Dr Alan Watts OAM Slams the NHMRC’s Wind Farm Whitewash

Dr Alan Watts nails our letter of week.

Dr Alan Watts is a medico from Country NSW who took his Hippocratic Oath a long time ago, understood what it meant and lives by its strictures. Having treated numerous people suffering the adverse impacts of incessant turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound, Alan is eminently qualified to speak on the topic and clearly entitled to attack the NHMRC for its disgraceful efforts to investigate those impacts on Australia’s numerous and growing number of unnecessary victims.

In what simply has to be our letter of the week, Alan lets drive with this withering attack on the latest pile of dross dished up by – what should be – Australia’s leading medical research body.

Dr. Alan C Watts OAM
H.D.A. B.Sc. M.B.Ch.B. L.R.C.P. M.R.C.S
12th April, 2014


1. Professor Bruce Armstrong, Chairman, Wind Farms and Human Health project team
Environmental Health and CAMs | Research Translation Group National Health & Medical Research Council
2. Professor Warwick Anderson AM, Chief Executive Officer, National Health & Medical Research Council
3. Professor John McCallum, Senior Scientist Public Health, Health Evidence & Advice Branch, National Health & Medical Research Council
4. Hon. Justice Annabelle Bennett AO, Chairman of Council, National Health & Medical Research Council

Dear Sir/Madam,

This report is grossly deficient and is thus surprising given the universal condemnation of the first NHMRC review in 2010. It would appear your organisation has learnt nothing in the intervening period. This includes the rapidly evolving research which is demonstrating adverse health effects (AHE), in addition to the environmental, political, intermittent efficiency and economic aspects of industrial wind turbines (IWT).

This review clearly ignores both the developing weight of evidence and the intellectual expertise of the national and international research community. Expertise and experience that includes a knowledge of IWTs, infrasound and human health impacts that, I would suggest, greatly exceeds that of the review panel.

Further it again represents another shameful opportunity for the international research community to criticise Australia’s lack of rigour, truth, diligence and decency in this debate. When will the NHMRC exhibit any real concern for its international and national reputation?

I have read in detail both the anonymously written NHMRC Draft Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health and the background paper developed by the University of Adelaide team, “Systematic review of the human health effects of wind farms”.

Your review has looked, however cursorily, at an astounding total of 3354 documents consisting of:

1778 Peer-reviewed articles in the “black” literature, you excluded all but 7.

1070 Non-peer-reviewed article in the “grey” literature, you excluded all.

506 Public submissions to the NHRMC, you excluded all but 4.

The reviewers report a very rigid and fine-grid examination of this literature and in so doing excluded all but 11, and indeed only looked at 7 studies they considered met their futile and restrictive criteria.

2697 submissions from 3354 were excluded on title or abstract alone. This does not represent a rigorous analysis of the available literature. Each and every step of discovery, review and rejection with the assembled criteria used represented an opportunity for error or bias.

If as much time had been spent reading and analysing literature as has been spent establishing, justifying and complicating the rejection process then this document may have had more validity.

This represents a failure of your research criteria not a failure of the value of available literature. The elimination of 99.7% of viewed material is staggering and can hardly be described as representative.

While I applaud scientific rigour, repeatability and the application of statistical analysis to research I am of the opinion that this review has entirely missed its whole purpose.

The purpose of this review is quite clearly stated:

“NHMRC is responsible for ensuring that Australians receive the best available, evidence-based and reliable advice on matters relating to improving health, and to preventing, diagnosing and treating disease. Some members of the community have reported that living near a wind farm has affected their health. Therefore NHMRC is investigating whether there is reliable evidence that exposure to specific emissions from wind farms — noise, shadow flicker and electromagnetic radiation — could cause health effects in humans.

The reviewers, in attempting to define “reliable evidence” have excluded 3343, or 99.7%, potential sources of information, many of which go a long way to describing and reporting adverse health effects and/or looking at potential or hypothetical physiological pathways which present mechanisms by which adverse health effects may manifest.

Even taking into account the fact that some of the 99.7% of the literature reviewed may have been duplication, may not have dealt directly with adverse health effects or may have for whatever reason been “off topic” it is beyond belief that the bulk would not have contributed to the current knowledge on wind turbines and health effects in a meaningful and contributory way. This slash and burn approach to the assembled literature while the NHMRC claims it is “Australia’s leading expert body promoting the development and maintenance of public and individual health standards” is farcical.

Does this mean that the NHMRC only examines adverse health effects from sources that meet their rigid criteria and will only make a public policy statement if it fulfils this arbitrary standard? I would suggest that Medicine is part art and part science and that there is an essential role for opinion, experience, observation and anecdotal evidence as well. After all, it does form the basis of the study of epidemiology, population and environmental medicine.

It is this type of information which your review is lacking or ignoring. The history of research after all often starts from a point of anecdotal evidence. From this hypotheses may evolve and then research will be undertaken to prove or disprove a null hypothesis. But beyond that the art of medicine will often ignore this, or at least look to finding a cure before waiting for the inevitable slow results of research to present. Therefore a need exists for case studies, retrospective studies and a more profound examination of the mechanistic evidence for the possible and probable pathophysiology influencing individual responses to ILFN.

I am thus surprised that several researchers’ work was excluded from your review. I particularly note the exclusion of Professor Alec Salt and his team at the University of Washington who have looked in considerable detail at possible physiological pathways and the role of inner and outer hair cells of the ear. You state that “A mechanism by which ILFN could harm human health could not be determined.” Professor Salt is very clear on possible associations between “ILFN and intermediate physiologic effect”. Even accepting that there is much research yet to be done to validate these pathways and health outcomes in the affected human population, work done to date cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to this review. There are many other notable examples of exclusions such as Dr. Nina Pierpont who first described Wind Turbine Syndrome in her book titled by the same name, as well as research by NASA as far back as 1985.

I note your statement “One of the largest identified problems with the literature is the sample selection bias in the studies.” I accept that in a new field of research such as the adverse health effects of wind turbines it may be difficult to obtain the perfectly designed prospective cohort research study from available literature.

However, it is beyond cavalier, it is actually outrageous that so much information concerning adverse health effects and industrial wind turbines has been excluded from your review. A more complete review needs to include much of the additional information and research available to you even with the caveat that it needs to be improved, validated or expanded. By examining a mere 7 studies in your review the conclusions are inevitable and even pre-ordained.

Additionally, since the close of submissions for your review, there has been considerably more research and information published. I am sure many additional publications will have been brought to your attention. Much work is being done that demonstrates an association between the ILFN and adverse health effects. NO research (poor or otherwise) has been able to demonstrate there are NO adverse health effects. However much you are able to exclude this ongoing body of work as being outside your statistical grid there is a much more information that needs to be carefully examined before you can make recommendations that dismiss or belittle those who, by any measure, are being adversely affected.

I have been medically involved with people suffering from the effects of wind turbines for a number of years. These people occupy a broad spectrum of society suffering a significant reduction in their quality of life and who are trapped in a situation beyond their control with little prospect of improvement. These people cannot be dismissed as simply suffering from “annoyance” and “anxiety”, and why should rural populations be annoyed or rendered anxious anyway? Where is their right to the rest, repose and quiet enjoyment of their property as prescribed in Australian law?

The much parroted and infantile “nocebo effect” is consistently proven wrong and inappropriate. The extensively researched medical and physiological effects of sleep deprivation are an appropriate arm of medicine and health care to be included in the terms of reference for this review. The WHO definition of health which includes all aspects of wellbeing is most appropriate and oft forgotten in this debate and should form the basis for the fundamentals of this review.

You have made several very sweeping statements which at this stage of investigative research are inappropriate and include:

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. Finding an association between wind farms and these health-related effects does not mean that wind farms cause these effects. These associations could be due to selection or information bias or to confounding factors” (my emphasis).

Or perhaps they could not.

Have you considered that your deliberate exclusion of suitable literature may also be a confounding factor?

In short I find the review and your draft consultation paper to be:

1. Too restrictive,

2. Too narrow in its terms of reference and therefore,

3. Too dismissive of much valuable information.

4. Improperly classifies and misinterprets much research and thereby unfairly excludes valuable data.

5. The review therefore censors rather than reflects current literature and

6. Your review does not ensure “that Australians receive the best available, evidence-based and reliable advice on matters relating to improving health, and to preventing, diagnosing and treating disease.”

7. In addition it does not sufficiently support further debate and research despite the desperate and long overdue need and is therefore in defiance of recommendations by the Federal Senate Enquiry of June, 2011.

8. Failure to disclose commercial dealings and other conflicts of interest within the review panel. This obviously tarnishes this document and is an infantile oversight.

9. The glaring absence (in this information paper) of any precautionary principle from a national body entrusted with a nations health is beyond alarming.

I believe much of this review needs to be revisited, relevant submissions incorporated and the opportunity taken to update the information presented. But the NHMRC has had two attempts at this review and has clearly show its inability to bring to this subject the balance necessary to move this topic forward in the interest of Australian and international rural families. The literature reviewed by the NHMRC agents is appallingly unrepresentative of that available and as such is a poor reflection of current scientific thinking.

Therefore the NHMRC must now exclude itself from any further participation on the topic and graciously accept their limitations.

Yours faithfully,
Dr. Alan C. Watts OAM

Dr Alan Watts OAM: and STT Champion.

6 thoughts on “Dr Alan Watts OAM Slams the NHMRC’s Wind Farm Whitewash

  1. If the Australian government is truly Australian, for the people of Australia, many things would be done right including rigorously asking for full verifiable technical details from wind developers about the supposed ability of IWT to reduce the consumption of coal/gas in the almost constantly running backup power stations. Not one leader in the entire Australian Government has the courage to do even this? Why? Is it that there is some secret government behind these facade puppet leaders we voted for?

    Imagine that we have elected Government leaders who dare not even ask wind developers forthrightly. Might as well as consider these wind developers as running the country because they dictate to the Australian government on such treasonous energy policy like RET. We export our coals to China for China to use to generate super cheap electricity? TREASON! Wake-up Australians!

    And why is there a virtually imposed media blackout on the truth about the totally defunct anthropogenic global warming LIE? Who controls the mass media to censor and brainwash everyone stupid enough into accepting CO2 as being a dangerous climate warming gas?

    Indeed, who controls the world via banking, media and corporate? Government? What Government do we have — it is not truly responsive to the needs of Australians but is there to oppress us into obedient slaves.

  2. Here, here Dr Watts – well stated and a well structured review of the NHMRC’s poor processes and lack of will in wanting to ensure the health of the people of this nation.
    All we need now is for them to let us know why they do not have the will to do their duty.

  3. Thank you Dr Watts for taking a long overdue stance on the ignorance and incompetence of both this the NHMRC and also, by inference, any other similar organisations around the world which ignores what is blatantly obvious by now – that there can be serious health problems for those living too close to wind turbines
    I am from the UK and know of nothing in UK law which enshrines our right to ‘rest, repose and quiet enjoyment of our properties’ – nor for that matter of many in our government who bother to avail themselves of the research findings and observations of so many scientists/health workers around the world who are seeing and saying the same things about the health problems so many are suffering.
    You are quite right to ask ‘why should rural populations be annoyed or rendered anxious anyway?’ – we, like everyone else, need adequate sleep and relaxation in order to be both physically and mentally healthy so we can do our work efficiently …. I fail to understand why birds, bats, lime woods, historical sites and beautiful views are (quite rightly of course) important but the health and well-being of human beings closest to wind turbines is not even part of the planning process – at least not here in the UK. Illogical and entirely wrong on many counts!

  4. I’m sorry, but do we really need to do further research to determine there is a problem? And is siting the turbines “properly” really going to solve that problem? Can we not just simply STOP THESE THINGS?? Especially when it’s clear that wind is doing nothing towards its claims of cleaner air, reduced GHG emissions, providing “green” jobs, reducing the use of fossil fuels, providing clean and cost effective generation. Battling the issue on health effects just seems to drag it out, allowing more turbines to go up making it even more difficult to STOP THESE THINGS!!!

    1. Absolutely, YES. There are scores of unnecessary victims in Australia – thousands around the Globe – who simply will not benefit from Stopping These Things now – if that is understood to mean that cutting subsidies and other government mandated support (such as Australia’s mandatory Renewable Energy Target) will bring investment in any further wind power capacity to an end. The spectre of the Coalition’s RET Review has effectively brought a halt to a raft of threatened projects – only a handful of turbines are being erected in Australia at the moment and all involve developers with Power Purchase Agreements signed long ago. In short, if policy makers stop the ludicrous levels of taxpayer/power consumer support the industry will die a natural death.

      That, however, is little consolation to the many hard-working rural families who suffer the adverse affects of incessant turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound, loss of property value, etc, etc.

      STT, among many others, has been calling for properly funded multi-disciplenary independent research by relevantly qualified people since we started: our Senate made firm recommendations to that same effect back in June 2011. But wind industry interference and a lack of political will by the previous Green-Labor Alliance saw nothing happen.

      Policy makers react to public health issues when they are presented with incontrovertible scientific proof. Witness the regulatory responses to tobacco and asbestos. However, it took decades of work by dedicated individuals (scientists, medicos, researchers) – and, just like this case, against well-funded, well-connected commercial interests – before governments were embarrassed to take notice and act.

      Your point about emphasising the economic fraud (all cost to power consumers and no benefit in terms of CO2 emissions reduction) is not lost on us – STT has been hammering that issue all the way along. The industry’s utterly flawed economic and environmental case is what will ultimately bring the wind power fraud to an end.

      But none of that deals with the aftermath. Gathering field data, analysing it and drawing scientific conclusions takes time and money. But that can hardly been seen as a distraction. Getting policy makers to properly regulate and control the operation of existing wind farms will come with the results of that research. Obvious responses include mandating real time noise monitoring that would (unlike all existing noise guidelines) focus on the low-frequency noise and infrasound causing the adverse impacts well-known to all. The operator would be forced to shut down turbines until acceptable levels were satisfied. Those levels (like any rule) would need to defined and pre-determined. The determination of what amounts to an acceptable level needs to objective and, therefore, evidence based. Accordingly, detailed acoustic and health data has to be gathered and the research based on it simply has to be done. It hasn’t and there is no reasonable excuse for it not having been done.

      And far from simply dragging out the issue, the threat of proper research into the noise impacts on sleep and health has the industry petrified: witness its efforts to stymie it and the infantile calls from its paid cheerleaders who claim research is unnecessary. And for good reason – a definitive scientific study will not only shame policy makers into action it will arm victims with the ability to confidently mount private litigation. The industry is terrified of litigation and/or proper government oversight and regulation – both of which further threaten the shaky economics of wind power. These matters were covered by STT in this post: https://stopthesethings.com/2014/04/07/max-rheese-the-time-for-health-research-on-fan-impacts-is-now/

      STT will continue to focus on the direct costs of wind power and the insane subsidies that drive it. But we have not forgotten about the large and growing number of wind farm victims who have been simply forsaken by those paid to protect and serve them. The research must be done and it must be done NOW.

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