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Alasdair's EMF Musings - View Comments

[Blog Index]

Ben Goldacre's own Bad Science

So, Dr Ben Goldacre gets it wrong, again and again. He spells "metres" as "meters" (USA spelling - in the Guardian?!), he described our carbon-base paint as "lead paint" (it contains no lead) and our silver plated net curtains as "foil-lined" (these have now been corrected by him after I pointed out the product description errors). Cached Badscience

Please read our full response to Ben.

Both the bobbinet curtain material and the paint that EMFields sells have been tested and are widely used by the military from the UK and all over Europe and the US to protect equipment and people against electromagnetic fields from EMP weapons and non-lethal microwave weaponry. They find them effective. Bad science? Scam products? Tell it to the marines! The products are expensive to make and so are expensive to purchase - it would be great if we could find cheaper alternatives that work anything like as effectively. We also tell people about using aluminium cooking foil (which, funnily enough, people buy from Tesco and not us) to screen walls which is inexpensive and effective.

He manages to effectively dismiss Sir William Stewart's concerns. Sir William, current Chair of the UK Health Protection Agency, was a Chief UK Scientist under two Prime Ministers and also ran the MoD's DSTL Porton Down Biological and Chemical Warfare Labs for many years - indeed he is still involved with them. On what basis does Ben Goldacre feel qualified to rubbish the views of Sir William on scientific matters?

He dismisses my measurements and criticises the COM monitor. The measurements used by Panorama for the comparison were actually made on an expensive top-of-the-range Anritsu 2721A Spectrum Analyser with a calibrated antennna and are in line with measurements made by other professional RF engineers.

A bit about my background: I grew up with RF and radio and thought electronics and technology were the best. I was making walkie talkies while still at school in the early 1960s, and have since designed multi-million selling pieces of electronics from audio equipment to early computer systems - including one of the Tardis (yes, really, the Dr WHO time travel machine!) control computers. I have also spent years doing detailed EMC (look it up) measurements and helping companies meet EC/EU and UK legislation on EMF (not health) matters. In some ways I am a real techie/geek, but I am also open to a change of opinion when I see the potential dangers of the electrosmog we are now being submerged in. I am in favour of young people (and everybody) using networked and internet enabled computers. In most schools classrooms, wired ethernet could easily be used instead of WiFi - that would be faster and not subject the pupils to pulsing microwaves.

Yes, we do sell and hire things that we believe can help people who are concerned about being affected by electromagnetic fields. We are open about it, and the reasons for doing so, on our Powerwatch home page - it has never been a secret. Until ES/EHS is recognised as a problem by the NHS it is almost impossible to get grants for our sort of informational work. The ES-UK Charity has repeatedly had grants turned down for this sort of reason, and survives only on occasional donations and good will and the caring work of Rod Read and family.

As for Dr Ben Goldacre, he seems more of a cynical commentator than someone whose writings should be taken too seriously.

Alasdair (This page was edited on 29 May 2007)

Please read our full response to Ben's writings.

Posted at: 26/05/2007 12:43:27 :: 12 Comments


Comment By Dave Snowdon :: Posted at: 26/05/2007 22:35:41

I find it interesting that you take the time to correct Ben Goldacre's spelling of metres and his description of the composition of your products and yet do not mention other more serious points he raises. For example Ben takes issue with comments such as "it's well into the red here" because the programme does not describe what "into the red" actually means.

Ben also takes issue with the repeated use of the word radiation. Yes, I am aware that since you are talking about electromagnetic radiation you are not actually misusing the word but you surely cannot believe that most people will hear "radiation" and not think of "nuclear radiation" - so it would seem that the programme is being alarmist in this respect.

You also do not address the issue Ben raises regarding the lack of balanced opinions.

Sorry, but it my opinion your response does more to prove Ben Goldacre's view than not.

Does Powerwatch also sell tin foil hats (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_foil_hat ) ?

Comment By Big Gary :: Posted at: 27/05/2007 01:12:08

If you can misspell "curtins" I think Dr. Goldacre can get away with "meters".

Your products may be effective against non-lethal microwave weaponry and EMPs, but most people don't encounter these hazards in their daily lives. The science being called into question isn't whether the beekeeper's hat really does keep out electromagnetic radiation or not, it is whether wearing such a hat to the mall is going to have any effect other than making you look like a complete manus.

Comment By Peter Garreth :: Posted at: 27/05/2007 12:54:58

And, concerning spelling, you also misspelled badscience in "cached badscince". And you can spell metres as meters. Its only in british english, you spell it with the transposition of the e and the r.

Anyhow, I'd like to see some documentation on the use of EMFields products in the military, as you claim. I'd also like to point out, that the widespread use of a given product is not necessary proving it's worth nor effect. Just think of what the makers of washing detergents, toothpaste, shampoos and body lotion (the list continues) promises to their customers.

On a whole other subject - why should wlan even be something that can damage you - You claim to have worked with RF since the sixties. You would most definitely know some basic things about RF - Even I do, and I've only had some high school physics - For instance, you should be well aware of Planck's equation, which states that the energy is proportional to the frequency with the Planck's constant. Also you should know of wave amplitude aka. power. Now the power is corresponding to the output - that is how immense the 'radiation' is. The energy is a measure for on what basis the 'radiation' reacts with the atoms in your body - the thing we're 'afraid' of here, right?! Now, mobile phone waves is in the same part of the spectre as most wlan - there has been no concluse evidence, that mobile phones actually damages you. However, your mobile phone works at a distance of almost 40-50 km from the antenna - there you're still able to get a signal. With the wlan, you are seldom lucky enough to be connected from a distance of more than 30 m. Now, wheres the difference - the power of the signal, that is the radiation emission.

Why the hell should there be any dangers of wlan, when the signal is so weak compared to mobile phone waves. Stop your FUD, you're a scam, and you're exploiting the ignorance of masses.

P.S. My maternal language isn't english, so I am excused of spelling errors :)

Comment By Yasmin Skelt :: Posted at: 27/05/2007 14:41:28

Re critics of WiFi health fears - You can tell Orange Trash, but you can't tell It much (apologies to Malcolm X). If these gadget stroking, mast huggers want to get a Darwin Award then let them get on with it. But they have no right to endanger our children. The Swedish Radiation Protection Authority in April issued a leaflet advising that people reduce their exposure to mobile phone radiation (the Swedish Phone Industry also complained about the use of the word "radiation" - do they use the same PR creeps as UK industry?) - the Germans have been warned also. If the countries that produce Erikson, Siemens, T-Mobil can warn their people, including children, then why not the UK? The Germans are more frightened of their mobile phones than terrorism. Quote from Expatica website - "The respected Emnid Institute survey shows that, despite terrorism jitters, more Germans are afraid of harmful effects from mobiles than of the threat of radical Islamic terrorists. A whopping 55 per cent said they believe cell phones emit harmful levels of electromagnetic and low-level microwave radiation. Germans even have a word for this unseen killer: "Elektrosmog." "
The gadget strokers / mast huggers should read the ICNIRP "certificate" - it only covers thermal effects. By the way, when the ear heats up after having a phone held against it for a while - that is a thermal effect. Not healthy.

Comment By B Justice :: Posted at: 27/05/2007 17:40:19

Alasdair - It's rather strange to point out spelling "mistakes" and then go on to avoid answering any of Goldacres points. It could even be true that there are dangers associated with Wi-Fi radiation, but your approach was so poor and your vested interests so obvious that the program was a disservice to anybody that might want to find out the truth. BTW - Why didn't you mention devices that put out much more power and kids regularly stick close to their heads (e.g. DECT phones).

Yasmin - I'm not aware of any German government warning on the use of mobile phones, a link please? Also, I've not seen the Emnid report, but if it's true then these Germans must be really split - nobody forces them to use mobile phones do they? And that heating effect on your ear? Well, try it with the phone switched off, and then explain to me why your ear still gets warm :-)

Comment By Alasdair Philips (Blog author) :: Posted at: 27/05/2007 17:55:30

Thanks for your comments. A supporting story with links to the WiFi and mast measurement results, the materials tests, further information on ES/EHS, and the illustrated talk that I was to give the Norwich school pupils - so that everyone can judge it - will be posted to the site a.s.a.p. and at the latest by 1st June 2007. I will try to cover most of the points raised above directly or with links in the new page. There are already items on DECT and mobile phones. In the meantime, please have a good look around the Powerwatch website, especially see the stories in the Latest News index. That will show you how we cover many of these issues.

Comment By Trevor WH :: Posted at: 28/05/2007 01:14:28

I saw both the Bad Science article and the BBC production and had to agree with the majority of comments here - the Ben Goldacre article has more basis in fact. While Goldacre does add some "entertainment" to his article (has anyone seen American news lately?! much worse than Goldacre's "Won’t somebody, please, think of the children?"), he at least tries to point out the poor empirical method used in the school experiments. I would have even preferred experimental method over the "well into the red" type comments possibly aimed at a younger audience, so it wouldn't seem as boring a "scientific" study.

I'll note at this point I'm not commenting on Alasdair Philips' reply which doesn't really address the main issues of the Goldacre article until his supporting story is released. Hopefully we can all avoid falling into the name-calling trap and he can provide some evidence to dispute the "bad science" claims and inconclusive studies Goldacre talks about and provide details of measurements and relate them to average cases.

B Justice did beat me to my point about the warm ear effect, though. My immediate thought upon hearing about this thermal effect is that we should take a look at standing in direct sunlight or wearing business suits in the summer due to the increase in body temperature, not to mention using a curling iron or hair straightener. I have no doubt that the phone itself is putting out heat due to its electrical nature and holding that against one's ear would cause the temperature of the skin to also rise by contact (as well as not allowing the ear to cool based on lack of contact with cooler surrounding air). Until a study proves the heat (or whatever the resulting effect) is related to this "electrosmog" or ES/EHS, I'll continue to use wireless, mobile phones, microwaves, etc.

Comment By Sarah Paine :: Posted at: 28/05/2007 11:36:53

For those of you who seem to be still sure that there aren't studies showing effects of mobile phone usage etc, have you even CHECKED the links on the left hand side? Look at the list of studies, even though it's not completed, it still shows a lot of evidence (and no, it's NOT been "funded" by Powerwatch / EMFields etc).

Alternatively, do a search on PubMed (for example) and enter "mobile phones" and look at some of the studies that brings up. For goodness sake, we've got to get over the "there's no evidence" rubbish that people are spouting.

As to Alasdair complaining about spelling - actually if you re-read his paragraph, only one of the comments was about the spelling, the rest was about the technical innacuracies of Ben Goldacres description of the products.

Why don't EMFIelds sell tin foil hats? For the same reason they tell customers to buy aluminium foil from Tescos - it's far cheaper for customers to make them themselves, tin foil hats don't require expert craftsmen, or specialised materials, do they?

The headnets are made from Swisstulle material. See http://www.swisstulle.co.uk/ for more information. They do sell it to the military, as do YShield (the paint manufacturers) - primarily for preventing electronic eavesdropping.

Come on guys, before "dissing" people that sell products that you've not even bothered to research, do some reading..

Comment By JosM :: Posted at: 28/05/2007 13:16:13

Quick - we'd better start worrying about the lights in the classrooms - the radiation is going to do untold harm to the children. What? You don't believe me? The evidence isn't new, it's been around since the beginning of the century.

You still don't believe me? I'll show you ...

The 'linksys' wi-fi router in my living room is slowly roasting my brain and it produces an output of 18dBm (1) which is 63.1mW (2) in light bulb comparable units.

Now how about the radiation from the light bulbs in the room - 100W per bulb, surely that must be having a disastrous effect at 200 times the router ... oh no, I remember, it needs to be pulsed not continuous to have side-effects. Hang on, don't those fluorescent strip lights pulse? At 50 times a second? There are usually several in room with each about 50W - that's still 200 times the wi-fi. Quickly, everyone PANIC.

If only Sir William had thought of that - we would only have non-energy efficient bulbs in classrooms!

(1) http://www.isomicro.co.uk/downloads/wrt54g_ds.pdf
(2) http://www.terabeam.com/support/calculations/watts-dbm.php#calc

Comment By Yasmin Skelt :: Posted at: 28/05/2007 22:17:16

A few references re my earlier comments:

Swedish Leaflet - I have sent a copy to Powerwatch of the English Translation and a copy of the original text. It can be forwarded to B Justice or put on the web.
Microwave News - Feb 2007 www.microwavenews.com (has links to websites) Ref: BfS Calls for Limiting Mobile Phone Radiation Exposure February 5... The German Federal Office of Radiation Protection (BfS) has joined its Swedish counterpart in advising caution with respect to the use of mobile phones, following the release of the new Interphone brain tumor paper (see February 1, above). The radiation office recommends that people keep their radiation exposures as low as possible. It also favors the use of low-SAR phones.
Of course nobody is forcing the Germans to use their phones - but the Germans and Swedes are being given advice that they should lower their exposure. If they don't and then that is their choice. At least they have been told.
As for a phone held against the ear making it hot - I think it is a different kind of "hot". At least a landline phone held to the head does not cause nitric oxide levels in the body to increase like a mobile held to the head does. But mobile used with a handsfree set does not cause nitric oxide levels to increase! This was research done a few years ago at Imperial College, London. German researchers found the same. Can give you those references too if I dig around my files.

Comment By B Justice :: Posted at: 28/05/2007 23:04:31

Yasmin - My last post here, but thanks anyway for helping me find the link, which is in fact here:


Your translation of this to say that "The Germans have been warned also" is another case of blowing things out of proportion. The article contains this sentence "Nach derzeitigem wissenschaftlichen Kenntnisstand besteht zwar unterhalb der Grenzwerte keine gesundheitliche Gefährdung durch den Mobilfunk." which if you translate it basically says that no known health threat exists. Just like the original Panorama program, you´re twisting and distorting for dramatic effect. That's why this site is a great example of bad science. None of this is to say that we will not find some health threats at some point, but the approach taken her is not productive.

Comment By Alasdair Philips :: Posted at: 29/05/2007 15:51:44

We have now put up a full response to Ben Goldacre's claims:


Feel free to respond here

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