In response to:

Intrepid Navigators from the February 25, 2021 issue

To the Editors:

Buried in Robert O. Paxton’s otherwise fascinating article about birds [“Intrepid Navigators,” NYR, February 25] is a seriously misleading statement about humans: “Birds can also detect the earth’s magnetic field, a sense that humans lack entirely.”

Humans do sense the earth’s field. As early as 1963 correlation was found between human mental disorder—represented by increased admission to psychiatric wards—and changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by solar disturbances; around the same time, humans who lived in a field-free bunker for extended periods responded with disturbed biorhythms to the exclusion of the earth’s field. Thirty years later researchers found self-synthesized magnetic particles in the human brain. In the interim a flood of studies demonstrated that humans were affected by both the earth’s field and, more significantly and negatively, by artificial fields created by power lines, cell phones, microwave antennas, and other electronic technologies.

Joel Ray
Ithaca, New York

Robert O. Paxton replies:

Joel Ray is right that humans are now known to be affected by magnetic fields, but actively orienting oneself by using the earth’s magnetic field, as some birds can do but humans generally cannot, is a different matter.