April 12, 2013

Haven offers escape from electromagnetic radiation

By Joseph Stromberg / Slate

(Continued from page 3)

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Nicols Fox is among the few dozen people who have moved to the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone in Green Bank, W.Va., to avoid cellphone signals and other electromagnetic radiation.

Courtesy of Christine Fitzpatrick

But "faking it" isn't the right way to discuss EHS – both because it alienates sufferers by making them defensive and because, more importantly, that doesn't seem to be the case. According to research, these people's symptoms may be real. But – and this is the important part – radiation isn't to blame. A 2010 meta-analysis of 46 studies concluded that "repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions," while the World Health Organization simply says that "well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure."

The primary way of testing is a provocation study, in which a purported EHS-sufferer is exposed to either an electromagnetic field or a sham field and asked to identify which is which. James Rubin, a psychologist at King's College London who studies psychogenic illnesses, has analyzed the literature on provocation studies and conducted some at his own lab. His most recent meta-analysis — which covered 1,175 participants in 46 studies – found no rigorous, replicable experiment in which radio frequencies were identified at rates greater than chance. "It is definitely the case that some people experience symptoms that they attribute to electromagnetic frequencies," he told me. "But is it really these frequencies causing the symptoms? At the moment, we can say that there simply isn't any robust evidence to support that."

This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture.

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