Ms (ex Dr) Sarah Laurie: shedding light on her claims and demands
One of the Wind Power Ethics pages*
For a short time Ms Sarah Laurie practiced as a medical doctor. I believe she became convinced that wind turbines harm people around 2009 after a wind farm was proposed near her home. Later she became involved with the so-called Waubra Foundation; a group that was trying to make people believe that wind turbines cause illness, that had no connection to the township of Waubra, that used the Waubra name against the wishes of the people of Waubra, and that had no right to call itself a foundation. She was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Medical Director of the so-called foundation.
By late 2014 Ms Laurie, and the delusion that wind turbines caused ill-health, was receiving much less media attention.
On this page I will show that much of what Ms Laurie claimed to be fact is actually fiction. For a fuller explanation of the "Wind Turbine Syndrome" delusion I can highly recommend the book "Wind turbine syndrome: A communicated disease" by Simon Chapman and Fiona Crichton, available free on the Net or in paperback for $40.
Ms Laurie and the Hippocratic dictum: "First, do no harm".
Ms Laurie unnecessarily frightened people and helped to make them ill. (See research by Fiona Crichton and others; here and here). Wind farms save lives by displacing the coal-fired power that causes thousands of deaths and serious illnesses in Australia each year by its air pollution. (Air pollution from the burning of coal kills millions of people annually world-wide.) Ms Laurie's activities slowed the replacement of this killer industry. Even more importantly on the global scale, Ms Laurie slowed the critically important fight to limit climate change and ocean acidification.
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
As with all my pages, informed feedback is welcome. If you are disagreeing with some point please supply evidence in support of your argument.
Prof. Simon Chapman and Teresa Simonetti of the Sydney University School of Health produced a list of scholarly reviews of the health literature; not one of them supports Ms Laurie's claims.
Apology?Several wind power opponents have asked me why I don't apologise to Ms Laurie. Not one has specified anything that I have written that has wronged Ms Laurie and requires an apology. If I have wronged Ms Laurie I would be quite willing to apologise, but I don't see that pointing out her errors, when she has caused such a huge amount of harm, is something that requires an apology.
Ms Laurie has never contacted me to demand an apology for anything, nor has she ever provided convincing evidence that anything I have written on this page is wrong.
Readers; please point out anywhere you believe I have used ad hominem arguments unnecessarily and unjustifiably.
A simple lieIn an interview on Radio Europe in March 2013 Ms Laurie said "I'm certainly aware of a systematic campaign to denigrate and vilify sick people who speak up and say that they are unwell..." This is quite false; no one in the pro-wind lobby in Australia is denigrating and vilifying sick people.
On 2013/04/08 I emailed Sarah asking if she could substantiate this claim; I never received a reply.
By late 2014 the claims being made by Ms Laurie were not being taken seriously any moreAt one time radio reporters seemed to always ask Ms Laurie to comment on any story connected with wind power. Not any more. In late 2014 everyone who has any respect at all for the truth seems to be treating her silly claims as they deserve to be treated.
With the latest claim from the Waubra Foundation, that loss of sleep due to wind turbine noise (not at all supported by evidence) amounts to torture the WF and Ms Laurie's credibility will drop even further.
Science versus scare-mongeringBoth Ms Laurie and Dr Fiona Crichton set out to discovery the truth about whether wind turbines harm people. Dr Crichton used science (and, dare I say, common sense), and Ms Laurie ignored the science and seemed to be ready to believe anything said by those who opposed wind power.
Dr Crichton has demonstrated that the adverse symptoms that have been associated with wind turbines is more likely due to expectations, anxiety, and the nocebo effect rather than anything to do directly with the turbines and thus has provided a pathway for people suffering symptoms to get appropriate help.
Dr Crichton explained her PhD study in a talk on the ABC's Science Show 2016/07/23: Expectation influences reporting of adverse health effects from wind farms. The abstract of Dr Crichton's paper can be read at APA PsycNet.
Another blow to Ms Laurie's credibility2014/11/09 – The Environment, Resources and Development Court of South Australia in a judgement on a proposed Stony Gap Wind Farm was scathing of the value of Ms Laurie's evidence.
Created by poor journalists (and used by others)
Ms Laurie's activism was also very convenient for those who support the fossil fuel industry and don't want to see development of sustainable energy. These people work behind the scenes through misleadingly named organisations like the Waubra Foundation, the Australian Landscape Guardians, the Australian Environment Foundation and the Institute of Public Affairs.
The nonsensical stories of ill-health caused by wind turbines, even at distances well beyond audibility, have been repeated by so many wind farm opponents and lazy or ignorant journalists that they have produced a level of epidemic hysteria in the English speaking world. It was, for several years, a self-sustaining phenomenon, where the belief led to fear and anxiety, the fear and anxiety led to illness, the illness fuelled Ms Laurie's beliefs, irresponsible journalists exploited and encouraged those beliefs, more fear and anxiety was produced by the media, and more people experienced symptoms.
It was the irresponsible media spreading naïve ideas from a few people like Ms Laurie in the English speaking countries that created the epidemic hysteria and it was they who should largely be blamed for the resulting damage to people's health. Fortunately, by late 2014, this is an epidemic hysteria that seems very much to be on the wain. It should make valuable case-study material for historians of the future.
There may well come a time when Ms Laurie realises that she is wrong and that she has actually added to an epidemic hysteria with no basis in fact. Such a realisation will be very hard on her. The irresponsible journalists and others who used and encouraged her, because it was convenient to do so, will have to accept at least some responsibility.
No problem in Copenhagen
What common ground does Ms Laurie have with environmentalists?Ms Laurie believes climate change and ocean acidification are happening, that their consequences will be dire, that they are largely caused by the activities of humanity and would probably agree that we in Australia have a moral responsibility to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. She says that she is not against wind power as such, but her objection is the ill effects that, she believes, it causes people.
It is probable that a small number of susceptible people who live very close (within perhaps one kilometre) of a wind turbine suffer from some loss of sleep because of the noise from wind turbines. Certainly some people find the noise annoying. People living in a quiet country environment have a right to expect that quiet to be maintained and a right that their health not be adversely affected by nearby developments. Most agree that balanced and quality research into any link between health and wind turbines would be welcome.
Where we differ
Some people who live near wind farms are ill and they honestly believe that the cause of their illness is the wind turbines. Ms Laurie believes the turbines themselves cause the illness, a more reasonable interpretation of the evidence is that the reported health impacts are due to anxiety, fear (about a possible health threat or negative impact from the turbines), and annoyance (about the sound, sight, or imposition of the turbines). The health impacts reported by a minority of people living in close proximity to turbines are common stress reactions. Some illness is also possibly due to sleep disturbance in people with high sensitivity to noise who live very close to turbines; especially if those people have negative views, or unrealistic fears, of turbines.
Coal-fired power stations produce air pollution that has been shown, by learned papers published in highly respected health science journals, to cause thousands, or more likely millions, of deaths and serious illnesses each year. Wind power replaces some of this polluting coal power and therefore save lives. By slowing the introduction of wind power Ms Laurie is also slowing the reduction in these unnecessary deaths and illnesses. (So far as I know, Ms Laurie has never publicly recognised that, by displacing fossil fuel-fired power stations, wind power saves lives.)
Ms Laurie spends a lot of her time talking to people who believe they have been made ill by wind turbines. It is not surprising that she has come to believe that this is fact; she "cannot see the trees for the forrest". She tells people to expect wind turbines to make them sick, they tell her how sick they are; the mass delusion feeds on itself.
Ms Laurie would have everyone believe that wind turbines are making people ill even when the people cannot hear the turbines! (See p48 of the Melbourne hearing of the Senate Inquiry into the Impact of Rural Wind Farms.) Give this a little thought. We can be absolutely sure that wind turbines do not produce any harmful radiation such as alpha, beta, gamma, x-rays, ultra-violet or even a significant amount of micro-waves. The only thing that we know that they produce, other than environmentally friendly electricity and some air turbulence, is low levels of sound. Sound, including infrasound, is produced by a great many natural and artificial sources; it is not harmful unless it is very intense. Yet Ms Laurie wants us to believe that turbines make people ill even when those people cannot hear the turbines! Ms Laurie tells us things that contradict our observations, experience and logic.
Ms Laurie knows that wind turbines do not produce much sound. As a means of trying to justify her allegations that turbines cause illness she has claimed that turbines can be louder at a distance than up close! This may be possible under certain unusual circumstances, but in general it is a foolish and naïve claim. (See inverse square law of physics.)
There is, so far as I have been able to find out, no scientific research published in respectable peer-reviewed journals linking wind turbines with illness beyond some sleep deprivation in some people who live very close to turbines. Considering that there are about 120 000 big wind turbines world-wide, many of which have been operating for a number of years, this should tell us something.
Ms Laurie's errors
Stony Gap Wind Farm court case judgementThe South Australian Environment, Resources and Development Court released a judgement on a case concerning the Stony Gap Wind Farm in November 2014. Ms Laurie (then calling herself Dr Laurie) gave evidence against the wind farm construction proceeding.
The judge, in her ruling, included the following:
"There is no basis for the refusal of development plan consent to the proposed development on the grounds of health effects."The judge ruled that permission should be given for the wind farm to be constructed.
More errorsOn the ABC Radio's PM program Ms Laurie was interviewed by Tim Palmer (2013/02/14). The interview, which also involved the Clean Energy Council's Russell Marsh, mainly concerned a report by the Environment Protection Agency that showed that nearby wind turbines do not significantly increase infrasound in homes. Ms Laurie made some more errors in the interview:
Ms Laurie's ridiculous demand
So far as I know, nobody with any credibility is suggesting harmful effects from wind turbines at distances greater than 1.5 to 2 km, and then only some loss of sleep in those who find the sounds made by turbines to be particularly annoying.
And becoming more absurdIn a submission in regard to the NSW Government's review on wind turbine guidelines Ms Laurie wrote of 'credible reports' of people affected by turbines at 12-14 km from turbines. In an email to me she wrote of people getting sick at 14-15 km from turbines!
Some of Ms Laurie's beliefs are beyond what would reasonably be accepted by a rational and intelligent human being; turbines can rarely be heard or detected by an instrument other than an exquisitely sensitive seismometer beyond a couple of kilometres, how could they make anybody ill? As mentioned elsewhere, the illnesses attributed to wind turbines have to be a form of epidemic hysteria.
Are there medical doctors who hold views contrary to those of Ms Laurie?Very much so; see Australian Medical Association, Doctors for the Environment Australia, Climate and Health Alliance and recent research by Professor Garry Wittert. Professor Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health and Director of Research of the School of Public Health of the University of Sydney has also been vocal in discrediting claims that wind turbines harm health. See also the opinion of Dr Sarah Edelman, clinical psychologist.
Also see Letter from Dr Marjorie Cross and Professor Peter Seligman's statement on sound and infrasound within the body.
Finally, there is my own experience asking doctors at a
medical practice close to
a wind farm.
Why does Ms Laurie get so much attention from the media?Ms Laurie has no credible science to support her stand, her claims of sickness at distances of 10 or even 15 km from wind turbines go against both informed reason and common sense, she is completely at a loss to explain why people who have wind turbines on their property and wind farm workers (who have far more exposure to turbines) are unaffected and she can point to no credible mechanism by which turbines could make people ill. Yet the media give her a lot of attention! Why?
There are several reasons:
As discussed elsewhere on this page, Ms Laurie, the public personality, has largely been created by an irresponsible and lazy media. The journalists and radio personalities involved should be considered responsible for spreading unjustified fear and anxiety about wind turbines and thereby making people ill.
While Ms Laurie receives attention at least partly because of people's
respect for medical doctors, she is harming that respect by her unsupported
claims and ridiculous demands.
Ms Laurie has consistently used the honorific 'Dr' in her name until
early 2014, but then agreed with the Australian Health Practitioner
Regulatory Agency to stop calling herself doctor.
As of 2014/01/10 I do not know any details of this agreement.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidenceThis is called the Sagan Standard, and similar sentiments go back at least as far as Pierre-Simon Laplace with his "The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness."
Ms Laurie's claim that something coming from turbines is harming people at large distances is certainly an extraordinary claim. If the 'harmful emanation' is sound, then the extraordinariness is in the necessity of this sound being somehow much more harmful than other sounds of similar intensity. If it is something other than sound, then the extraordinariness becomes even greater; what could it possibly be?
Ms Laurie is unable to show even ordinarily convincing evidence in support of
her claims, let alone extraordinary evidence.
What if Ms Laurie got her way?Over two hundred wind farms have been proposed in Australia and not yet built. Few of these could be built if Ms laurie's 10 km no-go radius (an area of 314 square kilometres around each home) was enforced. If these were not to be allowed, it is very difficult to see any quality wind resource where wind power could be developed, recognising that high capacity electricity transmission lines cost in the order of a million dollars per kilometre to build.
Ms Laurie is, in effect, demanding that expansion of renewable energy in Australia be stopped in spite of the fact that no research scientist could accept her 'evidence' as sufficient to justify her demands.
Fortunately no-one in any position of authority seems so far to have taken Ms Laurie's demand for a 10 km exclusion zone seriously.
Since it is not the wind turbines that make people ill, but rather anxiety and fear such as pierpont and Laurie are spreading, a more accurate term for the condition would be Pierpont-Laurie Syndrome.
Evidence that Ms Laurie is making people anxious and fearfulThe following was given as evidence by Mr Johnathon Upson, Senior Development Manager of Infigen Energy at the Melbourne session of the Senate Committee on the Impact of Rural Wind Farms:
It seems from this that people like Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie are, in effect, doing their best to change what has been a very few people with health problems that they blamed on wind turbines to epidemic hysteria.
Australian Broadcasting Commission complicity?Below are a few extracts from a long diatribe against the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the South Australian Environment Protection Authority (EPA), and even the Clean Energy Regulator, written by Sarah Laurie in an email on 2013/11/28.
"The ABC is very much part of perpetrating the ongoing abuse of rural citizens in this country, by the sort of blatantly biased reporting such as your program. If the ABC in particular had honest objective journalists who were capable of critical analysis and independent thought and an intellectual curiosity rather than a bunch of ideological groupthinkers, who ignore credible known science, this story would have been exposed a long time ago."Considering the air-time that the ABC has given Ms Laurie over the past three years (from 2010) and taking into account the lack of credibility in her message this is remarkable. A scientifically-minded person would think that the ABC has given her, and her unbelievable claims, far too much attention.
She also said:
"Perhaps for you it is an ideological bias that you (and many of your colleagues) have with respect to understanding that there is a noise pollution from wind turbines, known for over thirty years."This came just two days after the South Australian EPA released a ten-week study showing no noise problem at one of the more controversial of Australia's wind farms. Ms Laurie was well aware of the EPA research at this time, as shown by another of her comments.
The SA EPA a part of the conspiracy?Ms Laurie said:
"With respect to the EPA, why would the SA EPA choose to put their monitor underneath a very big gum tree, to falsely inflate the background noise levels? The ONLY reason is to deliberately deceive people as to the true background noise level, so they can say that the development is compliant, when in fact it is not."
And the Clean Energy Regulator?Ms Laurie again:
"What is going on here? What precisely is the Clean energy regulator regulating?"
Walkley AwardMs Laurie wrote of 'wind turbine syndrome':
"Whoever breaks this story will certainly get a Walkley [Award for Excellence in Journalism], and it is only a matter of time."Ms Laurie, the conspiracy does not exist outside of your imagination.
Is everyone conspiring against Ms Laurie? Or is she out of touch with reality?
It seems that to Ms Laurie one of the few people who speaks the truth about wind power is Senator John Madigan! In fact the things that he has said about wind turbines can easily be shown to be quite absurd.
Section Four of the Australian Code of Conduct for the Responsible Conduct of Research refers to the requirement that, in relation to the responsible communication of research findings:
"4.12.1 Discussing research findings in the public arena should not occur until the findings have been tested through peer review."Ms Laurie does not have ethics approval for her 'research', nor has she published her research in any peer reviewed journal. In spite of this, she has claimed, in her 'Explicit Cautionary Notice', that the Waubra Foundation has undertaken its own field research and that the Foundation is "the most technically informed entity in Australia upon the effects of wind turbines on human health". (Considering that Ms Laurie is the only medically qualified person in the Waubra Foundation and the lack of any published papers in the professional literature this last statement is remarkable hubris.)
It seems that if Ms Laurie was to re-register as a medical professional she would be very much at risk of being struck-off because of her unethical claims and so-called 'research'.
Ms Laurie is harming people by spreading unfounded rumours and causing fear and anxiety that lead to health problems. She is also causing death and serious illness indirectly because she is slowing the replacement of highly polluting coal-burning power stations by clean renewable power.
Background. It happens that I have known Ms Laurie for many years, she used to be my GP (she is no longer practicing), she lives about nine kilometres from me, and we have had quite a bit of correspondence about the health effects of wind turbines.
Ms Laurie became interested in the health effects of wind turbines when Origen proposed to build the Crystal Brook Wind Farm near her house in 2010. There is no convincing objective evidence linking wind turbines to health-effects, so Ms Laurie relies almost entirely on anecdotal evidence, of which she has collected a large amount. I suspect that to the Waubra Foundation and Australian Landscape Guardians – with which the Waubra Foundation has strong links – she is little more than a useful tool in their fight against renewable energy.
Ms Laurie's desire for independent primary research into the health effects of wind turbines is quite reasonable, but her claims of turbines causing health problems are unconvincing.
She goes looking for people who claim to have been made ill by turbines and, not surprisingly, finds them; and no doubt many find her. If she visited Africa and looked for people who claimed to have been made ill by witches, or the USA and looked for people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens, she would find many of those too.
She believes there is a direct link between turbines and ill-health in a minority of people, but is unable to point to any convincing mechanism that could allow wind turbines to directly cause illness. She dismisses any psychosomatic cause for the illnesses.
What if, as Ms Laurie claims, people within 10km of turbines are becoming ill?Ms Laurie has asked for a moratorium on building turbines within 10 kilometres of homes. Worldwide there are around 120 000 operating turbines and millions of people live within 10 km of them. If the turbines were causing illness then Europe, the United States, China, India and other countries would have experienced a plague of biblical proportion. This is not happening!
Where will it end for Ms Laurie?Will she ever realise that she is wrong? That realisation would be very hard on her. Or will she 'go to her grave' believing that she was right and science was wrong?
Created by poor journalists
Ms Laurie's errors
Ms Laurie's ridiculous demand
No problem in Copenhagen
Letter from Dr Cross
Medical doctors with a contrary view
Stony Gap Wind Farm court case judgement
What if Ms Laurie got her way?
Where we differ
Why media attention