Electrosensitives: the new cash cow of the woo industry

June 2nd, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, electrosensitivity, independent, patrick holford, powerwatch - alasdair philips, scare stories | 125 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday June 2, 2007
The Guardian

The Independent has put its green columnist Julia Stephenson on to Panorama’s Wi-Fi scare story: a charming green party candidate and beef heiress living in Chelsea on a trust fund, who believes her symptoms of tiredness and headache are caused by electromagnetic radiation from phones and Wi-Fi.

The most important background for any “electrosensitivity” story is the issue of the “provocation studies”. These are simple. Sufferers explain that they can tell when they are exposed to, say, a mast, a computer monitor, or a phone, because their symptoms get worse.

So in a provocation study, an electrosensitive person sits in a room with the source of electromagnetic waves hidden from view: they don’t know whether it is switched on or not.

There have been 36 such studies published to date. This is very active work. This field has not been neglected. Thirty-three have shown that the subjects were unable to tell if the signal was present or absent, and the other three were flawed, as I have previously explained (full references here). Could the Independent and Panorama have deliberately ignored these, in the name of propagating their scare, and selling themselves? But the reality is clear. The symptoms of electrosensitivity are real, and deserve our compassion, but they seem not to be caused by electromagnetic signals.

Instead of this useful information (were the researchers wasting their time?) the Independent article was filled with ludicrous false information and claims. Since giving up her cordless phone, she has become “less radioactive”.

Britain is full of masts because 95% of the population own a phone (including infants and pensioners?). “You are never more than 10 feet away from a rat in London; you may find yourself even closer to a phone mast.”

Not with 35,000 masts in a country of almost 100,000 square miles. Masts are “disguised in trees”. How cruel. I could go on.

But with the treatment options it really kicks off. First, she recommends the Q-link pendant from two weeks ago (the pseudo-electronic medical device flogged by vitamin pill entrepreneur Patrick Holford). Then she talks about claimed remedies to “reduce the amount of radiation stored in the body”. Excellent news. And they’re described as “detox” remedies, so presumably the “radiation” stored over the years in your body is suddenly expelled in one big dollop. Duck!

And lastly there is her “electro-magnetic field protection unit“, created by engineer and homeopath Gary Johnson. “The heart of the unit is a programmed microprocessor unit that produces a holograph [sic] field that is amplified through an internal aerial system … He claims the unit offers unlimited protection from any negative electromagnetic emissions in a 700 square metre [sic] radius.”

If Gary really has found a way to cancel out any electromagnetic signal with a special beam then the military will be keen to talk to him, but since a “holograph” is a document written entirely in the handwriting of the person whose signature it bears, and a sphere cannot have a radius measured in “square metres”, I’m not too sure Julia knows her arse from his elbow.

It’s also hard to see how being emotionally positive or negative can be a property of a wave, and how his device could identify this. Perhaps the answer is to be found in an episode of He-man and the Masters of the Universe called The Revenge of Evil from 1986: “Something is wrong with the powers of Grayskull: there are strange negative energies that surround it and it looks as if it is burning! … He-Man uses his sword and sucks the power back into himself, even transforming the negative energy into positive. The balance is restored, and the evil clone fades away.”

People who believe their symptoms are related to exposure to electromagnetic fields are almost certainly mistaken – I would now say misled – about the cause, but they are very right about their symptoms.

Symptoms are real, they are subjective, some people experience them very severely, and this is real distress that deserves our compassion. Alternatively, you could cynically exploit them – and mislead them, and frighten them – to sell your quack products, your newspaper, your TV show, and your freelance articles.

I’m not judging. I’m simply laying out the alternatives.

· Please send your bad science to bad.science@guardian.co.uk

Oh.

If you feel shortchanged because the Independent story has already been posted on here, then let me offer you this representative – and totally joyous – email from a reader this evening. Truly I have the best jobs in the world.

In today’s Independent there’s an astonishing ‘zero-gravity’ garden chair
on offer which ‘supports you in pressure-free comfort.’

www.independentoffers.co.uk/I-DD-3901-GA-3/Lafuma-zero-gravity-Recliner-Chair.htm

Quite how gravity gets switched off is not clear since it seems to be made
with nothing but a steel frame and polycotton canvas. Nor is it clear how
you can be supported without any pressure. And if it’s pressure-free, why
does it need ‘Padded armrests and a removable adjustable pillow for
added comfort’?

Now I do not know from experience if this chair really is comfortable,
but I do
object to such terms as gravity and pressure being recruited into
pseudoscientific babble
which attempts to legitimise physical impossibilities, perhaps appealing
to the unwary.

This blurb might be offered in a decent and honest way, (perhaps out of
scientific
ignorance) but should one question the legality and truth of the claims?

Regards


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

125 Responses



  1. SjH said,

    June 2, 2007 at 2:53 am

    In the ad for the chair, the bit which catches my eye is the suggestion that there is an (unspecified) patent applicable to this ‘zero-gravity’ business. This is probably just poor copywriting, but these days, you never know..

    That said, each reference to ‘zero-gravity’ is quoted, perhaps to indicate that it is not to be taken literally; that, at least, could be how they might explain themselves to the ASA, if ever brought before it.

    The reference to ‘pressure-free’ is however not quoted, indicating, perhaps, that it is to be taken literally.

  2. Mojo said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:06 am

    “Then she talks about claimed remedies to “reduce the amount of radiation stored in the body”. Excellent news. And they’re described as “detox” remedies, so presumably the “radiation” stored over the years in your body is suddenly expelled in one big dollop.”

    Presumably it makes you (briefly) glow with health.

  3. megachicken(b) said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:08 am

    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.

    Same results as all the others.

  4. evidencebasedeating said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:26 am

    “He-Man uses his sword and sucks the power back into himself, even transforming the negative energy into positive. The balance is restored, and the evil clone fades away.”
    Hmmm. sounds like He-man is an anti-oxidant to me. Hope Julia is taking oodles of these. Not worth missing out on one aspect of wi-fi desensitization treatment…

    oh, and the zero gravity recliner chair – did it specify whether it was meant for potential space tourists that we’ll all soon become?

    Or is it that the Indy has become the Private Eye/ Viz equivalent of a ‘proper’ newspaper?

  5. rongraves said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Is there a problem with pensioners having phones, Ben? Ageism in BS – dear me…

  6. Andrew Taylor said,

    June 2, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Yes, that’s clearly exactly what he meant.

  7. Andrej Bauer said,

    June 2, 2007 at 9:40 am

    I think you better remove that link to Poincare conjecture, it has nothing to do with blatant terminological confusion of “700 square metres radius”. Let me put it another way: do you, Ben, understand why you’ve linked to it? Or did you just trust someone who suggested a connection?

  8. StayWired said,

    June 2, 2007 at 9:56 am

    I agree with you about the ‘rabbit’s paw technology’ new age crystals and other silly devices. Shielding from microwaves does work, however.

    Electrosensitivity is a real condition and I know /of several people who genuinely suffer from it.
    * Their symptoms are consistent – and somewhat like mild radiation poisoning.
    * The initial source triggering their symptoms tends to be unknown to them – they find out later – e.g. Wi-fi installed by the neighbours.
    * Their symptoms disappear when they are away from the problem location – a clear sign of an environmental link.
    * Shielding (not ‘rabbits paw technology’!) diminishes their symptoms.

    I think that you have lost your objectivity on this subject, Ben. Bad Science is also stubbornly sticking to narrow, tried and trusted ideas when others have opened up new lines of thought. Einstein fell into this trap by not accepting the ideas of quantum mechanics – spending the latter part of his life trying to disprove it since he believed that “God does not play dice [with the universe].”. If Einstein had accepted quantum mechanics he would have been so much greater as a Scientist.

  9. superburger said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:03 am

    “Somewhat like mild radiation poisoning”

    What, with the mucked up white cell counts and all the guff?

    “Wi-fi installed by the neighbours.”

    People are buying wireless routers all the time, it’s getting very popular – it is far to easy to create a link between the two.

    “Their symptoms disappear when they are away from the problem location – a clear sign of an environmental link.”

    Or of placebo. You are told you are sick because of WiFi. WiFi is removed, you feel better.

    The same effect would be achieved with the Q-link pendant, even though it is demonstrably a pile of crap.

  10. PK said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:12 am

    It’s a joke, Andrej!

  11. Mojo said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:18 am

    “Electrosensitivity is a real condition and I know /of several people who genuinely suffer from it.”

    Have you read all of the story? At the end of the story, Ben is clearly acknowledging that the symptoms are real. At the beginning of the story, he refers to a large number of studies that have demonstrated that “electrosensitives” cannot tell whether they are being exposed in blinded tests.

    Actually, did you read any of the story?

  12. PK said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Oh please! Einstein as the patron saint of quacks and crackpots!

    You know, Einstein had a profound intuition about the workings of Nature, which led him to the theory of relativity (special and general), the theory of Brownian motion, and he devised a method to estimate the mass of molecules at a time when not every physicist was convinced that Nature consisted of atoms. But most important of all (meaning he got the Nobel prize for it), he introduced the idea of a quantized radiation field. That’s photons to you and me.

    The statement that Einstein could have been a greater scientist if he had “accepted quantum mechanics” only demonstrates your complete lack of knowledge on this matter. Take a course in quantum mechanics and read Einstein’s objections, and you’ll see what a great mind he truly was.

  13. j l smith said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:39 am

    StayWired:

    In order to raise your friends’ problems above the anecdote we’d need to know this:

    * were your affected friends aware that shielding had been installed?

    * when they moved away from the source of the problem did anyone think to check whether there was wifi in the place they felt symptom free? My guess is that they reported feeling better when they spent an extended period away; such as being on holiday.

    And your comments on Einstein demonstrate a failure to understand the role of scepticism in science.

    Einstein’s inability to accept quantum randomness was caused by his beliefs, but his scepticism has caused much great science to be carried out out in eradicating what is (for scientists) as those who hold opposing views try to *prove* him wrong, and those who support Einstein try to *prove* the other side wrong. Note the “P” word.

  14. Mojo said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:44 am

    “The statement that Einstein could have been a greater scientist if he had “accepted quantum mechanics” only demonstrates your complete lack of knowledge on this matter.”

    Having demonstrated that, perhaps StayWired will be able to get a job writing about it for the Indie.

  15. Pax Vobiscum said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:52 am

    I’m afraid this just gets worse. Now Computer Weekly has joined in – see
    www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2007/05/29/224354/dont-ignore-wi-fi-worries.htm

    I’ve long since abandoned hope that the massed intelligences of the Beeb (and the Indie) could achieve a pass in GCSE Physics, but I expect more from the trade paper of the British computer industry.

  16. SomeBeans said,

    June 2, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Maybe there should be a scientific equivalent to Godwin’s Law: First one to cite Einstein in support of their argument is out! ;-)

  17. j l smith said,

    June 2, 2007 at 11:03 am

    I completely garbled that last paragraph and there’s no “edit” in wordpress.

    What I meant to say was: Einstein believed fervently that the universe was deterministic. He was therefore extremely sceptical about the apparent randomness at the heart of quantum mechanics. He saw quantum mechanics as being an unacceptable intrusion of “woo” into science.

    But he didn’t just say “I don’t accept that, I’m taking my toys and playing somewhere else” – he came up with a series of thought experiments that would prove or disprove randomness at the quantum level.

    And the pro-random party, because what Einstein proposed was good science, have spent much of the last century working in the framework he designed to settle the situation one way or another.

    In short Einstein may have been wrong, but it’s still only “may”. Quantum mechanics works extremely well, but there are still too many fudge factors for comfort. His scepticism has led to a deeper and more rigorous understanding of the universe. Einsteins scepticism might have been his third great gift to the world.

    Now, to your case. You are making a claim: EMF is bad. You have not done any science. You rely on a fraction of other people’s studies that prove your case, and disregard the majority because you claim they are flawed (you might be right, but hang on a second).

    As *you* are making a claim, rather than demanding that the world proves that something is safe, you could do some science proving that it is not and then we’d be able to argue that in universally understandable terms.

    Don’t like the methodology of the claims that disprove EHS? Then do some experiments with an acceptable methodology. This is how knowledge advances, not through blogging and mail order gadgets.

  18. ayupmeduck said,

    June 2, 2007 at 11:05 am

    @Staywired – Why bring up anecdotal stuff on electronsensitivty again? – there’s no point in replying to your post as it’s pretty much already covered in Ben’s article.

    And yeah, that Einstein was a complete stubborn stick in the mud, no original thought whatsoever. I’d be really upset to be associated and compared with such a loser ;-)

  19. monkeychicken said,

    June 2, 2007 at 11:57 am

    As an aside, just read your article in the guardian but no science section…that soon got dumped…

    I thought the trade off for losing the science supplement on Thursdays was gaining a Saturday science spread…grrr

  20. diogenes said,

    June 2, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Quote:
    “Electrosensitivity is a real condition and I know /of several people who genuinely suffer from it.”

    It does seem slightly ridiculous to labour the point, but that someone can hold a view like this, straight after reading an article which discussed the findings of scientific trials demonstrating the opposite, says a great deal about the way some people think, and how superstition and ‘bad science’ has become so dominent. Evidence- if you can call it that- from a single person, who you know and trust, can somehow overide and disprove a whole series of carefully executed blinded study. Do people really mistrust scientists THAT MUCH?? It may be that the author of these comments hadn’t actually read the article, but that is the only reasonable excuse.

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 2, 2007 at 9:51 am

    happily changed the link to “hypervolume”, andrej, but neither really fit, as you say, it’s just nonsense and confustion. it’s always an interesting problem trying to fit a meaningful framework over garbled nonsense in order to mock it.

  22. Mithent said,

    June 2, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Well, scientists are strange people in white coats who most people don’t have any contact with, handing down decisions that This is true or That is false after some unfathomable process of deduction which you couldn’t possibly understand if you tried. Who knows what their motives are? Maybe they’re all receiving bonuses from the manufacturers of Wi-Fi equipment.

    Your friend though – why would your friend lie? It’s perfectly simple, they feel ill if they’re near a source of electromagnetic radiation and they feel better when they’re away from it. They don’t have some fancy-pants scientific qualification, but surely it’s just common sense?

    If scientists were seen more as real people then it might be easier for the public to trust; unfortunately the media generally justs reports that ‘Scientists have discovered..’ every week. It gives the impression that all scientists agree on anything that some scientist says, which leads to distrust when ‘scientists discover’ something else to the contrary. Since the media rarely even try to explain the process that went into the discovery, they’re going to find it hard to trust over what their friend says.

  23. jpmg said,

    June 2, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    SomeBeans: the nearest I can get to the science version of Godwin’s Law is John Baez’s excellent Crackpot Index

  24. Sillycow1108 said,

    June 2, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    As a beef heiress, has BSE been ruled out by her?

  25. Gimpy said,

    June 2, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Mithent maybe you’re on to something there. White coats seem to function like harm prevention shields against unknown dangers for scientists. Health and safety insist we wear them but what do they protect us against? Anything truly nasty will go straight through them and anything harmless is harmless. Maybe we should sell white coats to the general public on the basis that they reduce the dangers of science. After all scientists work with dangerous genetically-modified-electro-radiation and don’t suffer harm.

  26. SomeBeans said,

    June 2, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Gimpy, biologists and chemists usually wear lab coats because they’re messy. Physicists tend not to, even when they should… Contrary to any TV footage you might have seen, labs are rarely filled with beakers and flasks containing coloured liquids.

    diogenes, as Ben said in his article:
    “People who believe their symptoms are related to exposure to electromagnetic fields are almost certainly mistaken – I would now say misled – about the cause, but they are very right about their symptoms.

    Symptoms are real, they are subjective, some people experience them very severely, and this is real distress that deserves our compassion. Alternatively, you could cynically exploit them – and mislead them, and frighten them – to sell your quack products, your newspaper, your TV show, and your freelance articles.”

  27. SomeBeans said,

    June 2, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    @jpmg – the Crackpot Index does look useful, however I feel that Einstein has clearly shown he would have supported my proposal ;-)

  28. StayWired said,

    June 2, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Just to clarify, the part of the article I was really commenting on was:-
    “People who believe their symptoms are related to exposure to electromagnetic fields are almost certainly mistaken – I would now say misled – about the cause, but they are very right about their symptoms.”

    I have read a lot on the subject in the last couple of years – as a Physics undergraduate I hated the EM theory – now it’s come back to bite me.

    I believe that Ben is WRONG and that electromagnetic fields produced by microwave emitting devices are causing harm and are responsible for the symptoms of electrosensitivity.

    Scientists and Physicians have made themselves aloof and remote from real people. They are rarely the best people to comment on real-world symptoms and events. Outside of the lab their blinkered world has a mind of its own and reality kicks in.

    Electrosmog from microwave devices such as Wi-Fi, Mobile Phone Masts and the like is another “Inconvenient Truth”. History will show this to be another step on Humanity’s path to self-destruction. Hasten it on Ben!

  29. diogenes said,

    June 2, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    So people do, apparently, suffer from elecrosensitivity. But these effects cannot be demonstrated to exist in controlled conditions. Call me dogmatic but it just seems that both these things can’t be true together. What kind of test would make these effects show up? If they can notice it normally, why not when they are being tested? And if the effects don’t show up in controlled tests, how are they to be distinguished from nothing at all? Perhaps people do suffer from ‘electrosensitivity'; maybe so. But it would seem that it is not caused by being sensitive to electromagnetic fields. Why not call it what it is: neurosis. Ben has to be sympathetic, he’s a doctor and its his job. I’m not, and I don’t.

  30. StayWired said,

    June 2, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    woodchopper: I’ll repeat my comment from a previous thread, since it is relevant here:-

    An EHS Test has been done:- This is what the ‘Essex study’ is meant to be demonstrating for 2G and 3G base stations. If the results are positive, I imagine it would make people ‘shut up and listen’. The study is complete, but still awaiting peer review and publication… www.essex.ac.uk/psychology/EHS/pages/HOME%20PAGE%20MOBILE%20PHONES1.htm

    From one participant I got the following comment:- “a test has already been designed and tested, at Essex University, I took part in that study and got a 100% result as to whether it was on or off and I also identified what type of signal, ie 2g and 3g.
    Pass this on if you like.

    So, a test has been done, at least one participant “passed” the EHS test – we just have to wait for the study to be peer reviewed and published. That will be interesting – I just hope that the full results are published and the conclusions are not “spun” by the Media as in some previous studies.

    Many medical conditions are “environmental”. EHS is just one more. Whether you believe it or not diogenes matters not.

    woodchopper: Your last statement about other causes of stress is the Wireless Industry’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The evidence does exist. For some go to my link:- mastsanity.blogspot.com/2007/05/re-wifi-why-worry.html .

  31. crana said,

    June 2, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Diogenes –

    Or that they have symptoms caused by whatever and because of articles like the one discussed decide they’re caused by radiation?

  32. StayWired said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    crana: …Or actually by EM (non-ionising radiation)and carry on in ignorance because the money is rolling in for the wireless industry – many millions of times more cash than the paltry sums that the so-called “woo” industry would ever make?

  33. Johan said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    As an aside: The Swedish “government agency” that the author describes has nothing to do with the government – it’s an association of people who think they are electrosensitive.

    Fortunately, the insanity hasn’t gone far enough to have government agencies yet, even in Sweden.

  34. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    staywired@32:

    okay this is seriously very interesting indeed now.

    you don’t like the results of the 36 negative provocation studies.

    but you love the results of the (unpublished) essex study, which you say will be positive. or at least your friend’s results are positive.

    can you tell us why you don’t like the 36 negative studies, but why you do like this single one which is apparently positive?

  35. pv said,

    June 2, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    StayWired wrote:
    “the paltry sums that the so-called “woo” industry would ever make?”

    Sir, you are attempting to perpetuate a myth. The “woo” industry is an annual billion dollar effort. Have you any idea how much money people spend on snake oil, CAM and so on?
    See here: www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ap/pm/2002/00000035/00000002/art01057
    and here:
    www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199900/ldselect/ldsctech/123/12303.htm

  36. pv said,

    June 2, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    If you read Alasdair Philips closely, what he actually says is that it’s a possiblity that WiFi causes harm, and that he accepts a lot of people disagree with him. YET, he sells his paint, his hats, his blinds, his meters and all that stuff at outrageously inflated prices to protect individuals from something he admits is only a possibility. He’s taking people’s money for something he knows might be incorrect, even if he believes it himself to be correct. Is he (1) actually involved in research to ascertain the correctness of his assertions? Or is he (2) merely lobbying and priming his audience so part with their money for stuff that will almost certainly turn out to be useless – because there is nothing from which to be protected?
    If we assume it is the former then we can legitimately ask why he is trying to sell all that gear prior to having any incontrovertible scientific evidence to support his assertions. On the other hand, if it is the latter, his academic and professional qualifications notwithstanding, we can legitimately call him a scam artist and a charlatan, and a part of the billion dollar sCAM industry.
    Which is it to be?

  37. ebwilford said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Sigh. Maybe it’s time to give up. The credulous will be taken in and have their money relieved by charlatans…why not use their credulity in a good cause? Let’s publish an unrefereed study in a dodgy journal (or even better, get our own show on Channel 4 and a column in the Daily Mail) and convince people that they can be shielded from EMF by educating their children and themselves in basic science (‘You see, learning to think rationally activates the part of your brain that turns evil radiation into guaranteed weight loss!’).

    We can apply to the NHS with our radical ‘alternative’ medical theories…studies have shown that cases of mild depression can be cured by a strict gender based programme. Men need to revitalise their mental health with a taxpayer funded regimine of beer and strippers, while women need a subtler approach, involving a tax-paid store account at Harvey Nichols and a weekend at a spa. It’s holistic! My unpublished study on this (written on the back of an envelope) proves it works!

    Furthermore, the autism-causing effects of MMR triple-jabs can be cured by making me a sandwich. You see, the negative chi involved in the sandwich making process is absorbed by the crusty baguette, thus leaving your child happy and socially competent. And MRSA can be wiped off the face of the ward by pointing and laughing at Julia Stephenson (through a technical process I won’t bore you with).

  38. mrpj100 said,

    June 3, 2007 at 9:13 am

    If electrosensitivity was a genuine illness, I would have expected to find very large numbers of cases close to TV and radio transmitters, which put out far more power than either mobile phones or wireless networks. The main transmitter at Crystal Palace in London, for example, puts out a million watts of effective radiated power on each of the four analogue TV channels, not to mention transmitting six digital TV multiplexes and numerous radio systems at lower power levels.

  39. briantist said,

    June 3, 2007 at 9:49 am

    The digital channels are worse, of course, because they are pulsing radiation. ;-)

  40. StayWired said,

    June 3, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Ben: I am looking into those other EHS studies. However, I know what I know so I genuinely expect to find flaws in the studies, not with the link between EHS and EM.

    pv: Your attack on Alasdair Philips is unwarranted and unfounded. Who exactly ARE you and what Wireless company do you work for? I am Martin Sharp and I work with other members of Mast Sanity – as an unpaid volunteer. I receive no money for my interest in this topic.

    On the subject of pay – Ben: Do you receive income or benefits from Companies or Organisations other than “The Guardian” who are linked with the Mobile Phone or Wireless Operators?

    This is not meant to be offensive. I just think that it is time that we all lay our cards on the table – including you, Ben.

  41. AlasdairPhilips said,

    June 3, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    In order not to post the same/similar things on two of Ben Goldacre’s comment sites, please read comments 48 through 53 at:
    www.badscience.net/?p=418

    There you will find some of my responses and helpful links including to some useful downloads.

    There is a chapter on Electrosensitivity in our ‘Powerwatch Handbook’, published by Piatkus Books (www.piatkus.co.uk). The authors royalties are paid by Piatkus directly to CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA (Regd Charity).
    www.leukaemia.org

  42. j said,

    June 3, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    “In order not to post the same/similar things on two of Ben Goldacre’s comment sites, please read comments 48 through 53 at:
    www.badscience.net/?p=418

    Alisdair, were you posting as stolennomenclature, then?

    “the authors royalties are paid by Piatkus directly to CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA (Regd Charity)”

    I’m delighted to hear that – though I’m presuming you do profit from sales of various electrosensitivity-related items? As Powerwatch appears to view transparency as important, perhaps you could put a ballpark figure on the amount?

    One more question – does powerwatch have a position on the more ‘unusual’ devices, such as the qlink, which are sold as a treatment for electrosensitivity?

  43. JohnK said,

    June 3, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    “a test has already been designed and tested, at Essex University, I took part in that study and got a 100% result as to whether it was on or off and I also identified what type of signal, ie 2g and 3g.”

    From the link to the Essex study, it appears that identifying the presence or absence of the field is a simple yes/no question on 3 separate occasions. Assuming only chance was influencing the result (ie the subject was just guessing), you’d expect 1 in 8 participants to get it right every time. So it doesn’t surprise me one bit that someone did.

  44. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 3, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    @alasdairphilips:

    that’s very interesting, piatkus are patrick holford’s publisher too, excellent company.

    if you’d like to send me a copy of your book i can read the chapter on electrosensitivity and tell you what i think? or i’ll get it up from the stacks tomorrow. you’ve piqued my interest now. will there be cherry picking and everything? i love cherry picking.

  45. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 3, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    @StayWired: “On the subject of pay – Ben: Do you receive income or benefits from Companies or Organisations other than “The Guardian” who are linked with the Mobile Phone or Wireless Operators This is not meant to be offensive. I just think that it is time that we all lay our cards on the table – including you, Ben.”

    don’t be pathetic, of course i’m not. i really would have thought, what with alasdair philips and his beekeeper hats, that you lot would have learnt by now that accusing other people of having conflicts of interest is really not a runner for you. can’t you think about the evidence in any other way?

    and i am amazed and appalled that you were unaware of the 37 provocation studies, evidence which has been carefully collected to examine the hypothesis on which you campaign, at considerable expense and effort, the results of which all mitigate against your case. they are at the absolute centre of the issue. they are the evidence on your case.

    did you not notice them?

    did you deliberately ignore them?

    i suspect you are so accustomed to having an uncritical ride, pushing your scare story in the media, that you simply don’t care about the evidence.

    i’m sorry to say it, but the fact that you can cheerfully admit that you have never even considered that evidence does rather undermine your credibility in my eyes.

  46. billgibson said,

    June 3, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    Staywired,

    Just remind us all what a p value is and why they’re really important before you expect us to believe your single study.

    COI: Using a wireless laptop, feeling fine.

  47. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 3, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    @StayWired: good to see that you admit you’ve simply not read the 37 studies examining the central hypothesis of your lobby. i’m sorry you mock the notion of reading academic research and find it onerous and irrelevant.

    i have engaged with rod read at length, although it’s often not very easy. like many people including those from within your own lobby and the media i have found him to be abusive, slightly unfocussed, and occasionally slightly threatening too, i’m afraid. i certainly wouldn’t want you to take my opinion on that and there are various examples of his correspondence on badscience.net , which i encourage you to read for yourself. i should add i have been consistently very polite with rod. i can very happily post my full email correspondence with him if he wishes to dispute that.

    www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&hs=swt&q=+site:www.badscience.net+%22rod+read%22+inurl:badscience

    www.badscience.net/?p=414#comment-12988

    i would also strongly recommend that people read rod read’s own words on his own website here

    www.electrosensitivity.org.uk/

    www.electrosensitivity.org.uk/Travesty.htm

    in light of the above i must say i now do rather struggle to suppress a smile when i see him portrayed in the media as a measured and sensible authority.

    rod, alasdair, and others have recklessly accused me of some very bizarre and regrettable things, i’ve made a little collection of them for a much larger piece i’m writing on the subject.

  48. StayWired said,

    June 3, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    billgibson: (I once knew a Bill Gibson(!) – Irish guy, Physics lecturer in particles). Don’t worry about p values ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-value ). It is Statistics – or “Sadistics” as we used to call them.

    In my experience if a point doesn’t fit into a Physicist’s theory he’ll put huge error bars onto the graph to explain it away! So statistical analysis becomes a bit meaningless.

  49. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    it’s certainly not vindictive, but i do think it’s very interesting that while the electrosensitivity lobby consistently refuses to engage on the question of the provocation studies, they do instead engage in tirades of abuse, bullying, accusing people of callously dismissing genuine symptoms (when they don’t), and making accusations of conflicts of interest which you are – frankly – in a rather bad position to throw about, as we have seen.

    it’s very clear to everyone that this bullying and abuse from your lobby is an attempt to silence debate of the evidence.

  50. StayWired said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I certainly welcome debate on the topic, although most abuse seems to come from “your side”.

    Ben – for about the 4th time – can you answer my question:- “Have you ever actually met an EHS person?” and “Have you seen what they have to put up with?”

    As Paxman might say – “You haven’t answered my question Mr. Goldacre”

  51. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    i cannot believe you are triumphantly trying to catch me out for not having any anecdotal evidence to draw upon.

    i think we need copies of alasdair philips’ books on electrosensitivity to see how he deals with the issue of the provocation studies.

  52. j said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Staywired wrote that:
    “You may have leisure time available to read through dry studies for your column – you are paid by The Guardian to do so – I am not and do it in my spare time. A large number of studies I have seen are paid for by the Industry and Government. They get what they pay for usually – a result that supports their position.”

    Not wanting to be abusive, but that’s an excuse right up there with ‘a dog ate my homework’. I’ve done pieces of NGO research (mostly unpaid) and write (unpaid) for a blog on health and nutrition. If I don’t have time to get to grips with the literature on a particular topic, I either make time or put off writing about it until I can find the time. The fact that you’re not getting paid for writing something is no excuse for producing substandard work.

    You may believe that the government/industry somehow rigs the research en electrosensitivity (though not sure how you can know this if you don’t even know what studies are out there – let alone who funded them/carried them out, the methodologies used, etc.) It’s not useful to just assert this, though – you need to look at the studies and argue why you believe this to be the case.

  53. Weirdbeard said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    StayWired: you don’t happen to have a slightly soft wall you could let me borrow do you? I really need something to bang my head on.

  54. billgibson said,

    June 3, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Staywired. The very fact that you bother to mention that you knew someone who shares my (not uncommon) name tells me that your grasp of statistics is, frankly, rather poor.

    No-one is denying that people suffer real, debilitating symptoms, which cause them pain and distress. They deserve sympathy and treatment, which is what I (and Ben) try to give our patients every day. To say “Have you ever actually met an EHS person?” and “Have you seen what they have to put up with?” is patronising in the extreme.

    How is it helpful to sell them a £275 box, or a pendant for £80, or electroshielding paint, or mesh, ad nauseum. How is it helpful to encourage them to belive that their very real symptoms are caused by something, when all the scientific evidence, 37 well-conducted trials at the last count, say that EM/EMF/WiFi is not the cause?

    Quackery is one thing. Shameless exploitation of the desparate is quite another.

  55. raygirvan said,

    June 3, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    >Ben – for about the 4th time – can you answer my question:- “Have you ever actually met an EHS person?”

    Is that how you judge the truth of any proposition? Do you believe the Moon is made of rock? I take it you’ve been there, then?

    >and “Have you seen what they have to put up with?”

    People can suffer horribly from symptoms, but it doesn’t mean they’re accurate about the cause of those symptoms. An extreme example is Ekbom’s Syndrome II (aka delusional parasitosis), where people are convinced they’re infested with parasites despite all evidence to the contrary.

    Somatization disorder (a syndrome of real physical symptoms, but with an underlying psychosomatic cause) is incredibly common, and lack of insight – such as a fixed belief that there’s a single simple cause, and that all will be well when it’s discovered – is so characteristic that it could be described as a symptom. Been there. It’s not fun, either for patient or GP. Fortunately I was never of the turn of mind to be sold snake oil, and it cleared up when I quit the job (and associated personal conflicts) I hated.

  56. pv said,

    June 3, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    “pv: Your attack on Alasdair Philips is unwarranted and unfounded. Who exactly ARE you and what Wireless company do you work for? I am Martin Sharp and I work with other members of Mast Sanity – as an unpaid volunteer. I receive no money for my interest in this topic.”

    StayWired, I beg to differ and think my observations are entirely justified and I suggest you read them properly.
    As for your other comments, they are very funny. I don’t care who you are or what you think you are. I do think you are a trifle paranoid though. Which wireless Company, indeed? Has it ever occurred to you that there other informed people in the world, who care just as much if not more than you and your bunch of alarmists about humanity, and who are entitled to disagree with you. It speaks volumes that you see any dissenters as part of a conspiracy. “Electrosensitivity” and its followers is looking more like a religion…
    Why is it that “electrosensitivity” seems to be in the main diagnosed by those who stand to profit most from the diagnosis; eg, naturopaths, homeopathists and quacks of all persuasions who have something to sell? You really would have thought, with all that “evidence” to go on, that BigPharma would have got in on the act. After all, there are big bucks to be mined here. But no! And you certainly don’t see too many GPs making this diagnosis – I don’t know of any. I wonder why! Do you consider they are all either ignorant or in the pay of a Wireless Company?

    Did you know that sitting for too long in front of a CRT monitor with too low a refresh rate will create many of the symptoms you insist must be diagnosed as “electrosensitivity”? Don’t believe me? Try it. And then try it together with too little sleep and too little daylight and too little exercise and a poor diet. These are all common lifestyle problems in the UK – I believe! But there’s no profit for the woos by encouraging those lifestyle changes, and certainly no profit for Mr Philips.

  57. Weirdbeard said,

    June 3, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    StayWired: ‘I said as my first utterance on the subject “I agree with you about the ‘rabbit’s paw technology’ new age crystals and other silly devices. Shielding from microwaves does work, however.”’

    I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with you that shielding from microwaves works. The question most of us are asking is whether we need shielding from microwaves in the first place. The conclusion which most of us have come to, based on the available evidence, is that we don’t.

  58. raygirvan said,

    June 3, 2007 at 9:53 pm

    Another depressing thing is the lack of historical perspective on the part of believers in such syndromes. There’s a long history of malaises being blamed on the latest technology. Neurasthenia has already been mentioned. Before that, it was railway spine.

  59. StayWired said,

    June 3, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    I’ll set my alarm clock for 2020 to see who was wrong and who was mad…

  60. TimW said,

    June 3, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    I was thinking of buying some EMR radiation shielding paint. But, has anyone proved that it’s safe?

  61. Mojo said,

    June 3, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    StayWired said,
    June 3, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    “I’ll set my alarm clock for 2020…”

    Not much point in doing that at 2200.

  62. j said,

    June 3, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    “I’ll set my alarm clock for 2020 to see who was wrong and who was mad…”

    Staywired- even if you do happen to be right (I doubt it, but there’s always a possibility) why do you think you’d deserve any credit? What good do you think it does to produce work so badly-researched that you’re not even aware of the 37 provocation studies which looked at electrosensitivity? Sloppy research is sloppy research, whether you strike it lucky of not.

  63. Dr Aust said,

    June 3, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    If your head is hurting from the circuitous bollocks coming from the Electrosensitivity lobby:

    “I know what I know. I don’t need proper studies to tell me. Especially if they disagree with what I KNOW I KNOW”

    – try the link up above to the explanation of the Qlink from “Professor” Kim Jobst, which will give you a laugh, albeit a despairing one.

    (I’m being naughty putting his title in inverted commas because Prof Jobst really has been made an Honorary Prof by a real Univ, whose Vice Chancellor should even now be turning bright pink with embarrassment).

    Prof Jobst is also an MRCP, I believe, which I find equally flabbergasting after hearing him talk about cells’ vibrations.

    Anyone wondering why someone who can recite such scientific nonsense is a Professor should read David Colquhoun’s blog (at it’s new site) on the subject of B.Sc.s in Anti-science:

    www.dcscience.net/quack.html#nature1

  64. Dr Aust said,

    June 3, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    PS If electrosensitivity nuts give me a headache, blurred vision and a loss of the will to live, does that make me Electrosensitive-sensitive?

  65. ubik said,

    June 4, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Before Railway Spine there was Soldier’s Heart, with symptoms of “breathlessness, lightheadedness or dizziness, pronounced fatigue and exercise intolerance, numbness and paresthesias and chest pain”.
    This article is interesting: members.westnet.com.au/pkolb/magarian.htm
    Maybe electrosensitives should cut down on breathing

  66. David Gregory said,

    June 4, 2007 at 12:39 am

    Staywired: I was interested to see you mention the mobile phone mast research being done at Essex. I’m a Science Journalist and I’ve reported on this experiment. As I recall it’s a double-blind experiment so I’m interested that you mention a subject who seemed to know their results.
    Did the scientists conducting the experiment ring up all those taking part once the experiment was over to tell them how they all did? Obviously they couldn’t tell them at the time of the experiment because they didn’t know.
    How did this volunteer (and indeed one of Panorama) know what their results were?

  67. JQH said,

    June 4, 2007 at 8:27 am

    staywired:

    Even if (and it’s a big if)the symptoms shown by people such as Julia Stephenson are pronen to be caused by microwave exposure, her Indie article will still be a load of rubbish:

    1. She believes microwaves make you radioactive.

    2. She believes that the human body stores microwaves.

    3. She believes that radioactivity can be purged from the body by means of sugar pills and flower essences.

    4. She believes electromagnetic waves can be positive or negative.

    5. She believes some magic pendant sold by a vitamin pill peddler can “protect” her body from microwaves

    6. She believes a magic box sold to her by a homeopathic engineer can “cancel out” EMR.

    7.She thinks radii are measured in square metres.

  68. superburger said,

    June 4, 2007 at 8:56 am

    staywired is a troll.

  69. Dr Aust said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:02 am

    David Gregory

    I think it is typical that when the blinding is “broken” at the end of the experiment subjects get told which arm (placebo or treatment, in general terms) they were in.

  70. Persiflage said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:12 am

    Dr. Aust,

    Surely, whether the subject was in the placebo or the treatment group, they wouldn’t be told whether or not their results were individually accurate? Merely knowing which group you were in wouldn’t tell you whether you were 100% correct, although it might make you think so…

    Of course, if certain subjects showed results significantly above chance, I could see them being asked back for a follow-up study, in which case they might be aware of how “well” they did. Now THAT would be interesting!

  71. vinnyr said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Staywired:

    “It’s nice to be reminded why I don’t read the Grauniad…”

    Yes its much easier to believe the rubbish spouted by the Independent…

  72. StayWired said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:35 am

    David Gregory: “How did this volunteer (and indeed one of Panorama) know what their results were?”
    He knew because he is electrosensitive and can tell the signal types or lack of signals apart. That’s kind of the point!
    Panorama were not involved.

    Mojo: That’s 2020 not 20:20 hrs.

    I’ll leave Ben and his apparent vendetta against EHS sufferers alone with his fans here at Bad Science.

    Entrenched attitudes can not be changed.

    Bye.

  73. DomShields said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Staywired

    “Entrenched attitudes can not be changed.”

    That’s a remarkably candid confession – well done.

  74. JohnK said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:01 am

    @78, you have to wonder whether the subject actually did get it right then.

    Staywired clearly has a different way of deciding what is fact or not than the way favoured by most people here. As such there’s little point trying to talk to him about it. To conduct a reasonable discussion about something like this, all parties need to agree on the nature of evidence and logical inference, otherwise it turns into a discussion about those things instead. Staywired has no interest in evidence other than that which supports his view. The same was true of King Canut, who also had trouble with waves.

    The inconvenient problem for him is that compelling evidence for these effects would be openly considered here, were it to exist. Indeed it would be so interesting that it would be welcomed. It’s easy for him to confuse the lack of such evidence for bias.

  75. Persiflage said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:03 am

    StayWired,

    So; he knew what his results were because he “just knew” he got them right? Let me get this straight: you don’t actually need to know from the researchers whether or not the experimental subjects could or could not detect electromagnetism because one of the subjects told you they could? Seriously, is this what you’re saying?

    It must get cold and lonely under that bridge…

  76. JohnK said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Pendantry, you mean?

  77. Mojo said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Persiflage said,

    “I think you’re being a little unfair to King Cnut.”

    I think he got off lightly only to have had his name misspelled as “Canute”.

    Oh, and StayWired, this was another joke, BTW.

  78. Mojo said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:31 am

    StayWired said: “He knew because he is electrosensitive and can tell the signal types or lack of signals apart. That’s kind of the point!”

    And there I was thinking you had no sense of humour!

    “I’ll leave Ben and his apparent vendetta against EHS sufferers alone with his fans here at Bad Science.”

    Did you bother reading what ben actually wrote about EHS sufferers? I’ll quote it for you to save you the bother of having to scroll back up the page:

    “People who believe their symptoms are related to exposure to electromagnetic fields are almost certainly mistaken – I would now say misled – about the cause, but they are very right about their symptoms.

    Symptoms are real, they are subjective, some people experience them very severely, and this is real distress that deserves our compassion. Alternatively, you could cynically exploit them – and mislead them, and frighten them – to sell your quack products, your newspaper, your TV show, and your freelance articles.”

  79. Persiflage said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:34 am

    @83: You win, totally… I am going to find a nice damp rock to crawl under ;-)

    @84: PMSL! Awesome… And I’m willing to bet that – relatively enlightened though he may have been for his time – if we go through the history books we’ll find that King Cnut made dyslexia a capital crime.

  80. Dr Aust said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Nice re-stating, Mojo. Of course it works just as well if you replace “electromagnetic fields” with “food intolerance” or “ME/CFS”.

  81. WillAllen said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Somebody should start a business selling skin cream/pendants/tablets to neutralise the toxins absorbed from the ink used to print tabloid newspapers.

    I would be happy to provide a testimony: I used to suffer from sleeplessness and irritability, until we stopped taking the Independent for a week…

  82. TINSTAFL said,

    June 4, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Never, ever, attempt to talk statistics to someone who cannot add up the obvious.

  83. TINSTAFL said,

    June 4, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Stupid questions and their even dumber answers:
    1. Where are those government snoop dogs when you need them? Electrical products all come with the tags “this device may not cause harmful interference with any other EMF devices.” So selling or using anti-EMF devices is illegal! If the devices work as claimed, then they are a public danger since they block emergency services communication: you know, police, fire ambulance and the guys with the jackets with really long arms that tie in the back.
    2. Who is going to protect me from these devices they are selling? I seriously worry about any device that’s supposed to change or block waves that has not itself been tested. The precautionary principle clearly states that these guys must go out and test their products and show me first that they cannot possible be a danger to me. And, I have this friend of mine who used one last year and you should see the size of his ego. Clearly, this is evidence that these devices are dangerous no matter how many studies are trumped up to support their safe use. I know these devices are killers and there is nothing you say that will change my mind. In fact, I have an anti-anti-EMF device that will save your Bacon (sorry for the pun Francis) and I can ship it you for a cheap 5.95 wholesale. It runs from positive energy so it won’t work for naysayers and disbelieves and I have pages and pages of person testimonials.

  84. j said,

    June 4, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    From the Bad Science forum, another wonderful inde article

    news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article2611778.ece

    I think they’re trying to catch up with the Mail…

  85. strontdog said,

    June 4, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    “Then she talks about claimed remedies to “reduce the amount of radiation stored in the body”. Excellent news. And they’re described as “detox” remedies, so presumably the “radiation” stored over the years in your body is suddenly expelled in one big dollop.”

    My adopted cousin was born in the Ukraine just before the Chernobyl disaster. He has shadows in his bones caused by Strontium 90. Do you think her quackery can save his life? Neither did I. It is maddening these people are allowed to further ruin lives already shredded by tragedy.

  86. Ginger Yellow said,

    June 4, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    “He knew because he is electrosensitive and can tell the signal types or lack of signals apart. ”

    Genius. Sheer genius.

    “Data? We ain’t got no data. We don’t need no data. I don’t have to show you any stinking data!”

  87. George said,

    June 4, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    I’ve got an idea for a further study which Alisdair Phillips, StayWired et al might like to participate in. (And anyone else who isn’t convinced by the 37 exisiting ones.)

    Would it be possible to manufacture “placebo” versions of Alisdair’s anti-radiation products – i.e substitute anti-radiation paint with normal paint and so on..?

    Then find a statistically significant sample of electrosensitive people willing to participate and let Alisdair go and install his products in their homes. Obviously neither he nor they would know which were real and which were placebo.

    Then see if the people with “real” products in their homes fare any better than those with placebo products.

    An “in-vivo” study like this would remove any possible bias caused by doing things in lab environment.

    StayWired, Alisdair – fancy providing the funding for a study like this to prove yourselves right once and for all?

  88. prescience said,

    June 4, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    It’s all getting a bit silly now.

    Here’s an article from The Register about the panic caused by recent articles:

    www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/04/wi_fi_panic/

  89. Andy said,

    June 4, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    I don’t suppose anyone has looked inside one of those Celltec harmoniser things sold by subtle field technologies. As an electronic engineer I would quite like to know what a programmed harmonising unit looks like, I’ve never seen one for sale before.

    Anyone know of any pictures of the internals floating around?

  90. Dr Aust said,

    June 4, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    j wrote:

    “From the Bad Science forum, another wonderful inde article

    news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article2611778.ece

    I think they’re trying to catch up with the Mail…”

    Classic stuff – help create a panic by running credulous pseudoscience, then run a daft “human interest” story about it by some brain-dead columnist, then run a news story about the “resulting panic”, thereby whipping it all along.

    As j says, reminds me of the Mail and MMR.

    BTW, I have come up with an invention for any electrosmog- sensitive who might need to carry a mobile phone: the

    NoWavePouch TM

    – this will look just like a mobile phone holder but will be fully lined with special copper mesh, to prevent those nasty waves getting out.

    Combined with the not-conductive earphones the ElectoSmog Nuts are already selling, this will provide TOTAL RADIOSMOG SAFETY.

    Well, not quite. For that you will need my patented

    Mobile EarthGuard TM

    – which connects a wire from the NoWavePouch TM down the inside of your trouserleg to a special conductive pad which glues to the bottom of your shoe. Then the evil waves can be properly earthed at all times.

    Can you spot the snags with these inventions? (Apart from the obvious ones that they are fictitious and useless, at least until some ElectroSmog Nut starts flogging them online.)

  91. billgibson said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Oh, and Staywired, to say

    “I’ll leave Ben and his apparent vendetta against EHS sufferers alone with his fans here at Bad Science.”

    Is utter, utter bollocks. Ben (and everyone else) have repeatedly said that they belive people with “EHS” have genuine symptoms and deserve sympathy and treatment. To try to imply otherwise just emphasises what a complete wanker you are, determined to stick to your misguided theory no matter how strong the evidence is against it.

  92. David Gregory said,

    June 4, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Staywired: Okaaaaaaaaay. I’ll be interested to see what you say about all this when the results of the Essex study are finally announced.

  93. Andy said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    I think I’ve found the solution to your unicorn problem.

    An 8 inch Genesa Crystal should neutralise the effects, and presumably scare off any unicorns, within a 2/3 mile radius.

    www.young-design.com/products.html

  94. Robert Carnegie said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    90: The Grauniad aren’t idiots.

    Elsewhere, I thought we’d decided that StayWired is an honest electrosmog mitigation retailer, not a troll. Despite the silly name.

  95. TimD said,

    June 5, 2007 at 1:49 am

    @104, unfortunately I don’t think it will matter what the study actually ends up saying (despite the fact that one of the participants ‘knew’ they were right, simply because ‘they were right’), as StayWired has already decided these tests are biased on the homepage linked: mastsanity.blogspot.com/2007/05/bad-science-goes-bananas.html ‘Many so-called “double-blind” tests carried out to date on EHS sufferers have NOT taken the source of EM down to zero for the supposed “OFF” test. Would you hold a pilot light near to the skin of a burns victim? No, of course not. The cynic in me would say that such tests were designed to fail to cast “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, doubt) on EHS sufferers. By discrediting EHS sufferers – the extreme of microwave damage – you can keep the cash rolling in for the wireless industry.’

  96. TimD said,

    June 5, 2007 at 1:59 am

    argh – sorry for the double post. :(

  97. Ginger Yellow said,

    June 5, 2007 at 10:06 am

    “Personally i am very sensitive to Unicorns and I’d like to know why nobody is hunting down these dangerous beasts.”

    Does this mean you’re a replicant?

  98. Phage said,

    June 5, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Relax everyone. the cosmetic industry has come up with a solution.
    uk.clarins.com/main.cfm?prodID=826

    “Magnetic Defence Complex protects skin from the ageing effects of Artificial Electromagnetic Waves.”

  99. raygirvan said,

    June 5, 2007 at 11:09 am

    > Many so-called “double-blind” tests carried out to date on EHS sufferers have NOT taken the source of EM down to zero for the supposed “OFF” test.

    The logic behind that still puzzles me.

  100. Phage said,

    June 5, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Tony J – Not at all. After some of the other things I’ve read, dissolving/abrading the top layers off my skin seems a small price to pay for protection against those artificial EM waves.

  101. Persiflage said,

    June 5, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Ginger Yellow: there’s a “traditional remedy” for sensitivity to Unicorns… A sense of propriety prevents me from asking whether you’ve tried it!

  102. Moganero said,

    June 5, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    I gave up raeding all the comments about 80% of the way through – tooo much!

    Here’s my personal anecdote about wi-fi:

    About six weeks ago i wnet and bought a wireless router, I didn’t really need one, but I fancied giving it a go. A few days after I got everything working OK I started to feel really tired, I couldn’t think clearly a lot of the time, I ached and generally felt really lousy. I thought, “I think I’m coming down with a cold”.
    It was a real stinker of a cold, it really wiped me out, and the after effects lasted about 10 days, during which I was away from home for a week.
    A couple of days after I got home I started to feel really badly again, some of the symptoms were just the same, but this time no cold developed, but the other symptoms were even worse than previously. I continued using my wi-fi.

    Then I read this article. What an eye-opener!

    Was it the wifi eating into me? Was the pulsing radiation destroying my metabolism?

    Was it hell! It was my chronic fatigue syndrome rearing its ugly head once more after a week of over-exerting myself and as several very stressful events affected me.

    I’m now on the up again, my wifi is still on, but I’ve managed to get a few hours on the beach away from work.

    I should just mention that it’s possible get several wifi signals on the beach, and there’s a phone mast on the clifftop beaming its maximum strength right at my towel. It’s the UV you have to watch out for there – it’s usually around 9 these days, the max. being 12. Or maybe the UV sterilizes the pulsing micowaves?

  103. raygirvan said,

    June 5, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    >after I got everything working OK

    And that itself can conceal all kinds of minor hells… Major changes in computer configuration are very stressful: the break in routine, quite often waiting for delivery, possible installation hassles, nail-biting times wondering if it’ll work, stay working, etc. If you’re prone to illness when stressed-out, I’m sure going over to wifi can bring it on.

  104. rob said,

    June 5, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    I reckon Julia needs to cut down on her iron intake. After all, iron wires can be used to detect radio signals so she should do her best to purge it from her body lest it act as an antenna to catch that stray radiation. There may be a few side-effects to this treatment of course (‘may cause dizziness, nausea or death’)…

  105. Dr Aust said,

    June 5, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Re 121.

    Good one, Rob. This idea of iron in the body turned up in one of CSI’s most crashing scientific howlers, where they had someone die due to being “unusually susceptible to electrocution” because they were iron overloaded and that “made their body conduct electricity better”.

    Hahahahahahahhohohoho…!

    It was a surprise as the CSI shows have medical and science advisers so they are usually at least vaguely accurate.

  106. physics bloke said,

    June 6, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    rant comin up…

    i’m a theoretical physicist who used to teach science at an f.e. college (gave up because of restrictive and pointless course content and poor management) and i am absolutely f***ing sick and tired of reading crap written by morons who have no idea AT ALL about science – even primary school science. A recent article on the bbc website, which i rate very highly for most things, described the reason for the world’s fattest man being so fat as an “inflammation of his molecular structure”. Laugh, i nearly shat! I wrote to the bbc pointing out that this is equally as much nonsense as describing tony blair as the queen of azerbaijan, which they wouldn’t dream of doing and got no reply.

    As for the wi-fi b****cks, i’m fed up with my less well informed friends asking me what i think because they are genuinely worried by all the sh*te spouted by cash-in-whores trying to sell them trinkets etc. etc. etc.

    Me and my colleagues in the world of REAL science work damn hard for scant reward and are continually undermined by these charlatans who don’t care whether their facts are right as long as they get their paycheque. It’s no wonder noone wants to do science degrees anymore, why bother working at a subject which is conceptually challenging when you can get a job as a science writer with no understanding of the subject. It’s illegal to impersonate a policeman, it should be f***ing illegal to impersonate a scientist when making judgments about people’s health and well-being.

    Anyway – the sun’s out so i’m going for a beer.

  107. briantist@work said,

    June 6, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Auntie’s at it again… Check out today’s The Daily Politics. Comedian Jasper Carrot has read “loads of evidence on the internet” about mobile phone masts killing people. Made me laugh! www.bbc.co.uk/dailypolitics/

  108. JQH said,

    June 6, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Assuming that it is possible to make yourself more conductive, you would pass *more* current for any given voltage. And since P=VI, you would heat up more and cook that bit quicker.

  109. raygirvan said,

    June 6, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    It’s a bit one sided, and reads like a AS-level psychology essay.

    I had a glance just; someone’s beaten me to it over my main thought: that the style is way too academic. A lot of controversial topics go that way, and get smothered in a fog of references. Doesn’t look too bad otherwise.

  110. Dr Aust said,

    June 6, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Being “iron loaded” in the medical sense wouldn’t make you more conductive, brickwall. Your body’s conductivity basically reflects it being effectively a series of large “compartments” of nice aqueous weak salt solution, 0.9% sodium chloride (or potassium chloride inside cells) or thereabouts. The mobile ions (and Na+ and Cl- are the commonest) carry the current. Obviously there are lots of other ions in there too, varying depending on which “compartment” you are talking about (blood plasma, in tissues but not in cells, inside cells)… but basically it is 0.9% (0.9g/100mL, so 9g/Litre, or 155 mM to you physical chemistry geeks) salt, at least to a useful first approximation.

    Having a bit, or even a lot, of extra iron stored away in iron storage proteins like ferritin wouldn’t make you any more conductive, as your overall “saltiness” wouldn’t change.

    For anyone weird enough to want to know more about electrocution from the biophysical perspective, there is an entire review at:

    arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.bioeng.2.1.477

  111. sideshowjim said,

    June 6, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Wouldn’t a faraday cage work better than a magic pendant? Just a thought…

  112. raygirvan said,

    June 6, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    Regarding Wikipedia, the “see also” articles are far more biased on this topic (Electromagnetic radiation hazard, Mobile phone radiation and health, Wireless electronic devices and health).

  113. briantist said,

    June 7, 2007 at 12:31 am

    by the way he’s being serious here. A serious NIMBY.

  114. Ambrielle said,

    June 7, 2007 at 12:33 am

    Re #123: you are right. It also drives me insane when these charlatans bend the truth or flat-out knowingly lie. Eventually they are caught at it, but by then the damage has been done. There is absolutely no punishment or consequence to them, other than their bank accounts being nicely topped up. It’s disgusting.

  115. briantist@work said,

    June 7, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    As The Daily Politics disappears from the BBC Website after 24 hours, here is the Jasper Carrot thingy on Google Video:

    video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1815884563738845754

  116. spudhead said,

    June 7, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Haha Jasper Carrot has “a protection” on his mobile phone. Tinfoil hat, or something more sophisticated?

  117. j said,

    June 7, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    “by the way he’s being serious here. A serious NIMBY.”

    Yep, typical NIMBYism – he wants to use his ‘protected’ mobile phone, but have mobile phone masts sited well away from him. In other words, he doesn’t want to lose the (minor) convenience of a mobile phone – and is quite prepared for others to suffer from the supposed risks of the mobile phone masts this requires, so long as this ‘danger’ is kept away from him.

    Nice bloke, isn’t he – as bright as he is altruistic.

  118. Ray C. said,

    June 7, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    James I of England on tobacco:

    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 bottomelesse.

    So much for tobacco once having been thought to be harmless.

  119. megachicken(b) said,

    June 7, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    “At one time scientists assured us the atomic bomb was harmless”

    Er – say what now?

  120. j said,

    June 7, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks for the reminder, Ray.

    re. the Stephenson response…where to start… I especially like the claim that scientists believed that the atom bomb was harmless (the atom *bomb* ffs – if a bomb’s ‘harmless’, it’s broke).

    If of interest to anyone – and to make this a really loser-length post – here’s the BBC’s response to my complaint about panorama (I’ve edited to remove some personal details etc.) btw, anyone else had a ‘proper’ response?:

    Thank you for your further e-mail.

    I’ve spoken directly to the programme’s Deputy Editor on your behalf and
    enclose his response to your ongoing concerns:

    “Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding the Panorama programme “Wi-fi:
    A Warning Signal” which has been passed to me for a second response.

    Regarding our use of the term “radiation”. We did not feel that the term
    “radio waves” was a fair reflection of the step change to microwave
    frequencies which some scientists believe can have a biological effect on
    human cells. Like it or not “radiation” is the term that has become common
    currency in the debate on mobile phone masts and now Wi-Fi. However, at
    the opening of the programme we made it crystal clear in the commentary
    that we were talking about “radio frequency radiation” and we used the word
    “signal” in the title and wherever possible throughout the programme to
    keep alive the idea to that what we were dealing with was an inevitable
    by-product of active Wi-Fi communication and downloads.

    The phrase “official disability” is used by one of our Swedish interviewees
    and its how she characterises her condition in her own words and not
    something we felt needed challenging.

    Regarding your comments on Alasdair Phillips/Powerwatch. We feel the
    comparison he helped us make (in the absence of any studies on radiation
    exposure levels in Wi-fi enabled classrooms) was valid in the sense that it
    visualised a genuine concern that may come to shape public health
    protection policy in the future.

    We did not cast the mast/classroom comparison as having validity beyond
    that. We said in commentary that the signal strength test would need to be
    repeated and verified and but that the levels we found were comfortably
    within current safety limits.

    Panorama told the audience correctly that Alasdair has been trusted to
    carry out these sorts of measurements by both the phone companies and
    industry regulators. We did not allow him to editorialise on the results in
    an interview or promote or use any equipment he markets in taking the
    measurements. We also gave the viewers a sense of his provenance in terms
    of “running a lobby group called Powerwatch which raises awareness of
    electromagnetic smog.”

    [...]

    However, we were not the first broadcasters to raise this issue and when we asked a
    Government Minister to take part in the programme we were directed to Sir
    William Stewart of the Health Protection Agency whose concerns shaped our
    approach to the whole subject.

    Like it or not there is a credible cast of politicians, scientists and
    teachers representatives who question the whole basis on which current
    radiation safety limits are set and would like to see more research work
    undertaken in this area. Once that work is done the industry and the public
    will move on wiser and safer.

    I hope this covers the points you raised.

    Best wishes”

    [...]

    {Programme Name:} Panorama
    {Transmission Date:}22 – 05 – 07

    {Comments:}
    I am sending this to reply to your response to my complaint (I tried
    e-mailing back, but this is apparently not allowed). See below for
    details:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    As you will see if you read my complaint, I made a number of points
    about Panorama and asked a number of questions. Your response does not
    address my concerns at all. A quick look on the Internet shows that you
    are sending a pre-written letter to all complainants –
    www.badscience.net/?p=415 This is not an acceptable standard
    of service (I would expect a more considered response from the average
    call centre, let alone the BBC). Please read my complaint and respond
    to my concerns: a ‘boilerplate’ response is not acceptable.

    One more point – your disclaimer (“This e-mail (and any attachments) is
    confidential and may contain personal views which are not the views of
    the BBC unless specifically stated. If you have received it in error,
    please delete it from your system. Do not use, copy or disclose the
    information in any way nor act in reliance on it and notify the sender
    immediately. Please note that the BBC monitors e-mails sent or
    received. Further communication will signify your consent to this”) is
    very badly written, and does not make any sense to me. I therefore do
    not consent to this – I’m not even at all sure what it means – and if
    you really want to add a disclaimer to your e-mails, I would suggest
    that the BBC writes something more coherent.


    info@bbc.co.uk wrote:
    > > Dear Mr J
    > >
    > > Many thanks for taking the time to get in touch following our show,
    Wi-Fi – A Warning Signal.
    > > I’m sorry if you believe the programme lacked the hard evidence you
    wanted to see. Unfortunately, the truth is that as things stand, there
    is no hard evidence regarding the effects of long term exposure to Wi-Fi
    which is why we made the programme.
    > > Wi-Fi is being rolled out into classrooms around the country by the
    Government contrary to the precautionary approach recommended by the
    head of its own advisory body Sir William Stewart – chair of the Health
    Protection Agency. As you will have seen in the programme, he believes
    that where radiation is concerned we should base policy on the
    precautionary principle particularly when it comes to children. This
    therefore raises questions as to whether Wi-Fi should be rolled out into
    the classroom without any long term health research being carried out.
    > >
    > > Many scientists criticise the way in which the radiation exposure
    limits are set in this country. The programme featured both the WHO
    position and ICNIRP who base their limits on what they term a “thermal
    effect”. It is this view that courts criticism from some scientists,
    including those featured in our programme, because the safety limits do
    not take into account a biological effect which some scientists say they
    have found evidence of. The reason why these positions were not
    represented by different people is that Dr Michael Repacholi is perhaps
    the most qualified person to answer such questions given that he was the
    founding chair of ICNIRP (and continues to be Emeritus Chairman) and
    because he set up and headed the WHO EMF project for ten years.
    However, he was given the opportunity to make his position clear in the
    programme.
    > > The other scientists in the film are all experts in their fields who
    have concerns that we are rushing forward into something before it’s
    been around long enough to know what the long term effects could be.
    > > The fact that the Swedish government recognises radiation sensitivity
    as a disability that affects 3% of the population was, we felt, of
    interest given our Government’s publicly stated view that this condition
    does not exist.
    > > The programme attempted to raise concern without causing alarm –
    always a difficult balance to strike but one which we believe we
    achieved.
    > > Please continue to let us know your views on the programmes as they
    are always welcome and we hope you keep watching.
    > >
    > > Regards
    > >
    > > BBC Panorama
    > >
    > > —–Original Message—–
    > >
    > > [...]
    >> >> {Comments:}
    >> >> I was appalled by the Panorama programme on electrosmog. This
    appeared to uncritically accept the agenda of groups such as Powerwatch
    (which have a vested interest in selling ‘treatments’ for
    electrosensitivity and electrosmog) while at the same time smearing
    scientists who challenge scaremongering about electrosmog by focusing on
    their links to mobile phone companies. I am sure that you will have
    received a number of e-mails about this programme, so I will just list a
    few mistakes which jumped out at me. Why didn’t you give a proper
    explanation of what ‘radiation’ means (everything from light bulbs to TV
    masts emit radiation)? Just referring to wifi equipment emitting
    ‘radiation’, without contextualising this, sounds unnecessarily scary.
    >> >> There is no such thing as an ‘official disability’ in Sweden, so why
    did the programme refer to such ‘official disabilities’?
    >> >> Re. the woman who could ‘detect’ EMR two thirds of the time – was
    this statistically significant? Did the programme-makers check? If so,
    why didn’t they tell the viewers? If it wasnÔt statistically
    significant, then the fact that she could ‘detect’ this EMR 2/3 of the
    time was irrelevant.
    >> >> Why did you allow Powerwatch to advertise their ‘electrosmog
    detector’ and their ‘shielding’ products, without testing these products
    for efficacy or utility?
    >> >> Why did you imply that hard-wiring a classroom is risk-free? Aside
    from obvious risks (e.g. tripping over a wire) I’m sure you know that
    running a current through a wire will generate an electromagnetic field.
    If you want to be paranoid about this stuff (I don’t, but it seems
    Panorama does) then how do we know this is risk free? Where are the
    long-term studies? Nothing in life is risk-free (though many things are
    sufficiently low-risk that the benefits far outweigh the risks).
    >> >>
    >> >> [...]

    >> >> Anecdotally, a number of schools have been having to deal with
    requests from parents to disable their wireless networks after the
    Panorama broadcast. Did you think about how your programme would impact
    on provision for students with learning difficulties?

  121. Mojo said,

    June 8, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    j said, (June 7, 2007 at 4:29 pm) “Did you think about how your programme would impact
    on provision for students with learning difficulties?”

    Never mind the children. Won’t someone think of the parents and journalists with learning difficulties?

  122. ebwilford said,

    June 9, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    We’ve been looking at it all wrong. What we need to win in Iraq (and hey, what the hell…Iran too) is to build lots and lots of mobile phone masts and WiFi routers. The bastards won’t know what hit them…they’ll come over all lethargic, and have really bad headaches. Could YOU propagate terrorism with a bad headache? I didn’t think so.

    Bad Science will lead the way to a better tomorrow. I’m certain of it.

  123. JQH said,

    June 10, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    There’re lots of mobile phone masts going up in South Africa. No “electrosensitivity” AFAIK. This seems to be some sort of cultural thing, like the obsession of some South Koreans with “fan death”.

  124. raygirvan said,

    June 15, 2007 at 1:45 am

    Fan-scinating. I wonder if electrical sensitivity would come into the territory of Culture-bound syndromes?

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