Saturday, 27 June 2015

No, That Mining Industry Report Doesn't Mean Wind Turbines Are Hazardous

Graham Lloyd, Environment Editor at The Australian, shuns the idea of reporting information along the lines of scientific evidence. His latest piece (essentially now a weekly column on 'wind turbine syndrome') presents the viewpoint that people are sick due to the presence of wind turbines as a medical diagnosis, along with bits and pieces of scientific research. 

If this happened in a medical clinic, the health professional would have their licence revoked. On the pages of a national newspaper, it's seemingly okay. It's worth breaking down his latest piece a little bit, to get a better understanding of why this approach gets traction. 


"Each morning fine-wool grower Ann Gardner broadcasts her wind farm woes to an unreceptive world. Politicians, shock jocks, journalists and anyone Gardner hopes will listen are included as recipients of uncomfortable missives that outline the “torture” of living next door to Australia’s biggest wind farm at Macarthur, Victoria. Gardner is used to being ignored, unlike her neighbours, Hamish and Anna Officer, who routinely are quoted as model wind farm devotees"

The idea that wind farm opponents are ignored is pretty strange. The Prime Minister has adopted their cause, alongside the tenth government inquiry in to wind farms designed to allow opponents to air their grievances. A new government role has been created solely for the purpose of receiving wind farm complaints, and money is being re-directed towards scientists who will be tasked with testing their claims. 

Ann Gardner has received full write-ups in The Australian, and has been quoted in media here, here, here, here, here and here, just to provide a few examples.

"Gardner contends the failure to report the plight of the Gares or the full picture for the Officers is typical of the one-sided treatment the wind turbine issue has received. She says much of the media has shown itself willing to misconstrue findings from the National Health and Medical Research Council and suggest research had cleared wind turbines of ill effects. In fact, the NHMRC said only limited, poor-quality research was available and the issue of wind farms and health remained an open scientific question."

This is a fairly common assertion - the creation of a false dichotomy. It's why the question 'Yeah, but you support more research, don't you?' is raised so frequently by wind farm opponents, as if the existence of scientific investigation is enough to incriminate wind energy. It's satisfying for someone who's faced with the task of asserting that wind turbines are dangerous, without having any evidence to back it up. 

"And a new study by researchers from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine have found “the odds of being annoyed appear significantly increased by wind turbine noise”. The research, published in Environment International, has found wind turbine noise significantly increases the odds of experiencing sleep disturbance, and results in lower quality of life scores."

Another common tactic is to frequently switch between hypotheses. 

Wind farm opponents simultaneously claim that audible noises causes stress, and that inaudible infrasound causes health impacts. The first claim has some truth to it; and it's used as a wedge to support the second claim.

They're both very different, but as you can see above, Lloyd sees no fault in using evidence for one to support the other. Lloyd intentionally excludes some key sentences from the study's authors, who write that: 

"Further, visual perception of wind turbine generators was associated with greater frequency of reported negative health effects. In conclusion, there is some evidence that exposure to wind turbine noise is associated with increased odds of annoyance and sleep problems. Individual attitudes could influence the type of response to noise from wind turbines"

Lloyd left those words out for a reason, I suspect. Lloyd goes on: 

"Publicly, the wind industry has an army of supporters ever ready to rubbish claims that wind farms can have any effect on health. But there is evidence the wind industry has known about the impact of infra­sound for more than two decades"

Lloyd repeats the myth that NASA found that wind turbines cause sickness, and that the wind industry has conspired to bury the research. It's absurd. And, on he goes....

"A federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism report into airborne contaminants, noise and vibration, published in October 2009, says “sound in the frequency range below 20 hertz is normally defined as ‘infrasound’ and can be heard (or felt) as a pulsating sensation and/or pressure on the ears or chest”.......The report does not refer to wind turbines but it accurately describes many of the complaints that are being made"

It'd be weird, in any other field, to claim a technology is dangerous, and then provide supporting evidence that literally fails to mention the technology. The reason this is acceptable, here, is based on the assumption that any exposure to infrasound is dangerous, regardless of the amplitude or the frequency. 

Again, the things that Lloyd chooses to exclude are the most telling. The following is from the last paragraph in the section he quotes: 

"Factors such as the attitude or mood of the person, his or her environment, the degree of arousal or distraction experienced, and whether the noise is felt to be an invasion of privacy or disruptive, will dictate personal response. This is important for shift workers who sleep during the day. The predictability of noise and how frequently it occurs will also influence the reaction"

In fact, the handbook is actually about the mining industry:


As it happens, blasting the ground open with explosives produces more noise than operating a wind turbine: 

From page 72


This mish-mash of bad science is presented as a diagnosis - the individual he quotes is sick because of wind turbines, not because of some other medical issue. There's no doubt. It's a key assumption in the piece. It's simple to presume that Lloyd sees no fault in doing so, considering there's been a constant stream of this for several years. 

This, in his eyes, is a 'balanced' approach - the exclusion of all individuals, reports and experts who might fail to support his diagnosis - even to the extent that mining industry reports are being used to implicate wind energy. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ketan,
    You've done a great analysis of Lloyd's purposefully sloppy journalism - he needs to be held to account. A pity that The Australian is so shameless in continuing to publish these pseudo-scientific articles. Keep up the good work.