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Wind farm researchers found to have no human ethics approval

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taralgaResearch may be retracted

I was recently sent a highly disturbing paper delivered at the 12th ICBEN Congress on Noise as a Public Health Problem, held in Zurich in June. Two authors on the paper are academic staff at Massey University in New Zealand.

The two other authors were from Lusafone University in Portugal, and a private consultant who has a recent PhD from Massey University.

The paper describes (1) the taking of medical histories of two adults living near a coal mine near Lithgow in NSW (2) the monitoring of physiological data in the same two persons (3) an “experiment” where these two people were purposefully driven 160km to a location near wind turbines at Taralga in NSW so their reactions might be observed.

The two individuals had advised the researchers that on a previous occasion when they had been exposed to these wind turbines, they had become “acutely and severely distressed”.

The researchers posited that “cross-sensitization” to infrasound and low frequency noise emitted by different sources was demonstrated by their experiment.

Having been advised of this previous adverse reaction to the wind turbines, the research team deliberately exposed the subjects to the same wind turbines again.

The paper describes how the research team drove to the Taralga area, whereupon both subjects again experienced adverse reactions including “extreme anxiety”, tachycardia and violent, uncontrollable dry retching. In the case of one subject (Mr T), these reactions occurred twice within an apparently short space of time in and adjacent to the car driven by Mr T that also contained the research team.

Despite describing Mr T’s first reaction as “violent and instant” where “the entire team was shocked”, amazingly, they allowed Mr T to resume driving because he “stated that he was better in control of the vehicle as he was feeling some vertigo”.

This account by the researchers describes a situation that is frankly well beyond ethical unconscionablility. It was utterly reckless. If Mr T was as indeed as ill-disposed as described, his continued driving after such a violent and sustained reaction could have put the lives of those in the car and others on the road in danger. Yet the researchers did not act to stop him driving.

More fundamentally, the research team included no one with any medical or nursing qualifications who could have made a credible clinical assessment of the subjects’ conditions or rendered medical assistance if required.

This was a team of people with no clinical training or qualifications who were taking and interpreting medical histories, engaging in physiological monitoring; deliberately exposing subjects to a situation which may have been likely to become (by their own account) violently ill, and then putting the subjects, the researchers and the public at risk by allowing Mr T to drive.

The paper has a bizarre disclaimer at the end which reads:

The authors 1) Do not harbour anti-technology sentiments;

2) Consider industrial activities to be important to modern technological societies;

3) Have presented this report under one and only one agenda—pure scientific inquiry;

4) Are not producing a report arguing against industrial developments.

But three of the authors of the paper have long track records in publicly opposing wind farm developments.  That being the case, the disclaimer should of course have acknowledged this rather than use vague and evasive statements about “technology”.

Bruce Rapley, the first author on the paper, gave evidence to the 2015 Australian Senate enquiry on wind farms. His opening oral statement worked up to final farrago of outrage:

“In the future, I believe that the adverse health effects of wind turbines will eclipse the asbestos problem in the annals of history. In my opinion, the greed and scientific half-truths from the wind industry will be seen by history as one of the worst corporate and government abuses of democracy in the 21st century.”

The research team received travel support from the Waubra Foundation for this research. The Waubra Foundation is a body that also has a long history of claiming that wind energy projects in Australia are making people ill. In 2014, the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission revoked the health promotion charitable status of the Foundation

The audience for this “research” at the conference and those reading the paper should have been able to have these highly relevant competing interests made transparent in the “disclaimer”.

With such background information, questions might be asked about how the subjects in this “experiment” came to the attention of Waubra Foundation-supported researchers and whether researchers led by someone with such strident views could be expected to be scientifically detached in their work.

I wrote to the Vice Chancellor of Massey University outlining the above concerns with this project. I suggested that it would be unbelievable if it had received any human ethics committee approval. The University’s investigation confirmed my suspicions that this project had neither sought nor received any ethics approval.

The pro-vice chancellor for research told me last week that “retraction of the research is an option open to the University.” She also suggested that the evasive “disclaimer” combined with the Waubra Foundation  support “could be seen to erode academic credibility”.

This episode underscores the vital importance of human ethics oversight where people’s health, well-being and perhaps even lives might be endangered.

Massey University is to be commended for its swift investigation. Retraction of the paper would send a very important message not just to the noise and health research community, but to naïve and inexperienced researchers across many fields who might be tempted to take ethical short cuts in pursuit of pet hypotheses.

Author: Simon Chapman AO PhD FASSA HonFFPH (UK), Emeritus Professor, Sydney School of Public Health   

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  • Ron Horgan

    Garbage in garbage out. Retraction of this nonsense is essential if the Massey University is to have any credibility.
    Severe reactions are quite possibly due to suggestible individuals being placed in circumstances in which the reaction was expected.
    Repeat with Dr’s Fraude and Pavlov in attendance.
    Two people only, no statistical significance.
    Just more rubbish to muddy the logic.

  • Hettie

    Whaaat?
    A sample of 2.
    Preselected for previous adverse reaction.
    Idiot researchers who don’t have enough sense to stop a man experiencing vertigo from driving.
    And they have the unmitigated gall to present this as scientific research?
    Give me a break.
    For those who may want to know what qualifies me to be so scathing, I worked for years in the pharmaceutical industry, assessing clinical trials, and have a minor qualification in marketing research, which includes sample size and selection, statistical significance of results, margins of error, stuff like that.
    Not by any means a heavy duty qualification, but this is such egregious crap.

    • Joe

      Young Hettie you are right to be..just .a little upset. The whole thing smells of a setup to take down Wind Power. Waubra Foundation…who really are these dudes? Like I have mentioned before in the very fine pages of RE, if wind power were so diabolical then Europeans would all be checking in for medical assistance.

      • Hettie

        If this shit is the best they can do, Young Joe, wind power is very safe.
        Was the paper presented April 1st, perchance?

  • Joe

    This story, above, got a run in my Sunday (12/11) newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald. When I read it I couldn’t believe how this sort of ‘try on’ by Massey Uni and the Waubra Foundation could have gotten as far as it did…to Zurich for that Congress. Can we / Australia now please disband the Wind Commissioner and the folly of him chasing around looking here and there for ‘victims’. We all knew it was just Abbott and Hockey playing the anti RE card but it is costing us taxpayers plenty of our hard earned to keep the Wind Commissioner dude in a job. NO MORE !

  • mick

    seriously? what a pack of wankers

  • Andy Saunders

    Would have been interesting to try an experiment with double-blinding and control. Drive to somewhere near Taralga and have the wind-farm stop the turbines for periods without the knowledge of the experimenters or subjects, see what the symptoms were at different times…

    I wonder what on earth Massey Uni is doing letting its name be used in such a way!

  • Alan S

    Sounds as though the ‘researchers’ concocted an experiment that would lead to their conclusion. Proving the generation of infrasound by wind turbines and demonstrating its negative health effects would have been a more scientifically valid method. however as we know it’s a load of rubbish.

    • jeffhre

      No no. Clearly a man driving himself to a sight where he is known to have become sick in the past is now considered a double blind by officials at Massey University.

  • Dark green

    Massey rhymes with messy and with trashy, nominative determinism wins again!

  • George Papadopoulos

    Of course if one was to analyse the comments of Simon Chapman – including his past heavy presence on website comment sections – he is no more innocent than those he accuses of bias and claiming no conflict of interest…

    • Calamity_Jean

      Mr. Chapman wasn’t conducting a phony “experiment” with a psychologically disturbed person that had a good chance of endangering other people that were on the road at the same time.

      • George Papadopoulos

        No. Mr Chapman is just superb at creating illusions about the reputation of others – your his latest victim.

        • Calamity_Jean

          Did you notice his academic credentials? How dare he share his expertise with us!

  • My_Oath

    *head desk*

  • DugS

    Meanwhile, the pixies are dancing a merry jig to the sound of one hand clapping. Oh how they love a good tale about falling off the edge of the world and inaudible frequency harmonics disturbing the inner ear causing spontaneous nausea. What fun, they postulate, to dry retch in the shadow of a gum tree trembling in the breeze, no wait, that should be in the shadow of a wind turbine, oops, hard to tell the difference sometimes.
    And as the sun sets on this jolly scene a rainbow striped unikitty with enormous eyes playfully tries to skewer a laughing kookaburra with her glitter coated plastic horn.
    Sigh… what a wonderful world!

  • lin

    lol. Way to trash your credibility dudes. Egg, meet face!
    This methodology would be laughed out of a year 9 high school science class. How the hell did this presentation get accepted at an international conference??

  • Les Johnston

    It also says a lot about the culling of “research” presentations at this particular conference. Must be a great time to be in Zurich in June. I guess the economy encourages “conferences” in June as a travel boost. Reporting on such a “conference!”