How concerns about electromagnetic radiation generated the snake oil industry

How concerns about electromagnetic radiation generated the snake oil industry

Springlife’s pager-sized stainless steel polarizer appears to be nothing more than a small metal box. The Acoustic Healing Energy website that sells it claims to be made of “special minerals and earth materials” that attract and absorb “specific wavelengths of cosmic radiation.” It has been advertised as a way to block electromagnetic fields, although there is no clear or proven explanation for how or why this is. It costs more than $200, but you can buy a larger one for over $350.

But David Fancy, who is thought to be sensitive to electromagnetic fields, says that’s the only thing — other than moving to a tent at a friend’s firewood in Ontario, Canada — that has helped with blinding headaches, whole-body nerve pain, and brain fog. He’s been going through it since 2001. And he’s tried lots of different products: He says he’s spent about $2,500 on stickers for cell phones, so-called portable power shields, and other devices that have been advertised as ways to make him feel better.

“My experience has been that 90 percent of these devices don’t work,” he says.

But the opportunity they might have was enough for him to spend the money. Fancy, a professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock University in Ontario, has very real symptoms that he attributes to a controversial condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). The EHS attributes symptoms ranging from dizziness to headache or pain to waves coming from devices such as cell phones or microwaves. In the United States, it is considered a fringe health theory, and the causes of its symptoms are hotly debated among clinicians and scientists. Several peer-reviewed studies have found no scientific link between exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and disease, although several studies suggest that more research is needed to understand people’s symptoms.

Because of its condition, Fancy is an easy target for companies that sell products that claim to protect against low-frequency radiation. Others who think they have electromagnetic hypersensitivity are also targeted. Largely isolated and skeptical of the mainstream medical community, Fancy says, they are particularly vulnerable to marketing. “They’re desperate, and they’re very prone to spending the money they have left on some kind of shortcut device that’s purported to help them.”

Experts say this has only escalated over the past few years. The pandemic and the increasing emergence of misinformation and health conspiracies online have created an ideal environment for snake oil sellers to thrive, taking advantage of mistrust and legitimate concerns about the healthcare industry and offering expensive and useless devices as a solution.

“There is such a plea to find something that will cure you of something … because mainstream and modern medicine has not,” says Kolina Koltai, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington who researches misinformation. “It felt like you were either being ignored or rejected. So [profiteers] They come to fill that void.”

Live Oil Origins

“Snake oil” products claiming to protect humans from radio waves became popular as concerns about radiofrequency radiation increased throughout the 20th century. The emergence of radios, microwaves, and cell phones has raised a new wave of concerns about radiofrequency radiation.

People often confuse non-ionizing radiation—”radiation has properties that increase people’s sense of danger—you can’t see it”—says Kenneth Foster, a University of Pennsylvania professor emeritus who has been studying the effect of radiation on humans since 1976. People often confuse non-ionizing radiation—”radiation has properties that increase people’s sense of danger—you can’t see it”—says that the low-frequency radiation that comes from Our cell phones or household appliances that cannot directly damage DNA or cells – with ionizing radiation such as X-rays that can be harmful to humans.

Since the 1970s and 1980s, experimental studies on radiation have been big business, says Charles Stevens, a neuroscientist who chaired the National Academy of Sciences committee on radiation hazards. There was a lot of government and private funding available for research on electromagnetic radiation, and the studies done with that funding weren’t always accurate, he says. Others were then able to use those flawed studies to back up products that claimed to offer protection.

The problem was further complicated by a 2013 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which reviewed the evidence and classified radiofrequency energy, such as the kind emitted by cell phones, as a “probable carcinogen”. But those studies, like many that preceded them, had too many weaknesses for identifying a specific link to cancer, Timothy Jorgensen wrote in his book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation. The description of the cell phone scared off an “epidemic without disease,” he wrote, “if cell phones are really killing us with brain cancer, we have to ask, where are the bodies?”

By the early 2000s, when cell phones and Wi-Fi networks became commonplace in most homes and public disagreements arose about their safety, patrons took the opportunity to create labels and stickers for “protective” cell phones. The Federal Trade Commission issued a consumer warning about the products in 2011.

That did not discourage groups from launching similar products, which became more numerous during the 2000s and 2010s as cell phones became ubiquitous. Consumers can spend thousands ($487 – $5,600) on devices that claim to “protect” the body from electromagnetic fields: radiation-blocking underwear ($45); Silver Caps ($45); pendants ($99); and Cell Phone Stickers ($69) – the latter are some of the most popular accessories on the market. Crystals made of orgonite, a material based on pseudoscientific theories dating back to the 1940s, are popular on sites like Etsy and Amazon for their claims to “balance” energy such as electromagnetic fields.

These products — and the people they claim to work for — were not available at any other time in history and so easy to sell, says Peter Knight, professor of American studies at the University of Manchester. Because influencers spread misinformation about radiation online, “they are able to put in links to Amazon and other sites that easily allow them to monetize the idea they’re selling,” he says.

Does this thing really work?

Product push has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with strong links to anti-vaccine groups. The “super spreaders” of disinformation — which account for 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on the Internet, according to the Center for Combating Digital Hate — have seen audiences grow rapidly. Anti-vaccine influencers like Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have pushed narratives about 5G and the danger of electromagnetic fields along with misinformation about vaccines, and their books and products are subsidized by platforms like Amazon.

“During the pandemic, one of their biggest selling points… was basically saying, ‘We’ve been silenced, we’ve been censored, and this treatment is being hidden from you by the big drug companies,'” says Azadeh Izzi Ghafari, one of the company’s marketing specialists. myself in california.

Small businesses also seem to have grown since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, German company Waveguard – which sells “Qi shield” devices that claim to protect the user from “all areas of EMF, including 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G” – had $1.7 million in total assets, up from 1.1 million dollar. a year ago. The Qi Shield is sold as small portable boxes ($550), tubes ($1195), or as a stationary “home cell” that can be placed in the center of a room or house ($3579 – $6479).

But, like other products, Qi Shield’s claims aren’t subject to scrutiny. Waveguard’s sole US partner, Synergy Science, is promising that scientific studies by German technical inspection company TÜV SÜD (which the company has sponsored privately) prove its efficacy. But rather than showing that the device “significantly reduces exposure when in the vicinity of EMF signals,” as its website claimed, the study showed that the device only distorts the radiation field so that the measurements differ when the device is in place. This does not mean that it provides any “protection” from the existing low-frequency radiation energy, Thomas Oberst, a TÜV SÜD spokesperson, wrote in a statement to the edge. In fact, it may actually lead to increased exposure. Synergy Science has removed the study from its website after I contacted it the edge But she did not provide a comment.

Hagen Thiers, who founded Waveguard in 2014, said in an interview with the edge He does not dispute the conclusions in the TÜV SÜD report but asserts that the product helps people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity. He says the TÜV study was just an intermediate point for other studies, such as a study from Germany’s Fraunhofer Laboratory. Sponsored by Waveguard, the study found that some participants who slept with the device closer to their body reported better sleep quality. But the study also found “no apparent effects of one week’s exposure with Qi-shield on personal well-being, stress, and sleep quality.”

The report concluded, “We emphasize the need to replicate the findings in a new study and sample.”

Foster, the radiation expert, dismissed the study findings as showing a “complete lack of efficacy” of the product And No other product that claims to protect people from electromagnetic fields. At best, the risk found in most of these products is weak consumer wallets. But at worst, it can be harmful to one’s health.

Several companies that sell EMF protection products have received warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a company called Basic Reset, whose nutritional supplements and medical devices were recalled in 2019 after claiming to treat a number of ailments from allergies to pain. The Food and Drug Administration said in the recall notice that Basic Reset products “are likely to be unsafe or ineffective for their own uses, and could result in adverse health effects.” (The company was ordered to close operations in 2019.) In December, the Dutch Nuclear Safety and Radiation Authority issued a warning about 10 anti-5G products found to emit harmful ionizing radiation and have the potential to cause long-term health damage.

It’s also dangerous for bad actors to take advantage of their theories, such as those linking electromagnetic radiation to health problems, says misinformation researcher Koltai. If products based on these theories are profitable, they have financial incentives to continue trading bad information. It could do more harm to those who are already vulnerable and distrust mainstream medicine – people like Fancy and the thousands of others who say they have EHS who are targeted by companies selling the products.

Marketing materials for companies like Vivobase ($279 – $750), for example, say they’re “special for people who are sensitive to electricity.” DefenderShield, the company that sells products ranging from protective phone cases ($75) to blankets ($40-500) and wallpaper ($200), was founded by a man who published a book in 2017 about the “proven health risks” of EMFs and how “It particularly affects children and those with electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” August Brice, founder of the Tech Wellness blog, says she suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Price often “disgraces” other protective devices as unhelpful for hypersensitive people and encourages them to buy her own line of products instead. A simple Google search for “how to treat EHS” results in a blog post with links to EMF blocking products as a first result.

Although these products are pushed to people who think they have EHS, who have very real physical symptoms, they don’t help them. They only take advantage of people who feel they have few other places to turn.

And if the marketing hype works well, these patients will be left spending more and more money to try more and more devices — which could prevent them from getting the medical care they need, Ghafari says. “It’s dangerous to tell people that this is a treatment that will help you.”

2022-05-17 14:00:00

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