Saturday, 8 August 2015

Climate Denial and Wind Turbine Syndrome: The Inquisition's Rejection of Science

There's plenty of time to dive into the variety of curiosities (and astonishing mistakes) served up in the final Senate Select Committee into Wind Turbines report, and the excellent and comprehensive dissenting report from the sole Labor senator on the committee.

For now, there's a bigger story at work here, and it ought to freak us out a bit. There are reasons normally-rational people will angrily reject good science, and credulously believe bad science. We twist ourselves into awkward, dissonant ideological formations, and it seems people who wield the most power are most likely to engage in this proud rejection of reality.


I don't think I coined the 'inquisition' pun on the name of the Senate Wind Farm inquiry - curiously, it turned up in the only news outlet that's reported the findings of the senate committee in a positive light - The Australian:

It's interesting to note that the term 'inquisition' turns up a less positive context in The Australian, a few years in the past, around the topic of climate science: 

The clips critique those who accept climate science, and demonises those skeptical of 'wind turbine syndrome'. These aren't contradictory position. Hypocritical, perhaps, but within the worldview that's held so closely by the outlet, both positions are perfectly rational.

"Shouldn't we wait until the science is in on climate change, before we act?"


"We shouldn't wait until the science is in, before we act on 'wind turbine syndrome'"


Professor Simon Chapman, a public health professor at Sydney University, has taken a keen interest in the wind farms health issue, and managed to score a dedicated section in the final senate report, decrying his attitude and assertions. His responses to 'questions on notice' got some media attention, prompting the chair of the committee, Senator John Madigan, to respond

"Senator Madigan said Professor Chapman’s answers to his questions on notice, including whether he knew Ararat Wind Farm would be near a prison, were also ideologically based.  
“Professor Chapman’s responses to questions on notice put to him by the Committee reflect his broader attitude to the Committee’s work,” he said.  
“This appears to be informed more by his ideological position on the question of human induced climate change than a serious consideration of the questions the committee was formed to consider.”"
This seems to be a neat summary of the two presentations of the word 'inquisition' that we've seen presented above. Madigan consider's Chapman's views to be a symptom of his acceptance of the science of climate change. To accept the science of climate change is an ideological stance, and consequently, supporting technological solution to the threat of climate change is similarly tainted.


It would seem, then, that those who base their rejection and acceptance of scientific evidence on ideological drivers are bound to see other people as operating the same way, even when they're not.

This goes some way to explaining why the report also dedicates many, many words to criticising the Australian Medical Association, and the National Health and Medical Research Council, whose respective scientists and medical professionals have both failed to find any evidence for 'wind turbine syndrome'.

In the minds of the senators, this happens not because there is no evidence, but because the scientists are forever compromised by the acceptance of climate science. Their solution is simply to pick their own scientists, presumably ones who they feel haven't been compromised by the acceptance of scientific evidence around climate change.

"The Federal Government has been urged to sideline the nation’s peak medical research body and set up a stand-alone scientific committee to investigate the health effects of wind farm noise."

We seem desensitised to this dichotomy, in which hyper-skepticism and hyper-credulity happily sit side by side. There's no evidence that could convince the senators that climate science is real, and no evidence is required to convince them that wind turbines cause harm. 

This is the proud rejection of a technique we normally consider to be useful, in understanding the real world. It's anti-scientific only in the sense that evidence contradicting ideology is rejected. But it's the same cognitive machinery that causes people to rejection the science of vaccination, or the science of fluoridation, or to believe in chemtrails, or homeopathy. These beliefs actually hurt people.

We allow the rejection of scientific evidence to flourish in politics. This is why our PM happily rejects climate science, and furrows his brow with concern about wind turbine syndrome. We're only one ideological twist away from a fresh torrent of preventable harms, spawned by this puerile attitude. 

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