Bad Science Watch Launches Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism

Reprinted from Bad Science Watch.

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Critical Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism Launched by Independent Watchdog

Toronto, ON, August 13 2012 – Bad Science Watch has announced the launch of a critical investigation of the state of anti-WiFi activism in Canada. The independent non-profit plans to document the motivations, funding sources, agendas, and any conflicts of interest for those groups and individuals promoting misinformation about wireless networking technology (WiFi). These activists claim WiFi and related technologies can cause a variety of adverse health effects, and are attempting to convince city councils, libraries, and school districts across the country to remove or restrict the deployment of WiFi networks.

“While many of these activists are well-meaning yet misinformed, others are profiting from the uncertainty and doubt that has been manufactured.” said Jamie Williams, Executive Director of Bad Science Watch. “Some of the most prominent anti-WiFi scaremongers are tied to the sale and promotion of bogus products to ‘block’ WiFi, or promote sham medical diagnoses and treatments for false illnesses.”

Many activists blame WiFi’s low level radio signals for a broad variety of medical problems, from mild headaches and fatigue to chest pain and heart palpitations. When someone using or living near WiFi networks experiences these or other symptoms, they are told they have ‘Electromagnetic-Hypersensitivity’, or EHS. The existence of EHS is not supported by rigorous science, and has not been accepted by the medical and scientific community as a real condition. This distraction can lead to greater anxiety for parents who are worried about the well-being of their children, and may instead serve to delay the diagnosis of more serious and treatable medical problems like anxiety disorders or heart defects.

Bad Science Watch will use the findings of this investigation as a starting point to counter misinformation in the public sphere, and represent sound science to public officials who are confronted every day with requests to act on it.

Individuals who would like to support this and similar projects are invited to visit www.badsciencewatch.ca, subscribe to the mailing list, and make a donation to Bad Science Watch.

For media enquiries, or additional information, please contact:

Jamie Williams
Executive Director
Bad Science Watch
jwilliams@badsciencewatch.ca
1-888-742-3299 x 102

Bad Science Watch
180 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON M3K 3P5
Tel: 1-888-742-3299
Fax: 1-888-813-3569
Email: info@badsciencewatch.ca


Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization that provides analysis of dubious scientific claims to Canadians, our government, and the media, promotes objective critical thinking and advocates for the enforcement and strengthening of consumer protection regulation.

Bad Science Watch relies largely on individual donations from the public for its operational funding, and is committed to organizational transparency.

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26 thoughts on “Bad Science Watch Launches Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism

  1. I have bad news for Bad Science Watch: the claim that electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is caused by WiFi, cell towers, or other sources of electrosmog, is based on good science.

    How do I know? First of all, I am a physicist with a life-long interest in theory of science and epistemology. Critical Thinker is my middle name. And I have been studying this issue intensively for the past half year. Second, I know from first-hand experience, since I have been suffering from EHS myself now for over half a year. Main symptoms are headache, fatigue, and tinnitus. The symptoms go away when I am in an electrosmog-free area. Unfortunately, there is a cell tower close to my house, which is the main source of my symptoms. I didn’t have any EHS symptoms before I moved here.

    The claim that it is really just psychosomatic, or based on the nocebo effect, is logically not even possible. I have read many, many stories of people who became electrosensitive, and in every single case it took them quite a while, sometimes years, to figure out the source of their symptoms. In most cases, they had never heard of EHS before. And in many cases they are reluctant to acknowledge the reality of EHS because they love the convenience of wireless technologies. No, they are not Luddites, and they are not crazies either. I have worked in the tech industry as an engineer, scientific programmer, and web developer, and I love my iPad. But unfortunately I will have to get rid of my iPhone and get a landline.

    We are not being paid to misinform the public either. Now that’s what I would call a conspiracy theory! If anyone is getting paid, it’s the wireless industry-funded researchers who are producing flawed studies. There are plenty of independently funded studies that do show a clear causal connection between EMR/EMF and EHS symptoms. We also now know a lot about the biophysical mechanisms. It is now also possible to measure a physiological response to RF radiation without having to rely on subjective accounts.

    If you are really interested in understanding the issue you can start with this excellent scientific report: Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Fact or Fiction? by Stephen J. Genuis et al. (electricsense.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Electromagnetic-Hypersensitivity-Genuis.pdf )

    1. Although I find your anecdotes interesting, they do not serve as useful evidence that your symptoms are the result of exposure to radio-frequency EMF.

      As someone who suffers from the symptoms attributed to EHS I’m curious what you make of the blinded provocation studies that have found no correlation between exposure to EMF and the symptoms of EHS. A systematic review of such studies that was published in Psychosomatic Medicine “could find no robust evidence to support the existence of a biophysical hypersensitivity to EMF”. Several of these studies were even mentioned in the paper to which you linked:

      This stance [that EHS is psychosomatic] is buttressed by the failure of numerous studies to prove a connection between people’s reported EHS and their actual exposure to EMR (Nam et al., 2009; Mortazavi et al., 2007). In fact, many of the studies show that people with self-reported EHS were more sensitive to devices emitting no EMR than true EMR (Frick et al., 2005). In contrast to the more recent double-blind work confirming measurable physiological change in response to EMR exposure (McCarty et al., 2011), Rubin et al. (2011) found that participants with self-reported EHS did not have any abnormal physiological responses to acute EMR exposure. Looking at twenty-nine single or double-blind studies that exposed people to real and sham EMR, they report that most of the studies did not show any significant association between EMR and consistent symptoms in the self-reported EHS participant (Rubin et al., 2011).

      Although the paper claims that the EHS diagnosis has the support of the WHO, this is what the World Health Organization’s fact sheet on Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity actually has to say on the subject:

      EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms that differ from individual to individual. The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual. EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.

      Physicians: Treatment of affected individuals should focus on the health symptoms and the clinical picture, and not on the person’s perceived need for reducing or eliminating EMF in the workplace or home. [Emphasis added.]

      No one is calling those who suffer from these symptoms “crazy”, whether the symptoms are psychogenic or not. If compelling evidence is forthcoming that the symptoms attributed to EHS are the result of exposure to electromagnetic fields, then the scientific community will come around. Regardless, those who suffer from these symptoms deserve our compassion.

      1. It is well known that the WHO recognizes EHS symptoms, but they don’t believe that it has anything to do with EMR. The WHO is not the only institution that is just plain wrong about this.

        Regarding the blinded provocation studies that didn’t find a connection, I say that they weren’t done right. It is easy not to find a connection, even if it exists. Every person has different sensitivities, and they change with time. When I first diagnosed myself with EHS, I wasn’t sensitive to my car’s EMFs, but now I am. Many of the experiments were done in
        environments with high levels of electrosmog. Adding an additional source may be indistinguishable from the background. In Germany there is a town, Wiesenthal, that’s in a RF free zone. There is a company with an office there that specializes in diagnosing EHS. They also use physiological methods, which takes subjectivity out of the equation.

        Rejecting EHS as a valid diagnosis because many studies don’t find a correlation with EMR is based on a misunderstanding of how science works. As an example, take the Higgs boson. Physicists had been searching for it for decades, but it was only recently announced that it had finally been found. Over 99% of experiments didn’t find it, so a lawyer, politician, or mediocre journalist might conclude that the evidence is not “robust” or “conclusive”. Scientists know better. They now know that the first experiments looked at the wrong energies.

        The Higgs boson and EHS are like black swans. If your hypothesis is that all swans are white, it doesn’t matter how many white swans you’ve observed, you still can’t rule out the possibility that black swans exist. But all it takes is the observation of one black swan to disprove the hypothesis that all swans are white. And there is more than one study linking EHS to EMFs; there at least hundreds of studies going back to the 1940s. Here is an excellent short video by Dr. Magda Havas explaining this concept: Science 101: Cherry Picking & Black Swans

  2. You arent this person from this study are you rolf?
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21793784
    Funny i cant seem to locate the raw data for that study anywhere on the internet to look into the interesting claims. Shame they had a sample group of 1 tho. tsk tsk. That’s not going to hold up to review. At best all they could prove is that this person does or does not have legit EM sensitivity.

    Bad analogy by the way, the higgs boson was predicted in the mathmatics 60 years before it could be measured.

    The scientific method dictates that you need several things to make something scientifically proovable.

    1. Formulate a question. i.e. “are EM sufferers symptoms caused by EM fields?”
    2. Make a hypothysis. I.E. make a claim of the expected outcome of the experiment.
    3. Test: Test your hypothysis. Testing needs to be setup so that it can be;
    a: reproduced by another researcher(s)
    b: all possible bias can be eliminated
    c: setup in such a way as many variables, including a margin of error, can be accounted for
    and measured.
    d: holds up to peer review.

    The reason a lot of these papers fail peer review when corralating EMS symptoms with EM fields is that they fail to follow the scientific method in one of these areas. In short, it’s bad science.

    Double blind provocations studys have consistantly shown that Wifi sensitivity does not appear to be caused by EM fields. (Im sure the symptoms are real Tho) Feel free to prove me wrong by designing a better experiment. Just be sure to eliminate bias by having someone else conduct it and make it double blind.

    Also, What the hell is electro-smog?

    1. Who needs all these stupid studies when your own body tells you what you are feeling. If you are sensitive to EMF, you KNOW it. END OF STORY………..Do you really think people are stupid and crazy enough to believe text books, and wrong science when their own flesh and blood tells them differently? Wake up

      1. The mind makes it real. This is a mental health issue, not an issue with people being physically contaminated. People with schitzophrenia certainly feel like the voices are real too. Nobody would deny that schitzophrenics need our help to ease thier suffering. We need to help “EM” sufferers by first giving them a correct diagnosis before we can treat them.

      2. Are you a psychologist? Answer this one: Pretend you know nothing about EMF. You’ve never even heard of the word . Pretend you’re even naive enough to think that wifi is run by a little battery inside it, like a remote control toy. You think wifi is a fantastic idea and you absolutely would love to have one. And sure enough , one day, you’ve got extra money, and rig your house up to give yourself the best technology available. You’re over the moon about it. Wifi at long last! Yes!!
        A little while goes by, a few weeks maybe, and little by little you start having heart palpitations, missed beats, and nausea, and a whole range of symptoms. You use your wifi day and night. You love it. You use the internet to find out why your heart is acting in this wierd way…..At night you can hear your heart missing beats every 5 seconds. One beat missed, then 5 beats , then 1 more beat missed , then 10 beats. You start counting how many times that is happening to you. It goes on for weeks. You worry about it, and go to a heart specialist. They say they think you might need a pace maker. You’re not too keen on that idea. You are still quite young. Who wants a heart pace maker? You have no idea why your heart should suddenly start behaving in this unusual way. Nor does the doctor, but that does not matter – the pace maker will make it all alright. Then one day, you bump into some information on the internet about wifi emissions causing heart palpitations. So, quickly, you remove the wifi and the mobile phones to see if that could possibly be true. …… The heart, after a day or two, returns to its normal rhythm. No more missed beats. You can’t believe it! You don’t want to believe it. You need your WiFi, you Want your wifi. So back up it goes – the WiFi, the mobile phones, the lot….. and sure enough the missing heart beats return. ……………. Remove the wifi – the heart beats go back to normal…. The doctor says – Oh well, I guess it was just one of those things. Come back and see me if it happens again………………Well, Derrick?????

      3. You do understand that what you are suggesting is that a radio signal, which is really just light at a different wavelengths, is affecting your nervous system. Your nerves send electrical signals via switching a sodium ion for potassium along your nerves. If EM was affecting your nervous system in this way, I would have the same issue. Despite our differences of opinion, our body chemistry is the same. The only observable effect radio waves of this king have on the world around us is in the microwave. It can interact with water and excite the molecules (warm it up). But you need to have power levels several orders of magnitude larger to get this to happen. Put your arm in a microwave and you will burn, but your nerves will be fine.

        And no im not a psycologist, but I married one.

        So unless you are some kind of special human with copper wires for a nervous system, your problems are not related to EM. No doubt you have heath issues, but you are looking in the wrong spot.

      4. Thankyou for all the e-mails…… Whatever……. I’m not going near WiFi ……. I really hope that you are careful with your mobiles, as the WHO has already claimed it to be a possible grade 2b cause of cerebral tumors. And there is a lot of recorded data that shows a 40% increase in cancer ( cancer clusters) for those living near cellphone towers. And we have meters here that have proven that wifi emits 3 times the radiation of a cellphone tower.. Now I’m quite sure you would not like 3 cellphone towers in your face all day. Or even a cellphone tower in your living room. Have you seen James Russells’, you tube documentary – RESONANCE, BEINGS OF FREQUENCY? It’s heading for an award for ‘best documentary of the year’ ….If not, you’ll love it…..Have you heard about and read some of the 8,000 scientific studies that show negative effects of EMF radiation from wifi etc? Including the study from T Mobile itself, admitting to its own dangers? Have you seen the list of countries in the world who have removed their WiFis from schools, hospitals, libraries. ………….. Please do not try and tell me that they are all wrong and that you are all right, because if you do, I’m afraid you will lose all your credibility with whomever wants to read this site. …… But thank you for the opportunity to share. ….. Take care.

      5. Yup WHO says Cell phones now share the same class as Pickled Beats. Class 2b was a classification given to cell phones because they could not rule out but also could not confirm. In otherwords, inconclusive. so it was a precautionary measure. Yes I read that study. Since everyone on the other side of the argument keeps waving it out there as their defacto Proof. Had they actually read what it said in there i doubt they would continue to do so.

        Standing right beside a MW transmitter is a bad idea. You get burns (see Microwave). Thats why all high power microwave transmitters have warning stickers and maintanance people get special training in thier handleing.

        But due to the inverse square law, transmitter power decreases by a factor of 4 every time you double distance. so by the time it gets to you it’s barely stronger than the background noise coming from outer space.

        I havnt seen any study that has passed peer review to support Wifi nutters claims. Feel free to link us some of these 8000 studies so we can comment on them. In canada a catholic school district in ontario removed wifi Because failed Polititians run school boards. It was a political decison not a decision based in Science. but then again, they are a christian school…

      6. Do you have any particular reason to believe that the symptoms you’ve experienced are causally related to exposure to WiFi? It seems like you’re describing a loose temoral correlation (at best), under completely uncontrolled conditions. This isn’t proof: this is the post hoc fallacy.

        Bad Science Watch recently completed this project; here’s what we found:

        Systematic reviews of both provocation studies and purported treatments for IEI-EMF support the conclusion that EMF is not the cause of the syndrome. Despite the claims made by the authors of one review paper and […] anti-WiFi groups, Bad Science Watch was unable to locate any compelling evidence of legitimate scientific debate about WiFi induced illness, or the safety of low-level EMF exposure in general. […] There is no compelling evidence that any health effects arise as a result of this technology.

        I’m truly sorry that people are suffering from these symptoms, but if WiFi really is the cause, why doesn’t the scientific literature support this contention? Conspiracy? Because I’m still waiting for my cheque from “Big WiFi”.

      7. I really hope that you are careful with your mobiles, as the WHO has already claimed it to be a possible grade 2b cause of cerebral tumors.

        Then I hope you’re not drinking coffee or eating pickled vegetables: those are also classified as IARC Group 2B Possible Carcinogens. I’ll readily admit that there is conflicting research in this area, but the majority of large, well-controlled population studies show no association between mobile phone use and cancer. If there were solid evidence that radiofrequency EMF were carcinogenic, the IARC would have classified it as Group 1.

        But this has nothing to do with so-called “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”, which is the topic of this post. Let’s try to stay on target, shall we?

        Have you seen James Russells’, you tube documentary – RESONANCE, BEINGS OF FREQUENCY? It’s heading for an award for ‘best documentary of the year’ ….If not, you’ll love it…..

        No. I prefer literature reviews to conspiracy-mongering Internet pseudo-documentaries. But here’s the link, in case anyone else is interested.

        Have you heard about and read some of the 8,000 scientific studies that show negative effects of EMF radiation from wifi etc? Including the study from T Mobile itself, admitting to its own dangers? Have you seen the list of countries in the world who have removed their WiFis from schools, hospitals, libraries. ………….. Please do not try and tell me that they are all wrong and that you are all right, because if you do, I’m afraid you will lose all your credibility with whomever wants to read this site. ……

        Eight thousand? Wow, that’s a big number! Do you have a list of these studies, or any other specifics that you’d like to add?

        I have, in fact, read scores of studies on the subject of the purported health effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, along with a dozen or so meta-analyses and systematic reviews on the subject. I was, after all, the project chair of Bad Science Watch project that looked into exactly these concerns, and the lead author on the position paper that resulted from that investigation. (If you want to know what papers, in specific, I’ve read, feel free to check the paper’s bibliography; it should serve as a fair starting point.)

        I’d also like to know if you’ve read any of these studies. Have you? If not, how do you know that they show “negative effects”? Do you recognize that electromagnetic fields come have a wide spectrum of frequencies that include everything from radio waves to gamma radiation, and that talking about the dangers of “EMF” in general makes no sense without providing further context?

      8. Come on now… that’s hardly nice. She’s well meaning at best, ignorant at worst. People who do bad science need to be converted, not verbally assailed.

  3. Hi Guys,

    Yes, of course I know that. It’s basic knowledge. And yes, of course I’ve read the studies, including the 600 pages of the 2007 Bioinitiative Report, and its follow up in 2012…….And .I’ve done more than bury myself in text books. I’ve been out there in the real world and seen real people devastated by the effects of engineered electromagnetic radiation upon themselves and their families, including a young friend who now has to live her life in total darkness, due to the slow, gradual and insiduous accumulation of this upon her system.

    Why don’t you relax, take a deep breath and chill out.

    I could point out to pages upon pages of scientific studies, pages upon pages of places and people who have had to remove WiFi, pages of professionals who have issued warnings, but I already know that you are intelligent enough to find these out for yourself… …………….. and if at the end of the day we are both wrong (or both right) then at least the precautionary principle should be exercised for the sake of children, until we have conclusive knowledge.

    So, for now, I wish you all the very best, and regret to say that spending time trying to convert skeptics is something I wish I had time for. But, sadly, I don’t.

    Goodby and all the best.

    1. Louise, you keep talking contrasting actual scientific research into these questions with spending time “out there in the real world”, where you’ve “seen real people devastated by the effects of engineered electromagnetic radiation”. Our issue is that you haven’t actually done any work to establish that radiofrequency EMF is in fact the cause of the “devastation” you’ve described. Your “Bioinitiative Report” is not peer reviewed science, and has received substantial criticism from governmental health regulatory bodies and from the scientific community at large.

    1. As previously mentioned in this thread, among the literally thousands of YouTube videos purporting to show the dangers of electromagnetic radiation, RBF is not among those I’ve watched.

      While I’m more than happy to address specific claims (time permitting), people frequently send me links to videos, claiming that the contents will prove [insert conspiracy theory here]. Many of us who are active in the skeptic community have learned that these videos are, generally speaking, a waste of time. They’re poorly cited (if they provide references at all), many claims are made in rapid succession (making it very time consuming to copy them down for validation), non-experts are presented as experts, no conflicts of interest are declared, and no conflicting opinions are admitted. Give me a ream of text over a video any day.

      That said, the central claims of this purported documentary seem wildly at odds with the science, and you’re not the first to ask me to take a look at it. If we can the crew together, we may take a look at doing a review of it for Life, the Universe & Everything Else, the way we did with “Thrive”.

      Until then, if you have specific claims that you wanted to ask about, feel free. I recommend starting by perusing the results of Bad Science Watch’s investigation first, however.

      1. Appreciate your prompt reply. IMHO, and with respect, I do not believe it will be possible for you to investigate wi-fi or related EMF issues without having seen Resonance. I have been searching the Interwebs for debunking of this video without avail. Possibly you and the team have the critical thinking and science acumen to find a fatal flaw in the arguments put forth. I tried and failed.

      2. That’s great, and I’m sure that the scientists conducting research in the field will be disappointed to hear that their work will not be complete without seeing this film. But I hope that you understand that anyone could make a similar claim about their particular favourite internet conspiracy video.

        The fact that you couldn’t find a detailed debunking of the entire movie (as opposed to any particular claim made in it) is probably a result of the fact that random Internet documentaries are generally beneath most people’s notice. There’s only one site that I could find specifically dedicated to a take-down of “Thrive”, for example, and that film has two orders of magnitude more views on YouTube than “Resonance” (despite being an absolutely awful, mendacious catastrophe).

        So, as I said, we’ll keep it in mind. But it’s an hour and a half, and there are thousands of these things on YouTube on the subject of EMF alone, and our time is valuable.

      3. Actually, I have a number of patents to my name, I’m not a YouTube watcher by nature, I believe firmly in the scientific method and I challenge assumptions. So, let’s challenge your assumptions. First, this is not a YouTube production. It appears to be professionally produced, but available on YouTube and Vimeo, and its full of apparent facts. I was already aware of some of the research they quoted, but not others. I have been researching EM and EMF for quite a while, My mind is not made up, unlike yours. I follow the research and weigh it. I investigate EM and EMF effects with the hypothesis that they are harmless and set out to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Objectively. Your organization, judging by your press release, has done zero research but have already taken the position that there is public misinformation and you’re going to prove it. In order to achieve this self evident truth you can’t be bothered to look at the counter argument to yours. I was hoping you were a legitimate, fact driven organIzation that seeks and speaks truth. Your email tells me I’m wrong. I look forward to reading your in-depth review and the ‘facts’ they will bring out.

      4. Given the amount of time the Bad Science Watch team put into reviewing the relevant scientific literature and preparing a position paper on WiFi and EHS, I find your comment highly amusing. You state that the organisation has “done zero research”, despite the fact that this press release is more than a year old, the project has concluded, and I have already provided you with a link to the results of the research (which includes references to twenty-one scientific publications). Evidently we ought to have spent time watching videos instead of on literature review. Well, I suppose we’ll know for next time.

  4. Actually, I have a friend with some funky Gassymeter thingy. Measured something like over 100 millygas where my kids bed is. Blamed it on the breaker box on the wall back side my kids room. Said I should move the bed. What a joke. People freak over stupid things, unbelievable.

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