Resource Documents: Nocebo (7 items)
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Critical analysis of accuracy of the “complaints” data from the Chapman et al “nocebo” research
Author: Waubra Foundation
The hypothesis that “suggestion” from “anti wind farm activists” (with particular reference to the CEO of the Waubra Foundation) is itself causing the symptoms reported by wind turbine residents has recently been claimed by many supporters of renewable energy, wind turbine developers, wind turbine manufacturers and the media, to have been “proven” with a recent research paper accepted for publication from Sydney University researchers led by Professor Simon Chapman.
This research by Chapman et al itself relied heavily on a laboratory experiment by researchers from New Zealand including PhD candidate Fiona Crichton, using very low doses of infrasound at a specific frequency for 10 minutes in healthy volunteers during the daytime. Crichton asserted that her research showed that the symptoms reported by the volunteers in her study were induced by suggestion and therefore her laboratory work could be extended to apply to wind turbine residents.
It is not clear why only wind turbine residents were chosen for this extension by Crichton (and Chapman), and not residents affected by other sources of industrial infrasound and low frequency noise from sources such as coal mining, gas fired power stations and coal seam gas field compressors who are reporting many identical symptoms, and in some severe cases, home abandonment.
Both Chapman and Crichton’s research has been heavily criticised by expert peer reviewers with relevant professional and academic experience in the fields of acoustics (Swinbanks ), audiology (Punch ) and clinical medicine (McMurtry ) as well as others familiar with data manipulation by corporate vested interests such as the Tobacco industry (Hartman ).
The Crichton and Chapman research both ignore an extensive body of acoustic evidence which clearly shows a direct causal link between exposure to infrasound or low frequency noise and a range of symptoms which have long been accepted by acousticians and scientists working in this area, often given the label of “annoyance”. Some of this research was detailed in Professor Leventhall’s Literature Review for the UK government department DEFRA, in 2003.
The recent rediscovery of acoustic field  and laboratory research  from the 1980’s, funded by the US Department of Energy and led by Neil Kelley, found that infrasound and low frequency noise from wind turbines can induce resonance within building structures, leading to annoyance symptoms for some of the residents inside. The exposures and frequencies identified by Kelley et al were consistent with previous work by Harvey Hubbard, which identified sound energy from aircraft as being a source of “annoyance” reported by residents. Thus the American field data from wind turbine acoustic emissions and their impact a generation ago was firmly grounded in existing acoustic knowledge at the time.
The Crichton laboratory experiment used exposures of infrasound at doses lower than those being suggested to exert adverse effects, during the day, in young healthy volunteers, for only ten minutes. This exposure clearly has little relationship to the wide range of wind turbine acoustic frequencies including infrasound and low frequency noise as well as higher frequencies which rural residents living with wind turbines are exposed to 24/7 particularly at night, some for 25 years or more.
The other issue mentioned by both Leventhall  and Kelley  but ignored by both Crichton and Chapman is the phenomena of “sensitisation” or what Kelley called “conditioning”. What Leventhall and Kelley were referring to is the observed pattern that over time with ongoing exposure people affected by the sound energy became more sensitive to the effects of it; i.e., they did not “get used to it”.
The exposure effect is extremely important from a planning perspective, because it necessitates a more generous buffer distance between wind turbines and homes, in order to adequately protect people from the cumulative effects, which worsen over time.
This pattern of deterioration with ongoing exposure is also entirely consistent with what we know about the cumulative effects of chronic sleep deprivation and chronic stress which are known to result from low frequency noise exposure. Neither of these effects will be captured in a 10 minute exposure to very low doses of infrasound at a single frequency in healthy young volunteers, such as in the Crichton laboratory experiment.
Inadequacies of Chapman et al research data sources
Professor Chapman’s data sources were stated to include media reports, Senate Inquiry submissions (which were public and not confidential), and records of complaints kept by wind developers. It has been asserted that these data sources are representative and sufficient in themselves, and inferred that no one else is either suffering or complaining. There was no serious attempt made by Chapman or his co-authors to test the accuracy of this assertion.
In my experience, from three years working voluntarily with members of these affected rural communities, responding directly to requests for information and assistance, these data sources are not sufficient nor are they an accurate source of information concerning the extent of population impacts for the following reasons.
Firstly, many rural residents do not wish to speak to the media, as they can endure social ostracism and physical and verbal abuse towards themselves or members of their family for doing so. Close interconnected family, work and social relationships also prevent people from speaking out in the media or in their local communities, because of the socially uncomfortable or divisive consequences, which are particularly difficult in tightly knit rural communities.
Secondly, the media do not always wish to hear or report on these stories, particularly those journalists who take an activist approach to environmental issues rather than a more old-fashioned, thorough, fact checking approach to their work.
Thirdly, I am aware of numerous rural residents who put confidential submissions into both Federal senate inquiries on wind turbine noise issues. They did so to avoid the loss of privacy if they were disclosing personal health details, to avoid the ostracism and abuse mentioned earlier, and also because some are unable to legally speak out publicly about their health problems because of the nature of the confidentiality agreements they have signed with the wind developers. Senator Chris Back has referred to some of these agreements in his speech to the Australian Federal Senate on October 30th, 2012.
Finally, wind developers have a poor track record for recording complaints from residents. Many residents have advised me that they have lodged complaints over the telephone  with no subsequent record being kept by the company concerned. Many residents have told me they did not realise the importance of requesting a complaint number to be given by the wind developer, and of putting their complaint in writing.
Cullerin – a case study audit of the accuracy of the Chapman data
The Chapman et al research data Table 1 lists the names of the wind developments, and other data such as the size of the turbines, the date the development commenced operating, the estimated population, whether there were any health or noise complaints based on the data sources previously mentioned, and whether or not there had been any local or visiting “opposition group” activity. The hypothesis asserted by Chapman et al to be supported by their data, is that complaints follow “opposition activity”.
The Waubra Foundation’s experience is in direct contrast to this assertion. We respond to requests for information and help from residents already affected by infrasound and low frequency noise from a variety of sources including coal seam gas field compressors, gas fired power stations, compressors used for industrial chilling facilities, and mining activities, in addition to wind turbines. On request, we have also attended various community meetings to share our knowledge of the acoustic field research and the relevant literature, or have freely shared our knowledge with others on request so they can educate their communities.
Professor Chapman has publicly and repeatedly  asserted for some time before his research was conducted that the symptoms result from “scaremongering” by the Waubra Foundation, which he has also referred to as the “the nocebo effect”.
The longstanding known and accepted peer reviewed published acoustic research into the effects of infrasound and low frequency noise has been discounted by Professor Chapman, who is a sociologist with a PhD examining cigarette advertising, with no clinical training or experience, no training in acoustics, and no direct clinical knowledge of the symptom reports from the sick residents and how they relate directly to exposure to operating wind turbines, or of the acoustic field research.
Page 2 of Table 1 in the Chapman research paper lists Origin Energy’s Cullerin wind development. The table states that the development commenced in July 2009, has an approximate population within 5km of 50 people, and states there had been “no health or noise complaints” and that there had been no “opposition” activity.
Whilst the Waubra Foundation is “pro health” and “pro research” into the adverse health effects of infrasound and low frequency noise regardless of the source of the noise, for some years Professor Chapman has chosen to label the Foundation deliberately and misleadingly as “anti wind”, and it would appear that by “opposition” he is in part referring to the Waubra Foundation and its CEO when he refers to “opposition activity” in his research.
I can confirm that the Waubra Foundation has never been invited to the Cullerin community to address a community meeting, nor have we attended a private meeting to discuss health concerns. That part of his data is accurate.
How accurate is the assertion that there have been “no complaints” from residents living at Cullerin, and by inference that there are therefore no problems?
With respect to Senate Inquiry submissions I have been advised that confidential submissions were made by Cullerin residents to Federal Senate inquiries. These would not be captured by Professor Chapman’s criteria but this does not mean the residents are not affected – it just means yet again that the adverse impacts are less publicly visible.
With respect to media reports, there have been print media reports referring to one Cullerin resident, a horse trainer, both in the Canberra times, in an article by John Thistleton on 30th May, 2012  and repeated in The Land on 2nd June, 2012  in which the resident’s symptoms were listed and were characteristic of those being reported by residents at other wind developments.
There is also a TV media report by Adrienne Francis from ABC 7.30 Canberra, which again featured the Cullerin resident, who clearly recounted some of her symptoms and the concerns of her own medical practitioner.
Not one of these three media articles in significant publications such as the Canberra Times and The Land, and on the ABC 7.30 Canberra program concerning this Cullerin resident were included in the Chapman data analysis, suggesting that the media monitoring for the research project was incomplete. It is therefore inaccurate and misleading to assert as some have done that this data collection by Chapman et al is definitive of all the complaints ever made by residents living near Australian wind developments. Clearly that is not the case.
The Cullerin population surveys
A New South Wales resident with extensive personal knowledge of the consequences of exposure to operating wind turbines because of her contact with residents at numerous wind developments in Australia conducted an anonymous survey in August 2012  to investigate the population living near the Cullerin wind development in order to determine how far out the noise and sleep deprivation impacts extended. The 2012 Schneider survey found that 76% of the households who responded (70% response rate) who were living out to 7.5km from the nearest wind turbine, reported sleep disturbance from the wind turbine noise.
A repeat anonymous survey was conducted by Patina Schneider a year later, in July-August 2013, 20 in order to investigate whether or not Professor Chapman’s indirect data collection was accurate with respect to “no complaints” from Cullerin residents.
In contrast to Professor Chapman’s data stating there had been no complaints, the residents who responded to the second Schneider survey listed episodes of over 300 complaints lodged since 2009 by 20 households (49 affected individuals), including to the wind developer, Origin Energy, the NSW department of Health, the NSW department of Planning, the local council, local politicians, and health care providers. In no instance were the problems resolved by any of the responsible authorities.
However, the NSW Department of Planning did conduct a noise audit and a community survey at Cullerin and Capital in mid 2012, as a result of the complaints, in marked contrast to Professor Chapman’s data collected subsequently stating that there had been “no complaints”. No data from the NSW Department of Planning audit has yet been provided to the communities affected, but the data has been made available to the wind developers responsible for Cullerin and Capital who have been able to “comment” on it.
The action by the NSW Department of Planning in commissioning an audit suggests that Professor Chapman’s data about complaints at Cullerin is wrong, quite independently of the responses to the Schneider survey questions about complaints in 2013.
The inconsistencies between Professor Chapman’s complaints data and the residents’ own reports of lodging complaints with the wind developer suggests that the wind developer may not be telling Professor Chapman the facts about the complaints made to them by local residents at Cullerin.
There is no reason to think other wind developers would behave any differently, particularly given the widely reported discrepancies between residents’ reports and records kept by developers. This somewhat predictably suggests there is an inherent problem with using wind developer data for the purposes of determining numbers of affected people or episodes of adverse health events or “complaints”.
It also highlights the dangerously misleading consequences of assuming that limited indirect data gathering about complaints bears any relationship to the reality for residents in rural communities living near wind developments and the intrinsic weakness in relying on such indirect, misleading and incomplete data for public health policy purposes.
There is no substitute for direct investigation of the problems. To date no health authority has bothered to do so in Australia, and with the exception of Professors Colin Hansen  and Con Doolan  and their research team, and former Masters student Frank Wang, no academic researchers have conducted any research.
Other problems with the Chapman data analysis and interpretation
A fundamental question about the Chapman data analysis results from the apparent lack of understanding of the role that wind turbine size has on generation of acoustic emissions, in particular the shift down to the lower frequencies, which are well known to generate more “annoyance”. The data analysis by Chapman et al is further hampered by the apparent lack of interest in, or perhaps knowledge of, well accepted acoustic research, together with an apparent lack of understanding about the important damaging role chronic sleep deprivation and chronic stress can have on long term health.
Danish acousticians Professors Henrik Moller and Christian Sejer Pedersen documented the increase in the proportion of low frequency noise emissions with increase in power generation and size of wind turbines in a peer reviewed published paper in May 2011. Unfortunately the concept that “size matters” has been not been referred to or considered by by Chapman and his co-authors.
This concept is critical to understanding why the numbers of complaints are rapidly increasing and extending out to greater distances at wind developments with larger wind turbines, for example the two 3 MW wind developments: one at Waterloo in South Australia and the other at Macarthur, in Western Victoria, the 2.3 MW turbines at Glenthompson (Oaklands Hill), and the 1.6–2MW turbines at Cape Bridgewater, Cape Nelson and Waubra.
The predictable consequences of siting turbines too close to homes
The other issue not canvassed by Chapman and his co-authors is the issue of siting too many large wind turbines too close to homes. Many of the earlier wind developments were much smaller, used smaller turbines and were sited well away from homes.
One particularly pertinent example is Waubra. The preconstruction noise assessment conducted by Marshall Day Acoustics for Waubra Wind Development stated that 50 wind turbines would have to be operated in “noise reduction mode” in order for the wind development to comply with the noise pollution guidelines. The “problem” turbines are in the locations where many of the residents have reported adverse health effects, especially along Stud Farm Road, where some families have been forced to leave their homes and even their farms.
There is no evidence that the turbines at Waubra have ever been operated in noise reduction mode as stipulated by Marshall Day. There is independent acoustic evidence that the noise regulations are not being adhered to, however that has been ignored by both the Minister for Planning and his department.
The Victorian Chief Health Officer Dr Rosemary Lester has refused to investigate or conduct a health impact assessment despite being asked to do so by the Pyrenees Shire Council (now the Responsible Authority). Recently the Council minutes  (19th March, 2013) stated the following from page 17:
“Council has had direct experience in dealing with this issue, and there can be no doubt that dwellings in close proximity to wind turbines (within 2km) have/will have the potential to be profoundly noise affected – to a point where the amenity of their occupants will be seriously diminished.”
The current Victorian Planning Minister has still not signed off on the compliance. In spite of this, and knowing the development is not yet considered compliant by the current planning Minister, the Clean Energy Regulator continues to pay renewable energy certificates (RECS) to the wind developer Acciona, which now amount to over $80 million. The provisions of the Federal Renewable Energy Act are clear – state laws must be adhered to. In the case of Waubra, there is no evidence that the state noise pollution laws have ever been adhered to, which is why this matter has now been referred to the Australian Federal Police for a fraud investigation.
At some wind projects developers have bought out properties both before construction and after start up, presumably on the grounds that these properties would be and/or are unliveable because of noise pollution. Some of these properties have been subsequently bulldozed or left vacant and the residents silenced with confidentiality clauses in those buyout agreements. Former Waubra resident Trish Godfrey  is one such example.
Some confidentiality agreements have even extended to the proviso that the person signing the agreement cannot “complain to any government department about the noise impact” – reportedly contained in an Infigen agreement with respect to the Woakwine wind development in South Australia. This further undermines confidence in the accuracy of using complaints data from wind developers as a proxy for accurately assessing the true adverse impact of a wind development.
“Complainants” vs “Complaints”
Chapman’s table column description is misleadingly labelled as “complaints” when what is meant is “complainants”. Each complainant is a person, in a household. When one member of that household is severely affected, it affects the family, even if they are not symptomatic or sleep deprived themselves. Labelling this column in the table as “complaints” trivialises the true impact. Furthermore labelling people as “complainers” as wind developers have done, has acted as a significant disincentive to some people to publicly report adverse impacts.
Is the Waubra Foundation CEO really responsible for all the complaints because of “scaremongering” by reporting the symptoms and calling for research?
The Waubra Foundation commenced operating in July 2010, with no website, public meeting or media comments until September 2010. As the list of complaints below shows, the first complaints from residents at these wind developments commenced well before September 2010.
|Capital and Woodlawn||2 (“from earlier” but known to be pre July 2010)|
|Cape Bridgewater||6 (first complaint 2 February, 2010)|
|Cape Nelson||2 (first complaint 10 February, 2010)|
|Clements Gap||3 ( “from earlier” but known to be pre July 2010)|
|Hallett 2||2 (“from earlier” but known to be pre July 2010)|
|Toora||2 (described as “early” – Dr Iser’s survey was 2004)|
|Waubra||29 (13th March, 2009)|
|Windy Hill||1 (“early” – commenced operating Feb 2000)|
|Wonthaggi||10 (February 2006)|
How precisely does Professor Chapman (and his co-authors) explain this inconvenient truth that people were complaining some years before the Waubra Foundation commenced operating?
“Retrospective nocebo” perhaps?
Any analysis of the incomplete and unreliable Australian “complaints data” collected by these researchers is essentially a waste of time and certain to lead to poor and not to be relied upon conclusions. The use of such low quality conclusions to rationalise continuing official blessing of seriously harmful wind projects has profound consequences for so many rural residents, including extremely vulnerable groups such as the elderly, young children, and the chronically ill.
The prominent and public role Professor Chapman has played in assisting the wind turbine manufacturer VESTAS  in the launch of its global “Act on Facts” campaign to continue to deny the existing known acoustic and clinical science is extremely concerning and raises many questions.
Professor Chapman’s ongoing denial of the existing evidence of harm to health from exposure to operating wind turbines is in stark contrast to the findings of Canadian public health physicians Dr Hazel Lynn and Dr Michael Arra. In their recent literature review, Lynn and Arra found that every single peer reviewed published study showed evidence of what they called “human distress”.
It is also in stark contrast to the findings of the residents own treating health practitioners, including medical practitioners who have known their patients for many years such as Dr David Iser  at Toora. Chapman et al dismiss the relevance of the work and insights of Dr David Iser but they are crucially important, because Dr Iser saw patients presenting to him with new health problems which were unfamiliar to both him and his patients, but which coincided with the start-up of the Toora wind project. He decided to investigate further. The study findings and limited publicity came after the original data collection.
Those symptoms and presentations were not the result of a nocebo effect, nor indeed a “retrospective nocebo”. They were directly caused by exposure to operating wind turbines, known 25 years ago to the wind industry and the US Department of Energy to be related to infrasound and low frequency noise.
Finally, as Dr Michael Nissenbaum  stated in his response to a question from the second Australian Federal Senate inquiry:
“On ‘nocebo’, if a physician provides the diagnosis of ‘nocebo’ (a psychologically mediated effect analogous to a ‘psychosomatic illness/response’), medical protocols dictate that it be done subsequent to a process of thoroughly excluding the possibility of any pathophysiological pathways that are plausible, more likely, or more important (because of serious downstream implications) to consider”.
Dr Nissenbaum goes on to state:
“Finally, suggesting a diagnosis of ‘nocebo’ without investigating, ‘boots on the ground’, for more plausible, better understood, or more logical causes of a medical condition would normally constitute medical malpractice in most Western-based medical systems, including Australia. Individuals who are not physicians are not limited by this professional mandate or even necessarily this conceptual framework.
“Please bear that in mind when deliberating the opinions (which, when not backed up by the evidence would by definition be superficial – and possibly contrived) – of witnesses or experts who opine on medical matters.”
It is time the “boots on the ground” direct investigation of the acoustic environment of the residents reporting adverse health effects was properly carried out, inside the homes of sick residents, with multidisciplinary acoustic and medical research, recommended by the Federal Senate in June 2011  as “a priority”.
1. Chapman, S et al: “Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, ‘communicated disease’ hypothesis”, submitted for publication: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/chapmans-et-al-evidence-for-psychogenic-communicated-disease-hypothesis/
2. Crichton, F et al: “Can expectations produce symptoms from Infrasound Associated with Wind Turbines” in Health Psychology (online publication): http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/crichtonf-et-al-can-expectations-produce-symptoms-infrasound-and-wind-turbines/
3. Swinbanks, M: “Can Expectations produce symptoms from infrasound…”: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/swinbanks-can-expectations-produce-symptoms-from-infrasound/
4. Punch, J: “Review of Crichton et al – Can expectations produce symptoms from infrasound”: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/review-crichton-et-al-can-expectations-produce-symptoms-from-infrasound/
5. McMurtry, R: “Commentary on Chapman “Nocebo” paper”: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/dr-robert-mcmurtry-commentary-chapman-nocebo-paper/
6. Hartman R: “The Adverse Health Impacts of Industrial Wind Turbines – A scientific response to “its all in your head”: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/hartmanr-scientific-response-its-all-your-head-nocebo/
7. Leventhall, G et al: “A Review of Published Research on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects”, 2003 Report for UK Government DEFRA: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/review-published-research-low-frequency-noise-leventhall/
8. Kelley, N et al: “Acoustic Noise associated with the Mod 1 Turbine: its Source, Impact and Control”, 1985 Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) funded by the US Department of Energy, collaborators included NASA and multiple US university Engineering departments, wind developers: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/kelley-et-al-1985-acoustic-noise-associated-with-mod-1-wind-turbine/
9. Kelley, N: “A proposed metric for assessing the potential of community annoyance from wind turbine low frequency noise emissions”, presented at the 1987 American Wind Energy Association WINDPOWER conference: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/1987-problem-with-low-frequency-noise-from-wind-turbines-scientifically-identified/
10. Hubbard, H: “Noise induced house vibrations and human perception”, 1982: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/hubbard-h-1982-noise-induced-house-vibrations-human-perception/
11. Leventhall: op cit
12. Kelley, 1985: op cit section 8.0 page 199
13. Back, Senator Chris: Australian Federal Parliamentary Hansard, 30th October, 2012: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/senator-back-reveals-gag-clauses-wind-developer-contracts/
14. See for example Rikki Nicholson’s account of complaints lodged with Pacific Hydro concerning the Cape Bridgewater Wind Development, at http://stopthesethings.com/2013/04/04/cape-bridgwater-melissa-and-rikki/
15. Some of the references to Professor Chapman’s opinion pieces are listed in the open letter to Professor Chapman sent in October 2012 https://www.wind-watch.org/documents/letter-from-sarah-laurie-to-simon-chapman/
16. Thistleton, J: in the Canberra Times: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/call-to-rein-in-wind-farm-construction-20120529-1zhl2.html
17. Thistleton, J: in The Land: http://www.theland.com.au/news/agriculture/agribusiness/general-news/call-to-rein-in-wind-farm-construction/2574411.aspx
18. Francis, A: ABC 7.30 Canberra: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-10/wind-collector/4191552
19. Schneider, P: “Cullerin Range Wind Farm Survey” August 2012: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/cullerin-range-wind-farm-survey-august-2012/
20. Schneider, P: “Cullerin Range Wind Farm Survey”, July-August 2013 submitted to the Cherry Tree VCAT Commissioners Wright & Liston
21. Hansen, C: eg letter to the Victorian Health department about the misleading nature of their report on wind turbine health issues: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/prof-colin-hansen-writes-victorian-dept-health-recent-wind-farms-health-doc/ and coauthor of a paper about the inadequacy of the South Australian Wind turbine noise guidelines at http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/hansen-et-al-wind-farm-noise-what-reasonable-limit-rural-areas/
22. Doolan, C: eg case study at Waterloo with coauthors Nobbs, B and Moreau, D “Characterisation of noise inside homes affected by wind turbine noise”: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/characterisation-noise-homes-affected-by-wind-turbine-noise/
23. Wang, F: “Evaluation of wind farm noise policies in South Australia” summary of findings: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/evaluation-wind-farm-noise-policies-south-australia/
24. Moller, H and Pedersen, C J: “Low frequency noise from large wind turbines” Journal of the Acoustic Society of America, Volume 129, Issue 6, pp. 3727-3744 (2011) also at http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/moller-pedersen-low-frequency-noise-from-large-wind-turbines/
25. Pyrenees Shire council minutes from 19th March, 2013, accessed from http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/pyrenees-shire-council-minutes-march-2013/
26. Footage and reporting about Trish Godfrey’s story is available from the waubrafoundation website at http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/channel-9-current-affair/ and http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/abc-tv-stateline-2/
27. Vestas Media Release listing the speakers at the launch of the “Act on Facts” campaign: http://www.vestas.com/Default.aspx?ID=10332&action=3&NewsID=3294
28. Arra M & Lynn H: Powerpoint of presentation of Literature Review findings to the Grey Bruce Board of Health detailing the association between wind turbine noise and “human distress” in early 2013: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/association-between-wind-turbine-noise-and-human-distress/
29. Iser, D: results from original population survey at Toora in 2004 and letters sent to relevant Victorian Ministers: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/dr-david-iser-2004-conducts-first-survey-patients-living-near-wind-project/
30. Nissenbaum, M: response to a question on notice from the second Federal Senate inquiry concerning “nocebo” and “annoyance”: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/dr-michael-nissenbaum-annoyance-nocebo-effect-sleep-deprivation/
31. Recommendations of the first Federal Senate inquiry in June 2011: http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/senate-inquiry-social-economic-effect-rural-wind-farms/
Download original document: “A critical analysis of accuracy of the “complaints” data from the Chapman et al “nocebo” research”
Adverse Health Impacts of Industrial Wind Turbines: A Scientific Response to “It’s all in your head”
Author: Hartman, Raymond
In this paper, I review two recently completed research papers that purport to provide scientific evidence regarding the adverse health effects of Industrial Wind Turbines (IWTs). Having done so, I find that they provide no scientific information. Rather, they present disinformation which may be used to improperly shape public policy. …
[S. Chapman, A. St George, K. Waller and V. Cakic, “Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, ‘communicated disease’ hypothesis,” unpublished (hereafter Chapman); and F. Crichton, G. Dodd, G. Schmid, G. Gamble and K. J. Petrie, “Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated with Wind Turbines?” Health Psychology, Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031760 (hereafter Crichton)]
The two papers subject to my review fail to meet credible standards of professionalism to be taken seriously. Chapman observes a correlation between the timing of three specific publications and general increased media coverage with a recently increased number of complaints regarding adverse impacts of audible and inaudible wind turbine noise. However, his hypothesis tests are crude and without evidentiary value. Either hypothesis is supported by the data he proffers, data which are likely subject to serious measurement error. I would not rely upon his data to come to any conclusion. However, even if one were to believe the data, they are typical of diffusion rates of information regarding the positive or negative attributes of particular products, technologies, procedures and diseases. Given the naïve and simplistic experiment upon which it is based, the Crichton paper offers no evidentiary value.
There is, however, a scientific literature that has recognized the social effects of noise upon public health. This literature has developed survey methods and analytic procedures to quantify the adverse impacts of such noises. The earlier applications have been directed at the impacts of traditional sources of noise impinging upon neighboring individuals – highways, airports, railroad lines, and railroad shunting yards. Is it a surprise to anyone that particularly loud noises can be annoying? If one’s neighbor’s dog sat in the backyard and barked all night, does anyone believe this to NOT be annoying; indeed very annoying? Aren‘t there laws against this annoyance? Does anyone believe that this annoyance would NOT be greater in a quiet neighborhood or rural area, compared to a noisy urban area. Does anyone NOT believe that if such noises interrupt one’s sleep on a consistent basis, that person will begin to suffer psychological and physical (hypertension, stress-related) illnesses. Industrial wind turbines are just another form of industrial noise. The noise may have no adverse effects or it may have serious adverse effects. Serious, well-trained quantitative acousticians have analyzed the noises emitted from IWTs and found them to cause serious adverse health effects to a subset of residents living nearby. The etiology of those adverse health effects begin with sleep deprivation and annoyance and become more serious as affected individuals are continuously subjected to the noises. These effects are not the result of some mass hysteria.
Download original document: ‘The Adverse Health Impacts of Industrial Wind Turbines: A Scientific Response to “It’s all in your head”‘
See no evil, hear no evil, nocebo
Author: Rosenbloom, Eric
Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines?
Fiona Crichton, George Dodd, Gian Schmid, Greg Gamble, and Keith J. Petrie, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Health Psychology, March 2013, doi:10.1037/a0031760
First paragraph: “Harnessing wind energy is a critical component of long-term strategies for securing sustainable power supply in countries throughout the world, with the potential to help address global climate change. However, recent opposition to wind farms has seen a substantial increase in rejection rates for new wind farm developments, which threatens the achievement of renewable energy targets. Much of the opposition to wind farms stems from the belief that the infrasound produced by wind turbines causes health complaints in nearby residents. Although there is no empirical support for claims that infrasound generated by wind turbines could trigger adverse health effects, there has been a lack of other plausible mechanisms that could explain the experience of nonspecific symptoms reported by some people living in the vicinity of wind turbines. In this study we investigate whether exposure to information that creates negative expectations about symptoms from infrasound could be a possible explanation for this relationship.”
Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, “communicated disease” hypothesis
Simon Chapman PhD FASSA, Professor of Public Health, Alexis St George MSc PhD, Research Fellow, and Karen Waller BSc and Vince Cakic BSc (Hons), Medical students, Sydney School of Public Health University of Sydney, Australia
March 2013, unpublished [update: published online October 16, 2013: The Pattern of Complaints about Australian Wind Farms Does Not Match the Establishment and Distribution of Turbines: Support for the Psychogenic, ‘Communicated Disease’ Hypothesis. PLoS ONE 8(10): e76584. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076584]
Abstract (background, objectives, and conclusions): “With often florid allegations about health problems arising from wind turbine exposure now widespread in parts of rural Australia and on the internet, nocebo effects potentially confound any future investigation of turbine health impact. Historical audits of health complaints across periods when such claims were rare are therefore important. We test 4 hypotheses relevant to psychogenic explanations of the variable timing and distribution of health and noise complaints about wind farms in Australia. … In view of scientific consensus that the evidence for wind turbine noise and infrasound causing health problems is poor, the reported spatio-temporal variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that health problems arising are “communicated diseases” with nocebo effects likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.”
The bias of both of these papers is glaring. The Crichton paper seems more worried about wind development targets than about human health, and Chapman expresses his long established contempt and mockery of people adversely affected by wind development with the phrase “often florid allegations”.
Both papers disingenuously claim that there is no scientific support for the claim that infrasound can have physiological effects. In fact, there is, and mechanisms for such effects are currently being elucidated (see, eg, Responses of the ear to infrasound and wind turbines, Low-frequency noise: a biophysical phenomenon, Infrasound: your ears “hear” it but they don’t tell your brain, Owen Black affidavit re: wind turbine syndrome, and the work of Mariana Alves-Pereira and Nuno Castelo Branco in Portugal: Vibroacoustic disease, Vibroacoustic disease: biological effects of infrasound and low-frequency noise explained by mechanotransduction cellular signalling, Industrial wind turbines, infrasound and vibro-acoustic disease (VAD), In-home wind turbine noise is conducive to vibroacoustic disease). Both papers therefore set out only to prove that “hysteria” is the cause, seeing no reason to test that hypothesis against the evidence for physical causes which they simply ignore.
Nor do they seem to consider the barrage of “positive” information that has accompanied the buildup of wind power. Related to this, they fail to consider the possibility (never mind the many reports) that people with a favorable view of wind development become adversely affected after a nearby facility began operation.
For these reasons, Chapman’s paper is simply a joke. There is not even a pretense of testing his hypothesis, only a laughable effort to demonstrate it.
The Crichton paper at least pretends to set up a controlled experiment. Unfortunately, since the researchers ignore the work of acousticians who have measured infrasound from wind farms, they don’t come close to recreating the experience of actual wind turbine noise. (See, for example this paper and presentation by Steven Cooper.) They thus end up only showing the effect of suggestibility in two different “sham” situations. No group was actually exposed to infrasound levels and patterns like those from wind turbines.
Finally, these researchers exploit the fact that this phenomenon is indeed new, and consequently not yet extensively investigated, having developed along with the relatively recent growth of wind power development closer to homes. Furthermore, as with all noise phenomena, not everyone is affected, and those that are, to different degrees. There has been no robust epidemiological study of the issue, so it is irresponsible as well as unethical to dismiss it out of hand. Neither of these papers betrays the slightest humanity towards the many people who are truly suffering, many of them forced out of their homes. Nor does either one express the slightest interest in actual study of the cases. Both papers seem instead to be attempts to run ahead of the continuing medical and acoustical research and declare the issue dead. But the science has already left them well behind.
Update: Another recent paper on these lines:
Fright factors about wind turbines and health in Ontario newspapers before and after the Green Energy Act
Benjamin Deignan, Erin Harvey & Laurie Hoffman-Goetz
Health, Risk & Society, March 2013, doi:10.1080/13698575.2013.776015
Abstract: “In this article, we analyse coverage of the health effects of wind turbines in Ontario newspapers relative to the Green Energy Act using published risk communication fright factors. Our aim was to provide insights into the health risk information presented in newspapers serving Ontario communities where wind turbines are located. … We conclude that Ontario newspapers contain fright factors in articles about wind turbines and health that may produce fear, concern and anxiety for readers.”
According to the abstract, this paper did not make any attempt to correlate the “fright factors” with health complaints, nor did it compare coverage of health concerns (which would of course be “negative”) with coverage of wind energy development in general (which I dare say is overwhelmingly “positive”). And again, there does not seem to be any interest in examining actual cases, only in establishing theoretical bases for ignoring them.
This one seems even sillier (or more chilling) than Chapman’s exercise, in that it is raising alarm about language. Are they suggesting that the Government of Ontario censor news coverage as part of its support for wind development?
Update: And another recent paper along the lines of Crichton/Petrie:
The influence of negative oriented personality traits on the effects of wind turbine noise
Jennifer Taylor, Carol Eastwick, Robin Wilson, and Claire Lawrence, University of Nottingham, U.K.
Personality and Individual Differences, February 2013, doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.09.018
Noise levels and noise perception from small and micro wind turbines
Jennifer Taylor, Carol Eastwick, Claire Lawrence, and Robin Wilson, University of Nottingham, U.K.
Renewable Energy, Volume 55, July 2013, Pages 120–127, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2012.11.031
Abstract: “Concern about invisible environmental agents from new technologies, such as radiation, radio-waves, and odours, have been shown to act as a trigger for reports of ill health. However, recently, it has been suggested that wind turbines – an archetypal green technology, are a new culprit in explanations of medically unexplained non-specific symptoms (NSS): the so-called Wind Turbine Syndrome (Pierpont, 2009). The current study assesses the effect of negative orientated personality (NOP) traits (Neuroticism, Negative Affectivity and Frustration Intolerance) on the relationship between both actual and perceived noise on NSS. All households near ten small and micro wind turbines in two UK cities completed measures of perceived turbine noise, Neuroticism, Negative Affectivity, Frustration Intolerance, attitude to wind turbines, and NSS (response N = 138). Actual turbine noise level for each household was also calculated. There was no evidence for the effect of calculated actual noise on NSS. The relationship between perceived noise and NSS was only found for individuals high in NOP traits[, suggesting] the key role of individual differences in the link between perceived (but not actual) environmental characteristics and symptom reporting.”
According to the abstract, high NOP traits are correlated only with general health complaints, as would be expected, not with perceived turbine noise or attitude to wind turbines, as the authors imply. Furthermore, actual noise measurements were not made, and small urban wind turbines are nothing like the rural giants that give rise to most complaints considered to represent “wind turbine syndrome”. The authors’ bias is also evident in describing “wind turbine syndrome” as “non-specific symptoms; in fact, Pierpont recognized a recurring set of symptoms that suggest inner ear disturbance. Others have attributed the complaints as compatible with sleep disturbance, a factor that Taylor/Lawrence do not seem to have considered. The concluding sentence of the abstract also reveals bias by insisting that NOP plays the key role (not just a contributing role) and that any noise or other disturbance is perceived but not “actual”.
Update: Crichton/Petrie and Chapman join forces:
The link between health complaints and wind turbines: support for the nocebo expectations hypothesis
Fiona Crichton, Simon Chapman, Tim Cundy and Keith James Petrie
Frontiers in Public Health, 2:220 (2014). doi:10.3389/fpubh.2014.00220
Abstract: “The worldwide expansion of wind energy has met with opposition based on concerns that the infrasound generated by wind turbines causes health problems in nearby residents. In this paper we argue that health complaints are more likely to be explained by the nocebo response, whereby adverse effects are generated by negative expectations. When individuals expect a feature of their environment or medical treatment to produce illness or symptoms then this may start a process where the individual looks for symptoms or signs of illness to confirm these negative expectations. As physical symptoms are common in healthy people, there is considerable scope for people to match symptoms with their negative expectations. To support this hypothesis we draw on evidence from experimental studies that show that, during exposure to wind farm sound, expectations about infrasound can influence symptoms and mood in both positive and negative directions, depending on how expectations are framed. We also consider epidemiological work showing that health complaints have primarily been located in areas that have received the most negative publicity about the harmful effects of turbines. The social aspect of symptom complaints in a community is also discussed as an important process in increasing symptom reports. Media stories, publicity or social discourse about the reported health effects of wind turbines are likely to trigger reports of similar symptoms, regardless of exposure. Finally, we present evidence to show that the same pattern of health complaints following negative information about wind turbines has also been found in other types of environmental concerns and scares.”
Edited by: Loren Knopper, Intrinsik Environmental Sciences Inc., Canada, industry consultant. Reviewed by: Robert G. Berger, Intrinsik Environmental Sciences Inc., Canada – industry consultant – and James Rubin, King’s College London, UK – author of studies blaming electromagnetic sensitivity on psychological conditions
This article simply reviews the authors’ previous articles, repeating their errors and shortcomings and adding nothing new to what they have already badly said.
Update: Chapman openly joins forces with the industry:
Fomenting sickness: nocebo priming of residents about expected wind turbine health harms
Simon Chapman, Ketan Joshi and Luke Fry
Frontiers in Public Health, 2:279 (2014). doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00279
Abstract: “A nocebo effect hypothesis has been proposed to explain variations in where small minorities of exposed residents complain about noise and health effects said to be caused by wind farm turbines. The hypothesis requires that those complaining have been exposed to negative, potentially frightening information about the impact of proposed wind farms on nearby residents, and that this information conditions both expectations about future health impacts or the aetiology of current health problems where wind farms are already operational. This hypothesis has been demonstrated experimentally under laboratory conditions, but case studies of how this process can operate in local communities are lacking. In this paper we present a case study of the apparent impact of an anti wind farm public meeting on the generation of negative news media and the subsequent expression of concerns about anticipated health and noise impacts to a planning authority approval hearing in Victoria, Australia. We present a content analysis of the negative claims disseminated about health and noise in the news media and available on the internet prior to the hearing, and another content analysis of all submissions made to the planning authority by those opposing the development application.”
Edited by: Loren Knopper, Intrinsik Environmental Sciences, Canada – industry consultant. Reviewed by: Claire Lawrence, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom – co-author of papers blaming noise complaints from wind turbines on personality traits – and Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, Johns Hopkins University, USA – co-author of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection review that attempted to minimize and dismiss health effects from wind turbines
Now they have lowered the bar from denial of actual health consequences of actual wind turbines to decrying the fact that raising concerns about adverse effects of wind turbines during a permitting process meant to raise concerns, raises concerns, even though the permitting agency ignored those concerns anyway.
Review of Crichton et al (Can expectations produce symptoms from infrasound associated with wind turbines?)
Author: Punch, Jerry
Crichton, F, Dodd, G., Schmid, G., Gamble, G. & Petrie, K.J. (2013). Can expectations produce symptoms from infrasound associated with wind turbines? Health Psychology, Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/a0031760 [download]
The above-referenced study by Crichton et al. (2013) is open to criticism for its many methodological weaknesses. The most notable criticism is that their subjects were never actually exposed to infrasound. If the “studio woofer” was capable of producing a 5 Hz stimulus, they should have at least described or shown a graph of the output spectrum. Even if a true infrasound stimulus was produced by their equipment, 40 dB (presumably SPL) was not nearly sufficient to represent the level of infrasound in question by those who believe infrasound from wind turbines to be an issue. Even if a sufficient stimulus had been produced to represent wind turbine infrasound, a 10-min exposure would have been meaningless in representing the duration of exposure that is likely necessary to produce any substantial health symptoms. So the subjects were not actually exposed to any infrasound stimulation in the first place, in effect resulting in their being exposed only to two “sham” conditions.
The design itself limits the study’s external validity and thus the ability to generalize the results to other populations and situations. First, most of the individuals who have reported adverse health effects from wind turbine noise, some of whom have abandoned their homes, are not people who were adequately warned of potential health effects prior to their exposures. In fact, many individuals who report adverse health effects were advocates of wind energy prior to being exposed. Because the major premise underlying this study is that people complain of wind turbine noise based primarily on expectancies that align with prior information, the study is based on a false premise. Furthermore, the use of university students does not represent the type of subjects who represent the population apt to complain about wind turbine noise. This population is probably the least vulnerable to the effects of wind turbine noise in that none were young or old, and few if any were likely to have chronic health conditions or to be disabled. Although the sample size may have been minimally sufficient, given the repeated-measures design, the distribution of male and female subjects should have been more equal. The extensive use of pretesting introduced reactive or interactive effects that could have affected posttest behaviors and ratings. Just the use of the laboratory setting and short exposure times, as opposed to a real-life setting in which wind turbine blades are turning at night and the subjects are inside a home, introduced situational effects that limit the ability to generalize the data. (The authors admit this shortcoming on p. 4 in their statement: “… exposure to infrasound in a listening room purpose built for sound experiments may not be directly comparable to exposure to infrasound from a wind farm”.) Finally, multiple-treatment interference was likely operating, in that multiple treatment sessions and conditions were allowed to interact with each other in determining participants’ performance on the dependent variables. Another design issue, or at least a reporting issue, is that the authors did not describe how their high-expectancy and low-expectancy conditions were managed in the experiment. Exposure sessions were described as counterbalanced, but were HE [high-expectancy] and LE [low-expectancy] conditions counterbalanced in an interleaved fashion within exposure sessions, or were HE and LE conditions somehow performed in separate blocks? It is critical that readers understand whether and how subjects could be expected to sort out the different expectations across exposure trials throughout the course of the experiment. Even if HE and LE conditions were counterbalanced within exposure conditions, it is difficult to accept that extraneous variables were controlled to the same extent as they would have been if HE and LE conditions had been administered to separate groups of subjects, as opposed to the same subjects. The use of HE and LE conditions within the same subjects was probably a highly contaminating factor, even if the subjects had actually been exposed to both infrasound and sham conditions.
Basically, this was an experiment whose outcomes could have been predicted, given the conditions employed. As already stated, the outcome has virtually nothing to do with the real-world conditions of exposure to infrasound from wind turbines. In addition, it is well known that expectations can affect perceptions through top-down, or cognitive- based, processing, as opposed to bottom-up, or stimulus-based, processing. Examples of the effects of top-down processing (cited by Williams, 2007) include responses to visual stimuli, assessments of a person’s ability, judgments of extended events, the enjoyment of a film, and cigarette preferences. Factors such as attention, effort, experience, experimental-demand effects, and adherence to self-image all can play a role in experiments designed to study perception, and none of these factors was controlled or discussed in this study.
In light of the above criticisms, a number of the authors’ statements from the Results section are worth repeating, to illustrate my point that the findings were predictable:
(p. 3) “… change from baseline in the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptoms experienced was not influenced by whether exposure was to sham or to infrasound.”
(p. 3) “… results indicated the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptom experienced during listening sessions were not affected by exposure to infrasound but were influenced by expectancy group allocation.”
(p. 4) “Importantly, elevated symptom reporting seen in the high-expectancy group was the same during sham and infrasound exposure, confirming that infrasound exposure itself did not contribute to the symptomatic experience. No direct physiological effect of genuine infrasound exposure on heart rate or blood pressure was indicated …”
Finally, based on the many flaws in this study, I could not disagree more with the following statement by the authors (p. 5): “… this study suggests a promising future direction for further research”. In my opinion, this study is merely a good example of junk science, and it is unfortunate that it was considered publishable in the journal Health Psychology. Hopefully, we can move beyond this type of experimentation and rely on genuinely scientific methods to uncover and define accurately and completely the linkages between wind turbine infrasound and adverse health effects.
About the author: As an audiologist, Jerry Punch, Ph.D., has over 40 years of professional experience as a clinician, clinical supervisor, clinic director, research director, university faculty member, and academic department chairperson. Audiologists are non-medical specialists with a master’s or doctoral degree in the science of hearing and hearing loss, and some audiologists, including Dr. Punch, have an interest in acoustics, psychoacoustics (how humans respond to sound), sound measurement, and community noise issues. Audiologists are neither medical specialists nor engineers, but serve as a bridge between the professions of otolaryngology and acoustic engineering. Dr. Punch has been interested in community noise for several decades, has taught a graduate-level course in Hearing Conservation at Michigan State University, and has provided expert testimony in legal cases involving occupational hearing loss. He has published approximately 80 articles in scientific and professional journals, and has served as an editorial reviewer for numerous scientific journals. More recently, he became interested in wind turbine noise as a community health issue after learning that two families had abandoned their homes because of sleep disturbance and other health symptoms that they believed were caused by the noise from nearby industrial-scale wind turbines in Huron County, Michigan. Subsequently, he co-authored a published review of the literature on wind turbine noise in the journal Audiology Today and chaired the Wind and Health Technical Work Group that was convened by the Michigan’s Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth in the spring of 2010. That work group was charged with revising the state’s guideline for the siting of onshore industrial- scale wind turbines. After over 20 years in his faculty appointment in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at Michigan State University, Dr. Punch officially retired in May 2011, but remains active as a Professor Emeritus on MSU’s Institutional Review Board and is a private consultant. He recently testified as a health expert in legal hearings on wind turbine noise in the states of Ohio and Wisconsin. In those cases, he argued that linkages between adverse health effects and wind turbine noise are supported by scientific evidence and that energy companies should be required to site turbines at setback distances that sufficiently protect residents from the harmful impacts of low-frequency sound and infrasound.
[Click here for more critiques of the “nocebo hypothesis”.]