In its stinging criticism of the research of acoustic expert Steven Cooper on the effect of the Pacific Hydro wind turbines on local residents and the reporting of it by The Australian and Today Tonight, the ABC’s Media Watch program failed to mention that its key expert was a paid advocate for the industry.
Such was the misrepresentation of the February 16 report that Mr Cooper is now considering legal action against the program and is pursuing action against the show’s expert, Sydney University’s professor of public health, Simon Chapman.
In making its case, as well as choosing not to use the opinion of qualified acoustic experts who supported the Cooper research, Media Watch championed the opinion of Professor Chapman, but in doing so failed to mention his conflict of interests.
A paper published in December 2014 by Professor Chapman, Ketan Joshi and Luke Fry titled “Fomenting sickness: nocebo priming of residents about expected wind turbine health harms” included the following conflict of interest statement: “Simon Chapman provided and was remunerated for expert advice on psychogenic aspects of wind farm health complaints by lawyers acting for Infigen Energy in the Cherry Tree VCAT case described in this paper. Ketan Joshi is employed by Infigen Energy. Luke Fry has no conflicts of interest to declare.”
The Cherry Tree VCAT case concluded in 2013.
Referring to the statement, Professor Chapman said on Twitter: “Expert witnesses have a duty to courts, not to those ‘hiring’ them.”
Professor Chapman also has no formal qualification as an acoustician or medical practitioner – his PhD is on the topic of “Cigarette Advertising As Myth: A Re-Evaluation Of The Relationship Of Advertising To Smoking”.
But Media Watch turned to his opinion to say: “Scientifically, it’s an absolutely atrocious piece of research and is entirely unpublishable other than on the front page of The Australian”.
Professor Chapman is so far ensconced in the pro-wind turbine camp that he has very publicly referred to those affected by wind turbines and those involved in the growing amount of evidence from the US and Canada that the vibrations caused by the giant blades can cause a range of conditions ranging from nausea, headaches to sleep deprivation, as “anti wind farm wing nuts”.
In a statement to the federal Senate on June 17 last year, Democratic Labor Party senator John Madigan said: “It is fair and reasonable to encourage people to look behind the blatant campaigning done by people like Professor Chapman of the University of Sydney.
“Professor Chapman has been an outspoken critic of those who have dared to question the wind farm orthodoxy.”
When asked about Professor’s Chapman’s background, Media Watch host Paul Barry said: “We didn’t say that Professor Simon Chapman has given evidence on behalf of wind farm operators, for the same reason that we didn’t say Steven Cooper has given evidence on several occasions for wind farm opponents.
“It’s perfectly clear which side of the debate they line up on and why.”
Barry also pointed to the fact The Australian story published on January 23 said the Cooper study had been independently peer reviewed by Bob Thorne without making it clear Dr Thorne had done paid work for wind farm opponents.
Media Watch has not been the only one that failed to mention Professor Chapman’s past paid work for Infigen Energy. In a February 25, 2014 article published by The Conversation titled “Study finds no evidence wind turbines make you sick – again”, the disclosure statement reads: “Simon Chapman AO receives no financial or other material support from any company or person in the wind energy industry or agents acting on their behalf.”
This is not the first time Professor Chapman contacted Media Watch to push a view.
In 2006 he approached the program indignant over an article in the British Journal of Criminology – which was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald – which showed that the gun laws introduced in 1996 by the Howard government in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre failed to reduce gun homicide or suicides in Australia.
In the 1990s, Professor Chapman was a member of the Coalition for Gun Control.
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