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“Tin Foil Hats” Sci-Fi History, and Why the Ridicule Can End Now

By Sarah Aminoff, Kate Kheel, and Patricia Burke of Safe Tech International, Images Courtesy Flo Freshman

Kent Chamberlin’s response to Psychology Today is anything but a “tin foil hat” rebuttal. Chamberlain critiques a blog article by Joe Pierre recently published in Psychology Today entitled “Tin Foil Hats: Tired Trope or Sign of the Times?”. The article is dismissive of many health effects regarding exposures to radio frequency radiation from cellphones, Wi-Fi, or cell towers etc.

Expert Critique of “Psychology Today” Blog

As both a representative of a state commission tasked with exploring the health and environmental effects of wireless radiation, and as a well-respected expert in the field, Professor Kent Chamberlin (PhD) is well-positioned to provide insightful comments to Psychology Today’s Editor in Chief.

Tin Foil Hat – History of Science, Spoof and Fiction

The tin foil hat trope that Joe Pierre refers to in Psychology Today has been around for decades and has been used to discredit those concerned about the health impacts of wireless radiation. But what is the actual history of this term, and what purpose does it serve in shaping public sentiment?

According to the website TV tropes: “When a writer wants to establish a character as a Conspiracy Theorist, a Crazy Survivalist, or another kind of paranoidCloudcuckoolander, they usually give them hats made out of tinfoil to wear, ostensibly to protect themselves from The Government‘s Mind Control rays.”

Science Fiction Origins of Tin Foil Hats

Tin foil hats were first referenced as protection against mind interference in the 1927 science fiction short story The Tissue-Culture King by Julian Huxley, which features caps made of foil that are used by the story’s protagonist to block telepathy, according to Business Insider.

Historical Fact, Not Fiction

“Microwave hearing” was discovered in the 1960s by military researcher Alan Frey. According to the Cellular Phone Task Force, “The “hearing,” [] didn’t happen via normal sound waves perceived through the ear. It apparently occurred somewhere in the brain itself, as microwaves interacted with the brain’s cells, which generate tiny electrical fields. Frey proved also that many deaf people and animals could hear microwave radiation. This phenomenon came to be known as the Frey effect, or simply “microwave hearing.”” (Frey also later reported that microwaves could induce “leakage” in the barrier between the circulatory system and the brain.)

Microwave hearing is a widely accepted medical phenomenon associated with RF exposure.

In 1962, Allen H. Frey discovered that the microwave auditory effect can be blocked by a patch of wire mesh (rather than foil) placed above the temporal lobe.

MIT Student Researchers and Tin Foil Hats: “Clearly the government must have started the tinfoil hat craze so it could more effectively spy on its citizens?”

In 2005, a group of MIT students found that tin foil hats do shield their wearers from radio waves over most of the tested spectrum, yet amplified certain frequencies, (as listed in the MIT catalogue of hacks.)

The IHTFP Gallery is dedicated to documenting the history of hacking at MIT. “The word hack at MIT usually refers to a clever, benign, and “ethical” prank or practical joke, which is both challenging for the perpetrators and amusing to the MIT community (and sometimes even the rest of the world!). Note that this has nothing to do with computer (or phone) hacking (which we call “cracking”). – http://hacks.mit.edu/

IHTFP Hack Gallery: Study on the effect of tinfoil hats on blocking mind control satellites (mit.edu)

“In February 2005, some CSAIL graduate students “Published” a paper on the effect of tinfoil hats on blocking mind control satellites. They measured the attenuation of radio signals as a function of frequency and determined that certain frequencies which are reserved for government use are actually amplified by the tinfoil hats. Clearly the government must have started the tinfoil hat craze so it could more effectively spy on its citizens.”

The empirical study can be found here

Tin Foil Hat Styles: The Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion

The MIT students, prodded by “a desire to play with some expensive equipment,” tested the effectiveness of foil helmets at blocking various radio frequencies,” according to this Atlantic article.  “Using two layers of Reynolds aluminum foil, they constructed three helmet designs, dubbed the Classical, the Fez, and the Centurion, and then looked at the strength of the transmissions between a radio-frequency signal generator and a receiver antenna placed on various parts of their subjects’ bare and helmet-covered heads. “

Classical, Fez and Centurian Tin Foil Hats Image Courtesy Flo Freshman

According to the Atlantic, “While the underlying concept is good, the typical foil helmet fails in design and execution. An effective Faraday cage fully encloses whatever it’s shielding, but a helmet that doesn’t fully cover the head doesn’t fully protect it. If the helmet is designed or worn with a loose fit, radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation can still get up underneath the brim from below.” 

The Atlantic article further mentions, “The helmets shielded their wearers from radio waves over most of the tested spectrum. (YouTube user Mrfixitrick likewise demonstrates the blocking power of his foil toque against his wireless modem), but to his surprise, it amplified certain frequencies: those in the 2.6 Ghz (allocated for mobile communications and broadcast satellites) and 1.2 Ghz (allocated for aeronautical radionavigation and space-to-Earth and space-to-space satellites) bands.”

Image Courtesy Flo Freshman. Because of the cost of the $250,000 equipment, the experimenters performed a few dry runs before the actual experiment. The MIT students may not have realized that tin foil hat shielding is NOT a strategic placement, as shielding would be recommended between the laptop and the student’s lap. This is not recommended ergonomics for a computer workstation, or a ‘best practice’ for future fatherhood.

Here’s an Actual Tech Update About Actual Shielding

Fast forward to 2021. Instead of tin foil hats being researched by MIT students, researchers are looking at “Electromagnetic Shielding Properties of Knitted Fabric Made from Polyamide Threads Coated with Silver.” If researchers are pouring money into investigating “a textile material of low surface mass for its protection against electromagnetic radiation (EMR)” then why exactly would concern about radio frequency exposures be ridiculed by the likes of Psychology Today?

Public Awareness and Policy Has Yet to Catch Up to The Science

The “tin foil” hat meme used by psychologist Dr. Pierre indicates that public awareness has not yet caught up to the science. EMF exposures are not science fiction, but science fact. And as Kent Chamberlin shares in his letter to Psychology Today, “There are many actions that can be taken to protect people from radiation exposure, but that will not happen until the risks are acknowledged.” 

Kent Chamberlin concludes his letter offering a helpful suggestion to Psychology Today.

“Your publication is highly regarded, and it has a broad reach.  This provides an opportunity to bring about significant changes in your field.  As an example, you might want to consider running a series of articles covering the neuropsychiatric effects of wireless radiation, approaches used by medical professionals to diagnose those effects, means for lowering wireless radiation exposure, and how to integrate radiation exposure issues into a counseling practice.”

Additional commentary was submitted to Psychology Today about the blog ridiculing individuals regarding their physiology and/or a medical diagnosis, by Magda Havas of Trent University, here.

“My objection, in addition to name calling–which is a form of bullying–is based on science as I have been working with people who have an intolerance to electromagnetic frequencies for decades.”

Fellow Canadian Frank Clegg of Canadians for Safe Technology (C4ST) also addressed the derogatory use of the term “tin foil hats” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year. 

“[ ] there are Canadians who are adversely affected by exposure to wireless radiation, experiencing headaches, sleep disturbances, heart abnormalities and other adverse effects when over exposed to wireless devices. Many are physician diagnosed. These include people from all walks of life and sadly, also children. Some are unable to work and have lost their homes and are on disability benefits. The term “tin foil hatters” is sometimes used for these individuals. This can only further marginalize them as well as being hurtful.”

With growing evidence of risks to safety, security, sustainability, privacy, health, environmental justice, and human rights, the tin foil hat ‘trope’ is no longer a clever, benign, ethical prank or practical joke.

The time is long overdue for science, public policy and the media to cease the ridicule – and with humility, to remove their unseemly dunce caps.

Image Courtesy Flo Freshman
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