Opinion: Not all studies on wind turbines are credible

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Jamestown (R.I.) Press and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

As a member for three years of the Wind Energy Committee–which was responsible for the feasibility study and site selection analysis for the wind turbine under consideration in Jamestown–I have followed with interest the debates on this issue.

First there were letters in the Press that opposed the turbine based on speculative predictions of economic viability. Then the wind turbine was attacked on aesthetic grounds, which is ironic since one of the iconic symbols of Jamestown is a windmill. And now we have moved on to the famous “wind turbine syndrome.”

In his May 17 letter (“There is evidence that turbine syndrome exists”), Hugh Murphy cites Nina Pierpont’s book as evidence of this syndrome. Dr. Pierpont is well known to the wind-power community. Her book was an attempt to thwart a proposed wind farm near her property. Thus, she is not an impartial scientist conducting an unbiased study.

Moreover, despite Mr. Murphy’s claim, a cursory web search provides many instances of windpower experts thoroughly debunking this book. It was self-published by a “vanity press,” and the editorial board consisted solely of herself, her husband and two other individuals. There was absolutely no peer review process. The “evidence” is entirely anecdotal and the individuals in the study were self-selected–that is, Dr. Pierpont solicited people who had complaints as a result of turbine noise.

There was no control group. And the number of cases was too small to permit a statistically significant study. Thus, regardless of the conclusions of the study, this book, had it been the substance of an undergraduate science paper, would have been given a failing grade.

Mr. Murphy then cites three papers published in “The Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society” as further evidence. I must admit that I had never heard of this journal, despite working in the science and technology field myself. When I researched this journal I found that it has not been indexed since 1995. When a journal is not indexed, it means that the papers in it are not being cited by articles in other journals, and thus is an indication that the quality of the papers in that journal is below the standard generally accepted by the academic community. Whereas professor Simon Chapman, a recognized scholar and authority on this subject with hundreds of papers published in peer-reviewed journals, conducted a survey of all the independent assessments of turbine noise that he could find (“Summary of main conclusions reached in 17 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health,” Sydney School of Public Health, 2012). The consensus of all these studies is that there is virtually no evidence that turbines cause harm to people.

I am in total agreement with Mr. Murphy’s comment that “one needs to study the facts and make an informed decision on the risks.” However, one must go beyond finding a few papers that support one point of view, but instead take a discerning look at enough of the literature to determine if there is scientific consensus. This is an important decision for Jamestowners, and we don’t need the discussion clouded by nonissues such as wind turbine syndrome.

Michael Larkin

Related articles:

Wind turbines not a threat to human health, another study finds, May 31, 2012
Opinion: Wind turbines are good for our health, March 2, 2012
Review of wind turbine sound studies gives debate needed balance, February 28, 2012
Anti-wind-farm “astroturfers” in Australia, February 27, 2012
NBC4's 'iReporter' lacks context on wind turbine sound, February 14, 2012
Fact check: Bryce misleads again on land, sound, resource use, January 31, 2012
Massachusetts clears wind of health effects after independent experts review evidence, January 20, 2012
Opinion: Dr. W. David Colby: Turbines and health
, December 2, 2011
Canadian researchers: No direct link between wind turbines and adverse health impacts
, November 29, 2011
Wind power: A quiet solution to climate change
, June 27, 2011
Sierra Club Canada 1.1: Time to confront anti-wind fear campaign
, June 15, 2011
Environmental Defence (Canada): 'No basis' for health impact claims
, June 6, 2011
Sierra Club Canada: Time to confront anti-wind disinformation campaign
, June 3, 2011
WHO guidelines on sound are … guidelines
, March 28, 2011
Scientists, doctor weigh on wind and health
, November 30, 2010
Wind Turbines and Health
, fact sheet
Maine physician: distortion in anti-wind health claims
, November 3, 2010
Australian health agency: Turbine sound has no health effect
, July 6, 2010
UK report debunks wind turbine syndrome
, June 9, 2010
Wind gets clean bill of health from Ontario
, May 20, 2010
Expert panel concludes wind turbine sounds not harmful to human health
, December 15, 2009

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