March 24, 2007

Photon Allergy

Woman claims skin reaction to wireless internet:

For most people talking on a mobile phone, cooking dinner in the microwave or driving in a car is simply part of modern living in 21st century Britain.

But completing any such tasks is impossible for Debbie Bird - because she is allergic to modern technology.
The 39-year-old is so sensitive to the electromagnetic field (emf) or 'smog' created by computers, mobile phones, microwave ovens and even some cars, that she develops a painful skin rash and her eyelids swell to three times their size if she goes near them.

As a consequence, Mrs Bird, a health spa manager, has transformed her home into an EMF-free zone to try and stay healthy.

The walls are all covered in special carbon paint, the windows have a protective film on them and she and her husband, Tony, 45, even sleep under a silver-plated mosquito net to deflect the radiowaves.

'I can no longer do things that I used to take for granted,' Mrs Bird said last night. 'My day-to-day life has been seriously affected by EMF.

'I don't own a microwave. I don't use mobile phones at all. I can't even use a cordless phone. We have a plasma screen TV because the old style one gave out gamma rays, which brought on my reaction.

'I can't even get in my friend's BMW. If I do I immediately start getting a headache and my head starts tingling.

Perhaps I am too skeptical, but I find this hard to believe. Psychosomatic illnesses have been extensively documented, but EMF-based ones? I don't think so. There are people who have a skin reaction to bright sunlight, but that is a very different type of problem and it begins at birth. In fact, allergies in general almost never spring up that late in life, unless some unusual situation brings it about.

Plus, she is all over the place about what she claims to be allergic to. Wi-Fi, microwave ovens, cell and cordless phones are indeed all around the same waveband (UHF and SHF). But there are plenty of other things around there that she does not claim an allergy to, particularly different kinds of broadcast radio and TV. And the proposition that cars are somehow emitting anything around that part of the spectrum makes no sense.

The worst part is definitely "the old style [TV] gave out gamma rays, which brought on my reaction." First of all, no it didn't. Second of all, that is soooo far from microwave radiation. And third of all, televisions emit very little radiation, being a receiver doesn't somehow cause that device to be a "hub" for some wavelength. And if it did, it would never be gamma rays.

It is unfortunate that in a story about a rather dubious medical/science issue the newspaper hardly managed any degree of skepticism. They added one sentence saying that practically all doctors doubt the veracity of "Electro-sensitivity" and then immediately counter it with some pseudo-scientist. Textbook false balance.

Terrible job.


Anonymous said...

Read about electro sensitivity on

and if this esteemed group of scientists doesn't answer your scientific queries regarding the potential of electro magnetic frequencies to cause biological damage try Dr Neil Cherry in a google search or Dr Robert Becker, twice nominated for the Nobel Prize.

After you have spent the week reading their do come back for a serious debate about the potential for some 10% of the population to exhibit symptoms of ES, which is accpeted at Federal level in Sweden as a disability.

The human body is now exposed to EMFs one trillion times greater than evolved to process and deal with.

(Ryan) said...

An anonymous poster has provided a link to some online advocacy website. That sounds pretty iron-clad, I guess I take back my skepticism...

First of all, I think you missed my main problem with the article, which was that although it was about a science issue, it failed to represent the scientific community appropriately. I am not saying that this condition is necessarily in her head, just that because it deals with something that is widely dismissed by researchers, the paper should not leave her assertions unchallenged. It is a disservice to readership to accept this woman's claims without question. You can believe what you like about this ES business, but you do not get to claim that it is supported by mainstream researchers. By some people, sure, but taken as a whole, honest people agree that no conclusive evidence has made it through peer-review.

This is why I do not consider your site worthwhile. You can find websites promoting any bullshit theory without looking very hard. Google searches for "geocentrism" turn up some very interesting results. I hate to refer to this, but the electro-sensitivity article on wikipedia points out that evidence of ES effects is not only meager, but more frequently negative. (And I didn't just skim the wiki, the articles show the same thing overall.) For what it is worth, the current consensus is that ES is most likely psychosomatic, since it has never been observed in double-blind studies. If the majority of medical scientists turn out to be wrong, that would be extremely interesting. Since I am not in the field, I can't really pronounce judgment on it, but I can tell what the people who do know about it think, and they are not with you here. And I don't care what Sweden does. Sweden is a wonderful and bureaucracy-loving land with many silly laws.

Arguments from authority are not persuasive to me. Linus Pauling actually won two Nobel prizes, but insisted for most of his life that extremely high quantities of vitamin C cured practically everything. Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, thought that the statistical nature of quantum mechanics was wrong. They were both mistaken, so I certainly don't care who your guy is.

And we do all sorts of things that have a far larger and more immediate impact than EM waves, that we as humans did not evolve to deal with. Radiation that is barely absorbed by us does not have a larger effect than staying up at night or eating cake.

The last, probably most illustrative reason that I doubt what you are telling me, is that if this was a legitimate and well-demonstrated problem, you wouldn't be worrying about proselytizing bloggers who disagreed with you. The evidence would speak for itself, and you wouldn't have to bother with people like me. The truth always comes out, and it has nothing to do with what anyone decides on in online debates.

(Ryan) said...

More importantly than any of that, can the sanctimonious "come back and have a serious discussion" nonsense. I live on this blog, amigo. It belongs to me, I don't go away and come back because British people tell me to. Especially because one of them gave me a reading assignment. And it isn't for having serious debates unless I say it is, (especially because it sounds as though the preconditions for your debates involve agreeing with you to begin with). I may equally be interested in having completely uninformed debates, or lincoln-douglas debates. I decide. You "serious debate" people are a dime a dozen, anonymous.