In 2015 I submitted evidence to the Senate Wind Turbine Committee, chaired by Senator John Madigan, a long time vocal critic of wind farms. Other critics on the Committee included Senators Xenophon, Back, Day, and Leyonhjelm. It was always going to be a “challenge” to get a good word about wind farms from such a group.
The final report included a six page critical section about my evidence. Here are my responses to the key assertions and allegations, point by point.
2.19 Professor Simon Chapman AO, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, has been an outspoken critic of those who suffer ill-effects from wind turbines. In both his written and oral submissions, Professor Chapman cited many of his own publications in support for his view that:
"…the phenomenon of people claiming to be adversely affected by exposure to wind turbines is best understood as a communicated disease that exhibits many signs of the classic psychosocial and nocebo phenomenon where negative expectations can translate into symptoms of tension and anxiety."
Response: I am a critic of anti-wind farm activists who make statements about wind farms and health which are highly questionable. I am not a critic of those claiming to suffer from exposure to turbines.
However, some of the latter group have made statements which I have publicly spotlighted. They made the statements after all, I’m just shining light on them. For example, a man who claims to be able to hear turbines at up to 100km away; a couple who say they are affected by wind turbines even when they are turned off; a man whose accounts of his sensitivity to turbines invite many questions; and a man who has stated that his mobile phone went into charge mode in the middle of a paddock near wind turbines.
— Simon Chapman AO (@SimonChapman6) July 2, 2015
I have also catalogued and publicised public statements about 244 different diseases and symptoms said to be caused by turbine exposure. These include, in all seriousness, herpes, haemorrhoids, and disoriented echidnas. Look for yourself and be amazed. These public statements deserve serious critical scrutiny, which the Committee declined to apply.
2.20 Several highly qualified and very experienced professionals have challenged this argument. Dr Malcolm Swinbanks, an acoustical engineer based in the United Kingdom, reasoned:
"The argument that adverse health reactions are the result of nocebo effects, i.e. a directly anticipated adverse reaction, completely fails to consider the many cases where communities have initially welcomed the introduction of wind turbines, believing them to represent a clean, benign form of low-cost energy generation. It is only after the wind-turbines are commissioned, that residents start to experience directly the adverse nature of the health problems that they can induce."
Response: What Swinbanks and the Committee omit to say here is that anti-wind farm activists target new wind farm developments and foment anxiety among residents that when the turbines commence operation they will experience a range of harms and annoyances. One of my papers demonstrated that 73 per cent of all Australian complainants live near just six of 51 wind farms, all of which have been targeted by anti wind farm activists.
Some residents living near planned wind farms may well welcome them in the planning stage, but then become anxious after being exposed to anti wind farm propaganda. This can cause nocebo effects in some of those so exposed.
2.21 The committee highlights the fact that Professor Chapman is not a qualified, registered nor experienced medical practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist, acoustician, audiologist, physicist or engineer. Accordingly:
• he has not medically assessed a single person suffering adverse health impacts from wind turbines
Response: And neither did Dr Nina Pierpont when writing her self-published book Wind Turbine Syndrome. Pierpont interviewed people by phone. And neither has Ms Sarah Laurie, the prominent Australian wind farm opponent who is an unregistered doctor, and who being unregistered, is of course not allowed by law to make diagnoses.
• his research work has been mainly—and perhaps solely—from an academic perspective without field studies
Response: My peer reviewed research has been about the history and pattern of wind farm complaints; a critical examination of the factoid that “over 40 families” in Australia have abandoned their homes; a study of the anxieties expressed by residents living near a planned wind farm in submissions to an enquiry; and a forensic examination of the promotion of the non-disease of “vibroacoustic disease” and its astronomical self-citation pattern by the only research group promoting the existence of this “disease”. My full CV is here.
• his views have been heavily criticised by several independent medical and acoustic experts in the international community
Response: Of all my peer reviewed papers on wind farms and health, only one has attracted any critical correspondence in the journals in which they were published. That anticipated response was by the research group promoting the non-disease of “vibro-acoustic disease”. A pre-print of my most important paper is the most viewed publication in the entire University of Sydney eScholarship Repository (where there are 10,481 reports). It has not seen even one response published in PLoS One where it was published after peer review. It has already been cited 34 times.
• many of his assertions do not withstand fact check analyses
Response: This sweeping statement is not particularised.
2.22 Professor Chapman has made several claims which are contrary to the evidence gathered by this committee. First, he argues that the majority of Australia's wind turbines have never received a single complaint. There are various problems with this statement:
(i) wind turbines located significant distances from residents will not generate complaints
Response: My paper documenting the history and distribution of wind farm complaints in Australia noted all complainants regardless of distances.
The table in the paper showed the estimated number of residents living within 5km of each Australian wind farm. In no case was there any wind farm with no residents living within 5km. 33/51 (64.7 per cent) of Australian wind farms including 18/34 (52.9 per cent) with turbine size >1MW have never been subject to noise or health complaints. These 33 farms have an estimated 21,633 residents within 5km and have operated complaint-free for a cumulative 267 years!
For example, the Glenelg Shire Council informed the Committee the Cape Bridgewater wind farm has 11,000 – 12,000 residents within 5km and only six (from three houses) had ever complained!
(ii) Many residents suffering adverse health effects were not aware of any nexus between their health and the impact of wind turbines in order to make a complaint
Response: Many of the symptoms attributed to wind farms (eg: sleep problems, anxiety, headaches, tinnitus) are very common in all communities, regardless of whether they are near wind farms. Wind farm opponents have tried to coach residents into attributing any such problems to wind farms when often these problems existed before the wind turbines commenced operation.
Revealingly, complainants have generally refused to supply medical histories of their particular health complaints.
(iii) Just because residents do not lodge a formal complaint does not mean they are not suffering adverse health effects
Response: My study counted not just for “formal” complaints, but even mentions of personal negative experiences in 2,394 submissions made to three government inquiries and country media monitoring of any mentions of such complaints.
(iv) Data obtained by Professor Chapman from wind farm operators of the numbers of complaints lodged cannot be relied upon
Response: This ex-cathedra statement is openly hostile to wind farm companies without naming any company that allegedly cannot be relied upon to have accurate records of complainant numbers. The Report does not name any example of a wind farm where there have been more complainants than my study showed.
(v) The use of non-disclosure clauses and 'good neighbour agreements' legally restricts people from making adverse public statements or complaints
Response: This hoary chestnut is easily dismissed by pointing to the few exception-proves-the-rule wind examples of turbine hosts who have ever complained. None of these have been prosecuted for making adverse comments, so if they are gagged, the gag is not on very tightly.
— Simon Chapman AO (@SimonChapman6) June 30, 2015
2.23 Second, Professor Chapman has argued that complaints of adverse health effects from wind turbines tend to be limited to Anglophone nations. However, the committee has received written and oral evidence from several sources directly contradicting this view. The German Medical Assembly recently submitted a motion to the executive board of the German Medical Association calling for the German government to provide the necessary funding to research adverse health effects. This would not have happened in the absence of community concern. Moreover, Dr Bruce Rapley has argued that in terms of the limited number—and concentrated nature—of wind farm complaints:
“It is the reporting which is largely at fault. The fact is that people are affected by this, and the numbers are in the thousands. I only have to look at the emails that cross my desk from all over the world. I get bombarded from the UK, Ireland, France, Canada, the United States, Australia, Germany. There are tonnes of these things out there but, because the system does not understand the problem, nor does it have a strategy, many of those complaints go unlisted.”
As to the claim that the German Medical Association is representing “community concern”, the information here shows that it was passing on the concerns of just one of its members.
It is beyond belief that the Committee could seriously cite this frankly amateur “study” as evidence of anything other than Ms Green being someone totally immersed in the global anti wind farm network and committed to its objectives. There is not a single piece of data in this submission, purporting to be “findings” of her global investigations. This epitomises the scientific illiteracy of the Committee’s majority report.
The Danish submissions cited are similarly of woeful quality containing bald data free statements like “there are health problems in many places”, and the Johansson submission being simply eight unexplained and convoluted files thrown at the Committee for some purpose left to the reader to discern.
There is also scientific evidence from studies conducted in Scandinavia which illustrate that 'annoyance' and sleep deprivation are reported as issues in residents exposed to wind turbine noise. These are referenced in the NHMRC's literature reviews. See here. See also: NHMRC, Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health, 2015.
Response: Again, the Committee fails to understand that sleep problems are common in all communities and simply noting that they also occur in some people living near wind farms tells us nothing.
2.24 Third, Professor Chapman has queried that if turbines are said to have acute, immediate effects on some people, why were there no such reports until recent years given that wind turbines have operated in different parts of the world for over 25 years. Several submissions to the committee have stated that adverse health effects from wind turbines do not necessarily have an acute immediate effect and can take time to manifest.
Response: I have never said that turbines allegedly have only acute effects (ie: adverse effects that rapidly occur once exposure starts), as opposed to chronic effects (ie: effects that manifest only after longer term exposure). But there are prominent wind farm opponents who have made acute effect claims. For example Swinbanks (Submission 189) claimed personal acute effects: “After five hours assisting in performing measurements and analysis, the author felt extremely unwell, and was only too relieved to leave the premises.”; Sarah Laurie told an anti wind farm meeting meeting at Mortlake in Victoria in 2012, “There’s stories of places, and in one house in particular in one location where it’s a seaside location and there were lots of people staying, just about everybody was up on one particular night every five or ten minutes needing to go to the toilet.”
The world’s first wind farm commenced operation in 1981, and the first documented cases of publicity about alleged health impacts were made in the early 2000s in England. So if acute effects are real, then where were all the bodies over the 20 years after 1981?
2.25 Fourth, Professor Chapman contests that people report symptoms from even micro-turbines. The committee heard evidence that once people are sensitised to low frequency infrasound, they can be affected by a range of noise sources, including large fans used in underground coal mines, coal fired power stations, gas fired power stations and even small wind turbines. As acoustician Dr Bob Thorne told the committee:
"Low-frequency noise from large fans is a well-known and well-published issue, and wind turbines are simply large fans on top of a big pole; no more, no less. They have the same sort of physical characteristics; it is just that they have some fairly unique characteristics as well. But annoyance from low-frequency sound especially is very well known."
Response: During my written evidence, I referred to this study. During my oral evidence, I referred to the micro-turbine in Jubilee park, Glebe (Sydney) which is surrounded by houses a few hundred metres away and where for years, thousands of citizens walk, picnic and play sport every week near the turbine.
There are no known complainants in all these exposures. How can that be? In all these many thousands of people who have been exposed, has there not been a single “sensitized” person?
2.26 Fifth, Professor Chapman contends that there are apparently only two known examples anywhere in the world of wind turbine hosts complaining about the turbines on their land. However, there have been several Australian wind turbine hosts who have made submissions to this inquiry complaining of adverse health effects. Paragraphs 2.11–2.12 (above) noted the example of Mr Clive Gare and his wife from Jamestown. Submitters have also directed attention to the international experience. In Texas in 2014, twenty-three hosts sued two wind farm companies despite the fact that they stood to gain more than $50 million between them in revenue. The committee also makes the point that contractual non-disclosure clauses and 'good neighbour' agreements have significantly limited hosts from speaking out. This was a prominent theme of many submissions.
Response: See response to 2.22v above
2.27 Sixth, Professor Chapman claims that there has been no case series or even single case studies of so-called wind turbine syndrome published in any reputable medical journal. But Professor Chapman does not define 'reputable medical journal' nor does he explain why the category of journals is limited to medical (as distinct, for example, from scientific or acoustic). The committee cannot therefore challenge this assertion. However, the committee does note that a decision to publish—or not to publish—an article in a journal is ultimately a business decision of the publisher: it does not necessarily reflect the quality of the article being submitted, nor an acknowledgment of the existence or otherwise of prevailing circumstances. The committee also notes that there exist considerable published and publicly available reports into adverse health effects from wind turbines.
Response: By reputable, I was referring to journals – medical or otherwise – which are indexed. The comments about journal publication being “ultimately a business decision” reveal much about the Committee’s sheer ignorance of editorial practice in reputable scientific journals where there is clear separation of editorial and publishing decision-making.
Junk science journals which are set up to simply make money from authors of otherwise unpublishable works are presumably what the Committee is confusing here. The non-indexed Bulletin of Science Technology and Society where many anti wind farm “research” papers have appeared would appear to be a good example of such a journal. I have discussed this further here.
— Simon Chapman AO (@SimonChapman6) July 2, 2015
2.28 The committee also notes that a peer reviewed case series crossover study involving 38 people was published in the form of a book by American paediatrician Dr Nina Pierpont, PhD, MD. Dr Pierpont's Report for Clinicians and the raw case data was submitted by her to a previous Australian Senate inquiry (2011) to which Dr Pierpont also provided oral testimony. Further, at a workshop conducted by the NHMRC in June 2011, acoustical consultant Dr Geoffrey Leventhall stated that the symptoms of 'wind turbine syndrome' (as identified by Dr Pierpont), and what he and other acousticians refer to as 'noise annoyance', were the same. Dr Leventhall has also acknowledged Dr Pierpont's peer reviewed work in identifying susceptibility or risk factors for developing wind turbine syndrome / 'noise annoyance'. Whilst Dr Leventhall is critical of some aspects of Dr Pierpont's research, he does state:
“Pierpont has made one genuine contribution to the science of environmental noise, by showing that a proportion of those affected have underlying medical conditions, which act to increase their susceptibility.”
Response: It is an understatement to note that Leventhall “is critical of some aspects of Dr Pierpont’s research.” Scathing would be too kind a word. Pierpont’s self-published vanity press book has never seen a single paper appear from it in the peer reviewed literature. Dignifying the Pierpont book as a “peer reviewed case series crossover study” is a further example of how ignorant the authors of the Report appear to be about study design and quality.
Here are just a few of the problems with Pierpont’s “study”:
1. She “chose a cluster of the most severely affected and most articulate subjects I could find”. Why choose “articulate subjects" and not randomly selected residents living near wind farms? More fundamentally, why did she not make any attempt to investigate controls (people living near turbines who do not report any illness or symptom they attribute to turbines)?
2. Amazingly, she interviewed them all over the phone, did not medically examine any of her subjects nor access their medical records. So her entire “study” is based on her aggravated informants accounts. Even here she does not describe who among the 10 families she interviewed, nor consider for a moment questions of accuracy about others giving proxy reports about others in their family. This is beyond sloppy.
3. Pierpont provides pages of information on her informants’ claims about their health while living near turbines. She also provides summaries of the prevalence of various health problems in these families prior to the arrival of the turbines. These are revealing. A third of the adults had current or past mental illness and a quarter had pre-existing migraine and/or permanent hearing impairment.
Peer review refers to the process of research journal editors sending manuscripts to knowledgeable reviewers who critique the work. This is often done with blinding of both the author and the reviewers. Reviewers are often asked to declare any competing interests prior to undertaking reviews, such as personal or professional relations with authors, should they recognise the author or where the authors’ identities are not blinded.
Pierpont circulated her manuscript to selected persons prior to publication and then published the flattering comments in the book. This is not remotely what any scientist understands as “peer review”.
2.29 Seventh, Professor Chapman claims that no medical practitioner has come forward with a submission to any committee in Australia about having diagnosed disease caused by a wind farm. Again, Professor Chapman fails to define 'disease'. Nonetheless, both this committee, and inquiries undertaken by two Senate Standing Committees, have received oral and written evidence from medical practitioners contrary to Professor Chapman's claim.
Response: Why then is it that none of these medical practitioners have ever successfully subjected their case reports (if that’s what they were) to peer review in a reputable medical journal? Why is there no recognition by any established illness diagnostic classificatory system of “wind turbine syndrome”?
2.30 Eighth, Professor Chapman claims that there is not a single example of an accredited acoustics, medical or environmental association which has given any credence to direct harmful effects of wind turbines. The committee notes that the semantic distinction between 'direct' and 'indirect' effects is not helpful. Dr Leventhall and the NHMRC describe stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation as 'indirect' effects, but these ailments nonetheless affect residents' health.
Response: I note that the Committee does not disagree with me that “there is not a single example of an accredited acoustics, medical or environmental association which has given any credence to direct harmful effects of wind turbines”.
2.31 Finally, Professor Chapman queries why there has never been a complainant that has succeeded in a common-law suit for negligence against a wind farm operator. This statement is simply incorrect. The committee is aware of court judgements against wind farm operators, operators making out of court settlements or withdrawing from proceedings, injunctions or shutdown orders being granted against operators, and properties adjacent to wind turbines being purchased by operators to avoid future conflict. The committee also reiterates its earlier point that contractual non-disclosure clauses have discouraged legal action by victims.
Response: I meant in Australia, which is where the Committee focused its work. This reference shows that since 1998, there have been 49 court cases in 5 nations on wind farm noise. 48 of these were unsuccessful for the plaintiffs.
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