Special thanks to Wind Farm Realities
Simon Chapman, a public-health professor in Australia, has long maintained that the health and annoyance issues from wind turbines that people complain about are the result of nocebo. Recently he published a study that purports to conclusively demonstrate that those health complaints are not caused by the wind turbines; rather they are caused by anti-wind activists (presumably like me) instilling these ideas into people by our writings.
In an effort to give his study the fairest shake I could, I haven’t read it yet. Instead, I’m going to put myself in his position and think about what kind of study I’d have to do to and what it would have to show. After that exercise I’ll be looking through his paper to see if it in fact shows the things it needs to show to confirm his assertions.
My Nocebo Thought Study
1) I’d start by examining projects and comparing those where there were complaints to those where there were not. I’d see if there was a significant correlation between negative, fear-producing publicity in the area around the complaining projects vs. others. This publicity would have to precede the project.
2) I’d check to see if there were any other significant differences between the complaining and non-complaining projects to make sure there’s no other explanation, i.e. different setbacks, bigger turbines etc.
3) I’d survey the complainers to see what their attitude was before the project went into operation. If they were favorably disposed towards it and then complained the case for nocebo is greatly weakened.
4) Finally, I’d check to see if there was any other plausible cause for the complaint. The most obvious one would be that the noise from the turbines is plausibly bothersome enough to cause the complaints. This would require visits and measurements.
I thought the above up in about an hour, so calling them rigorous would be a stretch. Let’s now read Chapman’s study and see if he meets even these minimal criteria. Read. Read. Read.
It’s now 2 days later and I’ve read through the study. This was a typical Chapman exercise. He designed a study whose outcome could safely be predicted to confirm his prior beliefs. He cherry picks the data, ignoring stuff he doesn’t like, and finishes up with unsupported assertions and innuendos. The main value of this study is to demonstrate how “science” can be bent, and how careful we need to read studies written by clever people with agendas. It certainly does nothing to advance our understanding of the very real health issues that are now affecting thousands of people world-wide. Think I’m being harsh? Read on…