Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, July 26, 2010

You couldn't make it up: but someone could, and did

Three years ago I wrote a post on a study which once again found no evidence whatsoever to link mobile phone signals with symptoms of ill-health, and on the utter denial with which it was greeted by true believers in the evils of electromagnetic radiation such as Mast Sanity. I voted their spokesperson Yasmin Skelt the EKN 2007 Nutter of the Year.

I revisited their site recently and was struck by a number of things. The organisation's chief spokespersons nowadays seem to be Dr Andrew Goldsworthy and Dr Magda Havas. The former is a retired botany lecturer from Imperial College who has published a number of apparently reputable papers on cell electrochemistry - and who has also, since his retirement, published a number of other articles appearing only on the internet and relating to the biological effects of electromagnetic fields. Magda Havas is professor of Enviroment and Resource Studies at Trent University in Canada. I think the latter lady may be well on the way to my 2010 Nutter of the Year award, at least on the basis of what I have read of her work tonight.

Consider this video clip for which she claims responsibility. Watch it and then we'll consider a few basics.

At 0:24 the video reports on the LA Times' publication of an article on electrosensitivity. Perhaps the big red circle drawn around the word "Electrosensitivity" is meant to divert our attention away from the accompanying text which is "Scientists haven't found a direct link between the symptoms of headaches and general complaints and being near electromagnetic fields. Some speculate that it is a mental instead of a physical disorder" (exactly as the study I reported on three years found). Instead it draws our attention to the large headline "Victims of electrosensitivity syndrome say EMFs cause symptoms". Which has to be one of the silliest headlines ever: not because the article reckons the effects are psychosomatic, but because if you ask people who consider themselves to be "victims of electrosensitivity syndrome" they are unlikely to report that they think the condition is in fact nothing of the kind.

At 2:06 a set of figures is shown on the screen which appears to show summarised experimental results. The voiceover points out that these are taken from pre-exposure questionnaire responses. So of the 25 subjects tested, 22 already believed that their hearts were being affected by electromagnetic radiation. Not only a very small sample (20 women, 5 men) but pre-selected to be believers in the hypothesis under test. In itself that doesn't invalidate the experiment but it is unusual practise to say the least.

We learn that the actual experimental protocols and results are to be published in a peer-reviewed journal this summer. So why rush out a video now? Why not wait until you have solid results? Or maybe you plan no such publication, or don't expect to be accepted for publication, or your results don't support your conclusions?

From the video we learn of only four individual results. One (A) shows no symptoms. Perhaps we are expected to be impressed by this display of scientific honesty. We're not, as there remain at least 21 results unreported (and I imagine Dr Havas did moran one run per subject - at least I hope she did). Another (B) shows an impressive correlation of applied field with heart rate, though it would be interesting to see for this patient the "pre-exposure" figure we saw for (A). What effect did the "sham" exposure (placebo) have? Why are we not shown? Subject (C) shows a similar pattern to (B) though the differences between "real" and "sham" exposure figures are much less and that pre-exposure data becomes really significant, yet we still aren't shown it. (Nor do we ever see data from after or between the experimental runs which might show whether the stress of the experimental situation was affecting the subjects's hearts.) One (D) shows a "delayed effect" which is to say, no symptoms which correlate with the applied EM field (nor this time can we tell whether the asymptomatic periods are those with "sham" exposure or no exposure of any kind). So this is another negative: yet these random fluctuations are being redefined as positive results. What on earth do the suppressed results look like?

Finally, the results: only 40% of the subjects showed symptoms which Dr Havas claimed to be directly attributable to the radiation (and we've seen how far the data have been pushed to get even that figure). 20% of subects experienced a rapid heart rate (which we are not told had any relation to the radiation so presumably did not and is irrelevant). "So do DECT phones affect the heart? The answer is YES." Even on the basis of the partially suppressed and faked figures we are allowed to see, that isn't true! The results from this "study" appear, insofar as we can tell, to support those earlier studies which found it made no significant difference to subjects' symptoms whether the power was on or off. Yet they are presented by Dr Magda Havas, B.Sc Ph.D as being a positive result.

A little Googling shows some of Dr Havas's other publications. This, for example, on how radiation from mobile phone masts may be part of a plan by "some elite group" to reduce human fertility and reduce the population. This one on "Life Energy" which was presented to the Toronto Society of Dowsers. No, really.

There is also this article on some of her research. Note that it mentions the experioment we saw in the Youtube clip, and claims that it shows that "EMF-sensitive patients experienced significant increases in their heart rates". Now that's like the headline we saw in the LA Times: how do you know they're EMF-sensitive? Well, their heart rates increase significantly whan the signal is on. More worryingly, the article refers to Dr Havas's research on a kind of diabetes unknown to the resy of the scientific community (type 3, caused by electrmagnetic pollution). The article states "..it seems reasonable to suspect that EMF pollution could be a fundamental cause of diabetic symptoms for a significant portion of the diabetic population." If this kind of rubbish causes people with symptoms of diabetes to resort to home EMF filters (isnlt that just a tinfoil hat?) instead of visiting their GP, people could die or be severly disabled unnecessarily. But it gets worse. The next two sentences are:

"This makes you wonder about the harm caused by mammograms, CT scans and other medical scanning technologies that blast the body with electromagnetic radiation, doesn't it?

Electromagnetic radiation leads to many diseases, including cancer."

So now people are being induced to believe that the mammogram which might detect a cancerous lump which would kill them is in fact going to give them breast cancer, or that when a CT scan finds a brain tumour that it was caused by the CT scan itself.

If these quacks want to make themselves rich by fleecing the gullible out of their cash for "EMF filters", good luck to them. But if they are going to try to persuade people that the symptoms of real, well-understood, bodily diseases are caused by radio waves and that they needn't go to their doctors, they're no better than the people who used to tell epileptics they were possessed by demons. And Trent University, Canada, should not be allowing its name to be used in connection with this crap.

By way of light relief before I bash my head through my screen, I relished the hyperlink in that article which reads "according to one statistic from a 2008 study" and takes the reader to an article in GQ's "Cars and Gear" section. Well, it's where all the best research is published nowadays.

Finally, I note from Dr Havas's page at Trent University's website that the courses she teaches include Technical Writing and Communicating Science, and that these courses 'help "scientists" communicate science to the public and this is particularly important when it comes to health and/or environmental related issues. Although these courses don't deal with health issues directly they do support the successful and effective communication of technical scientific information that is essential to communicating information about health issues.' (The inverted commas round "scientists" are in the original.)


At 26 September, 2012 15:44, Blogger adult onset atheist said...

Though "dirty" power is a measurable problem in power lines, and EMF has been classified as a suspect carcinogen, the studies that should be able to reproduce such stunning results as those shown on the video remain forthcoming. One analysis of these Havas experiments suggested that there was an external clue ( a poorly obscured power LED) that induced panic in people who thought they were EHS. As far as the filters...some have been shown to actually increase the "dirtiness" of a power signal.

At 26 September, 2012 15:45, Blogger adult onset atheist said...

I should have provided a link to at least one study that showed the filters increasing the noise in a power signal. Here is one. Sorry for the double comment. http://www.emfandhealth.com/Evaluation%20of%20Stetzer%20Filters.pdf

At 08 April, 2013 00:03, Blogger Ivriniel said...

I was a student in the Environmental and Resource Science department at Trent in the 90's. Except for when she taught part of Environmental Science 100, I never really had her as a Prof, but the widely held opinion among students in the department was that she got her position by riding the coat tails of her husband, Dr. Tom Hutchinson. Dr. Hutchinson was far more respected.

At 08 April, 2013 00:03, Blogger Ivriniel said...

Oops, "her" being Magda Havas.

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