Big Wind follows Big Tobacco in denying health problems
In his 2008 book Doubt is their product–how industry’s assault on science threatens your health, epidemiologist David Michaels says he got the idea for the title of his book after reading the words of a cigarette company executive. “Doubt is our product,” the executive wrote, “since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing controversy”.
Michaels went on to write the following:
…Big Tobacco, left now without a stitich of credibility of public esteem, has finally abandoned its strategy, but it showed the way. The practices it perfected are alive and well and ubiquitous today. We see this growing trend that disingenuously demands proof over precaution in the realm of public health. In field after field, year after year, conclusions that might support regulation are always disputed. Animal data are deemed not relevant, human data not representative, and exposure data not reliable. Whatever the story…scientists in what I call the ‘product defence industry’ prepare for the release of unfavorable studies even before the studies are published. Public relations experts feed these for-hire scientists contrarian sound bites that play well with reporters, who are mired in the trap of believing there must be two sides to every story.
Maybe there are two sides–and maybe one has been bought and paid for.
This scenario is being played out today in Ontario with the wind power industry where not only are health effects from the turbine noise denied, the industry actually claims that wind power saves lives and therefore that the “overall benefit” of wind power supercedes any nagging little negative like people becoming ill from sleep deprivation and the stress and anxiety caused by the turbine noise and vibration. Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment has been complicit in this strategy from the outset: the decision to establish setbacks between turbines and homes was not based on any science at all.
In appeal after appeal, the evidence of health problems is brought forward, and the witnesses so convincing (despite the industry’s highly paid lawyers’ attempts with questions about their mental state) that members of the Environmental Review Tribunals comment on the authenticity of their accounts. In Bovaird v. Director, Ministry of the Environment, panel chair Heather Gibbs wrote in her decision that while the evidence presented did not show a causal relationship, she quoted from Erickson, specifically that “the present situation is closer to the hypothesis generating phase of scientific research than it is to the point where statements can be made on causation.”
In other words, in the view of the Tribunal, there isn’t enough evidence to support the conclusion of “serious harm” (a construct of the Green Energy Act and not a real principle of public health) … but at the same time, there isn’t enough evidence to say there ISN’T.
Today, Big Wind carries on, impugning the testimony of ordinary citizens who have nothing to gain by telling their stories except to have them heard, and presenting experts for hire whose goal is to produce doubt about the science we do have.
This is a shameful chapter in the history of Ontario.