“Nocebo effect” proves: Available EHS research is useless for decisions-making

[update: this blog is now also available in French]

Some say that EHS (called also IEI-EMF) is caused by the EMF exposures. Some disagree entirely.

In the absence of the conclusive scientific evidence to support either of the opinions, the debate goes on and will go on indefinitely… unless a real scientific research studies will examine the possibility of causal link between EHS and EMF.

Reading today a column by Rajeev Bansal “Nocebo: Reading this Column May Affect Your Health”  published in 2013 in IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, Vol. 55, No. 6, December 2013, prompted me to write this blog on nocebo and EHS.

I dare to say that the, to-date executed, research on EHS is very unreliable, scientifically speaking. Based on it claims that EHS is unrelated to EMF are illogical and unscientific. What is the most worrisome, the “guardian of our health”, the World Health Organization, using this illogical and unscientific evidence jumped to conclusion that it is proven that EHS is unrelated to EMF. This conclusion is incorrect. We have no evidence linking EHS with EMF or showing that link does not exist because the currently available scientific studies on EHS are worthless.

The majority of EHS studies were performed on small numbers of subjects and predominantly by asking how the subjects feel. In some studies was measured also e.g. blood pressure, but such data is, similarly to data as responses to how-do-you-feel-question, a very unreliable information. It can be dramatically affected by the experimental conditions. Even if the scientists try their best to avoid stressing the subjects.

I made a small “experiment” and, while writing this story, I measured my blood pressure and pulse, three times in time span of 5 minutes. Results are following (I am suffering of too high blood pressure so my numbers are higher than normally should be):

  • 168/92 pulse 78,
  • 149/87 pulse 74,
  • 153/98 pulse 83.

I was sitting at my desk, peacefully at home in most optimal conditions to measure reliably blood pressure. However, the three measurements made within 5 minutes time span, vary. I bet that these numbers would show higher variability in EHS suspecting person stressed by experimentalists in laboratory conditions.

Any EHS data obtained to date are unreliable because these data are overshadowed by subjectivity of the information provided by the study subjects. Any definitive conclusions made using such data are, as mentioned already above, useless or even, worthless.

Interestingly, the proof of worthlessness of such “data” was provided a couple years ago by the most renown “anti-EHS-guru”, Dr. G. James Rubin.

In a study, by M. Witthoeft and G.J. Rubin, “Are Media Warnings About the Adverse Health Effects of Modern Life Self-Fulfilling? An Experimental Study on Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields (IEI-EMF),” published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research (74, 2013, pp. 206-212), the authors claimed that the existence of nocebo effect provides the final proof that EHS is unrelated to EMF exposures.

It is not so. The existence of nocebo effect proves neither lack nor existence of causal link between EHS and EMF. However, the nocebo effect proves that the research data collected in the to-date executed EHS studies is absolutely unreliable.

Witthoeft and Rubin performed a nocebo experiment.

From wikipedia: “In medicine, a nocebo (Latin for “I shall harm”) is an inert substance or form of therapy that creates harmful effects in a patient. The nocebo effect is the adverse reaction experienced by a patient who receives such a therapy.”

In an experiment, subjects were shown two movies, one warning about health risks of EMF and the other, neutral to EMF and health issue. Following the presentation, study subjects experienced more EHS symptoms after seeing the movie warning of EMF health risk danger.

The only thing this study proves is that, indeed, we are affected by what we see and hear around us. It does not say anything about an potential impact of EMF exposures. It is easily possible to envision that some persons will experience EHS symptoms just by worrying about EMF exposures. This, however, does not prove that others may not respond to EHS exposures.

The study by Witthoeft and Rubin demonstrates something well known already – the basis of commercial advertizing – we, the people, are affected by what we see and hear around us, by the variety of media…

What is not spoken about is that Witthoeft and Rubin study proves how unreliable, subjective and influenced by what we think and see around us, is the “scientific data” obtained in to-date executed EHS studies. The answers provided by study subjects are certainly influences by what they know and think about EMF exposures. The data is tainted by subjective opinions. Using such “tainted data” as scientific evidence of the lack of casual link between EHS and EMF is unscientific.

We need reliable, objective scientific data to prove or to disprove the causality link between EHS and EMF. I mentioned what we need in my previous blog “BioEM2015: Plenary session on EHS“. In this earlier post you can also find more info on how unreliable the EHS research was and is…

Strictly scientifically, I do not know if EHS is causally linked to EMF exposures. My uncertainty stems from the lack of reliable scientific evidence. Scientists should stop wasting money and time on collecting useless, biased by subjectivity, data on EHS.

The problem is that EHS research arena is dominated by scientists who prefer collection of subjective data from small groups of study subjects to prove… well, it is a good question – what they wish to prove?


9 thoughts on ““Nocebo effect” proves: Available EHS research is useless for decisions-making

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  2. Pingback: Guest Blog “The Sad State of Affairs with EHS Research in Australia” by Don Maisch | BRHP – Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  3. Pingback: Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity and Nocebo: What was first – “the chicken or the egg”? | BRHP – Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  4. Thakn You for trying to get to the bottom of this issue. I think arguing with Rubin is a waste of time. It is a red herring. You can’t use the kind of research they use to confirm or deny EHS . This is how they get us. We spin our wheels on ignorant stuff like provocation studies and meta analysis of provocation studies….. The whole group at Rubins university have claimed nocebo effect for a number of things. It is an industry flunkie group. They are bot at all scientific but then they are psychologists so what do you seriously expect. Here is a subject that affects biological functioning and we expect a psychologist to unravel this mystery. Seriously?? Would a psychologist be able to unravel cancer??
    They are the ignorant ones who said that CFS people should be forced to exercise. Well guess what–we are now uncovering that there is some sort of issue in the mitochondria of people with CFS. Shows how much those psychologist know about anything. A science based on opinion and a bunch of guys who come to agreements on what constitutes a mental illness. Seriously??? Rubins expertise seems to only encompass nocebo research. I wonder if he knows much about the effect window of nonionizing radiation? I wonder if he knows anything about the mast cell studies done by Olle Johnasson? I wonder if he followed any of the studies showing genetic damage from exposure to RF? I wonder if he read the army and other military reports going back decades documenting the effects of exposure to RF?
    How can it be that the same exposures cause the same constellation of symptoms since the beginning of exposures? Are all these people susceptible to suggestion. What about the animal studies showing that animals exhibit the same types of symptoms as people? Are they also susceptible to the nocebo effect. The fact that the nocebo effect exists does not eliminate the fact that EHS symptoms are triggered by exposure to EMR. You can make people sick by telling them they just drank poison. Nocebo effect!! But people would also really get sick if you gave them poison. So being able to elicit the nocebo effect doesn’t eliminate anything except for wondering if the nocebo affect is real or not. It doesn’t disprove EHS.

    Researchers need to figure out how this triggers the biological effects. Surely it has to do with something in the cells. Many have needle like sensations and burning. Many also have pressure in the head and heart. Many have brain fog. Pick a symptom and go after it. Seems like Olle has done a great deal of work h the skin cells. If we could shoe a difference in the cells conclusively–then that would be a start. Many of the systems are affected by this burning–like the stomach, sinus, eyes, mouth, esophagus etc. Figure out that one thing and that would help a lot.
    Are EHS people ‘s cells different or do they react differently? Why does one person exposed burn while the next one doesn’t. How about just doing a test on people who have burning skin as a symptom.

    I have it and would gladly volunteer to have biopsies taken of my skin–as many as necessary. This condition has destroyed my life. Cost me my home, job, and family. Yes, I would gladly volunteer for testing. But who will do it? We don’t have to solve the entire mystery at once. Just one shred of proof to shut up the ignorant psychologist who believe their own garbage.

  5. The arguments put forward by Dariusz here are excellent. We are left with the famous question : what came first – the hen or the egg? There are several other major flaws within most negative studies on EHS that are claimed to show a “nocebo effect”:

    1. non-representative group of EHS. How can you have a representative EHS group when you have no ojective criteria to select false from true EHS test persons and they are recruited by ads in newspaper? (back to problem with the hen and the egg). This is particularly important on an issue where there are huge economic interests in screwing the results towards a negative finding. One appalling example is the Hillert 2008 study that had symptom group (often claimed to be EHS) where more than 50% used a mobile phone in everyday life over 40 minutes a day and used it on average more than the “non symptom group”. So from the start up the study showed the opposite of what is claimed: the more you use a mobile phone the more you have symptoms as headache…http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=hillert+2008+mobile+phone

    2. control EMF exposure in supposed non-exposure session. (Mr Rubin himself did expose the test persons in a study 2007 to significant EMF in the supposed no-exposure session and the headache increased after exposure). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16520326

    I suggest these two problems add to the problems with the “evidence” put forward for EHS as nocebo, by Mr Rubin etc. You cannot make statistical analysis of a small group of individuals if they are not truly representative of the group you say you are testing.

    We also need to have an explanation from Mr Rubin, Mrs Hillert etc: how come that animals show same EHS symptoms? Loss of memory, altered behaviour, damaged sperms and nerve cells? Is this also a “nocebo effect”?.And all the effects on cells, oxicdative stress, DNA damage etc. Really Nocebo? Seriously?

  6. Pingback: Cet effet nocebo qui ne prouve rien | L'errance d'un électrosensible

  7. Frank, nice to hear that you not only follow my blog but that you actually read it…

    People looking at the study by M. Witthoeft and G.J. Rubin, focus on the obvious conclusion of this research: it is possible to affect peoples’ feelings and opinions by “indoctrination”. Nothing new. This is known since the beginning of human history.

    I, however, considered another conclusion stemming from this study. It indicates that opinions of all persons participating in the EHS studies are, a priori, tainted by opinions they saw or read about previously. Opinions expressed by such study subjects are absolutely unreliable because these are tainted, and study by M. Witthoeft and G.J. Rubin proves it.

    We need another approach to determine whether causal link exists between EHS and EMF. Approach that will not rely on subjective and tainted opinions of study subjects.

    This is why I think, as well as e.g. Junji Miyakoshi, we need molecular biology studies to resolve this issue.

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