Electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF), is a collection of non-specific and vague symptoms that some people attribute to electromagnetic fields.
In reality, individuals who claim to be severely effected by e. g. cellphones or Wi-Fi cannot accurately determine when they are exposed to EM fields in provocation studies and symptoms appear to get better when treated with psychotherapy. IEI-EMF is not a scientifically or medically recognized diagnosis.
Although their proposed explanation is not true, their experienced symptoms are real. This can in some cases lead to severe functional impairment, including extreme isolation and other psychological consequences. Individuals with IEI-EMF sometimes demand that others, such as neighbors, stores and even local government make radical changes to accommodate them. This can include considerable changes to homes and workplaces in the form of “electric sanitization” or petitioning the municipality to have cell phone antennas re-directed creating a local blackout over a neighborhood.
Why did they spend almost 4600 USD on a tinfoil hat?
The church in question is located on the Danish island of Fyn. Their organist, Christina Funch Mellgren, claims to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and so the Stenstrup-Lunde Church council decided to “solve the problem” by buying a very expensive tinfoil hat covered in velvet. They also bought special clothing with silver threads and funded the repainting of some of the walls in the church with a special paint that is supposed to “resist the radiation” and even went so far as to ban cellphones in the church.
The church council defend their decision by saying that they are happy with their employees and that means they are willing to do this to keep them. They also say that the person feels better after they have made the requested changes, but this line of reasoning obviously succumbs to anecdotal evidence and regression to the mean. They have no control group and have apparently never tried any provocation tests. It is also not a stretch to imagine that some visitors to the church in question do not bother to turn their cellphones off, which suggests that the improvement is not due to anything related to cellphones.
Do tinfoil hats even work?
Although aluminum can reduce signal strength somewhat, it is unlikely to be able to block all of it since the foil does not cover all of the head, leaving gaps for the face and the underside of the head. Some studies suggests that using a tinfoil hat even amplifies electromagnetic radiation.
What are the bigger issues?
The National Danish church is currently in some financial difficulties, because they have not adapted their spending to their declining number of members and supporters. Spending 4600 USD on a tinfoil hat and other things might be considered wasteful.
Denmark does not have complete separation of state and church, so those 4600 USD likely come from the government and, in extension, the pockets of the taxpayers. Do taxpayers in Denmark really want to fund this kind of pseudoscience actively promoted by the largest Danish religious organization?
The decision also appears to give credence to IEI-EMF as a condition caused by EM fields, especially since the Christina Funch Mellgren is the chairperson for the Danish Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Association.
References and further reading
Gorski, D. (2015). “Electromagnetic hypersensitivity” and “wifi allergies”: Bogus diagnoses with tragic real world consequences. Science-Based Medicine. Accessed: 2016-05-14.
Jørgensen, C. T. (2016). 30.000 kroner: Menighedsråd købte sølvpapirshat til organist (cached version). Weekendavisen. Accessed: 2016-05-14 (in Danish).
Rahimi, A. et al. (2005). On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study. MIT. Accessed: 2016-05-14.
Soniak, M. (2012). Tin Foil Hats Actually Make it Easier for the Government to Track Your Thoughts. The Atlantic. Accessed: 2016-05-14.