The parents of a 12-year-old boy who attends the private Fay School in Massachusetts are suing because they say the strength of the school’s Wi-Fi signal is making their son sick. This is what happens when parenting paranoia meets money.
The boy has been diagnosed (by the boy’s family and environmental health physician) with electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome (EHS). Those who believe in the syndrome say it can cause dizziness, memory loss, nosebleeds, exhaustion, and heart problems — among other things. The Telegram reports the lawsuit against the school claims the boy was diagnosed “after he frequently experienced headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, and other symptoms while sitting in class after the school installed a new, more powerful wireless Internet system in 2013.”
EHS is a syndrome that many believe exists, but that doesn’t have a whole lot of science backing it up. Some scientists believe the syndrome is a result of the “nocebo effect” – similar to a placebo, but directly the opposite. A placebo tricks people into thinking they are being healed by simply telling them they are being treated with something that benefits their health. A nocebo tricks them into thinking something is harming them and they respond by feeling worse. In both cases, they aren’t being exposed to anything; a placebo is a sugar pill, a nocebo is mere suggestion of a hazard that doesn’t really exist.
Dr James Rubin and psychology professor Sir Simon Wessely wrote about the nocebo effect and EHS for The Guardian:
“The effect has been known about for centuries, and is familiar to many doctors from their university days, when undergraduates often develop the symptoms of the latest disease they have been studying, a phenomenon so common it has its own place in the medical dictionary as “medical student syndrome”. In the case of EHS, it turns out that believing that you are being exposed to electromagnetic fields, and that this is harmful, is what triggers the symptoms, not the exposure itself.”
Whether or not we believe in EHS, the most obvious question remains – “Why not just move your child to a school without the “harmful” Wi-Fi signal?
I get being paranoid about your kid’s health, it happens to the best of us. But is suing a school for a condition that has no scientific basis and is supported by conspiracy theorists is a bit much. Arthur Firstenberg, referred to by Yahoo Parenting as “a leading anti-electromagnetic health activist“ says, “If [wireless technology] is once admitted to be dangerous at all, the economy of the whole Earth is at stake, and no judge wants to do that.” Hmm.
I think instilling this WiFi paranoia in their son is way more harmful than the signal itself, but I could just be brainwashed by my great internet connection. Or maybe they just want the $20,000 a year tuition it costs to send their son to school here back.
Who could blame them for that?