Does WiFi Make You Sick?

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Recently, the scientific journal Reviews on Environmental Health published a set of guidelines for diagnosing and treating electromagnetic sensitivity, a disorder in which people experience a wide range of side effects when exposed to wireless internet or cell phone signals. This was a much needed report considering that anywhere from zero to zero people experience electromagnetic sensibility every day. Sometimes as many as…zero.

There’s a lot of skepticism over the supposed dangers of WiFi, for a number of reason. First among them is that every large, peer-reviewed study examining the supposed negative effects of radiofrequency fields on human health have shown absolutely no connection. Some studies have suggested that long-term users of mobile phones may have an increased risk of brain cancer, but the evidence is weak and just barely any greater than what you’d expect to find by sheer chance. As mobile phone use has grown exponentially in the previous few decades, the number of brain cancer cases hasn’t matched it.

All this hasn’t stopped people from claiming that cell phones and WiFi signals make them dizzy, or nauseated, or listless, or superpowered like The Incredible Hulk. Wait, wait…that was gamma radiation, not non-ionizing radiofrequency fields.

So you’d think that a scientific journal would only jump to talking about how to treat this supposed disease in terms of it being most likely a psychological problem, not an actual environmental hazard. But no, the Reviews on Environmental Health claimed that “there is strong evidence that long-term-exposure to certain EMF exposures is a risk factor for diseases such as certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and male infertility” and recommended that WiFi be removed from public places like schools, hospitals, and libraries.

Not only did they fail to conduct or cite any new convincing evidence for this recommendation, but the paper has now been retracted–not for being completely frivolous, but for being plagiarized from an earlier report that has already been thoroughly debunked.

The 2012 Bioinitiative Report was a cobbled-together mishmash of nonsense from dozens of different contributors, not all of them scientists. It assumes that any study that showed any effect of electromagnetic fields, no matter how small and no matter how poorly conducted the study was, should be used to set guidelines. For instance, it references one study from 2000 that found that RF could cause very tiny worms to produce “heat shock” proteins, despite the fact that the study was retracted a few years later because it hadn’t controlled for the temperature increase that RF produces.

So how did this new report in Reviews on Environmental Health get past peer review when it was so heavily plagiarized from a much-criticized piece of nonsense? It didn’t! Reviews on Environmental Health admitted they didn’t bother to peer review the new report. Ta-da!

To sum up, there’s still probably no danger in using WiFi or cell phones, but there’s a lot of danger in blindly trusting certain scientific journals.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. I thought it was the absence of WiFi that made people sick. You know, they show symptoms like impatience with cellular connections, ill-temper, a propensity to hurl phones at the wall and other rage-related signs.

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