Bad day in court for anti-wind campaigner Sarah Laurie

It’s rare that anti-wind lobbyists appear under oath. Sarah Laurie*, medical director of the anti-wind, fossil-fuel connected, lobbying group The Waubra Foundation, was asked to testify on behalf of those opposed to a proposed wind farm before the Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court in South Australia from 13-14 January, 2011. She was examined by George Manos, LLB acting for those opposed to the wind farm. Judge Costello presided with Commissioners Mosel and Agnew.

For those looking for the short version, Laurie and the ERD Judge and Commissioners agreed that she was not qualified to testify on matters related to health and wind energy, was in a conflict of interest related to wind energy, and the ERD discounted her testimony pretty much in its entirety. Further, the ERD agreed completely with the expert witness for the wind farm, Dr Gary Wittert, whose testimony, along with others, analysed Laurie’s data and found that people had more of the claimed symptoms of so-called ‘wind turbine syndrome’ when wind farms were not operating than when they were operating, the opposite of Laurie’s claim.

For the longer version, the quotes excerpted from the court transcript below make it clear that Sarah Laurie had a very bad two days in court, despite being examined by a ‘friendly’ lawyer.

Quote 1: Laurie agrees she has a personal stake and no scientific evidence for setbacks

Q: How far away is it [proposed windfarm]?

A: Look, well, we’re not exactly sure of the development because it hasn’t been submitted but I‘ve been told that there will be five turbines within a kilometre.

Q: And clearly if the court was to adopt the 10km setback distance that you propose in your para.26 that would have the effect of preventing the wind farm which is proposed near you until the research that you want done is undertaken.

A: Yes, that’s correct.

Q: The 10km is not based on any scientific analysis.

A: No.

Quote 2: Laurie blames a distant, undetectable wind farm for a personal health impact

“There was one evening when I developed quite severe nausea quite out of the blue and I was at that stage staying in a house where I didn’t know whether the turbines were operating. It was about 3 kilometers from the nearest house. It was in a valley and you couldn’t see the turbines.”

This quote referred to Laurie’s visit to Ontario, Canada to attend a meeting of the Society for Wind Vigilance – a mostly North American anti-wind organisation. Laurie had travelled to the other side of the world, was staying in an unfamiliar country and in a rural area, yet her first assumption when she became nauseous was that wind turbines were to blame.

Quote 3: Laurie on purported health impacts of wind farms

“Various people have described symptoms where they have described either chest or lip vibration, the lip vibrations have been described to me as from a distance of 10 kilometers away.”

That she takes ‘vibrating lips’ seriously is, presumably, laudable. That she asserts a 10km radius of influence of wind farms which are usually inaudible at 1km is indicative of her lack of sufficient skepticism regarding reported health impacts of wind farms. 

Quote 4: Laurie on the nocebo effect

“I haven‘t found any evidence to support the nocebo effect. I have no doubt, though, that as publicity about the adverse health effects that are being reported by people emerges around the world that communities where turbine developments are proposed, as they become informed about these issues, do become very concerned about the possibilities for them, and particularly as they go and do their own homework and go and visit and meet with people who are living next to turbine developments at the moment. And then when they realise the reality of the situation for those people, it certainly does cause a lot of distress.”

The nocebo effect, for those unfamiliar with it, is the opposite of the placebo effect. It was first named in the early 70s and studies found it was possible to cause severe nausea and many symptoms on the list of those blamed on wind farms simply by suggesting them. Further studies of the nocebo effect have been curtailed by medical ethics as it became obvious that the effect was very real and that it was causing very real harm to subjects’ health.

As the bolded text shows, the fact that the nocebo effect is a communicated disease is supported by Laurie’s testimony. Laurie is actually a vector of this psychosomatic ailment, raising unwarranted fears regarding wind farms and health as she does regularly and rigorously.

Quote 5: Laurie on her medical credentials and research qualifications

Q. So you’ve got Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.

A: That‘s correct.

Q: I’ll put it in these terms – and no other field of specialisation other than general practice.

A: No.

Q: As I read the material that you’ve provided for us you don’t have any experience in undertaking formal scientific research.

A: That’s correct.

Q: And it would follow that you don’t have any experience in undertaking formal medical research.

A: That’s correct.

Despite knowing that she doesn’t have any experience or qualifications to undertake medical research, Laurie is doing exactly that.  The subject didn’t arise in her testimony, but she has also acknowledged separately that she is currently not registered to practice medicine for personal reasons. If she were registered to practice medicine, she would likely be subject to penalties for performing poor research without qualifications or ethical oversight.

Quotes 6-11: Laurie states multiple times she is not qualified to judge wind farm health impacts

  • “I also didn’t feel it was realistic to put myself forward as an expert witness.”
  • “I am not an endocrinologist.”
  • Q. “In the next paragraph Professor Wittert says he‘s been engaged as an independent medical expert on the basis of his broad understanding of human health and understanding of ecological methods.’ Do you claim expertise in those areas.”“No, I don’t…”
  • “I am not an academic. I don’t do it [review research papers and results] for a living.when I looked at this data I didn‘t do the sophisticated analysis, I don’t have access to that sort of programing that Professor Wittert says…”
  • “I’m not an acoustician….”

While Laurie was not asked this, she is also not an expert in psychology, the psychology of health or other areas that overlap with the nocebo effect and its impacts.

It is worthwhile to quote the conclusions of the ERD court on Laurie’s testimony and submissions from the verdict rendered July 17, 2011.

Quote 12:  The submissions by Laurie were without merit or weight

“Although we determined to receive these articles and papers, we are unable to place any meaningful weight on them.

“We were given little information about the expertise or standing of the authors of these ‘publications’. Most of this work, as far as we can discern, has not been the subject of any peer review and none of the witnesses were called to give evidence.”

The evidence Laurie puts forward, in other words, is junk.

Quote 13:  The court agreed that there is no evidence that wind farms harm health

In response to thc evidence of Laurie, Acciona called Professor Wittert, Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide. Professor Wittert has particular experience with and interest in population health, in particular, looking at the causes, methods of prevention and systems for treatment of chronic disease.

After reviewing the evidence of Ms. Laurie, Professor Wittert concluded that:

“There is no credible evidence of a causal link, between the physical outputs of a turbine (or sets of turbines), at the levels that are described in the statement of Mr C Turnbull, and adverse effects on health”.

Conclusion

Laurie was given every courtesy by the Judge and the examining lawyers, despite that fact that her testimony shows she is not qualified to testify about medical impacts of wind farms, and that her positions should be highly suspect due to the windfarm near her home and her complete lack of skepticism regarding anecdotal health impacts ascribed to wind farms.

For further analysis of the findings and testimony of these proceedings, read this analysis and supporting references which show that the data Laurie depends upon actually show that people appear to be healthier when wind farms are operating, rather than less healthy as she claims.

For further insights into wind energy and health, please read this material, which draws together most of the relevant literature with citations:

* Sarah Laurie used to refer to herself as Dr. Laurie, however she is no longer allowed to do so. She has been unregistered and non-practicing for longer than she was practicing medicine. As part of her anti-wind campaigning activities, she has continued to diagnose people and perform medical research without license or oversight. This was the subject of a medical ethics complaint in 2013, and led to an agreement with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency that she would stop performing diagnoses, stop performing medical research and stop referring to herself as a doctor.

This article was originally published in RenewEconomy at http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/bad-day-in-court-for-anti-wind-campaigner-sarah-laurie#sthash.pGjT2SYH.dpuf

One comment

  1. […] up is a perennial favourite subject of this blog, Sarah Laurie (ethics charges, bad days in court, seven things you must know, denials of being anti wind, media whoppers, open […]

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