In June 2008 Dr. David Colby, in response to a request from the Chatham-Kent Council, produced a paper that purported to be a review of the literature regarding various health issues relating to wind turbines. From its introduction: “This report will enable the Chatham-Kent Board of Health to make an evidence-based decision regarding the known health impacts of wind turbines from the current literature …”
As his report indicates, Dr. Colby is not himself a wind turbine health expert and thus he relied upon being able to research opinions from those “for and against wind power”. The references used to produce the conclusion thus become critical. In his conclusion he states “it is my opinion that there will be negligible adverse health impacts on Chatham-Kent citizens”. This examination takes the most contentious and arguably the most important health area he covered, Noise and Sound Concerns, and takes a detailed look at the quality of his references in an effort to understand how his conclusions were arrived at. My conclusions are at the end.
In Noise and Sound Concerns, there are six paragraphs, a total of 28 sentences (numbered P1S1 through P6S5) and a total of 32 footnotes (numbered 33 through 65 and missing #46). The entire text of the section is reproduced below in italics, one sentence at a time, headed by the paragraph and sentence number. Where a sentence is not particularly controversial there is no commentary following it. Where a sentence is either controversial or has a reference comments have been added below it.
All the footnotes that could be found (29 of the 32) were reviewed in detail to see to what extent they were:
1) supportive of the report’s conclusion,
2) relevant to the point being made,
3) from a disinterested party,
4) scientifically justified.
Dr. Colby’s report can be accessed at: http://wind-works.org/LargeTurbines/Health%20and%20Wind%20by%20C-K%20Health%20Unit.pdf. …
This examination paid close attention to the 32 references that were part of a self-described disinterested study of current wind turbine health-related research, where “Wherever possible, peer reviewed journals were utilized as the first information source in efforts to reduce potential bias.”
Unfortunately, at least for the Noise and Sound Concern section, the 32 references cited fall far short of this standard. First, consider their sources. Of the 32:
1) 13 were directly from an industry lobbyist’s web site. Information from a lobbyist isn’t necessarily wrong; it just has no place in a report that purports to “reduce potential bias”. Recall that a lobbyist’s mission is not the dissemination of truth.
2) 7 were from organizations who have a direct financial interest in the wind energy industry, or whose stated purpose is to promote the wind energy industry. Again, they may be truthful, but they do not belong in a report that claims to be unbiased, at least not without counterviews.
3) 6 were from peer-reviewed sources. Only one of these six (#62) had any relevance to the point being made, and even that was tenuous.
4) 5 were from governmental publications, two of which could not be found online.
5) 1 was completely mysterious.
Next, consider their relevance and contribution to the point being made. All 28 of the known references were some combination of interested, non-illuminating, erroneous or irrelevant. The overall quality of the references was so poor that some combination of the following must be true:
1) The authors figured nobody important would ever actually read the report carefully. Sadly, they may be right.
2) The authors had an agenda that did not include performing an honest assessment of the evidence.
3) Neither Dr. Colby nor his department had the time or interest to do the report themselves, and turned it over to someone else. And who would know more about the topic than someone from the industry?
To pretend that this was some objective bias-free science-based report flies in the face of the results of this examination.
Compiled by Wayne Gulden
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