Two groups promoting claims in the world of medicine had their theories assessed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC): homeopaths and anti-wind groups. The NHMRC found no evidence to support their claims.
This absence of evidence was twisted into vindication, rather than incrimination. This is due to the common misunderstanding that if there is no evidence for something, the probabilities of that claim either being correct or incorrect are precisely equal.
'Homoeopathy' is based around the idea that water has a 'memory', and consequently, you can treat someone using absurdly tiny amounts of whatever it is that caused their ailment ("like cures like"). The quantity of active ingredient in homeopathic products is insanely small.
|In homeopathy, the smaller the quantity of the active ingredient, the more potent the medicine is said to be. This is bonkers.|
"There is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective for treating health conditions"The Australian Homeopathic Association (AHA) responded in an interview on ABC News 24 - you can watch the full thing here, but one remark was quite relevant. The head of the AHA said the following, when asked about the NHMRC report on homeopathy:
“What I think you could fairly say is that what the NHMRC have presented does not say that homeopathy does not work or cannot work, but that the evidence might not be particularly strong in certain areas, or that their might not be enough of it”
Wind Turbine Syndrome
A similar NHMRC evidence review into wind farms and health was released a few weeks back. They state:
"There is no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans"
This matches the results of a 2010 evidence review that did essentially the same thing. In a letter to the then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, CEO of the 'Waubra Foundation' Sarah Laurie wrote:
"The current CEO of the NHMRC, Professor Warwick Anderson made it clear there was a concern, in his oral evidence to the Senate Inquiry, on 31st March 2011. He stated “we do not say that there are no ill effects”, and acknowledged that there was very little existing evidence, and that the absence of evidence did not mean there was not a problem.It's a line held firm by anti-wind groups. An absence of evidence is no barrier to claiming that wind turbines are things to fear, as stated again in this interview, after the release of yet another report, this one by the South Australian EPA, clearing wind farms of health impacts (emphasis mine):
Why the inaction, when families are being forced from their homes, or elderly pensioners are left to “rot”?"
"TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But I guess - you just made the claim that country people are being harmed by these wind farms, but at the same time you're saying that the research isn't there to show one way or the other. I'm just trying to reconcile those two points.
SARAH LAURIE: Well they're reporting serious harm to their doctors. Their doctors are reporting harm, their psychologists are reporting harm. The individuals are reporting harm to a series of Senate inquiries and nothing is being done.
The fact that it's not getting in the peer reviewed published journals doesn't mean the harm isn't happening."Some Claims Really Need Evidence
You can make any claim you want. But some claims need to be backed with evidence. If, for instance, you travel to a community considering a wind farm development, and you tell them that the wind farm is going to give them autism, one might expect there to be strong evidence in support of that claim, rather a simple absence of evidence against it.
Or, if someone with cancer needs treatment, and you tell them that magic water will heal them, simply throwing up your hands and saying 'welp, there's no evidence I'm wrong!' doesn't cut it.
Be Clear About The Burden of Proof
An irksome feature of the NHMRC's report into wind farms and health was the exclusion of social and psychological issues.
There's no consideration of the impact of lobby groups that exist outside academia or the medical profession, and consequently, aren't bound by the need for evidence. It's hard to skirt around the fact that despite there being no evidence for homeopathy or 'wind turbine syndrome', both claims have incredible cut-through, due largely to the fact that people accept those claims based on value systems and world-view, rather than quantity of evidence.
This might be something the NHMRC could consider in the future. It's inevitable that an established and quantified absence of evidence is no barrier to people travelling to a town and trying to instil fear of wind energy, or other people trying to sell magic water as a cure for cancer.
Why not understand and pre-empt this, when trying to arm the community against misinformation?