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Bad day in court for anti-wind campaigner Sarah Laurie

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It’s rare that anti-wind lobbyists appear under oath. Dr Sarah Laurie, medical director of the anti-wind lobbying group The Waubra Foundation, was asked to testify on behalf of those opposed to a proposed wind farm before the Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court in South Australia from 13-14 January, 2011. She was examined by George Manos, LLB acting for those opposed to the wind farm. Judge Costello presided with Commissioners Mosel and Agnew.

For those looking for the short version, Laurie and the ERD Judge and Commissioners agreed that she was not qualified to testify on matters related to health and wind energy, was in a conflict of interest related to wind energy, and the ERD discounted her testimony pretty much in its entirety. Further, the ERD agreed completely with the expert witness for the wind farm, Dr Gary Wittert, whose testimony, along with others, analysed Laurie’s data and found that people had more of the claimed symptoms of so-called ‘wind turbine syndrome’ when wind farms were not operating than when they were operating, the opposite of Laurie’s claim.

For the longer version, the quotes excerpted from the court transcript below make it clear that Sarah Laurie had a very bad two days in court, despite being examined by a ‘friendly’ lawyer.

Quote 1: Laurie is questioned on her proposed 10km setback for a wind farm planned for near her home

Q: How far away is it [proposed windfarm].

A: Look, well, we’re not exactly sure of the development because it hasn’t been submitted but I‘ve been told that there will be five turbines within a kilometre.

Q: And clearly if the court was to adopt the 10km setback distance that you propose in your para.26 that would have the effect of preventing the wind farm which is proposed near you until the research that you want done is undertaken.

A: Yes, that’s correct.

Q: The 10km is not based on any scientific analysis.

A: No.

Quote 2: Laurie blames a wind farm for a personal health impact

“There was one evening when I developed quite severe nausea quite out of the blue and I was at that stage staying in a house where I didn’t know whether the turbines were operating. It was about 3 kilometers from the nearest house. It was in a valley and you couldn’t see the turbines.”

This quote referred to Laurie’s visit to Ontario, Canada to attend a meeting of the Society for Wind Vigilance – a mostly North American anti-wind organisation. Laurie had travelled to the other side of the world, was staying in an unfamiliar country and in a rural area, yet her first assumption when she became nauseous was that wind turbines were to blame.

Quote 3: Laurie on purported health impacts of wind farms

“Various people have described symptoms where they have described either chest or lip vibration, the lip vibrations have been described to me as from a distance of 10 kilometers away.”

That she takes ‘vibrating lips’ seriously is, presumably, laudable. That she asserts a 10km radius of influence of wind farms which are usually inaudible at 1km is indicative of her lack of sufficient skepticism regarding reported health impacts of wind farms. 

Quote 4: Laurie on the nocebo effect

“I haven‘t found any evidence to support the nocebo effect. I have no doubt, though, that as publicity about the adverse health effects that are being reported by people emerges around the world that communities where turbine developments are proposed, as they become informed about these issues, do become very concerned about the possibilities for them, and particularly as they go and do their own homework and go and visit and meet with people who are living next to turbine developments at the moment. And then when they realise the reality of the situation for those people, it certainly does cause a lot of distress.”

The nocebo effect, for those unfamiliar with it, is the opposite of the placebo effect. It was first named in the early 70s and studies found it was possible to cause severe nausea and many symptoms on the list of those blamed on wind farms simply by suggesting them. Further studies of the nocebo effect have been curtailed by medical ethics as it became obvious that the effect was very real and that it was causing very real harm to subjects’ health.

As the bolded text shows, the fact that the nocebo effect is a communicated disease is supported by Laurie’s testimony. Laurie is actually a vector of this psychosomatic ailment, raising unwarranted fears regarding wind farms and health as she does regularly and rigorously.

Quote 5: Laurie on her medical credentials and research qualifications

Q. So you’ve got Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.

A: That‘s correct.

Q: I’ll put it in these terms – and no other field of specialisation other than general practice.

A: No.

Q: As I read the material that you’ve provided for us you don’t have any experience in undertaking formal scientific research.

A: That’s correct.

Q: And it would follow that you don’t have any experience in undertaking formal medical research.

A: That’s correct.

The subject didn’t arise in her testimony, but she has also acknowledged separately that she is currently not registered to practice medicine for personal reasons.

Quotes 6-11: Laurie states she is not qualified to judge wind farm health impacts

“I also didn’t feel it was realistic to put myself forward as an expert witness.”

“I am not an endocrinologist.”

Q. In the next paragraph Professor Wittert says he‘s been engaged as an independent medical expert on the basis of his broad understanding of human health and understanding of ecological methods.’ Do you claim expertise in those areas.

“No, I don’t…

“I am not an academic. I don’t do it [review research papers and results] for a living.when I looked at this data I didn‘t do the sophisticated analysis, I don’t have access to that sort of programing that Professor Wittert says…

“I’m not an acoustician….

While Laurie was not asked this, she is also not an expert in psychology, the psychology of health or other areas that overlap with the nocebo effect and its impacts.

It is worthwhile to quote the conclusions of the ERD court on Laurie’s testimony and submissions from the verdict rendered July 17, 2011.

Quote 12:  The submissions by Laurie were without merit or weight

“Although we determined to receive these articles and papers, we are unable to place any meaningful weight on them.

“We were given little information about the expertise or standing of the authors of these ‘publications’. Most of this work, as far as we can discern, has not been the subject of any peer review and none of the witnesses were called to give evidence.”

Quote 13:  The court agreed that there is no evidence that wind farms harm health

In response to thc evidence of Dr Laurie, Acciona called Professor Wittert, Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide. Professor Wittert has particular experience with and interest in population health, in particular, looking at the causes, methods of prevention and systems for treatment of chronic disease.

After reviewing the evidence of Dr Laurie, Professor Wittert concluded that:

“There is no credible evidence of a causal link, between the physical outputs of a turbine (or sets of turbines), at the levels that are described in the statement of Mr C Turnbull, and adverse effects on health”.

Conclusion

Laurie was given every courtesy by the Judge and the examining lawyers, despite that fact that her testimony shows she is not qualified to testify about medical impacts of wind farms, and that her positions should be highly suspect due to the windfarm near her home and her complete lack of skepticism regarding anecdotal health impacts ascribed to wind farms.

For further analysis of the findings and testimony of these proceedings, read this analysis and supporting references which show that the data Laurie depends upon actually show that people appear to be healthier when wind farms are operating, rather than less healthy as she claims.

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  • Tim Buckley

    Mike
    Excellent reading, thank you for taking the time to present the court details of the farce of the anti-wind energy lobby. They are full of hot wind and offer no substance.

    • Mike Barnard

      Thanks, Tim.

  • http://ffggippsland.blogspot.com/ Blair Donaldson

    Great article Mike! I love the bit about “vibrating lips”, maybe that’s how those trumpet players get such magnificent sounds, somewhere behind the stage they are being powered by a wind turbine :-)

    It says a lot about Sarah Laurie’s arrogance that she continues to promote herself as an expert to unsuspecting communities but when testifying under oath, she reveals her lack of credibility. Communities need to be aware of this.

    • Mike Barnard

      Thanks, Blair. I agree that Ms. Laurie’s actions speak volumes.

  • barry mann

    Why did it take so long for this to come out?!

    • ww

      Good question. It probably has to do with the recent senate committee inquiry that took apart Simon Chapman’s nocebo b.s..

      Dr. Laurie and other experts testified to great effect at that inquiry and now comes the reaction to discredit them by the renewable-schmuck-brigade.

      I have to say it’s all-too typical reaction from the faith-based wind energy community.

      • Sandy

        You can’t say, “Dr. Laurie and other experts” because she stated under oath, “I also didn’t feel it was realistic to put myself forward as an expert”.

        She’s a bit like Dr Seuss – not a real doctor, just likes to make up stories.

      • http://ffggippsland.blogspot.com/ Blair Donaldson

        WW, Sarah Laurie isn’t an expert in anything. Let’s stick with the facts first.

    • Mike Barnard

      The transcript has been publicly available for about 18 months, but only crossed my screen last week. As I read through it, the quotes above leapt out at me. The article wrote itself.

      I would say the reason why no one has published this before is that Ms. Laurie represents a tiny, if vocal, minority and in general her qualifications haven’t been that newsworthy. She’s trotted out by journalists because the news loves conflict, however one-sided the actual situation is. This is similar to the miniscule number of climate-change deniers actually getting air time. In general, digging into their backgrounds or credibility isn’t the point of the journalistic exercise, but to create an interesting conflict where no real conflict exists. She plays up her non-existent or historical credentials, the journalists treat her as an expert and they are both happy. Truth isn’t served nor is society’s larger interests, but that’s beside the point in the interaction.

      Ms. Laurie is well-connected with the fossil fuel industry in Australia, and their astroturfing efforts are creating sufficient noise that her background is worth attending to.

      I’m reminded of a pair of articles in Atlanta, USA, one by Denise Bode, President of the American Wind Energy Association (an industry association) and the other by Eric Rosenbloom, President of National Wind Watch (an anti-wind lobbying organization). Superficially, this sounds like two equivalent and serious people providing counter-points on a complex subject.

      In fact, Ms. Bode is a deeply experienced professional in the energy industry, elected multiple times to a key statewide energy position, headed several organizations, launched a successful business, has been awarded multiple times by various bodies for exemplary work and in general is a pretty awe-inspiring individual. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denise_Bode).

      Mr. Rosenbloom, on the other hand, is a graphic artist. (http://www.quora.com/Energy/What-is-the-ratio-of-consumption-to-production-on-an-average-windmill-over-the-course-of-a-year)

      Yet the Atlanta site that published their pieces treated them both as equals. (http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-forward/2012/06/12/region-ripe-for-wind-power/)

      The anti-wind lobby is full of individuals with little to no history of accomplishment and no credentials worth considering. This is unsurprising, really, as their stance on wind is not for anything, it is solely against something. That type of attitude generally doesn’t lead to positive outcomes or referenceable outcomes of value.

  • shane

    Now that Simon Chapman (the captain of their team) has gone to ground these attacks on Sarah credibility are simply pathetic ,, I have met people whom have had to move away from their farms because turbines were built to close to their homes , these people are farmers that now how to dig in and tough out hard situations , do you truly believe its just in their heads???

    • BS

      I always hear about people moving away from wind farms, yet no one ever provides any evidence for this: names, addresses even the name of the wind farm

      • Sandy

        “People moving away”, “can’t sell homes” or “houses being abandoned” are simply urban(rural) myths. There are never any examples with causal links.

      • shane

        You can’t be serious .. Obviously you only see the up side to wind turbines , and for the record im not against them . But you can’t stick them in amongst a community and turn good neighbours into enemies and I can tell you its going to get very ugly in my area.. PS we were offered them but informed the company we wouldn’t do it to our neighbours ..

        • BS

          “I can tell you its going to get very ugly in my area”
          Well hopefully those opposed can keep it civil unlike recent examples of: sabotage to equipment; threats of legal action against involved farmers; threats of violence towards wind company staff and farmers who want turbines.
          .

        • Bill T

          > “I can tell you its going to get very ugly in my area”

          The anti-science crowd soon fall back to veiled threats, which often turn in to explicit threats – see e.g. threats of violence against climate scientists.

          • http://ffggippsland.blogspot.com/ Blair Donaldson

            Bill, you can bet the, “it’s going to get ugly in my area.” is also designed to elicit some sympathy. The sad thing is that wind energy opponents never try to promote a viable alternative or attempt to objectively assess evidence, particularly when it conflicts with their mistaken beliefs.

    • wINdSider

      Prof. Chapman has not “gone to ground”; I was at a seminar he presented very recently. He certainly seemed to be well and truly above ground.
      As for farmers and the issue of whether this supposed ‘syndrome’ is “just in their heads”, the answer is Yes. Just look at rural suicide rates. Farmers, just like everyone else, are susceptible to psychological conditions.
      As for “pathetic” – this article details clearly where that label should be applied; to GP Sarah Laurie and her plagiarised communicated ‘disease’.

    • Simon Chapman

      Hi Shane, Gone to ground? uh? Just published this today http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4394656.html

    • Mike Barnard

      Simon Chapman has gone to ground? Really? Let’s check his recent activity:

      – Testified before the Senate Committee
      – published an article just today – http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4394656.html
      – Has updated his list of ailments attributed fallaciously to wind farms to 217 – http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/publications/WindfarmDiseases.pdf
      – Still tweeting regularly on wind and tobacco health issues as @simonchapman6
      – Lot’s of stuff I’m sure I’m unaware of.

      If this is going to ground, I’d be amused to know what your definition of being highly active and effective is.

    • http://ffggippsland.blogspot.com/ Blair Donaldson

      If nothing else, wind farm opponents are consistent. Deluded but consistent. WW apparently doesn’t know much about what constitutes an “expert” and is unaware of the fragile state of “evidence” presented by his beloved “experts”. Meanwhile Shane in his state of denial claims that Simon Chapman a.k.a. the captain of the team, has gone to ground. Somebody better tell Simon.

      For somebody who has gone to ground, Simon seems to be unusually visible in the public discussion as is evidenced by his article today, yes – today, an article Shane seems to be entirely (and conveniently?) unaware of.

      Fanning fear: the wind farm nocebo effect
      http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4394656.html

  • Marge

    Ok, so who dares to share this link via @waubrasarah?

  • Ian Woollen

    Have you read Dr Hanning’s 2012 46-page report: Wind Turbine Noise, Sleep and Health? He is an Honorary Consultant in Sleep Disorders Medicine to the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and a recognised expert on the issue. He explains the problems to human health from wind turbine noise, and inadequacies of the noise measurement, and recommends as a result a minimum precautionary setback distance of at least 1.5 km (from residences).

    Prof. Simon Chapman, on the other hand, who attacks the possible health issues of wind turbine noise, is a sociologist. He is a prolific publisher of papers and books. His expertise is in public health aspects of tobacco, and his current research includes examining policy how health and medical issues are covered in the news media.

    Draw your own conclusions…

  • http://telstrabroardband Bruce

    DR. Sarah Laurie WILL win the debate about the affects wind farms are having on people that live in and around them. Pro. Chapman has no facts at all, and all he does, is to try and drag down the people who are having health issues, and the persons who are raising the problems. Pro. Chapman would be better pulling his head out of the sand,and use his tallent (if he has any) researching the problems that people are having with the infersound ect that is destorying their lives.

    • Simon Chapman

      Bruce, it is a fact that the large majority of windfarms both in Australia and around the world have never attracted any health complaints. It is a fact that contrary to what Sarah Laurie might say, a wind turbine cannot visibily rock a stationary car at more than a kilometre.

    • http://ffggippsland.blogspot.com/ Blair Donaldson

      Bruce, I’m afraid history will prove you wrong. Sarah Laurie doesn’t have the evidence, the science or the understanding to make anything like a credible argument and in any case, the facts simply don’t support her dubious claims. By her own admission she is not an expert on the subject she pretends (when it suits) to be knowledgeable about.

      If anybody should pull their head out of the sand, it’s you.

      Regarding those few individuals to have managed to convince themselves that wind farms are making them ill, maybe they first need to address their hypochondria before any meaningful solution can be found.

  • windy1

    The senate committee does not agree with Ms. Laurie, Senator Magigan or Xenephon.

  • http://telstrabroardband Bruce

    Chapman, I know nothing about cars rocking, and I never said anything about that. The noise I wrote about is causing problems with a lot of people, and you have not ansewered my concern, and I don’t believe you can.

  • solarridge

    What I find most amazing, is that even despite HER TESTIMONY UNDER OATH, the anti-wind campaigners still deny they are feeding lies and untruths. Sarah herself admits that she is not qualified to give the opinions she offers, we know that she is selectively using data from Geoff Leventhall without even being qualified to interpret the data, and that she has a clear conflict of interest. We can all read the testimony…it is right there…why are people like Bruce not seeing this? What is the problem here? If you don’t read english, would you like help translating it?