Thursday 12 February 2015

The "Wind Turbine Syndrome" Study: Demand, Reject, Repeat

Today's National Health and Medical Research Council report re-affirms the answer to a question that's been asked by scientists many, many times prior. Is there any scientific evidence to support the claim that wind farms have direct impacts on human health?

"The National Health and Medical Research Council has today released a statement concluding that ‘there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans.’"

No; there isn't.

But, if a little thing like the vast, howling absence of scientific evidence highlighted above could impact the zest of groups that propagate the 'wind turbine syndrome' theory, it would have happened years ago.

As expected, the NHMRC re-asserted its call for more 'research' into this issue, an idea that's seemingly the brainchild of Liberal-National Party - an article from last year elaborates:

"Abbott told commercial radio this month that research should be refreshed "from time to time" to consider whether there were "new facts that impact on old judgments". "It is some years since the NHMRC last looked at this issue - why not do it again?" Mr Abbott said."

This mirrors a recent announcement from conservative US Governor Scott Walker, who's dedicating US$250,000 to study 'wind turbine syndrome' in America.

On the surface, it seems like a harmless venture. If there's community concerns, why not answer them with scientific research? Scientific answers offered in response to unscientific questions will be perpetually ignored.

If we commissioned a million studies, they would all impact with a dull, unceremonious thud against a solid wall - an impenetrable fortress of belief that was fully armed and operational the very moment the syndrome was first imagined.


The genesis of 'wind turbine syndrome', the nature of its spread and the motivation behind its uptake unambiguously indicate that no scientific research will convince proponents of the theory.

Wind turbine syndrome was first hypothesised by Nina Pierpont - the wife of a particularly profane anti-wind activist named Calvin Luther Martin. Both lived near a wind farm proposed near their home, and both were behind the creation of (now, seemingly defunct) and the publication of 'groundbreaking' research in which a tiny sample of self-selected individuals were asked about their symptoms on the phone. Pierpont writes:

"I never set out to prove that wind turbines cause Wind Turbine Syndrome. This was already obvious. Instead, I chose to study and document the observations made by people who had already figured it out and proved it on their own."

The theory was not created by disinterested parties investigated a theory. The dual architects of "Wind turbine syndrome" openly admit that they believed their theory to be true before they put pen to paper.

Their study only needed a thin veneer of scientific credibility - enough to convince unforgivably credulous journalists that their investigation was scientifically worthwhile.

Since it reached the shores of Australia in 2009, a full eight years after the first wind farm in Australia began operation, it's been adopted by groups and individuals that harbour some motivation to oppose wind power.

The utility of the syndrome was immediately apparent to anti-wind groups.

An ad placed in the Pyrenees Advocate clearly demonstrates the reason 'wind turbine syndrome' was created
As is the case with Pierpont, the moment the theory was adopted, it was assumed to be correct, and unassailable.

Peter Mitchell, chairman of the Waubra Foundation (an anti-wind group focused on health impacts), opponent of a wind farm development near his property in Victoria, and a listed 'observer' on the NHMRC review, states in objection to the development:

"There are proven health problems associated with living too close to turbines. That is a fact. No quibbling by proponents or politicians nor the Department of Health’s apparent ducking for cover and state of ignorance can dissolve or camouflage that fact. 
Essentially, Dr Pierpont collected sufficient data to demonstrate a link between wind turbines and human health problems. She then proposed a theory linking the certain cause and the observed effect. This theory is of no importance to our consideration. What is important now is to ensure avoidance of symptoms from this project. 
The industry, and government wind enthusiasts will continue to attempt to remain in denial, and response with ad hominem criticisms and pedantic mini-criticisms of work published on the subject. Regardless of their ‘assurances’ it is imperative that precautionary action is taken in this project so that the 12% of exposed families affected at Waubra is not repeated at [Stockyard Hill Wind Farm]"

It should be noted how perverse it is that a listed observer of the NHMRC review is the chairman of an organisation that exists solely to spread the health fears being research by the review.

This is five years in the past - even then, the proponents of the disease asserted that the theory was unquestionable.

Sarah Laurie, CEO of the Waubra Foundation, stated in an interview:

"Sarah Dingle: If federal and state governments agree to fund the research you're calling for around the country, and it clears wind farms of any adverse impact on human health, would you accept that? 
Sarah Laurie: Sarah, the adverse impacts have been shown by a number of studies, both overseas and in Australia"

It's hard to get any clearer than that: No, the NHMRC's expensive study isn't going to convince her: she's already convinced, and logically then, information that contradicts that view must be wrong.

The Waubra Foundation (it recently had its 'Health Promotion Charity' status revoked by the ACNC), harbour an extremely weird set of beliefs about wind energy:

Will the NHMRC investigate these as part of their research? Source
If there's no evidence either way on the impact of wind farms on the discharge of cameras, does that mean we have to investigate it, just to be sure? What's that, you're opposed to research it? What have you got to hide, hmm?

A recent and major complication in the issue the new-found aspect of the theory - that the impact of wind turbines on human health can actually occur during periods at which the turbines are stationary - revealed as part of a Pierpont-esque report that involved self-reported health measures, a self-selected, small sample size, and no control group:

In the Hamilton Spectator, Saturday the 7th of February, 2015, written by two Penshurst residents
Again; the outcome is simple: there is literally no way that this theory can be countered by any format of scientific investigation.

Another example  is an enormous, long-running and extremely expensive research project commissioned by the Canadian equivalent of the NHMRC late last year. Coming in at $2.1 million, the research project examined objective and subjective health measures of randomly selected residents living near a large number of different wind turbines in Canada.

The study found no linkage between wind farms and health: it was immediately rejected by Canadian anti-wind groups. They continue to call for more 'research' into 'wind turbine syndrome'.


This relentless cycle, of demands and the instantaneous rejection of the outcomes of those demands, has been given new life by the government's demands of the National Health and Medical Research Council.
"The CEO, Professor Warwick Anderson noted that, based on the poor evidence base and continued public interest, NHMRC intends to issue a one-off Targeted Call for Research"
The funds could be direct to expanding our knowledge of the world. Instead, the money serve the sole purpose of keeping a pseudoscience on life support for several more years - leading to more anxiety, more fear and more consternation for communities around proposed and operational wind farms. The outcomes of the study will be rejected by the misinformers, and ignored by everyone else.

The NHMRC could spend money researching how community engagement and ownership models have essentially stunted any efforts to spread health fears to countries like Germany and Denmark, and how better models of science communication can counter pseudoscience that's tailored to feed our fears and anxieties. Though there's brief mention of psychosocial factors, the influence of anti-wind activism goes completely unmentioned.

This direction would be roundly rejected by the political and activist groups currently dictating our medical research agenda. An actual resolution of this issue would be a horrifying scenario, for them.

In their ideal world, they continue to demand ever-expanding scientific research, whilst the outcomes of each study deflect off the solid concrete walls of belief that have always bound this manufactured malady, and always will.


  1. Thanks, Ketan. It's like banging your head against a brick wall. Wish some of these anti-windies would turn their attentions to the proven health impacts of coal mining and burning. No lack of evidence there.