As Australia’s wind turbine noise denier Simon Chapman seems to be in the news again lately, it is well worth a look at Wayne Gulden’s critique of his work, found here on his website, Wind Farm Realities. Other material worth a read through too, such as his infrasound testing!
The nocebo theory has been around for a number of years. It recognizes that people may well develop health issues because they believe something will harm them, even when there’s no plausible physical way it can. An extreme example is a witch’s curse killing someone. A modern example would be cell phones (the jury is still out on them, it seems). Just to be clear, nocebo itself is not particularly controversial. With regard to wind turbines, it would be surprising if some complaints about them were in fact not due to the turbines themselves. On the flip side, industries have used various victim-centered defenses (like nocebo) when in fact their product was harmful. It confuses the regulatory bodies for a while and keeps the gravy train going, hopefully until they can retire.
The trick for anyone studying this issue is to separate real problems from induced ones and find out where the predominance lies. For his part, Chapman maintains that: “18 reviews of the research literature on wind turbines and health published since 2003 have all reached the broad conclusion that the evidence for wind turbines being directly harmful to health is very poor.” And at the same time, the evidence he has created for his nocebo hypothesis shows that: “the reported spatio-temporal variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that health problems arising are ‘communicated diseases’ with nocebo effects”. Therefore he concludes nocebo effects are: “likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.” So what constitutes “important”? Studies whose value is entirely dependent on the reader’s interpretation of (in this case) the word “important” aren’t really of much value.
More importantly, note where he’s set the bar for accepting his nocebo hypothesis. He hasn’t shown any evidence at all that nocebo is the actual cause. Rather, he insists that since the evidence for direct harm is weak and nocebo plausible, ergo nocebo must win by default. Note the use of the word “direct”, a topic I’ve posted about at some length. He is clever enough not to say wind turbines don’t cause health effects at all, because they do, and it has nothing to do with nocebo – and the evidence for this is substantial. As Nissenbaum (a real doctor, unlike Chapman) relates, assigning a patient’s chest pains to nocebo without a lot of tests would be the height of malpractice, even though nocebo-induced chest pains no doubt do occur.