I don’t watch much TV, but recently while on vacation (in Hawaii!!!) I finished my latest read (Conn Iggulden’s “Conqueror”, which I recommend along with the entire series, for those who like historical fiction) and having nothing better to do (it was raining) I succumbed. “Frontline” was on, and it was a repeat of their October 8, 2013 broadcast of “League of Denial”. It is a 2-hour documentary about how the National Football League (the NFL) tried to hide the health impacts that players suffered from repeated blows to their heads. As I watched I couldn’t help but reflect on the similarities between the NFL’s actions and motivations and the wind industry’s. Downright spooky, in fact.
The saga starts in 1994 with “anecdotal” reports of retired NFL players suffering disproportionally from mental issues, like memory and concentration. The NFL creates the MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) committee. You’d think that if the NFL were serious about studying the problem they’d have it headed by someone who is (1) independent and (2) appropriately trained. Instead one Elliot Pellman, who is the NY Jets physician, and a rheumatologist by training, becomes the committee’s head. Kinda like Siva Sivoththaman, the head of Ontario’s health study.
The MTBI never conducts an examination of a retired player who is complaining of problems, or of his brain after death. In spite of never actually examining a victim, they continue to insist that there is no evidence of a problem. Kinda like the Massachusetts DEP study as just one example.
Independent researchers start looking at the brains of deceased NFL players and discover that they have widespread deposits of a protein called Tau in certain locations that are indicative of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), formerly associated with boxers and others that have a history of blows to the head. The NFL goes nuclear, trying to discredit the doctors involved and refusing to listen to them. Kinda like CanWEA’s Expert Panel Review on Nina Pierpont (see page 3-10, as just one example).
The MTBI publishes a series of papers that claim there is no connection between playing football and all these brain injuries. These papers look very authoritative, until you recall that they’ve never actually examined anyone. Kinda like Simon Chapman.
NFL’s doctors use words like “anecdotal” and “not scientific” to describe what the independent doctors are presenting. NFL doctors also criticize the reports as not showing what the prevalence is nor the causation. Kinda like the wind industry’s continual use of the “direct causal” defense.
There is one major difference between the wind industry’s situation and the NFL’s. The NFL doesn’t enjoy the uncritical support of the government and a large part of the mainstream media. The U.S. Congress ended up questioning the NFL commissioner, who predictably dodged their questions. This led one representative to say what everyone else was already thinking – that the NFL was acting pretty much the same as Big Tobacco. In both cases there’s a lot of money at stake and there’s a health issue with the product. The standard response is to at first go nuclear with the dismissals, threats and character assassinations. When that doesn’t work they appear to be funding some research on the issues, but their real intent is to control that research and drag it out as long as possible.
All of this also applies to the wind industry, right down the line. It took decades to bring down Big Tobacco’s delaying tactics. The NFL is still going 19 years after the MTBI was formed. Since Big Wind has enjoyed the support of many governments and the mainstream media there’s no telling how long they can delay things. What is disturbing is that this entire scenario is deja-vu all over again. Surely the supportive governments are aware of the games companies will play when their interests are threatened. In Big Wind’s case, they simply don’t seem to care. As the NFL continued to encourage collisions in spite of the evidence so does Ontario, as an example, continue to approve wind turbines.