Conducting serious science into the Hum phenomenon presents a number of obstacles. One concern is that, at this stage, it is self-reported and anecdotal; there is no external metric or device that measures it. Moreover, from reading the personal accounts on the World Hum Database and Mapping Project, there is reason to believe that in some cases, we may not even be discussing the same dependent variable. Sadly, beyond the light-hearted and “kooky” treatments given to the topic in most major media, some of the commentary on the topic raises questions surrounding the writer. Some of the media attention and pseudo-science on this and related bioacoustic issues has been, in my view, damaging to legitimate scientific inquiry.
For example, former Minnesota Governor Jessie Ventura, on his show “Conspiracy Theory”, explores the claims of “TIs” – “Targeted Individuals” – people who claim that rogue elements in the government are sending microwaves to specific individuals, causing them to hear voices and drive them crazy. The TIs are convinced that they have been targeted because they have complained to or about their local and federal governments. The show included the mandatory “Colonel X” -type figure in a white van who gave cryptic riddles and clues for the “investigators”. Ultimately, GWEN towers and microwaves were fingered as the culprit. After watching the show, I summarized it as “pseudo-scientific reality theatre”. Extracting useful science or analysis from it was completely hopeless. The damage done is the same as that done by the reality show “ghost hunters” with their array of impressive-looking instruments and deadly-serious banter. The uneducated but interested viewer is left with the impression that surely there must be something to it. The well-intentioned viewer is left actually knowing less about science than before watching the show. Had anyone asked for my specific scientific concerns regarding the show, I would have anguished over how to even organize my response. (Incidentally, the irony of course is that a thin sheet of foil will block microwave frequencies. If microwaves were indeed a prerequisite for the Hum, I wonder why there have been few reports of success of the use of such material.)
Alas, science education does not comprise repeating the claims of others, it comprises learning the tools to evaluate the claims of others. Those tools are given a sharp edge by doing the homework; that is, actually learning the scientific basics. But that can be challenging and tedious and time consuming. It’s certainly more of a job than watching a television show and then passing on sketchy information. As a personal example, I’m still learning enough radio theory to understand what some authors are even talking about. Partway through that I came up with the idea of using mild steel for conducting the “Deming Box” experiment (still waiting for an electrical radio engineer to confirm my physics) . Some of it’s difficult.
As a teacher of psychology, I need no reminders of the social dangers attached to claiming that one can hear/sense things that the vast majority of the population cannot. It is little surprise that few serious scientists have had the courage, without funding, to conduct formal research into the Hum. Even when governmental action is taken, such as in Kokomo, Hueytown, or Windsor, Ontario, the problem is approached as a noise complaint, followed by predictable types of acoustic measurements and diffuse results. And people move on until the next microburst of media attention.
And the Hum continues. Around the world.