Facing continued pressure from anti-wind cranks, The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) – Australia’s peak public health research agency – is planning to offer funds for yet more study of the supposed health impacts of wind farms.
The announcement comes as another very limited, non-peer reviewed study supposedly found a link between perceived “sensations” and “offending sound pressure,” but, to date, no credible study has ever found evidence of the long list of bizarre health claims wind farm opponents make.
In fact, 20 separate reports have debunked such claims, while others note that almost 90 per cent of the general population experienced many “wind turbine syndrome” symptoms within a given week, and that symptoms mostly appear in areas where anti-wind groups – such as the now deregistered Waubra Foundation – stoke health concerns.
The latest, non peer-reviewed study by Steven Cooper, an acoustics technician long-associated with anti wind campaigns and websites, has been torn apart by scientists, who point out that Cooper is not a health expert, there was no control group, and the study focused on only six people three homes, all of whom were already in the anti-wind camp.
This contrasts with a 2014 Canadian study that looked at 1,238 homes and found no evidence of links between wind farms and health.
“It is virtually impossible to validly extrapolate these findings to other residents of Cape Bridgewater, or to those living near other wind farms around Australia. It is impossible to meaningfully compare their experience with a control group of other residents. Even if all six of these participants experienced their symptoms legitimately, we can’t establish cause and effect. But most importantly, you can’t trust the data. These participants were all clearly unfavourably disposed towards the wind farm beforehand, and were motivated to perceive and report symptoms in line with the wind turbine syndrome theory.” Australia National University Scientists – Jacqui Hoepner and Will J Grant.
The decision to fund more research into spurious claims that wind turbines are connected to health problems does nothing but prolong a debate that should have been put to bed long ago. In ordering more study the NHMRC appears to be tilting its research priorities to address critics, when further studies only allow more space for greater fear and anxiety to be stoked by the same critics. The council does not pander to anti-vaccination cranks, it should not do so to anti-wind cranks who, like climate deniers, dismiss the already vast breadth of research because it does not conform to their opinions.
Of course, reality not conforming to opinion (or ideology) has not stopped the Abbott Government listening to climate deniers and anti-renewable activists such as Dick Warburton and Maurice Newman, and putting the screws to the renewable energy industry. The hostility towards renewables from both the Government and anonymous, unaccountable anti-wind groups has created so much uncertainty around the industry that the market for large-scale projects has been pronounced all but dead by international experts.
Australia will certainly need to keep being the lucky country if it continues to fight the future.