Badscience takes on the Independent

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks the Independent is a joke when it comes to science reporting. The latest idiocy is the idea of “electrosmog”, which I think results from having watched The Ring too many times (just that first scene with the two girls talking about radio signals). It results in a condition known as “electrosensitivity”, which I think is a synonym for “nuts” or “wants attention” or “you have a dumb doctor”.

If you want your eyes to fall out, you can read the Independent article yourself.

The problem, and the real sad part of this is that we are watching the genesis of a new fake disease. All you need to do to create a fake disease is come up with a semi-plausible environmental toxin or infectious disease, describe a bunch of symptoms that hypochondriacs have all the time (as well as several other varieties of crazy that shall remain nameless), and publish it in a newspaper. Within days, a new disease will be created with all sorts of people with non-specific complaints showing up in doctor’s offices complaining of diffuse pain, tiredness, itchiness, insomnia…

Real doctors usually then sadly apply one or more “dustbin diagnoses” just to get rid of these patients, a sad practice that just results in more confusion and crazy for the patient. They then form internet forums, start writing letters, and before you know it Congress will be talking about investigating the scientific conspiracy to ignore the fake disease. I think I sense a “How to create a fake disease HOWTO” coming on.

I think I need to go lay down. My wifi is making me tired.


  1. #1 Dunc
    May 31, 2007

    Within days, a new disease will be created with all sorts of people with non-specific complaints showing up in doctor’s offices complaining of diffuse pain, tiredness, itchiness, insomnia…

    Yep, all the tell-tale symptoms of that most pernicous affliction: life. Fortunately, there is a cure… 😉

    Still, at least it provides the opportunity for humour – witness WiFi Routers: Silent, blinking death?

  2. #2 Ed Yong
    May 31, 2007

    PLOS Medicine had a special issue on disease-mongering with an accompanying conference that sounds like it would have been a blast to attend.

  3. #3 Ted
    May 31, 2007

    You might as well add Timesonline to the list, they are pretty busy alerting the public on the electrosmog front. (You may not care for that term, but they probably don’t care for hegemony. Oh well, everybody has some pet word they don’t like.)

    Cancer clusters at phone masts

    Last year timesonline had a much more “complete” article on electrosmog, which I think was the impetus for the Panaroma show.

    For a relatively definitive collection of links focusing on electrosmog alerts, check out the PAT site. Then scroll downwards for the treasure trove.

    Oh, the Brits are OK in my book, despite supporting the war. :-)

  4. #4 Blake Stacey
    May 31, 2007

    Funnily enough, it was the Independent on Sunday‘s fear-mongering about “electronic smog” which provoked me to write down my taxonomy of bad science journalism back in April.

    Oh, and your link to Ben Goldacre’s site is broken — it should end in 422, not 421.

  5. #5 AdamG
    June 1, 2007

    Wow, eyes falling out is right! I can’t even begin to comprehend how something like that could be published in something that’s supposed to be an actual newspaper.
    One step closer to the lunatics running the asylum…

  6. #6 MG
    June 1, 2007

    I dunno, I went ahead and bought a couple Q-Link pendants they were advertising down there. Can’t be too safe right? Only L70 each, I hope that is not a lot, I’m kinda broke after wrapping my entire house in aluminum foil.

  7. #7 Owen Boswarva
    June 3, 2007

    I have recently started a website ( about wireless networks and whether they present risks to human health. I have not yet formed a settled opinion myself, and with vested interests on both sides of the debate I think we should all maintain a degree of scepticism.

    However, it does seem that an increasing number of people are attributing symptoms (rightly or wrongly) to wi-fi and other EMF sources. Stephenson’s article may be weak on the scientific fundamentals, but that in itself underlines the need for more rigorous research and education in this area.

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