|Style over substance|
PhoneShield is a product claimed to protect users of cordless and cellular phone from harmful radiation emitted by these devices. The device is marketed by Natural Health & Leisure Products Ltd. and sold alongside a line of related products, such as the "Wi-FiShield".
Natural Health & Leisure Products Ltd. present their evidence in two basic, but oddly overlapping forms: Scientific evidence and testimonials. Testimonial evidence is problematic due to its reliance on self-reported anecdotal evidence. Most remarkably the scientific evidence document presented on their website actually includes testimonials, with the company without shame claiming that they consider testimonials to be just as valuable as hard scientific evidence, as evidenced by the following quote from this document:
Empirical proof by Testimonial
Although scientific tests play an important part in order to prove the effectiveness we attach as much importance to feedback from customers and this has proved that the Shields give 100% satisfaction by providing relief to those suffering from the early unpleasant effects of EMR like headaches, confusion, sleep disturbance, nausea and many other conditions.
All tests carried out clearly indicated that the detrimental effect of the Electromagnetic Field (EMF) on the human body was materially reduced as a result of the PhoneShield’s Bio-compatible re-instalment of balance to the body.
There are a number of issues with their evidence. Most of the claims reference tests without explaining the protocols used or mentioning who it was who actually performed the tests. In cases where named endorsements are provided, the organizations in question are hyped-up, yet one wonders why they opted for obscure and commercial "independent experts" instead of academics who could provide more respectable and methodologically sound testing protocols.
Who tested this?
Coghill Research Laboratories is cited as an endorsement of the devices, but claims to their expertise and independence are pretty tenuous. Roger Coghill has a long track-record of taking a rather unusual approach to the physics of our universe. In the alternative universe of Coghill, cellular phone networks and overhead power lines cause ailments that only he and a select group of people can prove. In this same universe AIDS, previously thought to be the consequence of a viral infection, is in-fact caused by electromagnetic radiation.
Coghill Research Laboratories is also credited with the development of the "LowGas Gainex" fuel economiser — a variant on the Gas-saving magnets. Devices of this nature make miraculous claims about the power of magnetic fields to "de-cluster" molecules in hydrocarbon-based fuels, yet their effects are curiously undetected by any kind of analysis of processed fuel. The same device is also claimed to reduce limescale buildup. Magnetic water treatment is a recurring claim, yet evidence in support of it is in stark contrast to the sheer amount of facts that suggest it to be as effective at reducing limescale as affixing a false moustache to the door of a house is in deterring mice.
In this context it is not important to differentiate between fraud and incompetence in the case of Coghill Research Laboratories. The key point is that either way Coghill lacks the credibility to make any kind of meaningful endorsement in a field in which the burden of proof is incredibly heavy.
The second independent expert named is ELDAS — described as being "the most respected independent laboratory in Turkey". As with Coghill, ELDAS are hyped-up with no thought given to the source of the accolades lavished upon them. ELDAS appears equipped to test electrical devices, but not their effects on the human body. There's no reason to question the honesty and capability of ELDAS, but certainly one could ask why a company with such revolutionary products prefers an obscure company in Turkey over mainstream academics who would jump at the chance to demonstrate a device that would cause physics textbooks to be substantially rewritten?
“”I have to say that since fitting the CompuShield, I have experienced a noticeable change in my mental/physical wellbeing during the hours working on the PC and while I am unqualified to and cannot of course identify the reason for the change, I am as satisfied as I can be that your device has made the difference. Any other explanation eludes me.
|—M M (Retired Lawyer — Winchester)|
This customer, like most others, are self-reporting on health conditions that are vague and prone to psychological influences. The placebo effect must be considered. Essentially this is the same feedback that is found for homeopathic products, crystal healing, faith healing and pretty much anything that claims effects that cannot all be measured objectively. Radiation shielding can however be measured, and studies have shown varied results.
In the FAQ published on the site, the company rather strangely consider that celebrity usage of their devices is important. This could be relevant if the celebrity in question was a renowned physicist, but in this case it's Arsène Wenger — a former manager of an English football team. Wenger's contributions to physics are little-known.
Could these devices work?
Possibly, but it's unlikely. A 2001 study by the then Department of Trade and Industry in the United Kingdom showed a positive reduction in the specific absorption rate (thermal effects) when various types of shields were used.
However the devices tested were literally shields that functioned by interfering with the signals from the phones. Also, in the FAQ for PhoneShield and Wi-FiShield it is claimed that they can be placed pretty much anywhere on the device. PhoneShield can be affixed to any location on the back of a phone, and Wi-FiShield is attached to the lid of a laptop. Traditional shielding depends on the shield literally getting in the way of the radiation to be blocked. The products here do not so much shield, more actively broadcast low frequency signals (i.e., emit their own non-ionizing radiation) that are claimed to reduce exposure to harmful radiation without in any way affecting the functionality of the devices. It is also notable that the DTI-funded study focussed on cell phones all oriented specifically in relation to a transmitter. The omnidirectional nature of antennae in cell phones and wi-fi products mean that a shield covering a small part of an antenna (assuming this is even the case) will provide varying levels of protection depending on orientation of the device in relation to the shield and the placement of the user in relation to the device and the shield.
Positioning of the shield in relation to the user is made problematic by the company's claim that their products do not have to be reliably placed in any specific position on the device to be shielded. Essentially it's like replacing the radiation protection in an astronaut's suit with a magical wrist-band that will somehow suck the solar radiation away from the rest of their body.
The United States Federal Trade Commission issued a warning about cell phone radiation shields, highlighting the problem that shields that inhibit the signal of cell phones may actually cause an increase in the amount of radiation emitted. This is because cell phones automatically adjust their power output to maintain a stable signal level. The PhoneShield is claimed to not degrade the signal in any way, yet this is impossible if the device has any appreciable impact on radiation emitted by a phone. Cell phones do not emit electromagnetic radiation as a side-effect of their function — it is how they function!
A number of alarm bells should ring on evaluating the claims made by Natural Health & Leisure Products Ltd. Some of these are covered earlier in the article and are repeated here to enable a simple review.
- Support comes from people or organizations that are on the fringe or otherwise very obscure. Rather than being independent, their primary source is also in the magnet woo business.
- Heavy reliance on testimonial evidence.
- Claimed results of the devices are vague and prone to subjective evaluation. In their words: "drained and headachy, can't concentrate, feel confused and generally feel under the weather."
- Claims that appear to contradict well established physical behaviors.
- Claims to almost universal application — despite great variances in the nature of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the many devices that this product is supposedly suitable for. This is not dissimilar to the approach used by hawkers of Patent medicine.
- Electromagnetic hypersensitivity
- N8 State, a similar quack product in the form of a mobile app
- evidence provided by Natural Health & Leisure Products Ltd. (PDF)
- Ben Goldacre's write-up of Coghill's antics
- Coghill discovers the true cause of AIDS: Electromagnetic fields but the establishment doesn't want you to find out!
- LowGas Gainex (Archive.org May 17, 2013) The miracle fuel-saving device that also prevents limescale.
- Non-chemical treatments for limescale (Archive.org December 31, 2010)
- ELDAS website click the laboratories tabs to read through the services offered.
- DTI: ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF VARIOUS TYPES OF MOBILE PHONE RADIATION SHIELDS
- PhoneShield FAQ
- Federal Trade Commission statement on radiation shields