ABC Helps Fox Promote Wind Power Hypochondria

Fox Nation wind hypochondria

Fox Nation is claiming that “Wind Turbines [are] Making Cape Codders Sick” based on an article. But the story of a resident in that article illustrates that there is no demonstrated impact of wind turbines on health, while substantial evidence suggests that reported health effects are psychological rather than physical in origin.

ABC News' article began with the story of a resident of Falmouth, Massachusetts, who lived near a wind turbine: “Sue Hobart, a bridal florist from Massachusetts, couldn't understand why she suddenly developed headaches, ringing in her ears, insomnia and dizziness to the point of falling 'flat on my face' in the driveway.” However, in an online interview with an anti-wind activist, Hobart admitted that she had suffered from ringing in her ears for “quite a while,” but claimed it had gotten worse “since the turbines.” Hobart, who has compared living near a wind turbine to being in the “line of fire” in a “war zone,” attributed various other symptoms to “wind turbine syndrome” in that interview, saying she had “no appetite” in her home and was experiencing “just unrest -- just not being able to settle down -- not really feeling relaxed.”

ABC News claimed that based on these self-reported symptoms, “a doctor at Harvard Medical School diagnosed Hobart with wind turbine syndrome, which is not recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” However, in an email to Media Matters, the doctor in question, Dr. Steven Rauch, clarified that there is “no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS [Wind Turbine Syndrome]”:

Her symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of WTS but there are no standard diagnostic criteria nor objective tests to confirm the diagnosis.  There is no way I can make a definite diagnosis of WTS nor is there any way I can definitely exclude the diagnosis.

A 2011 literature review published in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Journal stated that "[g]iven that annoyance appears to be more strongly related to visual cues and attitude than to noise itself, self reported health effects of people living near wind turbines are more likely attributed to physical manifestation from an annoyed state than from infrasound." That review also noted that infrasound is “ubiquitous” in the world, emitted from, among other things, air-conditioning units, cars, and even ocean waves.

A New York Magazine report explained there is significant evidence that “wind turbine syndrome” may be psychological in origin, even if, as with a placebo effect, residents experience real physical impacts:

Large-scale population surveys conducted by scientists in Sweden and the Netherlands have found that stress and sleep disturbances were more likely if the turbines were visible and less likely if the individuals benefitted economically from them. Other studies found that having a bad attitude about the turbines and subjective sensitivity to noise were more likely to lead to annoyance and negative health effects than actual exposure to audible sound or infrasound. (Back in 2007, three years before the Falmouth turbines were even built, a handful of residents expressed concern about the potential for illness after reading about symptoms online, and those health effects were even written up in the local newspaper.) And in recent lab tests, subjects who were told to expect side effects from infrasound ahead of time felt some of those symptoms even when they were exposed to sham infrasound.

Hobart is not alone in reporting health effects from the wind turbines. Other Falmouth residents have testified that “wind turbine syndrome” may be behind a wide variety of symptoms, including “eye discharge,” “high blood pressure,” “drinking,” and “anger.” But these residents are a minority. New York Magazine reported that "[o]f the nearly 200 or so households located within a half-mile of a turbine in Falmouth, only about 24 complain of symptoms."

Why would some residents complain of symptoms while many others do not if the origin is physical rather than related to a predisposition against the turbines? And why would those that have installed wind turbines on their property have lower rates of “wind turbine syndrome” than those farther away if it is not related to the revenue they're receiving?

In an online post Hobart said, “I am OVER with the peer review double-blind scientific bullshitometer they all hide behind.” However, without double-blind studies, biases such as these can be introduced to studies on “wind turbine syndrome,” severely undermining their findings.

For instance, it may be more than a coincidence that the pediatrician who coined the term “wind turbine syndrome” and promoted the stories of people such as Hobart, Dr. Nina Pierpont, is married to an anti-wind activist who compared the fight against the “wind bastards” to the Civil Rights movement:

As Rosa Parks did, when she sparked the Civil Rights movement: you need to refuse to give up your seat to the wind bastard on the bus.