The National Health and Medical Research Council is part of the Australian Government. As the name implies, they conduct medical research on a wide variety of public health issues. Recently they waded into the wind turbine controversy, issuing a Public Statement [backup link] and and Evidence Review [backup link]. This pair of papers follows the long and sad tradition of similar papers recently published in Canada and the U.S.
There are now 4 medical reviews in this series. It started with Colby’s Health Impact of Wind Turbines, then came the AWEA-CanWEA Expert Panel Review, followed by Ontario’s CMOH Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines. I’ve reviewed each of them in detail in my Bad Science Examples post. The similarities among them are substantial. None of the 4 ever bothered going into the field to actually interview the neighbors. They continue using the same set of references in the same deceptive manner, and continue ignoring any inconvenient evidence. They even use each other as references. Perhaps they hope nobody will take the time to actually read the reports, let alone the references, carefully enough to figure out just how callously indifferent they are to the well-being of those who end up being affected.
Sadly, they may have made the right bet. None of these reports was a serious addition to the medical knowledge base of wind turbines and health. Instead, they were written for (a)legal bodies, giving developers cover in court and (b)legislative bodies, giving politicians protection from voters.
As these reports have each surfaced the Society for Wind Vigilance has gotten more strident in their condemnation of them. They started with the AWEA/CanWEA report, saying: Yet the A/CanWEA Panel Review inexplicably concludes by stating that it does not “advocate for funding further studies.” We note that the panel Review was produced and sponsored by the industry-created and industry-supported American and Canadian Wind Industry Associations. Then came the CMOH paper, which got this reaction: …the CMOH Report: The Potential Health Impacts of Wind Turbines “appears to be a government-convened attempt to justify unsound practices of wind turbine development while denying the adverse health effects reported by Ontario families”. Ouch. Finally, the Australian report got this: The vetting and quality of material cited in the “Rapid Review” is at best suspect and at times ridiculous. The “Rapid Review” embraces the ranting opinions contained on “croakey the Crikey health blog” while enigmatically challenging the World Health Organization authoritative position that annoyance is an adverse health effect – astounding. Double ouch.
Finally we come to my comments about the Australian report. Here in Part 1 I’ll just go into the Public Statement and how it pursues its real agenda – which is to discredit those who think the health issues are still unresolved. The Public Statement is akin to a press release, with 2 pages of text (along with the obligatory pastoral pictures of wind turbines) and 1 page of 13 references. I’ll cover the references in detail in my Part 2. Below are some sentences from the Statement, in italics, followed by my comments.
Those who oppose the development of wind farms contend that wind turbines can adversely impact the health of individuals living in close proximity.
Notice the disparagement? This statement is simply not true. Many people who favor wind turbines in principle also think that the health of the neighbors is more important. Also, many of us are opposed for reasons other than health – like they don’t save any emissions to begin with.
Concerns regarding the adverse health impacts of wind turbines focus on infrasound noise, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker and blade glint produced by wind turbines.
Nope, wrong again. The main impact, over the entire globe, is sleep disturbance. Note how they just ignore that, with good reason.
While a range of effects such as annoyance, anxiety, hearing loss, and interference with sleep, speech and learning have been reported anecdotally, there is no published scientific evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health.
Nope, wrong yet again. There’s lots of published evidence, some of it in the very references that they use, editing out the parts they find inconvenient.
Reported health concerns primarily relate to infrasound…
Nope. Sleep disturbance. Infrasound may have its own set of effects; the science isn’t settled yet. But nobody disputes sleep disturbance.
A recent expert panel review in North America found no evidence…
This was the AWEA/CanWEA report, and it suffers from the very same problems this report does.
However, there is also the argument that if people are worried about their health they may become anxious, causing stress related illnesses which are genuine health effects arising from their worry, but not from the wind turbine itself. For this reason, NHMRC recommends that people who believe they are experiencing any health problems should consult their GP promptly.
This is the “nocebo” hypothesis, which seems to be a favorite in these reports. Note that there’s no reference for this, for good reason. No medical doctor who has treated the neighbors has ever advanced this hypothesis. Visiting the GP is good advice, mostly to get some sleep meds.
The situation is further complicated by findings that people who benefit economically from wind turbines were less likely to report annoyance, despite exposure to similar sound levels as people who were not economically benefiting.
This is their attempt at saying the complainers are just jealous. They left out an alternative possibility mentioned in the study they reference – that the participants can turn the turbines off when the noise gets too bad.
The above was just the first page! The second page has its share of incorrect information as well, but it is getting late and this gets boring after a while. My upcoming part 2 will go into details on the Evidence Review, but lies are so much easier to spread than truth that it will take me a while to get it written. In the meantime, you can read over my analysis of the King (CMOH) report and you’ll get a surprisingly accurate critique of this report as well.