiment are you allowed to use such a vague term as EMF? Where did the experimenters get the term from? Do all experimenters just take the word of the people with the complaint?

  11. Fyse said,

    May 13, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    I whole heartedly agree that dismissing people as cranks is unfair and unhelpful. If people are suffering then there is a reason of some sort behind it. I’m curious what you see as the potential cause for the increase in “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” though. Do you think the reality is a wide range of conditions that media hype is causing people to now attribute to EHS, where they would previously have been without an explanation? Or do you think the media exposure of EHS has caused psychosomatic symptoms in concerned citizens? Perhaps a combination?

    hairnet – I haven’t read the article, but I see nothing wrong with what Ben is saying. Person A says “I get nauseous whenever I put my mobile in my pocket and it’s turned on.” To test this you put a mobile in their pocket without telling them whether it’s turned on or not. You are testing whether the symptoms they suffer are caused by the thing they attribute them to.

  12. Mojo said,

    May 13, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    “It’s a sinister idea, and “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” is sweeping the nation, or at least the Independent and the Daily Mail last week.”

    Not just the Indie and the Mail; guess which national newspaper printed this last week: “Aside from this, dangers are thought to stem from the fact that we ourselves produce an electromagnetic field and any electrical device that produces its own field – such as electric blankets, phones and computers – may clash with and disrupt our energy”.

  13. Hector Ballast said,

    May 13, 2006 at 9:41 pm

    I’m not an expert but would like to add some comments in the hope of informing the debate.

    EoR: “Which is not to say that the phone tower isn’t causing brain tumours, but there seems to be no evidence of a causal link. Which has never stopped the media.”

    It’s more the reverse. You do get the occasional sensationalist headline but the reason you cant see the evidence for it is because the media don’t report the substantial evidence of an association, preferring to report fear, anger etc.

    Hairnet: “Do these papers make any attempt to define an ‘electromagnetic field’. “

    Electric fields measure in volts per metre (or equivalents that are hard to translate) and magnetic fields measures in microtesla or Gauss.

    The debate rages about health effects but the government recognizes from the Draper pylons study (that pooled together lots of other studies thus giving them enough data to make finer judgments than these studies could make individually) that a residential exposure of 0.3 microtesla is associated with doubling of child leukemia rate. Ben will say that association isn’t necessarily causation and he’s right. But the risk is there and mechanisms by which EMR could cause cancer and othe illnesses are in fact quite well known. If magnetic fields do cause cancer in children, at whatever level, its very likely they can cause other illnesses in both children and adults.

    JQH: “I would like the journalists on the Mail and Independant to explain how electomagnetic fields are generated when no current is flowing. If they ever tried measuring the intensity of an electromagnetic field they would have noticed that it drops to zero when the current is switched off.”

    I’ve a meter that measures magnetic fields and if I put it about a foot from my blasting hi-fi it measures about 0.3 microtesla (yes the level associated with a doubling of child leukemias, which is why I wouldnt use it as a pillow). When I switch the system off it off it remains at the same level. Only when the hifi is unplugged does the measured magnetic field level drop to zero-ish. Guess the current is flowing right up to the off switch (told you I wasn’t an expert). My electric razor measures just as high but of course its only on a few minutes a day not round the clock like eg pylons.

    Mojo: “Not just the Indie and the Mail; guess which national newspaper printed this last week: “Aside from this, dangers are thought to stem from the fact that we ourselves produce an electromagnetic field and any electrical device that produces its own field – such as electric blankets, phones and computers – may clash with and disrupt our energy”.”

    It might help to realize that every cell in the body, and that of every other living organism, functions and communicates using minute electric currents. Organs too, like the heart and brain. In addition brainwaves work at frequencies similar to the pulsing frequency of phone masts. Once you accept this, the idea that such technology could influence biology is plausible. In fact, it’s a dead cert that there are some effects – for example its now accepted that mobile phone microwaves damage brain cells and human DNA.

    The mobile technology emits microwaves. For electric blankets the EMR are magnetic fields. It’s a question of the level of exposure and the degree of susceptibility of the individual. Incidentally a computer with standard VDU emits both microwaves and a magnetic field which about a foot away is of the order of 0.3 microtesla – which is why I’m using a laptop.

    Cheers!

  14. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 13, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    hector ballast (great name): i made no mention of the entirely separate question of whether electromagnetic fields cause cancer, we could review the evidence on that another time, but your move to conflate this issue with the entirely separate question of “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” is – forgive me – rather woolly thinking. it kind of reminds me of how journalists writing articles about magnet therapy always have to mention MRI scanners and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the same breath…

  15. Hector Ballast said,

    May 14, 2006 at 12:43 am

    Er, thanks Ben, but I wasn’t directly referring to your article but to some of the responses – you will see I addressed them directly. I mentioned cancer as following the pylons study it was an example of an accepted association between (electro) magnetic fields and illnesses. It is relevant to the topic of ‘evidence’ you and some of the posters made so much of. The magnetic field from kettles will be of similar strength at the right distance. Also, one of your posters mentioned brain tumours and the supposed lack of evidence.

    So – no stain on my character, well not a wool-shaped one anyway.

    What’s the opposite of conflation? I ask because journalists writing articles about electrosensitivity always mention knee-jerk reactions and tests while ignoring the more serious complaints associated not with sudden burst of electricity, but rather with chronic (longer-term) effects of the EMR that sufferers more frequently complain about.

    Wait, you did mention them – “Symptoms include fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances” – but that was the Daily Mail…. :-)

  16. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 14, 2006 at 10:55 am

    here is a long and abusive circular email i’ve just received from Rod Read of the pressure group “Electrosensitivity”.

    i have been extremely careful to separate out two issues in my article on electromagnetic hypersensitivity:

    1. are the symptoms are real, distressing, and worthy of careful attention? very much so.

    2. are the electromagnetic fields the cause of them? careful examination of the evidence suggests they are not, and that the information on this has been misrepresented in the media.

    given how clear and unambiguous i have been in separating out these two questions, it is extremely interesting that he deliberately conflates them again, and angrily accuses me of denying people’s symptoms.

    i am beginning to wonder if this is a deliberate rhetorical act on the part of the Electrosensitivity lobby, and it really will be interesting to see if people go around accusing me of holding such offensive, unhelpful, and intellectually untenable positions as “the symptoms arent real”, after i have made my position on this so clear.

    You are offensive and illogical.

    Reference: ‘Bad Science Factors that risk being left out of the equation’

    Guardian 13.05.06

    Yes, there is the slightest shift in your obdurate position, you have been doing your homework Ben. Well at least the Independent, Mail, HPA and WHO, there is much more as our trustee Professor Henshaw (advisor to the HPA) makes clear that “a huge and substantive body of evidence indicates a range of adverse health effects” from electronic smog.

    If you choose to read our attachments (they may be copied below) you may ‘make good progress’ by term’s end, and not leave factors out yourself.

    ‘Choice’ is central to this science. How is this ‘equation’, as you call it, set-up and employed “that is the question” to incorporate old Will.

    What you ignore is that all science takes place in a sociological context which influences the shape of any equation, how it is formed and performed, and thus outcomes. Social/economic/political/commercial pressures apply, like in art too, always, though less in some spheres but much much more in this one, you ignore this factor.

    And you are offensive, add insult to injury, because you deny the validity of our EHS sufferers experience, hard-won and punishing experience, you cause hurt just like the trivialising of Lucy Mangan,(G2, 09.05.06) and our sufferers tell me so.

    Granted you have a better cause, scientific integrity.

    Brian Stein (Daily Telegraph twice last year, 24.01.05, 08.11.05 see Nic Fleming) does not use an electricity-free office to run a £500 million pa turnover company because he is deluded! Or uses ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ as a placebo through faulty reasoning, there is “a real explanation”, which as you say “everyone wants”. It is “not just for reassurance and reasoning” and it is biomedical.

    Not ‘rocket science’ either, proximity to EMF sources makes him (and others) ill, simple, accept that, start there and the equation is different.

    You search for the “Why?” and “How?”. These are aetiological questions, as with most other illnesses. Other illnesses which do not have to justify their existence, argue they are ‘real’, because they do not threaten massive corporate profits and global telecoms companies freebooting enterprises with safety regulation, by even being asked.

    I doubt Brian Stein or Sarah Dacre (Independent 07.05.06, Mail 08.05.06) or any of our 255 others are grateful for your patronising remark “I don’t think people who report being hypersensitive to electrical fields are hypochondriacs” Just deluded I suppose. Very compassionate I am sure, what are you like when heartless? Is this your delicacy?

    Yes I am angry, who is this mysterious ‘they’ you quote from Radio 4, is it me, us? “Sceptics fear they are preying on the fears of people who are ill and desperate, another manifestation, they say, of the hypochondriac society…then, there is no concluding quotation mark…and it goes on “that’s the harshest assault of all”. Well it is and it feels it is on me and others who represent victims doing similar work. So lay off Ben, and Radio 4, you lay me out like some exploiting maggot sucking on contemporary sickness. I ain’t.

    Your colleagues Joseph Harker and Murray Armstrong sportingly offer me a 550 word ‘reader’s response’ my effort to do justice to this came out at 700, so may not benefit your readers. You have a regular column to pound away at us as the mood or latest manipulated ‘scientific’ report pops up ‘fits’ and pleases you.

    This is unfair to all of us you malign.

    The aetiology of many illnesses is difficult to unravel scientifically, cancer not least, which is in this EHS issue too. But they start with an acceptance there is a prima facie case and then different and perhaps more fruitful ‘equations’ will be employed.

    The original meeting of forty scientists architects medics etc., nearly three years ago (17.09.03)at the Royal Society of Medicine, debated and decided “Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is real, not imagined”, and that is where we started from, it was our genesis as ES-UK, a support and campaigning group was needed. NOT preyers on the gullible. The experts examined how anecdote and reportage initiated the formulation of hypotheses, something was there about which questions were being asked, answers were needed, people were in pain and confusion. Then science comes in with the formulation of scientific testable repeatable and all the rest approaches.

    This particular debate has been stood on its head and that we maintain is because of the billions and gadzillions involved, mostly in the hands of the telecoms companies, and subtly employed through influence and a hundred other ways. Not you Ben, we are not paranoid and think you are paid, but others are and very handsomely. We know this fuelling of scientific doubt and mockery goes on, as insidiously as electro-smog itself, invisible and odourless, you could say “odourless but it still stinks”.

    No money is poured in our pockets, oh no, certainly not in ours, I ply my evil trade for free now as you and others like you, Lucy Mangan, Professor John Adams of “this is psychotic crap” fame, (Telegraph 08.11.05) have frightened off our potential charity funders by feeding this deny and delay agenda ‘psychologising’ and ridiculing a real physical reaction you could wake up and have tomorrow, just as all our others did.

    As Brian Stein puts it in the same telegraph article and you would demand

    “The one thing the scientists and authorities don’t want to do is talk to people like me who are affected. If they did they might find a way to prove that the condition is actually real.”

    End.

    Previous communications, filling the picture follow.

    murray.armstrong@guardian.co.uk

    Having read your slick and evasive response to another objector to what Lucy Mangan has said we wish to add our own objection, and request your often sensible reader’s editor does a turn with this.

    Do you have any understanding of what a red-hot issue this is?

    Consider the following:

    Because the piece is small means nothing.

    It still adds insult to injury to the 255 registered sufferers with us, victims of electromagnetic field over-exposure, you are labelling them wackos when they are ill, part of their problem is its non-recognition, and mockery.

    Your logic is incredible, incredibly awful, are we to take it that whatever topics ‘holistic healers and the like’ have as favourites is therefore disqualified from serious discourse?

    By your logic if I advertised curing you of ‘Guardian reading tendencies’ alongside ‘pet aromatherapy’ as part of my curious holistic therapeutic enterprise then that habit would be trivialised by association and all thinking buyers would cease their silly behaviour.

    The fact you acknowledge along with Lucy that both the Dept of Health and the Health Protection Agency are actively working on reports might give you cause for reconsideration of her and your dismissive attitude. Indeed as you say after these reports ‘the situation might become clearer’, with the sober attention that means they consider worth devoting. Conclusions can be expected in the direction of serious recognition of the dangers, but anyway it is not ‘fairy-tale’ fun for an ignorant columnist trashily pumping up an oh so light-hearted vapid article, one giving others pain.

    What was this supposed to be? Summer beach reading for light-hearted enjoyment, equating the miserable illness of a maligned and misunderstood vulnerable sub-group extra-sensitive to electromagnetic fields with the Loch Ness monster?

    This was a sub-group predicted by Sir William Stewart, head of the Health Protection Agency (old NRPB) in his 2000 MTHR safety recommendations to the government, he wanted adoption of the ‘precautionary principle’ which was then ‘lamentably ignored’ as he told me personally, and also the press in January 2005.

    ‘Radiation sickness’, to use its old name has existed and been recognised for decades. The military are perfectly familiar with it. Today the extension of all electromagnetic fields and applications with microwaves has given rise to extremely concerning ambient levels, nicknamed ‘electrosmog’.

    This problem is only ‘disputed’ because massive commercial enterprises are fearful of regulatory control of their buccaneering activities and invest large sums throwing sand and doubt in the eyes of the scientifically unaware. Why include yourselves in that category? See the Independent editorial and article below? Do they consider it lightweight amusement? Are you not a serious paper for grown-ups? This piece puts you in with the cheap trash if you cannot even with hindsight see the error.

    I copy below FYI how this serious rival paper deals this week with this issue, not us, but others who have looked at it, it is rather more seriously considered than your trivialising pocket travesty.

    Electronic smog

    The curse of the mobile phone age: around your home there are countless gadgets whose electrical fields, scientists now warn, are linked to depression, miscarriage and cancer .

    By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor

    Published: Independent on Sunday 07 May 2006

    Invisible “smog”, created by the electricity that powers our civilisation, is giving children cancer, causing miscarriages and suicides and making some people allergic to modern life, new scientific evidence reveals.

    The evidence – which is being taken seriously by national and international bodies and authorities – suggests that almost everyone is being exposed to a new form of pollution with countless sources in daily use in every home.

    Two official Department of Health reports on the smog are to be presented to ministers next month, and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has recently held the first meeting of an expert group charged with developing advice to the public on the threat.

    The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) calls the electronic smog “one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences” and stresses that it “takes seriously” concerns about the health effects. It adds that “everyone in the world” is exposed to it and that “levels will continue to increase as technology advances”.

    Wiring creates electrical fields, one component of the smog, even when nothing is turned on. And all electrical equipment – from TVs to toasters – give off another one, magnetic fields. The fields rapidly decrease with distance but appliances such as hair dryers and electric shavers, used close to the head, can give high exposures. Electric blankets and clock radios near to beds produce even higher doses because people are exposed to them for many hours while sleeping.

    Radio frequency fields – yet another component – are emitted by microwave ovens, TV and radio transmitters, mobile phone masts and phones themselves, also used close to the head.

    The WHO says that the smog could interfere with the tiny natural electrical currents that help to drive the human body. Nerves relay signals by transmitting electric impulses, for example, while the use of electrocardiograms testify to the electrical activity of the heart.

    Campaigners have long been worried about exposure to fields from lines carried by electric pylons but, until recently, their concerns were dismissed, even ridiculed, by the authorities.

    But last year a study by the official National Radiological Protection Board concluded that children living close to the lines are more likely to get leukaemia, and ministers are considering whether to stop any more homes being built near them. The discovery is causing a large-scale reappraisal of the hazards of the smog.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer – part of the WHO and the leading international organisation on the disease – classes the smog as a “possible human carcinogen”. And Professor David Carpenter, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York, told The Independent on Sunday last week that it was likely to cause up to 30 per cent of all childhood cancers. A report by the California Health Department concludes that it is also likely to cause adult leukaemia, brain cancers and possibly breast cancer and could be responsible for a 10th of all miscarriages.

    Professor Denis Henshaw, professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, says that “a huge and substantive body of evidence indicates a range of adverse health effects”. He estimates that the smog causes some 9,000 cases of depression.

    Perhaps strangest of all, there is increasing evidence that the smog causes some people to become allergic to electricity, leading to nausea, pain, dizziness, depression and difficulties in sleeping and concentrating when they use electrical appliances or go near mobile phone masts. Some are so badly affected that they have to change their lifestyles.

    While not yet certain how it is caused, both the WHO and the HPA accept that the condition exists, and the UN body estimates that up to three in every 100 people are affected by it.

    Case History: ‘I felt I was going into meltdown’

    Until a year ago, Sarah Dacre reckoned she had a “blessed life”. Running her own company, and living in an expensive north London home, the high-earning divorcee described herself as “fab, fit and 40s”. Then suddenly the sight in her right eye failed: she first noticed it when she was unable to read an A-Z map. Soon she was getting pains and numbness in her joints. She could not sleep and spent nights “pacing about like a caged lion”. Her short-term memory failed and if she took notes to remind her, she would forget she had made them.

    The symptoms got worse whenever she was exposed to electricity. She could not use a computer for more than five minutes without becoming nauseous. Even using a telephone landline gave her a buzzing in the ear and made her feel she was “going into meltdown”.

    Invisible “smog”, created by the electricity that powers our civilisation, is giving children cancer, causing miscarriages and suicides and making some people allergic to modern life, new scientific evidence reveals.

    The evidence – which is being taken seriously by national and international bodies and authorities – suggests that almost everyone is being exposed to a new form of pollution with countless sources in daily use in every home.

    Two official Department of Health reports on the smog are to be presented to ministers next month, and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has recently held the first meeting of an expert group charged with developing advice to the public on the threat.

    The UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) calls the electronic smog “one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences” and stresses that it “takes seriously” concerns about the health effects. It adds that “everyone in the world” is exposed to it and that “levels will continue to increase as technology advances”.

    Wiring creates electrical fields, one component of the smog, even when nothing is turned on. And all electrical equipment – from TVs to toasters – give off another one, magnetic fields. The fields rapidly decrease with distance but appliances such as hair dryers and electric shavers, used close to the head, can give high exposures. Electric blankets and clock radios near to beds produce even higher doses because people are exposed to them for many hours while sleeping.

    Radio frequency fields – yet another component – are emitted by microwave ovens, TV and radio transmitters, mobile phone masts and phones themselves, also used close to the head.

    The WHO says that the smog could interfere with the tiny natural electrical currents that help to drive the human body. Nerves relay signals by transmitting electric impulses, for example, while the use of electrocardiograms testify to the electrical activity of the heart.

    Campaigners have long been worried about exposure to fields from lines carried by electric pylons but, until recently, their concerns were dismissed, even ridiculed, by the authorities.

    But last year a study by the official National Radiological Protection Board concluded that children living close to the lines are more likely to get leukaemia, and ministers are considering whether to stop any more homes being built near them. The discovery is causing a large-scale reappraisal of the hazards of the smog.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer – part of the WHO and the leading international organisation on the disease – classes the smog as a “possible human carcinogen”. And Professor David Carpenter, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York, told The Independent on Sunday last week that it was likely to cause up to 30 per cent of all childhood cancers. A report by the California Health Department concludes that it is also likely to cause adult leukaemia, brain cancers and possibly breast cancer and could be responsible for a 10th of all miscarriages.

    Professor Denis Henshaw, Professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, says that “a huge and substantive body of evidence indicates a range of adverse health effects”. He estimates that the smog causes some 9,000 cases of depression.

    Perhaps strangest of all, there is increasing evidence that the smog causes some people to become allergic to electricity, leading to nausea, pain, dizziness, depression and difficulties in sleeping and concentrating when they use electrical appliances or go near mobile phone masts. Some are so badly affected that they have to change their lifestyles.

    While not yet certain how it is caused, both the WHO and the HPA accept that the condition exists, and the UN body estimates that up to three in every 100 people are affected by it.

    Case History: ‘I felt I was going into meltdown’

    Until a year ago, Sarah Dacre reckoned she had a “blessed life”. Running her own company, and living in an expensive north London home, the high-earning divorcee described herself as “fab, fit and 40s”. Then suddenly the sight in her right eye failed: she first noticed it when she was unable to read an A-Z map. Soon she was getting pains and numbness in her joints. She could not sleep and spent nights “pacing about like a caged lion”. Her short-term memory failed and if she took notes to remind her, she would forget she had made them.

    The symptoms got worse whenever she was exposed to electricity. She could not use a computer for more than five minutes without becoming nauseous. Even using a telephone landline gave her a buzzing in the ear and made her feel she was “going into meltdown”.

    Power to heal, power to harm

    Editorial, Independent on Sunday 07.05.06

    We are irredeemably in debt to electricity. It powers our economies and liberates us from drudgery. Such once-laborious tasks as cooking, washing clothes or cleaning the floor are largely accomplished by the flick of a switch. It has vastly increased our knowledge, enabling us to read easily after dark and opening the world’s libraries at the push of a computer key. Every day, it saves countless lives, especially by powering hospital equipment, and entertains us in our millions, not least through television. No Roman emperor had slaves enough to do the work that electricity achieves for us each day.

    And yet, as we reveal today, the slaves can revolt; the benefits also have a downside. Increasing evidence links the invisible “smog” given off by electrical wiring and appliances – and by mobile phones and their masts – to a bewildering array of diseases. There seems little doubt that it increases the chances of children getting leukaemia. There is good evidence that it causes other cancers in adults, as well as miscarriages. It may even lead to depression and suicide. Some people seem to become allergic to it, losing much of what it bestows on the rest of us.

    None of this alters the equation greatly; electricity still saves many, many more lives than it destroys. Yet it makes sense to reduce the damage. First, ministers must recognise the problem: there are welcome signs that this is starting to happen after decades of denial. Next, they need to take action. For a start they should ban the building of new homes near overhead power lines, and vice versa. They should drive down the levels of radiation emitted by mobile phones, beginning by forcing manufacturers to display them prominently. And they should introduce measures to limit the smog given off by electrical appliances, especially those used close to people’s heads such as electric shavers and hair dryers. People should also be made aware of the danger and encouraged to take commonsense measures such as moving clock radios from bedheads, and denying small children mobile phones. As with every other form of pollution, it needs regulation, and it is high time this began.

    We believe in the circumstances a reference to your readers editor and an apology along with a ‘could do much better’ on your report is perfectly appropriate.

    Sincerely

    Rod Read

    Thank you for your email, which has been passed on to me in the office of the readers’ editor. We investigate readers’ concerns and complaints and, where necessary, put the record straight in the dalily Corrections and Clarifications column.

    I think that Lucy made it clear in the small piece on electronic smog that the condition is disputed. She pointed to various pieces of research and also to Department of Health’s forthcoming reports which may make the situation clearer. It is undoubtedly true that it is also a favourite with holistic healers and the like, and there is at least one who advertises it on the net alongside pet aromatherapy.

    I don’t think, in the circumstances, an apology is appropriate.

    Best wishes,

    De-mythologising the myth of electronic-smog.

    ‘Hurtful’ was the first feeling expressed to me as the director of the only support charity for the vulnerable minority inexplicably chosen to suffer from radiation sickness as a result of over exposure to this modern miasma. Lucy Mangan may glibly assert it as a myth in ‘The top ten modern fairy tales’ G2 09.05.06 actually it is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, he started it.

    Her description is surprisingly accurate after a few elisions, and additions shown here in italics:

    “Electronic smog is meant to refer to the electrical and magnetic fields thrown out by the electrical appliances in our homes and the radio frequency fields emitted by masts, transmitters, mobile phones and so on. It is believed in certain quarters by such as Professor Of Human Radiation Effects Denis Henshaw at the University of Bristol Physics department, scientific advisor to the Health Protection Agency and Professor Gerard Hyland, University of Warwick Department of Physics and Associate Fellow and Executive Member International Institute of Biophysics Neuss-Holzheim, Germany that these can interfere with the natural electrical activity of the body (particularly in the heart and between nerve cells) and cause anything from leukaemia to depression.”

    Well the “cause anything” is obviously over the top, the most seriously ill of our sufferers who we help as a support charity have never claimed that, but it is not as much as dismissing the concept of alarmingly high ambient levels of electromagnetic fields being able to hurt sensitive people is. Of course putting the concept in the company of the Loch Ness monster and healing with crystals makes a far funnier lightweight laugh than those earnest and serious professors.

    Despite Dr Henshaw being quoted in a rival paper this week saying “a huge and substantive body of evidence indicates a range of adverse health effects”. (Independent 07.05.06) Lucy mocks and abuses ill people by rejecting the cause of their condition:

    Oh the very model of a modern miss postironist!

    Lets all have a laugh at the cripples, how deluded they are, how daft, is so very post modern.

    Actually we do not believe Lucy meant to hurt, meant to make it even harder for involuntary victims of this ES reaction to negotiate with employers, explain to colleagues and be believed by partners and friends who might take seriously this mockery. She even announces “it received the beginnings of mainstream acceptance at the weekend, when the Department of Health announced that it was to make two reports on the phenomenon to the government next month”. We will add another one too, a press release:

    “At the personal request of Sir William Stewart, Chairman of the UK Health Protection Agency, HPA, a new discussion group has been set up to help develop suitable precautionary advice for the general public regarding exposure to electromagnetic fields, EMFs”

    Is there an old journalists saw about never letting the facts stand in the way of a good story. Or hurting people by adding insult to their very real injury.

    Yes there is still dispute over establishing the mechanics of causation, and regulators are afraid of facing up to the implications of our ‘clean’ energy source being about as squeaky-clean as our Prime Minister is now seen to be.

    Professor Hyland in evidence in Brussels said we as living humans are “electromagnetic instruments of exquisite sensitivity”, without brain electrics we are certified as dead, as the proverbial parrot. Exogenous signals over time interfere with our endogenous systems; hormonal, neurological and even cellular processes are disturbed. He further contends no food or drug presenting these levels of health risk would be permitted. Not so for EM radiation, a buccaneering industry swollen with cash manufactures scientific ‘doubt’ and marketing very desirable items is adding immeasurably to the totality of radiation, the e-smog, and its effects. Levels are now millions of times higher than even a couple of decades ago, and a different composition, it is a vastly changed and electro-polluted environment, very different from that in which we all evolved to function.

    Oh, and Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell started it all off here in Cambridge by showing mathematically in 1873 that light was but a small part of the vast undiscovered realm of radiation. “Bang …bang..etc.

    ElectroSensitivity-UK (registered charity 1103018) helping the vulnerable minority with Radiation Sickness from electromagnetic fields, microwaves, RF etc. all ‘electrosmog’.

    Rod Read M.Phil.,(Cantab), Dip Psych Couns., Cert.Ed. director

    Please support us with a donation, (£10 min.) our only income, to ES-UK as below.

    We welcome help from scientists, doctors and health experts in understanding causes and links, diagnosis and treatments. Also all media inquiries.

    ES-UK Office, Bury Lane, Sutton, Ely, Cambs, CB6 2BB. Tel: 01353-778151 or at www.electrosensitivity.org.uk Also by e-mail at electrosensitivity@hotmail.com

    Trustees: Professor of Human Radiation Effects Dr Denis Henshaw, Dr David Dowson MD., ChB, Jean Philips BA. Scientific advice from: www.powerwatch.org.uk, Keith Jamieson Dip.AAS. Bsc(Hons) RIBA. Inst.Ph., Environmental Consultant and others. Visit www.tetrawatch.net

  17. hairnet said,

    May 14, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Please can someone teel me how these EMF’s from electrical equipment are supposed to differ from any other type of EMF?

  18. Fyse said,

    May 14, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Wow, that is quite a tirade.

  19. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 14, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    there are quite a few similar pieces about journalists and government figures on his website. from what i remember of my guardian contract i can use my own material online as i wish, so i’ve written to Rod Read to encourage him to reproduce my whole article on his website when he publishes his response, so that people can see exactly what i said for themselves.

  20. Hector Ballast said,

    May 14, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Ben, the problem seems to be is that you want to treat people who complain about health effects of EMF the same as those who claim to be able to tell if a mobile is switched on or not.

    The two questions which you have separated out bear little direct relation. Possible effects of EMF on health, and the detectability of EMF by individuals, are different questions.

    Let me get this right. People complain that EMF are affecting their health. You refer them to studies of whether they can detect EMF or not, reviewed by the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine. Having thus misrepresented their illnesses, you mistranslate the conclusions of the inappropriate knee-jerk studies back to ‘health’ and give it all a headline “Attack Of The Killer Kettles”.

    Can you explain how this constitutes ‘careful attention?’ No wonder you are getting flak.

    Provocation studies are popular with the government and operators as they give high credence to psychosomatic explanations for the illnesses. The trouble is they tell us little about health effects.

    If you want to present the science, why not simply review the evidence of health effects of EMF instead?

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 14, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    these studies aren’t about whether people can “detect” waves, they also measure symptoms. you make them sound like a parlour game about guessing whether a mobile phone is switched on or not.

    people suggest that the hypersensitivity symptoms are induced by electromagnetic fields, and so these studies expose people to the fields, and assess their symptoms. what other better method do you suggest for assessing whether electromagnetic waves do produce these symptoms? the studies measure the actual claims about people with hypersensitivity symptoms, there’s no mystery to it.

    when you say “review the health effects of EMF instead”, i assume you mean the question of EMF and cancer, which as we have already discussed is a completely different issue.

  22. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 14, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    OK, so, hector, you say that these studies only measured whether people can “tell if a mobile is switched on or not”, rather than symptoms.

    that really is bananas and i can’t let it rest. let’s start going through the papers:

    Swanbeck, 1989 took 30 subjects with EHS, exposed them to EMF from computer screens for three hour periods (the kind of stimulus said to induce symptoms) and measured heat or reddening, itching, stinging, oedema, and other symptoms believed by some to be symptoms of EHS.

    Oftedal, 1999 took 38 subjects with EHS and got them doing normal office work with
    an active or inactive EMF filter on their computer monitor, for 3 months with each filter, measuring headaches, dizziness, tingling, fatigue, heat, itching, skin tightness, skin
    redness, eye stinging, eye pain, eye redness, eye tiredness, sensitivity to light.

    i could give you pages more.

    i mean this in the nicest possible way, i honestly suggest you read the papers before you comment on them, because they do measure symptoms, and it’s very interesting to discuss the meaning of experimental data, but it’s senseless to simply deny its very existence!

  23. kerofin said,

    May 14, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Whoever claimed that 0.3 microtesla is a dangerous field level knows nothing about magnetics. Specifically they know nothing about the geomagnetic field strength.

  24. doctormonkey said,

    May 14, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    wow ben, someone doesn’t like you and appears to have a chip on his shoulder

  25. JQH said,

    May 14, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Hector Ballast

    First, 0.3 microtesla does not sound like much. A child’s toy magnet could easily have a field 100,000 times stronger.

    Second, when you turn your hifi “off”, is it still on standby? That’s the situation with my DVD player which has to be unplugged to switch it completely off.

    Third, you slip “EMR” into a comment about magnetic fields. I understand EMR to mean electromagnetic radiation which is not quite the same thing as an electromagnetic field.

    John

  26. Hector Ballast said,

    May 14, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Ben – I refer to no 21 though your previous answer is more interesting

    You say “i mean this in the nicest possible way, i honestly suggest you read the papers before you comment on them, because they do measure symptoms..”

    Telling people to read the subject matter is not the greatest of shots, but never mind.

    In your ‘excellent review’, twenty studies are listed, in 13 of which the exposures are given in units of either hours or minutes. If people complain about ailments from short term exposures, then these are relevant to those complaints. Otherwise they are hardly relevant to the question of whether EMF’s affect health, the subject matter.

    So – when it is not about knee jerk EMF detections, it is about fairly sudden effects.

    Now lets get back to your more serious post, the one without the bananas.

  27. John A said,

    May 14, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    Hector Ballast: “In addition brainwaves work at frequencies similar to the pulsing frequency of phone masts.”

    I’m not clear on why you make that assertion. EEG frequencies (brainwaves) are in the range of 4 to 80 Hz. Mobile phone masts have carriers in the MHz range (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gsm). GSM signals do not “pulse” in that they are not amplitude modulated but rather frequency modulated (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaussian_minimum_shift_keying). Thus the frequency of the signal will always be in the MHz range – way higher than EEG frequencies. If the frequency of “pulsing” between different MHz frequencies were in the EEG range then you’d only get a pitiful data transfer rate of 4 to 80 bits per second. I suspect that even the “pulsing frequency” is much higher than the EEG rhythms (probably in the kHz range).

    Also, just in case you are suffering from a common misconception, brainwaves aren’t doing the thinking – the brain cells are. Like ripples on the surface of a pond might be caused by the behaviour of the fish, brainwaves are a side-effect of the electrical behaviour of billions of brain cells.

    Hector: “Once you accept this, the idea that such technology could influence biology is plausible.”

    Not trying to be offensive, but I think many things seem plausible in such a eye-blurring/hand-waving manner.

  28. theengineer said,

    May 14, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    Dear Mr Read,

    If you’re reading this – and you should be – i’d be very interested to hear you address ben’s main point, specifically:

    NONE of the 31 studies are really good enough for us all to start believing that the people experiencing these symptoms are suffering from EMF.

    Do you accept his point? Can you link us to another set of studies with equivalent review that will convince us?

    If not, when will your group be making the obvious step of combining some of it’s professors with some of it’s unfortunate subjects and producing quality eveidence and reproducaeble results?

    Why? For a start, because it’s alot more likely to convince readers on this website than your article above. Secondly because that has to be the best way to forward your cause.

  29. Hector Ballast said,

    May 14, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks John A.

    What I said does apply without modification to Tetra masts: as I understand it, Beta waves have a frequency of 14 – 30 Hz. The frame repetition frequency of Tetra is 17.6 Hz.

    As you clearly know a thing or two about pulsing (more than me, evidently) you’ll know what I was getting at. No need therefore to work out what happens to the data transfer rate if we pretend that I meant that masts transmit at brainwave frequencies!

    And how about this:

    “T-Mobile says that 3G is safer because it is ‘not associated with the pulsing found in 2G and TETRA communications’..”
    www.tetrawatch.net/main/news.php?page=2

    The term ‘pulsing’ is surely adequate as description.

    In GSM, the frame repetition frequency is 217Hz.. So for GSM you are technically correct – its outside the EEG range. But then you will also know that its not as simple as that, owing to other frequencies that are around GSM transmissions that are in fact in the EEG range (admittedly not exactly what I said).

    Now, over to Prof Hyland for a non-handwaving description:

    “Of particular significance, however, is that some of the much lower frequencies that
    characterise the multi-frame structures of the GSM signals happen to be close to those of some of the brain’s own electrical and electrochemical rhythms, as recorded by the Electroencephalogram (EEG)”

    Hyland notes that

    The GSM ‘multi-frame ’ associated with the BCCH(TCH) contains 51(26) frames, in which the 51st(26th) frame is a dummy (or idle) frame [2, 4]; it is this feature that distinguishes one multi-frame from the next, resulting in associated multi-frame (repetition) frequencies of 4.25Hz (=217Hz/51) and 8.35Hz (=217Hz/26), respectively. An even lower frequency of 2Hz characterises the emission of a GSM Base-station when it operates in discontinuous transmission mode (DTX).

    [Hyland, How Exposure to GSM & TETRA Base-station Radiation can Adversely Affect Humans, can be found on
    www.powerwatch.org.uk/reports/20030701_hyland_basestations.pdf

    So -these GSM frequencies are within the EEG range. In any case, none of this alters my thrust that the pulsing or modulation frequencies are widely recognized by researchers as likely influences on biology.

  30. tomh said,

    May 14, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    hm, just a side note, why is the newspaper article (surly the one that al the EHS sufferers will read – can’t think they could use computers to read blogs so…), differnet form the one here ( which prehapes contains the extra disclamer at the end to stop any misunderstanings)

  31. Fralen said,

    May 14, 2006 at 11:31 pm

    Ahem.

    www.badscience.net/?page_id=7

    “If your post is more than one thousand words long then you are officially a loser.”

    It really is incredible how that is such a brilliant way of assessing if someone is a clear thinker or not.

    Anyone here posting over 1000 words has either deliberately misrepresented the original article (pretending the symptoms were denied rather than the cause) or introduced pompous apparently scientific defenses of their case which dissolve on closer inspection (but always so long).

    Hector that was a bit embarrassing about how all those papers didnt show what you said they showed. You didn’t read them or you didn’t understand them. Likewise the 0.3 microtesla issue.

    Don’t make it worse with all that jargon about frames and EEG. You produce all this to confuse the issue, just like the Mail misrepresented the WHO and the HPA and you misrepresented the research in the review paper.

    It’s a waste of everyone’s time.

  32. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 14, 2006 at 11:37 pm

    tomh: they shouldn’t be different, in fact i don’t think they are, the guardian version refers people to badscience.net for the extra stats info, which is here. the last para i put in at the bottom of the stats stuff massively repeated and belaboured being clear about doubting cause vs doubting symptoms, a distinction which was already very clearly made in the article. despite that clarity there are people who will misrepresent it just like the newspapers (and others) misrepresented the WHO and the HPA and ignored the scientific evidence.

    i feel very strongly about people doing that and i will not rest if anyone misrepresents me.

    p.s. no squabbling, although long repetitive posts…

  33. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 12:35 am

    At last – some light relief from Fralen

    Sorry about the length of my posts, but if you were following the thread, you would have seen that I was castigated for ‘handwaving’. At the same time I must avoid ‘jargon’ that ‘confuses the issue’. What is this – teamwork!?

    “Likewise the 0.3 microtesla issue.”

    Likewise what? I know you are trying to stay below 1000 words, but omitting the verb is a false economy. Anyway, whatever you mean, its all over the research literature that a value such as this is associated with doubling of child leukemia, though 0.4 may have been a more robust value to quote as I think that’s the one accepted by the government.

    Nothing coherent to answer in your smokescreen post – don’t know why I bothered really.

  34. Delster said,

    May 15, 2006 at 8:11 am

    Hector,

    your responces are fairly incoherrant and lacking in structured agrument.

    To quote you from post 28

    “As you clearly know a thing or two about pulsing (more than me, evidently) you’ll know what I was getting at. No need therefore to work out what happens to the data transfer rate if we pretend that I meant that masts transmit at brainwave frequencies!”

    That second sentance, no need therefore etc. a masterpiece of handwaving. To clarify, what data transfer rate? and we pretent you meant that masts transmit at brainwave frequencies? umm…. nope that is actually what you said previously and no they don’t.

    The frames you seem so concerned over are not frequencies in themselves, they are a division indicated within the signal which itself runs in the Mhz range and so is well befond brainwave frequencies.

    Ben,

    as for that mail you reproduced here for us, i don;t know if i would start on the science, the english or the sheer incoherance of the ranting. To be honest it was so badly written i couldn’t finish reading it. If i worked for an EMS / EMF / EMR charity i’d fire the guy and employ somebody who could produce a decent argument.

  35. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    May 15, 2006 at 8:49 am

    In the midst of all the incomprehensible ranty madness above, I really only understood the one thing…

    “Granted you have a better cause, scientific integrity.”

    Wise words indeed.

  36. Coobeastie said,

    May 15, 2006 at 9:46 am

    It always comes back to migraines, muscle aches and skin problems doesn’t it? The same sort of things that there are hundreds of ‘cures’ for out there -from veganism to herbs to hundreds of others in between. A nasty rag bag of symptoms that make you feel run down, which are leapt on by everyone who wants to offer a quick cure (and the ‘establishment’ isn’t immune – I think that the same sort of things that are mentioned with EMF senstivity were also touted as being cured by prozac at the height of the hype).

  37. Hanne said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:02 am

    “Well at least the Independent, Mail, HPA and WHO, there is much more as our trustee Professor Henshaw (advisor to the HPA) makes clear that “a huge and substantive body of evidence indicates a range of adverse health effects” from electronic smog.”
    So, Mr. Read starts off with an incomprehensible rant, clearly showing his subjective side by talking about the evidence as presented by a trustee of his.

    “Brian Stein (Daily Telegraph twice last year, 24.01.05, 08.11.05 see Nic Fleming) does not use an electricity-free office to run a £500 million pa turnover company because he is deluded!”
    Instead of using scientific papers to solidify his argument, he quotes the media.

    “These are aetiological questions, as with most other illnesses.”
    Using big words to put across some form of argument.. I fail to see what it is.

    “Yes I am angry, who is this mysterious ‘they’ you quote from Radio 4, is it me, us? “Sceptics fear they are preying on the fears of people who are ill and desperate, another manifestation, they say, of the hypochondriac society…then, there is no concluding quotation mark…and it goes on “that’s the harshest assault of all”. Well it is and it feels it is on me and others who represent victims doing similar work. So lay off Ben, and Radio 4, you lay me out like some exploiting maggot sucking on contemporary sickness. I ain’t.”
    Then gets angry that Ben’s point is precisely the opposite of the Radio 4 interview. By this point I’d had enough of the ranting, and skipped to the end. Looks suspiciously like the Brain Gym debate. People aren’t reading the words.

  38. JQH said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:29 am

    Going back to the issue as to whether “switched off” items can still draw current:

    Apart from items like my DVD player which can only be put on standby because it doesn’t even have an off switch, it is worth pointing out that many electronic items have a transformer that steps mains voltage down to something like 12V. In at least some models, the on/off switch is actually on the secondary circuit so unless the item is switched off at the wall or unplugged, the primary coil will still be drawing current. This also might explain Hector Ballast’s observations with his hifi.

    Kitchen appliances such as kettles, toasters and cookers run on 240V and do not have a step-down transformer and thus will not draw current when switched off, even if they are plugged in.

  39. JQH said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:50 am

    I’ve just read Rod Read’s rant.

    I haven’t got time to comment on all of it but I couldn’t help noticing that he twice claims that scientific evidence reveals that electronic “smog” can cause all kinds of ailments without saying what this evidence is.

    He uses the term “radiation sickness”, ignoring the fact that this refers to the damage done to the body by radioactive fallout.

    Thirdly, he accuses Ben and others of denying people’s illnesses whereas what he and others on this thread are saying is that there is little to no evidence that these illnesses are caused by electromagnetic fields or microwave transmissions. It’s difficult to have a debate when one side isn’t listening.

  40. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 11:34 am

    Oh dear – something tells me I should be ignoring these groupie-type smokescreen responses like Delster’s No. 34 above, but here goes.

    Lets start with this from Delster:

    “your responces are fairly incoherrant and lacking in structured agrument.”

    I’m not a whale on spelling myself, but its rather hard to imagine how anyone whizzing along the keyboard at such a speed could possibly have read enough to evaluate an argument of any substance, or tell whether it is structured or not.

    The rest of your post shows that you didn’t spend much longer reading the argument than mistyping your response.

    Here is what I actually said in that post:

    “.In addition brainwaves work at frequencies similar to the pulsing frequency of phone masts.”

    This point was then put to me:-

    “Thus the frequency of the signal will always be in the MHz range – way higher than EEG frequencies. If the frequency of “pulsing” between different MHz frequencies were in the EEG range then you’d only get a pitiful data transfer rate of 4 to 80 bits per second”

    Now listen up Delster. If masts transmitted at brainwave frequencies then the data transfer rate would indeed be pitiful. But as nobody was suggesting this in the first place, least of all me, it’s a rather spurious point. I believe this is known as a ‘straw man’ argument – not taking issue with the argument put to you, but misrepresenting or misunderstanding it, and then taking great issue with that instead. So much easier to beat up a straw man…

    This was my reply:-

    “As you clearly know a thing or two about pulsing (more than me, evidently) you’ll know what I was getting at. No need therefore to work out what happens to the data transfer rate if we pretend that I meant that masts transmit at brainwave frequencies!”

    Yet, you still say – “To clarify, what data transfer rate?” Well the one in the last sentence. Hope that’s not too difficult to understand. The straw man lives!

    You then continue to gather wood for the bonfire:

    “The frames you seem so concerned over are not frequencies in themselves, they are a division indicated within the signal which itself runs in the Mhz range and so is well befond brainwave frequencies.”

    I answered this in my reply to John, this time expressing it concisely (well I kind of ‘linked a friend’):-

    “Of particular significance, however, is that some of the much lower frequencies that
    characterise the multi-frame structures of the GSM signals happen to be close to those of some of the brain’s own electrical and electrochemical rhythms, as recorded by the Electroencephalogram (EEG)”

    You seem to prefer to take issue with the previous uncorrected version. Is this the Straw man’s ancestors?

    Actually, when you said earlier:-

    “and we pretent you meant that masts transmit at brainwave frequencies? umm…. nope that is actually what you said previously and no they don’t”

    when what I said in fact was:-

    “In addition brainwaves work at frequencies similar to the pulsing frequency of phone masts.”

    You removed my “pulsing frequency”, thus misquoting me deliberately on a point of contention and changing the meaning, then you took issue with your own version. (This kind of thing could make you go blind, which would at least explain your spelling).

    Another point I find interesting is that you killed this particular straw man when you later conceded that you do in fact understand what I was saying about the pulsing and frame frequencies.

    All-in-all, nothing but smokescreen. I doubt Ben is pleased with ‘support’ of this nature.

  41. Delster said,

    May 15, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    Hector,

    you need to work on your reading skills i think. No “straw man” was killed on my watch.

    No where in my previous post did i say that there were frequencies within the phone signals that were around that of the human brainwave pattern. The frames are encoded within the signal (in the Mhz) range by the electronic signal equivalent of a punctuation mark. This tells the mobile equipment that the end of a frame has been reached, it is not done by “pulsing”. There are no “much lower frequencies”

    As for the other points you raised, well lets just say that i don;t type and read at the same time so speed of reading does not equate to speed and accuracy of typing. yes i frequently make typing mistakes, many of these due to the fact that i spend most of my typing time not doing so in english but in MML…. while i program phone systems for instance…. so i may just know a bit about this subject.

    As for the pulsing frequency being removed from your comment, I took that straight from your comment in post 28. Yes i should probably have goine back to your previous posting and lifted a comment from there which did include the pulsing ref.

    you also totally misinterpreted the comment i made about frames so i’ve explained it in more detail above.

  42. mikew said,

    May 15, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    I “imagine” that I can “feel” when I am close to the RF security loops at the entrances of clothes shops … perhaps the RF is rattling the fillings in my teeth (do humans have any directional ferrous deposits as pigeons do ?), but I would love to do a double-blind trial to see if it’s a real or imaginary sensation.

  43. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    what’s really interesting here is the way there are recurring forms of discourse from other bad science debates: very very long and often slightly incoherent diatribes in favour of something, quoting authorities at length and using lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of very technical terminology which many feel may be incorrectly deployed. then someone comes along and points out the more obvious holes in some of the technical bits – but not all – hoping this will serve as a kind of shorthand for addressing the whole post, only to be met by an accusation that they are not addressing ALL the points, followed by an ad hominem attack that they are part of a wider conspiracy.

    what’s particularly interesting – to me – is how casual readers are quite understandably put off by very very very long and sometimes muddled posts: the end product of the long posts is then that people are left with their prejudices unexamined, on both sides. i wonder sometimes if this is deliberate, a kind of “shut up and share my confusion and anger”.

    since my own personal feeling is that unexamined prejudices always play into the hands of irrationality, i think i might have to further tweak the spam filter to simply bin any post over say 600 words (the length of the columns themselves!). there probably are useful things to be said in longer posts, in theory, but in reality they tend to be about something very different. i wonder whether a careful analysis of the posts throughout badscience.net would reveal otherwise.

  44. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    no mention of my article yet on the electrosensitivity campaigns news update, after their 4,300 word email to me:

    www.electrosensitivity.org.uk/thisweek.htm

    although i did offer to let them use the whole of my article so people could see exactly what i said.

    i really do hope they don’t accuse me of anything even closely related to denying the reality of patients’ symptoms, i feel very strongly that these are real symptoms, causing genuine distress, and the problem deserves to be considered seriously and carefully. i also hate it when people accuse sufferers of being hypochondriacs or “over-sensitive”.

  45. Delster said,

    May 15, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    I think your right in that sometimes the longer posts do stray off topic but then again one of my threads managed to wend it’s way to the death sentance over the course of a coupe of fairly short comments…. not even sure where that one started now :-)

  46. Peter said,

    May 15, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    Isn’t it about time for a comparison to Nazis was made here?

  47. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    ahaa!

    sorry peter, badscience rules, first to mention the nazis always loses, regardless of context. and as early as post 45. nice work. this is a bit like “mornington crescent”…

  48. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks Delster41 for more measured reply.

    The only reason this was being discussed at all was that it was wrongly suggested that I had implied that masts transmit at similar frequencies to brainwaves, the implications of which were then mooted and my clarification misunderstood, denied and ignored at various points. You could say the whole straw family were killed, though I’m not blaming all the murders on you..

    But here is the real point. No matter what I thought or said about pulsing and/or modulation, many experts consider it a major factor contributing to biological health effects. Its all over the research literature. My intended point is therefore totally valid however it was expressed – why therefore the attempts made to transfer the discussion to my competence or otherwise, rather than address the infinitely more important question of the substance? Shooting the messenger is another unworthy diversionary tactic.

  49. coracle said,

    May 15, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Hector,
    just for clarity, consider what a major factor contributing to what biological health effcts?

    Can you provide links to these experts and research literature?

    Thanks

  50. Delster said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    Hector,

    Many experts also consider there is no health hazard. If you fill a room with experts on almost any subject you’ll have almost that many opinions to go with them.

    Also no attempt was made to transfer discussion to your competance, i surgested you might need to work on your reading skills in the first line then addressed your points. This was based on how you had interpreted my comment….. which i could run through a grammar checker to establish required reading age if you like?

    You however in post 39 spent a goodly proportion of your post mentioning my typing skills (or lack thereof, i’m an telecom engineer by trade and a medic by training) and questioning my responces in terms of straw men. You’ve consistantly failed to address points in favour of rehtoric and hand waving, not to mention the hypocracy of accusing others of moving moving the discussion to your competance when that is precisly what you have done (see post 39).

    Address the facts and not the author, unless of course it’s gillian mckeith in which case it’s pretty much fair game.

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    on arguing from authority i would say this (and if i get famous i would like this to be, like, a quote, or a bon mot, so i’ll work on the phrasing to make it as pompous as possible):

    “There is not a single declarative statement imaginable that is so absurb you could not at least find somebody, somewhere, with a PhD, to endorse it.”

    do i need to make it pithier?

  52. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Perhaps, but you definitely need to spell absurd properly.

  53. hairnet said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    BEN: “person x is saying they have symptoms because of exposure to y: expose them to y and see if they get the symptoms. ”

    I know very little about the gubbins of medical testing but is there so much money about to investigate any complaint of any sympton?

  54. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    thanks, Pedant.

    hairnet: there are already 31 relevant studies in the review i linked to above…

  55. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    For Coracle

    I was making the point that medical researchers use pulse modulated radiation because of its biological effects. If you go into PubMed (link below) and search for, eg, pulsed radiation, you’ll find many research papers where pulsed radiation was used.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?CMD=search&DB=pubmed

    Eg, no. 2 is The Effects of Pulsed 860 MHz Radiofrequency Radiation on the Promotion of Neurogenic Tumors in Rats.

    So the idea that when microwaves are pulsed there is an increased chance of biological effect is not a new type of bad science. Rather it seems a basic tool of the trade. The likelihood of biological effects due to the pulsing is also a reason other experts worry about mobile technology.

    I posted links to evidence in No 27. Here are alarms raised by two medical bodies.

    1) The Freiburger appeal-2000+ medics call for “new regulations to halt the devastating health consequences of pulsing EMR (means mobiles and masts) ”.. “a dramatic rise in severe+chronic diseases.. Extreme fluctuations in blood pressure,concentration+learning disorders, Heart attacks+strokes in an increasingly younger population, Brain-degenerative migraines leukaemia, brain tumours, diseases/Alzheimers,epilepsy,

    2) The Irish Doctors Environmental Assoc [IDEA] states thermal limits/mast policy inappropriate-cites 70 studies in 14 categories eg DNA, nerve cell damage+cancers
    www.ideaireland.org/emr.htm

  56. Delster said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    ahh… Hairnet…. your missing the point….

    if you can prove (however fuzzily) there is a problem then you can sell a cure….. and that applies to just about anything. Even more so if you can get a tabloid to run a scare story (“leaked” reports are great for this)

  57. hairnet said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    I dont mean to be a pain but i am trying to get at what iniated these studies…
    I find vague references to EMF very irritating, EMF is just a variety of light, just the varying oscillations of the electric field with the magnetic field. Are any the people who reported symptons experts in QED? how could you know that it was EMR that was causing your symptons and therefore how could you design a study to test this?

  58. Delster said,

    May 15, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Hector,

    well the links you posted in post 28 (not 27) were to what is basically an anti EMF / phone mast site and the pubmed search (2nd atricle that you mentioned) was very helpful…. although not to your argument. Abstract cut and pasted below. Only thing added is line spacing to give paragraphs as it came through in one chunk.

    The Effects of Pulsed 860 MHz Radiofrequency Radiation on the Promotion of Neurogenic Tumors in Rats.

    Zook BC, Simmens SJ.

    Departments of Pathology.

    Zook, B. C. and Simmens, S. J. The Effects of Pulsed 860 MHz Radiofrequency Radiation on the Promotion of Neurogenic Tumors in Rats. Radiat. Res. 165, 608-615 (2006). In a previous study, this laboratory reported a statistically nonsignificant trend for shortened latency of ethylnitrosourea (ENU)-induced brain tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed to an 860 MHz pulsed radiofrequency (RF) signal.

    The present study was designed to investigate further any promoting effect of the pulsed RF signal on latency and other characteristics of neurogenic tumors in the progeny of pregnant rats treated with 6.25 or 10 mg/kg ENU.

    The resulting 1080 offspring were randomized equally by number, sex and ENU dose into pulsed RF, sham and cage control groups. The rats were exposed to the pulsed RF signal 6 h per day 5 days per week; the sham-exposed group was similarly confined for the same periods, and the cage controls were housed in standard cages. An essentially equal number of rats from each group were killed humanely every 30 days between the ages of 171 and 325 days; 32 rats died and 225 rats were killed when they were moribund.

    Postmortem examinations on the 1080 rats revealed 38 spinal cord tumors, 191 spinal nerve tumors, 232 cranial nerve tumors, and 823 brain tumors. A methodical study of the tumor characteristics disclosed no evidence that exposure to the pulsed RF signal affected the incidence, malignancy, volume, multiplicity, latency or fatality associated with any kind of neurogenic tumor.

  59. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for at least tuning in. I was trying to explain the relevence of pulsing. The article was only the first example on the list of pulsed radiation used by researchers. Your talent for ‘finding’ great significance in irrelevant detail is impressive.

    Regarding your previous post. No 50. I think I established your talent with the straw men pretty clearly on a line by line basis, not rhetoric. Never mind, hopefully no-one has read it all.

    Its not that I mind unravelling the deception in your replies. It can be fun. Its just not why I post.

    So, I’ll thank you not to reply to my posts if that’s OK. Of course you can have the last word, ‘ the final straw man’ – but make the most of it as I wont be responding.

  60. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    hairnet: if you just go and read the papers i reckon you’ll find theyre very specific about defining what the exposure was in each one.

  61. hairnet said,

    May 15, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    I’d love to, how may i go about it?

  62. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    For Ben

    Ben, I pointed out earlier (No 27) that the ‘electrosensitivity’ studies to which you usually refer seem to be mostly about detection of EMF. Even when they consider symptoms, they are mostly investigated by short-term stimuli. In your chosen review, in the table 13 of the 20 exposures are given in units of either hours or minutes.

    What about exposures over periods of months and years eg to computers, masts and mobiles and electrical appliances in the home?

    You had asked “what other better method do you suggest for assessing whether electromagnetic waves do produce these symptoms? “

    In some considerable surprise at this question, I replied about epidemiological studies. Eg,

    “the California Risk Review 2002 concluded that EMF’s were likely to increase the risk of child and adult leukemias, adult brain tunours, miscarriage and ALS. They were close to borderline on whether EMF’s increase risk of suicide. 80% out of about 200 studies reviewed had reported an increased risk in the illnesses from EMF’s. This 1000-page risk report, which was produced to inform US policy, was only put online after court threats under the 1st amendment.
    www.dhs.ca.gov/ehib/emf/RiskEvaluation/riskeval.html”

    I then listed numerous other links and sources.

    Ben I would be very surprised if the whole area of epidemiological studies was news to you, but you did not reply to this. As you constantly refer to the need to consider ‘the evidence’ it’s a little disappointing if by this you mean your favourite review of what can at best be described as the lesser part of the picture (provocation studies). This truly would be bad science. More accurately, it would be a reversal of your stated purpose.

    To re-iterate, hundreds (probably thousnands) of epidemiological studies have investaigated links or non-links between EMF and a whole host of ailments. Ailments which, if caused by EMF, would indicate the sufferer was electrosensitive to some degree.

    Without consideration of these studies, its an affront that anyone with ‘science’ in their makeup should refer to ‘the evidence’.

    What are you going to do?

    Best wishes

    Hector

  63. Andy said,

    May 15, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    I know that I am rather late joining the debate here but scanning through the posts I have two comments on Hectors posts (apologies if these have already been addressed and I missed the post):

    1) You measured a magnetic field from your speakers in standby that then vanished to zero when the power was unplugged. I find this a little odd since a) electromagnets normally require reasonable amounts of current, far more than could “leak” when in standby mode and b) speakers normally contain permanent magnets.

    2) Here you started out trying to give scientific arguments to back up your case but then when John A pointed out how one of your arguments was invalid you replied:
    “As you clearly know a thing or two about pulsing (more than me, evidently) you’ll know what I was getting at.”
    Either this was intended sarcastically or you totally missed the point since he quite clearly didn’t know what you were getting at and was disagreeing with you as top whether the signals could have any effect or not.

    This seems to be a typical response in your posts, you maintain your views which you claim have a solid basis in science even while the science is questioned and alternative evidence given.

    I am sure that many of the people who have been disagreeing with you would be happy to accept that there is a possibility of there being a link of some sort, they just don’t feel that there is significant evidence of such a link at this time and that if anything the available evidence that is of acceptable standards currently indicated the opposite.
    If sufficient evidence were produced by reputable and repeatable studies they would revise their opinion on the matter. Until that time they will maintain that there is no proven link.

    So I ask you; what evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments?

    *crosses fingers and hopes he got the html correct for linking to the post he intended*

  64. Michael Harman said,

    May 15, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    What a magnificent hissy fit and flounce from Hector Ballast: “So, I’ll thank you not to reply to my posts if that’s OK. Of course you can have the last word, ‘ the final straw man’ – but make the most of it as I won’t be responding.” Then we have another post from him less than an hour later (though admittedly to Ben, rather than Delster.

    But there is a serious point here. Hector has cited two campaigning sites, which list a considerable number of scientific studies in support of their position that EMF has ill effects. Delster has gone to the trouble of actually looking up one of these studies. The last sentence of the Abstract is “A methodical study of the tumor characteristics disclosed no evidence that exposure to the pulsed RF signal affected the incidence, malignancy, volume, multiplicity, latency or fatality associated with any kind of neurogenic tumor.” I think that deserves green ink rant mode – NO EVIDENCE.

    Hector says that that article is “only the first example on the list of pulsed radiation used by researchers.” I think he is trying to imply that the others may be more significant. But if the very first article is so directly contrary to his fundamental point, it is equally arguable that the rest equally fail to support him.

    I’ve come across this kind of thing before – a position being argued, and papers being referenced in support when it turns out on investigation that the papers do not actually provide the support alleged. Errors can occasionally occur. But I think this is not a mere accidental error; it is deliberate. What is the appropriate term for this kind of thing? Lying? Intellectual prostitution? One wonders whether it is possible to have an honest rational discussion with such people.

  65. TroyKnight said,

    May 15, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Hello everyone,

    I’m afraid I don’t have the time, or eye-strength to read through all of these long posts (although I wish I did), but I will make some points:

    1) Firstly, I would like to congratulate Ben Goldacre on bringing the issue national media coverage in the guardian newspaper in the first place. The fact that people do not understand the reasons/machanisms behind it yet isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fact that people are finding out about it and starting to debate is the next logical step forward – it was never going to be an overnight phenomenon. It may takes years for people to be able to understand and accept it in the same way they do now for Chrnoic Fatigue, Asbestososis etc.

    —-

    2) Where does all this “they” and “preying on the fears of people who are ill and desperate” etc come from? Rod Read was spot in bringing this aspect up in that people are trying to make out there are these con-men out there filling their pockets with cash from treating the “ill and desperate”.

    I am Electrosensitive and have never paid for any treatments, except for a detox sauna I imported from the USA from a guy who custom built-it for me – for FREE! You see, people/organisations who do take a genuine interest do so for one reason – helping out people when the traditional medical system of drugs & surgery has profoundly failed them.

    There is not a commercial market for electrosensitivity treatments, and this aspect of it is purely invented by the media to generate an emotional response.

    —-

    3) As far as what triggers the symptoms go – people who react to electricity KNOW what triggers their symptoms. It’s a bit like when hayfeaver sufferers know that when they go outside they start to sneeze. Or like when someone who as a bad back bends over and it aggrevates their condition. Or perhaps like a coeliac who gets IBS when they eat gluten. Someone who is sensitive to electricity knows that when they go near the paricular offending sources they are sensitive to (whether that be computer, mobile phones, power lines or whatever) that their symptoms are brought on.

    It’s not media driven. They do not see something written in the paper and think – ahh right I’m sensitive to my computer, I’ll quit my job and start calling myself electrosensitive. They mostly go through a phase of denying it to themselves and trying to find a traditional answer to their symptoms. When the modern medical system fails them and their symptoms porgess they start to look to other possible answers and are eventually forced to admit to themselves, that yes they could be sensitive to the mother of them all – electricity.

    It’s not fun being electrosensitive (as you might have guessed from the previous posts made by electrosensitive people), and I doubt anyone would enjoy , or jump at the chance of clasing themselves as such.

    However, whether it’s a sensitivity to electricity, or a more long-term effect such as cancer/leukemia/alzheimer’s/parkinson’s/asthma, the harsh reality is that many more of us living in the westernized world may be more sensitive to electricity than we would care to admit.

    —–

    I have electrosensitivity. You can view my story here > www.electrosensitivity.org/.

    Troy

  66. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    thanks for dropping in troy.

    i was interested to hear your story, especially where you said: “Someone who is sensitive to electricity knows that when they go near the paricular offending sources they are sensitive to (whether that be computer, mobile phones, power lines or whatever) that their symptoms are brought on.”

    somebody calling themselves “hector ballast” on this forum was suggesting that symptoms take months of exposure, he said that to expect electrosensitivity symptoms to come on when someone goes near an electricity source was bonkers and stupid, and i was a bit surprised by that. would you say that electrosensitivity sufferers you know feel their symptoms getting worse within minutes or hours of being exposed to an electromagnetic field?

  67. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Andy you say:

    “You measured a magnetic field from your speakers in standby that then vanished to zero when the power was unplugged. I find this a little odd since a) electromagnets normally require reasonable amounts of current, far more than could “leak” when in standby mode and b) speakers normally contain permanent magnets.”

    It was nothing to do with either standby mode (doesn’t have one) or speakers – but the hifi and the on/off switch. JQH No. 38 may illuminate on the issue.

    It gets much better.

    “Here you started out trying to give scientific arguments to back up your case but then when John A pointed out how one of your arguments was invalid you replied:
    “As you clearly know a thing or two about pulsing (more than me, evidently) you’ll know what I was getting at.”
    Either this was intended sarcastically or you totally missed the point since he quite clearly didn’t know what you were getting at and was disagreeing with you as top whether the signals could have any effect or not.

    This seems to be a typical response in your posts, you maintain your views which you claim have a solid basis in science even while the science is questioned and alternative evidence given.”

    Ha – Your stance gives the game away. You speak as if I was proposing a novel theory that pulsed radiation causes biological effects and had been caught out by a clever point. In fact it’s well-discussed issue and the clever point was a straw man. John A knows about the pulsed radiation issue, even if you lot don’t. He went on to explain about pulsing, didn’t he? So he would definitely have known what I was referring to.

    Why are so many of you rushing in to make the same ignorant point? Something ugly guarding the bridge…

    “So I ask you; what evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments?”

    Well how about consideration of the other 99% of the evidence that you lot including Ben are studiously ignoring – the epidemiological evidence. In fact, how about a recognition of the fact that its been mentioned? All this obstruction could get the Bad Science forum a bad name.

    I’m impressed how you managed to parachute through some sixty posts, make the same point made by the others unaware that it was useless, and yet miss the central question I have been asking throughout, even though it clearly would actually answer your question “what evidence…”.

    Andy, do you forget that you claim to have read my posts! “This seems to be a typical response in your posts…”…. Again, you give the game away.

    Well here is a genuinely typical response for you:

    E-P-I-D-E-M-I-O-L-O-G-I-C-A-L S-T-U-D-I-E-S

    Hector

  68. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    hector: post 64 is for your attention. i think we’d all enjoy it if your reply was longer than 3,500 words and involved both a misunderstanding of the question and accusations of conspiracy, corruption, and stupidity. i’m afraid someone has already mentioned the nazis (in post 45) so that gong is denied to you.

  69. TroyKnight said,

    May 15, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Hi Ben,

    The Electrosensitivity symptoms are, in my experience, short-term (ie ranging from minutes to hours or days). To say that is bonkers or stupid is quite odd, as this is surely timeframe within which MOST sensitive idividuals react (ie chemical allergies, hayfeaver etc.)

    In a majority of cases, electrosensitivity is a result of toxic overload in the system (Environmental Health Center Dallas have measured ‘Multiple Chemical Sensitivity’ as being present in 80% of sufferers), which occurs from exposure over a larger period of time such as months or years.

    I haven’t been able to locate Hector Ballast’s post directly – sorry! – but I guess it depends on which angle you are looking at it from.

    Troy

  70. Andy said,

    May 15, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    Hector:

    “Ha – Your stance gives the game away. You speak as if I was proposing a novel theory that pulsed radiation causes biological effects and had been caught out by a clever point. In fact it’s well-discussed issue and the clever point was a straw man. John A knows about the pulsed radiation issue, even if you lot don’t. He went on to explain about pulsing, didn’t he? So he would definitely have known what I was referring to.”

    Errr. No. John was actually explaining why GSM signals are not pulsed.

    I currently have half a dozen radio beacons sitting around my desk that output pulsed radiation (5.9 to 7.2GHz UWB to be more precise). I understand the concept.
    John A did fail to mention that GSM is TDMA and so will “pulse” at the timeslot reputation rate. Presumably he didn’t mention this because there are 8 timeslots, each just over 4.6ms long giving a frequency of ~27Hz and he didn’t want to give you any frequencies that come close to those of brain waves of fear of giving you more to claim as evidence.

    I looked at 3 of the links you gave for evidence (sorry, I don’t have the time to look through every single one so I picked the first 3 I saw). One is the search page for pubmed. One gave me a file not found error. The 3rd was the report by the Irish doctors association that seemed to conclude that there was circumstantial evidence and so caution should taken until further evidence was found.
    Looking at one of the sources for that the following quote seemed to sum it up quite well:
    “We conclude therefore that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach.”

    In short: more research is needed before a definite answer can be given.

    I ask again:
    What evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments?
    If the answer is none, you have already made up your mind and no amount of evidence to the contrary will change your mind then just say so but at least answer the question.

  71. Hector Ballast said,

    May 15, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    Andy again you deliberately miss the point which is that John certainly knew I was talking about pulsing so there was no point is discussing the absurd scenario of the implications of masts transmitting at brainwave frequencies.

    You don’t need to check pubmed as I cited this only to show pulsing is an issue among researchers. But then you know about pulsing – which defeats all your criticisms on this point.

    Your description of the IDEA amounts to further misrepresentation. Their mission statement says:-

    “The Irish Doctors’ Environmental Association believes that a sub-group of the population are particularly sensitive to exposure to different types of electro-magnetic radiation. The safe levels currently advised for exposure to this non-ionising radiation are based solely on its thermal effects. However, it is clear that this radiation also has non-thermal effects, which need to be taken into consideration when setting these safe levels. The electro-sensitivity experienced by some people results in a variety of distressing symptoms which must also be taken into account when setting safe levels for exposure to non-ionising radiation and when planning the siting of masts and transmitters.”

    You continue on your merry path of distortion:-

    “Looking at one of the sources for that the following quote seemed to sum it up quite well:
    “We conclude therefore that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach.””

    That’s the Stewart report. It can hardly be said to sum it up at all given their explicit thrust is the opposite, any more than Ben quoting the Daily Mail sums up his view.

    Andy I wont be responding to any more of your deliberate misrepresentations.
    Hector

  72. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 12:07 am

    For Ben, who says

    “hector: post 64 is for your attention. i think we’d all enjoy it if your reply was longer than 3,500 words and involved both a misunderstanding of the question and accusations of conspiracy, corruption, and stupidity. i’m afraid someone has already mentioned the nazis (in post 45) so that gong is denied to you.”

    Oh dear. Length of my posts? The longest ones have been responding in detail to spurious criticisms that you appear to approve of. Oh yes, and repeatedly asking you to use the words EPIDEMIOLOGICAL STUDIES. Go on Ben, you can do it. It only hurts the first time!

    Ben, ES sufferer Troy made many points that you could have picked up on. I wish him luck in trying to raise awareness. That your first instinct is to try to use the post against me (No 65), albeit rather dishonestly, is not impressive, is it:-

    “somebody calling themselves “hector ballast” on this forum was suggesting that symptoms take months of exposure, he said that to expect electrosensitivity symptoms to come on when someone goes near an electricity source was bonkers and stupid, and i was a bit surprised by that. would you say that electrosensitivity sufferers you know feel their symptoms getting worse within minutes or hours of being exposed to an electromagnetic field?”

    Its even worse. I said nothing to suggest people don’t respond to stimuli, only it was a different question from most of the illnesses. Eg, here are two things I said:

    1) Possible effects of EMF on health, and the detectability of EMF by individuals, are different questions
    2) If people complain about ailments from short term exposures, then these are relevant to those complaints

    Ben its no wonder that people have been deliberately misrepresenting my posts – you are leading by example. So – no need for a ‘conspiracy’ – just play follow-my-leader!

    Further you say “I was a bit surprised by that” … i.e., you ‘remember’ being surprised by something that didn’t happen. Ben – which newspaper do you work for, again?

    I note also that Troy has been fooled by your little deception. He couldnt find it – no wonder!

    In any case, its not your brightest moment. In the thousands of epidemiological studies involving EMF and ailments, the ailments wouldn’t have been attributed to EMF by sufferers – precisely because ES isn’t really accepted, and sick people don’t really want to hear about your ‘killer kettles’ anyway. That’s er, why they do these EPIDEMIOLOGICAL STUDIES…….high time you used the E-word I’d say. Still waiting.

    Hector

  73. Andy said,

    May 16, 2006 at 12:08 am

    Troy,

    I’m firmly on the fence.
    I agree that a negative study doesn’t prove that no link exists. All it proves is that in that study the methods used did not show any link.
    Similarly a single positive study does not prove anything if it’s results can not be repeated in follow up studies.

    I don’t think that anyone will deny that fields over a certain strength can cause problems. The question is where that line is.

    Also there seems to be two separate issues here:
    Firstly the small proportion of people who, like yourself, have a short term immediate reaction. Secondly there is the long term risk of prolonged exposure to a far higher proportion of the population.

    The short term issues like you report are, according to your post, often seen in people who have allergic reactions to other things. While this is obviously a large problem for the suffers it is limited to a small proportion of the population.
    I must admit that I find it odd that an electrical field could cause this and would wonder if its truly the EM field rather than some related issue (e.g. abnormally high sensitivity to chemicals used in the manufacture of circuit boards) however there are enough reports of this that there is something going on.

    The other issues seems to be the one Hector is talking about, the longer term statistical risk to the whole population. For this there is a lot of hand waving but as the studies he linked to as proof conclude, there is sufficient evidence to warrant caution and further study but not enough to make a definitive statement.

    My issue with Hectors posts is his absolute certainty that he is correct and anyone who disagrees with him is blinkered and unwilling to accept the truth.

  74. Andy said,

    May 16, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Hector:
    I don’t expect a reply to this since you’ve failed to give one twice already but:
    What evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments?

  75. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 12:33 am

    hector: i’m going to have one last go at getting you to answer a simple question. pay attention.

    i wrote an article describing a long list of provocation studies, where people were exposed to electromagnetic fields: these studies measured whether the subjects who felt they were sensitive to electromagnetic fields did develop symptoms in response to electromagnetic fields (or if they could detect their presence).

    in basically all the studies, subjects could not detect electromagnetic fields, or did not experience their symptoms worsening.

    most people think this is an interesting and useful string of findings. you reject it. firstly you said these studies were not about symptoms (but a huge number are), then you said that they were rubbish because they were too short, only lasting minutes or hours.

    as i understand it electrosensitivity subjects do in fact report that they develop symptoms in response to exposure over a very short period, as troy explained, minutes or hours.

    as i see it – and this is really boring me now – there are only two options:

    1. you deny that electromagnetic hypersensitivity symptoms arise within minutes or hours of exposure to electromagnetic fields, in contradiction of all descriptions of it including that of sufferers in this actual forum.

    2. you are talking about cancer, for example, or other health conditions, but not electromagnetic hypersensitivity. perhaps you misunderstood that this whole article and discussion is in fact about electromagnetic hypersensitivity, a condition where the symptoms come on within minutes/hours of exposure.

    which is it?

    we’ve already explained very clearly that we are not talking about EMF and cancer. there is indeed a lot of very interesting epidemiological data on this subject. it’s fascinating and important. i know you really badly want to talk about other diseases which may be related to electromagnetic fields but which are not electromagnetic hypersensitivity, please do go and start a discussion on it somewhere and those who wish to will join you. you could try www.badscience.net/forum

  76. John A said,

    May 16, 2006 at 2:04 am

    I’ll be brief. I was unware about TDMA and unsure what was being referred to as the pulsing frequency. Thank you for the Hyland link. I’m still not clear if the periods between the multi-frames he refers to are actually “off” periods of low signal-power. If not it’s like talking about the frequency of litres of water coming out of a hose – an arbitrary measure.

    The handwaving statement referred to the method of reasoning whereby just because two numbers are similar it is inferred that one may effect or relate to the other. It is particularly fallacious where there are many different numbers available and where you are only looking for matches and not counting the mismatches.

    More specifically, one of many possible numbers you can get about the brain are the EEG frequencies. Some (possibly arbitrary) aspect of mobile phone signals has a similar period to a particular band of these frequencies. So? The EEG itself does not have a role in cognition and that aside, why is it important that the mobile phone signal is similar to these EEG rhythms? My point was that it is easy to conjure such plausible hypotheses. A more plausible mechanism would explicitly detail a method of interaction (and would rely on known findings and would yield testable hypotheses).

  77. coracle said,

    May 16, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Hmm, been browsing pubmed for “electrohypersensitivity” AND epidemiology and produced no results, but this abstract sounded interesting:

    Med Hypotheses. 2000 Sep;55(3):208-14.

    Mycotoxins, fungus and ‘electrohypersensitivity’.

    Anttila K.

    kimanttila@iobox.se

    ‘Electrohypersensitivity’ is often explained as a psychological syndrome. Our
    modern environment contains a lot of different substances and some of them are
    toxic. Mycotoxins are types of toxins that are biologically very active and that
    affect living organisms. Mycotoxins and fungi capable of producing toxins have
    been detected in ventilation systems, water damage and in foodstuff. Many of
    those displaying symptoms caused by electromagnetic fields have fungus
    infections or have been living in fungus-contaminated environments for long
    periods. In animal studies mycotoxins have shown the same effects as those seen
    in the ‘electrohypersensitivity’ syndrome. Phototoxic reactions are well known
    in veterinary medicine and in medical science, so the question is whether the
    ‘electrohypersensitivity’ syndrome is caused by ‘phototoxic’ reactions?

    PMID: 10985910

  78. JQH said,

    May 16, 2006 at 10:50 am

    Coracle raises an interesting point but if someone was suffering from a fungal infection, wouldn’t they present the symptoms constantly rather than when exposed to an electromagnetic field? Or is it possible that the em fields could cause the fungi to increase their toxin output? Its certainly worthy of research anyway.

    I hope the discussion can stay cooled down, personal attacks don’t move the debate forward in any way. Nor does the confusion between electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation.

  79. coracle said,

    May 16, 2006 at 11:01 am

    I haven’t read the article but I think the abstract may be suggesting that the fungal toxins may be photoactivated. Possible I suppose. I’d be more surprised if rf radiation or other activated a fungal toxin. Hmm, may have to download the original article now.

  80. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 11:16 am

    As there is merit in this post of Andy’s (No. 73), I will relax my bar on responding to serial misrepresenters, because I’m that sort of guy. However there is a little bit more misrepresentation (though you’re improving), I’ll deal with that first.

    “I don’t expect a reply to this since you’ve failed to give one twice already but:
    What evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments? “ (No. 74)

    Andy you know I did reply: this was my reply:-

    “Well how about consideration of the other 99% of the evidence that you lot including Ben are studiously ignoring – the epidemiological evidence. In fact, how about a recognition of the fact that its been mentioned?”

    Point is, I’m at least trying to consider all the evidence, unlike others here.

    Nice contradiction here:

    To Troy you said:
    “For this there is a lot of hand waving but as the studies he linked to as proof conclude, there is sufficient evidence to warrant caution and further study but not enough to make a definitive statement.” (Well said, Andy by the way)

    To Hector:
    “What evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments”

    You will note that the statement in your answer to Troy:-

    “there is sufficient evidence to warrant caution”

    contradicts your statement to me:-

    “evidence indicates that there is no significant link”

    I do appreciate that you have accepted that epidemiological studies are crucial to making decisions about the “longer term statistical risks to the population” as you say. And to this debate Not just EMF obviously, but any entity that could conceivably cause a health problem

  81. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 16, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    Hector,

    You are obviously very passionate about some aspect of what is being discussed here; I respect that and would like to understand your point of view. However, much of what you have posted consists of accusing others of misrepresentation and use of the straw man fallacy. Could you please give a simple statement of what you believe perhaps with some references to support your position and perhaps suggest what ought to be done?

    You mention the Draper Pylon study and I found this – www.newscientist.com/channel/health/cancer/dn7460-large-study-links-power-lines-to-childhood-cancer.html

    Which quotes Gerald Draper at Oxford University, who led the study on the subject of childhood leukemia. “The condition is very rare and people living near power lines should have no cause for concern.”
    In post 54 you made the point that medical researchers use pulse modulated radiation because of its biological effects and you stated that if you go into PubMed (link below) and search for, eg, pulsed radiation, you’ll find many research papers where pulsed radiation was used.
    www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?CMD=search&DB=pubmed
    Eg, no. 2 is The Effects of Pulsed 860 MHz Radiofrequency Radiation on the Promotion of Neurogenic Tumors in Rats.
    I did just that and found that the article you have quoted in support of your argument apparently contradicts it. To quote “A methodical study of the tumor characteristics disclosed no evidence that exposure to the pulsed RF signal affected the incidence, malignancy, volume, multiplicity, latency or fatality associated with any kind of neurogenic tumor.”

    Are you suggesting that the mere fact that there has been research investigating whether or not pulsed radiation has a biological effect implies that it does?

    If you are unable to provide references I’m happy to be reassured by the ever dependable Robert Todd Carroll: – skepdic.com/emf.html

  82. Delster said,

    May 16, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Hector,

    in post 70, direct quote

    “You don’t need to check pubmed as I cited this only to show pulsing is an issue among researchers. But then you know about pulsing – which defeats all your criticisms on this point.”

    If you quote a source then people will check it… which i did. You specifically mentioned search result number 2. I read the abstract and quoted it in full in post 57. This is not “irrelevant detail ” to quote you from post 58. You presented an article and i went and read it and found it to not support your cause. Yes it is being investigated, as it should be, but so far they have not been able to prove a direct correlation between the two.

    Coracle,

    Some Mycotoxins have very similar effects to nerve agent toxins used in military weapons ( i belive some weapons were based on artifical versions of the mycotoxins). Part of my training was as a battlefield medic in the military and we covered the effects of these.

    A steady dose of some of the worst of these mycotoxins would lead to a large number of symptoms depending on dosage, length of exposuse and that persons own physiological make up.

    I was once exposed to air contaminated by mold spores and devoloped serious respiritory problems which took a long time to clear up.

    I would doubt that the fungal growths are responsive to EMF direcly although if the field strength was sufficient to cause a thermal effect it would have the effect of promoting growth, as would proximity to a steam heating pipe for example.

  83. coracle said,

    May 16, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Delster,

    Sounds unpleasant!

    I think what the article was suggesting was that there might be overlap in exposure to mycotoxins and VDUs and other EMF sources. It mentioned a number of studies reporting various fungal species in aircon and insulating materials.

    The article did mention an increase in metabolic activity of a yeast (S. cerevisiae I think) in response to EMF, but I don’t know under what conditions.

    Something that was interesting was the similarity of conditions experienced in those believing themselves to suffer EHS and symptoms caused by mycotoxins (skin disorders, GI disorders and eye disorders) including some penicillium species.

    It’s an interesting possibility but a long way from providing much in the way of evidence.

  84. luvaduck said,

    May 16, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Ben,

    Apologies for being lazy and not looking at the evidence myself, but did any of the studies observe genuine symptoms of electrohypersensitivty at all, and were these symptoms physically observable/measurable or simply as reported by the subject?

    It would be interesting to know if physically observable symptoms could be triggered wihout the EMF source being active, and how repeatable this was.

  85. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Ben you say – “i know you really badly want to talk about other diseases which may be related to electromagnetic fields but which are not electromagnetic hypersensitivity, please do go and start a discussion on it somewhere”

    Lets not allow the subject matter, nor your previous treatment, of it to morph. First, what is the subject matter – Ben, go into the electrosensitivity sufferers website electrosensitivity.org and look under ‘symptoms’. Here is what you find:-

    Skin problems, Sensitivity to light / Eye problems, Tiredness / Weakness , Heart problems / High blood pressure, Headaches / Migraine, Joint and/or muscle pain, Dizziness, Difficulty with concentration, Nausea / General Poor Health, Memory problems, Endocrine / Hormonal problems, Respiratory / Lung Disorders, Stomach / Intestinal disorders, Numbness, “Influenza” / Throat problems, Sleep disorders, Hearing Problems / Tinnitus, Tremors / Cramps, Anxiety / Depression, Haziness / Confusion, Fainting / Coma, Asthma / Allergies, Speech Difficulties, Irritability
    www.electrosensitivity.org/symptoms.htm

    There is no heading like “oh no, I can detect the phone, how irritating”.
    The idea of electrosensitivity is NOT separable from that of illnesses potentially caused by EMF.

    Now to your treatment of it. Here is your introduction to the online “Attack of the Killer Kettles”:-

    “It’s a sinister idea, and “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” is sweeping the nation, or at least the Independent and the Daily Mail last week. Symptoms include fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances: and since these are real symptoms, causing genuine distress, the problem deserves to be considered seriously, and carefully… There are two things the newspapers left out of their stories: the first is the scientific evidence …..”

    The implication, which you will admit that you go on to argue, is that there is no scientific evidence that Electromagnetic fields are causing ailments of the kind described by the more hysterical newspapers. At the end, you acknowledge ‘the symptoms that people are currently attributing to electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unpleasant and often disabling’.

    So – the issue of illnesses is very much the subject matter but the ONLY evidence you want to discuss relates to, in your words, ES as ‘…. a condition where the symptoms come on within minutes/hours of exposure’. (Note that this answers your question)

    The deception, if that’s not too strong, comes from your choosing only provocation studies as your chosen evidence for its evaluation. When challenged, you retreat to a position whereby you were only talking about whether subjects could detect EMF in the way that they thought they could – a position clearly at odds with the beginning of your article, as I believe I have shown.

    Basically you want to imply that you have demonstrated that the idea that EMF cause the illnesses of ES is all a load of codswallop, and hope no-one notices your evidence relates to at best a minor part of the suffering spectrum. More bang for the buck, I grant you. No wonder ES leader Rod Read was putting dummy phone masts up around your effigy…..

    Finally, for completeness, the misrepresentation section.
    (I wont be too hard on you, as you have now at least mentioned epidemiological studies – hope this didn’t caused your PC shake! :) )

    You say “most people think this is an interesting and useful string of findings. you reject it. firstly you said these studies were not about symptoms (but a huge number are), then you said that they were rubbish because they were too short, only lasting minutes or hours.”

    I don’t and didn’t reject it as a study of reactions or symptoms related to reactions. It is useful but not for the use that you put it to in your article. It can not pose as a study of symptoms related to illnesses per se. That role is played by EPIDEMIOLOGICAL STUDIES of the illnesses in question.

    Neither did I say the studies were rubbish, only your portrayal of them – ie, as being relevant to the general question of EMFs and illnesses. You would have to admit that by their nature they are open to the accusation of being knee-jerk studies. So much so that some ES sufferers refuse to participate in them.

    Having seriously misrepresented the science, to restore credibility it would seem you must now either

    a) issue a correction stating the article related only to minor symptoms and you certainly didnt mean to imply that there was no scientific evidence linking EMFs to their illnesses, or

    b) bring in consideration of epidemiological studies and reconsider your thrust. Stick to it by all means, but use the real evidence of these studies to back it up.

    Hector

  86. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    hector, i dont think most people would have a problem in recognising that my article was about electromagnetic hypersensitivity symptoms rather than cancer. i’m sorry it confused you.

  87. Andy said,

    May 16, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Hector:
    Excuse me for being slow but to me
    “Well how about consideration of the other 99% of the evidence that you lot including Ben are studiously ignoring – the epidemiological evidence. In fact, how about a recognition of the fact that its been mentioned?”

    is not an answer to:
    “What evidence would be required for you to change your mind and accept that the available evidence indicates that there is no significant link between everyday EM fields and peoples ailments? “

    You seemed to have answered the question of what evidence do you feel should convince others that you are correct. You have yet to answer the question of what evidence it would take to convince you that your current position is wrong.

    All scientifically accepted facts have the implied qualification of “unless sufficent new evidence indicates otherwise”. Obviously for some things the required level of proof is rather high, e.g. I’m not sure what evidence it would take to convinse me that the earth is flat and resting on the backs of 4 giant elephants but it would have to be fairly good.
    The question I have been trying to get you to answer is not what evidence you feel supports your case but what evidence it would take to convince you that you were wrong.

  88. luvaduck said,

    May 16, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    I find it interesting that Rod Read says:

    “…proximity to EMF sources makes him (and others) ill, simple, accept that, start there and the equation is different.”

    Given how simple it is to test this hypothesis, why should wee just accept it and start there? Clearly some of these people are no more more interested in getting to the root cause of their symptoms than your previous hi-fi fanatics are of knowing whether a £300 kettle lead makes a real difference to their auditory experience.

  89. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Aspiring Pedant

    “Much of what I have posted…accuse others…” got to answer criticism, yeh? As long as it’s genuine. Also, the benefit of the doubt and all that.

    My simple position is that Ben’s article was misleading in its portrayal of the evidence on Electrosensitivity. Thousands of epidemiological studies are more relevant than the dozens of provocation studies chosen.

    As to the question of whether EMF cause illnesses, we haven’t even got to that debate yet, thanks to questions like you ask here. But theres a selection of evidence that should be considered in No. 27.

    The remainder of your questions fail the sincerity test. You and Delster simply can’t be that stupid. If you are then the whole concept of scientific evidence would be wasted on you.

    If you insist on answers why don’t I wait a while to save time, and all those who think these are good questions can embarrass yourselves at once – deal?

  90. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    hector: please give references for epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

  91. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Ben – In response to my analysis of your sleight of hand with the evidence, you merely say

    “hector, i dont think most people would have a problem in recognising that my article was about electromagnetic hypersensitivity symptoms rather than cancer. i’m sorry it confused you.”

    Cancer wasn’t even on the ES list. Can I take it then that with this joke you’ve bailed out.

    Your own fine words – “Denying the reality of people’s symptoms is similarly offensive and unhelpful. I will give no quarter on this“

    No – as long as these symptoms don’t include actual illnesses.

    The groupies will be disappointed that while they gamely took issue with the colour of my shirt, their leader throughout could not muster a serious attempt to refute the analysis.

    Hector

  92. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 16, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    Hector,

    What question have I asked that is insincere or stupid? Couldn’t you just state your case and back it up with evidence (eg links to published papers)?

    Troy,

    As a hay fever sufferer I’m intrigued by your statement that “As far as what triggers the symptoms go – people who react to electricity KNOW what triggers their symptoms. It’s a bit like when hayfeaver (sic) sufferers know that when they go outside they start to sneeze.

    In fact it’s not that clear cut; I’ve had days when I’ve been ok working in the countryside and experienced terrible sneezing fits when I came into town. I only know I’m allergic to pollen, and various other things, because I’ve had skin scratch tests done. I think the studies to which Ben referred in his original article were an attempt to establish some similar test for electrosensitivity.
    The science behind allergic reactions is well established (www.allergyclinic.co.nz/guides/39.html) but prior to the nineteenth century we probably had little idea what caused hay fever. I’m afraid you’re in that position; you have symptoms but don’t know what’s causing them.

  93. hairnet said,

    May 16, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    Delster : “although if the field strength was sufficient to cause a thermal effect”, I’m not sure this is possible, in a general sense. TO heat the air the EMF needs to be of a frequency that will interact with air molecules (IR-ish).
    Which is my central beef with this discussion, you cannot talk about generic effects of EMF on mass, the phenomena is too varied.

  94. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Ben – sorry for previous post, I thought you’d ended the exchange. Cheers.

    My criticism throughout was that you left out epidemiological studies altogether. I am not competent to actually present the case like a good reviewer might. But I’ll try to be helpful. I don’t think the references in No 27 should be swept under the carpet. But we have established that you disagree with me and probably the sufferers too, as to what electrosensitivity means. To sufferers, its every EMF-attributed ailment they have.

    I need to go out right now for a few hours. Perhaps you can elaborate as to what type of illnesses you would count or exclude with regard to the definition?

    Hector

  95. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    hector: can we have some references for epidemiological studies into Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity please?

  96. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 16, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    Hector,

    By references in No 27 do you mean the links in no 28 ie – www.tetrawatch.net/main/news.php?page=2

    I found this via that link –

    www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=23610

    This has the heading ‘Correlation found between mobile phone masts and sleep disturbances’

    It’s quite interesting but it does include this quote from the study’s author “Though there has not been established a causal relationship yet, the symptoms of some persons are thus severe, that they leave their homes and jobs and try to find release in an environment with less ‘electromagnetic pollution’.

    The study included “nine testpersons” (sic) and the more electrosensitive appeared to sleep much better when protected from radiofrequent radiation. Rigorous stuff .

    Hector, do you actually read any of this stuff yourself?

  97. Jellytussle said,

    May 16, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Hector Ballast wrote:

    “I’ve a meter that measures magnetic fields and if I put it about a foot from my blasting hi-fi it measures about 0.3 microtesla (yes the level associated with a doubling of child leukemias, which is why I wouldnt use it as a pillow). ”

    Which begs the question: if this field is so ubiquitous, how can one separate out the effect of overhead “leukaemogenic” power lines?

  98. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 8:19 pm

    wow. isn’t it interesting how this whole thread has now become the hector ballast show?

    anyway, hector, again: please can we have some references for epidemiological studies into Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity?

  99. Fyse said,

    May 16, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    I think it was Charles Nalin who said…

    “Never argue with a fool. The spectators can’t tell the difference.”

    Generally sound advice, but not a problem in this case…

  100. Hector Ballast said,

    May 16, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Ben

    “wow. isn’t it interesting how this whole thread has now become the hector ballast show?“

    That’s because you’ve encouraged spurious interference from the roadies. Why don’t you call them off now we might be getting somewhere.

    Ben as the man of science around here you’ll appreciate, or ought to, that there is no point in supplying references to the possible effect of X on Y if we don’t agree what we mean by Y. Particularly as you have already stated that you perceive a dichotomy between electromagnetic hypersensitivity and “other diseases which may be related to electromagnetic fields”. Whereas electrosensitivity sufferers, I believe, lean towards using this term when they believe EMFs cause any ailments, including specific illnesses.

    I asked “Perhaps you can elaborate as to what type of illnesses you would count or exclude with regard to the definition”.

    You simply repeated the question:-

    “anyway, hector, again: please can we have some references for epidemiological studies into Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity?”

    Assuming you will accept studies of possible effects of EMF on specific ailments as fitting into this category, we can get going. Please confirm.

    Hector

  101. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    hector, you’re wasting our time now.

    you’ve accused me rather grandly and repeatedly of ignoring the epidemiological data on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

    i wrote an article about electromagnetic hypersensitivity, on how the WHO and HPA reports on electromagnetic hypersensitivity were misrepresented, how newspaper articles on electromagnetic hypersensitivity were misleading, and how they ignored important research papers on electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which i described and gave references to. there are 13,700 results for electromagnetic hypersensitivity on google.

    www.google.co.uk/search?hs=uIm&hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&q=%22electromagnetic+hypersensitivity%22&btnG=Search&meta=

    now.

    give me your references to epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

  102. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 16, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    focus your mind hector. don’t start shouting about something else. give me the references to epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

  103. luvaduck said,

    May 16, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Hector seems very struck by his E-P-I-D-E-M-I-O-L-O-G-I-C-A-L S-T-U-D-I-E-S, but does not seem to recognise that they can tell us very little about the cause of the observed effect. An epidemiological study would demonstrate that by cycling to work I am putting myself at an increased risk of a traffic accident, but would not indicate why.

    What is needed are reproducible experiments, in a controlled environment to test specific hypotheses. Given that elecrohypersensitivity sufferes claim “…proximity to EMF sources makes [them] ill” then this should be simple to verify.

    Which is where this thread all started ….

  104. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 17, 2006 at 9:13 am

    H-E-C-T-O-R W-H-E-R-E A-R-E T-H-E R-E-F-E-R-E-N-C-E-S T-O

    E-P-I-D-E-M-I-O-L-O-G-I-C-A-L S-T-U-D-I-E-S

    O-N

    E-L-E-C-T-R-O-M-A-G-N-E-T-I-C H-Y-P-E-R-S-E-N-S-I-T-V-I-T-Y?

    just getting the references (on electromagnetic hypersensitivity) that you are so keen that we don’t ignore is very much only the first of first steps, if you fall there then i think people might have a bit of difficulty taking anything else very seriously. just the references, we can go and read them ourselves.

  105. coracle said,

    May 17, 2006 at 9:30 am

    The WHO has a good resource on EHS studies (www.who.int/peh-emf/research/database/en/index.html) choose either the project database link or citation list link at the top of the text. From there, studies can be filtered by type (inc epidemiology) and can be filtered to exclude cancer (although this isn’t always effective). There aren’t that many and I haven’t read any of them.

    I was wondering whether it would be feasible to do a mini-review as a collaborative effort. If we each took one report we could get through it pretty quickly. It would be very cool if we could set up a wiki for this sort of thing. It would be useful to maintain a dynamic list of resources that we could all comment/edit. I don’t know much about actually executing that though. Someone would need to host and administer it, beyond my IT capabilities unfortunately.

    Any thoughts? Ben, anyone?

  106. coracle said,

    May 17, 2006 at 10:18 am

    Having been through the list retrieved as above I’ve looked at the types of studies indexed results are as follows:

    48 published studies (more than one paper may be published per study).

    7 refer to general hypersensitivity, 5 to headaches, 21 include occupational exposure, 18 on reproductive effects, 7 on cataracts, 3 other eye symptoms.

    Types of exposure include 9 on 900 MHz, 7 on VDU, 7 on microwaves and 10 on RF.

  107. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Ben – what is this meant to be.

    “H-E-C-T-O-R W-H-E-R-E A-R-E T-H-E R-E-F-E-R-E-N-C-E-S T-O

    E-P-I-D-E-M-I-O-L-O-G-I-C-A-L S-T-U-D-I-E-S

    O-N

    E-L-E-C-T-R-O-M-A-G-N-E-T-I-C H-Y-P-E-R-S-E-N-S-I-T-V-I-T-Y?

    just getting the references (on electromagnetic hypersensitivity) that you are so keen that we don’t ignore is very much only the first of first steps, if you fall there then i think people might have a bit of difficulty taking anything else very seriously. just the references, we can go and read them ourselves.”

    Ben I must say that I completely fail to understand this behaviour. There must be sixty epidemiological references in my recent posts, all concerning EMF exposures and illnesses and conditions or biological effects related to electrosensitivity, or potentially underlying effects. There are hundreds if you simply follow the links. You continue merely to chant as if you have received nothing.

    When someone sends you something you asked for, its normal to acknowledge it. If its not what you wanted, you then, you know, communicate something to that effect. Is the way for the author of a science column to receive material that he has asked for?

    Perhaps you are trying to give the impression they are not what you asked for. In case there was some kind of issue as to what is understood by the term “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”, and in order to prevent this kind of dispute from hindering progress, I have already asked:-

    “Perhaps you can elaborate as to what type of illnesses you would count or exclude with regard to the definition”.

    You merely replied

    “hector, you’re wasting our time now.”

    And posted once more:

    “give me your references to epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
    ”
    You posted this twice with two minutes, even though I’d told you I was out for most of the evening.

    Ben, if you don’t acknowledge what I do send, even though its on the board, I don’t know what I can do.

    Hector
    (Puzzled)

  108. CB said,

    May 17, 2006 at 10:53 am

    Hector,
    You have linked to sites with a lot of references – but its not immediately obvious to us (well me anyway) which are the pertinent ones. Perhaps you could select maybe 5 which you feel make your case best and post links to each in one single effort? That I beleive would be the best way to proceed, rather then us having to trawl through your many posts to find the info. It’d probably be best not to select studies on the issue of cancer.
    Best
    CB

  109. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 11:28 am

    Thanks CB. A chance to clear this up again.

    There is no question of ‘my case’. To make ‘the case’, You need to be an epidemiologist or expert in a related field. Of course anyone can have an opinion of how someone else’s case was formed.

    The case that I am actually making is that while claiming there was no scientific evidence, Ben was ignoring most of the scientific evidence.

    To focus merely on 31 provocation studies to dismiss the pleas of sick people about the causes of their illnesses, when relevant studies of EMF and their illnesses are readily available in their thousands, is extraordinary.

    Further there have been reviews by panels of experts and some of them conclude EMF are likely to be responsible for many of the ailments. Some have not. But thats the ball game that has to be played if you are going to stand up and make pronouncements about there being no evidence..

    A strong and substantial case was made by the California report 2002, see www.dhs.ca.gov/ehib/emf/RiskEvaluation/riskeval.html

    Any shortcut is open to the criticism on the basis of what’s left out. By its very nature (technical science) the subject its not welcoming for newcomers and browsers unless they have time on their hands.

    The ES website isn’t a bad place to start looking for links. SInce the mobile revolution more research sources have appeared like MastSanity, Powerwatch. As they are campaigners you should check sources opposing their views. If you go into the mobile operators site

    www.mobilemastinfo.com/information/radiowaves_and_health/health_reports.htm

    you will link up to reports of goverment bodies. This gives the official hunkydory views – then maybe we’ll even see them feature in Ben’s column!

    Unfortunately, there is no magic spot with only the right stuff. Even if I suggested one to you, the choice would be only my judgement. That wouldnt help you reach a balanced view unless you already trusted me, if that makes sense.

    Cheers

    Hector

  110. CB said,

    May 17, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Hector,

    I may be being a bit thick, and obviously I’ve not read every item on those two links, but the ones I did scan the summaries of they specifically state that no link has been found and that all previous epidemiological studies had serious methodological flaws.
    Link 1 did find a link with leukemia, brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease (no idea what that is!) and miscarriage – none of which is on the list of symptoms you yourself provided.
    They specifically did not find a link with “depression, or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs”. So I’m confused at why you would link to these sites. If Ben were to mention them, they would seem to strengthen his case.

    Please do not launch into a diatribe against me, as I think I’ve been fair and balanced.
    Best
    CB

  111. luvaduck said,

    May 17, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    Hector,

    In your very first post you state “mechanisms by which EMR could cause cancer and othe illnesses are in fact quite well known”.

    Scanning through the links in the various posts & other references I do find this to be the case, and the main reason why it has so far been impossible to prove a causal link between EMF.EMR and any illness other than under artificial conditions at very high doses.

    I think you summed up this whole “discussion” in your last post – I depends whether you want to side with the “campaigners” or the “officials” since neither can provide the killer evidence to make their position irrefutable.

  112. Delster said,

    May 17, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    the conclusions from the california report are listed below (6 points). The test was set up to review the studies about possible health problems from magnetic and electrical fields (EMFs) from power lines, wiring in buildings, some jobs and appliances. This did NOT include Radio frequency EMFs from cell phones and radio towers. All three scientists involved were epidemiologists of various flavours.

    To one degree or another, all three of the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrigs disease, and miscarriage.

    They strongly believe the EMFs do NOT increase the risk of birth defects, or low birth weight.

    The strongly believe that EMFs are NOT universal carcinogens, since there are a number of cancer types that are not associated with EMF exposure.

    To one degree or another they are inclined to belive that EMFs do NOT cause an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers disease, depression or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs. However,

    All three scientists had judgements that were “close to the dividing line between believeing and not believing” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk of suicide, or

    For adult lukemia, two of the scientists are “close to the dividing line between believeing and not believing” and one wqas “prone to believe” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk.

    The above is lifted from the executive summary of the California EMF risk evaluation that Hector linked as being “A strong and substantial case “. Unfortunatly i had to type it rather than cut and paste so there might be typos and i’ve capitalised words where they were underlined.

    Hector i would ask, if you define this as being a strong and substantial case, what training you have had in the reading of scientific papers? After all “some degree of increased risk” is hardly a resounding pointing of the finger.

  113. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 17, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    I suspect that in choosing a 386 page report (with a further 159 pages of appendices) Hector was not seeking to clarify matters. However, I found this in the executive summary:

    THE CONCLUSIONS AFTER REVIEWING ALL THE EVIDENCE:
    • To one degree or another, all three of the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.
    • They strongly believe that EMFs do not increase the risk of birth defects, or low birth weight.
    • They strongly believe that EMFs are not universal carcinogens, since there are a number of cancer types that are not associated with EMF exposure.
    • To one degree or another they are inclined to believe that EMFs do not cause an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs. However,
    • All three scientists had judgments that were “close to the dividing line between believing and not believing” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk of
    suicide, or
    • For adult leukemia, two of the scientists are “close to the dividing line between believing or not believing” and one was “prone to believe” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk.

    And this from the long fact sheet – www.dhs.ca.gov/ehib/emf/longfactsheet.PDF

    The controversy about EMF health effects derives from: 1) the fact that many scientists believe power line magnetic fields emit little energy and are therefore too weak to have any effect on cells; 2) the inconclusive nature of laboratory experiments; and 3) the fact that epidemiological studies of people exposed to high EMF are inconclusive.

    None of this casts Ben’s article in a bad light.

  114. fontwell said,

    May 17, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this Hector chap is not trying to make any particular point, he is just trolling and he is being fed a feast.

  115. Delster said,

    May 17, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    hah! beat you to it Pedant…. for once!

    your probably right Fontwell…. he’s spending a lot of time on it though

  116. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 17, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Fontwell,

    It occurred to me that Hector may not be genuine but how can you tell the difference between someone who holds contrary views and clings to them despite all evidence to the contrary and a troll?
    In either case I’m wasting my time responding to him so thanks for the warning.

  117. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    I have to express my gratitude to you all.

    Delster
    “After all “some degree of increased risk” is hardly a resounding pointing of the finger”

    Aspiring Pedant presents the same conclusions and then considers
    “None of this casts Ben’s article in a bad light. “

    Fontwell
    “At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this Hector chap is not trying to make any particular point, he is just trolling and he is being fed a feast. “

    Dear boy/girl. I am trying to make a particular point-or was. You folk have now made it for me.

    Here is the point once more – epidemiological studies are the evidence, not just provocation studies. I am grateful for this first mention of the California report, albeit in a kind of playing-with-the-wrapping-paper-instead-of-the-presents kind of way.

    Will Ben continue to ignore it?

    You cannot, for example, concede the likelihood of “some degree of increased risk” of serious illnesses from EMF, and then tell the people who claim to have these or other illnesses and who attribute them to EMF, that there is no evidence for their claims, as Ben did.

    Delster – some degree of increased risk, if manifested, could mean a lot of people.
    It doesn’t matter what you think of the conclusion. It, or the evidence on which it based, must be on the table in any serious attempt to evaluate the evidence.

    So, AP – does this cast Ben’s article in a bad light? Who knows- I’m not after Ben, I just believe this evidence should not be ignored.

    Bear in mind its not the only review and these are not the only studies. I posted lots more as examples.

    Perhaps you might all indicate whether you believe Ben should refer to this type of evidence in the future, or stick to his knee-jerks.

    Hector

  118. coracle said,

    May 17, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Hector,

    The epidemiological in the california review and in many others is flawed, much of it relies on self reporting and little or no attempt is made to measure actual EMF intensity in such studies.

    Further, even if attempts were made, those surveyed would likely be aware of the rough exposure since power masts, mobile phone masts and VDUs are tricky to conceal. This would have the likely affect of skewing sufferer reports.

    No aetiology is determined in epidemiological studies, the symptoms suffered by those reporting as electrohypersensitive may not be caused exposure to EMF but another factor common to places of work. Ben was not denying the symptoms existence but their cause, as he has made clear repeatedly.

    Based on these limitations I think Ben would be entirely justified in dismissing (if he did) the evidence of epidemiological studies when it comes to electrohypersensitivity.

  119. Delster said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Hector,

    quote from your post

    “I am grateful for this first mention of the California report, albeit in a kind of playing-with-the-wrapping-paper-instead-of-the-presents kind of way.” actually no… you mentioned it in the first place all we did was read it and found that the overwhelming concensus of there conclusions was that there was no verifiable link.

    To give that comment in full as you seem to have only selected the bit you like

    “For adult leukemia, two of the scientists are “close to the dividing line between believing or not believing” and one was “prone to believe” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk.”

    So… for adult leukemia only and with only one of the 3 being “prone” to belive… ie not totally convinced, thats there may be “some degree”, ie non quantifiable from evidence, of some “increased risk”. Bearing these in mind your talking about a very small fractional increase in a fairly rare ailment…. so not exactly lots of people then.

    and as the article we are talking about only covered electrosensitivity in the first place the following quote from the report.

    “• To one degree or another they are inclined to believe that EMFs do not cause an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs.”

    And for the statistics…… say that one in a hundred normally get the ailment in question (it’s actually much less) and you have a population of 1000 in the risk area. This would give a median of 10 cases under normal conditions.

    Then say that the risk of getting this is upped by 10%… which incidently would be easily quantified which they have not been able to do…. so has to be a lot less than that.

    This would mean the risk becomes 1.1% (1 in a hundred + 10% of 1 in a hundred) This would lead to a median of 11 cases in the risk area.

    Bear in mind i have exagerated both the normal risk factor and given a high value for the increased risk factor.

    Now my statistics training was done a long time ago so people please feel free to tell me if it’s flawed.

  120. Andy said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    1) When asked to clarify a point simply repeats previous statements: Check.
    2) Fails to answer simple questions and when pressed complains that he already has answered them: Check.
    3) Happy to repeatedly claim supporting evidence but then slow to actually point to any: Check.
    4) When requested to clarify evidence falls back to 1) and 2): Check
    5) Claims to have a scientific point of view backed by evidence but then acts as if it was something closer to a religious belief: Check

    I’m with fontwell. Troll.
    Well either that or a politician, it’s so hard to tell the two apart at times.

  121. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    Coracle – this is the best post yet.

    In post No 77 you say

    “Hmm, been browsing pubmed for “electrohypersensitivity” AND epidemiology and produced no results, but this abstract sounded interesting….”

    As epidemiology is the subject in the database, this is like going into a library and asking if they have any libraries, and then coming out and saying Nope, they don’t.have any libraries….

    It was so dumb I couldn’t respond in case it was genuine. But it shows clearly you didn’t know what epidemiology meant.

    Now – read your post again bearing in mind No. 77. It is truly priceless.

    Today, you are apparently able to make what at first sounds like an intelligent but dismissive technical critique, in half a page, of a vast area of research the existence of which you didn’t know about yesterday.

    Who is who around here? And where is Ben anyway?

    Anyway may I offer most sincerely my maximum level of thanks.

    As to the content of your ‘critique’ please simply send it to er, Ben and it can be the next Bad Science column. Guardian sales in academia may drop, though!

    Once again:-

    “Based on these limitations I think Ben would be entirely justified in dismissing (if he did) the evidence of epidemiological studies when it comes to electrohypersensitivity.”

    A hoot.

    Hector

  122. fontwell said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Apsiring Pedant,

    The way to recognise troll behavior is to have a go yourself – it’s really quite good fun actually. Pick an organisation that you have absolutely no respect for at all (Flat Earth, Nation Front etc), find a web site with a comment forum and try to string them along. Of course you do have the advantage of rational arguments on your side but the fun is in not using them except as a an absolute last resort.

    What you discover is that you do the following;

    Make grand claims without stating any specific references.
    Respond to any replies with ad hominem if there is the slightest opportunity.
    If someone refutes all of your claims you only respond to one of their refutations.
    When you reply to a refute you start out by saying they misunderstand what you are saying.
    If you do provide references, you use a study that is the correct general topic but don’t bother to actually read it – the trollees will soon tell you if it backs up you or them.
    Another fun thing is to write in a way the suggests English is not your first language. This provides all sorts of fun ways to insult your victims.
    And so on.

    The game is to keep the posts going as long as possible rather than reach a conclusion.

    Having trolled (once only actually) on a Creationist web site I now recognise it far more quickly than before. And like you said, if someone is acting like that but isn’t trolling, you may as well give up anyway.

  123. MikeTheGoat said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    I’ve stayed out of this so far but I’m going to jump in now. I *know* that this is only encouraging Hector but I have to take issue with something in post 120.

    Surely papers investigating epidemiology are pretty likely to feature the word “epidemiology” somewhere in the title, abstract or keywords. So, it seems pretty reasonable to me to use “epidemiology” as a search term when searching pubmed.

    I have no idea what the following paragraph from Hector even means…

    “As epidemiology is the subject in the database, this is like going into a library and asking if they have any libraries, and then coming out and saying Nope, they don’t.have any libraries….”

    Hector – do you use PubMed? It’s here: www.ncbi.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=PubMed should you want to try.

    Apologies for continuing the feeding frenzy. Think i’ll stop now.

  124. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Delster

    By “playing-with-the-wrapping-paper-instead-of-the-presents kind of way” I meant that the point was, that all I have been trying to do all along is to get studies like this on the table – just what (it would appear) Ben has been trying to avoid. The collective tactic of opposing everything I say, on whatever basis, backfired.

    I should also say apart from the other issues, thanks for considering the studies.

    You can say something is “not verifiable” no matter how strong the evidence is. Fact remains that most studies in the review found an increased risk. That’s cause for Ben’s concern not dismissiveness.

    “Then say that the risk of getting this is upped by 10%… which incidently would be easily quantified which they have not been able to do…. so has to be a lot less than that.”

    Many of the odds ratios are far higher than 10%. A risk upped by 10% would certainly not be easily quantified. You would need a very large population with very similar and accurately measured exposures. Even then its as much a question of acceptance of the evidence. Another issue…

    We can both make points here and there… but whether I agree or disagree with your interpretation of that or the other studies and reviews, it’s a discussion that Ben should be having with the ES sufferers and the scientific community, especially those outside the knee-jerk sideshows.

    Would you agree with this ?

  125. Aspiring Pedant said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    Fontwell,

    I did notice, and I think I even commented, that Hector didn’t appear to have read the studies he referenced. He was just really convincing – to my mind anyway. Oh well, I’ve been fooled before and probably will be again.

  126. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    luvaduck said,

    “I think you summed up this whole “discussion” in your last post – I depends whether you want to side with the “campaigners” or the “officials” since neither can provide the killer evidence to make their position irrefutable. ”

    Fair comment -but if Ben represents the “official” view it would be more accurate to say that he is completely ignoring the other side’s evidence, ‘killer’ or not.

  127. apgaylard said,

    May 17, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    See my post 64. Hector claimed that the California Review provided a “A strong and substantial case ” [post 110]. He has now moderated his language to highlighting the importance of “some degree of increased risk”, part of a form of words used in the report. This is better, but it is worth noting that the reports strongest support for the putative negative health effects of EMFs is: “..the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.”

    On the other hand, they strongly believed that EMFs do not “…increase the risk of birth defects, or low birth weight.” and are not “universal carcinogens”.

    Further, they were “inclined to believe that EMFs do not cause an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs”.

    Setting aside any judgement as to the streangth of this review, the following is evident.
    If an inclination to believe that some degree of increased risk is to be considered as evidence for a specific sub-set of health risks (note: the authors only applied this comment to childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.) then logic dictates that their inclination against EMF’s causing other health problems (breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs) should be acknowledged as evidence of equal strength.

    Given that Ben Goldacre’s article was origionally focussed on EHS then the inclination against “..symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs..” should be, by Hector’s analysis, taken as evidence against a role for EMFs in the provocation of these symptoms. Therefore, if Ben Goldacre was to use this piece of epideiological research in his piece it would be as part of the case for symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs to be caused by something else.

    More weight still should then be attached to the author’s stong belief that EMFs do not “…increase the risk of birth defects, or low birth weight.” and are not “universal carcinogens”.

    In terms of epidemiological evidence for EMFs as a source of health risk, what are we left with from this study? Three reviewers who were inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of four specific conditions (1) childhood leukemia, (2) adult brain cancer, (3) Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and (4) miscarriage. (They were also “close to the dividing line between believing and not believing” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk of suicide.).

    Therefore if this study is to be cited to bolster the case against EMFs, it can only be as evidence with regards to these four (maybe 5) conditions.

    In actual fact it provides an equally strong case against EMFs increasing the risk of “..symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs” (along with breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression).

    Finally, it could also be properly used to argue more strongly that EMF’s do not “…increase the risk of birth defects, or low birth weight.” and are not “universal carcinogens”, should one wish to make that point.

    The epidemiological evidence it contains does not support claims outwith this scope.

  128. Andy said,

    May 17, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    MikeTheGoat:
    Total tangent. You may want to fix your profile, you’re missing the . before blogspot in your website address.

  129. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 17, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    several more long posts from hector, ad hominem attacks (i represent the “official view” apparently) but he still simply hasn’t given me references to epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

    definite troll, and a total waste of time. lesson for next time i guess.

    incidentally hector, the references for the epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity that you’ve accused us all of ignoring will look like this:

    journal title, date, page number, author name, article title.

    do please post them soon, perhaps instead of your long unpleasant ad hominem rants.

    until you give these references i dont think anyone is going to take you very seriously.

  130. Evil Kao Chiu said,

    May 17, 2006 at 9:20 pm

    I can’t believe this forum has been so comprehensively trolled since I looked at it yesterday. It’s full of ballast in every sense.

  131. CB said,

    May 17, 2006 at 10:07 pm

    My final two penneth – To ignore and disregard studies that disagree with you is bad, but you are perfectly at liberty to ignore studies that agree with you if you so wish, which is the most that Ben could be accused of. Thank you and goodnight.

  132. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    Thanks Apgaylard, for engaging on the real topic. But I don’t know what you mean by “See my post 64”. (Er, I’m going to look really stupid if it turns out I’m really talking to Ben all along :( )

    The real point is that Ben is deliberately and wrongly ignoring these studies.

    An important point about this study – the experts were not asked for these verbal views, but were actually asked to express numbers which were then converted to words uning a preset verbal framework.

    Eg, for adult leukaemia (you missed this one!), two of the scientists are “close to the dividing line between believing or not believing” and one was “prone to believe” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk.

    If you look at the little chart you see that ‘prone to believe’ in this case meant the expert was nearly ‘80% sure’ EMFs cause increase in adult leukemia.

    Lets take suicide. You quote “They were also “close to the dividing line between believing and not believing” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk of suicide”

    Respectively, they were 51%, 55% and 61% sure EMF’s cause some degree of increased risk of suicide. Close to the dividing line, but actually a little over it. To fast-backward about a hundred pages, if there were as suggested a remotely hysterical media looking to cause controversy, we might have seen headlines like “Suicidal Kettles” and not only in the mickey-taking columns. But we didn’t.

    Your interpretation is your own, but its possible the verbal expressions are toning down a slightly greater level of certainty.

    So five serious illnesses more likely than not to be caused to some degree by EMF’s, plus another just over the boundary that we’ll call even.

    I’m not saying this proves it – but this evidence has to be considered. Personally speaking, I think it is strong.

    You raise another interesting point.

    “If an inclination to believe that some degree of increased risk is to be considered as evidence for a specific sub-set of health risks (note: the authors only applied this comment to childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.) then logic dictates that their inclination against EMF’s causing other health problems (breast cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, or symptoms attributed by some to a sensitivity to EMFs) should be acknowledged as evidence of equal strength.”

    I appreciate all attempts at logic, but this fails. Firstly because verbal summaries are OK but these were only verbal representations of numbers.

    From the chart for breast cancer, the degrees of certainty are 15%, 20% and 50%. One close to the dividing line and two prone not to believe. BUT –prone not to believe still means they expressed the likelihood as 15%-20%.

    No expert was prepared to strongly disbelieve EMFs cause breast cancer. Think of that. Based on this, could a Californian Ben have put his hand on his heart and said theres no evidence EMFs cause breast cancer? I don’t think so. He could say he thinks not but it’s a definite worry. That’s about what the data says.

    The second reason it fails is that we are not dealing with a situation of symmetry. Only my opinion but if you believe this get Ben to splash “Experts only 20% sure EMFs cause Breast Cancer” in next weeks column.

    Heart disease conclusion is similar – experts about 30+% sure between them, with noe strongly disagreeing. “Experts in ‘refuse to deny EMF link’ shock” – see what I mean?

    This is all only out of interest. Once again the real point is that Ben is wrongly ignoring these studies.

  133. Hector Ballast said,

    May 17, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Ben I thought you were away reading the references.

    “several more long posts from hector, ad hominem attacks (i represent the “official view” apparently)“

    Ben that was more an ad hominem defence of you! :)

    So my ‘long posts’ are either the references you requested or responses to others. Am I going to get nothing but misrepresentation from you?

    “but he still simply hasn’t given me references to epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.”

    What is your response to the sixty / hundreds I gave you? Others seem to want to discuss them.

    “definite troll, and a total waste of time. lesson for next time i guess.”

    Interesting – you appear to be trolling your own board. There’s almost enough evidence now for it to be to be statistically significant.

    “incidentally hector, the references for the epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity that you’ve accused us all of ignoring will look like this:

    journal title, date, page number, author name, article title.

    do please post them soon, perhaps instead of your long unpleasant ad hominem rants.”

    Like many the ones I sent you. What should I do next – bring you the head of the wicked witch? Ben, you forget your other posters found them quite adequate.

    “until you give these references i dont think anyone is going to take you very seriously. “

    Many people seem to be taking me very seriously. Some of your posters suddenly seem quite able to hold discussions on the topic of epidemiological data. Interesting role-reversal. Will they be writing Bad Science this Saturday?

    Once more Ben – what is your response to the references I gave you?

  134. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 17, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    hector, you’ve posted all kinds of things, long lists of internet links, but please, now, post the references to the epidemiological studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity:

    journal title, date, page number, author name, article title.

    you haven’t done that and i’d like to see them.

  135. Andy said,

    May 18, 2006 at 12:00 am

    Thanks for the fine example of activities 2 and 4 from post 119.

    Hector you seem to have mastered cut and past so for those who don’t seem to be able to find the references you claim have already posted in the requested format how about repeating them once again rather than simply stating that you have already given them.
    Just one line per reference in the order: journal title, date, page number, author name, article title.
    No need for URLs, descriptions or long lists of what they prove.
    No need for any other comments or content to the post.
    Keep it nice and simple so that those of us who seem to have trouble finding things in your posts have no excuse for missing them.

    Maybe optionally give each reference a number or letter to identify them, that way we can all then easily identify which of the many papers you list we are talking about in later posts. If you feel you must comment on each of the references you could use these same identifiers and place your comments in a second post just to keep the references nice and clear.

  136. coracle said,

    May 18, 2006 at 7:51 am

    Hector,

    Well thanks for your informative comments on my search strategy, I’m glad to be told that searching for epidemiology in pubmed won’t receive any hits (actual hits 932003) nor presumably will searching for “Cancer” AND epidemiology (actual hits 109150), “malaria” AND epidemiology (actual hits 9234), “HIV” AND epidemiology (actual hits 31329).

    I mean, I could have missed a lot of important data couldn’t I?

    A hoot indeed.

  137. Fralen said,

    May 18, 2006 at 9:58 am

    Hector, looking forward to your list of references to epidemiological studies on Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity.

    journal title, date, page number, author name, article title.

    Don’t forget now!

  138. Delster said,

    May 18, 2006 at 10:16 am

    a 15-20% believe that there could be an increase in risk could also be expressed as an 80-85% believe in NO increase of risk. but i guess thats too obvious

  139. TYR said,

    May 18, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    TDMA is largely irrelevant to this. GSM is a frequency-division duplexing, time-division multiple access air interface. This means that uplink and downlink traffic is segregated into two uni-directional channels several MHz apart to permit full-duplex voice calls (i.e you can both talk at the same time).

    As it is a point-to-multipoint system, that is to say that one base station serves numerous phones, there has to be some way of keeping traffic for different users separate (multiple access). This is achieved by assigning each subscriber registered on a given base station a time-slot. The device and base station are synchronised, so each subscriber only sends and receives traffic in their slot. So long as the time-slots are repeated faster than the rate at which the voice is sampled, this is not discernable to the user.

    This has the implication that the signal from the base station does not “pulse” very much – it’s always transmitting on the downlink frequency and receiving on the uplink, just the content changes. The phone does start sending and receiving when the slot comes around, though.

    Amusingly, the system is optimised to save battery life, so the closer you are to the base station, the lower the transmitter power and the less RADIATION!!! there is. If you’re worried about RF radiation, you should call Vodafone and do your duty as a citizen to have a base station on your roof and thus reduce the public’s RF exposure. (Semisnarky suggestion.)

    I’m not aware that the framerate matters very much – it doesn’t alter the waveform much. In any case, where’s the beef? The only cells that communicate electrically are nerve cells, and if your autonomic nervous system was jammed you’d simply die on the spot when your heart stopped.

    I think the industry PR has done everyone a power of bad, by the way, with ill-informed reassurance. See the T-Mobile link far above: they seem to be saying that their UMTS (WCDMA) masts are safer because they work on a higher frequency, or because they aren’t TDMA – I can’t make it out, but it’s fairly stupid. I’ve also encountered mast protestors who are now claiming that WCDMA is more dangerous because it works on a higher frequency – 2100 rather than 1900MHz. This is incredibly stupid. The higher the frequency, the less a radio signal will penetrate anything solid, like a wall or your head. And vice versa!

    One of the reasons so many WCDMA networks suck is that 2100MHz is not a good frequency to work in for propagation or wall penetration. GSM900 is far easier. But if you’re worried about THE RAYS THAT CONTROL YOUR BRAIN!!!, you ought to be campaigning for a faster 3G rollout, ‘cos it’s all in 2100MHz!

  140. Paul Rhodes said,

    May 18, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    I hate to be, you know, pedantic, but… “an illusive and inconsistently measured effect”? Can an illusive effect ever be measured?

    Paul

  141. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 18, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    yhuh, “elusive”. sorry, my brane.

  142. Michael Harman said,

    May 18, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    JQH: “like when the Health Minister says the NHS is having its best ever year”.

    There’s an old joke from the Communist era of the adviser telling his minister “The bad news is that this year is worse than last year. But the good news is that it’s better than next year”.

    It’s exactly the opposite with the NHS. This year is better than last year, but next year will be even better still. Be afraid, be very afraid.

  143. apgaylard said,

    May 19, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    Hector, an interesting post (135). However, I think you have misunderstood some really important points in the report.

    You made the very fair point that “…the experts were not asked for these verbal views, but were actually asked to express numbers which were then converted to words using a preset verbal framework.” This is true, but the numbers they chose were expressions of opinion, rather than measurement or calculation (Thus they are, in fact, “coded” opinion). Hence they are able to be expressed in words, as all opinions are. As you say, the verbal framework was preset. So the reviewers knew what verbal expression their “numbers” would be associated with. This gives us some assurance that the “words” would fairly reflect their views. Also, they put their name to the verbal expressions.

    Given this, your comment that: “I appreciate all attempts at logic, but this fails. Firstly because verbal summaries are OK but these were only verbal representations of numbers.” is missing the point. The people who wrote the report thought the words were important enough to get “top billing” in the Summary. The reviewers also knew in advance what words would be associated with their ratings. In the end both the words and numbers express opinion. The words tell us how the authors would wish the numbers to be translated into English. You just can’t set aside this aspect of the study because it sounds a more cautious note than the numbers appear to.

    Now for the numbers. You have misinterpreted how the rating scale works. You stated that: “…From the chart for breast cancer, the degrees of certainty are 15%, 20% and 50%. One close to the dividing line and two prone not to believe. BUT –prone not to believe still means they expressed the likelihood as 15%-20%. “ and “Heart disease conclusion is similar – experts about 30+% sure between them, with no strongly disagreeing. “

    You need to look more carefully at the rating scale used, it’s in the Introduction (Table 1.4, below).
    EVERYDAY ENGLISH PHRASES TO DESCRIBE DEGREES OF CERTAINTY OF CAUSALITY
    ARE THE HIGHEST EMFS AT HOME OR AT WORK SAFE, OR DO HIGH EMFS INCREASE THE RISK OF ……….. TO A DEGREE DETECTABLE BY EPIDEMIOLOGY?
    DEGREE OF CERTAINTY ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 100
    Virtually certain that they increase the risk to some degree >99.5
    Strongly believe that they increase the risk to some degree 90 to 99.5
    Prone to believe that they increase the risk to some degree 60 to 90
    Close to the dividing line between believing or not believing that EMFs increase the risk to some degree 40 to 60
    Prone to believe that they do not increase the risk to any degree 10 to 40
    Strongly believe that they do not increase the risk to any degree 0.5 to 10
    Virtually certain that they do not increase the risk to any degree

  144. apgaylard said,

    May 19, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    (Continued from 147)
    You will no doubt be able to see that the range is 1-100. It does not span either side of zero. Therefore, opinion that believes the highest EMFs do increase risk to a degree measurable by epidemiology is expressed by a rating above 60. Opinion that believes they are safe (i.e. in this context, do not increase risk to a degree measurable by epidemiology) is expressed by a rating below 40. Intermediate opinions that are “…Close to the dividing line…” fall between these values.

    Now this all looks very symmetrical to me! Not surprising as words can be used to express views of equivalent strength in opposite directions. Numbers certainly exhibit that property. Table 1.4 seems to be a good example of symmetry on both the chosen verbal and numerical scales.

    So, please note that by assigning a rating of less than 40 a reviewer is expressing some degree of the belief that EMFs are safe, in the context of a particular health outcome. Scores of less than 40 do not signify a belief in any increased risk. So, in the case of breast cancer you are quite incorrect to say that scores of 15% and 20% still:”… means they expressed the likelihood as 15%-20%.” Rather, they are expressing their degree of belief that the risk is not increased to any degree. You are, however, right that the heart disease conclusion is similar. In this case all of the experts were “Prone to believe that EMF’s do not increase the risk TO ANY DEGREE.” [Caps mine].

    Now for your comments on Adult Leukemia. One of the key features of the design of this review is that it uses three reviewers’ opinions to try to limit the influence of any single discordant voice. In fact, if you look at the “SAP Final Letter” you will see that there was “consensus among the SAP members that different evaluators…may…arrive at different numerical confidence estimates, perhaps substantially different.” Therefore it seems to me to be unwise to cherry pick individual comments. Now taking your observation that “… If you look at the little chart you see that ‘prone to believe’ in this case meant the expert was nearly ‘80% sure’ EMFs cause increase in adult leukemia…” True, but the little chart shows the following for all three reviewers: 80%; 50%; 40%. This is translated into plain English in the report as: “For adult leukemia, two of the scientists are “close to the dividing line between believing or not believing” and one was “prone to believe” that EMFs cause some degree of increased risk.” This suggests grounds for caution, as two of the three were considerably more cautious than the reviewer that you highlighted.

    Next, your comments on suicide. You quote ratings of: “51%, 55% and 61% sure EMF’s cause some degree of increased risk of suicide. Close to the dividing line, but actually a little over it.” I don’t know where in the report these values have come from, but the chart in section 18.0 (page 353) actually gives estimates of around 45% for all three reviewers.

    This goes to show how careful you need to be not to read too much into a study of this type.

  145. luvaduck said,

    May 19, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    Going back to an “old” topic of pulsed radio waves, the following paper discusses the
    TETRA system in some detail:

    www.hpa.org.uk/radiation/publications/documents_of_nrpb/pdfs/doc_12_2.pdf

    I have often wondered why people are so concerned about a mobile phone repeater which gives out a few tens of watts when they have been living in the shadow of large megawatt UHF transmitters like Sutton Coldfield & Crystal Palace for years.

    aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/153/2/202

    I suspect it is more difficult to conduct any meaningful long-term study without forcing people to live and work in the same place for 20 years!

  146. Fyse said,

    May 19, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    For anyone not reading the next thread too, Aspiring Pedant posted a link to this forum…

    www.mast-victims.org/forum/index.php?action=vthread&forum=3&topic=100

    It would seem our beloved Hector is for real, as he’s posted in other threads too. (That is, genuine or mighty thorough in his deception.)

    Incidentally, there’s a good response from an ES sufferer who puts Mr Ballast in his place. (Still calls Ben ‘odious’, but I’m sure he can handle that.)

    Interestingly however, the respondent doesn’t appear elsewhere on the site, and only registered this afternoon…

  147. Michael Harman said,

    May 19, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    The rating scale quoted by apgaylard is as follows:

    “Everyday English phrases to describe degrees of uncertainty or causality:
    Are the highest EMFs at home or at work safe, or do high EMFs increase the risk of … to a degree detectable by epidemiology?”

    This refers explicitly to the *highest* EMFs likely to be encountered in normal life, not “typical” EMF levels. In terms of possible risks from say a mobile phone mast, that is the difference between standing beside the fence around the mast and standing at some random point far away from the mast. And are the health effects likely to be linear with the EMFs all the way down, or is there likely to be a threshold effect?

    Also, the scale is in terms of a distinction between “increase the risk to *some* degree” and “do not increase the risk to *any* degree”. That seems to me to be a distinction between no risk at all on the one hand and any degree whatever of risk on the other.

    I’m also wondering how one assesses the three “experts”. How cautious are they? Do they tend towards the precautionary principle? I don’t for one second suggest that they are anything but honest, but it’s not improper to consider the nature and attitudes of even honest and respected experts. What would their views be on similar data from other fields, say smoking (where there is clear evidence of harm) or, I don’t know, aspartame (where – despite the recent anomalous result – there seems to be clear evidence of absence of harm)?

  148. Andy said,

    May 19, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    In order to help Hector out here and save him posting his references here are the references that he gives in his fact sheet that he made avalible on mast-victims.org:

    There are only SIX known studies purely of the effects of phone masts on people! All show ill-health effects:-
    1) Dutch TNO study 2003; effects on wellbeing-headaches, muscle fatigue/pain, dizziness etc from 3G mast
    2) Oberfeld 2004 Spain, found depression, fatigue, sleeping disorder, concentration+cardiovascular problems
    3) Wolf (2004) found fourfold cancer increase within 350m of a phone mast, tenfold among women.
    4) Naila study Germany (2004) found trebled risk of cancer near cellular antenna/masts
    5) Austria 2005, found illness+measured immediate changes of electrical currents in the brain at 80m from mast
    6) Santini 2002; Diverse health effects within 300m of base stations-see below. (Reference: www.starweave.com)
    Each of these results was statistically significant ie unlikely(a 1 in 20 chance) to be due to chance

    Similar complaints are made by mobile phone users. A 1998 Swedish study [1] of 11,000 mobile users found the same symptoms: more mobile use meant Memory Loss, Difficulty Concentrating, Headache and Fatigue. Hardell (2005) found 40% increase in brain tumors after 5 years of above average mobile use (analogue,digital+cordless* ).
    2 studies found acoustic neurinoma** was double in mobile users and x4 when on the same side as the phone ear [9]

    [1] Dr Neil Cherry, pages.britishlibrary.net/orange/cherryonexplevel.htm
    [2] Ghandi 1996, Sunday Mirror 2004
    [3] www.ideaireland.org/emr.htm
    [4] pages.britishlibrary.net/orange/biologeffects.htm
    [5] Vijayalaxmi 1999
    [6] Dr G Hyland
    [7] www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/march05/wakeupcall02.html
    [8] www.tetrawatch.net
    [9] Hardell (2003), Lonn (2004)

    Some of these are a little hard to follow out of context but even in context I can’t see any mention of where they were published.

    Hectors full fact sheet can be found at www.mast-victims.org/index.php?content=factsheet. It is a MS word document (how about open standards next time Hector? Oh and the layout could be a little less cluttered next time you up date it.) but doesn’t show any signs of viral infection.

  149. JQH said,

    May 19, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    Fyse (148)

    Thanks for the link. While it’s true that Jasont only registered this afternoon, Hector’s rant was posted only yesterday. I was tempted to add a few comments myself but decided it would only fan the flames.

    Actually, it has occured to me that if he got his way and all the phone masts were shut down, the landline phone companies would benefit enourmously. Do you think he’s being paid by BT?

  150. Andy said,

    May 19, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    I don’t think he works for BT. He forgot to wipe the header info that word added to his factsheet document. There is an organisation name in there and it’s not BT.

  151. Ben Goldacre said,

    May 20, 2006 at 1:10 am

    thanks coracle some of those look bang on.

  152. igb said,

    May 20, 2006 at 8:57 am

    There’s a meta-argument against all the campaigners: power lines, mobile phones, pesticides, whatever. And that is that in the urban, developed west, life expectancies continue to rise. Mobile phones have been fixtures for the middle classes for fifteen years, and 900MHz transmitters have been present in cities for more than twenty. Where’s the excess deaths? Powerlines ditto, but for generations. Where’s the excess deaths?

    Instead we end up with vague, non-specific, non-reproducible `symptoms’ found by dredging around in the statistical noise floor. It’s People With Problems, externalising their fears. Their non-illnesses are caused by non-mechanisms and can be cured by non-cures (I think there’s a market for homeopathic remedies for electrical smog: royalties to me, please. It contains

  153. liverpoolmiss said,

    May 20, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Yes, and as I understand it childhood leukaemia rates have fallen steadily over the decades, while the number of electrical appliances etc has soared.

  154. JQH said,

    May 20, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    igb

    I don’t think it’s fair to refer to sufferers “non-illnesses”. I don’t think it’s disputable that they’re ill. What IS disputable is the cause.

  155. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 24, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    i have never had so much hate mail, it’s still coming, i got bored of posting it a long time ago. this is the single subject that has generated the most vitriol out of anything i have ever written on. i think the new wave is because i got in touch with somebody from one of the electromagnetic hypersensitivity pressure groups, very politely, to ask a quick question. he must have mentioned it to someone, word got round, and another wave of hate comes in. amazing.

    The worst case of bad science i have ever come across is you. I worked in child psychiatry when children with asthma were sent to a psychiatric wing. One nearly died so we stopped having them to treat. I know electrosensativity exists, and Professor Olle Johansson proved it and why. You wont print anything by him though, or my letter to you i bet. You are a disgrace, and that is choosing kind words for how despicable you are. Either that or your ignorance or the other connections you mention might be true. Bet you don’t want to get a link to Olle or Professor Magda Haves to find out the truth either.

    Catherine Gamba

  156. Flipsidereality » Blog Archive » EM Radiation WIFI Sickenss, Factors that risk being left out of the equation said,

    November 29, 2006 at 12:31 am

    [...] badscience » Factors that risk being left out of the equation “Electromagnetic fields stemming from gadgets such as kettles, computers and microwaves, contribute towards a cloud of unseen emissions – even when they are switched off.” It’s a sinister idea, and “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” is sweeping the nation, or at least the Independent and the Daily Mail last week. Symptoms include fatigue, tiredness, headaches, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, and digestive disturbances: and since these are real symptoms, causing genuine distress, the problem deserves to be considered seriously, and carefully. [...]

  157. Neuromesh » Blog Archive » Wireless Networking said,

    November 29, 2006 at 8:59 am

    [...] For those who may be feeling these symptoms and are now concerned that they may be more than just November burnout, rest assured that there is no reliable study linking anything to Electro-Magnetic radiation. Longtime readers of Neuromesh may also recall however that your electric blanket will kill you before any of your gadgets do. [...]

  158. KCC Children, Families and Education - Digital Curriculum : Is wi-fi in schools a risk to health? said,

    December 2, 2006 at 9:43 am

    [...] Is wi-fi in schools a risk to health? An article appeared in the Times newspaper that questioned the safety of wi-fi in schools. In it, two schools are mentioned in particular. Online news agencies have repeated and created  froth and fervour, giving greater creedence, but adding nothing new.When I first read it, I was of course aghast! Could it be that one of the central planks of anytime anywhere learning is causing health problems? I instinctively know it isn’t, and have worked with high power fields in my telecomms career, so know the health and safety issues (and my friends aren’t dropping with cancer!). I did what my background taught me to do, … some private research to prove one way or the other! In the cold light of scrutiny, the stories appear to owe rather more to the small ‘p’ political considerations of good relations within a school community than a risk assessment of health issues. There is clearly a fundamental problem with understanding the basic science, so i’ll summarise the facts:Don’t get confused between electric fields and radio frequency fields. Try these flash based tutorials from the Health Protection Agency to understand why.If you are considering banning wi-fi on safety grounds, then out must also go public broadcast radio, terrestrial TV, police fire and ambulance systems, mobile telephones, and wireless microphones,  as these sources are higher powered.Those who do not understand basic science should not make decisions that affect the rest of us based on their lack of knowledge. Radio frequency waves as cancer-causing magic moonbeams is more to do with fear and ignorance than fact.Radio frequency transmission is a well understood technology.Guidelines already exist, and are robust. The only concern they have is for heat generated by close proximity – not a concern at the very low power levels of wi-fi. The scientific research by the EU, and the guidance by the world health organisation is clear that the perception of a condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity exists is more to do with perception than reality, as in blind tests, no afflicted individual could tell whether the test transmitter was on or off, and reported the symptoms in both cases, mmm!The world is full of radio waves from BBC stations to mobile phones, and at much higher levels than school wi-fi, which is restricted to 10 milliwatts, which is  5% of the power of a single mobile telephone, and this restriction is only to stop it interfering with other peoples wi-fi networks, not on the grounds of safety!To bow to irrational pressure may be expedient, (and may save some money!), but let’s not confuse this with science. I’m not ready yet to give up all of the benefits on the strength of zero evidence, and my whole family bathes in the warm glow of a home wi-fi network, on visits to McDonalds and Starbucks. Indeed the whole of Westminster is bathed in wi-fi, and there are no signs of poor health amongst our politicians (tee hee).There is more evidence that poor nutrition has a detrimental and long-lasting effect on our children, yet parents still pass bags of chips through railings. All a matter of perception really. To yield to the palpitations and twitches of a single classics teacher when confronted by teenagers in a classroom (doesn’t have the symptoms at the weekend or during school breaks!) is absurd. The symptoms are probably real, the attributed cause isn’t! Published 02 December 2006 08:32 by AlanDay [...]

  159. Wifi health risk paranoia (at wongaBlog) said,

    December 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    [...] Others claim they immediately started having headaches after a wireless network was enabled. Every time this is mentioned it’s difficult not to notice that knowledge of the wireless network came before the headaches, never the other way around. It’s very much like people who claim to suffer from ‘electrical sensitivity’, but can’t replicate it under controlled conditions. It all has an air of woo that has apparently turned up with with the introduction of many technologies, such as the original radio transmissions, or ozone from laser printers, or radiation from the first computers. It seems that once these things become commonplace the symptoms disappear. [...]

  160. Freedom for Information » Blog Archive » Wi-Fi - A risk to health? said,

    January 28, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    [...] To bow to irrational pressure may be expedient, (and may save some money!), but let’s not confuse this with science. I’m not ready yet to give up all of the benefits on the strength of zero evidence, and my whole family bathes in the warm glow of a home wi-fi network. My children are far more likely to experience health problems through consuming menu items on visits to McDonalds and Starbucks than through their wi-fi networks. Indeed the whole of Westminster is bathed in wi-fi, and there are no signs of poor health amongst our politicians (Umm, tee hee). [...]

  161. How To Spot A Psychopath :: How about “electronic Viagra”? :: April :: 2007 said,

    April 24, 2007 at 3:34 am

    [...] (Ben Goldacre’s been catching abuse for a year or so now as a result of his clearly inhuman and evil view that people who believe electromagnetic “pollution” is making them ill have real symptoms, but are incorrect about the cause. For some reason, it’s hard to find similar pressure groups who believe that people who hear voices should be provided with earplugs.) [...]

  162. Harnessing Technology in Kent - Digital Curriculum : Is wi-fi in schools a risk to health? said,

    April 24, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    [...] Is wi-fi in schools a risk to health? An article appeared in the Times newspaper that questioned the safety of wi-fi in schools. In it, two schools are mentioned in particular. Online news agencies with their cut and past culture have repeated and created froth and fervour, giving greater creedence, but adding nothing new.When I first read it, I was of course aghast! Could it be that one of the central planks of anytime anywhere learning is causing health problems? I instinctively know it isn’t, and have worked with high power fields in my telecomms career, so know the health and safety issues (and my friends aren’t dropping with cancer!). I did what my background taught me to do, … some private research to prove one way or the other! In the cold light of scrutiny, the stories appear to owe rather more to the small ‘p’ political considerations of good relations within a school community than a risk assessment of health issues. There is clearly a fundamental problem with understanding the science, so i’ll summarise the facts: Don’t get confused between electric fields and radio frequency fields. Try these flash based tutorials from the Health Protection Agency to understand why. If you are considering banning wi-fi on safety grounds, then out must also go public broadcast radio, terrestrial TV, police fire and ambulance systems, mobile telephones, and wireless microphones,  as these sources are higher powered. Probably better to put tin foil on the inside of the buildings and shield it completely! Radio frequency waves as cancer-causing magic moonbeams is more to do with fear and ignorance than fact. Radio frequency transmission is a well understood technology. Guidelines already exist, and are robust. The only concern they have is for heat generated by close proximity – not a concern at the very low power levels of wi-fi.Scientific research by the EU, and guidance by the world health organisation is clear that electromagnetic hypersensitivity is more perception than reality, as in blind tests, no afflicted individual could tell whether the test transmitter was on or off, and reported the symptoms in both cases, mmm! Giving it a name doesn’t make it real!The world is full of radio waves from BBC stations to mobile phones, and at much higher levels than school wi-fi, which is restricted to 10 milliwatts, which is  5% of the power of a single mobile telephone, and this restriction is only to stop it interfering with other peoples wi-fi networks, not on the grounds of safety!To bow to irrational pressure may be expedient, (and may save some money!), but let’s not confuse this with science. I’m not ready yet to give up all of the benefits on the strength of zero evidence, and my whole family bathes in the warm glow of a home wi-fi network. Indeed the whole of Westminster is bathed in wi-fi, and there are no signs of poor health amongst our politicians (Umm, tee hee).There is more evidence that poor nutrition has a detrimental and long-lasting effect on our children, yet parents still pass bags of chips through railings. All a matter of perception really. To yield to the palpitations and twitches of a single classics teacher when confronted by teenagers in a classroom (doesn’t have the symptoms at the weekend or during school breaks!) is absurd. The symptoms are probably real, the attributed cause isn’t! Published Saturday, December 02, 2006 8:32 AM by AlanDay [...]

  163. B0ll0cks - FreddysHouse said,

    May 21, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    [...] Take a look at this Jup: Bad Science » Factors that risk being left out of the equation. Personally I think this wireless headache mojo is generally a crock of shit. We’ve just deployed a wireless network throughout the college I work at so it’d be interesting to see how that affects people if at all though __________________ <Insert witty comment here> [...]

  164. Beware of radiators « A little Jack with that? said,

    May 22, 2007 at 11:59 am

    [...] Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007 in Technology After last night’s Panorama propaganda about the evils of WiFi, I was going to write something expressing my outrage as a former BBC employee over the appalling lack of editorial standards that allowed such a piece of unbalanced, biased, unscientific nonsense to be presented as an exercise in rigorous journalism. However, it doesn’t really need me to pile on. I will leave you to read one of the many posts on the subject taking the BBC and the report to task. Or just read some of the comments on the BBC’s own Have Your Say site, which are by and large much more sensible and informed than the report. [...]

  165. Wifi e preti pedofili « Dema FON blog said,

    May 23, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    [...] Ora , chiunque abbia seguito almeno in parte i dibattimenti sulle conseguenze nell’organismo delle microonde wireless , si rende conto che sono cazzate , e se non se ne rende conto e vuole documentarsi , puo’ farlo qui , qui oppure qui (english) [...]

  166. WiFi is eating your children at starshun.com said,

    May 29, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    [...] One of my favourite programs Panorama has broadcast an ‘expose’ on the dangers of wifi.Unfortunately the show has no science whatsoever behind and in fact 31 studies have shown no link between symptoms and electrical sensitivity, none of these are referred to in the Panorama program. It’s incredibly disappointing when a program that you otherwise respects does such incredibly bad science. [...]

  167. blog.tjomlid.com | Bli kvitt tinnitus på 10 timer said,

    October 26, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    [...] om han merker så mye forskjell når han ikke vet at det er et WLAN i nærheten: There have been 31 studies looking at whether people who report being hypersensitive to [...]

  168. How To Spot A Psychopath :: My (irradiated) balls are always bouncing :: March :: 2009 said,

    March 11, 2009 at 6:12 am

    [...] and over, alleged “electrosensitives” have failed to demonstrate that they can even perceive [...]

  169. “Dirty Electricity” « The Winnipeg Skeptics said,

    September 14, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    [...] Award-winning Journalist and Medical Doctor Ben Goldacre: Cherry Picking and the Professional Association of Teachers Why don’t journalists mention the data? Factors that risk being left out of the equation [...]

  170. Wi-Fi fear mongering enters the Lower Mainland said,

    March 7, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    [...] 37 times. [...]

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