But can she taste tea while the Wi-Fi is on? - Macleans.ca

But can she taste tea while the Wi-Fi is on?

Colby Cosh on headlines, metaphors and, well, facts


The folks who are allegedly rendered helplessly ill by Wi-Fi signals make for good copy if you’re the sort of reporter who likes to sow phrases like “debate rages” and “divergent views” in your sentences. (It’s an acquired taste, I guess.) Louise Campbell of Nanoose Bay, B.C., is a nice old lady who says she is being driven bananas by the wireless internet on the ferry to the mainland. If she were just prone to seasickness or nebulous loathing of boats, one supposes some kind soul would advise her to move to an actual continent or learn to love shopping local. But since her body has an unwanted ability to instantly detect wireless radiation to which most of us are blessedly transparent, there she is in the newspaper.

“For me, my day is thinking about how long I can spend in the mall, because there’s Wi-Fi in the mall. If I’m going to a friend’s house, I have to ask them to turn the Wi-Fi off,” [Campbell] said.

Campbell claims her condition causes her to become lightheaded when exposed to wireless devices. A two-hour trip into the city can leave her fatigued for the rest of the day. Campbell avoids restaurants, coffee shops, movie theatres and anywhere she expects exposure.

The situation impelled Campbell to call on B.C. Ferries to provide a way to limit exposure to the ship’s wireless technology while on voyages to the Mainland.

One does wonder what the hell’s the whole point of going to the mainland if you can’t go into a restaurant or a café or a cinema. On the other hand, if I have two hours of errands to run, I’m often knocked out for the rest of the day too, so maybe I should turn off my Wi-Fi.

I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the “poor electrosensitives” game for enterprising assignment editors, but then, they wouldn’t entertain a sick-role player like Miss Campbell if her claim was that bad vibes and weird cooking scents from ethnic neighbours were making her light-headed. The Times-Colonist puts her in the paper because she makes a nice metaphor for technological alienation and because nobody on the news desk is sure how you would set out to test a claim like hers. They haven’t heard of Dr. Muriel Bristol, who claimed she could tell if you’d put the milk in the tea first or vice versa. Which, by the way, she could.

Could very extensive double-blinded testing of literally thousands of self-described “electrosensitives” be at all relevant to this news item? You would never know from the item itself. It has been shown time and time again that under laboratory conditions, “electrosensitives” cannot actually tell if they’re near a source of Wi-Fi like radiation; their reported symptoms, and boy do they report them, bear no relation to whether or not they are actually being exposed. This doesn’t mean Wi-Fi isn’t giving us all spleen cancers or liver spots that are going to start appearing spontaneously in the year 2030, which is a totally different imaginary possibility that a small industry of Cosmic Holistic Total Environment Health Specialists likes to volley back and forth. Miss Campbell’s complaint is more specific than that: it’s a claim of immediate detection ability in the form of “lightheadedness.”

I was going to say that this is like claiming to have a superpower, but then I realized the “like” part is factually incorrect. This woman is essentially telling the Times-Colonist she’s an X-Man. Would she be taken just as seriously if she said she could see the infrared spectrum? There isn’t any difference: that’s just another electromagnetic frequency range for which humans lack a known perceptual organ. But since the ability in this case is cunningly presented as a “disability,” Mr. Editor thinks he must take it more seriously than he does the plot of a comic book. What magic there is in a prefix!


But can she taste tea while the Wi-Fi is on?

  1. Psychosomatic hysteria?

  2. Someone tell her there’s $1 million offered by James Randi if she could demonstrate her wifi sensitivity under double blinded conditions. That’s a nice hunk of change to leave to her grandkids.

  3. Must be because the ferry isn’t grounded.

  4. Nobody tell her that cellular phones mostly operate on the same rough frequency range and with much more power.

    (GSM in Canada is mostly 1.9ghz, right below the 2.4 ghz 802.11 band.

    802.11 APs tend to run in the 100mW range, total output.

    GSM phones peak at two full Watts, 20 times as much.)

    I’ll believe it when she can reliably detect the radio being on in a double blind test.

    • “It is very disturbing how quickly Wifi has moved into schools as it is children who are the most vulnerable.” Elizabeth May, tweeting from her Blackberry.

      • Ha ha very funny but doesn’t Ms. May famously avoid cellphones BECAUSE RADIATION!

  5. I think there’s money to be made in fabricating and selling Faraday cage suits to these people.

    • Artisanal tinfoil hats!

      • Made with ethical aluminum, I hope.

        • Nope – artisanally-smelted iron.

  6. We could put these “electrosensitives” in a faraday cage on Baffin Island

  7. If you are really serious about this story, I suggest you arrange an interview with Frank Clegg (formerly of Microsoft, now of C4ST) and confront him with the evidence that electrohypersensitivity is a non-existent condition. His group has done more than any other to promote an anti-science approach to the issue in Canada. I would genuinely like to see him address the evidence head on rather than going for the easy route of pushing gullible journalists to print sensationalist headlines.

  8. Is this a joke that a Canadian magazine would allow such discriminatory and derogatory comments about people in our country. Just because you don’t understand electromagnetic hypersensitivity gives you no right to mock people or such public and demeaning remarks of those who are suffering. Even if you don’t believe it – it’s unconscionable to spread this bullying approach.