Respectful Insolence

No matter how you slice it, I’ve been at this blogging thing a long time. it’s been over seven years now. It’s been even longer than that, though, because before that cold gray Saturday afternoon in September when I started farting around with Blogger and ended giving birth to the first iteration of Respectful Insolence, I had been sparring with quacks, cranks, and various other promoters of pseudoscience for at least five years before. Even after all that time, however, it’s humbling and amazing to contemplate that I haven’t seen it all, no matter how much at times I might feel that I have. Every so often, I hear a pseudoscientific claim that I’ve never heard before. That’s why, when I come across one, it’s like the proverbial catnip to a cat.

So it was when I happened to be perusing one of the many wretched hives of scum and quackery on the Internet, NaturalNews.com. True, it’s not by that uber-crank and conspiracy theorist who runs that particular wretched hive, Mike Adams. Rather, it’s by someone named Jonathan Benson, who is billed as a staff writer. That means that it isn’t as crazy in tone as the typical Mike Adams screed, but what it makes up for in the sheer looniness that is Mike Adams, it makes up for in pure antivaccine pseudoscience combined with environmental woo, when declares boldly, History shows polio caused by pesticide exposure, then was eradicated by decline in DDT use.

When it comes to that most basic logical fallacy of all, confusing correlation with causation, otherwise known as post hoc ergo propter hoc.

It starts out very badly and goes downhill from there:

One of the most common arguments people often use to defend vaccinations alleges that vaccines are responsible for eradicating epidemic diseases of the past such as polio and smallpox. But a recent investigative review put together by Jeffry John Aufderheide over at VacTruth.com explains not only why this claim is untrue, but also why pesticides may have been responsible for spurring these disease outbreaks in the first place.

As part of a trivia series on polio, Aufderheide cites several studies showing that the widespread use of chemical pesticides such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, and heptachlor following World War II, actual exacerbated viral disease outbreaks across the United States.

Oh, goody. Jeffry John Aufderheide. We’ve met him before. He writes for antivaccine sites as diverse as SANEVax and VacTruth.org. In this case, Benson cites a post by Aufderheide on VacTruth.org that lays down the misinformation right and left about polio entitled 7 Trivia Facts About Polio, except that it should be called “7 Trivial ‘Facts’ about Polio.” So what, exactly, is Benson talking about? He’s citing Aufderheide’s “analysis” comparing pesticide production to polio in which he “borrows” a graph from another crank website that claims that DDT somehow made the polio virus more virulent, leading to more cases of infantile paralysis. Since a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words, I thought I’d borrow the graph as well:

Hmmm. Wait a minute. Remember how I said that I hadn’t heard about this one before. I was mistaken. Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted, that not-so-dynamic journalistic duo from the anti-vaccine rank blog Age of Autism. In fact, I’ve more than heard of it. I blogged about it less than a year ago! Twice! The same elements are all there in the NaturalNews.com and VacTruth.org posts. In particular, notice how the graph lumps together DDT with other types of pesticides, even though they are a very different bunch of chemicals. The reason they do this is pretty obvious. If they don’t, there isn’t even correlation anymore, and without correlation they can’t even imply causation. The reason this is necessary is because some of the worst epidemics of polio occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, when the use of other forms of pesticides was on the wane. So, in order to preserve the appearance of a correlation, antivaccinationists pivot seamlessly to DDT. It’s exactly what Blaxill and Olmsted did, and it’s exactly what Aufderheide did in a slightly different manner. In fact, Aufderheide more or less admits this when he cites this quote from one of his references:

…Before 1940, relatively small amounts of such chemicals as nicotine, rotenone, pyrethrum, and the aresenicals (sic) were used for insect control. During and following World War II a rapid changeover to DDT, heptachlor, dieldrin, TEPP, malathion, and related compounds occurred.”

Except that he’s wrong. Lots of lead arsenate compounds were used before 1940. How do we know this? Because Blaxill and Olmsted tell us so because they were trying to pin outbreaks of infantile paralysis on such compounds, speculating without good evidence that somehow exposure to such pesticides made a polio infection that wouldn’t be that big a deal into full-blown infantile paralysis. It was utter nonsense when Blaxill and Olmsted argued it, and it’s utter nonsense when Aufderheide argues it, too, just with a different spin. It is rather amusing, though, how antivaccinationists can’t seem to settle on one story to try to promote the lie that vaccines didn’t cause the decline in polio incidence.

It’s also amusing that the fall in incidence of polio actually precedes the decline in the production of DDT.

So I remain disappointed. It was merely my faulty memory that led me to believe that I had found a new treasure trove of antivaccine woo to analyze. It turns out that I’ve seen this one before—and relatively recently, too. On the other hand, I think I’ve found the source of most of Blaxill and Olmsted’s pseudoscience regarding polio, pesticides, and the polio vaccine. It’s this website, which is a veritable cornucopia of polio pseudoscience that might provide me with future blogging material.

But all is not lost. Even though the first bit was a bust, at least as far as being a form of antivaccine pseudoscience that I haven’t seen before, fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), I found another one, and this one I’m sure I haven’t seen before. It’s by—surprise, surprise!—someone we’ve also met before. Remember Heidi Stevenson? When last we met her, she was lecturing proponents and practitioners of science-based medicine about evidence, trumpeting anecdotal evidence as the best evidence, and likening homeopathy to anesthesia because we don’t know exactly how every anesthetic works. We first encountered her when she made a neuron-apoptosingly idiotic attack on Steve Barrett. This time around, she’s merrily confusing correlation with causation in an even bigger way that Jeff Aufderheide did in a post entitled WiFi and EM Radiation—The Rest of the Autism Story.

That’s right. EMF and wifi cause autism! Here we go again:

It has been well documented, though distorted by mainstream media, that there is a clear link between vaccinations and autism(1), along with other neurological disorders. There is, though, another factor that has recently been clearly linked to autism: wireless technology.

Of course, it’s actually been well-documented, though distorted to no end by antivaccine loons like Stevenson, that there is no link between vaccinations and autism. No doubt her explanation of why she thinks wifi causes autism will be amusing. Now, I know what you’re thinking right here. You’re thinking: Wifi/cell phones/etc. causes autism? Big deal? Where’s the sheer nuttiness in that? Sure, there’s no biologically plausible mechanism, and sure there’s no evidence. But it’s boring. Cranks of all stripes like to blame cell phones, wifi, and “electronic smog” for all manner of conditions and diseases despite the utter lack of evidence that they can or do cause these conditions and diseases.

Patience, my readers. It’s the explanation that’s hilarious. It begins with a man named George Louis Carlo, an epidemiologist who’s, as I sometimes say, “gone rogue” and become a “brave maverick doctor.” Except that he’s not a doctor, at least not a physician. He’s an epidemiologist who’s basically betrayed the fundamental principles of his profession, twisting them to find correlation where there is none and abusing basic physics in the process. Here’s his explanation, which Stevenson laps right up:

Carlo developed a theory that low frequency cell phone signals are harmful to cell function. This results in cells protecting themselves by stopping movement of nutrients and waste products through the cellular membrane. Inability to move wastes outside cells results in a buildup of toxins. This led him to suspect a connection with the enormous increase in autism. His hypothesis suggests that children with autism are less able to process heavy metals, so they remain in their bodies—primarily the brain—and cause neurological damage, including autism.

That’s right. Carol thinks that the magic cell phone signals, with energy too weak to do anything more than transfer thermal energy into tissue, and only a tiny amount of thermal energy at that, can somehow affect children’s brains such that the neurons can’t get rid of toxic heavy metals, such as mercury. According to Carlo apparently, that’s why chelation “doesn’t work” for some children. Of course, because autism is not caused by mercury poisoning, chelation doesn’t actually “work” for any child with autism, but it is an article of faith among the mercury militia wing of the antivaccine movement that mercury from the thimerosal preservative that used to be in vaccines until 2001 is a major cause of the “autism epidemic.” Carlo provides an excuse, an “out” if you will, to parents doing chelation therapy for whom it isn’t working (i.e., all of them).

So what we have here is a pseudoscientific hypothesis with no significant evidence to support it that is also biologically incredibly implausible. No wonder Stevenson would be so enamored of it. She is, after all, a homeopath, and homeopathy is the mother of all ridiculously implausible medical modalities. But what about Carlo? I had never heard of him before. Fortunately, in this case, Google is my friend. I learned from Sourcewatch that Carlo actually worked for the cell phone industry until around 2003, when a dispute over the millions of dollars he was granted to use to study possible cell phone health dangers led to a “Damascian conversion, and overnight he became an enemy of the cellphone industry.” Now, that in and of itself is no reason to discount him. You never know; he might be on to something, as unlikely as that is. However, the lack of evidence and biological plausibility supporting his ideas are a plenty good reason to discount him. It’s also useful to note that Carlo seems to be heavily into a lot of woo, as described on this webpage about him. (I’m saving it because it’s on a MobileMe account, and MobileMe is going away on June 30). Perhaps the most revealing passage is this account of a talk by Carlo:

Unfortunately, Dr. Carlo didn’t have any handouts, and I can’t find his theory his web page, or anywhere in fact. But he expressed it very clearly, and when he was questioned about it he reaffirmed it very specifically; so I think that the following is a very faithful rendition:

  • Radio waves that carry information do not occur naturally.
  • Therefore life has evolved in the complete absence of those waves.
  • Therefore no organism has ever developed defensive mechanisms against those waves.
  • Therefore those waves are toxic and…
  • There can be no safe dose of those waves.

Whenever I hear someone claim that their is no “safe dose” of anything, it sets my skeptical antennae a’twichin’. He also has no evidence that radio waves carrying information are any different in terms of their biological effects than regular old radio waves of the type that have existed since the universe began. Basically, it’s the idea that, because it’s not “natural” it must be bad for you; i.e., the naturalistic fallacy.

But, if we are to believe Stevenson, there’s actual research! It’s crappy research, of course, but it’s apparently research nonetheless:

So, they decided to test Carlo’s hypothesis. They chose a 10-year-old boy with severe autism whose parents had tried every therapy they could find, including chelation, but to no benefit.

First, they removed toxins from the boy’s home, including cell phones, pollutants of all kinds, all wireless equipment, and most electrical equipment. All EM Radiation radiation devices were removed from Mariea’s clinic, or their radiation was shielded. No wireless devices were allowed to enter.

Thus, most of the boy’s time was spent without EM Radiation radiation. Hair and stool analyses were done to track whether he was able to excrete heavy metals, and gradually, they did. Most thrilling, though, is that this boy, who had been able to say nothing more than “Yes” or “No” started to talk. At one point, he told his parents, “The noise has gone from my head.”

Mariea and Carlo then set up a trial with 20 children with autism. This one was less strict, involving little more than spending at least four hours, two-to-three times a week, in theEM Radiation-free clinic. It did not require such limitations elsewhere and no chelation was done. In three months, analyses showed that heavy metals were beginning to be excreted by the children. This is reported in the Journal of the Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine in the November 2007 issue.

The study being discussed appears to be this one, at least as far as I can tell. Also, as far as I can tell, the Journal of the Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine is not a journal indexed on PubMed and appears to publish mainly commentaries and low quality studies. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the study, and neither does my university. Certainly, this study is low quality as well. It’s a single-arm, non-randomized, non-blinded study. The index patient underwent a different regimen from the rest of the subjects, and, worse, as far as I can tell from the abstract (“Data were recorded from clinical records and arrayed according to the intervention regimen followed by each subject.”), the subjects were not studied prospectively, but retrospectively. In other words, the subjects were already undergoing some sort of EMF-shielding woo, and Carlo appears to have glommed on to them. In other words, this study’s a mess, and we can’t really conclude anything from it.

Not that that stops Stevenson from urging parents not to be “railroaded” into vaccinating their children and to give this advice:

Homeopathic treatment by a professional can be effective in helping a child reach his or her full potential. Nonetheless, my first advice, as a professional homeopath, would be to do everything possible to eliminate WiFi and EM Radiation from your child’s environment. If you live close to overhead wirelines or cell phone masts, then move. It may be expensive, but consider the expense to your child’s entire life or the costs of raising such a child, let alone the emotional turmoil you’d be facing.

Besides homeopathy and EMF-shielding, which, although useless, are more or less harmless, Stevens also recommends chelation therapy, which is anything but harmless. She even made me chuckle by solemnly lecturing us that “a true understanding of science means understanding that nothing is ever fully proven” and uses this to proclaim that if we wait until there is—oh, you know—actual evidence, it’ll be too late to save our children from the depredations of big pharma.

Won’t you think of the children?

So there you have it. According to Carlo and Stevenson, not only are those evil toxins and heavy metals from vaccines causing autism, but cell phone radiation, wifi, and radio waves are making matters worse by preventing children from excreting all those “toxins.” Never mind that there’s no biological mechanism that’s the least bit plausible to explain how radio waves could do this and that there’s no good evidence that vaccines cause autism.

Same as it ever was. Oh well. I guess I’ve learned something new. Whether that something new was worth learning or not I highly doubt. At least I’ve added another bit of antivaccine woo to my repository and won’t be surprised by it when I see it again. And I’m sure I will see it again.

Comments

  1. #1 Walking Plaster Dispenser
    June 26, 2012

    Presumably, then, they keep their kids in total darkness, with everything around them very cold. Because, you know, if those radio and microwaves are so dangerous, imagine the harm the more energetic visible and IR radiation will cause…

  2. #2 sophia8
    Deep in the forest....
    June 26, 2012

    At one point, he told his parents, “The noise has gone from my head.”
    Could be that he’s sensitive to the noise given off by some electrical equipment, especially florescent lighting – I know I am. Luckily, it hardly ever gets annoying for me – and when it does, I can switch it off – but given the sensitivity of autistic children, this might be something for their parents to look at.
    (Needless to say, I’m NOT saying that electrical equipment has anything to do with autism, just that the sounds may add to the sensory overload of autistics.)

  3. #3 StrangerInAStrangeLand
    June 26, 2012

    If you are interested in the details and have some life-time to waste, the pdf of the Mariea & Carlo paper is freely available online, just google for the title (which you can find in Orac´s link to the journal) and you can download it from one of the many crank websites that oppose “electro-smog”, wifi and mobile phone masts. Of course, a “scientific” “study” that “proves” (sometimes you can´t use enough ” “) the danger of wifi has to be made available to the world by those who know the Truth (TM) and are not in the pocket of BigWifi!

  4. #4 e
    June 26, 2012

    Pop culture reference to this blog: http://www.gocomics.com/brevity/2012/06/26

  5. #5 Ren
    Somewhere in the galactic neighborhood of me
    June 26, 2012

    So I guess no one has shown these folks the cosmic background radiation, huh? I wonder how they would explain the “snow” you see between television channels? Because we’ve been bombarded by those radio (and other) waves for, what, at least 6,000 years. (See what I did there?)

  6. #6 machintelligence
    June 26, 2012

    What? No recommendation for tin foil hats?

  7. #7 johnV
    June 26, 2012

    To be honest, if some of these people want to give up computers/internet/wifi, then I am totally in favor of it.

  8. #8 Heliantus
    June 26, 2012

    * looks at the graph *

    Uh-hum, interesting
    No, wait a minute. It’s not matching.
    Actually, our esteemed host already pointed this out

    It’s also amusing that the fall in incidence of polio actually precedes the decline in the production of DDT.

    Not just that. On the left side, around year 1945, there is a rise in the polio line which also precede a rise of the pesticide line.
    Apparently, pesticide-induced polio is time-traveling, happening before the triggering factor.

    Radio waves that carry information do not occur naturally.

    Not a physicist, so can someone explain to me the big difference between a “normal” radio wave and one which carries information? And more importantly, how it could be of relevance biologically?

    Therefore life has evolved in the complete absence of those waves.

    Actually, I’m not so sure about this. Neutron stars and quasars are powerful radio emitters.
    If memory serves, for a while quasars were even thought to be alien communication attempts. It took some time to realize that the information inside quasars’ radio waves was just random noise.

  9. #9 Calli Arcale
    June 26, 2012

    The thing that always baffles me about the “nothing is ever proven” gambit is that it is invariably being used by a person wanting you to unquestioningly believe whatever it is they are telling you. It usually goes along with “science can’t prove what causes autism therefore you should believe me that it’s vaccines.”

    Back to Dr Carlo:
    Radio waves that carry information do not occur naturally.

    I presume, therefore, he has never heard of a pulsar, or, for that matter, Jupiter. Both emit signals so regular that there was widespread speculation they could be alien civilizations. Alas, no, the signals are of natural origin. I suspect Carlo has a rather limited and anthropocentric definition of “information” — as in, it can’t be information unless it means something to a layperson. (Though one could fairly argue that the signal from, say, Sgr A* contains vastly more valuable information than a transmission of The Jersey Shore.) There is already woo which exploits this sort of narrow definition, offering to replace the “negative” information with “positive” information — encoding happy thoughts, basically, into a radio signal. This appears to be right up his alley. But there is no reason to think that a download off of BitTorrent over WiFi is any different, biologically, to the general noise of the Universe (which you can hear anytime you tune your radio to an unoccupied frequency — though those are getting harder to find).

    Therefore life has evolved in the complete absence of those waves.

    Presuming an anthropocentric concept of “information”, this is trivially true. Life has also evolved in the complete absence of the English language. So what? Is sound more dangerous when it is English than when it is frogs croaking or the wind blowing to any organism not capable of understanding the content of the language? Life evolved in the presence of lots of radio waves, and you can absolutely treat them as informational. Here’s another thing he’s not aware of: you can take the signal from a natural radio source, such as the Sun, and convert it directly to sound, and this totally works. (Hell, it’s what you’re doing when you tune your radio to static. You’re hearing the Sun, Jupiter, the galactic center, the cosmic microwave background….all sorts of things, roaring in the radio.) That it doesn’t sound like anything to Carlo doesn’t mean it is nothing.

    Therefore no organism has ever developed defensive mechanisms against those waves.

    Many organisms lack defensive mechanisms to a great many things that have existed since time began; this is because for the most part, they don’t need them.

    Therefore those waves are toxic and…

    And as kooky as it’s been so far, with too many assumptions, here it goes totally off the rails. This does not follow at all. We also lack defensive mechanisms to Muzak, but most people would agree Musak is merely bland and annoying, not actually toxic.

    There can be no safe dose of those waves.

    So I guess we’re all dead then, eh?

  10. #10 Roger Kulp
    June 26, 2012


    machintelligence
    9:18 am
    What? No recommendation for tin foil hats?

    No good.You need copper.

    Make sure it has good resistance to wet sex.

  11. #11 palindrom
    June 26, 2012

    Heliantus @923 — You’re thinking of pulsars, not quasars. Pulsars are rotating, magnetized neutron stars. In the popular imagination, neutron stars are a distant second fiddle to black holes, but this is a shame since they’re amazing objects — over 1 solar mass in a 20 km sphere, consisting largely of matter above the density of the atomic nucleus; 10 billion times the earth’s gravity, a trillion times the earth’s magnetic field, with rotation periods down into the millisecond range in some cases.

    Quasars are evidently powered by enormous black holes in the nuclei of galaxies; they’re on a vastly larger scale than neutron stars. Their luminosity comes from the gravitational energy released by matter spiralling toward the hole.

    What’s even more amazing, perhaps, is that there is abundant and very clear observational evidence to support both these conclusions.

    Oh, look at the time! Don’t forget, we have a quiz coming up on Friday, and be sure you’ve left your homework on the desk. Class dismissed!

  12. #12 Heliantus
    June 26, 2012

    @ Calli Arcale

    I presume, therefore, he has never heard of a pulsar, or, for that matter, Jupiter.

    Pulsars. Of course.
    I was thinking of pulsars, but I got confused and wrote quasars. To my defense, quasars do emit radio-waves, but not as regularly as pulsars.
    You are a better astronomer than me :-)

    Jupiter, too? Now that’s cool, I didn’t know this.
    Eh, we have a huge radio beacon in our own solar system!

  13. #13 palindrom
    June 26, 2012

    Roger Kulp @936 — This guy (who I’ve pointed out from time to time) has other ideas about helmet materials.

    On the one hand, it’s funny, but can you imagine how troubling it would be to actually have this delusion?

  14. #14 Heliantus
    June 26, 2012

    @ Palindrom

    I know, I know, I got confused, stop posting about…

    * keep reading *

    What I am saying? No, please keep posting about pulsars and other cool astronomy stuff. I love this.

    I won’t say it’s fun to be shown to be wrong, but… At the end of the day, I prefer to be corrected than to stay ignorant.
    Eh, I’m learning amazing facts. It’s worth the price of admission.

    * Note to self: refresh before posting. Also, p.u.l.s.a.r. *

  15. #15 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
    June 26, 2012

    So radio waves that carry information are much more harmful than the random radio waves from the universe at large? How fortunate that cellphones’ spread-spectrum and packet-switching technology make their signals absolutely indistinguishable from random noise. So…no problem then. Thank you, Hedy Lamarr!

  16. #16 Michael
    June 26, 2012

    I agree with JohnV, if it’ll stop them from using the internet I’m all in favour of them believing it.

  17. #17 Roger Kulp
    June 26, 2012

    I wondered where they got the EM Radiation/heavy metals connection.This “blog”,really an ad for a quack device from Russia,explains it,sort of.

    Naturalnews.com where else?Was pushing Carlo,and the EM Radiation/mercury connection to autism as long ago as 2008.

  18. #18 Heliantus
    June 26, 2012

    Sort of back on topic:

    Currently, the google add on top of the page is for “EMF meters and detectors” (electromagnetic fields, I guess? Not sure if thee device are legit or plain woo)
    Funny. On the MMS threads, we got MMS ads. On this thread about EM, we got EMF detectors ads. Big Brother is watching and all that.

    Speaking for myself, I don’t care much. At least here, the viewers have some chance to get facts challenging the premises behind the woo ads.

  19. #19 Andreas Johansson
    June 26, 2012

    Not a physicist, so can someone explain to me the big difference between a “normal” radio wave and one which carries information? And more importantly, how it could be of relevance biologically?

    “Information” has different meanings in different contexts, so your question has no single right answer.

    That said, in woo-y contexts, it’s usually safe to assume that one of the following applies:

    i) The appropriate meaning is that which renders the claim trivially true. So, in this case, something like “signals sent for the deliberate purpose of human communication”. Obviously, this has no biological significance, just how getting hit by a rock to the head is equally harmful whether it dropped accidentally on you or I threw it to let you know you’re annoying.

    ii) The writer likes to use big latinate words he or she doesn’t understand.

  20. #20 TBruce
    June 26, 2012

    Radio waves carrying information may be toxic? Not so farfetched. Rush Limbaugh, for example.

  21. #21 Michael
    June 26, 2012

    That helmet guy has got Autism completely figured out! (It’s there, you have to dig a little but it’s totally worth it.) Thank you to Palindrom for the finest link I’ve seen this year.

  22. #22 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    in the ionosphere
    June 26, 2012

    If you had listened to certain radio stations in the early 70s you’d understand the relationship between radio and heavy metal.

  23. #23 Orac
    June 26, 2012

    Not to mention acid, too, for those who are into acid-base alkalinization woo.

  24. #24 Bronze Dog
    June 26, 2012

    Does this mean that the Mona Lisa is more toxic than a modern art painting made by a blindfolded man randomly splashing chemically identical paint on canvases?

  25. #25 Roger Kulp
    June 26, 2012

    Michael@10:24 am

    OMG,you’re right! There is a parent testimonial that could have come right off an MMS page.

  26. #26 ArtK
    Surfing a carrier wave
    June 26, 2012

    @ Heliantus (and others)

    Not a physicist, so can someone explain to me the big difference between a “normal” radio wave and one which carries information? And more importantly, how it could be of relevance biologically?

    You don’t need a physicist. You need Judith from this thread. Intent has energy, you see, so it’s the intent behind those radio waves that make them so devastating.

  27. #27 Denice Walter
    June 26, 2012

    Radio waves can be damaging to your health if you listen to Natural News Radio or the Progressive Radio network
    – segue–
    in other news:
    the new documentary- The War on Health: The FDA’s Cult of Tyranny ( that our esteemed host missed recently) can be accessed for FREE via the Progressive Radio Network or Gary Null.com where we are instructed to “help spread the word”: thus in an act that incites unabashed wank enablement, the viewer must “pay” by tweeting or facebooking said documentary. Which I will not be watching. I’d rather eat ground glass. Which I won’t do.

  28. #28 DLC
    Stuck in a cargo hold on the Liberator
    June 26, 2012

    This bizzarro Autism-EMF study (I use the term loosely) came up a year or so ago. I laughed at it then, and repeat that now.
    It’s too silly to even contemplate taking seriously. There should be a Tesla Zombie to eat the brains of any who put forth such silliness.

  29. #29 adelady
    city of wine and roses
    June 26, 2012

    I’ve just had a horrible vision of the spreadsheet / database set up Orac would need to really be on top of what, where, who and when is involved in all these reports.

    Tinfoil hat (with copper reinforcement) wouldn’t be enough. You’d need foil safety glasses to protect your eyes.

  30. #30 Denice Walter
    June 26, 2012

    Carlo, Stephenson and the others Orac mentions above have a simple formula for determining whether a substance or situation is harmful:
    if it has been invented or utilised more frequnytly since about… oh, say… 1900..it will harm you. Bacteria and viruses are therefore alright.
    Prior to 1900, we all lived in a natural paradise.

  31. #31 jre
    http://www.someareboojums.org/blog
    June 26, 2012

    You’ll be interested (but not surprised) to learn that Joe Mercola believes that EMF in the form of “dirty electricity” is responsible for autism. Along with the vaccines, of course. He and a troop of like-minded humanitarians will be proud to check your house to make sure your loved ones are not exposed to the deadly waves. For a fee.

    As to the DDT-polio thing, I first learned of it over four years ago, and it was just as goofy then: http://www.someareboojums.org/blog/?p=62#comment-88983

  32. #32 MikeMa
    June 26, 2012

    The nice thing about pushing the really good tinfoil/copper headgear is that for them to be most effective, they have to be grounded. This has a couple of advantages.

    It should tether the loon closely to his ground point for maximum effectiveness..

    It will result in an occasional mis-wiring of that ground plug connecting a hot lead to the hat rather than earth ground. Caveat Excors.

  33. #33 Mary
    June 26, 2012

    Thanks to “e”. That comic made me laugh harder today that I have laughed all week.

  34. #34 Dangerous Bacon
    under the EMF tower
    June 26, 2012

    How can VacTruth have failed to notice that polio incidence began rising right after Germany was defeated in WWII?

    Obviously, it was Nazi ideology (not to mention the interesting chemicals employed in seeking the Final Solution) that kept polio at bay until the postwar years. After that, there was a temporary polio crisis until television became well-established (Milton Berle is the real hero of the defeat of polio, not Jonas Salk).

    Why can’t these sheeple connect the dots?

  35. #35 Mike
    June 26, 2012

    This just sounds like an extension of those “EMF Sensitive” people who, you know, aren’t actually sensitive to EMF. Only here, instead of a cranky old guy complaining that the local Public WiFI system is making his gout worse, someone’s claiming that it somehow makes Autistic children more autistic. Or something.

    Being sensitive to fluorescent tube flicker or transformer hum, I can understand. Those are actually real effects. But this is just more Woo.

    Orac, how do you stay sane?

  36. #36 Beamup
    June 26, 2012

    Radio waves that carry information do not occur naturally.

    I’m sure all the radio astronomers in the world will be completely devastated to learn that the information they’ve been extracting from natural radio waves for all these decades in fact doesn’t exist. What a bummer!

  37. #37 Denice Walter
    June 26, 2012

    @ Mike:

    While i cannot answer for our highly esteemed and ( nearly) omniscient host-*l’ordinateur sans pareil*-
    *I* personally stay sane by thanking my lucky stars ( figuratively, without a high powered telescope) that I was fortunate enough to have scepticism ingrained in my personality and access to meaningful education.

  38. #38 Karl Withakay
    Blog.CordialDeconstruction.com
    June 26, 2012

    Notes from reading part of the full paper:

    “Two general categories of subjects were defined [...] These determinations [...] were based on a priori laboratory analyses, acupuncture meridian tests, [...]”

    Acupuncture meridian tests? Cranks magnetism reigns supreme.

    At no point does the paper actually state what their criteria is for what constitutes “EMR-free”. They never state what frequency ranges or power levels they are concerned with. The closest they come is to sate

    “EMR detection devices including gaussmeters and radio frequency radiation detection equipment to ensure that the clinic was indeed EMR-free.”

    which really tells us nothing.

    No mention is made in the paper of any measures to shield against outside EMR in the EMR-free environment, but the following statement caught my eye:

    “Applications of body worn sympathetic resonance technology, energy resonance technology and molecular resonance effect technology were introduced as appropriate.”

    WTF? No further explanation for this line is provided. Without clarification, this is meaningless word salad.

    “Further EMR protection was recommended to each subject’s parents so that the home environment was also without EMR interference.”

    …but there is no indication if the recommendations were followed to any extent.

    I didn’t bother reading any further than the design section as it renders the rest of the paper useless.

  39. #39 Science Mom
    http://justthevax.blogspot.com/
    June 26, 2012

    Totally off topic (my apologies to Orac) but this is important. For those of you in the UK, please consider participating in this: http://justthevax.blogspot.com/2012/06/support-libel-reform.html

  40. #40 Todd W.
    http://harpocratesspeaks.com
    June 26, 2012

    @ArtK

    You don’t need a physicist. You need Judith from this thread. Intent has energy, you see, so it’s the intent behind those radio waves that make them so devastating.

    I wonder if they’d think that a gamma ray burst aimed at Earth would be just fine and dandy. After all, it’s all natural and devoid of any negative intent.

  41. #41 Interrobang
    June 26, 2012

    You’d need foil safety glasses to protect your eyes.

    So is that what these guys were actually doing…good to know.

  42. #42 TTT
    June 26, 2012

    Sophia8 raised a very fair point: many electronic devices do make noise, whether the faint buzz of a light or the even fainter whining and clicking of a DVR box. If you’re very sound-sensitive, and many with autism spectrum disorders are, it could be a pervasive and inescapable annoyance.

  43. #43 Nashira
    Bored on lunch land
    June 26, 2012

    Oh lordy, EMF bullcrap. I knew someone who swore she had seizures in the presence of strong EMF fields… and told me this over the Internet, via a computer. She was nice, but believed very strongly that she and her daughters all had MCS and were highly sensitive to certain forms of radiation. Met her through a gimpy women’s support group full of the credulous. Nobody caught the cognitive dissonance of discussing avoiding EMF while using their laptops w/ wifi.

    And yes, the buzzes and screeches of some electronics and fluorescent lights can be highly distracting to painful if you’re very very sound sensitive. My husband’s able to tell you which fluorescent lights are about to blow without trying. We both carry ear plugs and iPods in case we’re in a place with many of those barely audible sounds, and we’re looking forward to losing the very upper register of our hearing as we age… it has to happen soon, right? Please?

  44. #44 Nashira
    June 26, 2012

    …oh my. Let’s just pretend I did not say “EMF fields”, okay.

  45. #45 MikeMa
    June 26, 2012

    Nashira,
    I lost my high frequencies around 40ish.

    There was a Wanamakers store in center city Philly whose main doors caused me to cover my ears as a kid. Actually painful. Heard it for at least 20 years. Either they finally oiled the revolving doors or I lost those frequencies about then.

  46. #46 JGC
    June 26, 2012

    The WHO no longer considers polio to be endemic in India the world’s largest producer and consumer of DDT: it hasn’t had a recorded case of polio for over a year. But don’t worry; I’m sure the virus will wake up and realize “Hey! With all this DDT around we better get busy…”

  47. #47 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    June 26, 2012

    JGC took the words right out of my mouth there…

    Just how deep down in the ‘stupid’ barrel do these people have to dive?

  48. #48 lilady
    June 26, 2012

    @ Science Mom: I wish I did live in the U.K. to be able to assist with the petition.

    After I opened your link, I saw the posts about Alison McNeil’s “Dear Asshat” letter. One in particular, from a mother who claims vaccine injury to her daughter *intrigued* me. I posted back…you’re going to like it.

  49. #49 jre
    June 26, 2012

    When I was researching the Ruckelshaus decision on DDT, I plotted US production, domestic use and exports of the chemical from 1950 to 1975:
    http://www.someareboojums.org/blog/wp-content/images/ddt/ddt_production_01.png

    Compare that with the prevalence of polio in the US from 1950 to 2009:
    http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/images/polio_fig_02.jpg

    Huh. Looks like there is something wrong with the vactruth graph. Wait — I know what it is. Those people are crazy.

  50. #50 Calli Arcale
    June 26, 2012

    Nashira: that’s okay. I’ll pretend you didn’t say that. Now pardon me, I have to go to the ATM machine and punch in my PIN number….

    (Weird sideline: I registered for a website recently which asked me to create a PIN. It recommended a mix of letters, symbols, and numbers. For a PIN. Maybe the “N” really doesn’t stand for anything anymore.)

    Heliantus: yes, Jupiter is a favorite target of amateur radio astronomers! (I’ve never done it, but I think it’s pretty awesome that there are *amateur* radio astronomers.) You can get instructions here, as well as sound samples:
    http://radiojove.gsfc.nasa.gov/

    Jupiter produces radio beams with naturally occurring radio lasers. A lot of the power comes from interactions with Jupiter’s volcanically active moon Io, which pumps huge amounts of charged dust into a torus around the giant planet. Io constantly plows through this torus, which triggers massive auroras on Jupiter. Just as auroras on Earth are associated with radio noise, so are these, only these are way bigger. If conditions are right, they can outshine the sun.

    That’s right, the sun is also a major radio source! Usually, it’s the biggest contributor to radio noise in our immediate environment, but the hum of our galaxy is also considerable — and, interestingly, peaks in one part of the sky. Dr Karl Janssky was working on wireless communications for Bell Labs in the 30s when he discovered that something was causing an annoying glitch in his results every day, rain or shine. He at first assumed it to have a terrestrial origin, but all local radio operators were quickly exonerated. Then he noticed something else odd: the noise was heard not precisely once a day, but slightly longer: once per *sidereal* day. That strongly suggested a “fixed” point in the sky, and consulting starcharts gave him the answer: it was the center of the galaxy. The strongest radio source in there is now called Sgr A*, for the radio source in a region called Sagittarius A. Recently, objects have been found orbiting Sgr A* and moving at relativistic speeds — this allowed astronomers to calculate Sgr A*’s mass. It’s a supermassive black hole, with about 4 million solar masses, and the radio waves are probably being produced by hot gasses in either the accretion disk or a jet. It’s worth noting that it takes really high-grade equipment to resolve the stars orbiting Sgr A*, and since this region is completely opaque in visible wavelengths (there’s dust in the way), the stars are also being imaged exclusively in radio. All stars emit radio.

    There are lots of important radio sources in the sky, but my favorite only contributes about 1% to the static you hear between radio stations: it’s everpresent, and it’s the afterglow of the Big Bang. The oldest light in the Universe. If one wishes to wax poetical using religious imagery, one could call it the echoes of creation or the voice of God (although that does require taking a little creative license, as the light is actually slightly younger than the universe). It’s the Cosmic Microwave Background, and it’s both beautiful and puzzling.

  51. #51 Stu
    June 26, 2012

    Nashira, MikeMa: sheesh… one Disaster Area concert and you should be golden!

  52. #52 herr doktor bimler
    Riding inter-city trains, wearing European grey
    June 26, 2012

    Looks like there is something wrong with the vactruth graph.

    I call your attention to the legend on the Vactruth graph where it is explained that the DDT contribution to the profile is “inferred” — the authors reckoned they could not obtain the actual data so they made it up.
    That’s what it says.

    As Orac noted, the profile is not just DDT production, but also includes other selected pesticides (selected, it seems, to obtain the desired rise and fall), all measured on the same unit of “pounds”.

    So what we have here is a pseudoscientific hypothesis with no significant evidence to support it that is also biologically incredibly implausible.

    Not just a case of “no significant evidence” — it is a claim with an auxiliary hypothesis that specifically predicts an absence of supporting evidence.

  53. #53 lilady
    June 26, 2012

    @ Nashira:

    “Oh lordy, EMF bullcrap. I knew someone who swore she had seizures in the presence of strong EMF fields… and told me this over the Internet, via a computer.”

    She must have read somewhere about photosensitive seizures:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosensitive_epilepsy

    My son had frequent EEG testing done and his neurologist always wanted “natural sleep” EEG tracings. (Not so) fond memories of keeping him up the night before, schlepping him and pillows/blanket to the lab in the AM for the EEGs. At the very end of the testing, we would wake him up to flash a strobe light to check for changes in the tracings…no seizures were evoked.

    For all the years I lived at home, I could *hear* when the rotary dial phone was going to ring. Everyone was so impressed and it was claim to fame.

  54. #54 Narad
    June 26, 2012

    That’s right, the sun is also a major radio source!

    Let us not give short shrift to Earth’s very own atmosphere.

  55. #55 Eric Lund
    June 26, 2012

    I’ve heard quite a bit about EMFs allegedly causing cancer (Bob Parks of What’s New has been covering such madness for going on a couple of decades; bottom line is that the energy of such photons is much too low to break chemical bonds), but the EMF-autism link is a new one on me.

    Power line hum is one thing. If you’ve spent significant time in a physics lab, you have probably spent time looking for ways to stop your electronics from picking up 60 Hz (or 50 Hz, depending what country you’re in) signals from the wiring in the room. Since that is well within the frequency range of audible sound, I don’t doubt that some sensitive people can hear it. But wi-fi or cell phones or other such stuff should be at frequencies much higher than what we can hear. The causal mechanism just isn’t there.

  56. #56 Calli Arcale
    June 26, 2012

    Especially during auroras and geomagnetic storms — and hey, we’re entering solar max, which means there will be even more of those! Stay tuned to the space weather!
    http://spaceweather.com/

  57. #57 Todd W.
    http://harpocratesspeaks.com
    June 26, 2012

    @jre

    You have convinced me that poliovirus causes DDT usage.

  58. #58 JGC
    June 26, 2012

    Just how deep down in the ‘stupid’ barrel do these people have to dive?

    “The thing’s hollow! It goes on forever! My god, it’s full or stars!”

    (cue the creepy space fetus…)

  59. #59 bad poet
    June 26, 2012

    Nobody search this blog for the wackaloon in the “great white north” (apologies to Bob and Doug Mackenzie) that claimed wireless networks in parochial schools caused all sorts of idiocy, please!

  60. #60 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    June 26, 2012

    SkepticNorth.com has covered him and his vacuous threats of lawsuits very well. The man himself pops up in the comments:

    http://www.skepticnorth.com/2010/10/rodney-palmer-narcissist/

    And we don’t all identify with Bob and Doug up here, eh?

  61. #61 Narad
    June 27, 2012

    Seeing as I need to wake up the recent commnents widget: It’s a beauty way to go.

  62. #62 Roger Kulp
    June 27, 2012
  63. #63 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    June 27, 2012

    @Todd

    That father/son team that mistook powdered DDT for flour must surely have been desperate to ‘cure’ their autism. Or something.

    @JGC

    A never-ending barrel of nothing – sounds about right. They need an echo-chamber that large to hold their nonsense.

  64. #64 idlemind
    June 27, 2012

    I know someone who complained that he had headaches caused by his neighbor’s unencrypted wifi. When he finally convinced the neighbor to configure their wireless router to use WEP, his headaches got better. He’s not a stupid fellow (he’s a tax accountant) and isn’t known for joking around. I wonder if he got the idea from some wacky alt-med web site?

  65. #65 JustaTech
    June 27, 2012

    My favorite weird experience with EMF was out in the Mojave desert, under two sets of power lines coming into LA. Not only could you hear the damn things humming, but you could smell the ozone. It was very odd, but no one in my research group ever claimed that it caused any kind of permanent damage.

    See, if these people are really afraid of EM, they shouldn’t buy any strawberries from California, because most of the strawberry fields are under the big power lines.

  66. #66 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    June 27, 2012

    @JustaTech – I’ve certainly heard electric wires on towers hum, even in the midwest. I’ve not smelled the ozone, however.

  67. #67 Pareidolius
    June 28, 2012

    When I was a kid (back in the 60s), I couldn’t go into certain jewelry stores because they had ultrasonic alarm systems and it felt like a hot needle in the middle of my head. My dad thought I was nuts, but I would always check the ceiling of stores for the telltale little domes that were the emitters. Was that auditory or did they somehow affect my sinuses. Anyone?

  68. #68 JGC
    June 28, 2012

    Auditory, I think. There’s a device called The Mosquito (TM) that emits a high frequency sound that’s very annoying if your hearing is sensitive enough to detect it. Turns out most teens can hear it, but most adults have lost enough sensitivity that they can’t, so shop-owners looking to drive away loitering teens but not adult (and presumably more affluent) customers install them.

  69. #69 Composer99
    http://composer99.blogspot.com
    June 29, 2012

    Eric Lund (June 26 4:06 pm): I believe you mean the radio signals from WiFi/cell phones/&c are too low-frequency to be discernable to the ear, right? Unless I’ve got my properties of EM waves mixed up…

  70. #70 Narad
    June 29, 2012

    I believe you mean the radio signals from WiFi/cell phones/&c are too low-frequency to be discernable to the ear, right?

    Cell phones are at 800 MHz and up; 802.11 is in the gigahertz range.

  71. #71 Jake Hamby
    July 1, 2012

    The other high frequency hum that people with good upper frequency hearing used to hear on a much more regular basis is the flyback transformer used in old-school CRT monitors and TVs to provide power to jump the electron beam back to the left side after each scanline. At VGA and higher, it’s outside the range of human hearing, but at TV resolutions (or typical 8-bit home computers), it’s 15.7 kHz for NTSC, and 15.6 kHz for PAL regions. I bought a home Ethernet switch once that I couldn’t stand to use because of a similarly high frequency annoying buzz.

    The microwave EMF paranoia of course is completely unfounded because the power levels are so low. I wish I could explain to these people that not using a cellphone or not using Wi-Fi yourself isn’t going to make much difference because you’re surrounded by the background radiation from all the towers unless you live inside of a Faraday cage or wayyy out in the desert or wilderness somewhere, which I wouldn’t put past some of these people.

    There is an unsafe dosage, though. Some studies of technicians who work on repairing cell towers have shown a slight increase in incidence of cataracts, because the lens of the eye is the one part of the body without a blood supply to cool it, and they were literally microwaving their eyeballs from very close proximity to the high power transmit antennas for long periods of time. Your typical cellphone or Wi-Fi antenna is going to be something like one millionth or one billionth of the power output.

  72. #72 Jake Hamby
    July 1, 2012

    A few more pedantic points related to the Rev. Battleaxe’s mention of spread-spectrum and Hedy Lamarr. Her original patent was for the idea of frequency hopping, which is used today in Bluetooth and cordless phones, but not for Wi-Fi (which is divided into channels) or mobile phones (also divided into channels of various widths).

    One amusing quirk of the 2G GSM standard (but not the 3G/4G standards, nor the CDMA standard used by Verizon and Sprint in the US) is its use of TDMA, or time-division multiplexing, which means the phone turns its transmitter on and off to transmit only in certain slots. This explains the infamous Morse code buzz that you could sometimes hear from nearby speakers (car audio, guitar amps, etc.) at precisely 217Hz just before your phone is about to ring, get an SMS, etc.

    Newer networks are based around CDMA techniques, where multiple phones transmit at the same time, on the same frequency, but using distinct digital encodings, that thanks to the magic of math which I neither understand fully nor could explain properly, the receiver can disentangle the individual transmitters from the combined signal it receives at the antenna. Wi-Fi and 4G use related techniques with names like OFDM.

    All of which goes to confirm Rev. BofK’s point that the signals are so completely random and smeared together from a biological POV as to be completely meaningless and invisible. The 217 Hz interference from a 2G phone is the most noticeable, but only via its audible distortion in a second piece of electronic equipment designed to output at a frequency we can hear.

  73. #73 Witch
    Wanthaggi
    July 13, 2012

    Well, I’d agree that diseases tend to be multifactorial – nutritional, environmental, iatrogenic, constitutional factors, etc.

    An example of an iatrogenic cause of polio is from Pakistan where vaccines caused the very disease they were meant to prevent:

    http://dawn.com/2010/12/22/incidence-of-polio-among-vaccinated-children-alarms-govt/

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