Monday, July 29, 2013

12 important things to know about wind farms, health and nocebo effects, by Simon Chapman

Simon Chapman, the Australian misocapnist, has just posted a video lecture outlining his thoughts about wind turbines and health, titled "12 things you need to know about wind farms and health". It's more than 26 minutes long, and seemingly designed to bore the viewer so much that they will give up and take his thesis on faith. Your editor, however, sat through the whole thing and here raises some issues with Professor Chapman's presentation.

1. Modern wind farms have existed since early 1980s.

2. Health objections to wind farms are relatively recent [since 2002].

The obvious question is, has anything in the nature of wind farms changed?

The numbers of wind turbines have increased steadily over the past decade, so it is not surprising to find that they have affected more people.

(source: Garrad Hassan, 2008)

Furthermore, the size of wind turbines made a distinctive leap around the year 2000. Larger sizes and higher towers mean more noise travelling farther, and particularly more low-frequency noise, which travels even farther and does not stop at — in fact, often resonates with — walls and windows.

3. Opponents claim there are immediate and long-term health impacts.

Chapman illogically presents examples of no effects reported as proof that instances of reported effects are false and again dodges the obvious question of mechanism: size and number of turbines, distance from homes, nature of noise that affects some people and not others. Nina Pierpont suggested an inner ear disturbance (like motion sickness) caused by low-frequency noise from large (post-2000) wind turbines sited within 1-2 km from homes. Before then, low frequencies were not considered in noise measurements. Since then, low-frequency noise has indeed been measured in the homes of affected individuals. See, e.g.:

"Dynamic measurements of wind turbine acoustic signals"
"The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study"
"Cooperative Measurement Survey and Analysis of Low-Frequency and Infrasound at the Shirley Wind Farm"

4. Even a majority of wind farms with large turbines have zero complaint history.

This claim has been critiqued elsewhere.

5. The number of people complaining about health or noise is very small.

There is no actual registry of such complaints. Chapman is making it up. Companies do not report such complaints. Leases and easements typically prevent public disclosure of complaints if the person wants payments to continue. Chapman's "study" relies on parliamentary testimony, which would represent a very small fraction of affected people (he makes no attempt to estimate the degree of such sampling), media coverage, which of course varies tremendously in interest and bias and can not be comprehensive, and records of the wind companies themselves, apparently accepted without question or verification.

6. The "susceptibility" analogy with motion sickness does not stack up.

Actually, it does, but such nuance doesn't fit Chapman's neat theories. Update, August 4: This just in!

7. You name it ... they say wind farms cause it: 223 and growing!!

Since the primary vectors are stress and disturbed sleep, the broad range of effects — on all animals, not just humans — is not surprising. Chapman then picks out a few of the most extreme, ignoring exacerbation, to discount all reported effects. He also (in typical fashion) misreports them: for example, the "sudden death of 400 goats" he mocks as "seriously a report that was on the web attributed to wind turbines"; in fact, the story from Taiwan was the death of 400 goats over 3 years, beginning when a neighboring wind farm started operation, as reported by the Taiwan Council of Agriculture.

8. Many of the most commonly named problems are very common in any community.

And are more common after wind turbines start operating.

9. Complainants have refused to provide their medical records.

This charge is based on one appeal of a project approval in Ontario — Zephyr Farms in the township of Brooke-Alvinston, Lambton County — where the appellant was told to hand over the complete private health records of 20 individuals, despite their existing sworn testimony, within 1 week — which would then be considered only for "serious" harm to human health. Faced with this impossibility (not to mention the invasiveness), the appellant withdrew (the case was not "thrown out" as Chapman says). Since that project was erected, the adverse health effects warned of by the appellant have indeed occurred. Later such requests in Ontario for medical records have been met (e.g., at the hearing for Ostrander Point), as appellants know what to expect and have time to collect them.

10. Most complaints occur at wind farms targeted by anti-wind farm groups, mostly post 2009.

Duh. The groups provide a medium for publicizing complaints that are otherwise ignored or mocked. And the groups can not be active everywhere at once.

11. There have been 19 reviews of the evidence on wind farms, noise and health since 2003.

Actually, there seem to have been 28 so far, almost all of them, even some of those sponsored by the industry itself, recognizing the need for more research. Update, November 13, 2013:  Make that 35. But only 10 non-industry, non-government reviews.

12. Money may be a magic antidote to complaints.

With the use of the word "magic", Chapman shatters his whole charade of objective inquiry. It must be again noted that the receipt of money from wind companies typically requires silence about problems, a kind of reverse extortion. Chapman has been reassured by wind companies that there are no such gag clauses (which of course are illegal). Nevertheless, many individuals who lease their land for wind turbines do in fact complain of ill effects.

Conclusion:  "What we're seeing is what we call ah um an incidence of psych psychogenic illness." (nervous artifacts transcribed to indicate possible deliberate dishonesty)

Chapman defines psychogenic illness as "a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic illness, but without an identifiable cause, that occurs between two or more people who share beliefs about those symptoms".

But adverse health effects from wind turbines are not "suggestive" of illness, they are illness. And nearby wind turbines are the easily identifiable cause. As for "shared beliefs", that applies to any illness, but in the case of wind turbines it is well documented that just as many people with a prior favorable view of them get sick as those with a previously more skeptical view.

Chapman's suggested cure is apparently to suppress the issue in public and professional discourse, because the only real solution is to keep giant wind turbines an adequate distance from homes, workplaces, and recreational areas.

He quotes Francis Bacon (the alchemist): "Infections ... if you fear them, you call them upon you." The germ theory of infection has long proven that to be nonsense, just as continuing research in the physiological effects of low-frequency noise is validating the connection between giant wind turbines and adverse health effects.

(Chapman also takes the Bacon quote far out of context. It is from an essay on envy published in 1625:
Now, to speak of Public Envy :  There is yet some good in Public Envy, whereas in Private, there is none.  For Public Envy is as an ostracism, that eclipseth Men when they grow too great :  and therefore it is a bridle also to Great Ones, to keep them within Bounds.

This Envy, being in the Latin word Invidia, goeth in the Modern Languages by the name of Discontentment ;  of which we shall speak in handling Sedition.  It is a Disease in a State like to Infection ;  For as Infection spreadeth upon that which is sound, and tainteth it ;  so when Envy is gotten once into a State, it traduceth even the best Actions thereof, and turneth them into an ill Odour.  And therefore there is little won by intermingling of plausible Actions :  for that doth argue but a Weakness and Fear of Envy ;  which hurteth so much the more, as it is likewise usual in Infections, which, if you fear them, you call them upon you.
(Bacon seems to be saying that if you act in fear of envy, you invite it; but also that if you fear not envy, it will find you out anyway. His use of infection is clumsy as a metaphor, especially as he considers public envy a worthwhile check on power.)

Chapman goes on to present his "nocebo" thesis, despite the fact that people are not barraged with "fear mongering", but rather the opposite, with government, media, nonprofits, and educational institutions pitching industrial wind turbines as utterly benign. If he insists on the existence of a nocebo effect, then he has to explain the failure of this "placebo" innoculation against ill effects.

Chapman then moves on to attack Nina Pierpont, who described the consistent set of symptoms that she called "wind turbine syndrome", and proposed a mechanism that elegantly fits the facts, as mentioned above.

After a bit more mockery of complaints and advocates, he explains why this issue is so serious. No, it's not because the effect of low-frequency and pulsating noise from industrial wind turbines on public health needs to be more seriously studied. Simon Chapman, of the University of Sydney School of Public Health, is concerned instead that developers can not erect wind turbines anywhere they want. For example, he inaccurately describes the state of Victoria's designation of a 2-km buffer zone around wind turbines as a ban on erecting them closer to homes. In fact, Victoria simply allows a resident within that distance to say "no, thank you". These are not "no go zones", as Chapman claims. If he and his industry cronies were convincing about the lack of adverse health effects, they would have no worries. But unfortunately for their (publicly subsidized) business, the facts speak louder than their denial of them.

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