Senator Patrick Colbeck’s embrace of pseudoscience goes farther than I thought

My state senator, Patrick Colbeck, has repeatedly sided with antivaxers in promoting legislation that would make it easier to get personal belief exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Now I find out that he’s an “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” crank as well. And he’s running for governor.

I’ve written before about my state senator, Patrick Colbeck, before. I sometimes think, despite my agnosticism, that somebody up there is laughing at me, because I would have to have an antivaccine-leaning nutter as my state senator. I first took note of his antivaccine proclivities three years ago, when he announced that he was going to attend a screening of an antivaccine film at a theater in his district. Last year, he co-sponsored legislation that, had it passed, not only would have made it easier for parents to claim nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates but would also have made it more difficult for local health officials to keep unvaccinated children out of school in the event of a breakout. As I said, it was almost as though Sen. Colbeck were trying to make measles great again in Michigan. More recently, Colbeck went nearly full-on antivaccine in an op-ed published in a local newspaper. He even trotted out the “aborted fetal tissuegambit. He’s also an anti-LGBTQ bigot.

On general principles, I’ve always opposed term limits, but, believe me, having Patrick Colbeck as my state senator has tested that belief more than any other politician. Let’s just say that I’m very happy that, as of January 1, 2019, he will no longer be my state senator. Unfortunately, he is running for governor. The only good thing is that he’s a major underdog, whose chances of winning are not very good at all.

Yesterday, I found out that he’s also heavily into other pseudoscience. Let’s just put it this way. Patrick Colbeck was featured in a post by John Stone on everybody’s favorite wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery, Age of Autism. Specifically, Stone was happy about this video of Colbeck giving a speech:

Mr. Stone was particularly interested in this excerpt from Sen. Colbeck’s speech:

Article 4 section 51 of the Michigan Constitution States: ‘the public health and the general welfare of the people of the state are hereby declared to be a matter of primary public concern. The legislature shall pass suitable laws for the protection and promotion of public health.’ Despite the convenience and the enormous economic growth potential associated with the Internet of Things our primary concern as legislator is not convenience, noe economic growth. As much as I love technology as per our Michigan constitution the public health and general welfare of the people of our state are supposed our primary concern…This convenience comes at a price and it comes at the price to the health of many of our citizens most notably children babies in the womb and even adults who suffer from hyper sensitivity to wireless transitions”.

“A few weeks ago I distributed sample data to each of you from scientific studies…complied by bioinitiative,org. ..the adverse health effects are very serious.”

“Many of us are rightly concerned about the hazards of cigarattes, lead levels..and other harmful substances…but I regreat to inform you that we need to add electromagnetic radiaiton from wireless technology to this list.”

Wifi woo. Colbeck is into wifi pseudoscience. It figures. Well, why not? He’s borderline antivaccine, if not outright antivaccine, and, although I can’t find any good quotes right now, I recall Colbeck expressing “doubt” about the current theory of evolution and support for teaching intelligent design creationism in comments he left on his Facebook page a few years ago. He also supports teaching a version of history in which the US can do no wrong, and he spouts positions on medicine that are very much aligned with the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the same fringe group that former HHS Secretary Tom Price belonged to. You get the idea.

I’ve written about the pseudoscience that is “electromagnetic hypersensitivity<” before. Specifically, I wrote about it in the context of the tragic suicide of a teenaged girl in England that her parents blamed on her having a “hypersensitivity” to electromagnetic radiation in the form of her school’s wifi network. Before that, I took note of a particularly off-the-wall attempt by some all too-nearby teachers to call for an end to the new wifi system being installed in their schools.

Out of curiosity, I went to the site being cited by my state senator, namely Bioinitiative 2012, which sells itself as “a rationale for biologically-based exposure standards for low-intensity.” Perusing it, I’m surprised that I never encountered it before. Perusing it, I realize that this one single website, this one single report could provide me with weeks worth of blogging material.

For instance, I zeroed in on a section on wifi and breast cancer. For example, my skeptical antennae start twitching when I read passages like this:

The subject of breast cancer and studies of melatonin has a long and rich history replete with destroyed scientific reputations and career-ending charges of misconduct of scientists who have contributed stellar scientific work that has proved extremely inconvenient for governmental agencies and military and industrial interests (Liburdy).

See what I mean? Whenever I see passages like this, in which scientific findings are portrayed as “inconvenient” for various interests (or, as I like to put it, to “them”), I find it a pretty good indication that I’m dealing with grade-A, pure bullshit, particularly when followed up by passages like this:

Evidence which supports a possible mechanism for ELF-EMF and breast cancer is the consistent finding (in five separate labs) that environmental levels of ELF-EMF can act at the cellular level to enhance breast cancer proliferation by blocking melatonin’s natural oncostatic action in MCF- 7 cells (Liburdy, 1993; Luben et al, 1996; Morris et al, 1998; Blackman et al, 2001; Ishido, et al, 2001). ELF-EMF levels between 0.6 and 1.2 μT have been shown to consistently block the protective effects of melatonin.

The series of papers reporting increased breast cancer cell proliferation when ELF-EMF at environmental levels negatively affects the oncostatic actions of melatonin in MCF-7 cells should warrant new public exposure guidelines or planning target limits for the public, and for various susceptible segments of the population.

As I’ve pointed out more times than I can remember, the energy in the radiowaves used for wifi (and, of course, cell phones) is too low to break chemical bonds. Be that as it may, the Bioinitiative Report is a whole lot of cherry picking, as has been discussed on multiple occasions, my favorite being this one by Kenneth R. Foster and Lorne Trottier, which characterizes the Bioinitiative Report thusly:

And here is where the cherry picking comes in. The table only includes lists of studies reporting effects, some at vanishingly small exposure levels. Studies that did not report effects, or which could not confirm studies that earlier had reported effects, are conspicuously missing.

For example, one of the effects at the lowest exposure levels was reported in 2000 by David de Pomerai (University of Nottingham) and colleagues2 (see p. 106 of the PDF). In that study, exposure to low-level microwave radiation caused nematodes (a kind of worm) to express heat shock proteins. (Heat shock proteins are “expressed” or produced by the body as a way of adapting to temperature changes, an effect that can be observed at even slight temperature increases). Not mentioned is the fact that de Pomerai retracted the paper in 2006 after he had discovered that the earlier results were an artifact due to inadequately controlled temperature.3

The BIR also fails to discuss the high quality follow up studies (including one by de Pomerai and colleagues4) that found that RF exposure levels far above those used in the earlier studies did not induce heat shock proteins in a different nematode. Health agencies in their reviews have paid little attention to the expression (or non-expression) of heat shock proteins induced by RF exposure, in part because of lack of a robust and repeatable effect and in part because of the difficulty in separating the effects of simple temperature change from any specific effect of RF. Also, one might question the relevance of a small biological effect reported in nematodes in response to mild heating to human health.

Amusingly, Foster and Trottier point out the failure to replicate most of the cherry picked studies cited in the Bioinitiative Report and, amusingly, also take note of the report’s disingenuous dismissal of this lack of consistency in which it claims that ““some experts keep saying that all studies have to be consistent (turn out the same way every time) before they are comfortable saying an effect exists.” Of course, this is nonsense. Real scientists know that in biological and epidemiological studies, absolute consistency is impossible. What critics of the Bioinitiative Report are saying is that when study results are so inconsistent and not replicable the most likely explanation is that there is no effect. In other words, you have to look at the preponderance of evidence in the peer-reviewed literature. Let’s just put it this way. You can find seemingly “positive” individual studies of homeopathy, The One Quackery To Rule Them All, but if you look at the totality of evidence you’ll find that homeopathy has no effects distinguishable from placebo. For instance, contrary to the Bioinitiative Report’s assessment that electromagnetic fields like those in wifi and cell phone emissions can cause genotoxic damage, a large meta-analysis found just the opposite.

It’s depressing to have a state senator so ignorant about science. Patrick Colbeck should know better, given that he is an engineer and prominently boasts of this background in his campaign. His campaign logo for governor even plays on his background as an aeronautical engineer. Here’s hoping he ends up nowhere near the Michigan governor’s mansion.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

48 replies on “Senator Patrick Colbeck’s embrace of pseudoscience goes farther than I thought”

I laugh every time that I hear that emf from normal sources causes cancer or whatever issue. The earth’s emf field is many times what you will find from a cell phone, microwave etc.

I did take a physics class from a prof that had worked on the Manhattan project at Oak Ridge. There he might have encountered emf fields that could disrupt cells. He told a story of when once they turned on the magnetic field and a large oxygen cylinder crashed through at least 6 walls.

He did end up with an unclassified cancer under the fingernail of one thumb. They believed he has gotten a radioactive particle under the nail and 40 years later they had to amputate the tip of his thumb.

Orac why don’t you contact your state senator and have him sponsor a bill to turn off the earth’s magnetic field, you know that is the cause of all these issues. Of course if the earth’s magnetic field is turned off, there will be no life on earth.

Don’t confuse essentially static electric and magnetic fields with electromagnetic radiation. They are related but very different.

“Of course if the earth’s magnetic field is turned off, there will be no life on earth.”

This is false, and that should be obvious. Earth’s magnetic field periodically becomes tiny for many years during reversal processes. Yet here we are. That a planet with no magnetic field at all cannot support life is, to put it mildly, controversial.

Meta-reading here:

Of course if the earth’s magnetic field is turned off, there will be no life on earth

It is fairly possible that the OP meant gravity instead of magnetic field. Possible then? (no life on earth that is).

Without a magnetic field, the solar wind will have no trouble stripping away the atmosphere. Mars would have had a much thicker atmosphere if it still had a magnetosphere (it had one once, but lost it around four billion years ago, possibly due to asteroid strikes enabling cooling of the planet’s internal dynamo). A powerful coronal mass ejection or solar flare would likely cause more damage to life on a planet without a magnetic field. Turning off the earth’s magnetic field for several years as might possibly happen during a geomagnetic reversal might not cause too much damage (correlations between such reversals and mass extinctions have not been definitively illustrated), but shutting it off permanently would most likely eventually kill off most forms of complex life by the resulting reduction of the atmosphere and the increase in solar and cosmic radiation levels.

AC, that turns out not to be the case. The ionospheres of Earth and Venus, which have comparable masses, are being stripped at comparable rates, despite Venus having no magnetic field (not even the crustal fields that Mars has). Mars, being significantly smaller than Earth and Venus, has lost a larger fraction of its original atmosphere. What the Earth’s magnetic field does is concentrate the effect of the stripping on the cusps–regions to which the solar wind has direct access.

The reason that unmagnetized planets haven’t been shown to be capable (or not) of supporting life is that we know of only one example of a planet that does support life, and that planet has a magnetic field. It’s pretty hard to generalize when N = 1.

possibly due to asteroid strikes enabling cooling of the planet’s internal dynamo

The deuce you say.

Don’t be too sure about that. I used to have this “friend” (more like hanger-on) who fervently believed in this (and lots more). In 2014, she still had dial up. She knew I would be derisive of this, so she started saying she couldn’t “afford” WiFi. She had a cell phone, (flip phone) but would only use it for near emergencies–with an earpiece. Here’s the thing–she is a nurse (RN), who “lost faith in allopathic medicine” and became a teacher, who was ultimately fired for trying to inflict some of this garbage on children. So, there IS justice.

In 2014, she still had dial up.

There is this thing called an “Ethernet cable.” I mean, if you’re using a modem, it’s just a different wire.

Engineers seem to be especially prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Your state senator is not the only engineer who has fallen so hard for medical woo. That’s not to mention the large numbers of engineers who insist that global warming is a hoax, and pay no attention to the thermodynamics that most engineers should have learned at university.

Microwave ovens use much higher intensity levels than cell phones and wi-fi networks do, and concentrate their power in a relatively small volume. It takes a lot of photons to heat something in the microwave.

It seems like engineers are particularly prone the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I wonder if anybody has ever done a study on which professions are the worst. In the few minutes I spent looking, I could not find anything.

As someone with family in Michigan, I hope Sen. Colbeck is not the next governor.

ELF-EMF levels between 0.6 and 1.2 μT

Microwaves are ELF? Electric field strength is measured in teslas? Race war in New Jersey? A girl named John?

I haven’t gone to that web site but when I read this in Orac’s article I got the impression this had something to do with the old and discredited hypothesis that the electric and magnetic fields from AC power transmission lines (50 or 60 Hz, hence ELF) were harmful to human health. I’m not curious enough to dig deeper to determine what they’re nattering about.

Is it related to the disproven hypothesis that electric blankets caused leukemia? (That was an entertaining study to read in grad school on the west coast where almost no one had ever even heard of an electric blanket, nor could they understand why you might want or need one.)

It’s true, that would make for a very long grant period. But, theory suggests the decay chain will end in gamma-rays, and nobody claims those are good for you;-) (Not even Bruce Banner.)

Is it related to the disproven hypothesis that electric blankets caused leukemia?

The cows? No, the transmitter really would energize ungrounded metal fences, and in America’s Dairyland, I don’t know how many dairy farmers went to the trouble.

Lol, no, not the cows. 🙂 It doesn’t help that when I real ELF the first thing that comes to mind is the Earth Liberation Front (ecoterrorists) who burned down a forestry/botany building at the University of Washington back in the early ’00 and went to jail for it.

But I wonder, if you put an electric blanket on a cow, could you use it as a radio antenna?

“if you put an electric blanket on a cow, could you use it as a radio antenna?;”

The blanket or the cow? Hmm, if the cow is spherical and you wrap it in aluminum foil it could be an isotropic radiator.

It doesn’t help that when I real ELF the first thing that comes to mind is the Earth Liberation Front

That reminds me that was supposed to be a crowdfunded film adaptation of The Monkey Wrench Gang coming out, but I’m not awake enough yet to dig it up on this tablet.

Yeah. And a lot of lay people think Scientific Reports is Nature because it’s published by Nature Publishing Group.

Say what? That just doesn’t even… The solar wind makes my heart beat faster?
I don’t know about that, but I do know the internet can give me a headache. I’m going to go lie down.

I infer from the fact that this paper was published that the authors claim to have found an effect, but then how did they separate this putative effect from confounders such as tropospheric weather, amount of exercise the subjects had been getting, and subtle differences in how the clinicians connected the measuring device to the subjects? I ask because there are obvious ways in which these variables can produce physiological effects, but coming up with a mechanism (plausible or otherwise) by which geomagnetic conditions would produce effects that aren’t tiny compared to the effects of the other variables would take some effort.

As someone earning a living in biomedical electronics, I’ve always found it curious that people claiming to suffer from “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” appear to experience severe symptoms from microwatts of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields at a distance of several feet — yet these very same people cheerfully tell me that they had MRI scans without any adverse sensation whatsoever. And when I explain that inside an MRI machine, they’re exposed to kilowatts of electromagnetic power at a distance of mere inches, most of them still don’t see the incongruity …

People are weird about wires? I once had a scientific instrument repair tech suggest that the power wires outside my building were the cause of the problems with the instrument he was failing to repair and seriously suggested that I install a Faraday cage around the instrument.
My response was three fold: 1) EM radiation falls off 1/R^2 and these power lines are at least a block away, 2) those lines were there when the instrument worked fine and 3) no.

People are still strange about electricity.

I once had a scientific instrument repair tech suggest that the power wires outside my building were the cause of the problems with the instrument

I’ve only had one apartment in this neighborhood where there was a low enough noise floor for shortwave DX. Freaking HPS ballasts. And outside analog cable boxes, not that the few times that they actually closed the cans much helped.

Eric, I didn’t argue that a planet without a magnetosphere couldn’t support life. I said that much of the complex life that exists on Earth today depends on the magnetosphere. If you turned off the earth’s magnetosphere permanently, that would be far from sufficient to destroy all life on earth. There’s tons of simple life forms that wouldn’t notice the loss of the geomagnetic field, the consequent thinning atmosphere (just how much thinner it would become is up for debate as you say), and the increased intensity of solar wind and cosmic radiation. However, the next big coronal mass ejection or other major space weather event would probably give much of the more complex life on the surface of the planet a lethal dose of radiation. And without a magnetosphere to stop it, such intermittent bursts of intense radiation are going to be yet another thing that any remaining life on the planet will need to find a way to deal with. Tardigrades, lichens, some forms of archaea, and cyanobacteria might be the most complex life to remain. We humans may be able to cope, but it would likely be necessary for us to abandon life on the surface of the planet.

Heck, it’s arguable that Mars just the way it is today can still support simple life. There were experiments done on lichens and cyanobacteria that were put in a simulated Martian environment with its low temperatures, thin atmosphere, and much higher levels of ionizing radiation thanks to no magnetic field and they managed to function reasonably well.

If the magnetosphere of the earth was turned off, I think there is a famous quote that can be used: It is life but not as we know it, Jim.

On general principles, I’ve always opposed term limits

I don’t oppose them at all. Leaving aside the “sins of incumbency”, unlimited terms can lead to what happened with FIFA. Sepp Blatter became President and then entrenched himself. Under his 17 year reign, FIFA became riddled with corruption. It was only when the evidence of corruption became too great to ignore that he first resigned, and then was permanently barred from office.
Had there been term limits, the corruption would likely have been detected sooner. In addition, if you know that you will be replaced, you’re less likely to be corrupt as it is a virtual certainty that any malfeasance will be revealed while you’re still alive to be sent to jail.

I left Canton in 2004. It was conservative then but so far right loony. And we moved into Todd Aiken’s district in Missouri, and now have a governor accused of proactive revenge porn. Is there anywhere not crazy?

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