Escaping Wi-Fi in the National Quiet Zone

Friday, September 16, 2011


An estimated 5% of Americans believe they suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), an affliction they say brings on a range of symptoms when they are exposed to electromagnetic fields.  Some EHS sufferers have relocated to the National Radio Quiet Zone, where wireless devices are prohibited.  Bob spoke to BBC journalist Matt Danzico about a recent trip to the Quiet Zone.

Comments [24]


"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

Yeah, that's easy to say after something has been proven. Nothing worse than Monday morning quarterbacking, or in Schopenhauer's case, Monday morning philosophizing. But the rain does not follow the plow, there is no aether, and people who claim to have EHS can't tell you if a cell phone is on or off.

Mar. 26 2012 02:43 PM
Paul from San Diego, CA

The tone of this whole piece is very frustrating to me as a person who has EHS. It's like listening to a discussion of germ theory by people who regard themselves as intellectuals discounting the possibility that unseen organisms could cause infection, or the attacks on Ignaz Semmelweis for his daring to report his observations on what was harming mothers and babies at the Allgemeines Krankenhaus because there was no "scientific proof". Imagine how much suffering around the world would have been prevented by the immediate and wide ranging acceptance of acknowledging that something as simple as washing your hands. Unfortunately, just like in 1847, it may take decades for those who have the power to help us or continue to harm us, to take action on our behalf.

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
Arthur Schopenhauer

Mar. 26 2012 12:10 PM
Pete from Sydney

Scoff all you like, this is a real condition - I have a friend who gets tinnitus, but only when near an electrical field, the effect being proportionate to the strength of the field and proximity. He was a government health and safety officer in Australia before retirement. I get tingling in my mouth when near a mobile tower (in a beam) at amounts of > 100microWatt and different types of effects with wifi and bluetooth, again, dependent on proximity, and what materials physically shield me from the tower. For those of you who are so sure this is psychosomatic, you have no proof of that, and you are too desperate to be anything other than a web PR troll. Good luck keeping the public away from the facts. We are bathed in radiation nearly all the time now and its only a matter of 20 or so years before the health effects will be undeniable.

If anyone is interested in real research check out Magda Havas (USA) and Barry Trower (UK)

Nov. 17 2011 05:38 AM
RonH from Ann Arbor

Bob Garfield,

"And I'm absolutely sure they found an interesting and wholly unexpected refuge."

A refuge from something that is not real. Interesting and wholly unexpected notion.

YES, I noticed you took no position. The name for this is "false neutrality".

I don't know *what* to call the idea that false neutrality is a virtue.

Normally, y'all are wonderful. Please get back to the to the good work.

Sep. 23 2011 09:27 PM
RonH from Ann Arbor

An estimated 5% of Americans believe they suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS)

Says WHO?

Sep. 23 2011 09:05 PM
siobhan from nyc

Count me amongst those who believe that this story was a letdown because of uncritical reporting or commentary (from Bob, who loves to editorialize whenever given the chance). Psychosomatic reactions are not discussed at all; instead we get a marveling at the education level of the people claiming to be suffering, and a wide-eyed story about one person who'd rightly guessed the reporter has a cellphone on his person and reacted accordingly (while "sort of pointing" to where it would likely be on his person) -- as if someone who was so focused on these 'dangers' wouldn't have done this with any stranger visiting.

If someone were really so sensitive that they could detect a working cellphone in a pocket and point to its location they could get $1 million from with a controlled experiment. But noooo, no one wants to make an easy million by agreeing to a test, would they.....

Sorry Bob, this was a turkey of a story.

Sep. 22 2011 09:03 PM

"Did nobody notice that in this conversation neither I nor my guest takes a position on whether this condition is real, imagined, autosuggestion or whatever? "

Which is what most of our complaints are about. You didn't evaluate the scientific plausibility of any of it, you didn't call out the woman for obvious confirmation bias, you just gave the pseudo-science a free pass.

Sep. 21 2011 09:59 PM
Bob Garfield

My goodness. Did nobody notice that in this conversation neither I nor my guest takes a position on whether this condition is real, imagined, autosuggestion or whatever? It simply marvels at the lengths people will go to for relief. And, by the way, did YOU know there was a national radio quiet zone? We didn't.

Me, I'm satisfied there is no biophysical basis for EHS. I am equally satisfied that these refugees from the electromagnetic world have long lived in misery. And I'm absolutely sure they found an interesting and wholly unexpected refuge.

Sep. 21 2011 04:20 PM

C'mon, what visiting reporter to this area wouldn't be carrying a cell phone on their person?

"she even sorta pointed to the pocket my cell phone was in." Sorta pointed to your pocket? As in she waved her hand around and sometime during the wave it happened to point at your cell phone? Don't be impressed with cheap parlor tricks.

When tested in a double blinded experiment these hypochondriacs cannot tell if a phone is on or off better than chance.

"Radio Free America" should be renamed "Reality Free America".

Ulcers are a real condition therefore they can not be classified as "psychosomatic". They were incorrectly thought to be caused by stress.

Sep. 21 2011 11:58 AM
Andrew from Arizona

Take a moment to consider the reporter's account of the woman finding the cell phone in his pocket. He walks into a woman's house and she throws a fuss and points straight at the pocket with the phone. That proves it!

Wrong. This is a basic technique of a mentalist. By the reporter's own words she said she felt something slightly wrong and gestured "practically" at the pocket. She took a broad guess, thinking he may have some electronic device in one of his pockets. I'd say she had a pretty good chance of finding one, especially a phone just based on how common phones are. If she was wrong, well then she waves it off and the reporter forgets she ever said a thing. That's the number one principle of mentalism. Your audience will remember the hits and forget the misses.

Until a SINGLE mechanism for this malady can be shown it is bunk, especially when you consider that in a blinded study the symptoms disappear. If that reporter had only had a second phone hidden, I'm sure the woman would never have noticed.

Sep. 21 2011 11:58 AM
Jon from Missoula, MT

Horrifically credulous *fail* on the part of OMT. Please stick to reporting on the media, and leave reporting on the science to those qualified to do so.

It would be absurdly easy for anyone with a basic understanding of how the scientific method works to test any one of these people. If their condition was real, the discoverer would easily be eligible for the Nobel Prize, and the patient would be eligible for the JREF Million Dollar Challenge.

You say the one lady knew you had a cell phone as soon as you arrived? WOW! Considering probably 100% of professional journalists have cell phones, that was truly amazing deductive reasoning on her part! (Groan) Oh, but she knew what pocket it was in, too? Take a trip around the office and see how many of your colleagues keep their phones in the same pocket. She made a perfectly logical guess based on the odds, AKA "Cold Reading".

Any idiot that really wanted to test this could put this lady in a room and hide a cell phone somewhere in the room and then tell her to find the thing. That's assuming of course that she agrees to the test (which if she knows she BSing, she probably won't), and that she doesn't start in with the "special pleading" when she fails about how she's "just not feeling well today" or some other such hogwash. If she can walk right to the thing even six times out of ten, I'll be impressed. Until then, your understanding of science leaves me completely unimpressed.

Sep. 21 2011 11:31 AM
Peter D from San Francisco

I felt like this was the kind of non-story story that OTM likes to criticize in the media, a variant of "some people think X; others disbelieve X. You decide."

In this case, X is completely scientific, even more scientific than, "does lowering taxes create jobs?" Yet, you didn't quote any scientists, cite results, or even describe the extent to which the question had been studied scientifically. Instead, you suggest that a lawyer should be given implicit credibility on a scientific question for which he or she has a stake in the outcome. We might as well give congresspersons implicit credibility on the question of their marital fidelity!

There is more to the story than the scientific question, but there's no doubting it's the... 800 kilowatt radio stream in the room.

Sep. 20 2011 05:20 PM

Check out a MIT study at:

Sep. 20 2011 12:28 PM

It's understandable that so many who post think this is ridiculous. You get very little news reporting on the large and growing body of research, and what you do get is usually already slanted to industry specifications and misleading. You are also not privy to the often nasty politics behind this issue.

I do not know the people in Green Bank, nor can I verify their conditions, but there is enough science pointing to biological effects of this radiation to make it plausible.

Most people may not be able to detect certain manmade EMFs, but science suggests that your cells do.

Something known but rarely talked about by industry people is that "microwave hearing" --a kind of tinnitus brought on by exposure to radiofrequency/microwave radiation--is an "established" biological effect and has been for a long time.

In addition, such radiation is being used in measured doses to stimulate the growth of bones in everyday medical practice. The fact that it can open the blood-brain barrier makes it helpful in delivering medicine and cancer treatments to the brain, which would normally block entry to substances floating in the body's bloodstream.

There's much about this that people don't understand. And they forget that in every age, there are conditions that are thought to be psychosomatic or black magic in origin, that later turn out to be very much physiological in nature. We smart 21st century people don't know everything yet.

Sweden considers electromagnetic hypersensitivity to be a bonafide disability, and the government requires that sufferers get accommodations for their disability. There are communities in remote areas there where people go for respite from their EMF saturated environment.

The former head of the World Health Organization and former prime minister of Norway, Gro Brundtland, has reported getting headaches in the presence of cell phones that are even just switched on, after receiving an acute exposure injury.

You don't know the full story. Better to approach it with curiosity than insults and jeering. With ever-increasing exposure, and especially beginning before birth and throughout childhood, you don't know how many people may be affected in the future. Maybe even you or someone in your family.

Sep. 20 2011 12:14 PM
Squidocto from Ridgewood, NY

This was a disappointment, a rare OTM fail. Others have made most of the salient points, but here are two additions:

1) Think about it. If we found a human being who could detect low level electromagnetic fields, we would have found a human being with superpowers. That would, of course, be awesome. But when a seasoned journalist is told by someone "I have superpowers," that journalist needs to do more than just take their word for it.

2) Here is a good summary of some of the research on the subject, with citations:

Sep. 20 2011 09:14 AM
Bill DeCat

Maybe checking with an actual doctor on whether or not these people are physically or mentally ill would have been good but I just don't buy that these people have a real physical condition. The really bad cases were the woman who was living just outside the radio free zone because the radio telescope was emitting too much EMF radiation which is absurd as the telescope is a radio receiver and should not be emitting a signal of any real strength.
The worst bit though was the woman who would only turn on her electric heaters when she was willing to RISK HER LIFE. Seriously? The EPA says about high-voltage lines: "Many people are concerned about potential adverse health effects. Much of the research about power lines and potential health effects is inconclusive. Despite more than two decades of research to determine whether elevated EMF exposure, principally to magnetic fields, is related to an increased risk of childhood leukemia, there is still no definitive answer. The general scientific consensus is that, thus far, the evidence available is weak and is not sufficient to establish a definitive cause-effect relationship."
The fact that On the Media is propagating this story without adequately explaining that the illness these people suffer from has not been shown to be a real illness is bad journalism and does not fit with the usual standard of news and opinion I expect from your otherwise fine show.
Hopefully Brooke will be back this week to whip the show back into shape.


Sep. 19 2011 01:53 PM
Dale Heltzer from Rochester, MN

I understand Mr. Danzico's mission was to report, not debunk, the EHS refugees' story, but A few points leapt out at me that cried out for follow-up: The woman pointing to his pocket holding the cellphone (no lewd jokes, please) probably *didn't actually detect any EM field from it. In fact, as long as the phone was connected to the network, it *was emitting short blips of electromagnetic radiation. But this same woman can sit in front of a computer monitor. Even flatpanel displays radiate - just turn on an AM radio near a computer, desktop or netbook, and you'll hear the *BUZZ of the electronics doing their digital thing. Any measure of field strengths would imply the computer was a greater threat. MMatt D's credulity was tested and fell short. Also, a Faraday cage doesn't "supposedly" shield from EM - it has been for years a standard tool in electronics work for shielding sensitive equipment, taking precise measurements of fields, etc. Search youtube for the term, and you'll see dramatic demonstrations of how well it works...
I wish he would've asked how these people survive thunderstorms. Lightning is a fantastic source of radio frequency noise.
As other commenters have said here, these people are suffering from *something, but I'd say it isn't from electromagnetic radiation from digital electronics.

Sep. 19 2011 01:21 PM
Lisa from Urbana, IL

In response to the prior comments, I thought it was pretty clear that this was not an accepted medical condition.

I was, however, disturbed at the way paranoid schizophrenia was treated in the segment (i.e., those people that think the CIA is listening to their thoughts). It has nothing to do with their education or anything else you can "see."

Sep. 18 2011 06:45 PM
noen from Minneapolis

BrettGlic said - "How many formerly psychosomatic diagnoses have been recognized as our science improves?"

Ulcers for one, chronic fatigue syndrome another. Ulcers were once thought to be purely of psychological etiology until a scientist gave himself ulcers by injecting his own body with the bacteria responsible.

Science is how we fix facts about the world. If you make a factual claim that cannot be supported by any science there is no reason people should believe you.

Sep. 18 2011 05:33 PM
Andy from Minnesota

It was irresponsible for OTM to give so much credence to this discredited medical condition. Some basic fact-checking and common-sense should have revealed EHS to be highly controversial, yet this aspect of the story was barely touched upon. The gullibility of OTM in how they approached this story is as embarrassing as the reporter claiming to have his cellphone detected by a sufferer.

Sep. 18 2011 05:14 PM
noen from Minneapolis

EMF hyspersensitivity does not exist because humans cannot detect EMF radiation and low levels of EMF are not harmful to humans. This is a psychiatric disorder and not a medical one.

I'm sure these people are suffering but the treatment should be cognitive-behavioral therapy. In no way should people re-enforce their delusions or validate their belief this is a real phenomenon. It is not.

People will believe just about anything if it get them attention of helps them to feel wanted, needed or significant. Therapy should be directed towards helping them get those needs filled in other ways to gradually reduce their symptoms.

As proof that this is psychological condition notice that the cell phone in the reporters pocket was not and could not have been emitting EMF. This alone labels her claim as fraudulent.

Sep. 18 2011 05:07 PM

Maybe "not a recognized medical condition yet" ?

How many formerly psychosomatic diagnoses have been recognized as our science improves?

I don't doubt that you trust your testing, but isn't its accuracy subject to further advancement?

Sep. 18 2011 10:33 AM

I found it interesting that the interviewee, when asked whether those claiming to suffer from EHS were mentally stable, said something like, "I don't think I talked to anyone without a degree, actually without an advanced degree". Really? There's some sort of relationship between sanity and education level?

Sep. 17 2011 11:53 PM

I'm surprised that this story did not mention that the EHS sufferers' symptoms are completely psychosomatic, that they can not actually tell if real EM fields are present in double-blind tests, and that EHS is not a medically recognized condition.

Sep. 17 2011 05:16 PM

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