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Aluminum Foil Hats Will Not Stop "Them" 433

Otter writes "A study at MIT has found that aluminum foil headwear ("Among a fringe community of paranoids..the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals") actually amplifies certain frequency bands allocated to the US government, as well as a mobile phone range, and is largely ineffective through the rest of the radio spectrum. But we can we trust the study, or are They controlling the researchers?"
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Aluminum Foil Hats Will Not Stop "Them"

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  • An interesting thing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 2.7182 ( 819680 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:41PM (#14000635)
    Certain psychotic people seem to focus on the aluminum hat / radio waves are controlling me thing. It is quite universal. What is it that makes it a common theme ?
  • by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:51PM (#14000794)
    When I was doing my psychiatry rotation they explained that paranoia is usually relative to the cultural environment in which the person was brought up. For people who grew up in cities, the "government conspiracy" paranoia is most common. For those who were brought up in rural areas, the "aliens" conspiracy is most widespread. And obviously for those who were brought up religiosly, "demonic possession" is the price element of paranoia. Obviously most real cases are mixes of these, but it is easy to see that people get their paranoid ideations from the fears that are most prevalent in their environment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:53PM (#14000826)
    It's just a convenient way of explaining how somebody else should be accountable for your actions. A century ago, it might have been demons controlling you through the aether. Aether is pretty much disproven and lots of people don't believe in demons, but most people believe the government and radio waves exist, and they are the obvious choice for "they" and "how", space aliens and implants being the next most obvious choice.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @03:55PM (#14000845) Homepage
    We actually had occasion to use a tinfoil hat when testing the Overbot [] for the DARPA Grand Challenge. To simulate a loss of GPS signal, we put a tinfoil hat over the GPS antenna.

    Our first hat was a stainless steel mixing bowl. GPS reception continued. We were even able to get WAAS and Omnistar HP lockup with the mixing bowl on top of the antenna. []

    An actual tinfoil hat cut off more of GPS, but we could still get "single" GPS signals, although not the corrections for Omnistar.

    So the radiolocation bands really do get through.

  • by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:01PM (#14000931)
    I believe the tinfoil hat thing is a manifestation of one of the broader charateristic delusions of paranoid schizophrenia, i.e. that external forces are controlling one, or inserting thoughts directly into one's mind. Different manifestations pop up depending on the milieu: today it's radio signals from government controlled satellites, but in the late 1940's Shaver's tales of "Dero rays" being emitted by a race of evil subterranean dwellers proved a popular framework for the delusion.
  • Re:amplified? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FuzzyDaddy ( 584528 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:12PM (#14001075) Journal
    RF signals are not imaged - all the data is encoded in the time variation of the signal. Hence, focus is not relevant. Increased gain does NOT mean increased noise - which is why having a big satelite dishes improves reception.

    And I can't believe I just weighed in with a serious response on this article. Time for more coffee.

  • Grounding required (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HermanAB ( 661181 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @04:45PM (#14001461)
    Your foil hat will only work if you properly ground it.

    So, you need to run a wire from your hat down to your shoes and use antistatic shoe straps to ground yourself. It will also work better when the ground is wet.

    I guess foil hat wearers will have no problem wetting themselves, they just need to funnel it down, since having wet pants won't help, they need wet shoes...
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @05:41PM (#14002014) Journal
    Some Federal judge once commented that when he was clerking, they'd occasionally get requests from citizens who wanted the court to order the CIA to stop attacking them with mind-control rays, and they'd occasionally ask the judge to issue such orders if they had spare time. Kept the kooks happy, and it didn't bother the CIA much...

    A few years ago, one of the new-agey junk catalogs actually had aluminized hats,
    as well as the usual collection of crystals, shiny things, bogus magnetic devices, and, ummm, tachyon bracelets. It's been long enough ago that I don't remember the details, but I think the hats were some kind of cloth with an aluminized mylar or aluminum paint layer or something similar. I think they even had a removable grounding strap.

    Now, unlike why people want to obtain and wear such things, I don't know - I suspect the joke is much much more common than the actual practice. But the reason why people want to *sell* them is much more obvious - it's because they think there are suckers who want to buy them. The interesting question is whether they found enough suckers who actually *did* buy them to keep making the things.

    Personally, if I were to get an aluminum hat (except as a costume for a science fiction conventions), it'd be a bicycle helmet. Doesn't matter that it keeps the CIA space alien hunters from beaming things into my head, as long as it keeps out the car hoods and asphalt, though blinky-lights and reflector tape are probably much more useful than aluminum color would be.

  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @06:21PM (#14002498) Journal
    Ch-chuck [] posted [] the URL [] for a catalog that carries an EMF-protection hat and lots of other scientifically bogus stuff. Not sure if it's quite the same hat, but it's heart is in the right place.
  • by SamHill ( 9044 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @06:23PM (#14002518)

    Different manifestations pop up depending on the milieu: today it's radio signals from government controlled satellites, but in the late 1940's Shaver's tales of "Dero rays" being emitted by a race of evil subterranean dwellers proved a popular framework for the delusion.

    And before that (in 1796), there was James Tilly Matthews's Air Loom, a "pneumatic machine" that could manipulate the ether to influence its victims. See The Air Loom Gang: The Strange and True Story of James Tilly Matthews and His Visionary Madness by Mike Jay for more details. []

    In addition to insights into one of the earliest documented manifestations of paranoid delusion, the book has lots of juicy details about mental health facilities in the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth centuries, the French Revolution, Mesmerism, and lots more. A really interesting book.

  • Re:Now I'm scared (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @06:34PM (#14002651)
    There was a professor at Georgia Tech when I was there (1958-62) who had no use for either one. He had been a highly-regarded EE prof in the Thirties, then cracked up under the stress of pumping out engineers in World War II and spent some time in a mental hospital.

    In the course of his confinement he was frightened by a bat, and decided that his condition was caused by a deadly brain-rotting radiation emitted by bats.

    He was never able to teach EE again, but the school took him back in the Industrial Management department. He always wore a derby hat lined with foil -- but no crummy tin or aluminum for him. He insisted on using lead foil, the only quality material for such a purpose. But it didn't stop there: the bat rays tended to build up potentially lethal static charges on the foil, so it had to be grounded. His hat was connected by an alligator clip to wires sewn into his clothing and ultimately to a nail in his shoe.

    He was known, naturally, as Batman and we treated him with the kind of casual cruelty you'd expect of undergraduates...we all thought he was unique and it wasn't until the Internet came along that I learned how common the foil-hat thing is. Apparently it's a symptom of paranoid schizophrenia -- a particularly sad condition in which the victim knows perfectly well he's screwed up and is powerless to do anything about it.


  • Re:Now I'm scared (Score:3, Interesting)

    by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Thursday November 10, 2005 @09:27PM (#14004025)
    Tin foil hats work. Aluminum foil hats do not.

    I'm not even going to get into this debate. I've just upgraded to a lead helmet!

    It is rather cumbersome, but as a bonus to blocking everything, I've got a strong neck now.

    I'll do you one better, a neutronium hat.... unfortunaely it's 6 million pounds but it's a small price to pay for privacy.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming