Retraction Watch, EMF Hypersensitivity, and Some Heroic Restraint | Vol. 3 / No. 21.3

Still not a thing, guys | Photo: EMF Camp 2014 (which is a thing, and a cool one at that), CC BY-SA 2.0

In which Retraction Watch demonstrates a heroic level of restraint.


I love Retraction Watch. They report retractions, and try very, very hard not to insert themselves and their own opinions into their work. That much was painfully obvious yesterday when I received notification that an article entitled “EUROPAEM EMF Guideline 2015 for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of EMF-related health problems and illnesses” had been retracted for plagiarism.

All through the post, you can almost hear the writers shouting at their computers something along the lines of “who ARE you people!?” and “EMF hypersensitivity ISN’T EVEN A THING!” but god bless ’em, they don’t type it even once.

They do write that the reason for the retraction is plagiarism, even though the authors say it’s because “several citations were lost and other errors were detected,” and, of course, that this wasn’t caught because the article in question wasn’t even sent out for peer review because it was “a large international group of experts that wrote the guideline.” I mean, if they’re experts, why seek peer review, right?

They do also try to ask the editor if it isn’t a little bit strange that he, a man named David Carpenter, was in fact the lead author of the 2012 “BioInitiative” report from which the plagiarized parts had been taken, but they then dutifully report that his response is something about being managing editor and not reading most of the articles. Most of which — almost all, he tells us — are normally sent out for peer review. Just not this one.

The folks at Retraction Watch do, in an impartial and beautifully understated way, mention that the World Health Organization finds the very claims of EMF sensitivity to be, well, without merit, and that “despite the conclusions of the EUROPAEM guidelines and the BioInitiative Report, other evidence shows the electromagnetic fields (EMF) that permeate our modern environment are not associated with symptoms such as nausea and headaches, and do not appear to pose problems for people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

But that’s basically all they say about the fact that the claims of supposedly EMF-hypersensitive people are about as durable under double-blind conditions as those of psychics and spirit mediums.

There’s really not a lot to say about EMF hypersensitivity except this: the suffers are really suffering, and there appears to be no link whatsoever to the presence or absence of EMF radiation. Which, if you ask me, makes it a bit of a misnomer.

Anyway, kudos for staying professional, Retraction Watch. You’re heroes, all.


Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.