A 39-year-old French woman named Martine Richard has won a court case that means that government will need to pay her roughly US$900 a month in disability allowance for at least three years, because of the discomfort caused by her alleged Wi-Fi allergy.
Richard claims that she had to quit her job and is confined to a rural barn without electricity because she's so sensitive to electromagnetic waves. Although there are many people who have reported Wi-Fi allergy - or electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) - in the past, she's the first to be officially recognised and compensated for the condition, despite the fact that science says it doesn't exist.
That doesn't mean that people like Richard aren't suffering from symptoms including persistent headaches, nausea, mental fog, and dizziness, it simply means that a range of peer-reviewed studies and reviews have found no evidence linking those symptoms to electromagnetic fields (EMF).
"The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals," the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded. "Well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure."
So if that's the case, why was Richard awarded compensation? It's hard to say, but it could have something to do with the fact that Wi-Fi signals really are everywhere. As more and more of our devices become connected to the Internet, our Wi-Fi fields get bigger (in fact, if you could visualise them, they'd look pretty damn amazing), which means that it's easy to blame the signals for symptoms, because we're all pretty much guaranteed exposure.
But as science writer Signe Cane reported earlier this year over at her blog, there's only been one often-cited study from 2011 that's managed to find a link between EMF exposure and illness. However, it only involved one case study, which makes the results pretty unreliable.
"The lack of robust scientific evidence is also a strong indication that we may need to look elsewhere for the actual cause - it could be stress, it could be the nocebo effect, it could even be a different disease altogether, or several," writes Cane. "But by this point evidence shows that it is extremely unlikely that the cause of these symptoms is electromagnetic radiation."
"It’s a psychological phenomenon," William Barr, a neuropsychologist from the New York University School of Medicine told CBS news. "[Sufferers] essentially establish a belief that something has the potential to cause a symptom, and then when they come in contact with the cause they develop those symptoms."
While we feel bad that Richard and others with Wi-Fi sensitivity are suffering, the problem with this kind of court ruling is that it legitimises the claim that Wi-Fi signals are making some of the population sick, despite the fact that there's no evidence to back that up.
And that means that not only is technology being blamed without evidence, government bodies are now liable for the alleged damage caused to thousands of sufferers.
It sort of reminds us of wind turbine syndrome, another alleged condition with no scientific backing that claims technological advances are making people sick.
Even worse, this court ruling means that we're never going to find out what's really causing the symptoms experienced by Richard and all the other sufferers out there, so we'll never have the opportunity to give them the help and treatment that they really need.