In today’s Guardian newspaper (and online and here) there is an article explaining how the fears and worries of the “electrosensitive” woo-mongers is unfounded.
Sadly, the Guardian’s “news” editors have chosen to go with the headline:
Research fails to detect short-term harm from mobile phone masts
Now, it may just be my pedantry, but surely that strongly implies there is a short term harm and the researchers simply failed to detect it? The second link above is better and carries the tag line:
Yet another study shows no link between mobile phone radiation and ill health
Which pretty much captures the repetitiveness of this as a research result. The overwhelming weight of science shows there is no evidence of any short term harmful effect from communications masts and the only proven long term risk is from the most popular source of electromagnetic energy itself – the Sun.
In a nutshell, this seems like a well designed study which, like all the others, has resulted in no evidence that people who claim to be sensitive to electromagnetic radiation actually are – this is even something I have mentioned in the past. Repeated tests have shown that if you get an “electrosenstive” and tell them there is a transmitter near by, they evince the effects they claim are caused by “EM.” If they dont know the transmitter is near by, they don’t have the effects. In my unsympathetic, un-medical opinion this is pretty good proof it is all in their mind – for various reasons they are completely making it up. Part of me concedes the symptoms may be real, but it is only a small part of me. Either way, targeting phone masts as the culprit is doing no one any favours. As the Guardian comment on the topic finishes:
What sufferers experience is real and in many cases very unpleasant. But in the light of this evidence we can be pretty certain that phone masts do not cause short term health problems for the vast majority of people. Electrosensitive support groups should recognise this and begin to look harder for other causes of the condition.
Well said. Stop fighting a bogeyman and find the real cause – if there are real symptoms.
As always, there are those who are so wedded to a concept that no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, they will refuse to accept it. Sounds a bit religious to me, but never mind. The wonderfully named “Mast Sanity” website is a cited opponent of the recent study, and shows many of the traits you would normally associate with creationists trying to debunk evolution.
Unsurprisingly, Mast Sanity is a screaming example of bad science and a place where spurious arguments are used to dispel the results of the most recent study — I assume similar tactics were used on older studies, I didn’t look into the site that much, what I did read seemed like a check list of logical fallacies and debate-scoring tactics rather than anything reasoned. Some examples include:
We question why psychologrists are doing this research at all since physical changes to the skin and heart rates have been found in other research. Presumably the psychologists ‘believe’ this is all in the mind and this is what they set out to ‘prove’.
Yeah, and when you read the research notes it shows the psychologists set out to measure the physical responses. This smacks of a combination of appeal to ridicule and the laypersons perception that educational disciplines exist in complete isolation of each other. If the researchers had set out to prove the Electrosensitivity was in the mind, this would be obvious from the experimental design, not from what discipline the people who run the experiment come from.
Their conclusion was made possible by eliminating 12 of the most sensitive electrosentive volunteers who had become too ill to continue the study. Even a child can see that by eliminating 12 of the original 56 electrosensitive volunteers – over 20% of the group – that the study integrity has been completely breached.
Wow. First off the 12 people withdrew themselves, they were not eliminated to make the experiment possible. If the other 44 “electrosensitives” were actually electro sensitive, then what would the loss of those 12 change? As for the great “even a child” comment — well really. I have not met many children who can do the statistical analysis required to account for the changed sample sizes, but most would probably make a random assumption as to the status of the experiment. Does that mean they would be correct? Critically, the “study integrity” has certainly not been completely breached, it just gives a larger error bar to the findings.
There is more bad statistics with this bit of meandering nonsense:
One participant in the study questions Professor Fox’s assertion that only four people got all six test correct. He said “I got five [out of six] as during the first three five minute tests on session one, I stated ‘not sure’ after the first five minutes, which was marked as NO, but on session two, three and four I got it 100% right and actually identified the type of signal, so are the Essex [study] numbers meaningful?“
I will confess to not really understanding what this is trying to say. One person thinks that more (or less) than four people got all six tests “correct” because he got five out of six in one of them. Blimey. The whole experiment must be flawed then… I would really appreciate it if someone could explain what the above means to me — I must be having a bad understanding day today. Talking about a previous study, quoted by the BBC, Mast Sanity continues:
… We don’t think Dr. Rubin [author of previous study] is qualified to comment on the Essex study as he didn’t even use a shielded room for his own experiments at King’s College and the so called ‘sham’ (zero) exposure was not a zero signal as people have been led to believe.
What makes me laugh about this, is the “pro-sensitives” leap on the shielding issue, and largely it is a cornerstone of their defence against the real science. In a nutshell, it explains why the “sensitives” report effects when no mast is transmitting, but they are led to believe it is. The problem with this is that when the “sensitives” believe the mast is off, they report no symptoms. Is the shielding belief-powered?
With no signs of irony whatsoever, Mast Sanity finishes its tirade with this wonderful bit of woo-spin:
Mast Sanity Spokesperson Yasmin Skelt says “All in all the Media release of this study has been an exercise in spin and propaganda and a poor one for science.”
“It is the long term health effects where people are forced to live near real Mobile Phone Masts that count and this study in no way covers those.“
Great isn’t it? They refer to themselves in the third person and claim the science is spin and their spin is science. New Labour must love the world they have created.
The study was solid science. It certainly was not a perfect experiment, but few ever are. The conclusions drawn are sound and the reasoning is valid. The Woo-Monger reactions have been an exercise in spin and bad-logic, rarely coming close enough to science to be thought of as bad science. The study was very upfront — as have been the media reports — that this didn’t look at long term effects. Sadly, spinning the goal posts to a new location does not invalidate the research — not that the woo crowd have ever worried about that.
Asking if there are long term health effects is a good question, and an area where the research is sketchier which results in less certainty over the answers. That said, the common cries of the “electrosensitives” is that they suffer short term effects (which is why people buy “shielded curtains” and the like) and on this, it is quite probable that they are wrong. Redefining the criteria each time one is falsified is typical of another group who hold to nonsensical beliefs in the face of all evidence. Will Electrosensitivity become the Woo of the Gaps?
[tags]Media, News, EM,Woo, Science, Bad Science, Statistics, Bad Statistics, Electromagnetism, Guardian, Electrosensitivity, Nonsense, Society, Belief, Research, Experiment, Evidence, Logical Fallacy, Spin[/tags]