A UK academic study looked at cell towers, often cited as a cause of pain to those who identify themselves as electrosensitive: The study, funded by organization itself funded by both government and industry, was carried out by a University of Essex professor. The group tested 44 people self-identified as having problems with masts, and a control group of 114 who never reported any symptoms. The study started with 56 electrosensitives; 12 dropped out for what an anti-tower group said was illness, but which isn't noted by the researchers in a university press release or in the BBC story linked to here. Update: The study is now available for download in PDF form at no cost from Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study, conducted over three years, used a variety of measures to determine reaction, including "heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance," the University's release says. Subjective well-being was also measured in a couple ways, including using 57 symptoms extracted from a questionnaire designed to determine electromagnetic sensitivity. Researchers tested both in what is described as "open provocation," in which both the researcher and the subject knew when a signal was present or absent from a cell tower base station under the study's control, and in double-blind circumstances, where neither party knew when the signal was present or absent.
The open provocation part was critical, because other studies had been criticized for failing to observe people's symptoms at all, making it difficult to know what a typical reaction was. Sensitive subjects did report symptoms when they knew the signal was present. However, with double-blind testing of both sensitive and control subjects, the results were no better than chance in either group as to knowing whether the signal was present or absent. Two of the sensitive subjects and five control subjects were 100-percent accurate as to when the signal was present or absent, but this can be attributable to chance. If subjects were truly sensitive, then the results would have been better than chance, especially in the sensitive group.
Here's the critical part of this study, and something I have attempted to emphasize in my coverage in the last several months: the study showed that people's presented symptoms were real and measurable but that they could not be correlated to the source that sufferers believe the symptoms are associated with. The principal investigator put it quite humanely: "It is clear that sensitive individuals are suffering real symptoms and often have a poor quality of life. It is now important to determine what other factors could be causing these symptoms, so appropriate research studies and treatment strategies can be developed."
Researchers across many disciplines were involved--"cognitive psychologists, electronic and biomedical engineers and a medical doctor"--and the test conditions were in a lab equipped for the purposes, with an independent evaluation conducted of the test environment. Dr James Rubin, the Kings College London researcher who previously reviewed 31 similar studies, endorsed the results of this study.
Significantly, the UK group Powerwatch, which has a general acceptance of the notion of electrosensitivity and other health affects due to Wi-Fi, cell phones, and cell towers, had a generally positive reaction to the study, noting mostly that chronic health effects can't be assessed in this sort of study, which is true. Powerwatch concluded that people who incorrectly identify themselves as electrosensitive may be skewing these sort of studies--what they call nocebo responses.
The study was funded by the Link Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, funded by the affected industry and government. This is the first research released that was funded by this group.
--- Hypnosis (including self-hypnosis) can cause real symptoms as well as relieve them.
--- Subjects with 100% accuracy in signal detection need further study, which somehow is never done. It is not a chance event if they are observed to detect signals consistently, independently of the study being performed. Double-blind studies don't need to be done by blind researchers on unknown mixtures of blind and sighted subjects, although this is the way such studies are usually done.
[Editor's note: You can take the same subjects and run them through the same tests to see if they perform better than chance again. There's also the negative: People who are nearly 100-percent wrong (or even 80-percent wrong) are good subjects, too, as they can be misinterpreting stimuli.)