Electrosensitivity challenge

This is interesting: the results of a large electrosensitivity study will be published on Wednesday, and both sides of the debate are looking forward to its findings. Panorama recently cited it as positive evidence, despite its results not being available, and it’s been widely publicised as a consequence. The methodology is known, and (to my, non-expert) eyes seems to be valid:

We tested 56 people who suffered from EHS as well as 120 people who did not. In order to be scientifically valid, the study was conducted under “double-blind” conditions. This simply means that neither the person conducting the research, nor the person being tested knew when the base-station was “on” or “off”. Once we had completed the data collection phase (testing all our participants) we were able to “crack the code” and see to what extent the electromagnetic fields affected a variety of symptoms that people had reported, as well as measures of blood pressure and heart-rate.

Full details here, including the power output of the ‘base station’.

The electrosensitivity blogosphere has apparently been making noises about this study, and skeptics-hero Ben Goldacre has proposed an agreement: everybody write their analysis of the methodology before the results are published, then commit to covering the results, no matter which way they go. Assuming they don’t reveal a load more information about the methodology tomorrow, this should make ad hoc refutations blindingly obvious, on either side.

There have been many studies of this kind before. According to Mr Goldacre negative studies outweigh the positive, and the latter are all either statistically flawed, contradictory or have results that can’t be repeated by the same researchers. But it doesn’t seem to have helped much, and more evidence is always good. Either way, the results will be interesting. Electrosensitivity, coupled with the supposed dangers of phone masts, are increasingly prevalent in the public consciousness, and if an effect really exists it would clearly be a major health issue. If it doesn’t, though, it needs to stop being bandied about by the media as a scare story. Also, people are clearly suffering with something, and more evidence of what is isn’t can only help narrow down what it is.