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September 13, 2011 2:42 PM   Subscribe

'Wi-fi refugees' shelter in West Virginia mountains There are five billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide and advances in wireless technology make it increasingly difficult to escape the influence of mobile devices. But while most Americans seem to embrace continuous connectivity, some believe it's making them physically ill.

Diane believes her illness was triggered by emissions from a mobile phone mast.

Her symptoms were so severe that she abandoned her family farm in the state of Iowa and moved to Green Bank, West Virginia - a tiny village of 143 residents in the heart of the Allegheny Mountains.

Green Bank is part of the US Radio Quiet Zone, where wireless is banned across 13,000 sq miles (33,000 sq km) to prevent transmissions interfering with a number of radio telescopes in the area.
posted by modernnomad (113 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I feel like I should mail these people a monthly care-package of printed-out funny cat pictures, and maybe a VHS tape of #fail gifs.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [48 favorites]


So that's what causes Morgellons? Or is it chemtrails? I sure hope there's a sociologist of fringe culture, somewhere out there, making taxonomies and catalogues and recording all these elaborate new forms of communal paranoia for posterity. (Or at least that Don DeLillo is taking notes.) This weird, fraught, superstitious relationship to a newly omnipotent technology — taking shelter from computer networks by living next to a radio telescope! — is the turn of the 21st Century's zeitgeist in a (ahem) nut-shell.
posted by RogerB at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


I thought so too until I read that they did a blind test for one of these people where sometimes they faked the signals and she only responded with signals when the test was for real.
posted by infini at 2:50 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had a really good friend in college whom I ran into about a year ago. He was experiencing these issues as well. Last I heard, he was still in town but doesn't go out much, usually just late at night.
posted by perhapses at 2:50 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought so too until I read that they did a blind test for one of these people where sometimes they faked the signals and she only responded with signals when the test was for real.

Where'd you read that?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:51 PM on September 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


she only responded with signals

responded with symptoms
posted by infini at 2:52 PM on September 13, 2011


Quit linking to the Daily Mail! Oh. Carry on.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:53 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The story I remember was where they took out a cell tower and the local "wireless allergic" people didn't stop complaining about symptoms until somebody told them the tower wasn't there anymore.
posted by kmz at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2011 [24 favorites]


It's in the linked article, mr_roboto: Scientists conducted a number of tests on a 35-year-old physician who had diagnosed herself with EHS.

She was seated on a wooden chair while voltage was applied to metal plates for pulses of 90 seconds to create a series of magnetic fields. The woman was asked to describe her symptoms after each exposure and after random sham exposures when, unknown to her, there was no voltage.

She reported headaches, pain and muscle twitching during the genuine exposures and no symptoms for the majority of the sham exposures.

The scientists concluded that such consistency could not be attributed to chance.


Of course, this doesn't prove a link to wifi or mobile phones.
posted by modernnomad at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I feel really sorry for these people. It's entirely possible that their symptoms may be psychosomatic (although as infini mentions, there's some doubt about that - and on preview, mr_roboto, it's in the posted article near the end of the paragraph titled "Debated 'condition'"), but their suffering is definitely real. It's all too easy to conflate "psychosomatic" with "just making it up" or "all in the mind", which is frankly a pretty horrible way to treat what is essentially mental illness.
posted by ZsigE at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2011 [21 favorites]


If they are actually sensitive to radio signals then they are clearly X-Men and we must destroy them now before they organize and try to influence history. I may be a genetically obsolete non-mutant, but I won't stand for this!
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's all too easy to conflate "psychosomatic" with "just making it up" or "all in the mind", which is frankly a pretty horrible way to treat what is essentially mental illness.

I'm neither for nor against, but PMS used to be considered the same.
posted by infini at 2:57 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Ah! I found the study:

"Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Evidence for a Novel Neurological Syndrome"

posted by mr_roboto at 2:57 PM on September 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


No one said it would be easy to be the first X-Men.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:57 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Get out of my head, Charles!
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:58 PM on September 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


More information about the United States National Radio Quiet Zone.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:58 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The test cited doesn't sound like it was double-blind, which it would need to be to be valid. Otherwise the subject will pick up on the tester's unspoken assumptions about how they will react.

The apparatus also sounds crude and flawed, ie it might audibly hum when turned on, for example.
posted by w0mbat at 3:00 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]




I feel really sorry for these people. It's entirely possible that their symptoms may be psychosomatic (although as infini mentions, there's some doubt about that - and on preview, mr_roboto, it's in the posted article near the end of the paragraph titled "Debated 'condition'"), but their suffering is definitely real. It's all too easy to conflate "psychosomatic" with "just making it up" or "all in the mind", which is frankly a pretty horrible way to treat what is essentially mental illness.


There are a lot of issues here about public space, democratic decision making, who owns what and how we get left behind.

Dropping the health concerns, they could just as easily be complaining that they can't stand the site of garish cell towers in their neighborhoods. (Or taking a more literal argument, they don't want to breath fumes from the factory across the street.)

The question becomes, how much control do/should we have over our neighborhoods, and what should become of people that are disenfranchised by the answer to that question?

I'm not moralizing here, because it's a question that any society would struggle with, and I'm not sure what the answer is. But I agree that dismissing them as crazy and brushing them aside is both callous and sets an extremely bad precedent.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:01 PM on September 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


According to Wikipedia there are still CB radios & police radios, so it's not like these people are actually getting away from anything really.
posted by GuyZero at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


The link to the actual study appeared after I posted. They say it was double-blind, however "The symptoms were caused primarily by field transitions (off–on, on–off) rather than the presence of the field", ie the subject reacted to the sound of the switch.
posted by w0mbat at 3:02 PM on September 13, 2011


I find wearing my coolie hat covered with aluminum foil solves 90% of these problems for me.
posted by bukvich at 3:03 PM on September 13, 2011


ie the subject reacted to the sound of the switch.

I think we can give the benefit of the doubt that the researchers aren't absolute drooling morons.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:03 PM on September 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Apparently, Verizon maintains a Radio Quiet Zone around my home, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:03 PM on September 13, 2011 [64 favorites]


I suffer from neuralgic or phantom pain. It's all in my head (or so I am told). Guess what, still fucking hurts.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:09 PM on September 13, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think we can give the benefit of the doubt that the researchers aren't absolute drooling morons.

Probably not. But, looking at his publication history, it's pretty clear that Dr Marino is a long-term believer in EMF hypersensitivity. I'd take a long hard look at the methodology before placing much faith in this study.
posted by howfar at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2011 [11 favorites]


Suppose we had the following situation: Subject has problems with high velocity, so we put them in a car to test whether the issue was true. Subject seemed only to have trouble with when the velocity was increased or decreased.

One conclusion would be that they're responding to acceleration, not velocity. Or, you could conclude that it's all in their heads and they're just responding to the sound of the engine...
posted by kaibutsu at 3:12 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think we can give the benefit of the doubt that the researchers aren't absolute drooling morons.

You don't have to be a drooling moron to build insufficient controls into an experiment. It's entirely plausible that the researchers didn't realize the sound was carrying as far as it did or that the subject also had above normal hearing. This is why science relies on repeatability as one of its keystones, to eliminate those random local effects.
posted by scalefree at 3:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'd take a long hard look at the methodology before placing much faith in this study.

I don't see why faith has anything to do with it.

I can't read the study myself, despite current access to a pretty huge academic library. Must be a pretty obscure journal.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2011


I had a really good friend in college whom I ran into about a year ago. He was experiencing these issues as well. Last I heard, he was still in town but doesn't go out much, usually just late at night.

Does he sparkle?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


We sought direct evidence that acute exposure to environmental-strength electromagnetic fields (EMFs) could induce somatic reactions (EMF hypersensitivity).

A similar study was done in Ghostbusters, another obscure journal. Results were inconclusive.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:18 PM on September 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't see why faith has anything to do with it.

:sigh: "Lending much credence to" then, if playing such games amuses you. Also, it's not that uncommon for journals to charge for access to certain (often very new and very old) materials, even with the relevant academic logins.
posted by howfar at 3:21 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's another recent Marino human study that probably uses the same apparatus. "The subjects were exposed in an isolation chamber to reduce the effect of random ambient stimuli; all electrical equipment was located outside the chamber".

I really wouldn't be hunting in the isolation chamber design for obvious flaws. I don't have time to look at it closely now, but I think there might be problems with the statistical analysis of the data.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:23 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Years ago I remember reading about the head of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who claimed that she had the same condition; IIRC she would be speaking with someone in her office and stop mid-conversation to ask them if they had a cellphone that was on as she was developing a headache.

(am I the only person whose hand gets numb and tingly when holding a cellphone for more than 10 minutes?)
posted by Challahtronix at 3:27 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you tried holding a rock for 10 minutes?
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on September 13, 2011 [30 favorites]


(am I the only person whose hand gets numb and tingly when holding a cellphone for more than 10 minutes?)

You might have some circulation or nerve issues when holding any object in that sort of position for that long straight.
posted by kafziel at 3:29 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Slocan Valley of BC has battled against erection of a cell tower for years. Stated official reason: a cell-phone free community attracts tourists. Unstated unofficial reason: many people have health concerns (or so they've told me). The irony is that the same area was pushing for Wi-Fi and VoIP. Net access is currently dial-up only. But tower construction is going ahead anyway. The tourist aspect may have been fuelled by the locally shot movie A Simple Curve which several times mentions that "cell phones don't work here".
posted by CCBC at 3:36 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


KASHWAK=NO-FO
posted by The otter lady at 3:40 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Odd, I would have guessed they'd hole up in Lincolnshire, Illinois.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:48 PM on September 13, 2011


I can't read the study myself, despite current access to a pretty huge academic library. Must be a pretty obscure journal.

I don't either, and you're right, the journal is ranked pret-ty low. 210 of 237. I think people are right to view that article with a hefty amount of skeptisicm.
posted by cashman at 4:00 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, you should see the hysteria over the BC Hydro Smart Meter program.

We're swimming in RF, and a device that puts out a few peeps a day is generating all this madness. There may be reasons to oppose them, but this isn't one of them.
posted by klanawa at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I looked at some of the Marino publications that Howfar linked. It seems like he keeps finding new things to be concerned about - this frequency or that frequency or field strength or whatever. It seems like, if the good doctor can measure it, he's certain it must be bad, whatever it is.

Then I found this. I mean, I test out as an intuitive according to Myers-Briggs and a synthesis according to Harrison-Bramson and I'm shaking my head.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:07 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Scientists conducted a number of tests on a 35-year-old physician who had diagnosed herself with EHS.

Wait a minute, how did this person get to be a doctor? Don't you have to learn some science to get into med school?
posted by madcaptenor at 4:10 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope these people don't drive either, because the RF interference from their spark plugs are going to be absolute hell. The Green Bank telescope has a nifty working stable of old diesel pushers for just this reason.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:10 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um...what happens when these people learn that light is..OMG! EM Radiation?!
posted by polywomp at 4:11 PM on September 13, 2011


The question becomes, how much control do/should we have over our neighborhoods, and what should become of people that are disenfranchised by the answer to that question?

I'm not moralizing here, because it's a question that any society would struggle with, and I'm not sure what the answer is. But I agree that dismissing them as crazy and brushing them aside is both callous and sets an extremely bad precedent.


But if we don't deny them we let NIMBYism get in the way of progress, like the small Aussie town that blocked a mobile phone tower or all the local councils opposing development. People are short-sighted and sometimes don't know what's best for themselves.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:12 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The tourist aspect may have been fuelled by the locally shot movie A Simple Curve which several times mentions that "cell phones don't work here".

So it was a horror movie?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:15 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, you should see the hysteria over the BC Hydro Smart Meter program.

These stories always seem so sad. Frightened people trying to get some control over their world, I suppose. There is a real problem here, even though it's got nothing to do with the supposed effects of EMF.
posted by howfar at 4:19 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't you have to learn some science to get into med school?

Indeed. If this was a commune of people who didn't believe in evolution, I doubt we'd be seeing so much sensitivity in-thread.
posted by yerfatma at 4:20 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


ATTENTION: Shadowy forces within the government and Big Science are covering up the existence of a massive, unshielded fusion reactor that threatens all life on Earth. It's radiative power is so immense that comparatively weak radio signals (such as those found in orbital satellites and cell towers) are regularly disrupted by it's incredible, unstoppable power. It is estimated that this single reactor generates an amount of electromagnetic radiation every day that may even exceed the total output of all other human sources of energy combined!!! So-called "scientists" will even admit, privately, that this reactor will inevitably self-destruct and destroy the entire world when it does!!!

Please write your Congressperson and ask them to outlaw this horrible, deadly fusion reactor once and for all. For the sake of our children and all others who are afflicted by the horrors of EM radiation. Thank you.
posted by Avenger at 4:22 PM on September 13, 2011 [43 favorites]


Stagger Lee: Dropping the health concerns, they could just as easily be complaining that they can't stand the site of garish cell towers in their neighborhoods. (Or taking a more literal argument, they don't want to breath fumes from the factory across the street.)

The question becomes, how much control do/should we have over our neighborhoods, and what should become of people that are disenfranchised by the answer to that question?


ZONING! Welcome to New York City in 1916 (well, at least your comment on factories next to neighborhoods). The control over ugly development is more of a trend from recent decades. Cell towers can be really well screened, and the cell companies have the money for it, but they won't pay if they don't have to (I speak from experience, from the government side of the process). Done well, you shouldn't notice that the fake tree is a fake tree, or that an old water tower now has a few new bumps.


klanawa: Man, you should see the hysteria over the BC Hydro Smart Meter program.

Oh goodness, this sprouted up in California in the last years. I sat through a meeting where a local concerned citizen rambled on about a million and one ways that Smart Meters were terrible things. She had print-outs of all sorts. I wanted to ask her how much she understood about radio frequencies, comparing the other appliances already in her house and utilities all around her that emit some sort of radio frequency (and have been doing so for decades). But I bit my tongue, and said nothing.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:24 PM on September 13, 2011


If this was a commune of people who didn't believe in evolution

Creationists very rarely suffer physical and emotional distress they believe to be caused by the theory of natural selection. More to the point perhaps, EMF paranoia is not an aspect of an internally coherent, reactionary and dangerous world-view. Creationism itself is no more offensive than Flat Earthism, it's what it represents and facilitates that is scary. EMF paranoia does lots of damage, but almost exclusively to the lives of those who experience it.
posted by howfar at 4:32 PM on September 13, 2011


Man, you should see the hysteria over the BC Hydro Smart Meter program.

Yeah, the level of hysteria is pretty nuts. However, while I intellectually agree with the idea that smart meters are a Good Thing and will go a long way towards develop the smart grid, given the level of sheer arrogance and dishonesty of the BC political elite, I just can't see how the smart meters will ever help British Columbians (eg, lower the cost for electricity).
posted by KokuRyu at 4:33 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're exposed to much more dangerous radiation just by walking outside in the sunlight.
posted by empath at 4:34 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Health problems linked to cell phone towers are often linked to faulty installation - the workers forget to ground the array (which uses a not-insignificant amount of electricity) correctly.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:35 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I bit my tongue, and said nothing.

That's a problem. You shouldn't have bit your tongue.

OK, I know that I'm a totally amoral bastard, but frankly I want these lunatics to be exposed as lunatics so that they'll stop holding back the rest of us.

I don't care if they go live in some godforsaken mountain wilderness or not, just as long as they stop getting in the way of an intelligent power distribution system. I fucking love electricity.
posted by aramaic at 4:44 PM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


The journal has been around since the 70s and is a labor of love for a few people with not insignificant names, but is still wildly underpowered for its incredibly broad scope. This generally means that it is for papers that wouldn't get published elsewhere, which doesn't necessarily mean that they are bad or bullshit in anyway. However the cited article was only even posted ahead of print a week ago, which means it likely doesn't even have page numbers yet. Despite my ridiculous institutional access, even I can't get the article, the reporter likely got a copy from the author. Hopefully anyway.

All of the symptoms the authors report in the abstract, and all of the other ones I've found in what little reliable literature there is, are known to have possible psychosomatic origins. Even if we are giving these guys, and their experimental setup, the benefit of the doubt; I'd want these results repeated in multiple labs with multiple patients before taking such a dramatic finding too seriously.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:45 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Have you tried holding a rock for 10 minutes?
....
You might have some circulation or nerve issues when holding any object in that sort of position for that long straight


Doesn't happen with the antenna off, doesn't happen when I hold a mouse or any other object. I'm willing to admit it could still be specifically the way I hold a cellphone or even psychosomatic. The only other time I've noticed that effect is with a spinning hard drive, but in that case the tingling is fairly instant. Note that I'm just asking if anyone else experiences this, I'm not trying to get rid of cellphones, laptops, our grid or the sun.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:53 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


> This weird, fraught, superstitious relationship to a newly omnipotent technology — taking shelter from computer
> networks by living next to a radio telescope! — is the turn of the 21st Century's zeitgeist in a (ahem) nut-shell.

You figure? Radio telescopes are nothing but directional antennas. They receive only and do not transmit.
posted by jfuller at 4:54 PM on September 13, 2011


It saddens me that these people aren't getting access to the mental health services that they require.
posted by indubitable at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This might be a good setting for a mystery novel. No wifi, West Virginia, radio telescopes, that's some creepy weird stuff.
posted by humanfont at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Safe, anyone?
posted by davebush at 5:03 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well and even if you go beyond giving the experimental setup the benefit of the doubt, there's still the type of EM radiation and power level to consider.

Just by way of analogy, you can easily establish that you are "sensitive" to infrared radiation, if you turn on your broiler and put your hand in there for a few minutes. But that doesn't mean that you can sense the IR emitted by your television remote from across the room.

I'm personally pretty open to the possibility that there is some level of sensitivity to magnetic fields; there's some indication that other species may use some sort of magnetic sensitivity for navigation. But there's no reason to think that a mere ability to sense one type of EM field (or orientation in the static magnetic field created by the earth) implies that "cellphones give me a headache" claims have merit.

There are many simpler explanations for why a person can guess if a visitor in their office is carrying a cellphone, besides a heretofore-unknown ability to sense weak UHF signals. I could probably make a better-than-random guess as to who is carrying a cellphone (or really, who isn't carrying a cellphone) given a sample of college students -- the distribution of phones isn't going to be random and certainly is correlated to other factors that are perceptible to the well-known senses. (E.g., do they have pockets or a handbag big enough to hold a phone? Have I seen them with a phone before? If it was more than a few years ago, I'd also include general wealth signifiers. Etc.) "Cold reading" doesn't mean that ESP exists.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:04 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Challahtronix: hand gets numb and tingly when holding a cellphone for more than 10 minutes

Challahtronix: Doesn't happen with the antenna off

Are you implying that you've held a turned off cellphone for 10 minutes the same way you did hold it when it was on and when you experienced the numbness/tinglyness?

(Real question, no snark, just trying to understand if you did a somewhat controlled comparison for yourself...)

posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am very willing to admit that I am seriously affected by microwave radiation as well as ultraviolet radiation. Sometimes even infrared. And gamma rays - well, you don't want to see me when I'm angry.
posted by GuyZero at 5:10 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Many times after I sign off my wi fi Mac or Ipod Touch I feel like I'm suffocating. My heart is racing and I'm very anxious.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 5:22 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


you can easily establish that you are "sensitive" to infrared radiation, if you turn on your broiler and put your hand in there for a few minutes

This establishes that you are sensitive to heat, not infrared radiation. The process of thermal radiation (heating) occurs with all frequencies of EM radiation.
posted by howfar at 5:24 PM on September 13, 2011


Right, and humans can sense thermal radiation when the wavelength of that radiation is in the infrared.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:29 PM on September 13, 2011


I feel like I should mail these people a monthly care-package of printed-out funny cat pictures, and maybe a VHS tape of #fail gifs.

Heh. To think that around there, Rick Astley has to go house to house.
posted by 4ster at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2011 [15 favorites]


GuyZero writes "According to Wikipedia there are still CB radios & police radios, so it's not like these people are actually getting away from anything really."

Plus all the unlicenced transmitters in everything from garage door openers to car alarm systems. Plus all the radiation given off by universal motors and leakage from microwaves.

howfar writes "Probably not. But, looking at his publication history, it's pretty clear that Dr Marino is a long-term believer in EMF hypersensitivity. I'd take a long hard look at the methodology before placing much faith in this study."

The methodology seems overly complicated. From what I've read of EMF hypersensitivity a guy in the next room keying his amped SSB should be more than enough to trigger reactions. Performing the experiment in a shipping container should minimize outside sources of emf.

klanawa writes "Man, you should see the hysteria over the BC Hydro Smart Meter program. "

The same freak out is occuring here over water meters.

madcaptenor writes "Wait a minute, how did this person get to be a doctor? Don't you have to learn some science to get into med school?"

Lots of doctors are religious to varying degrees. Cognitive dissonance can exist in any field.
posted by Mitheral at 5:58 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lakehead University here in Ontario banned Wifi on campus.
posted by Harpocrates at 6:27 PM on September 13, 2011


When obtaining mumetal for hobby-building devices that need magnetic shielding, it turns out that these guys are a not insignificant part of the non-industrial market, and that people are happy to part fools from their gold.

Whenever I run into this, I am struck by the fundamental ignorance that is the opposite of other illnesses. Generally when people are sick, they learn an awful lot about their disease, and are mini-experts in the area - far more than a family doctor. But here, by contrast, the people are getting all their info from snakeoil salesmen and quacks and each other, and it really shows - they don't understand what EMF is and what it isn't, they link frequencies, vibrations, crystals, radiation, energy, and signals in ways that have no relationship to how those things actually are or the qualities of the things they fear, and relate them instead in imaginary ways that are arranged to press psychological buttons rather than reflect what is actually happening in their environment.

There are comments that this is a mental illness and it's callous to just brush them out of society, but at the same time, forcing someone to be treated for a mental illness they don't believe they have is a pretty extreme (and dangerous) action to take lightly, while not brushing them out - letting them be and offering them a voice in shaping society and how others are allowed to use technology, is also a nasty thing to do.
There aren't good options. Maybe leaving a (pseudo) Wifi wilderness for the sick to choose to live in is a good option to be providing?

These people are not going to feel better if a scientific study comes out demonstrating it's in their head. That's already been done hundreds of times.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm left wondering if these people are highly sensitive to change in their environment, and this is a way of responding to a loss of a sense of control to their environment. So, they think "Cell phones emit invisible waves; that can't be good and I can't control it!" and then have a stress reaction to the thought of their environment being uncontrolled. Naturally, it becomes unfalsifiable if the radio waves in question are invisible and ubiquitous, or, in a more localized sense, could be "explained" by a cell phone in an adjacent room.
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:35 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Don't you have to learn some science to get into med school?

Chemistry? Definitely. Biology? Absolutely. Newtonian mechanics? Some, yeah. Fluid dynamics? A bit. EM physics? Not so much. Radiologists and certain subsets of oncologists are pretty much the only ones with any real need for that. They bombard patients with EM and magnetic fields all day, every day, and pretty much no one has any discernible reaction to those exposures, so there's not all that much incentive to track stuff like this down.
posted by valkyryn at 6:44 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


These people are not going to feel better if a scientific study comes out demonstrating it's in their head. That's already been done hundreds of times.

For example? I know there's been epidemiological work done on high-tension power lines and cancer, but this amorphous "sensitivity" stuff seems pretty tricky to study.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:46 PM on September 13, 2011


I couldn't believe this got printed when I saw it in the paper, either.

"The neurologist and my family physician are both convinced that my brain is sensitive to the radio waves used by wireless routers (frequency of 802.11 gigahertz)."

Really ? 802.11 gigahertz ? I got a degree in electrical and computer engineering and do IT stuff for a living. This *hurts* my soul.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mitheral: Lots of doctors are religious to varying degrees. Cognitive dissonance can exist in any field.

An honest list of the four most religious people I have personally known:

1. Ob/gyn doctor
2. University statistician
3. University biologist
4. ER doctor
posted by gilrain at 6:53 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


can you imagine how fucking frightening it must be to know that shit is coming out of the sky, the powerlines, your router, cell phones, and that shit is making you irreversibly sicker, and no one is doing anything because they think you are insane

i mean this is almost certainly not real but god damn what a nightmare
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:58 PM on September 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


Right, and humans can sense thermal radiation when the wavelength of that radiation is in the infrared.

We are sensitive to its effect, yes. What I'm trying to get at is that the claims of those who believe themselves to be EM sensitive are not really about the same type of thing as the experience of heating. Instead the claims tend to be about the special properties of one "form of radiation" or another, requiring its own (undefined) mode of effect.
posted by howfar at 7:02 PM on September 13, 2011


Are you implying that you've held a turned off cellphone for 10 minutes the same way you did hold it when it was on and when you experienced the numbness/tinglyness?

(Real question, no snark, just trying to understand if you did a somewhat controlled comparison for yourself...)


Yep, played solitaire and a few other games as well, typed messages to send later. This was the same thing I had done previously with the antenna on and tried this three times just to verify. After that I figured I'd just cut back on solitaire anyway.
posted by Challahtronix at 8:23 PM on September 13, 2011


Having lived there for a little while, I'd just like to point out how wildly remote and isolated Green Bank is. There's basically two gas stations, a post office, and then nothing else within at least an hour drive through some seriously mountainous terrain. Nearest grocery store is an hour away. They tell you that they have restaurants, but what they really mean is that the gas station will reheat a frozen pizza for you, and you can eat it there.

Well, I say there's nothing there, but really there's the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. So, yeah, that's pretty cool.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:31 PM on September 13, 2011


The studies cited are strange.
"Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Evidence for a Novel Neurological Syndrome" used 60Hz signals. That's the frequency of AC power.

The article mentioned:
She uses hardly any electricity .... A thermostat is set to switch on electric heaters if the temperature drops to a level where she is in danger of hypothermia.

So she uses almost no electricity, except for an electric heater, which pours out 60Hz EMF!

The "another recent Marino human study" said
Mobile phones transmit and receive high-frequencyEMFs (∼1 GHz), and also emit low-frequency magnetic pulses (217 Hz) from the phone’s circuitry and battery currents

and so they tested 217Hz pulses--What the heck? I never heard of phones putting out 217Hz! Cell phones and wireless put out 700MHz up to 5GHz (and higher). Also 60Hz and 217Hz are in the audio range--you can hear them in certain circumstances, so it is difficult to make the studies of these frequencies double-blind. We've been blasting low frequencies (AC power) and higher (AM,FM,Television) for generations. It is the Gigahertz wireless that is new. Are there any studies of sensitivity of these? That would be more useful.
posted by eye of newt at 9:15 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a plague of hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders among the children of this nation that feeds big pharma and there are many potential causes for this, and a growth curve associated with Autism. One size does not fit all, what science knows about how we personally interface with the universe is miniscule. We know not to dry our hair in microwave ovens, or fluff up the poodle, but we don't know about the cacophony we have created.

I was recently in LAX, sitting in one place I was bathed by cross currents of various communications frequencies, and it was remarkable. I am not usually sensitive to this stuff, but it brought me out of a daydream, waiting in the loud, busy gate. I could feel the stuff in the air. I am not the most sensitive person in the world, and others who function near those frequencies probably are disturbed by all that stuff. I know I am happiest suddenly where my phone won't come in, the middle of nowhere is my kind of place. As communications entities try to close the gaps across the nation, those places are fewer.
posted by Oyéah at 9:30 PM on September 13, 2011


I want these lunatics to be exposed as lunatics so that they'll stop holding back the rest of us.

Wow, there sure is a lot of dog-piling on these people. It makes me think of (way, way back) how those "prissy nutso snobs" were saying that smoking around them was making them sick (imagine!) .... or those Crazies who said they didn't want to get too much sun because it might be bad for them (bad?? sun??)

Oh well .... just saying ...
posted by Surfurrus at 9:30 PM on September 13, 2011


... what science knows about how we personally interface with the universe is miniscule.

Recently an engineering friend was talking about the changes in the 'wiring' of the country over generations -- and how very little is known about the 'particle waves' in electricity/radio/mobile etc. She said, "This present generation may very well develop health problems never seen before. We can't see or perceive any damage, but it could be accumulating and so only show up in late life. There definitely is not enough research on this; who wants to do it -- who would want to tell people we might have to give up these technologies?!"
posted by Surfurrus at 9:41 PM on September 13, 2011


If we get rid of all technology we get health problems that show up at 20.

With all this technology, we get health problems that show up at 90.

Take your pick I guess.
posted by GuyZero at 9:48 PM on September 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oyéah writes "I know I am happiest suddenly where my phone won't come in, the middle of nowhere is my kind of place. As communications entities try to close the gaps across the nation, those places are fewer."

This is anecdote with both placebo and confirmation biases at work.

Surfurrus writes "There definitely is not enough research on this; who wants to do it -- who would want to tell people we might have to give up these technologies?!'"

Lets say the 60Hz EMF from electricity is chopping 5 years off our lives. Practically no one is giving up electricity to get those five years back. Electric refrigeration alone probably extends our lives a few years on average and electric light, if it doesn't directly extend our life (and it probably does if only in accident prevention), gives us the opportunity to enjoy our lives more instead of sitting in the dark for 12 hours a day in the winter.
posted by Mitheral at 9:53 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I saw this the other day and when I got to "estimated 5% of Americans who believe they suffer..." I lost so much respect for the BBC.

Really? I mean, no. Estimated by whom? That's just utterly absurd at face value. I have never heard of this. No more than 1 in 10,000 Americans claim this at the absolute highest, probably more like 1 in 50,000. Come on.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:10 PM on September 13, 2011


If they can sense gigahertz radiation, certainly they can sense you aren't going to believe them. They just don't talk to you about it. SELECTION BIAS. QED.
posted by GuyZero at 10:17 PM on September 13, 2011


There is a plague of hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders among the children of this nation that feeds big pharma and there are many potential causes for this, and a growth curve associated with Autism. One size does not fit all, what science knows about how we personally interface with the universe is miniscule. We know not to dry our hair in microwave ovens, or fluff up the poodle, but we don't know about the cacophony we have created.

I was recently in LAX, sitting in one place I was bathed by cross currents of various communications frequencies, and it was remarkable. I am not usually sensitive to this stuff, but it brought me out of a daydream, waiting in the loud, busy gate. I could feel the stuff in the air. I am not the most sensitive person in the world, and others who function near those frequencies probably are disturbed by all that stuff. I know I am happiest suddenly where my phone won't come in, the middle of nowhere is my kind of place. As communications entities try to close the gaps across the nation, those places are fewer.
posted by Oyéah at 2:30 PM on September 14 [+] [!]


I want these lunatics to be exposed as lunatics so that they'll stop holding back the rest of us.

Wow, there sure is a lot of dog-piling on these people. It makes me think of (way, way back) how those "prissy nutso snobs" were saying that smoking around them was making them sick (imagine!) .... or those Crazies who said they didn't want to get too much sun because it might be bad for them (bad?? sun??)

Oh well .... just saying ...
posted by Surfurrus at 2:30 PM on September 14 [+] [!]


I think the post above proves why the post below is wrong.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:24 PM on September 13, 2011


In other words, we need to stop people like Oyeah before they weaken herd immunity, prevent people getting medical help, and cut off telecommunications.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:24 PM on September 13, 2011


Here's a study that exposed 'sensitive' people to either a real cell phone signal (900MHz) or a fake one.

The report of symptoms was roughly the same for the real and the fake exposure.
posted by eye of newt at 11:05 PM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Pogo Fuzzybutt: "Really ? 802.11 gigahertz ? I got a degree in electrical and computer engineering and do IT stuff for a living. This *hurts* my soul."

Ha ha, this hurts? No, this is just plain awesome. Yes, depressing, but still as funny as hell.

For those not in on the joke, 802.11 is the name of the standard governing wifi, and has nothing to do with the frequency actually being broadcast (other than, you know, naming it).
posted by Arandia at 11:21 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


3.4 GIGAHERTZ!? GREAT SCOTT!!!
posted by loquacious at 11:34 PM on September 13, 2011


other than, you know, naming it

It doesn't even do that, since there are multiple frequencies it can operate at.
posted by kmz at 11:35 PM on September 13, 2011


ATTENTION: Shadowy forces within the government and Big Science are covering up the existence of a massive, unshielded fusion reactor that threatens all life on Earth.

And then there's precisely this. Not to mention billions and billions and billions of other stars, pulsars, neutron stars, cosmic rays, background microwave radiation, neutrinos from exploding star going supernova or cosmic jets a thousand galaxies away scrambling your DNA and goodness knows what else.

However. I've been stupidly in the way of or near high power RF before and have noticed the effects. Heating, for starters, in the case of the microwave link feed horn I shouldn't have stood in front of... and I've felt weird tingles from longer wave high amp stuff like AM and FM emitters or badly grounded ham stuff.

And I'm pretty sensitive to that kind of stuff. I'm one of those people who can hear/feel when a TV or CRT is on, or one of those ultrasonic pest repelling devices is emitting high audio frequencies.

So, extending from that.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that there might be a small selection of people who are more sensitive or vulnerable to RF energy than everyone else. I don't know how far I'm willing to entertain that, though.

Maybe it's something non-obvious, like it's actually an unknown disease that manifests in the presence of RF energy. Maybe they have way too much iron in their system or some other excess mineral or abnormal microstructure that's being activated by the RF. Or maybe they have a lack of something, perhaps there is something screwy with the electrical parts of their CNS that might actually interact with high frequency, low power RF.

While I don't like woo, we still have a lot to learn about ourselves. We're incredibly complicated electrochemical machines. And a the structure and complexity of the human nervous system would make a hell of an antennae or pair of rabbit ears if it were properly conductive.

And other animals on the planet can feel electric fields as well as magnetic ones. Our skin is capable of detecting light at a very base level - our eyes evolved from skin and specialized for the task, but skin came first.

I wouldn't be so quick to discount how much we (and life in general) may already interact with the RF, electromagnetic and electrical portions of the universe.
posted by loquacious at 11:56 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


One thing we could do is if someone complains persistently about this problem, we could relocate them to rural encampments near good farmland with lots of open space and erect giant fans to blow away all that electromagnetic radiation. I mean like huge, five-megawatt fans. Scores of 'em. String 'em together, make a little, you know, grid out of 'em.

Then you could take all the people living near windfarms complaining of "wind turbine syndrome" and relocate them to the residences vacated by the EMF sickness folks.

Two birds, one stone.*

* - Actually with all those windfarms, you maybe wouldn't even need the stone.
posted by gompa at 11:58 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


The 217Hz stuff is because GSM mobile phones pulse their RF at about that frequency - hold a GSM phone next to a microphone while it's on a call, and you'll hear the buzz. Some think that biological systems respond to pulsed RF very differently to continuous RF, and others that this is why mobile phones are causing problems that a hundred years of RF exposure haven't thrown up.

This is nothing new. When the BBC started up in the 20s, it had lots of complaints that cows stopped milking and sheep aborted their lambs, whenever it opened a new transmitter. One person wrote to the Radio Times saying that she'd seen a flock of birds fall out of the sky. Microwave ovens had their own health scare that held back adoption for years.

"An invisible force is making you feel unwell, and is harming your children and your ability to have children" is a powerful and ancient theme. "I can protect you against it" is only a few seconds younger, and didn't precede "Burn the witch!" by much either.
posted by Devonian at 12:38 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair, radio/TV antenna systems put out a lot more power than your average cell phone tower.
posted by ymgve at 12:57 AM on September 14, 2011


@infini
"I thought so too until I read that they did a blind test for one of these people where sometimes they faked the signals and she only responded with signals when the test was for real."

This was interesting. Unfortunately they just wrote "concluded that this can't be by chance". It would have been interesting to see the actual significance (p test or whatever).
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:21 AM on September 14, 2011



Science involves hypothesizes, theories AND experiences. Saying this is impossible or this is true is unscientific. And while I think it is not a big problem, I hedge my bets

Sine waves enhance cellular transcription

posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:39 AM on September 14, 2011


kiltedtaco - tell us more about what you're working on, if you can please. Sounds more interesting than woo.
posted by arcticseal at 1:54 AM on September 14, 2011


While I was reading this thread, my wireless 802.11 b/g/n gigahertz router stopped being wireless and reverted back to being a four port wired router. I could tell because my phone went into 4G mode and I start getting really bad non-specific urethritis pains whenever that happens.

What I'm trying to say is, y'all future hating weirdos need to take your asses back to West Virginny and stop messin' with my expensive electronics.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 2:24 AM on September 14, 2011


There is evidence that cell phone radiation, with a plausible normal magnitude, causes albumin to cross the blood-brain barrier. Albumin is pretty ubiquitous in humans, and there isn't any known down side to having a bit more albumin in your brain, but that does happen.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:12 AM on September 14, 2011


There is evidence that cell phone radiation, with a plausible normal magnitude, causes albumin to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Worth noting that these results don't seem to be reproduced by research independent of Professor Leif Salford. Can anyone point me at some? The statement that it "does happen" is probably too strong in these conditions, but I am prepared to be corrected.
posted by howfar at 4:27 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cell phone radiation may or may not be harming people. It's likely, however, that it does have an impact on other living things. Which ultimately will affect humans.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:15 AM on September 14, 2011


The statement that it "does happen" is probably too strong in these conditions, but I am prepared to be corrected.
posted by howfar


Agreed, change that to "it may happen."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:56 AM on September 14, 2011


More information about the United States National Radio Quiet Zone.

FWIW, the Sugar Grove facility mentioned in the Wikipedia article is generally regarded as a signals intelligence facility monitoring international satellite communications at the big Comsat ground station in Etam, West Virginia.

So maybe not totally quiet.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2011


and a growth curve associated with Autism

This growth curve is a result of better diagnostic tools, rather than an actual total increase in the number of cases of "autism".
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am prepared to be corrected.

This is always a good attitude to have IMO.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2011


And a the structure and complexity of the human nervous system would make a hell of an antennae or pair of rabbit ears if it were properly conductive

Not really.

An MRI works in just this way. However, in order to get the tissues to resonate at all, it requires an extremely strong magnetic field. Otherwise, it's just too disorganized to respond meaningfully.

By way of comparison - the earth's magnetic field is about 40 microtesla (.0004 Tesla). I work with a 3 Tesla MRI, 12,000 times stronger than that. And we use a radio transmitter of several KW output and responses are in the microwatt range.

A cell phone, or a wifi router generates fields several orders of magnitude less strong than an MRI.

The point I'm trying to make is that even under these conditions, you have to work pretty hard to notice anything is amiss. It is possible to use magnetic fields to interrupt nerve function. It's a research tool we use all the time.

However, the important feature isn't the strength of the field. It's the gradient - the change over time - that matters. A big change over a short time is necessary, and Cell Phones and Wifi devices simply don't have the power output to drive that sort of gradient that would matter.

I'm going to leave aside discussions about Cell phones and CDMA/TDMA digital frequency sharing, except to say that cell phones, even when being used don't transmit anywhere near constantly. The duty cycle is something like 1/8 or 1/10 during a conversation, and far less than that when it's just sitting there (I think the heartbeat is something like 45 seconds). The point I'm trying to make is that cell phones just don't create fields anywhere near as strong as many of the other fields we encounter naturally or otherwise, and those have never been known to have ill effects either.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:50 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's pretty clear that Dr Marino is a long-term believer in EMF hypersensitivity

I tend to find it pretty unbelievable, myself.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:51 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Cell phone radiation may or may not be harming people. It's likely, however, that it does have an impact on other living things. Which ultimately will affect humans."

The idea that cell phone radiation causes Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bees is beyond absurd. I'm sure a class of kindergarteners would quickly rip the hypothesis apart if shown a map of incidences overlayed on a map of population density. If this were true, we would see large obvious concentrations of CCD around urban areas, we would not have seen CCD privileged yet industrially developed countries, and stationary colonies in remote rural areas would be perfectly safe. This is not the case, in reality urban colonies are among the least hit, and some nations with tons are cell phones are totally fine.*

It is amazing how much stupid can get attracted to a scientific question the moment it gets press.

*People have applied Koch's postulates to CCD with significant amounts of success but that can't be the whole answer, its not one pathogen. I was at the ASM last year where there was a symposium on CCD where a fungal guy got up, presented his research, and a bunch of virus guys jumped down his throat. A bacteriologist was next and the fungal guys then were good natured and self aware about it but still felt the need to jump down his throat. Really the answer was obvious to everyone, well almost everyone, its not a single new disease causing CCD. What is new is plainly both environmental stresses like pesticides and new beekeeping techniques like trucking colonies across the country (NOT JUST ONE OF THOSE, BOTH) making individual colonies and our population of colonies more vulnerable epidemic diseases respectively.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:34 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mobile phone radiation weakens glucose metabolism in the brain in areas under the device’s antenna, according to fresh research from the University of Turku. During the study, 13 healthy young men were exposed to the GSM signal for 33 minutes.

“This is an important research result because now it’s proven that radiation spreads to the head and causes changes to neurons,” says Turku University Professor Heikki Hämäläinen, who led the research.

posted by infini at 12:27 AM on September 16, 2011


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