Culture

A Public Health Professor Had Great Fun Calling Bullshit On The Senate’s Idiotic Wind Farm Inquiry

Don't try any anti-science nonsense 'round here, son.

Simon Chapman is a professor of public health at the University of Sydney. His research, which has played a major part in helping governments form public policy like plain packaging that reduces smoking rates and its harmful side-effects, has won him numerous domestic and international awards, as well as an Order of Australia.

John Madigan is an independent Senator from Victoria who was elected in 2010 off around 2.3 percent of the vote, and whose most newsworthy contribution to public debate thus far has been this:

Unless, of course, you count the Senate inquiry into wind turbines, which wrapped up after tabling its final report yesterday and ranks up there with Prince Philip’s knighthood as one of the stupidest things to happen under this government.

Madigan chaired the inquiry, whose members included fellow rational human beings like Family First Senator Bob Day and Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm (who you might remember as the guy who called for gun laws to be relaxed after the Sydney siege), and partially aimed to determine whether or not wind farms cause any health problems in people living near them.

Thanks in part to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott, wind farms have been a political hot potato for a while now. Many people have blamed wind farms near their properties and the noise they make for all sorts of maladies, a great number of which seem like kind of a stretch; how some giant spinning blades result in herpes, cataracts or emu death is never fully explained by the people who make those claims.

That’s because, as was noted when the inquiry was formed in January last year, so-called ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ is a bunch of horseshit — according to the Australian Medical Association, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Public Health Association of Australia and others, there is no scientific evidence that wind farms make people sick. The nearest thing to a health problem wind farms cause is anxiety in people scared that they’re going to get sick — a phenomenon termed the “nocebo effect” because, being the opposite of the placebo effect, it can make people feel bad for no actual reason.

None of which stopped Madigan and co. wasting more than a year and oodles of public money on a Senate inquiry that could’ve been avoided if they knew how to Google properly. The inquiry’s final report urged the government to ignore the advice of the country’s peak medical research body that wind farms aren’t harmful, called scientists who say they’re not “arrogant” and “slavish”, and talked up the work of people like Dr Ian Plimer, one of Australia’s most prominent climate deniers who sits on the board of a number of companies owned by Gina Rinehart.

Senate inquiries are long-winded, expensive things — they hold meetings around the country, hear from everyone on a given topic from the most respected scientific authorities to regular members of the public, and compile all that information into a big fat final report that makes a series of recommendations (often coloured by the political leanings of the Senators themselves) to be taken up or ignored at the government’s leisure.

Which brings us back to Professor Simon Chapman. Chapman was called before the inquiry to give evidence in late June and took more than 60 questions from Senator Madigan on notice — the procedural equivalent of “I’ll get back to you”. His answers were released about a week ago, and he’s since tweeted them out:

They’ve started getting a bit of attention — partly because he’s a prominent and well-respected scientist, but also because his responses to dumb-ass questions about wind turbines causing cancer are so deliciously sarcastic. Questions come from Senator Madigan, and responses come from Chapman. Observe:

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That is a very fancy way to call a sitting member of the Australian Senate an idiot, but if it works, it works.

Madigan also tried to sneakily infer that Chapman was somehow in hock to Big Wind, which didn’t go down very well:

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More seriously, Madigan seriously tried to paint the establishment of a wind farm near a jail in Victoria as evidence of torture, which Chapman wasn’t having a bar of:

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And finally, this:

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Moral of the story: don’t bring your anti-science bullshit around a public health professional if you don’t want to get destroyed in public.

Feature image via a4gpa on a Flickr Creative Commons licence.