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Audit: National Health and Medical Research Council Public Statement (2010) and Rapid Review (2010)  

Author:  | Australia, Canada, Health

For almost four years I have audited references related to the health effects of wind turbines and have coauthored a number of related papers. These audits have found some references contain errors of omission and/or commission. Horner et al. (2011) [Horner B, Jeffery R., Krogh C., “Literature Reviews On Wind Turbines And Health: Are They Enough?”, Bulletin of Science Technology & Society 31: 399, (2011)] discusses a number of commonly cited literature reviews and considers their completeness, accuracy and objectivity.

I am currently auditing other references on the health effects of wind turbines and have documented errors of omission and/or commission. For example audits reveal some recent literature reviews selectively cite and/or inappropriately cite and/or misquote references to support their statements. Experience confirms the necessity to audit each primary reference to ensure appropriate citations by authors.

In July 2010 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released a public statement “Wind Turbines and Health” (Public Statement, 2010) and a literature review entitled “Wind Turbines and Health, A Rapid Review of the Evidence July 2010” (Rapid Review, 2010).

The contents of the NHMRC Public Statement (2010) and Rapid Review (2010) do not merely impact Australians. These NHMRC public health documents have had; and will likely have; implications for communities internationally.

At least two published case studies [Krogh, C., Gillis, L., Kouwen, N., & Aramini, J., “WindVOiCe, A Self-Reporting Survey: Adverse Health Effects, Industrial Wind Turbines, and the Need For Vigilance Monitoring”, Bulletin of Science Technology & Society, 31, 334-345, (2011); Pierpont, N., Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on a Natural Experiment, Santa Fe, NM: K-Selected Books, (2009] have documented reports of adverse effects from individuals exposed to Canadian wind turbine facilities. In some cases the symptoms were severe enough that the affected Canadians have effectively abandoned their homes and/or negotiated financial agreements with the wind energy developer. [Krogh, C., “Industrial Wind Turbine Development and Loss of Social Justice?”, Bulletin of Science Technology & Society, 31, 321- 333, (2011)]

The expectation that wind turbines can result in adverse effects is supported by other references including an Ontario Ministry of Environment commissioned report which states:

The audible sound from wind turbines, at the levels experienced at typical receptor distances in Ontario, is nonetheless expected to result in a non-trivial percentage of persons being highly annoyed. As with sounds from many sources, research has shown that annoyance associated with sound from wind turbines can be expected to contribute to stress related health impacts in some persons. [Howe Gastmeier Chapnik Limited. (2010, December 10). Low frequency noise and infrasound associated with wind turbine generator systems: A literature review (Rfp No. Oss-078696). Mississauga, Ontario, Canada: Ministry of the Environment.]

An Ontario Ministry of Environment document obtained in a freedom of information request states:

It appears compliance with the minimum setbacks and the noise study approach currently being used to approve the siting of WTGs will result or likely result in adverse effects … [Ontario Ministry of Environment, Internal Correspondence, Obtained through Freedom to Information request (2011)]

In Canada consultants for members of the wind energy industry have cited the NHMRC Rapid Review (2010) as a governmental document which supports claims that the sound from wind turbines does not pose a risk of any adverse health effect in humans or that noise from wind turbines is not causally related to adverse effects. …

Literature Reviews and the Case for Audit …

Audit Illustration

The following example is provided to illustrate the importance of auditing literature reviews.

The peer reviewed literature review Knopper and Ollson (2011) [Knopper & Ollson, “Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review of the Literature”, Environmental Health, 10:78, (2011)] contains the following statement:

A number of governmental health agencies agree that while noise from wind turbines is not loud enough to cause hearing impairment and are not causally related to adverse effects, wind turbines can be a source of annoyance for some people.

Knopper and Ollson (2011) cite six references to support this statement.

Readers might assume that the six references are appropriately cited. But do the references support the Knopper and Ollson (2011) statement?

The Audit Test

Knopper and Ollson (2011) Reference 1 …
Knopper and Ollson (2011) Reference 30 …
Knopper and Ollson (2011) Reference 31 …
Knopper and Ollson (2011) Reference 32 …
Knopper and Ollson (2011) Reference 33 …
Knopper and Ollson (2011) Reference 34 …

Audit Conclusion: Knopper and Ollson (2011) Statement

The above discussion suggests while some of the six references cited met some of the audit criteria, none met all four.

One reference does not appear to meet any of the four audit criteria.

The audit comments presented suggest none of the six references cited support the complete Knopper and Ollson (2011) sentence:

A number of governmental health agencies agree that while noise from wind turbines is not loud enough to cause hearing impairment and are not causally related to adverse effects, wind turbines can be a source of annoyance for some people.

For example, none of the six references appear to have concluded that wind turbines “… are not causally related to adverse effects … ”

The above discussion illustrates the importance of auditing the completeness, accuracy and objectivity of literature reviews.

Audit Comments: NHMRC Public Statement (2010) …

Audit Conclusion: NHMRC Public Statement (2010)

It appears a rigorous and objective audit of the Public Statement (2010) [National Health and Medical Research Council, Public Statement “Wind Turbines and Health”, July 2010] and the supporting primary references did not occur. It appears the Public Statement 2010 review process failed to ensure a complete, accurate and objective end product.

Audit comments contained in this letter support the conclusion that the NHMRC should revise the Public Statement (2010). …

Audit Comments: NHMRC Rapid Review (2010) …

Audit Conclusion: NHMRC Rapid Review (2010)

It appears the Rapid Review (2010) [National Health and Medical Research Council. (2010). Wind turbines and health–A rapid review of the evidence. Retrieved from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/new0048.htm] peer review process failed to ensure an objective end product.

It appears a rigorous and objective audit of the Rapid Review (2010) and the supporting primary references did not occur.

Recommendations: NHMRC Updated Literature Review (2012)

“Government’s job is to provide citizens with accurate and appropriate information so that they can protect themselves.” [Health Canada. (2004). Canadian handbook on health impact assessment: Vol. 1. The basics. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/hia/tools/toolkit/whohia063/en/index.html]

There is global interest in the NHMRC updated literature review. The updated literature review will likely impact communities internationally.

The completeness, accuracy and objectivity of the updated literature review will undoubtedly be rigorously scrutinized and commented on by international experts and the general public.

In addition to undergoing a peer review the NHMRC updated literature review and the supporting primary references should be subject to a rigorous and objective audit.

Download original document: “Audit: National Health and Medical Research Council Public Statement (2010) and Rapid Review (2010)

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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