Saturday May 20, 2006
I am routinely accused, in long and angry letters, of being in the pay of the pharmaceutical industry, the mobile phone industry, and the government. Needless to say I lap it up, and would never engage in similarly ad hominem attacks in return, since critiques of character and finance are a poor substitute for a sober analysis of the data.
Oh go on then.
Let’s say you were worried your health was being harmed by electromagnetic radiation, a notion that the newspapers are currently very keen to promote, with little heed to the facts, as we saw last week. Where would you turn?
Powerwatch might be your first step: they are quoted widely in the newspapers, after all. In 2000, in the Daily Telegraph, they estimated that “up to one in 100 people suffers from mild electrosensitivity, which can cause nausea, migraines, disorientation and blackouts.” By 2005 in the Daily Mail this had risen dramatically: “campaign group Powerwatch believes up to five per cent of the population is severely affected by electrosensitivity.”
When you got to their website, you’d pay Â£28 to sister organisation “EMFields”, run from the same address, to get full access to their vast array of complex scientific material. This might lead you to believe in the need to shield your house out. Luckily they can help you there too.
You’ll want to start with EMFields carbon screening paint, at £50.99 a litre: “one coat of this specialist paint stops over 99.9% of incoming radiation (900 MHz – 18,000 MHz)”. You’d get 3 square meters per litre on rough plaster. Oh golly. That’s an awful lot of very expensive paint. And then you’ll have to earth it all. With their £25 earthing kits. What about the curtains? You’ll need screening material at £43.94 a meter. Don’t forget the doors. Or any vents. Maybe you’ll want to fill the gaps. With foil tape. At £10.50 a roll.
I’m sure they’re well intentioned. But I do think we’re spotting a theme here: the people selling us the idea that we have a medical problem often, at the same time, seem to be selling the solution. Pharmaceutical companies promote Night Eating Syndrome and Female Sexual Arousal Disorder, offering Sertraline and Sildenafil to treat them. Patrick Holford reckons that 50% of you have hidden food allergies, or nutritional deficiencies, which he can treat with his books and tablets.
Meanwhile I have nothing to declare but my cheekiness, and if I was very worried about the mobile phone network being a danger to health – which could well turn out to be the case – the first thing I would do is campaign to make my own mobile phone operator erect their mast as close to my house as possible.
Pay attention. The one thing that people who worry about the health risks of mobile phone masts tend to forget is the inverse square law: the power of the signal falls away extremely rapidly as you move away from the mast, much faster than you’d think, exponentially in fact, because the energy is dissipated and spread out in 3 dimensions like a big, ever-growing sphere. A bit like how the skin of a balloon gets thinner, the more you inflate it.
Meanwhile you’re holding a dirty great big transmitter right up next to your brain in the form of your mobile phone. In fact, because of the inverse square law, the phone gives you a far higher dose of evil rays than the mast. Go on, press it harder, I can’t quite hear you. But mobile phones, very cleverly, preserve their battery life by transmitting a much weaker signal into the air (and therefore also your head) when they detect that a mast is very close by. If you have a phone, it’s in your interest to have it transmit at the lowest power it can manage, which means a strong signal from the mast, which means the mast is on your street. I don’t expect you all to start campaigning at once.
Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org