Sunday, 24 May 2015

No, Graham Lloyd - German doctors haven't banned wind turbines

In a news article published today, Senator David Leyonhjelm, one Australia's most vociferous libertarians, declares he's keen to create an entirely new government agency dedicated to curbing the impacts of 'wind turbine syndrome':

"Indeed, many health experts and environmentalists have long dismissed turbine-related health concerns as a myth. 
But Senator Leyonhjelm has seized on reports that the German Medical Assembly wants a halt on further wind farm developments near housing pending more research into the possible health impacts"

Unsurprisingly, the German Medical assembly hasn't actually signified they 'want a halt' on further wind turbine development. The story was published last week in an article in The Australian, by its in-house 'wind turbine syndrome' expert, Graham Lloyd:

"The Medical Assembly motion said this required “scientifically sound findings of potential health effects, and a deliberate balance between benefit and validity to be able to make conscious weightings between the benefits and of the disadvantages and risks”"

Since Lloyd's publication, the story followed the trajectory of every single myth of its kind: endless repetition, for the purposes of being decontextualised and repeated to convince communities they ought to feel fear and anxiety around wind turbines.



It's nearly seven years since this disease was first created by a couple living near a proposed wind farm in Malone, New York. Since then, there's been no scientific evidence to suggest that the theory was correct. It's been in 'we're on the cusp of finding the smoking gun' mode for seven years, and it probably will be for another seven. This is why the slightest suggestion that researchers are curious to know more is touted as absolute proof that those living near wind turbines ought to be be scared and anxious.

The German Medical Assembly is the annual meeting of the German Medical Association. It's an authoritative group, but Lloyd interestingly neglects to mention who raised the research throughout his piece - an interesting omission.

You can read the full set of notes from the meeting here, but the interesting part is page 356,  "Intensivierung der Forschung zu möglichen gesundheitlichen Auswirkungen bei  Betrieb und Ausbau von Windenergieanlagen", or roughly translated, "Stepping up research into possible health effects at operation and expansion of wind turbines". The language in the proposal seems curiously strong - presuming that wind turbines are harmful and demanding that science proves a negative.

What's played down by Lloyd and seemingly ignored by Leyonhjelm is the fact that this isn't a 'decision' at all - it was debated, and simply transferred to the executive board for a decision. Nor was this initiated by 'doctors' - the motion was moved by Dr. Bernd Lücke. Lloyd refers to the whole 'medical assembly' calling for a ban, despite the fact it was raised by a single individual, and simply referred to the executive board, rather than accepted.

The head of Germany's equivalent of UKIP, 'Alternative for Germany' or AfD, is an economist named Dr Bernd Lucke, who's deeply opposed to Germany's transition away from nuclear power, towards renewable energy. The Lucke of the AfD, says that:

Lucke: These [citizen's] initiatives [against wind farms] are there so that wind generators are not set up in natural parks or forests, and so that the distance between the wind generators and and residential areas are at least 10 times the maximum blade height. Those are sensible targets that merit support. 
NAEB: So you want to scale back the construction of wind power, solar power and biofuel power. This will lead to job losses. Can we afford that? 
Lucke: We have to look at the entire picture. By making the price of electricity more expensive, we are threatening to cause lots of job losses in the manufacturing sector. Because of the high costs of electricity, many companies are no longer working economically. 

Is it the same Lucke? Maybe not. There's at least one medical practitioner in Germany with the same name. But the motion reads too much like someone who opposes wind farms in general - particularly, the mention of the payback of embedded energy in turbines, a favourite of anti-wind groups. More pertinently, the AfD have spoken at length about the 'health risks' of wind turbines:



In the video above, an AfD representative calls for a halt on wind turbine development until health effects can be ruled out (when it comes to actual science, it's impossible to prove a negative, which is presumably why wind farm opponents love demanding it). My translation is a little rough, but it seems to be pretty much the same demand presented to the Germany Medical Assembly.

The question remains: was it the Bernd Lucke of the AfD that raised the motion reported on by Lloyd and snaffled up by Leyonhjelm? It's a possibility, assuming the Medical Assembly allows motions to be raised by people who aren't medical professionals. But it could be a coincidence.

Regardless, the motion wasn't accepted - it was simply passed up to the executive of the German Medical Association. Lloyd's article is still misleading, and Leyonhjelm is wrong.

But it's going to take more digging to establish which 'Bernd Lucke' was responsible for Lloyd's misleading story. I've emailed the international contact of the GMA - let's see what they say.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Oz's latest anti-wind report: funded by opponents; disproves anti-wind arguments

Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen - it's that time again. Graham Lloyd, environment editor at The Australian, has written a thing about how wind farms are the worst.

The thrust of Lloyd's article in the Weekend Australian is rehashed from a submission made to the senate wind farm 'inquisition' (Lloyd's chosen terminology) (no, seriously):

"Carbon dioxide emissions savings from wind turbines were 20 per cent less than claimed, leading to the overpayment of renewable energy certificates worth about $70 million last year, according to an inter­national analysis of Australia’s national electricity market. 
The study found wind farm inefficiencies were likely to grow as more turbines were added to the grid under the renewable ­energy target."

Oh, lord. A study. An international analysis. This sounds very sciency. Lloyd surprisingly declares the research was paid for by a group named the "Association for Research of Renewable Energy in Australia"

"ARREA is a not-for-profit ­organisation founded in 2013 by a group of senior businessmen including former liquidator, Tony Hodgson. ARREA spokesman Rodd Pahl said the group believed “the behaviour of wind farm companies and the level of subsidies they are given is the ­result of bad policy settings and sloppy administration”."

Pahl and Hodgson are, as you might expect, both opponents of a wind farm near their properties and are spokespeople for an anti-wind farm group 'Friends of Collector'. Also unsurprisingly, Lloyd doesn't consider their hatred of wind farms to be a relevant point.

"Opponents of the latest proposal at Cullerin, Friends of Collector, say wind farm developments are surrounded in secrecy. Spokesman Rodd Pahl said an inquiry into the failure to protect the health of NSW citizens was inevitable. 
Friends of Collector founder Tony Hodgson said wind farm proponents should not lodge environmental assessments until draft guidelines were put out, and sound acoustic testing was completed."

This wasn't exactly a mystery to Graham Lloyd, who literally wrote an entire article about Hodgson and Pahl's opposition to wind farms in 2011, but somehow neglected to mention this when talking about the 'Association for Research of Renewable Energy in Australia' in his article on Saturday.


More interestingly, you can buy an ASIC report on 'ARREA' (I paid $20 for it - I'll skip lunch for two days, don't worry). Pahl's PR firm 'Blugrass consulting' is quite prominent:


Pahl was 'Managing Director - Public Affairs Practice (Australia) for Burson-Marsteller 1992-2001'.  Buson Marstellar used to work on tobacco, 'crisis management' for Union Carbide's horrifying Bhopal disaster, a botched anti-google campaign on behalf of Facebook, and now do PR for Peabody Energy, trying to convince the world that coal is good for the developing world through a sleazy astroturf campaign replete with hundreds of thousands of fake Twitter accounts.

The ASIC report also reveals Mike Inster as another of the group Lloyd describes as 'senior businessman' behind the organisation. He's the head of an anti-wind farm group, the 'Booroowa District Landscape Guardians'. Again, not mentioned in Lloyd's article.

To the uninformed, the organisation sounds like it might be an independent research body. The logo on the website doesn't indicate that it's an anti-wind farm group, and Lloyd's refusal to fill in the history of Pahl and Hodgson's in his article, or mention Inkster's involvement, won't do anything to inform his readers.

That Lloyd considers it necessary to leave these things out is a pretty stark indicator: if you're trying to convince people that wind farms are terrible, you shouldn't declare it when your sources have vested interests.

The report contradicts the entire anti-windfarm lobby


The full report is on the website of Jospeh Wheatley, a physics graduate and businessman. The thrust of the argument is that wind power, when dispatched on to the National Electricity Market, doesn't always displace the dirtiest, highest-emissions generator.

This is true - the removal of the carbon price means coal is cheaper, so sometimes, wind power displaces gas. Nowhere in the RET legislation does it say 'wind power can only displace coal'.

Basically, this isn't a surprise to anyone who understands the basics of the electricity market; nor is it an 'inefficiency' - the government considers legislating against emissions a bad thing, so it's unsurprising that coal gets given priority to pollute, even when the wind is blowing.

Wheatley's report correctly points out that emissions reduction isn't a component in how generators are dispatched. We tried sneaking that in to a price signal for carbon-intensive polluters but...yeah. Nope. We axed the carbon price and emissions jumped up.

The weird part here is that this seems to be an admission that wind power does in fact reduce emissions. A chart in Wheatley's report demonstrates this awkward fact:


This is a pretty major problem for Australia's anti-windfarm groups. They've held the belief that wind farms are 100% ineffective for quite some time; having to admit that, to some degree, they crowd out carbon-intensive fuels, is horrifying to them.


In fact, wind farms opponents contend that emissions are increased in a system with lots of wind power:


So; which is it? Do wind farms increase emissions, make no difference to emissions, or decrease emissions in a way that we'd expect if carbon-intensive fuels didn't have pollution priced in to their usage?

They want to have all three arguments at once, but it's more embarrassing than they realise. They're stuck in an enclosed loop. It's not surprising they're weirdly content with this monumental state of constant contradiction.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Eco-Modernism's Omission

In some ways, spending most of my existence advocating for the construction of a relatively small number of wind turbines and solar farms (on a global scale, anyway) is nice. I don't think we ought to take an axe to existing power stations (not yet, anyway), nor do I spend my days proclaiming that current wind and solar technology can power the entire universe (not without other things, anyway).

Still, we need to think about what happens once we've won (we will) the battle to see a percentage of Australian energy demand met by readily deployable zero-carbon machines. The 'Eco-Modernist' manifesto (not the kitchen people) outlines a philosophical super-structure they hope might support this next step:

"We affirm one long-standing environmental ideal, that humanity must shrink its impacts on the environment to make more room for nature, while we reject another, that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse"

Things are getting a little intense


The authors nominate nuclear power as the ideal technology for a zero-carbon future. Their justification follows: 

"Transitioning to a world powered by zero-carbon energy sources will require energy technologies that are power dense and capable of scaling to many tens of terawatts to power a growing human economy. 
Most forms of renewable energy are, unfortunately, incapable of doing so. The scale of land use and other environmental impacts necessary to power the world on biofuels or many other renewables are such that we doubt they provide a sound pathway to a zero-carbon low-footprint future"

This is familiar, to me. The land usage of wind energy seems to be a favourite of nuclear power advocates - the idea that wind and solar energy shouldn't exist, should exist less or should be limited in their existence, because they chew up more units of land, per MWh of energy output.

The graphic below, made by the UK DECC, comes up a lot. Like, a lot


It's weird: the calculations assume that each wind turbine has a diameter of ~624 metres (as I calculated here).

The Eco-Modernist Manifesto doesn't cite any figures, but the general principle of energy intensity seems to be something that will drive people to accept weird and wild assumptions - such as the assumption that any spot of ground within a polygonal distribution around a wind farm is utterly unusable (it's farmland. You can use it for farmy things).

A wind farm in the Netherlands failing to obey the infographic's weird maths

A Microsoft Paint illustration of what's going on. Here's what they say can't be used, due to the presence of a wind farm:



And here's what's actually unsuable, due to the presence of a wind farm:


The focus on 'energy density' in the manifesto reminds me immediately of this whole boundary-vs-pad-diameter issue. The idea has merit, but clinging to it too feverishly has its downfalls. Wind farms don't get treated fairly, for instance. Query the miscalculation, and it's defended. There's some motivator behind this, and I suspect it's driven by an intense focus on intensity.

Where yo wind farms at? 



The document doesn't mention wind power. It doesn't mention a raft of other technologies, but..it does mention solar power, following on from the previous quote above:

"High-efficiency solar cells produced from earth-abundant materials are an exception and have the potential to provide many tens of terawatts on a few percent of the Earth’s surface. Present-day solar technologies will require substantial innovation to meet this standard and the development of cheap energy storage technologies that are capable of dealing with highly variable energy generation at large scales."

That renewable technologies are dismissed as 'incapable', with the pointed exception of solar, strongly suggests wind power was left out with conscious intent. The authors insist this isn't the case, and one of the authors of the document, Mike Shellenberger, took the time to expand on this:








I get his point. But if I were sitting atop a keyboard with a draft of this document plastered on my screen, I'd dedicate some serious words to outlining the importance of existing and readily-deployable energy technologies, and explain why the technology I advocate for serves as a benefit to these other things.

Without that, it just looks like a list of reasons why we should build more nuclear power stations, rather than a list of reasons why we should decarbonise our energy mix.

The authors are faced with a tricky conundrum, here. In discussing renewables, they have to choose between triggering the adrenal glands of those who really like renewable energy (like me), or triggering the adrenal glands of those who truly hate renewable energy (like this weird dude).

They've seemingly opted for neither here, not digging in to the benefits and shortfalls of current technology, but focusing solely on their stated necessity of nuclear technology.

I'm fond of technological solutions to big, horrible, weird, terrible problems. Wind and solar are well-loved by the public (mostly sort of), as long as they're built with community engagement and ownership at the forefront of developer's minds. They rely on fuels that vary in availability over time, but this means only that we can't replace the entire grid with them - it doesn't mean we can replace some energy output with them. Better yet, we can do this right now. You can't replace the world's energy technology with nuclear, either. It feels weird that this manifesto - a call for technological prowess being deployed through an unforgiving dedication to natural protection, basically excludes these technologies from mention, let alone both mentioning them and advocating for their urgent deployment.

Some nice people at the Energy Collective outline this quite well:

"Indeed, for a group of authors who have oft-decried “energy technology tribalism” and chastised those who omit nuclear energy from their vision of a low-carbon future, it is striking to see wind and “other renewables” cast aside in this otherwise expansive vision of the future"

You should read it. They're on-point (random side note - I got in to a late-night Twitter argument with one of the authors late one night because I'd just ingested an inhuman quantity of flu medication and I was trying to distract myself from writing.....sorry, Robert, I reckon you're alright, don't take anything Codeine-Ketan says for granted, hey).

I'd take it a step further than the Energy Collective people. By pointedly excluding wind power, and by 'incapable'ing' the entire span of renewable energy technology, they've alienated a rather large chunk of people who would have otherwise been keenly receptive to their message.

Drop the hate


There's still a sizable faction of nuclear power supporters who truly hate renewable energy. I've learned to recognise the difference between a level-headed assertion, and an assertion born of fury and disgust and animosity that's been held for too long.

I feel that sometimes, this is driven not by their view that renewable energy is insufficient for worldwide, rapid decarbonisation, but by a visceral loathing for 'traditional' environmentalists: essentially, the green movement. The Eco-Modernist Manifesto isn't really part of this world. It's more linked to people who are actually quite nice, and who are either a little skeptical of renewables, or genuine supporters. But I'm not sure we can consider one world without the other.

You can't ignore these nuclear-supporting renewable-loathers. Tweet about a wind turbine and you're suddenly sodden with a torrent of tweeps screaming THORIUM at you.

Dennis Jensen, a West-Australian senator, supports nuclear power and thinks denying climate science is the same as being Albert Einstein. Senator Sean Edwards is a vocal advocate for nuclear power in SA, but also thinks the wind industry ought to cease to exist. Patrick Moore supports nuclear, and also thinks carbon dioxide is plant food. A broad selection of nuclear advocates on Twitter dedicate most of their time to propagating weird myths about renewable energy. It's not a representative sample, but it's a noticeable one.



I enjoy my self-contained rectangle of advocacy. I think we can built more wind and solar projects in Australia, and swipe a big chunk out of our emissions. In doing this, I draw the ire of a bunch of really very angry nuclear advocates, despite the fact I'm not really talking about nuclear power when I advocate for this. Despite my very enjoyable interactions with nuclear advocates who seem to be great people, I'm also faced with a sizable quantity of humans who really, really hate renewable energy.

Angry tweets about wind farms aren't in the manifesto, and they shouldn't be. But if the manifesto took a slightly more bullish approach to supporting the short-term deployment of whatever cost-effective technology we have to decarbonise right now, would it tame the passions of this second, angrier crowd? Maybe.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I think there's a lot to be said about the fact the manifesto creates criteria to which nuclear power is the only answer, despite the fact global decarbonisation will necessitate a mix of technologies. If it was a 'nuclear power manifesto', sure, you don't need to mention other stuff. But it's a decarbonisation manifesto, so the omission of other technology is significant.

It suggests the balance needs to be tweaked, if their goal really is a globe on which people use lots of clean energy.


Update 22/04/2015 14:48 - I forgot to mention, Australia has lots of land; great for zero-carbon energy sources that are less intense, but well-supported by the public, and by businesses.....

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Earth Hour makes me feel weird (still, don't be inefficient)

Being a contrarian simply for the lulz isn't really worthwhile. You just end up alienating friends and attracting idiots. At risk of doing both, there's something about Earth Hour that I need to get off my chest.

Earth Hour is now into its eighth year, and it's become a powerful tradition in more ways than one.

Along with the requisite display of environmental awareness - the symbolic switching-off of one's lights and appliances - come a veritable tsunami of terrible, clichéd, furious responses from a conservative base that's automatically stirred by the mix of acceptance-of-climate-science, environmental-awareness and perceived-slacktivism. These are things they are truly disgusted by. It stirs emotion in them that you and I cannot parse.



The angry critique of Earth Hour centres around the perception that Earth Hour is somehow anti-human - that it calls for the regression of the human species, back to fire and hunting and unlit caves.

It's an argument that triggers the passions of people who aren't able to detect the fallacy. It seems to be an affront to everything we've worked hard to acquire - plasma televisions, electric lighting, abundant, relatively cheap electricity. Like clockwork, it inspires an equal and opposite reaction:

"An alternative celebration of "Human Achievement Hour" was promoted by the libertarian think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute to celebrate the advancement of human prosperity....participants in this celebration were asked to "celebrate the achievements of humanity such as eating dinner, seeing a film, driving around, keeping the heat on in your home""

Though the logic is truly absurd, it's still hard to argue against the perception that Earth Hour is urging us to live in darkness, considering it's an hour in which we live in darkness. This is not what energy efficiency is. Reducing the quantity of energy you use without any major alterations to your lifestyle is easy, effective but hard to sex up for global campaigns.

The biggest reason Earth Hour makes me shift uncomfortably in my seat is because it unintentionally paints a picture of future loss, despite this not being what a clean / low energy world would look like. The Earth Hour FAQ states that:

"Earth hour does not claim that the event is an energy or carbon reduction exercise - it is a symbolic action. Therefore, we do not engage in the measurement of energy or carbon reduction levels. Earth Hour is an initiative to encourage individuals, businesses and governments around the world to take accountability for their ecological footprint and engage in dialogue and resource exchange that provides real solutions to our environmental challenges. Participation in Earth Hour symbolises a commitment to change beyond the hour"

Reactive, snarky comparisons to the carbon emissions of paraffin candles vs electricity consumption of light globes miss the point - the event is more a collective 'awareness raising exercise', than a mechanism for emissions reduction. But the point itself seems to have its own issues.



I don't understand why we can't inject the same quantity of motivation from marketing in an exercise that actually leads to a measurable, quantifiable reduction. Energy efficieny is, inherently, something with the potential for widespread support. The right loathes inefficiency, and the left loathes over-consumption and environmental harm. Earth Hour builds a wall in the middle, by framing demand reduction as a value-based action.

Perhaps we could gamify the goal of cheaper electricity bills through altered habits - I do it at home, and it works quite well. I like the idea of big, sweeping change - something that shatters crusty, fetid old styles of thinking. This is why I relish being part of the renewable energy industry.

Earth Hour, as it stands, isn't clear on what it's symbolising. To a passionate, angry and illogical few, it symbolises a desire to destroy civilisation. To others, surely, it encourages behaviour that eventually leads to a reduction in energy consumption, and consequently, lower carbon emissions. I'd like to see the first reaction gone, and the second reaction occur consistently among everyone.

Pushing down the quantity of electricity we consume means acknowledging that some react viscerally and angrily to issues framed as collective environmental action. Like a clockwork, it makes them go nuts. They start talking about candles and jets and they lose their minds. This doesn't mean collective environmental action is something to be avoided. It just means we need to accommodate both world views, not just one. We'd see a much higher reduction in carbon emissions, and a bigger change in behaviour.

We want that, right?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lloyd's new 'wind turbine syndrome' expert: A Computer Scientist Who Openly Dislikes Wind Farms

Yesterday, The Australian found itself in the odd position of having to defend an extremely unscientific report their environment editor has been covering regularly since earlier this year.

The defenders all took refuge in attacking the credentials of those critiquing the study. Senior Reporter Simon King writes:

"Other experts lined up to slam the report included the Australian National University’s Jacqui Hoepner and Will Grant, who wrote about it for The Conversation. Grant has a PhD in politics and Hoepner is a journalist and neither has either acoustic or medical training.
Then came the most damning of them all, Sydney University’s professor of public health, Simon Chapman. Professor Chapman is also neither an acoustician nor a medical practitioner"

Originally, King lambasted Chapman for 'not having a PhD in medicine' - something quietly altered after Chapman issued a correction. His focus changed to the topic of Chapman's PhD:





Confusingly, the author of the original report insists, a lot, that his study wasn't a 'medical study', so it's weird and inexplicable that King angrily insists one needs to be a medical practitioner, or have a PhD in medicine, to offer comment on Cooper's study.



Anyway, it gets funnier, today, now that Lloyd's published another follow-up:

"Richard Mann, at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said scientists there had arrived at a similar position to Mr Cooper despite working in a different way. 
“Our results show that wind turbines emit a characteristic pulsation (change in barometric pressure) that repeats with every blade passage,” Professor Mann said.
“This is consistent with the infra sound ‘signature’ you have reported.” 
The Waterloo University research did not consider health effects from wind turbine infrasound. But Professor Mann said: “I join the many scientists and experts worldwide requesting a thorough investigation of wind turbine noise.’’"

Well, first of all, the research wasn't published by Waterloo University. In fact, it wasn't published anywhere. Obviously, Richard Mann is an expert in acoustics, or a medical expert, or perhaps both.

source
Mann's published work include "Detecting Hand-Ball Events in Video Sequences", "Categorization and Learning of Pen Motion Using Hidden Markov Models" and "Analyzing the kinematics of bivariate pointing". Interesting, probably quite fascinating, but it's a little hard to detect his acoustics and medical training. Perhaps I'm just not googling enough?

"You probably know me for my recordings of live music and also nature and ambient sounds (see above). 
Recently I have been recording Industrial Wind Turbines (IWT).  It is not because I like the sound.  On the contrary I am recording to show just how noisy and intrusive the sound really is.  They are enormous industrial machines that have been forced on rural communities by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE).  Below is my (ongoing) documentation of noise polution (sic), noise and vibration (aka "infra sound"), medical evidence for harm to humans, and scientific links related to Wind Turbines."

On Mann's website, SoundMann.com, he details a long list of wind farm opposition groups. It turns out I once interacted with him on a comment thread, in an article from a while ago. He says:

"I am not (yet) a claimant. I don't know if they will impact me or not. However, I have met people who are suffering. I met a woman who drives 20 miles every night to another place to sleep. There are many like that. Not the majority, but a significant minority of people. I just find it hard to believe all these "coincidences" are an accident. If this were a "clinical trial" it would be called off. Any other field of scientific inquiry would put a probable hypothesis on wind turbines. Maybe you think people are somehow "hypnotized" to believe turbines are bad. Many were pro Wind until they noticed the problems."
His Disqus profile is revealing. He's active on the Guardian, too:


Mann's also a member of the succinctly-named "Ontario Coalition for Harm-to-Health from Industrial-Wind-Turbines":


And his public Facebook page gives us a hint as to his motivations:




Of course, he's free to say all these things, but it's really quite amusing that, after yesterday's angry retaliation from journalists at The Australian, they've now enlisted the expertise of a computer scientist who doesn't like wind farms.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Bad Science Reporting Causes Real Harm

Last night, Media Watch reported on The Australian's coverage of a study into wind farms and medical impacts. The Australian's full response named me as a leader of criticism:

"Published criticism of the methodology used in the Cooper report in Australia has been led by psychologist and wind company Infigen's communications officer, Ketan Joshi"

I'm not a psychologist......but, whatever. It's an under-handed, simple way of saying my arguments can be rejected due to my interests and my employer, rather than any rational engagement with what I've said. That's their choice.

But the Media Watch story itself highlights a confusing and relentless paradox that won't settle: did the study establish a causal link between health symptoms, or didn't it? The residents believe it did, but the author of the report says it didn't, but also says he fully accepts reporting saying it did. It matters, because a lot of beliefs are being solidified on the back of the reporting of his work.

"Pacific Hydro are correct that we don’t have a correlation in terms of medical and I agree with that 100%" 
— ABC Ballarat, Mornings with Anne-Marie Middlemast, 21st January, 2015 
"Another participant, Jo Kermond, said the findings had been “both disturbing and confirmation of the level of severity we were and are enduring while being ridiculed by our own community and society.”"  
- Statement from The Australian to Media Watch 

These beliefs are strongly held, and they're defended with real passion. A letter published in the Hamilton Spectator shows that the participants in Cooper's study believe wind turbines don't even need to be moving to cause health impacts: 

"Around the Macarthur wind farm, residents suffer from infrasound emitted by the turbines, even when they're not operating, similarly to Cape Bridgewater.

Even when the turbines are turned off, we feel the same "sensation", being headaches, ear pressure, nose pressure, heart palpitations, nausea, dizziness etc., and still cannot sleep at night.

Due to the mammoth scale of these towers, there is movement all the time, whether high or low winds, in addition to when they're turned off. Due to the extreme size of the towers, they still continue to vibrate, thus emitting infrasound waves. The laws of physics show such structures exhibit natural frequencies that are associated with structural resonances in the infrasound region"

The idea that a stationary wind turbines emit low-frequency noise that's injurious to human health is a relatively new modification to the 'wind turbine syndrome' theory. It first emerged in mid-2014, in a publication by acoustician Les Huson:

"The tone "lines" in the spectrograms show that structural resonances from the turbines continue irrespective of whether the blades are rotating or parked"

It's repeated in The Australian's rolling and increasingly confusing coverage of the 'peer reviews' of Cooper's report, this time by an American acoustician:

“It really does not matter what the pathway is, whether it is infra-sound or some new form of rays or electromagnetic field coming off the turbine blade"

So, if wind turbines are said to cause 'wind turbine syndrome' even when stationary, how did Steven Cooper establish a 'cause and effect' relationship?

I went through the three appendices that contained graphical representations of wind farm power output and sound measurements, upon which Cooper had overlaid instances of complaints - the full table is here.

Cooper claims a total of 522 sensation reports were written in the course of the study - my count of the appendices shows 258 of these were reported during times at which wind farm output was zero kilowatts.

234 'vibration' and 233 noise reports were also penned during times of non-operation.


Going by the information in Cooper's report, it seems nearly half of the 'sensation' reports, the variable upon which Cooper bases his conclusions, were written during times at which wind speeds were low, or the wind farm was offline.

Does it mean the participants were lying? No, it doesn't. It just raises the possibility Mr Cooper was measuring something other than what he seems to say is a human physiological response to wind energy.

Regardless; there's not the faintest semblance of correlation, here - let alone causation, or definitive proof of medical health impacts. Only a tiny fraction of Cooper's recorded data were 'selected' for inclusion in his analysis, and even on this specially selected sub-set, Cooper didn't use measures of statistical significance.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This isn't the first time an inert, motionless and unpowered structure has been blamed for human suffering. In 2010, a mobile phone tower in Craigavon operated by iBurst received a raft of complaints over a four week period, with residents reporting, during a town meeting, of 'headaches, nausea, tinnitus....totally disrupted sleep patterns'. Sound familiar?

The operator of the tower had actually switched off the tower six weeks prior to the meeting. Did that resolve the issue, once and for all?

"Bismarck Olivier from the legal firm Bezuidenhout, Van Zyl and Associates, who represents the Craigavon residents, previously said that there is no talk of abandoning the action against iBurst and that the recent activity surrounding the issue is ‘only the beginning’"

Eventually, the company tore down the tower. "To raise it again is to the benefit of no one. This is not good for us, the industry, or anyone".

Spreading health fears can itself result in harm. A BBC Panorama report on the 'health dangers of wifi' warped a collection of already-flawed 'studies' to present the theory that WiFi causes health impacts. Subsequent research showed that people 'primed' with this documentary perceived a greater severity of symptoms, compared to a control group shown scientific information.

Will media coverage continue to spread fear around wind farms? I hope not, but I've little to justify that hope.

If technology doesn't even need to be operational, or energised, to cause health impacts, it reminds us of the importance of accurate information - something we won't see much of, today.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Tanveer Ahmed's Weird Article Seems To Have Been Plagiarised

Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist and ex-Sydney Morning Herald columnist, wrote an extremely terrible opinion piece for The Australian last Monday the 9th of February, re-entering the heady world of opinion writing after he was revealed on ABC's Media Watch as a serial plagiarist - the show lists an unbelievable number of examples of Ahmed plagiarising himself, or directly copying and pasting the text of other journalists:


His most recent work in The Australian is reprehensible. He hypothesises a cause for male violence as such:
"Family violence within newly arrived ethnic groups is often related to the sudden dilution of traditional masculinity, leaving men lost and isolated, particularly as females enjoy greater autonomy and expectations"
MP Tim Watts explains why this view is abhorrent much better than I can:



Ahmed is, ridiculously, still an ambassador for White Ribbon - a movement that works to reduce domestic violence. This piece by Petra Bueskens at The Conversation is excellent.




Out of curiosity, and following some of the social media commentary around Ahmed's piece, I plugged his writing into a bunch of online plagiarism checkers, and, lo and behold, a portion of his article is either plagiarised from work he's published well into the past, or ripped directly from another website.

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This paragraph seems to have been copied from the website Prospect.Org:

The Australian, February 2015 (full text)

"...it is critical that improving arrest and prosecution rates, establishing shelters and abuse hotlines, pushing for state provisions against stalking, and creating protections for immigrants all have the goal of getting victims out of abusive -relationships"

Prospect.org Feb 2013, Marcotte

"Improving arrest and prosecution rates, establishing shelters and abuse hotlines, pushing for state provisions against stalking, and creating protections for immigrants all have the goal of getting victims out of abusive relationships and into safe situations."
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This paragraph has been used four times in the past five years, with only minor alterations, most recently in an article on 'Online Opinion'. It's been copied so many times by Ahmed that it actually shows up in the PDFs hosted on the Media Watch website, from his appearance on the show in 2012.


The Australian, February 2015

"Men for whom the security of unionised labour in the manufacturing industries is becoming a distant memory are experiencing a huge displacement from modern economic trends. It’s been replaced by casualised, service-oriented work with relatively low wages. In essence, their work has been feminised."

Online Opinion, 2013

"In the Western world, it can be seen among the traditionally white Anglo-Saxon working class, for whom the security of unionised labour in the manufacturing industries is slowly but surely becoming a distant memory. It is (sic) been replaced by casualised, service-oriented work with relatively low wages. In essence, their work is being feminised..."

Sydney Morning Herald, 2012

"Men, for whom the security of unionised labour in the manufacturing industries is slowly but surely becoming a distant memory, are experiencing a huge displacement from modern economic trends. It's been replaced by casualised, service‐oriented work with relatively low wages. In essence, their work has been feminised...."

Sydney Morning Herald, 2011

"Men for whom the security of unionised labour in the manufacturing industries is slowly but surely becoming a distant memory are experiencing a huge displacement from modern economic trends. It's been replaced by casualised, service-oriented work with relatively low wages. In essence, their work has been feminised, a development exacerbated by the financial crisis"

Sydney Morning Herald, 2010

"Men are experiencing a huge displacement from modern economic trends. In the Western world, it can be seen among the working class, traditionally white Anglo-Saxon, for whom the security of unionised labour in the manufacturing industries is slowly but surely becoming a distant memory. It's been replaced by casualised, service-oriented work with relatively low wages. In essence, their work has been feminised, a development exacerbated by the financial crisis."

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This rabbit hole is curiously deep. Ahmed wrote an article in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2013, outlining his views on alternative medicine. At the end, there’s this note:

“Dr Ahmed has given an assurance to MJA InSight that this is his original work”

To the plagiarism checker:

Ahmed, MJA, 2013

“The thinking is that the human body has an energy to it that can be guided by external manipulation, much the way that matter and tissues are influenced by chemicals and radiation in conventional medicine.”

Dworkin, 2001

“Supposedly, the human body has an energy to it that can be guided by external manipulation, much the way that matter and tissues are influenced by chemicals and radiation in allopathic medicine.” 

Dworkin was the source of Ahmed's plagiarised SMH articles (in that case, a different article Dworkin wrote for The Atlantic).

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Ahmed wrote another piece, this time more recently, in January this year, in The Australian, on the same topic. Some paragraphs are ripped directly from his article in the MJA:

Ahmed, The Australian, January 2015 (full text)

“According to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, two in three Australians use complementary medicines each year and spend almost four times as much on out-of-pocket expenses for these medicines as on pharmaceuticals. Mostly, the use of vitamins or supplements is unwarranted in healthy people.”

Ahmed, MJA 2013

“According to the National Institute of Complementary Medicine two in three Australians use complementary medicines each year and spend almost four times as much on the out-of-pocket expenses for these medicines as they do on pharmaceuticals. In most cases, the use of vitamins or supplements is unwarranted in healthy people.”

Which itself seems to be taken directly from this website:

Life Sciences Queensland, Date Unknown

"Research has shown that two in three Australians use complementary medicines. Furthermore, consumers are spending four times more in out of pocket expenses on complementary medicines than on pharmaceuticals"
Another line has been edited slightly, but clearly self-plagiarised:

Ahmed, MJA 2013

"There also needs to be an admission of the power of placebo, the inherent doubts that are part and parcel of health care, and that the veneer of omniscience within the medical profession is, in part, charade"

Ahmed, The Australian, January 2015 (full text)

"We need to recognise the power of the placebo and that the veneer of omniscience in the medical profession is, in part, a charade"

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When you submit work to a publisher, you agree that what you've written is original work - copying something you've submitted to another publisher also counts as plagiarism, given you're forcing an outlet to unwittingly publish and derive revenue from content also published elsewhere.

Plagiarism is a shitty thing to do for a large variety of reasons, but to me, putting other people, who have placed their trust in you, in a legally compromised position, is really nasty part.

In an interview on ABC's Radio National in late 2012, Ahmed confusingly confesses his sins, tries to explain his plagiarism, and pleads to be given a 'second chance':

"And already, I must say, the…I’ve been…I’ve felt well supported. I’ve felt lots of journalists and doctors too have said, okay, look, you screwed up but nobody really thinks you need to plagiarise but, you know, this’ll take time. You need to steadily ride up again, build trust. And that’s, that’s what I’d like to do, you know, and do it in a humble way with purpose."

I have very strong feelings about the perpetration of domestic violence (a big part of the reason why I'm not really qualified to offer meaningful commentary on the issue). A huge number of men get away with the infliction of harm because they're talented at creating awkwardly misshapen justifications for their actions - post-hoc rationalisations that allow them to slip easily and regularly into state of stupidity.

Ahmed's incoherent justification of plagiarism seems to mirror his twisted explanatory reasoning around domestic violence. He characterises himself as some sort of innocent automaton - carelessly copying paragraphs from other people's work, only semi-aware that his actions are wrong.

In his article in The Australian last Monday, he imagines male perpetrators of violence in the same way - stressed, struggling with identity and reacting only to external pressures - devoid of any personal responsibility.

Both arguments are devoid of logic and evidence, and both are ethically indefensible.