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Bullshit Health

Wi-fi grows tits on bulls, or something

I’ve just been given a press release (thanks, Paul) showing that Wi-Fi may be linked to autism – if by “linked” you mean “not linked”. It’s toss, of course, based on studies by a nutritionist and the infamous Wi-Fi “expert” Dr Carlo, a regular subject of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog. An extract:

The autistic children followed specific detoxification protocols in an environment that was mitigated with regard to sources of EMR including mobile phones and WiFi. Heavy metal excretions were monitored from hair, urine and feces over periods ranging from several weeks to several months. The researchers found that with protocols administered in the mitigated environment, heavy metals were cleared from the children?s bodies in a pattern dependent on time and molecular weight. The heaviest metals, such as mercury and uranium, cleared last. In many of the children, the decrease in metals was concomitant with symptom amelioration.

It’s a classic of its kind, actually. Not only does it have killer wi-fi, but it also has the heavy metals/autism link – which doesn’t exactly have a happy history:

An autistic boy died after receiving an unproven treatment that some people believe may cure the neurological and developmental disorder, officials said.

Abubakar Tariq Nadama, 5, had received his third treatment of chelation therapy at a doctor’s office Tuesday before going into cardiac arrest, said Deputy Coroner Larry Barr.

…Some people believe that autism can be linked to a mercury-containing preservative once commonly used in childhood vaccines, and these people sometimes advocate chelation therapy, which causes heavy metals to leave the body through urine.

…Howard Carpenter, the executive director of the Advisory Board on Autism-Related Disorders, said it was just a matter of time before there would be a death linked to the therapy.

“Parents of children with autism are desperate. Some are willing to try anything,” Carpenter said.

Buried in the wi-fi/autism study:

…the study was a retrospective observation based on subjects with severe autism whose parents chose to pursue alternative metal detoxification methods after other traditional approaches had failed.

In other words, desperate parents who were willing to try anything.

Expect to see it in the papers tomorrow.

7 replies on “Wi-fi grows tits on bulls, or something”

Ben Goldacre points out that while the press release is new, the paper isn’t. In fact, the Quackometer has already covered it.

On a related note, I found this via Ben’s blog, which made me so angry I wept. Don’t read the linked article if you’re a parent and want to keep your cool.

The NSW Coroner has found there is sufficient evidence for the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider laying charges against the parents of a baby who died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies.

That’s *instead of* her prescribed medicine.

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/11/19/1195321684868.html

FFS – so now they’re trying to bring together two separate branches of the fruitcake tree *rolls eyes*

The lack of understanding of autism is quite depressing. One of my on-line friends has had a painful time over the last few years fighting against the ignorance driving the alternative “remedies” that some parents seem fit to give their kids, despite there being any decent research backing them up.

And now – adding that evil WiFi into the mix? Oh, FFS etc etc

now they’re trying to bring together two separate branches of the fruitcake tree

Hahah, what a superb way to put it.

The lack of understanding of autism is quite depressing.

It is, yeah. Unfortunately – as you say – it creates a gap that the quacks are all too happy to fill.

That’s what pisses me off about this stuff. If that release gets picked up by the usual suspects – that is, overworked and underpaid staffers who know as much about science and medicine as I do about football and cricket – and it hits print without being ripped to bits, at least some parents will read it and think “well, they wouldn’t print it if it weren’t true”. So they’ll go chasing after some illusion, driving themselves insane with fear of innocuous things or, depending on the level of quackery involved, subjecting their kids to unnecessary and potentially harmful “treatments”.

And of course, as the two linked stories (the chelation and the homeopath stories) prove, when quackery’s taken to extremes it kills kids.

Good day. Couldn’t find a relevant article on .net to comment on , so am doing it here. Speaking of Wifi, your recent article in .net mag, entitled “Land of the Free?”, you are remiss in failing to note that WiFi is actually available everywhere in the country, that is, in the USA. My guess is this network has coverage of a +- 30ft radius, with one hotspot every 2-3 city miles in suburbia. What is this network I speak of? Starbucks. While not free, it is certainly easy to score a free WiFi day pass at your local T-Mobile/ATT Hotspot. While administrators in City Halls across the country tout the benefits of Metro-WiFi project, it is simply not an approach that can work in the massive sprawl of most American cities. How many hotspots does it take to blanket a city like San Francisco, from where I hail? An impossible and improbable number! 49 square miles of topographic mess on top of a technology not designed for urban environment, is a massive deployment. Simply, if we can’t make it work at our tradeshows (try wifi at MacWorld, fo-get-a-bout-it), how can we have it work in our urban centres?

So back to the Starbucks/T-mobile hotpot. It is simply the best approach to blanketing your city with a patch work of hotspots. It is (1) available nearly every 2-3 miles (2) usually always on (3) relatively inexpensive for less than $30 a month (4) providing coffee and rest-stop facilities. I’m not saying it is free as beer. It’s not. It is simply a market reality, that massive wifi rollout is hard, and not sustainable. For a small cafe, the wifi freeloaders are a nuisance and they just take seats otherwise used by paying customers. So the lesser of all evils is to suck it up and plunk down some hard cash to get the right to have access in nearly every city and neighborhood throughout America. Let them (Starbucks) build it, and we will come.

And regarding WiFi and autism, the connection is probably in plastics and other toxics. If you look at the figures in our Marin County area near SF, we have an abnormally high incidence of Autism. Is it WiFi? Probably not. It is a very sparsely populated area with a rugged terrain and lots of space between people. I think the move towards over-use of plastics (bottled water, heated tupperware, baby bottles) coupled with the over-diagnosis of learning/behavioral disorders in our society, leads to this rise. Would be interesting to see some do a control study removing some of the toxics like plastics from a community for a long period.

Hi David, thanks for that. Sorry in advance – this has to be short, because it’s time to feed the baby in a minute :)

I think the answer (for travellers at least) would be Fon, but with decent coverage (it’s crap over here), or some kind of wi-fi equivalent of roaming. So for example here in the UK, an 02 iPhone plan gives you wi-fi access via The Cloud and BT Openzone, which between them have a huge network in McDonalds, motorway service stations and so on. I know there’s a US equivalent where members can roam between different providers’ networks, but its name escapes me just now.

Good point about WiFi freeloaders being a nuisance to small cafes, and I think you might be on to something about autism – although the other possible explanation I’ve seen is that techy areas are particularly prone to autism, because mild autism can help people be great techy people. People meet their partners at work… I have *absolutely no idea* whether there’s any truth to that idea at all, but it’s interesting.

If I may just put on my statistician’s hat for a moment…

> we have an abnormally high incidence of Autism.

> leads to this rise.

A high incidence is not a rise, hence does not require the same sort of explanatiosn that a rise would.

If there is any genetic component to autism, then the concentration of tech firms in the area would be plenty explanation, I’d’ve thunk.

Any one hear about that Scandinavian guy who’s become a millionaire by founding a firm that specialises in hiring autistic people for their IT prowess? He’s just setting up a factory in the UK; Scotland, I think.

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