Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editorials

Wind turbine noise

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1527 (Published 08 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1527

Rapid Response:

Re: Wind turbine noise

Hanning and Evans, two writers who declare histories of anti-windfarm activity, say that “a large body of evidence” now exists that wind turbines disturb sleep and impair health within permissible distances from housing[1]. They are correct in saying that a large body of relevant evidence exists, but wildly incorrect in their interpretation of its conclusions. I have located no less than 17 reviews of the evidence on whether wind turbines and infrasound cause health problems, nearly all which satisfy the fully “independent” provenance being called for [2]. Predictably, none are referenced in the editorial.

As will be seen, all of these reviews make strong statements that the evidence is very poor that wind turbines in themselves cause problems. What these reviews conclude is that :

• A small minority of exposed people claim to be adversely affected by wind turbines
• Negative attitudes to wind turbines are more predictive of reported adverse health effects and annoyance than are objective measures of actual exposure
• Being able to see wind turbines is similarly predictive of annoyance
• Deriving income from hosting wind turbines on one’s land may have a “protective effect” against annoyance and health symptoms. Here, it is important to note that claims made by anti-wind farm groups that turbine hosts sign “gag” clauses which prevent them from complaining, are contestable. I have obtained contracts from different Australian firms and none say anything about “gags”. Also, no contract would ever preclude a citizen from pursuing a claim of negligence in common law.

I have also compiled an ever-growing list[3] – currently standing at 63 – of symptoms and diseases in humans, animals and even earthworms, that people opposed to wind farms have publicly attributed to exposure. The diffuse and sometimes bizarre nature of many of these claims, considered alongside the complete absence of even a single mention of “wind turbine syndrome” in PubMed suggests that this is a phenomenon which is a prime candidate for being considered a contemporary example of psychogenic illness[4,5]. I know of no agent that even causes even a small fraction of all the symptoms and diseases said in these websites to be caused by wind turbines.

In their editorial [1] Hanning and Evans cite three papers from a non-indexed journal, the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society which in August 2011 published an issue dedicated to papers opposed to wind farms. The journal was indexed between 1981-1995 by the Web of Science, but after 1995 indexing ceased, generally a sign that indexing services regard a journal as having fallen below an acceptable scientific standard.

The eight papers in the special Bulletin issue were written by 12 authors. Of these, 7 had given papers at the “First International Symposium: The Global Wind Industry and Adverse Health Effects: Loss of Social Justice?” The conference was an overtly anti-wind farm meeting.
A paper by Krough [6] provides an indication of the abject quality of the papers in that issue. The paper contains no methods section, so fails to conform to the most basic requirement of scientific reporting: that it contain details of how the research reported was undertaken. Instead, the author says that she “began investigating reports of adverse health effects made by individuals living in the environs” of wind turbines in Ontario, Canada for “more than two years”. Instead of describing any research, the author has written a paper which mixes up statements somehow apparently made to her by informants about negative effects of exposure to turbines with similar examples from other parts of the world, from websites and submission to enquiries. We are told nothing about the process by which her informants were interviewed, how they were selected and whether her “study” was approved by any institutional research ethics committee. There is not a single example of any informant reporting anything but adverse effects of exposure to windfarms, when it is widely acknowledged that a large majority of those so exposed report no adverse effects nor complain about turbines.

Hanning and Evans refer to Carl V Philips as an expert epidemiologist. Web of Science shows Philips has published just 10 cited papers (total cites 251). Philips today runs a private “Institute”, the Populi Health Institute, apparently consisting only of him. He testifies on behalf of complainants about wind farms.

Within hours of the BMJ publishing this peer reviewed editorial, I was being sent gloating emails by anti-wind farm activists, jubilant that a prestigious journal had published the editorial. In this instance, the BMJ needs to look at the adequacy of its peer review process.

References

1. Hanning CP, Evans A. Wind turbine noise. BMJ 2012;344:e1527 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e1527 (Published 8 March 2012)
2. Chapman S, Simonetti T. Summary of main conclusions reached in 17 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health. School of Public Health, University of Sydney. 30 Jan 2012
http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/WindHealthReviews.docx

3. Chapman S, Simonetti T. Is there anything not caused by wind farms? A list of diseases and symptoms in humans and animals said to be caused by wind turbines. School of Public Health, University of Sydney. http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/WindfarmDiseases.docx

4. Bartholomew RE, Wessely S. Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness: From possessed nuns to chemical and biological terrorism fears. Br J Psychiatry 2002 180: 300-306.

5. Boss LP. Epidemic hysteria: a review of the published literature. Epidem Reviews 1997;19:233-243.

6. Krogh CME. Industrial wind turbine development and loss of social justice. Bull Science, Technol and Society 2011;31:321-333.

Competing interests: SC is a member of the Climate and Health Alliance, Australia and has often publicly questioned the legitimacy of "wind turbine syndrome". He had never received support of any sort from the wind industry or agents acting on its behalf.

11 March 2012
Simon Chapman
Professor of Public Health
School of Public Health
University of Sydney