MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

General practitioners (GPs) play an important role in advising patients on all sorts of matters related to their health, and this includes, of course, the possible risks of electromagnetic fields (EMF). Their views on EMF are thus relevant and potentially influential.

A team of German and Danish researchers therefore conducted a survey comparing GPs using conventional medicine (COM) with GPs using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) concerning their perception of EMF risks. A total of 2795 GPs drawn randomly from lists of German GPs were sent an either long or short self-administered postal questionnaire on EMF-related topics. Adjusted logistic regression models were fitted to assess the association of an education in alternative medicine with various aspects of perceiving EMF risks.

Concern about EMF, misconceptions about EMF, and distrust toward scientific organizations are more prevalent in CAM-GPs. CAM-GPs more often falsely believed that mobile phone use can lead to head warming of more than 1°C, more often distrusted the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, were more often concerned about mobile phone base stations, more often attributed own health complaints to EMF, and more often reported at least 1 EMF consultation. GPs using homeopathy perceived EMF as more risky than GPs using acupuncture or naturopathic treatment.

The authors concluded that concern about common EMF sources is highly prevalent among German GPs. CAM-GPs perceive stronger associations between EMF and health problems than COM-GPs. There is a need for evidence-based information about EMF risks for GPs and particularly for CAM-GPs. This is the precondition that GPs can inform patients about EMF and health in line with current scientific knowledge.

True, the evidence is somewhat contradictory but the majority of independent reviews seem to suggest that EMF constitute little or no health risks. In case you don’t believe me, here are a few conclusions from recent reviews:

But even if someone wants to err on the safe side, and seriously considers the possibility that EMF sources might have the potential to harm our health, a general distrust in scientific organizations, and wrong ideas about modern technologies such as mobile phones are hardly very helpful – in fact, I find them pretty worrying. To learn that CAM-GPs are more likely than COM-GPs to hold such overtly anti-scientific views does not inspire me with trust; to see that homeopaths are the worst culprits is perhaps not entirely unexpected. Almost by definition, critical evaluation of the existing evidence is not a skill that is prevalent amongst homeopaths – if it were, there would be no homeopaths!

4 Responses to More evidence regarding the anti-science stance within alternative medicine

  • In France (where i live) we even got clueless people who wanted a law to protect against “electrosensivity” (that mean money given to that people for their “handicap”) , an imaginary desease provoked by electromagnetic fields. A study show that the people with “electrosensivity” were “sick” even in a room with no eletromagnetic fields if we tell them that there is an electromagnetic fields. A lot of cranck are now selling “anti-electromagnetic” material to those abused chaps, lot of easy money is made here. What people needs is less stress, not more reasons to fear illusionary treat.

    • @Quark

      Some months ago I saw a comment over at SBM by Fredric from France who told the story of incident involving a telecom company (“Orange” ?).
      The story was that they had put up a relay tower near a French township and the inhabitants started feeling ill with all kinds of symptoms and duly protested.
      An investigation revealed that the mast had not even been powered up yet, which proved that the symptoms were imaginary. Of course this may be a false folklore but it would be nice to be able to corroborate the story if true.
      I have been unable to find anything about this incident so it may be a fabricated folklore. Would you or anyone else here be able to confirm this with credible documentation?

  • Bjorn : I’ve heard of this story indeed, i recall that some media have talking of it on TV some years ago. I could search article on this one but i think it would be all in french !

  • Interesting study.

    There are of course 2 possible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations for the results:

    1. A training in CAM teaches people to ignore scientific evidence and go with the conspiracy theories instead

    2. People who are predisposed to ignore scientific evidence and go with the conspiracy theories instead are more likely to study CAM

    I guess the study you describe doesn’t allow us to distinguish between those possibilities. My guess would be that No 2 is the driving factor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if No 1 had a significant impact too. Would be interesting to have some good data on the relative importance of the 2 things. I guess you’d need a cohort study for that, which I’m sure would not be at all easy to do.

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