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18 November 2010

"Dirty Electricity" Update

SkepticNorth has a great new article that deals with the biological effects of so-called "dirty electricity" (which I have previously discussed here and here).

The article responds to a paper written by B. Blake Levitt and Henry Lai that was published in the Canadian National Research Council publication Environmental Reviews. Some snippets:

The failure by Levitt & Lai to provide a balanced assessment is an exercise in alarmism designed to bamboozle the public and is totally contrary to an objective scientific approach. The public is not equipped to understand hundreds of highly technical studies. The public health authorities are constantly reviewing the scientific literature looking at all new studies. In fact Health Canada recently released a statement about the Levitt & Lai article saying that "No new data is presented" and "...the conclusions made by the authors are not based on a full examination of the scientific evidence".


First, as has already been pointed out, the poorly done studies quoted by Levitt & Lai have been roundly rejected by mainstream scientists. If harmful biological effects from EMF do not exist, it seems impossible for this to cause EHS symptoms. Second, virtually all double blind studies that been conducted on individuals who claim to be electrosensitive have shown that EMF does not cause any symptoms. Rubin et al have done a systematic overview of all (46) double blind studies. They consistently show negative results. Levitt & Lai are honest enough to mention a few of these double blind studies, and not a single one supports their electrosensitivity claims. Double blind testing is the gold standard of evidence in science.

Yet somehow Levitt & Lai manage to ignore the obvious conclusions of these key studies and insist that the beliefs of EHS individuals cannot be wrong. They cite a number of non double blind studies such as surveys of people living near cell phone towers. These "studies" amount to little more than opinion polls of people who associate their EHS symptoms with their proximity to these towers. They state: "It makes little sense to keep denying health symptoms that are being reported in good faith". This is the illogic of the children’s fable about the sky is falling where Chicken Little whips up the populace into a state of mass hysteria. This is not science.


An excellent recent example of this was a recent flair up in Barrie Ontario, where a group of parents alleged that their kids where getting sick in school due to the presence of WiFi. This included all the usual non specific EHS symptoms such as heart palpitations. This got carried to the point where Rodney Palmer, a spokesman for the parents, in testimony before a Canadian Parliamentary hearing, claimed that a couple of children had suffered "heart attacks" due to WiFi in their schools. He cited a recent "study" written by Dr. Magda Havas, one of the leading alarmists to back up his claim. The Havas study is so fatally flawed that a first year medical student could debunk it.


Full and ongoing assessments of the scientific literature for any possible threats to public health are the responsibility of publicly appointed health science bodies throughout the world. Virtually all these bodies are unanimous in their conclusion that EMF within current limits poses no threat to health. When the public and politicians start paying attention to charlatans with a pseudoscientific agenda while ignoring their own science experts, we are treading on dangerous ground.


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