And science said atom bombs were safe too…

June 7th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, electrosensitivity, independent, powerwatch - alasdair philips | 51 Comments »

I’m in a dash, but I thought you deserved these two brave rebuttals of the peripheral criticisms that the ubiquitous electromagnetic radiation scaremongers have received.

Jasper Carrott of all people on BBC2 (funny how despite being such a massive source of electromagnetic radiation they still have such a thing about beating people up over the subject)


.

And Green Party politician Julia Stephenson issues a full rebuttal to all critics of the wrong facts in her previous lengthy feature on EM, in her column today. Oh, no she doesn’t, she attacks people for saying things they didn’t, ignores all the entirely valid criticisms, and reiterates her previous errors and omissions. Oh, apparently, she says, at one time scientists assured us that the atom bomb was safe. AND THEY WERE WRONG ABOUT THAT. Etc.

environment.independent.co.uk/lifestyle/article2624123.ece

Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess
Published: 07 June 2007

The men in white coats are on my back. They’re not lurking at the door with straightjackets, but they want me locked up all the same. Let me explain. Last week I sparked howls of protest from boffins when I described the negative effects of installing Wi-Fi in my flat. Many were absolutely apoplectic.

Two years ago I got Wi-Fi. It was convenient, as I could work anywhere in my flat. But within a few weeks began to suffer from a lack of energy and insomnia, and had difficulty concentrating. Other factors could have caused this, but I suspected that the Wi-Fi had something to do with it, so I returned to fixed broadband. My symptoms disappeared.

When I wrote about my experiences I incurred the wrath of a vocal few, who claimed that as I’m not a scientist I couldn’t possibly make such assertions. I am, its true, no scientist; I was simply recounting my experience. Disconnecting my Wi-Fi made me feel better. End of. I don’t need a degree in physics to work out if I feel well or ill.

It’s a hot potato. The telecommunications industry generates around £13bn a year and brings in large amounts through taxes and licences. It’s a powerful and influential business, which obviously doesn’t like being threatened.

Meanwhile, a considerable amount of the research into the safety of mobile phones, masts and Wi-Fi is carried out by groups funded by phone companies. They say they are unbiased, but how can we be sure? How many of us would dare bite the hand that feeds us?

I’m not alone in my concerns. Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency and the Government’s former chief scientific adviser, has publicly voiced concerns about the possible effects of radiation from phone masts and Wi-Fi installations.

The Stewart Report, published in 2000, concluded that while there was no proof of health dangers, some studies suggested possible risks and that precautions should be taken with children, because they are more vulnerable to radio frequency radiation emissions than adults.

Despite this warning, Wi-Fi networks have since been installed in nearly 50 per cent of primary schools and 70 per cent of secondary schools, giving millions of children access to computers.

If people want Wi-Fi I can’t stop them. All I can do is recount what happened to me, and if it makes anyone consider the possible implications, I’ve done my job. I’m not claiming everyone could be affected; some may be more sensitive than others.

At one time scientists assured us the earth was flat and that mercury, asbestos, the atomic bomb and cigarettes were harmless. Today many assure us that GM crops, mobile phones and pesticides are safe. Yet history must surely advise caution before we rush headlong to embrace all that technology has to offer.

j.stephenson@ independent.co.uk

www.radiationresearch.org; www.powerwatch.org

Meanwhile elsewhere – in case you thought this was one lone opinion in the paper – the Independent news pages are actually quoting Stephenson

news.independent.co.uk/health/article2609317.ece

although they still cannot bring themselves to discuss the 37 provocation studies. There is some activity on their letters page

comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article2614569.ece

Standby for torrent of personal abuse from the electromagnetism campaigners as they dodge the factual issues.

Now for all the ridiculousness of what she’s written, I think this is also really interesting in terms of rhetorical devices and new media. In print, you can get away with saying “I wrote something quite reasonable, 10 days ago, and then I was wrongly accused of X [when actually it was Y] and to these people I say Z, and therefore I win.”

In print, because nothing is linked, on the page, it is more plausible to do this.

Online, however, with the original article and the criticisms all transparently linked to the “rebuttal” – and free comments under the article – you would be hard pushed to get away with that. In all likelihood you’d become an instant laughing stock.

I think this is an example of where blogs can actually be more reliable than newspapers for some forms of information, and in particular for “who said what” comment and discussion. Even online, I often find that people who blog about something someone else has written, but studiously avoid linking to it, are misrepresenting the person they disagree with.

It’s also an excellent example of why comments are a good thing. I am always very suspicious of people who do not have a simple comment option on their page. If anyone here points out here that I am factually wrong, and why, I will have a good old think about it. If it happens – I’m sure it must have already – then I’ll cheerfully correct my claims and my opinions.

I’ve never been into taking risks or writing recklessly with regard to the truth. Obviously I like to imagine that my integrity alone would keep me on the straight and narrow. But I also know that almost everything I write is linked to primary sources that can be easily checked, or can be google with a few clicks on the screen, and I know that an army of pedants – you darlings – is out there waiting for an opportunity to bite me. God bless you.


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51 Responses



  1. jimothy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Did scientists or scientific research ever say that cigarettes were safe? Or was it that noone actually did any research on the effects. I’m also pretty sure that noone has ever thought the atomic bomb was harmless. From my recollection of GCSE history the entire point of the Manhattan project was that the atomic bomb was pretty bloody deadly.

  2. Sgt Badass said,

    June 7, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    I believe aging Brummie unfunny comedians are particularly dangerous. I’ve got no evidence, yet, but people used to think cigarettes were safe!

    Ban Jasper Carrot now, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  3. Nanobot said,

    June 7, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    “At one time scientists assured us the earth was flat and that mercury, asbestos, the atomic bomb and cigarettes were harmless.”

    What utter, utter bollocks. People knew the earth was round a two thousand years before the word ‘scientist’ was ever used. Scientists like albert schrock actually documented their own mercury poisoning and mercury was none to be dangerous in the nineteenth century (‘mad as a hatter’ – hat makers used mercury-based materials to create hats). Asbestos’s deadly characteristics only surfaced after people had a long term exposure to it, at that point scientists and medics were able to elucidate the problems and the use of asbestos was banned. I don’t think anyone assured anyone that the atomic bomb was safe, it being designed to be a weapon of mass destruction. Scientists didn’t know about the effects of the radiation on human tissue, but they found out fairly quickly after the end of the war.

  4. le canard noir said,

    June 7, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    I do find it quite odd, all this moaning about the telecoms funding loads of research. What if the reverse were true? What if no research were being done? I’m sure we would hear even more shrill outrage. Just what are they supposed to do?

    All this moaning is irrelevent until the ES lobby describes exacly why the provocation experiments (for example) are systematically flawed. If the science is good, then the source of funding is irrelevent.

  5. dbhb said,

    June 7, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    I’ll bet she doesn’t mind sunbathing. Daft bint.

  6. ed26h said,

    June 7, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    “At one time scientists assured us the earth was flat and that mercury, asbestos, the atomic bomb and cigarettes were harmless.”

    And at one time, journalists assured me that “Dewey Defeats Truman”, so now I don’t know what to believe.

  7. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 7, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    “an article quietly “disappears” from the web archive”

    hence posting it here.

  8. stever said,

    June 7, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Real shame the green party are populated with people like her: sweet and well intentioned but devoid of understanding and reason. In her original piece she paraded her wackiness like a badge of honour (naturpathy, homeopathy, qlink, flower remedies etc).

  9. KP said,

    June 7, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Oh, and whilst I’m here, I’m sure Jasper Carrott is entirely sincere in his views, but has anyone noticed he hasn’t been on telly much recently?

    [no KP, now YOU'RE the conspiracy theorist]

  10. le canard noir said,

    June 7, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Just found in 1952 copy of ‘New Scientist’,

    “Although, presently, A-bombs may have only found applications in destroying cities, many boffins are now saying that by as soon as 1972, housewives will be able to buy a packet of six mini A-bombs from their local grocer. Household uses will include cockroach clearance, barbeque lighting, ‘hover’-craft powering and landscape gardening.

    This will be made possible by advances in ‘transistors’ and the widespread availability of vitamin supplements able to counteract the deadly effects of nuclear fallout.”

    See, she was right.

  11. jimothy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    What is more disturbing to me is that piece from the “news” pages that Ben links to. The idea that these kooks are able to mobilize a sort of woo parent power and go in and have them remove the Wifi networks from schools just beggars belief. I personally think its all part of their cunning plan … have the wifi removed from schools so that we degrade the ability of teachers to use computers as a tool for learning and they have more chance of producing a new generation of woo believers without the ability to think for themselves.

  12. Dr Aust said,

    June 7, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Dr Crippen over at NHS Blog Doctor says he has just seen his first “Worried about Wi-Fi” middle class mum.

    nhsblogdoc.blogspot.com/2007/06/crippen-diaries-2007-23.html#links

  13. Geeb said,

    June 7, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Out of interest, do we actually have any good studies on the long-term effects of exposure to wi-fi and/or mobile phones?

    Wouldn’t have thought they’ve been around long enough yet.

  14. jimothy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    It seems to me that Jasper Carrott is mostly miffed because they put a mast up at the bottom of his garden … although he already had a railway line down there by the sound of it so I can’t see how its much worse. I was interested to hear him say that he has a protection on his mobile phone, would love to know what kind of wacky new age electronics is protecting him from the nasty radiation …. maybe its the same idea as those sticky tape reception boosters you can get.

  15. jimothy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    I just jumped through a few links to find this, www.theecologist.co.uk/archive_detail.asp?content_id=776.
    It’s a belter.

    “Silvia’s daughter has grown up next to a cell phone tower, and over the years she has suffered from a severe rash, fever, headache, nausea, and strong buzzing noises in her ear.”

    I can’t imagine anyone else’s kids have ever suffered that collection of symptoms during childhood before. Mine certainly never do ….

    She also mentionns that the appearance of symptoms corresponds to the times the mast is active. Do cellphone towers only come on at certain times of the day? I always assumed they were active all the time?

  16. woodchopper said,

    June 7, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    Geeb – I agree with you. There is at least a theoretical possibility that the provocation studies might miss persistent long-term damage. So a study comparing large groups of phone and/or wifi users with a control group over several years would be the most convincing. Does anyone know of one that has been conducted already?

    But even then I guess that the woos would claim that as the evil radiations are everywhere, any such study would be invalid.

  17. Rob Hinkley said,

    June 7, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    “a study comparing large groups of phone and/or wifi users with a control group over several years would be the most convincing.” – It won’t be convincing to the true believers.

    The accusation that research is skewed by vested interest to cover up dangers will endure, regardless of how much research – even of the best quality – is done. A large study into this phenomenon – measuring radio exposure and illness – can be done by one of only three types of organisation that I can think of: either a telecoms company, or a government agency, or a university.
    The telecoms company will obviously be accused of trying to prove its services are safe instead of looking at the real dangers. The government will be accused of not wanting to rock the industry’s boat, and trying to placate the industry so the government can continue to sell radio spectrum and milk a cash cow for tax. A university can be accused of taking telecoms/electronics industry R&D money, or wanting to preserve the value of any patents which the university might hold in some telecoms field, and so obviously won’t want to conclude that there’s any danger.

    Thus *any* study which does not support the notion that certain types of radio waves cause illness can be dismissed on the basis of vested interest. Sad but true.

  18. Andy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    “I am always very suspicious of people who do not have a simple comment option on their page.”

    That couldn’t possibly be a dig at a previous troll on this subject could it? Staywired did have a nice simple comment option on his page.

    That he filtered the comments and removed ones he couldn’t easily argue against is a totally different matter.

  19. j l smith said,

    June 7, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    No actually she’s quite right: scientists did assure us the world was flat at one time. Somewhere before 300BC, admittedly, but you know how mud sticks.

  20. Jut said,

    June 7, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    22: that is absolutly shocking news and further highlights the risk that EMR poses.
    I too have suffered rashes, feavers, headaches, nausea and once I had a buzzing noise in my ear but that was an insect that climbed in while i was asleep on a camping trip….but there was also EMR present which I’m sure was the cause as the buzzing sound pulsed just like mobile phone radioactivity:(.
    It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  21. j said,

    June 7, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Re. scientists saying atom bombs were safe – yeah, I’d suspect Stephenson may have been talking about the fallout (and ‘duck and cover’ etc.) Not at all clear from the article, though.

    btw, some interesting pieces on animal testing, too:
    www.independent.co.uk/environment/lifestyle/article1962774.ece
    www.independent.co.uk/environment/lifestyle/article308759.ece
    www.curedisease.net/articles/070510.shtml

    one more thing – if we need to apply the precautionary principle to new technology, what about things like the qlink. I mean, if they do work (um, well, anything’s possible, kind-of) no-one has the foggiest idea how…and where are the trials to show safety and efficacy. For God’s sake, won’t someone please think of the children…

  22. jimothy said,

    June 7, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    re: Jut

    Luckily for us Powerwatch seem to not be putting their proceeds towards paying their hosting bill. The domain name is up for grabs ….maybe we should grab it before their realise the mistake.

  23. le canard noir said,

    June 7, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    It’s not perfect, but I propose that the biggest predictors of whether a source of electromagnetic radiation is claimed to cause health effects are not wavelength, power and waveform, but the degrees of familiarity and control the sufferer feels over the source.

    mobiles, wifi and computer monitors can be switched off, TV transmissions, GPS signals and air traffic control radar cannot.

    Hence, we see the biggest complaints against the domestic and localised sources.

    Electrosensitvity looks like a desire to have explanation and a chance of control and relief from daily fatigue.

    The quacks occupy that middle ground, offering control over the familiar and unavoidable – mains and masts.

    Exceptions may be things like TETRA – police bad – but not taxi radios – cabs in sloane square good?

  24. Munin said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:21 am

    I really am very sorry, but please to be looking at the Independent letters page, just above he section on electrosmog.
    comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article2614569.ece

    Consultant Physician Dr Chris Burns-Cox.

    Does he. Does he indeed.

  25. raygirvan said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:42 am

    >That he filtered the comments and removed ones he couldn’t easily argue against is a totally different matter.

    That ought to be one of the tests for credibility of woo exponents. We let these tossers have freedom of comment, but they never return the favour.

  26. Rob Hinkley said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:50 am

    jimothy: “Maybe Jasper has one of these on his phone”… its “Test Results” page (www.safetshield.com/tests.htm) tells us that the radiation-blocking earpiece passed something called the “Coghill Biological Test”, as described by Roger Coghill – the Director of Coghill Research Laboratories. Initially I was concerned that someone naming both a laboratory and a test after himself indicated the presence of a crank. But a bit of googling found the laboratory, and very professional it looks: (www.cogreslab.co.uk/) – home to no lesser authority than the British Institute of Magnet Therapy.

    The powerwatch.org URL in the Independent article should be www.powerwatch.org.UK

  27. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 8, 2007 at 2:37 am

    Graham Norton tonight was quite plased that a scientist declaring once and for all that male genital size isn’t important is Dr Wylie. I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder.

    Apparently girth, not length, is the thing. As someone else said once: “Never mind if it’s turning cartwheels – if it isn’t touching the sides, …”

  28. jackpt said,

    June 8, 2007 at 3:05 am

    The “they said smoking wouldn’t kill” argument is vexing because it encompasses fear of the new and somewhat healthy scepticism. It seems fear of the new is a theme that has been repeated oft in every recorded health scare, from people being scared of transport that travels too fast to genetics. There are countless turds in the punchbowl. I don’t know whether it’s because they’ve heard a particular side of a debate and have made up their mind, or just blinkered opinion, but it would be really good if people like Jasper Carott could at least make some attempt at assimilating available evidence rather than hearsay and FUD. It just doesn’t come across as having any depth. Opinion is fine when people have actually thought about it.

  29. SciencePunk said,

    June 8, 2007 at 3:37 am

    I wish I believed in God, then I could ask Him to grant me the strength to fight this ignorance and misdirection.

    there’s nothing I can add to this thread other than my own dismay.

  30. Stew Wilson said,

    June 8, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Wellington Grey has the true story, as always:

    wellingtongrey.net/miscellanea/archive/2007-05-27–the-truth-about-wireless-devices.html

  31. Phage said,

    June 8, 2007 at 10:55 am

    I’m so depressed.

    There’s just no point arguing with stupidity. If their arguments were not based on evidence and logic then you’re wasting your time.
    I can’t remember whose quote this is, but it has served me well.

    “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of your time, and annoys the pig.”

  32. Wonko said,

    June 8, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Ms Stephenson’s apparent irritability and onset of paranoia suggest that turning the Wi-fi network off may not have dampened down the symptoms as much as she suggests – seems to me that life at the Independent is pretty stressful.

  33. jobrag said,

    June 8, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Alright he was only a king not a Doctor but James I was warning about tobacco some time ago.
    A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.

  34. j said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Stephenson wrote (in her reply to troutboy):
    “as we live in a free market it’s up to the individual what they buy.”
    wtf is she doing in the Green Party. So because we live in a free market, it’s acceptable to market snake oil at vulnerable people (probably worsening the mental health issues of some in the process – enforcing their belief in ‘electrosensitivity’). Would Stephenson also support the sale those ‘quantum’ chips that claimed to make smoking healthier?

    For Stephenson, “Even if you think these gadgets are a waste of time, as long as they arenot doing people any active harm, and may in fact, be doing them some good,we’ll have to leave it to them to decide”.
    But how do we know this? Have they been tested for safety? Couldn’t changing our vibrations be dangerous?
    For God’s sake, think of the children…

  35. woodbine said,

    June 8, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Is it wrong to fancy someone this dangerous and this stupid?

    And to think my friday was going so well.

  36. kim said,

    June 8, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    I remember seeing an advert from the 1940s for the new NHS. It showed a woman going to her GP with “nerves”, so he told her she was probably drinking too much tea, and lit her a cigarette to calm her down.

    But yes, the rest is nonsense of course. Scientists have never told us the earth is flat. And in any case, the idea that you can rebut an argument by saying “Scientists are sometimes wrong, so they must be wrong now” without actually answering any of the points made, is ridiculous.

  37. atiller said,

    June 8, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    The provocation studies suggest that electrosensitivity is caused by an expectation that electrosmog can cause harm. Therefore it would follow that media scare mongering is actually the cause, rather than radiofrequency emmissions from cellphones, WiFi etc.

  38. GuardianOfReality said,

    June 8, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    At least on GU some of the more stable commentators were able to point us all in the direction of the real authority on this subject (Science and Public Policy Institute of Washington) they posted a nice rebuttal to Bens piece www.buergerwelle.de/pdf/the_radiation_blob_indeed.htm
    When I checked though and ran them through a few science sites and journals their staff seem a little suspect though (oceanexpert.org/search.php?searchTextinstitutionID=10485&orderby=name) nice to know that mammals can benefit from Chi alignment but I wouldn’t go around saying it was my major area of scientific interest.

  39. GuardianOfReality said,

    June 8, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    When I said mammals I didn’t mean humans I meant dolphins and whales btw

  40. Pastafarianbabe said,

    June 9, 2007 at 1:39 am

    I’m sorry but this – if it feels good sell it – bollocks needs urgent debunking. I say this as the sister of someone who spent her teenage years convinced that crystal wavers could save her from her (very real) symptoms of “chronic fatigue” when conventional medicine admitted that it didn’t have a clue how to make her feel better overnight. Approxiamately £70,000 (and five, potentially formative but ultimately wasted, years) later she has now agreed that she almost certainly suffers from the same psychological problem that I do (depression). Depression is deeply real but in her case was made 10X worse by someone leading her up the garden path as to it’s cause. The problem is NOT people making fools of themselves spouting dumb science – it’s the fact that they mislead desperate people like my sister to give them money they can ill afford to spend based on stuff that thy have no RIGHt t believe since anyone who actually looked into the “healing” regimes here stated could tell on sight that they are fundmanetally at odds with commen sense, never mind scientific research.

  41. PhilinXiamen said,

    June 10, 2007 at 5:57 am

    Ben – your repeated raising of the “provocation studies” is starting to get a bit scary. I don’t believe in this electrosmog/electrosensitivity gubbins any more than you, but it is fairly clear that being able to sense when electromagnetic fields are turned on is not relevant to the issue.
    To take a linked example, I have been in the presence of (unshielded) mildly radioactive substances, and would not have known they were there were it not for the bloody great skull and crossbones on them. But that doesn’t mean that radiation sickness doesn’t exist.
    The only purpose these provocation studies serve is to embarrass people who think they are suffering from “fields”. It’s a shame that you keep mentioning them, when you’re usually so admirably clear that it is the quacks and snake-oil vendors who should be embarrassed, not the patients.
    Cheers, and keep up the good work.

  42. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 10, 2007 at 11:31 am

    No Geeb, remember: you’re not allowed to mention the provocation studies. Nobody is allowed to mention the provocation studies. You will be bullied if you do.

    as PhilinXiamen said: “your repeated raising of the “provocation studies” is starting to get a bit scary… The only purpose these provocation studies serve is to embarrass people… It’s a shame that you keep mentioning them…”

    Nobody is allowed to mention the provocation studies. Nobody. Ever. I did but I regret it now because discussing that data made a lot of people who don’t like the provocation studies very angry. Perhaps that’s why Panorama and the Independent have never mentioned the provocation studies either.

    www.badscience.net/?p=430

    People who suffer from symptoms which they attribute to electromagnetic signals deserve our compassion and help.

    Entirely separately: people who bully anyone who dares to mention data they don’t like in order to shut down discussion and debate are vile, and with their McCarthyism they hold back any progress that we might be able to make as to what might cause these symptoms, and what might help them.

  43. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 10, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    PhilinXiamen: a provocation study, if properly conducted, provides important and useful and reliable evidence, useful to participants as well as to people trying to help them and to help others. Such a study can and has demonstrated that a certain exposure to certain conditions (say, allergen) consistently causes a physiological response (say, illness) or a patient-reported subjective reaction (say, feeling ill). Or has demonstrated that it does not. In electrosensitivity cases, we’re told that all the successful studies demonstrated that perceived exposure to electrosmog made people react badly and actual exposure to hidden electrical or electronic devices did not. That’s important for participants and shouldn’t be embarrassing but worth learning: electricity didn’t make them ill, something else did – maybe just anxiety, and that can be treated. For the rest of the population, too, you can figure – without participating in the experiment – that it’s likely to be the same for you.

    It’s also simple justice.
    1. You claim that something I’m doing is making you ill.
    2. A provocation study proves that what I’m doing does not make you ill.
    3. If there are no other objections, I should be allowed to go on doing it if I want to.

  44. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 10, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    @PhilinXiamen: the provocation studies dont just ask people to “guess” if an electromagnetic signal is present or absent,

    they look at whether symptoms get better or worse in response to the presence or absence of an electromagnetic signal. in doing so they test the exact hypothesis being advanced in the media stories we are discussing.

    i’m pretty amazed that this isnt clear to you from reading what i wrote on them:

    www.badscience.net/?p=239

    but if on re-reading you find that really isnt clear enough then i suggest you do read the orginal papers.

  45. PhilinXiamen said,

    June 11, 2007 at 6:22 am

    Ben – I was talking about long term effects. I’ve now gone and read the review study that you link to, and sure enough, only two of the studies reviewed in there – one on computer monitors and one on general EMF – involved exposure over periods longer than one day.

    Let me say this again: I agree with you. I do not believe in adverse health effects arising from EMF. I believe evidence that bears either way on this question should be made public and presented in argument. The provocation studies do appear to show fairly conclusively that over the short term (minutes/hours) there are no immediate ill effects (or any effects at all) arising from EMF exposure. However, they do not show with any great clarity what exposure over periods of weeks/months might do. (I believe that when such data is available, it will show that there are no long term effects. But these are not those data.)

    Therefore, the provocation studies cited in that review constitute only half of an argument against the electrosmog preachers. Moreover, as I said above, it seems to me that presenting these studies (particularly repeatedly) as evidence to people like Julia Stephenson is likely to make her only more defensive, which is surely not the aim of the game.

    I’m honestly bemused by your reaction to what I’m saying. I was trying to suggest this as a tactical point: I think you will get your argument over more effectively *to those who need to hear it most* if you don’t refer so often to these data that are very limited in time.

    If I used inappropriate language to make this suggestion, then I apologise. If you disagree with my suggestion as a science communicator, then I should probably bow to your greater experience. But your implications that I’m a McCarthyist bully were just ridiculous.

  46. neilcam2001 said,

    June 12, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Now that the woos’ grasp of science has been thoroughly demolished, perhaps the scientists in this forum should discuss the philosophcal ideals that probably contribute to the woos’ misuse of scientific terms in their fight against technology like wifi and mobiles. Those ideals might say something like “Wifi is just another technology that makes life more stressful and that contributes absolutely nothing to happiness”. I am not going to quote the levels of depressive and other mental illness in modern-day society because I don’t know what they are. But I bet that technology-induced stress is responsible for any rise that you scientists might concede.

  47. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 14, 2007 at 12:16 am

    How about sitting behind the computer monitor, putting a mirror in front of it, and running special software to show things back to front?

    Of course that doesn’t solve the wi-fi problem but it passes the time.

  48. mickjames said,

    June 14, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    “If people want Wi-Fi I can’t stop them. All I can do is recount what happened to me, and if it makes anyone consider the possible implications, I’ve done my job. I’m not claiming everyone could be affected; some may be more sensitive than others.”

    Isn’t this the crux of the issue? Stephenson flits between the issue of her own sensitivity to the “possible implications” of wi-fi without realising that these are very different things.

    I’m allergic to cats. So are lots of people. If you’re allergic to cats you damn well know it, and will frequently find yourself suceeding in ad hoc “provocation tests” when visiting strangers’ houses.

    None of this leads me to believe that long-term exposure to cats may be having dire effects on the rest of the population, or to argue that all cats should be exterminated (even though I may secretly wish for it).

    ESS may well be a real condition, but if it only affects a minority of the population (and, according to Stephenson, is so easily remedied), then frankly, so what?

  49. Delster said,

    June 15, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    I was actually quite pleased with the presenter on that clip. She did manage to get old JC to say there was no hard evidence…. it’s just a shame her researchers hadn’t managed to prime her with the info about those 30+ provocation studies.

    Re Ms Stephenson’s first article. She does manage to shoot herself in the foot by saying she had this majic box with the amplified holograph to protect her from the evil wi-fi rays and also by commenting she could still access her neighbours wi-fi. So obviously the magic box doesn’t block anything, including TV & radio presumably although she didn’t comment on her usage of those.

  50. martinrost said,

    August 24, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    “..AND SCIENCE SAID ATOM BOMBS WERE SAFE TOO..”

    The quote at the top of this story seems to be deliberately misunderstood in order to mock Julia Stephenson.

    However; the HONEST approach to this would be to adress what she actually meant; which is:

    Scientist and government in the 50′s did claim (some actually belivening it, and some just distorting the truth for various motives) that the RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT from the atomic bomb and not the bomb itself (yes, because its a bomb) was not particularly dangerous and in any case would clear up quickly. This in turn was not true as it turned out that those “terrifying invisible rays” were infact quite dangerous after all – even though you can’t feel them, smell them hear them or see them. This is something that you cannot discount.

    I believe it is important to be honest when declaring “truths” about science and history at the possible expense of the safety and health of others (aswell as your own health – even though people tend to think that they don’t care about their health as long as they are well).

    This also applies to sceptics.

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