Reality of electromagnetic sensitivity is not decided by a French court

The case of the French woman with wifi sensitivity appeared in the comments of this story about a boy whose parents are suing a school for the same cause. Now, it’s all over the internet so we’ve decided, for completeness, to cover it separately. It raises justifiable concerns about science-based claims.

Forced to live in a barn without electricity due to her alleged EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity), Marine Richard won a court case and has been awarded disability payments.

She claimed that she suffers from electromagnetic sensitivity and sufferers say that exposure to mobile phones, Wi-Fi and televisions cause extreme discomfort.

French courts have refused so far to pay disability benefits to people who suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity, so after winning the case, Mariane (sic) Richard said that her win was a ‘breakthrough’.

Source: Woman who claimed she was ‘allergic to Wi-Fi’ gets disability allowance from French court – Telegraph

Marine Richard was granted a £500 (approx. $770 US) monthly disability allowance for three years. How this will affect future cases and the legitimacy of EHS remains to be seen. EHS is officially called “Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF)” in the medical literature, but the EHS term is more widely used in the vernacular.

There is considerable controversy regarding EHS and whether or not it’s actually a real medical condition. According to the current scientific consensus, it isn’t. But there is no doubt that this woman IS disabled. She can not function in a society she entirely believes is making her sick.

Will more French now be able to claim disability allowance for any disability that has no scientific consensus? Will it translate to other countries? What is critical to note is that the court did not declare EHS a legitimate illness. They just declared she was disabled by whatever condition she has. But, it will be used by those who demand that this condition be recognized sans scientific legitimacy.

There still does not appear to be a standard test for this but there probably should be.

Sadly, media reporting is making this worse (however, if you think you have EHS, you aren’t on the internet, right?). Some sites are reporting that she is “allergic” to wifi. Nope. False and misleading. Unfortunately, there are practitioners who encourage the diagnosis without proper blind testing.

Properly done experiments show it does not exist as described.

[A review of many studies that involved] 1175 IEI-EMF volunteers, have tested whether exposure to electromagnetic fields is responsible for triggering symptoms in IEI-EMF. No robust evidence could be found to support this theory. However, the studies included in the review did support the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in IEI-EMF sufferers. Despite the conviction of IEI-EMF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.

Source: Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (formerly ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’): An updated systematic review – PubMed

This is what we must rely on, not a court decision based on one person’s subjective account.

EHS is now a popular diagnosis and will probably get more popular. The condition plagued the character Chuck McGill on Better Caul Saul which likely introduced the concept to more people. The actor, Michael McKean, said in an Esquire interview that the condition was interesting to research but described it as a “psycho-physical problem”. He’s also a whip-smart skeptic, too. EHS is more akin to a phobia, anxiety or depression than an allergy.

See also: French Court Awards Disability for Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (Neurologica Blog)


  9 comments for “Reality of electromagnetic sensitivity is not decided by a French court

  1. Khat
    September 1, 2015 at 5:25 PM

    Isn’t the Earth itself a ball of electro-magnetic activity anyway? And what about all the radio stations, pumping out mega watts of power; wouldn’t someone reasonably have to move off the planet in order to really avoid this so-called “sensitivity”?

  2. Dr Jim Turner
    September 1, 2015 at 9:52 PM

    Good article in general, but a poor closing sentence. IEI-EHF may or may not be similar to phobias, which are generally learned aversive responses to innocuous stimuli, and may or may not be related to anxiety. However, depression is a physical psychological condition, with probable genetic and quite well-established neurochemical causes – it is not a ‘learned’ condition like phobias and, arguably, anxiety.

  3. DanielWainfleet
    September 2, 2015 at 12:36 AM

    whenever people who are alleged to have EMF sensitivity have been tested properly their responses are unrelated to the presence or absence of signals.That is ,when they are not told whether signals are present or absent their reactions are random. It is necessary in such tests that anyone else present does not know either , as people are always showing, consciously or not, clues about what they know or expect, and people are incredibly skillful at discerning these clues , often unconsciously and with no intention of doing so. EMF sensitivity is a psychological disorder.The woman who feels she must live in a barn is being mal-treated by incompetent “practitioners”.You do not treat agoraphobia by saying “Live in a windowless box.” She needs psychological help , not pseudo-science.Note that the French court only ruled that she is not, at present, capable of normal functioning, and that this was sufficient reason for gov’t monetary help. The court did not rule on what may or may not be the cause of her incapacity.

  4. Halidom
    September 2, 2015 at 5:07 AM

    I thought tin foil hats solved this problem.

  5. September 2, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    Well, we really don’t know any of that for certain. It’s just based on the existing research. More information is needed.

  6. Bonnie
    September 2, 2015 at 12:15 PM

    I made one for Halloween and found it to be very hot & uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why foil hats don’t seem to be used much anymore. 🙂

  7. Dr Jim Turner
    September 3, 2015 at 1:56 PM

    Well, the physical basis of depression is pretty well-established. More research is always welcome, of course, especially into treatments, but it‘s highly doubtful that depression will ever turn out to be psychosomatic in origin.

  8. Artor
    September 5, 2015 at 12:33 AM

    Yes, and yes. It’s completely ridiculous, and can only be claimed by someone who is utterly ignorant of how the EM spectrum works. Our wireless devices today are more widespread, but they operate at much lower power levels than in decades past. If EM sensitivity was a thing, people would have been complaining of it since the first radio stations started broadcasting. Or rather, since their ancestors first came out of their cave into the sunlight.

  9. David Deitsch
    September 5, 2015 at 7:33 PM

    What about the electromagnetic fields generated within this woman’s body (and yours and mine, of course)? You know, the ones that are generated by electrochemical transactions that keep our hearts beating regularly, make our nervous systems function, our muscles contract, etc? No sleep – overs in the barn are likely to protect her from those.

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