Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields: a content analysis of British newspaper reports

Buffy Eldridge-Thomas, G James Rubin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) is a controversial condition in which people describe symptoms following exposure to electromagnetic fields from everyday electrical devices. However, double-blind experiments have found no convincing evidence that electromagnetic fields cause these symptoms. In this study, we assessed whether recent newspaper reporting in the UK reflected this scientific evidence. We searched a database of newspaper articles to identify all those that contained IEI-EMF related keywords and selected a random sample of 60 for content analysis. For our primary outcomes, we assessed how many articles mainly or wholly presented an electromagnetic cause for IEI-EMF and how many discussed unproven treatments for the condition such as strategies intended to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields or the use of complementary and alternative therapies. We also assessed whether the type of information source used by a newspaper article (e.g. scientist, person with IEI-EMF, politician) or the type of newspaper (broadsheet, tabloid, local or regional) was associated with either outcome. Of the 60 articles, 43 (71.7%) presented a mainly electromagnetic cause, compared to 13 (21.7%) which presented mainly non-electromagnetic causes and 4 (6.7%) which did not discuss a cause. 29 (48.3%) did not mention any potential treatment, while 24 (40.0%) mentioned eletromagnetic field related strategies and 12 (20.0%) mentioned complementary or alternative therapies. Articles which quoted someone with IEI-EMF were significantly more likely to report an electromagnetic cause and to present unproven treatments. Those which used a scientist as a source were more likely to present a non-electromagnetic cause for the condition. The widespread poor reporting we identified is disappointing and has the potential for to encourage more people to misattribute their symptoms to electromagnetic fields. Scientists should remain engaged with the media to counteract this effect.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere65713
Pages (from-to)N/A
Number of pages6
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2013

Keywords

  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Great Britain
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
  • Newspapers
  • Periodicals as Topic
  • Quality Improvement

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