Thursday, 8 January 2009

Glastonbury loses the plot

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No, nothing to do with Eavis booking Jay-Z last year. This one's about the actual town of Glastonbury, where some residents have been hysterically spouting pseudoscience in response to the council kindly providing the town centre with free Wi-Fi internet. They're blaming the wireless for a variety of medical problems - headaches, dizziness, rashes and even pneumonia - and, as the Telegraph reports, have left the science bit to some true professionals:
"Some healers even hold that electro-magnetic fields (EMFs) generated by the wi-fi system are responsible for upsetting positive energy fields of the body, which are known as chakras, and positive energy fields of the earth, which are known as ley lines.

"There are now calls for the project, the first of its kind in Britain, to be "unplugged" and for wi-fi masts in the centre of the Somerset market town to be removed just seven months into its experimental run.

"Meanwhile soothsayers, astrologers and other opponents of the wi-fi system have resorted to an alternative technology - known as "orgone" - to combat the alleged negative effects of the high-tech system."
Of course, no actual scientific evidence has ever shown that Wi-Fi signals affect health. Apparently some Glastonbury residents are claiming the signals have lowered the levels of the hormone melatonin in their bodies - something biologist PZ Myers quickly debunks on Pharyngula: "This is nonsense: melatonin really doesn't do everything, the pineal [gland that produces it] is not going to be particularly responsive to random radio frequencies, and these kooks don't even have a way to assess melatonin levels."

Sadly, it seems real science is unlikely to dissuade those trying to have Glastonbury's free network removed, as highlighted by the absurd activities of one opponent:

"Matt Todd has started building small generators which he believes can neutralise the allegedly-harmful radiation using the principles of orgone science. The pyramid-like machines use quartz crystals, selenite (a clear form of the mineral gypsum), semi-precious lapis lazuli stones, gold leaf and copper coil to absorb and recycle the supposedly-negative energy.

'I have given a number of generators to shops in the High Street and hidden others in bushes in the immediate vicinity of the antennae. That way you can bring back the balance,' said Mr Todd.

Orgone science was developed by the Austro-Hungarian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who claimed all living matter contains a biological energy. Mr Todd added: 'The science hasn't really got into the mainstream because the Government won't make decisions which will affect big business, even if it concerns everyone's health'."

"The science hasn't really got into the mainstream". You really couldn't make it up (although he actually has). It would all be hilarious if there weren't so many people out there thinking like this. As PZ rightly points out on his blog, the journalists have clearly gone after the more leftfield residents of Glastonbury, but you really do have to despair when New Age pseudoscience and paranoia leads to a sizable movement that could have free wireless internet (which most people would love) removed from a town. As you'll see if you read the Telegraph article, even local Conservative MP David Heathcoat Amory is backing the protesters.

Where's Carl Sagan when we need him?

5 comments:

Psychodiva said...

as a resident of the neighbouring county of Wiltshire and having been part of the festival (tho not any longer) I can attest to the high quotient of weirdos and pseudo-scientific idiots in that town. It really is worth a visit if you come over to England purely for the great LULZ enjoyed as a result of wandering through the shops and watching the populace - it only keeps going through the tourists who spend their money on this idiocy - other wise the place would be quite boring :)

Paul Sims said...

Thanks for the local insight Psychodiva. I've only been for the festival, when obviously there was plenty of woo.

Andy said...

Argh! If EM fields of this magnitude were detrimental then MRI scans would be lethal.

Ooops, that's the next scare started.

Anonymous said...

Nice Post....keep it up !!!! Good job

John Lochrie

Chris Anderson said...

While there isn't any strong evidence that wifi fields impact health, it isn't conclusive either way.

Professor Henry Lai, a biologist at Washington state (who the BBC report as being respected on both sides of the argument) says that out of 2-3000 studies over the past 30 years, around half show no ill effects, and the other half do show an effect.

It concerns the UK Government enough that they recently commissioned another study into the health effects of wifi fields.

While I'm opting to take my chances (I use wifi), I can understand others choosing to wait until the technology is proven. Calling for the system to be 'unplugged' seems perfectably sensible in this context. I can't say the same about the quartz and copper coils, however...