by Dr. Carl V. Phillips MPP, PhD. This paper was submitted to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission as testimony on whether turbine noise is having an adverse effect on human health. Dr. Phillips was recently the Editor-in-Chief for the Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta.
Prof. Phillips is also an award-winning researcher in epidemiology methods, focusing on making epidemiologic research more useful and honest. He teaches on these topics as well as how to use epidemiologic data to make optimal policy decisions.
Prof. Phillips received his PhD in public policy from Harvard University and completed fellowships in health policy at the University of Michigan and philosophy of science at the University of Minnesota, has additional degrees in math and history, and was on the faculty of the University of Texas Medical School’s Center for Evidence-Based Medicine.
A summary of the main conclusions of my expert opinion, based on my knowledge of epidemiology and scientific methods, and my reading of the available studies and reports, is as follows:
• There is ample scientific evidence to conclude that wind turbines cause serious health problems for some people living nearby. Some of the most compelling evidence in support of this has been somewhat overlooked in previous analyses, including that the existing evidence fits what is known as the case-crossover study design, one of the most useful studies in epidemiology, and the revealed preference (observed behavior) data of people leaving their homes, etc., which provides objective measures of what would otherwise be subjective phenomena. In general, this is an exposure-disease combination where causation can be inferred from a smaller number of less formal observations than is possible for cases such as chemical exposure and cancer risk.
• The reported health effects, including insomnia, loss of concentration, anxiety, and general psychological distress are as real as physical ailments, and are part of accepted modern definitions of individual and public health. While such ailments are sometimes more difficult to study, they probably account for more of the total burden of morbidity in Western countries than do strictly physical diseases. It is true that there is no bright line between these diseases and less intense similar problems that would not usually be called a disease, this is a case for taking the less intense versions of the problems more seriously in making policy decisions, not to ignore the serious diseases.
• Existing evidence is not sufficient to make several important quantifications, including what portion of the population is susceptible to the health effects from particular exposures, how much total health impact wind turbines have, and the magnitude of exposure needed to cause substantial risk of important health effects. However, these are questions that could be answered if some resources were devoted to finding the answer. It is not necessary to proceed with siting so that more data can accumulate, since there is enough data now if it were gathered and analyzed.
• The reports that claim that there is no evidence of health effects are based on a very simplistic understanding of epidemiology and self-serving definitions of what does not count as evidence. Though those reports probably seem convincing prima facie, they do not represent proper scientific reasoning, and in some cases the conclusions of those reports do not even match their own analysis.