NHMRC Disqualified from Coalition’s Health Inquiry

John Madigan

John Madigan – the “Marshall” is back – this time grilling the NHMRC.

The NRMRC has been wearing “ribbons of shame” since it rushed to print with its selective, biased and incomplete literature review back in 2010. The very, very Rapid Review was so quick off the mark that it completely missed the decade of work put together by Neil Kelley & Co during the 1980s in the US (see our post here).

These bureaucratic nincompoops are back – this time with a loosely titled “Information Paper” – STT thinks “Mis-information Paper” would have been closer to the mark. Again, it ignored the highly detailed and comprehensive work done by Kelley and the boys from MIT and NASA – what would America’s top rocket scientists know, hey? (see our posts here and here and here).

And it slammed the bag on submissions back in September 2012 – so it’s only 18 months out of date.

There’s an old adage – clearly lost on the NHMRC – that goes something along the line that it’s always better to take your time and do things right the first time, than to tear off and produce a series of repeated half-baked cock ups. For cattlemen the tale about the old bull and the young bull looking down from a hill on a paddock full of willing young maidens should spring to mind – it was, of course, the old bull’s experience and reserve – rather than the young bull’s eagerness to “get amongst the action” – that led to the better strike-rate over all.

Mary-Morris

Mary Morris – not a Doctor – just a Champion who cares about people.

The one highlight being the inclusion of STT Champion, Mary Morris’ top-notch community health survey of the long-suffering residents of Waterloo. We note Mary gets elevated to “DR” by the boys from the NHMRC – not doubt a testament to the thoroughness and quality of her work – being the ONLY study completed in Australia and considered by the NHMRC. While clearly worthy of an honorary Doctorate for her undying efforts to put things right for her community, Mary – who has a Bachelor of Science – spends her days running the farm, chasing sheep, kids and otherwise helping to keep the family farm afloat.

The largest disaster in Australia – Macarthur – didn’t kick into gear until October 2012 and it was February 2013 before all 140 Vestas V112s were thumping and grinding through the night – driving dozens of young families nuts with incessant low-frequency noise and vibration. So the first attack on the NHMRC’s latest piece would be currency, if not, relevance.

But the NHMRC’s woes go much further than tardiness and just plain old sloppiness. Oh yes, STT has been hinting at it for some time – but now it’s a matter of public record.

From the get go – the NHMRC has been co-opted by wind industry hacks and parasites (see our post here).

People like Norm Broner – of SKM fame – who has pocketed a fat pile of cash working exclusively for his myriad wind industry clients – has been “advising” the NHMRC about his views on turbine noise issues from the beginning. Norm’s pre-construction turbine noise prediction work won “special” renown at Waterloo in SA for being fully 10dB(A) below what’s actually recorded when the fans are spinning. An increase of 10dB(A) from 30dB(A) is the same as a subjective doubling of loudness to the sufferer – no wonder that they’re driven mad at Waterloo – thanks Norm, great work – Waterloo salutes you!

Liz_Hanna

Liz Hanna – loves Danish fans – hates Australian people.

The other wind industry plant on the NHMRC “team” is President of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), Dr Liz Hanna. Liz and her best buddy, Fiona Armstrong made perfectly clear the “sincerity” of their desire to get to the bottom of the turbine noise sleep and health problem by chanting and ranting at the Vestas “Act on Facts” launch last year.  CAHA leaders and members were there with bells on – standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a multinational fan maker ready to lambast anyone with the temerity to question the safety of their products as “climate-change-denying-red-necks”.  At least you know where they stand.

When it comes to having a National (read taxpayer funded research body) investigate the very REAL health problems caused by turbine noise the obvious choice is someone just like Norm Broner – whose very financial existence (and that of SKM, his boss) depends on his clients’ turbines being exonerated of all charges.

And sure – it makes perfect sense to have a group who can barely mask their hate for country people – who clearly love the money poured into their coffers from Danish fan makers – and are quick to ridicule the former for the benefit of the latter – involved in “independent” medical research into what is a world-wide problem that’s been going on for a decade or more.

But last week, Victorian Senator John “Marshall” Madigan unloaded during Senate Estimates and leveled some pointed questions at the NHMRC boffins dragged in to attempt to explain themselves.  The Marshall pulls no punches in this sizzling exchange.  Here’s the video – Hansard follows:

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SENATE ESTIMATES:
COMMUNITY AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
26 February 2014
National Health and Medical Research Council

[14:49] Senator MADIGAN:

My questions are with regard to the NHMRC draft information paper on the evidence on wind farms and human health. My office has received information that the NHMRC was cautioned about the involvement in this project of an acoustician working for Sinclair Knight Merz, Dr Norm Broner. As you are probably aware, SKM is a major consultant utilised extensively by the wind industry. Secondly, I understand that the NHMRC was cautioned against the involvement in this draft paper of Dr Liz Hanna, president of the Climate and Health Alliance. The Climate and Health Alliance has also been an aggressive pro wind campaigner, publicly supporting a pro-wind digital media campaign by Danish wind conglomerate Vestas. My first question is: how have conflicts of interest been identified and managed by the NHMRC?

Prof. McCallum:

We have a defined process and policy for the identification of conflicts and then the

discussion of those between the office of the NHMRC — in this case, my office — and the chair of that group. Any conflicts deemed to be major are excluded. You have to balance, of course, the need for expertise in a group where there are very few experts with the fact that there will be interests that people declare. Those conflicts are then managed according to that protocol. People may stand out from meetings on issues in which they have a conflict.

Senator MADIGAN:

Why are these conflicts even there when the NHMRC is supposed to be independent?

Prof. Anderson:

I am sorry, Senator, but I did not quite catch your question.

Senator MADIGAN:

Why are these conflicts even there when the NHMRC is supposed to be independent?

Prof. Anderson:

Senator, I am sure you will understand, in the wide range of activities we do, that when we engage experts across everything we do — mostly, of course, around peer review — there is always a call between people who have expertise in the area whose brains we need at the table, if I could put it that way, versus people who have a vested interest, a conflict of interest, that moves beyond. As John said, for all our committees, this is really a moment by moment process we undertake so that chairs are briefed. The moment the conflict of interest arises, our policy is those people are outside the room. The other way we deal with it, of course, is to put all the declarations of conflicts in the public domain. So that does allow people to challenge this, where required.

Certainly that was true of the wind farm expert group; they were all in the public domain.

Senator MADIGAN:

Why is the only acoustician on that panel someone who has officially undisclosed strong financial ties with the wind industry and perhaps possibly a vested commercial interest in denying the adverse health effects?

Prof. Anderson:

That allegation has not been brought to our attention before, as far as I am aware.

Prof. McCallum:

The conflicts of the acoustician you mentioned were declared. We have a very, very experienced chair of that committee. He and I determined that the balance of that expertise against the interests that person had were ones that could be managed within the context of that committee.

Senator MADIGAN:

Given that the NHMRC has recommended further research into this area, how is it that the NHMRC is going to make sure that there are no wind industry advocates in the ranks of the researchers and that properly conducted and truly independent research will take place?

Prof. Anderson:

I will clarify on the further research. The further research will be conducted by researchers out there in universities, medical research institutes and hospitals. So provided that we decide to do this, which we probably will after we have had the feedback from the community, we will identify the areas of research that are needed. They are quite well identified already in the information paper. We will then advertise for people to apply for funding to conduct the research. We will do our usual high quality peer review process. By ‘we’, I mean that we will set up peer review panels to do the analysis on which research should be funded. So that research will not be done by officers of the NHMRC. It will be done in the university sector.

Senator MADIGAN:

Mary Morris was the author of the only Australian research that met the criteria for the NHMRC wind farms and human health review, yet in direct contradiction to the research findings, you told the PM program on ABC radio: The effects of noise on people from wind farms would be limited to less than half a kilometre.

Mary Morris’s report makes it clear there have been reported impacts out to 10 kilometres. Did you read her report?

Prof. Anderson:

I relied on the literature review that was done and the information paper. In the information paper there are many reports of noise from wind farms. I am sure you are aware, having read it, that the report says that nearly all the research that has been done has a so-called selection bias — that is, people not deliberately but inadvertently getting feedback from people who already knew what the research was about. Like most epidemiology, this is really quite a complex issue. The report, I think, sets out very clearly and in some detail why all the research is either of poor quality or not so poor quality.

I am aware of Dr Morris’s comments. She has contacted me. I have referred them on to the expert committee to take into account as we update this draft. But it is not the only report of noise around wind farms. I think the summary is very accurate:

There is consistent but poor quality evidence that proximity to wind farms is associated with annoyance and less consistently with sleep disturbance and poorer quality of life.

That is under the noise heading. I fully respect Dr Morris’s research, but there is quite a lot of other research. In the eyes of our experts, this research is of relatively poor quality for technical scientific reasons.

CHAIR:

Could you make the next question your last, please, Senator Madigan.

Senator MADIGAN:

Would the NHMRC consider in its further deliberations — you have made it clear — that

You actually have not decided to do any more? That is what you said. If you are going to have acousticians that obviously have a perceived conflict of interest with some people in the community, are you going to balance that with some other acousticians? I can assure you there are other acousticians out there in the community who are as adequately qualified as Dr Norm Broner. You will at least have a balance on that committee.

Prof. Anderson:

One of the recommendations of the review is that further research be done in the noise and acoustics area. That is not medical research, so we would work with other departments to do that. But if research needs to be done.

Senator MADIGAN:

I am talking about the peer review. You were talking about a review of information. I am suggesting to you that it would be a good thing to have a balance on that committee between an opposing professional and a pro-industry professional.

Prof. Anderson:

Well, I am not accepting, because I do not know whether this person was pro-industry. He was identified as somebody with particular expertise. I take your comment. We are always very keen to make sure we have expertise and conflicts of interest out in public. If there are matters we need to take into account, and you have brought them to my attention, I will take them into account.

Senator MADIGAN:

Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:

Senator Di Natale, you had questions in this area?

Senator DI NATALE:

I do. Can I conclude from the NHMRC study into wind turbines that there is no evidence that a discrete condition known as wind turbine syndrome exists?

Prof. Anderson:

I do not think our report says —

Senator DI NATALE:

Would that be a fair statement?

Prof. Anderson:

No, Senator. I think you are putting words in my mouth. I think the report says what it says. At this stage, there is no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans. That is no reliable or consistent evidence at this time. So I do not think you should push me to conclude beyond what my expert committee has concluded.

Senator DI NATALE:

Let us say I live next door to a telegraph pole. There is no evidence that that is not making me sick. I am asking you to prove a negative. I want to be clear here. You did not find any evidence for a condition known as wind turbine syndrome as part of your study? Is that a correct statement?

Prof. Anderson:

No, it was not in the terms of reference for the expert group to do that. I just want to make sure we are on the same page here. This is an information paper, and draft, for that matter. It is not the NHMRC’s position paper. Our position paper was put out in 2010. We will update our position paper after we have completed the feedback from the community on the information paper, looked at the evidence that has occurred since then, as we have said on our website, and then finalised the information paper. Then we will consider what extra research needs to be done. Since the research so far is poor quality, it is almost certain that there is research that needs to be done. The second thing is we will update our position paper. I think that position paper is more relevant to your point.

Senator DI NATALE:

I am trying to understand why you are commissioning more research into this field given that nothing you have found indicates that this is a cause for concern.

Prof. Anderson:

Well, I do not think, again with respect, you have quite summarised our position. We have said —

Senator DI NATALE:

Let me ask you this question: have you found anything that gives you cause for concern here?

Prof. Anderson:

Yes. The poor quality of the research so far.

Senator DI NATALE:

But there is no research into whether aliens —

CHAIR:

Senator Di Natale, can you ask questions, not debate the issue.

Senator DI NATALE:

This goes to the heart of the question. The fact that there is no research to arrive at a particular position is not in and of itself a reason to conduct research into a particular area that most people in the scientific community would regard as being unlikely, or most people would suggest almost certainly not an area for concern. What I am asking is: give n that you have not found any positive evidence to suggest that there is an area of concern and your only rationale for wanting to conduct more research into this is that there is very little good quality evidence, why are you suggesting that we go down that path?

Prof. Anderson:

The conclusion of the report is there is consistent, though poor quality, evidence that proximity to wind farms is associated with annoyance and less consistent evidence with sleep disturbance and poorer quality of life. I am sure you would understand, Senator, given your training, that annoyance in the long term, as the report says, can turn into poor physical health through stress. We may have to disagree on this. I do not think that you can dismiss easily community concern about this matter. How well placed, how scientifically based, there is clearly some community concern. There was, after all, a Senate committee on wind farms.

The Senate committee found that more research was needed. We responded through the department that we agreed with that. I think you are saying that even though the research is not very strong, no more research is needed. I think what the expert group has said is that in this area — and not with direct effects but indirect effects, where cause and effect is not known; the research was all cross-sectional; the effects were all self-reported and so on — there are questions. We are here to improve community and individual health. This is an issue that was brought to us by the state health departments.

I think it is important that we do not dismiss those concerns, we look at the evidence brought to us by the expert committee and then by the feedback and then make a decision.

CHAIR:

Senator Di Natale, this is the last question, please.

Senator DI NATALE:

I have only asked one question. I thought Senator Madigan had an opportunity to ask a few questions. I would like the same opportunity.

CHAIR:

I am sorry, but if you want to debate the issue, that is different. You have had more than six minutes on this topic already, which is exactly what Senator Madigan had.

Senator DI NATALE:

Are you concerned that, by concluding that more research is required, you may contribute to the fear and anxiety that exists around this issue because you are giving some succour to those people in the community who do hold those fears? Do you also hold concerns that every dollar spent in this area by the NHMRC is one less dollar that can be spent on cancer research or research into chronic disease and infant mortality across a range of conditions? Is that of any concern to you, Professor Anderson?

Prof. Anderson:

We are certainly making our funding go as far as possible on important issues. The fact we call for research does not mean we will spend it, because we will need high-quality research. I remind you that there were similar concerns in this area around mobile phones earlier. It was only when very high-quality, long-term epidemiology research was done that we were able to dismiss those concerns.

Senator DI NATALE:

Some people continue to have those concerns.

CHAIR:

Thank you, Senator Di Natale.

SENATE ESTIMATES
26 February 2014

The greatest fear the wind industry has is the prospect of properly funded, multi-disciplinary research into the known and obvious impacts of constant low-frequency noise and vibration generated by giant fans on neighbours’ sleep and health.

Senator Die Nasty making it painfully clear as to what his well-paid brief from Vestas & Co is: do not, under any circumstances, allow research into wind farm health effects to take place.

Which begs the question, what are they so afraid of?

Well, like it or not – it’s all about to happen.

The NHMRC boys making it plain above that research is needed – and that it will be done by Universities with the capability to carry out field research with people properly qualified, across a range of disciplines. The NHMRC – in that breath – effectively disqualifying itself from taking any further part in the work.

And one thing Die Nasty can stop whingeing about – the cost of the research – won’t be coming out of the NHMRC budget.  His beloved clients will be footing the bill.

STT hears that the Head Boy is about to sign a Bill that will obtain all the funding needed (in the order of $10 million, for a start) by placing a levy on the RECs issued to wind power generators.

The Coalition has committed to the process – and we hear that work being done within the Health Minister’s office – including selecting a crack team of specialists from Unis all over Australia – is well down the track.

While the NHMRC has never been able to find all the relevant literature on turbine noise, sleep and heath – don’t rule out the possibility of them finding extraterrestrial life down here on Earth: here’s an unusual little something we picked up a while back.

richard-di-natale

Yes, they walk among us.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Jackie Rovenksy says:

    No holds barred exposure is the only way to show the complete infiltration of this industry into every aspect of authority in this nation. The sooner people realise those trying to hide behind research bodies are only doing it to support an industry which destroys live and livelihoods, costs the tax payer and energy consumer huge amounts of money, and the loss of hundreds of jobs, the sooner we’ll be rid of them.
    Keep up the good work STT and those Politicians with the sense and vision to see the truth through the thick smog of deceit.

  2. At the end of the tunnel says:

    Thank you once again STT for shining the bright light of truth on the dark underbelly of this rort of an industry, masquerading as our carbon savior. They must have been rubbing their hands with glee when their friends Hanna and Broner were admitted into the club. But thank goodness for Sen Madigans spot on questioning, and the rather revealing responses, including:

    “Prof. Anderson:

    That allegation has not been brought to our attention before, as far as I am aware.

    Prof. McCallum:

    The conflicts of the acoustician you mentioned were declared. We have a very, very experienced chair of that committee. He and I determined that the balance of that expertise against the interests that person had were ones that could be managed within the context of that committee.”

    Wow!! Anderson and McCallum dont seem to talk to each other about conflicts on a high profile committee! Truly??? The conflict of interest for the acoustician with financial links to the wind industry cannot be clearer (reminiscent of the previous conflict with the last obscenely rapid review and their ‘secret’ industry acoustician reviewer Leventhall). To suggest, with a poker face, that such a glaring conflict is ok as it was ‘declared’ and can be ‘managed’ reeks of corruption and bias. Or is it simply professional incompetence? As my dear old dad used to say, ‘sly foxes smell their own holes’. These NHMRC characters put the foxes to shame in order to protect their arses.

    Bring on a Royal Commission and end this abuse of power, privilege and science by the NHMRC and its cronies. And the tiresome whining of De Nuttelex.

    • NHMRC have remarkably consistent form on conflicts of interest with the previous windfarm health review and now this one.

      The conflicted secret reviewers of the previous NHMRC literature review of windfarms and health were Leventhall and Chapman.

      Broner was a PHD student of Leventhall and Hanna a former student of Chapman and is a colleague in the Climate and Health Alliance.

      They all have either worked for the wind industry or have been strong advocates for the wind industry. The serious conflicts of interest could not be any plainer or have a stronger lineage.

      The sooner a Royal Commission into the corruption of the wind industry extending into all arms of government, and into the senior reaches of academia and public health the better for all.

  3. Sutton Waugh says:

    You beauty!!! We love the Marshall and STT all the way from Aotearoa.

  4. Well done Marshall Senator Madigan. You have shown that it is not only simple Simon that has a big air space in that head of his. The two NHMRC blokes that Senator Madigan was asking questions about the noise and health of the useless fans are air heads too. As for Di Nasty, you would expect more from children at a Kindergarden. He has not got a clue what he is on about. Aliens?

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