Q: How does a radio tower cause rashes and headaches when its turned off?

January 16th, 2010
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A: The same way it causes rashes and headaches when its turned on – entirely due to psychogenics.

Or to put it another way, the tower does not cause any health effects at all, people just believe it does and their belief is so pervasive that it makes them believe they have an illness that they don’t. Worse still, this kind of self-suggestion has a nasty tendency to compound when more than one person in an area becomes convinced that something is making them ill, creating a mass panic over something that isn’t even there.

Yes, this kind of a mass panic has happened many times in human history, but with more and more dishonest parties trying to convince everyone that the condition “electro sensitivity” is not complete fiction, it seems that radio towers are now responsible for just about every symptom you can imagine, even at distances that make the power density roughly the same as normal ambient levels.

This would seem to be exactly what is happening around one tower in South Africa.

Via My Broadband News of South Africa:

Massive revelation in iBurst tower battle

Over the past few months a battle between certain concerned Craigavon residents and iBurst reached fever pitch, with residents demanding that iBurst move a tower that was erected in Fourways Memorial Park on 12 August 2009.

A Craigavon Task Force was established shortly after the erection of the tower, partly because some residents in the area complained about ailments which they attributed to the tower. They staged a protest a few weeks after the tower went live, handing out flyers with the message: iBurst subjects a residential community filled with children to uninvited microwaves from their tower.

In an email one Craigavon Task Force member, Tracey-Lee Dorny, describes the affected community’s symptoms: “several rash cases were presented in person and by photos from people who could not attend [a meeting with iBurst]. Headaches, nausea, tinnitus, dry burning itchy skins, gastric imbalances and totally disrupted sleep patterns, especially with some of the children, were some of the issues presented by the residents.

Dorny told The Star that she and her son are spending alternate nights at her mother’s house to get some relief. “When I’m off the property, the symptoms subside, she said.

Another resident, Dave McGregor, is also quoted in The Star as saying that his wife and nine-year-old son suffer bouts of nausea and retching, and have developed skin rashes since the erection of the tower. “We’ve told our son that the tower is only switched on one day a week, so it’s not psychosomatic, McGregor told The Star.


Craigavon Task Force members remained unimpressed, and according to Van Zyl the residents reiterated their viewpoint that their ongoing health problems were caused by the tower. “At the meeting on the 16th of November 2009 a number of residents and their staff confirmed that they were still experiencing symptoms such as rashes, headaches and the like and that these symptoms disappear when they leave the vicinity of the tower.

Ah, so Mr. McGregor lied to his son and told him it was on only one day a week, but his son was sick all seven? Well, that would prove it’s not psychosomatic, right? Actually, no. This is the entire reason why we have “double-blind” studies, because Mr. McGregor was still aware that the tower was on all seven days of the week and thus would have been expecting his son to be sick every day. He may have given him non-verbal cues or claimed to be sick himself.

But the jokes on Dave McGregor, because the tower wasn’t on seven days a week or even one day a week.

At the meeting Van Zyl agreed to turn off the tower with immediate effect to assess whether the health problems described by some of the residents subsided. What Craigavon residents were unaware of is that the tower had already been switched off in early October – six weeks before the November meeting where residents confirmed the continued ailments they experienced.

MyBroadband was furnished with technical reports which confirmed that the Fourways Memorial Park iBurst tower was turned off in early October and that it did not provide any services over the next few weeks.

Van Zyl argues that this clearly proves that the iBurst tower could not be the cause of the health symptoms described by some of the residents. Van Zyl reiterated that residents said that the symptoms typically subsided in hours or days after leaving the Craigavon area, and since it still prevailed in mid-November it means that it could not have been related to the iBurst tower radiation.

Well, looks like some of the local residents and their little “task-force” are going to be looking a little foolish. One might expect that this would be a situation where the case is closed. Unfortunately, people really don’t like to be called out for having fallen for the placebo effect, and these kind of beliefs are not only hard to admit to, but are often so deeply ingrained in people that they will insist that they MUST be true, regardless of how much evidence they are presented with to the contrary. Rather than admit to being suckered into believing something that is not so, one would expect many to claim that there must be a mistake or that perhaps there is another transmitter or even some other, as yet unknown, force radiating from the tower.

Alternatively, they may just go hide.

The story continues:

Van Zyl added that “whatever caused their symptoms, it was now a fact that it could not be attributed to the iBurst tower and the tower was switched back on in the 2nd week of December. The iBurst CEO added that residents failed to show up for subsequent meetings scheduled for the 30th of November and the 2nd of December.

Didn’t show up? Jeez, who woulda thunk.

It seems that the legal battle will continue. After all, just stopping it would be like admitting that they were wrong all along. Now the legal firm representing those opposed to the tower is claiming that the concerns also include environmental issues and the fact that the public was not allowed to participate in the decision process for tower placement. Yes, that’s right, the public is supposed to participate in the planning of something that doesn’t pose any threat to anyone, despite the fact that they believe it does. The inmates, it seems, would like to run the asylum.

That said, there are some important lessons to be learned from this kind of thing. Not only is mass hysteria a very real and potentially dangerous phenomena, but it’s very important to realize that everyone is susceptible to the placebo effect and nobody should ever assume that their symptoms might not be partially or completely in their head. It also shows how dangerous misinformation and outright lies can be when they are disseminated to the public by apparent figures of authority. In the worst circumstances, mass panic can occur during times when there is a real crisis, and in the process, cripple health-care and emergency response services.

Thanks to “Scott in AL” for the link to this

This entry was posted on Saturday, January 16th, 2010 at 2:40 am and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, inverse square, Misc, Not Even Wrong, Quackery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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17 Responses to “Q: How does a radio tower cause rashes and headaches when its turned off?”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    Well this looks like one way of dealing with this whole mess. Set up a tower, wait until the ‘electro-sensitives’ come out of the woodwork complaining of symptoms, let them work themselves into a high lather, and then show proof the tower wasn’t radiating at all. Not wanting to numbered among the nutbars the majority, (who were only out to protect their property-values) drop the issue, and the problem is resolved.

    I would bet this would only have to happen a few times until the publicity humiliates enough people, and the whole issue goes away.

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  2. 2
    [Other] Matthew Says:

    This gives an idea for a scheme these companies could use to debunk this nonsense once and for all – build fake towers, the cost could come from the marketing budget or something, which look exactly like the real thing but have no electronics at all. The boxes, whatever’s normally in them, are instead shells filled with polystyrene balls or something. Be sure to place them near as many schools as possible, to show that they’re thinking of the children.

    Then rather than trying to fight the retards, encourage them. Get on the news, daytime telly, everything. Make sure the fervour gets huge worldwide publicity. Make sure people are talking about it all the time then, live on camera, examine the tower and open the boxes to show the complete lack of anything remotely resembling … anything and sit back looking smug.

    Then maybe we can get enough towers put up to get a decent phone signal and cheap mobile broadband everywhere.

    Well make that expensive mobile broadband, because the phone companies are evil[*], but at least it would be everywhere.

    [*] I’m not being sarcastic as I might if talking about “pig pharma” or the nuclear industry. Phone companies really are evil. Anyone who’s in IT knows this.

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  3. 3
    TomT Says:

    Ah yes. I know people who refuse to admit to the placebo effect. Having fallen into the trap of reacting to a nonexistent problem by becoming sick they resist reevaluating their illness. This is because is because they don’t want to admit to the fact that they it is mostly in their mind or they misdiagnosed themselves.

    I’ve seen this with someone who has a real allergy. To some things they will react even if they don’t know it is present, ie they are having very real symptoms. At other times they will react to seeing something similar to their allergen used. This is something that so long as they can’t see it being used they don’t react at all to, but the moment they see it in use they exhibit all of the symptoms of their allergy. So while they have a real problem they have convinced themselves it is far worse than it is and they react to visual stimulus as if the allergen had been present.

    Sadly because they have very negative associations in their mind with psychogenic illness they refuse to admit to the problem. After all their problems are real and not in their mind.

    This same thing applies I suspect to a vast majority of the ‘electrosensitives’. They may have very real problems, be they diet related or some other problem, but they have found a diagnosis in their own mind and hold to it. Worse they make themselves sicker and blame it all on their nonexistent problem rather than getting the problem they do have treated.

    I feel sorry for those suffering from psychogenic illness but it does them not kindness to treat them as they want to be. It is better to point them to real treatment and suggest that they find good counseling with someone who help them with that aspect of their illness as well. It does them no favors to pander to their imagined problems.

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  4. 4
    Joel Upchurch Says:

    Just nitpicking. Shouldn’t this be called a nocebo effect and not a placebo effect?

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  5. 5
    CybrgnX Says:

    Building the towers with Styrofoam filled boxes wont work!! I happen to know that the wind passing over the Styrofoam builds a huge static charge that will then charge the tower and the resulting current then causes excessive RF waves that will cause birth defects in cattle and an itchy rash around your genitals, and make your head hair fall out. By John Rob MTS1 Engineer Bell Labs.
    See it aint hard to make schite up ;-} and the title is real the name is false.

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  6. 6
    [Other] Matthew Says:

    But there won’t be any wind because the styroballs will be in a sealed case. They can even make the case a faraday cage, but that would probably be a waste of time as the retards wouldn’t have a clue what that means.

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  7. 7
    Doctor Robotnik Says:

    The only proof I need that these towers cause health problems is my own experience. Five years ago I moved to a location less than a mile from one of these towers and just shortly after moving in, I found out I needed to start wearing glasses. Then a year later I got a planters wart on my foot and this past year I’ve had an ear infection I cut myself shaving. Clearly these are all related to the tower and its deadly radiation.

    (sarcasm, in case you didn’t get that)

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  8. 8
    Gordon Says:

    Build it out of styrofoam? Then after finding out that its made of styrofoam, people will insist that styrofoam must be giving off some weird rays that are causing their perceived illness!

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  9. 9
    MrNiceguy Says:

    This story was on Slashdot last week. In the comments, someone mentioned that Amateur Radio operators will often wait a few weeks between putting up a tower and actually using it. Inevitably, neighbors will complain that the new radio is causing TV interference or some other problem. The HAM then takes them out back and shows the disconnected antenna cable.

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  10. 10
    Sigivald Says:

    Matthew: Naw, wouldn’t work. They’d just go conspiracy-theory and claim that until the day of the “revelation” there really were electronics beaming evil microdoomrays into their heads.

    And in the middle of the night the evil telco totally took them away to avoid Paying The Price Of Their Misdeeds.

    Doubtless someone who heard a car drive by that night will be enlisted to provide proof of the Evil Telco’s Sneaky Trucks Of Sneakiness.

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  11. 11
    Calli Arcale Says:

    My church is looking to lease land for a communciations tower. (Not actually cell service; it would be for broadband internet access.) I’ve met one parishoner upset because she doesn’t want the church profiting from pornography. (Sigh.) But the neighborhood doesn’t know about it yet; we’re too early in the negotiations at this point. I’m kinda bracing myself for how that will go. How many will claim to get sick because of the tower? Hopefully none. We shall see.

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  12. 12
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Calli Arcale said:

    My church is looking to lease land for a communciations tower. (Not actually cell service; it would be for broadband internet access.)

    They should go for it. it can be pretty lucrative financially and they may be able to negotiate some other benefits, for example, since the company will need to bring in internet infrastructure, they could possibly get free broadband as part of the deal.

    Unless the tower is right smack in the middle of a historic site or a botanical garden or something, it seems like a no-brainier to me. They’re offering free money to occupy a comparatively small area of land.

            Calli Arcale said:

    I’ve met one parishoner upset because she doesn’t want the church profiting from pornography. (Sigh.)

    I’m not sure I see that as profiting from pornography. Sure, some people who use the service might download porn, but that’s not the direct means of income and really, it’s just a means to an end. Internet access is one thing, but people will use it as they choose. The mail service, private delivery services and such are all used to deliver pornography (they’re also used to deliver all kinds of other stuff)

    You could apply this to almost any product. Selling video tapes? Some may be used to record dirty movies. Sell paper? someone may very well print a dirty picture on it. Selling hammers? Someone might use one to kill someone by hitting them over the head. Sell cars? Someone could use one to drive someplace immoral or to drive to a crime.

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  13. 13
    Calli Arcale Says:

    I completely agree; I was just startled to hear a “pornography” objection. I was fully braced for the “radiation” objection (as the arcane city code requires that it be as close as possible to the actual building and not appear to be a separate structure). The person who made that objection first asked the facilities guy if it would carry cable TV (after hearing that it wouldn’t be cell phones), and was assured that no, it would not; it would be broadband data service, which she was okay with until I put my foot in my mouth by pointing out that the Internet carries porn. I was trying to point out how ubiquitous it is, and that we cannot avoid it except by cutting ourselves off from the world, but she was then too disturbed by that realization to hear the rest of what I was saying. How that attitude makes us no better than China. Hubby eventually got through to her what you just said, that this could apply to pretty much any product. I think it gave her some serious food for thought. She’s just unsure whether we should profit off of it. I pointed out that we need the money desperately, but that made her think of the slippery slope. Not an entirely valid argument, but the slippery slope will make people uneasy.

    Our congregational meeting, at which this will be more formally discussed, is in two weeks. That should be very interesting. I wonder if it will be more or less interesting than the public hearings that will be held to give the church a variance for constructing a 65′ tower on the site? I suspect that it’s the public hearings where the radiation fear will come up.

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  14. 14
    Magic Donuts Says:

    Its a real shame that a transition to more modern technology and being connected by mobile and wireless broadband would be hampered by such a stupid concern over an invented danger. This is becoming more than just a nuisance. We can’t be pushed back into the stoneage by idiotic concerns like this.

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  15. 15
    Sprint fires up 4G service in Central Pennsylvania | Mobile News Says:

    [...] You feel that, Central Pennsylvanians? That slight warmth radiating through the air? That’s Sprint’s 4G service you’re basking in, friend. (Whats that? You don’t feel it? That’s okay. You’re not supposed to be able to. That was just a shout out to all the crazies that swear they get headaches from radio towers — even when they’re turned off.) [...]

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  16. 16
    Sprint fires up 4G service in Central Pennsylvania | Mobile Telephones Says:

    [...] You feel that, Central Pennsylvanians? That slight warmth radiating through the air? That’s Sprint’s 4G service you’re basking in, friend. (Whats that? You don’t feel it? That’s okay. You’re not supposed to be able to. That was just a shout out to all the crazies that swear they get headaches from radio towers — even when they’re turned off.) [...]

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  17. 17
    DT Says:

    I’m a technophile person, but I think that there’s still one unanswered question, meaning whether the people claiming to have electro sensitivity were paid by wireless network suppliers or whoever to pretend to have those health problems whether they weren’t.

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