According to antivaxxers, vaccines cause autism. But some of them have expanded their search for causes of autism to other, equally silly targets as well, in particular wireless technology. Yes, the idea is that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and wifi cause autism. And among the proponents of this link there is at least one epidemiologist gone rough to become a “brave maverick doctor” named George Louis Carlo, whose work has been picked up by familiar antivaxxers such as homeopath Heidi Stevenson. To be sure, there’s no biologically plausible mechanism behind the hypothesis, and there’s no evidence of a link, but that has never stopped a good pseudoscientist.
Carlo thinks that cell phone and wireless signals can somehow affect children’s brains so the neurons can’t get rid of toxic heavy metals, including mercury (how did the mercury get there? The obvious target is of course vaccines that never contained mercury in the first place). Of course, the hypothesis that autism is caused by mercury poisoning is a completely dead hypothesis, but never mind – according to Carlo, the important thing is that the alleged effects of EMFs explain why chelation therapy (a popular, useless and horrific thing to expose children to) “doesn’t work” for some children. Now, once again, chelation doesn’t work because autism isn’t mercury poisoning, but the heavy-metal connection is religious creed among antivaxxers, and Carlo gives them the means to explain why their favored treatments don’t work.
Carlo’s evidence for his bullshit consists primarily of fallacious appeal to nature: Radio waves that carry information do not occur naturally; therefore they are toxic (in any dose). He has actually done some “studies” as well (with one Tamara Mariea) – non-blinded, non-randomized observations of children in (relatively) EMF-free environments; needless to say, they’re crap and accordingly not published in even minimally reputable venues.
He has apparently written a book about it (with one Martin Schram) as well, Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age: An Insider’s Alarming Discoveries about Cancer (Carlo once worked for the industry), which seems to be treated with caution even by committed EMF cranks (but they still refer to it since, you know, they favor the conclusions). Carlo is currently fighting for the electrosensitivity lobby through an organization called the Safe Wireless Initiative project. They have done studies (e.g. “a number of scientific papers in various stages of the peer-review process expected to be published by year’s end  addressing this emerging medical problem”) and are very keen on sharing the results (but talk little about the, you know, methods by which they obtained the results, which is kind of important). Here is Carlo criticizing Ben Goldacre for being mean-spirited (he doesn’t just accept their conclusions without evidence) and committing factual errors while neglecting to actually mention any.
Diagnosis: Pseudoscience through and through, but the conclusions – for which there is no evidence – have become sufficiently popular among certain kinds of people for his work to potentially have some influence.
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