Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mobile Phones & Nocebo

Short, and let's hope sweet: a new study in Norway double-blind tested 17 people who'd said that mobile phones affected them.

After 65 pairs of sham and real tests, the researchers concluded that

the study gave no evidence that RF fields from mobile phones may cause head pain or discomfort or influence physiological variables. The most likely reason for the symptoms is a nocebo effect.

"Nocebo" being the opposite of placebo: something harmless that you believe is harming you. Nocebo effects are real, as the symptoms of the sufferers are (as Bad Science's Ben Goldacre repeats whenever he deals with this). It's the cause of the symptoms that remains unidentified; this study makes a total of 37 "provocation" studies that have shown no effect apart from nocebo from mobile phones.

The study wasn't any quick'n'easy one either: each test took two hours, and participants were asked to note symptoms occurring up to seven hours afterwards.

And more fun:

The increase in severity [of symptoms] was slightly higher with sham exposure than with RF exposure for pain/discomfort as well as for headache and other symptoms. For no symptom was the difference statistically significant.

The present study demonstrates that exposure to RF fields from GSM 900 mobile phones does not cause pain or discomfort in the head or other symptoms, even in individuals carefully selected according to the criterion of a specific sensitivity to mobile phone use.

We'd like to think that this would help people ease off the scare stories, but our hopes have been repeatedly dashed on this one...
By Charles Arthur - The Guardian

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