There are at least three former and current medical professionals who are leveraging no-longer-active or irrelevant medical credentials to lend weight to campaigns against wind energy, and are performing research without oversight. Medical ethics watchdogs are beginning to take note.
Perhaps the most prominent is Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician who sought to recruit anti-wind activists for a study via anti-wind groups who blamed wind farms for their health conditions. Pierpont interviewed 23 people by phone, accepted hearsay evidence on a further 15 people, and performed no direct examinations or medical histories. Yet, she self published a 294-page book. As a result, she coined a “new medical condition” called Wind Turbine Syndrome. Along with her husband, she presides over a website of the same name where dissenting opinions are not welcome, and comparisons of wind energy supporters to Hitler and Nazis are regular features.
In Canada, Carmen Krogh, retired pharmacist and member of the Advisory Group of the anti-wind energy campaigning organization, the Society for Wind Vigilance, regularly speaks to media and groups, and regularly submits to wind farm siting cases. She has been fighting a wind farm in their retirement community along with her husband. She also has published error-filled attacks against wind energy and turbines. Recently, Krogh presented a paper at the 5th Annual Wind Turbine Noise 2013 Conference, where she was corrected by an audience member for misrepresenting and misquoting others.
In Australia, Sarah Laurie is a former general practitioner who is now unregistered and the CEO of the Waubra Foundation, an anti-wind lobbyist group with strong fossil fuel ties. Ms. Laurie’s ethics infractions have become the formal subject of complaints and ethics investigations.
A primary principle of medical ethics is “First, do no harm.” An outcome of that principle is that medical professionals must take care when doing any research or asserting any health implications that they do not cause worse problems than they are researching. As such, any medical research, especially that involving direct contact with a study group, involves a medical ethics assessment by a group set up for that purpose.
Since 2009, a hypothesis for increasing health complaints near a subset of wind farms in English-speaking countries has been that they are caused by the nocebo effect, but “wind turbine syndrome” is in fact a psychogenic or communicated disease.
The nocebo effect, first named by WP Kennedy in 1961, is the negative side of the placebo effect. Instead of suggestions leading to positive health outcomes, suggestions lead to negative health outcomes. The nocebo effect causes health issues in psychogenic health hysterias such as “fan death,” where people believe that a fan in a closed room chops oxygen molecules in two, causing them to be unable to breathe. The nocebo effect causes some side effects of medicine, creating a challenge for the ethical disclosure of potential side effects of medication. As a result, the nocebo effect is a confounding factor in clinical trials of medication and treatment techniques. Direct studies into the nocebo effect have been banned due to medical ethics concerns since roughly the 1970s.
Researchers are now assessing the nocebo and psychogenic hypotheses, finding strong evidence that they are the cause of the majority of complaints and are responsible for significant increases in numbers and severity of complaints. Professor Simon Chapman and a team of researchers at the Public Health Faculty of the University of Sydney of Australia found strong supporting evidence that the psychogenic hypothesis was the dominant factor in wind farm health complaints in a recently published study undergoing formal peer review and publication.
Ms. Fiona Crichton and along with researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand found strong supporting evidence for the nocebo effect being the cause of significantly increased numbers and severity of symptoms attributed to infrasound (noise below the frequency which humans can hear, typically zero to twenty Hertz).
Studies such as Crichton’s that assess the nocebo effect are required to ensure that larger goals of the study are expected to have positive health outcomes, and that negative impacts of the nocebo effect are monitored during the study and the study terminated if they become too severe. Further, study participants are informed after the study was over that the goal was to assess the nocebo effect and that symptoms that they experienced were not due to infrasound, following standard practice.
Most of the research done by anti-wind campaigners has been conducted outside of the ethical framework to which registered practitioners are expected to submit. Dr. Amanda Harry’s surveys of health complaints in the United Kingdom contained leading questions and framing that were likely to increase negative impacts. Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, also of the Society for Wind Vigilance, performed similarly challenged surveys in Maine. He then collected more data from the same people in whom he had likely introduced bias and symptoms, and wrote a report on the results, one of many challenges with his report (see two critical reports in the same journal).
However, these biased researchers have operated without ethical oversight from medical oversight organizations. That is starting to change.
On April 23, 2013, Amber Jamieson at Crikey reported that the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia was investigating Sarah Laurie for medical ethics violations. If found guilty, Laurie could face a fine of up to $30,000 AUD. Laurie could also be the subject of lawsuits charing that additional harm. Both Sarah Laurie and Carmen Krogh have ignored direct requests to stop spreading unfounded health fears which are likely to be causing health issues.
The Waubra Foundation responded with a media release on May 9, 2013. The organization states that there is a effort to denigrate and distract from the Waubra Foundation’s campaign against wind energy and declares that an Independent Commission Against Corruption or Royal Commission should be struck to determine who is commencing the attack. They do not provide any explanation as to why Laurie’s public record statements regarding research she is undertaking without oversight and people she is providing health guidance to while unregistered were misinterpreted, they merely deny the charges and claim they are malicious.
They state that these accusations will damage Ms. Laurie’s reputation. However, Laurie is already listed on Australia’s Quack Watch site and was a nominee for the Australian Skeptic’s association’s Bent Spoon Award for 2013, and has been referenced in the samesentences as Australia’s dangerously deluded anti-vaccination campaigners.
The outcome to date of the ethics complaint is that Ms. Laurie must stop referring to herself as doctor based on an agreement with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Despite this, she continues to refer to herself as Dr. Sarah Laurie in court proceedings she engages in. And a key director of the Waubra Foundation, Michael Wooldridge, is facing an Australian ban of up to ten years on being a Director of a company based on his part in the collapse of Prime Trust and an illegal $33 million AUD offer to a businessman.
Another ethics-challenged anti-wind medical professional is Dr. Bill Studzienny, a rural dentist in the Manitoulin Island region of Ontario. Studzienny is actively refusing to serve long-time patients who support a local wind farm. Because the local First Nations tribe is building the wind farm on their land, Studzienny is almost entirely stopping service to native Canadians. The Human Rights Tribunal and the Royal College of Dental Surgeons have received complaints and are investigating Studzienny’s actions. The Royal College of Dental Surgeons recently charged Studzienny with four allegations of disgraceful, dishonourable or unethical conduct.