(Investigator 80, 2001 September)

Although Mesmer and his 'animal magnetism' has been touched upon in the chapter on Hypnosis, a brief mention of electromagnetism has been included here because of the confusion and the tendency of some lay persons not to differentiate between the physical and the metaphysical.

The popularity of magnetism as a therapeutic medium and the ingenuity of the nineteenth century entrepreneurs who used scientific and technical terminology to describe untenable devices, was not a passing phase. Today, a mix and use of legitimate and pseudo-technical terms often leads to an acceptance of a claim's plausibility regardless of whether or not there is any scientific evidence in support.

Many statistical studies have been made over the years to ascertain whether or not there is any correlation between geomagnetic and electro-magnetic fluctuations and their alleged effects on man, the most likely source being from electrical pollution, that is, the magnetic fields of generators, transmission and distribution systems of electrical power, and the equipment, devices, and apparatus that use electricity.

There are two types which affect man, Thermal and Athermal.

The primary sources of the first being ultra-high frequencies and microwave radiations resulting in tissue destruction, haemorrhage, cataracts and change in the thyroid gland. Safety levels and exposure standards have been formulated and adopted by most countries to minimize, if not eliminate completely the possibility of Thermal electrical pollution.

The therapeutic uses of Thermal electromagnetism are restricted to Electrodiathermy where the application of deep and localised heat has beneficial effects on inflammatory and congestive conditions.

Athermal effects, such as those promulgated and advocated by magnetists, have been studied and are almost impossible to detect and it remains a matter of conjecture as to whether there really are such effects.

The "Gauss" is the unit of measurement of electro-magnetic strength. A test in which an alternating magnetic field of about 800 Gauss was applied to the heads of volunteers, produced the phenomenon of phosphenos, or the seeing of light flashed in the eyes, there were no harmful effects.

Magnetic fields of up to 9300 Gauss have been used on the heads of patients to induce clotting in cerebral aneurysms by the injection of a suspension of microspheres in albumin, and mice have been exposed to fields of up to 120,000 Gauss with no ill effect. Safety standards are recommended and imposed in industry however, and vary from between 200G and 300G for the whole body for extended periods.

When one considers the above and that the strength of the earth's magnetic field at the equator is approximately 0.25G and 0.6G at the poles, what possible effect, therapeutic or otherwise, could the "directing of magnetic fluid" or the "magnetic stroking" by the comparatively infinitesimal mass of a practitioner have on a subject? The same reasoning can be applied to magnetic beads and other adornments touted by their proponents as having beneficial health effects.

The above notwithstanding, entrepreneurs continue to take advantage of the general public's ignorance of magnetism, and foist upon them useless devices.

In 1991, the International Medical Research Center, Inc. of Murrieta, Calformia, agreed to pay $40,000 in fines and court costs and to stop selling permanent magnet devices as medical aids.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA, has prosecuted a number of cases involving magnetic devices promoted for the relief of pain, among them magnetic bracelets, the Magnetic Ray Belt and the Acu-Dot, recommended for the relief of arthritis and even a beneficial effect on cancer.

Concern is frequently expressed by some sections of the community living in the vicinity of high tension power lines that they pose a health hazard.

The fear however is erroneously based on the size of the electric field associated with the hundreds of thousands of volts present in a HT transmission line, whereas the magnetic field is proportional to the current flowing. The whole idea of a HT powerline is to transmit power at a minimum loss by reducing the current. Household appliances pose far more (albeit negligible) danger than high tension power lines.

Notwithstanding assurances from electricity supply authorities, fear has engendered worldwide research into the possible health effects from electric and magnetic fields (EMF) costing hundreds of millions of dollars, all with the same result – no convincing evidence of any health hazard from EMF.

The Council of the American Physical Society, by a vote of 29-1, declared that purported health effects of power line fields have not been scientifically substantiated, and the cost of mitigation and litigation "is incommensurate with the risk, if any." Since EMF was first linked with cancer in 1979, epidemiological evidence has grown even fainter and proposed mechanisms more speculative. The Council action, taken at its April 22 meeting, was a result of several years of discussion and monitoring of the issue by the APS Panel on Public Affairs, and was endorsed by the leaders of the Biophysics Division of the Society. This is the strongest position on the EMF issue taken by a major scientific society.


Blattocletti, J.H. Electro-magnetism – man and the Environment.
Gerrard, James. 1994. Are There Risks from Electric and Magnetic Fields? the Skeptic, 14(4):23. Australian Skeptics Inc. NSW. 2000.
Gordon, R. 1978. Your Healing Hands. Unity Press. Santa Cruz.
Grossman, R. 1986. The Other Medicines. Pan Books. London.
Halacy, D.S. Radiation, Magnetism and Living Things. Holiday House.
Kiev, A. 1984. Magic, Faith and Healing. Macmillan. NY.

[From: Edwards, H., A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age]

Many dubious medical claims are exposed o
n this website: