Weekend Diversion: Do Tinfoil Hats Work?

As a new tradition since we’re on a new site, in addition to giving you a post about fun stuff on the weekend, I’m going to try exposing you to some new music, either by an uncommon artist or a song that really caught my fancy. This week’s artist is Chicago-based bluegrass musician Colby Maddox, singing the old classic Shady Grove. Feel free to listen while you read on:

So I was looking around the internet the other day, and I came across this scientific study, which — I kid you not — is on the effects of tinfoil hats.

Now, the whole idea is that you can shield yourself from electromagnetic radiation by protecting your head with tinfoil. And this is true. Kind of. If you cover something in tinfoil completely, the tinfoil will act like a Faraday Cage, and can block electric fields and signals from getting in.

However, it needs to be covered from all angles in order to make it effective. In other words, a hat simply won’t do. You need something closer to this:

But what happens if you actually wear the hat? Can it shield your head from electromagnetic radiation? Or, alternatively, does it act like an antenna, and actually magnify the signal that you’re going to receive?

Well, this group of MIT grad students hooked up an oscilloscope and measured whether radio signals were blocked or attenuated.

They found that, pretty much across the board, the change in signal amplitude was less than 10 deciBels, either in the positive or negative direction, for a very small overall change.

However, there was an interesting thing that happened at just a few frequencies. In particular, at radio frequencies reserved for government use. Care to hazard a guess? Let’s quote from the article:

Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

And they have graphs to back up their claims, too. Check out the reading from the oscilloscope:

I think the conclusion is pretty clear here. Listen to the music without your tinfoil hat, otherwise the government could influence what you’re hearing!


  1. #1 Buddy13
    April 4, 2009

    They are effective at blocking your thoughts from being read by the Dark Ones.

  2. #2 Sili
    April 5, 2009

    Of course the government has nothing to with this.

    Else this study’d’ve been pulled off the web faster than you could say “Teller-Ulam”.

    Or perhaps that’s just what they want us to think.

  3. #3 Sili
    April 5, 2009

    Oh, and sorry for not listening, but I’m not all that adventurous. I’ll just settle for whatever Radio3 feeds me.

  4. #4 TechSkeptic
    April 6, 2009

    Check out the reading from the oscilloscope

    ahem… that is not an o-scope.

    Its a spectrum analyzer (or shall I say the spectrum analyzer feature on their network analyzer). It performs an FFT on a signal and displays the amplitude of each of the various frequencies that make up that signal.

    sorry, new blog.. I had to nit pick. You are welcome to nitpick me back. 🙂

    there is always one in a crowd.

  5. #5 Michelle
    April 6, 2009

    *looks around, removes hat*

    Isn’t foil made of aluminum now?

  6. #6 Ethan Siegel
    April 6, 2009


    What can I say? You got me. I’m glad that I goofed an unimportant point rather than the important one: aluminum foil hats may increase your radio wave-reception from goverment-sent signals!

  7. #7 Andy
    April 6, 2009

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I think that an antenna could only amplify a signal in certain directions at the cost of damping the signal in other directions in order to conserve energy (since there is no other power source). Perhaps the signal is amplified in the direction of the head.

    Wikipedia has something to say here:

  8. #8 Psychodigger
    April 6, 2009

    Dunno about the foil hats and the US-gouvernment trying to influence the minds of Americans. Seems a bit far fetched (on the other hand, they did once contemplate exploding cigars, so perhaps…), but I very much like your coiche of music. Kudos to you!

  9. #9 Atavar
    April 7, 2009

    Tinfoil, and aluminium foil, are out. Velostat is in:
    Stop Alien Abductions

  10. #10 Beasjt669
    April 7, 2009

    I can´t hear myself with a tinfoil hat on.

  11. #11 Beasjt669
    April 7, 2009

    *drowns in his own static*

  12. #12 Alex Deam
    April 7, 2009

    That’s a really nice song. Bluegrass is a genre I’d like to listen to more of, but I don’t know anything about it. Anyone got any suggestions?

  13. #13 Monado
    April 7, 2009

    Never heard “Shady Grove” before, that I can remember, but it’s very familiar. The tune is a straight steal from that old classic ballad, “Matty Groves,” which is a lot more bloodthirsty, which is why the settlers probably re-wrote it. Quite a number of our old “cowboy songs” are re-worked folk songs from England and Ireland.

    The chorus, on the other hand, I learned in school with a different, and beautiful tune: “Coffee grows on white oak trees, rivers flow with sweet cocoa” (not brandy, cleaned up for children?), Choose someone to roam with you, sweet as striped candy-O.” I had forgotten it; thank you.

    About tinfoil hats, if this is not an April Fool’s joke, maybe the average diameter of the hats has something to do with which frequences might be amplified or better received.

    Oh, hi! P.Zed sent me. Very interesting about the dark matter. I’ve learned something tonight.

  14. #14 Ethan Siegel
    April 8, 2009


    I’ve gotta say, “brandy” is a much better rhyme with “candy” than “sweet cocoa” is with “candy-o”!

    But thanks for the link, I didn’t know that the American folk song was based in an older folk tradition, but I’m not surprised at all!

    I’ll keep on with the dark matter every now and again… there’s just so much that’s interesting to write about!

  15. #15 Ethan Siegel
    April 8, 2009


    Try this: http://broadcaster.pandora.com/t?r=927&c=0&l=37961&ctl=16DA5E7:28C7955DA6C520301D673C642FDEF9E5&

    It’s my Pandora Radio “bluegrass & folk” station. It should help a fair bit in getting you a start. The other option is to invite you over and make you listen to my music collection, which is probably inconvenient!

  16. #16 DuWayne
    April 8, 2009

    See now, real conspiracy theorists are well aware of the actual effects of tinfoil hats and the nefarious intent of the gubbermint fostering that particular “theory.”

    Now my hat is lead, covered with silver foil and embedded with several strategically placed magnets. Not only does it block the gubbermint, it also makes the brain work better. I also use colloidal silver and colloidal lead to make sure about those gubbermint rays…LOTS of colloidal lead!!!

    Glad to see you here at sciblogs. You make me miss Portland and also wonder if my boys ever ran into you at OMSI – the boys were there quite regular like – sometimes with me, sometimes with momma.

  17. #17 Alex Deam
    April 10, 2009

    Ethan, thanks for the link, but unfortunately I’m from the UK, so that means that station is “restricted” to me (seriously when will people learn that it’s called the World Wide Web for a reason).

  18. #18 Jeremy
    February 23, 2010

    I have a problem with your use of the term, “tinfoil hat”.

    Everyone knows that only a steel V2K cap will block mind control energy weapons.

  19. #19 Light
    the Internet
    April 10, 2013

    We are the bringers of light. We do not need to hide from the dark ones, for our thoughts destroy them, and bring em to madness.

  20. #20 Ja dee
    July 26, 2013

    They stopped using tinfoil because it didn’t amplify it! That’s why tinfoil is so hard to come by now.

  21. #21 omniscience squared
    September 3, 2013

    I would think a colander wrapped in foil might be good, Then the handles would be a place you could attach the chin strap. Plus if an unusually strong ray hit that might dent just ordinary foil (especially if you get the really cheap stuff like at a dollar store) the colander would deflect it with the added benefit of a delightful “Ping!” allowing you to freestyle and say things like “at the tone the time will be” or proclaim loudly “toast is done! who wants toast?” Which come on…could only add to your mystique..

  22. #22 Tymp
    March 6, 2015

    Guess what, Sili?!


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