This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Well, we have been warned by our bending author of all the tricks of the pseudo-scientists or pseudo-statistical reports.
So rather than gratefully accept the latest report "Are wind farms a health risk?" as gospel, some circumspection is needed, especially at the mention of a 38 person "cluster".
This is a report circulated to and, surprisingly given its anti-green potential, run by the press.
Even allowing for its being a parliamentary recess and that there is only so much alarmism that can be generated about the Dark Lord's exploits, banker's bonuses, the Beeb's excesses etc., the story runs in many and has not been buried.
However, the slight suspicion arises that perhaps it is being run precisely because it may prove vulnerable to critical analysis and then the de-bunking process will be useful to "prove" the opposite, that wind farms are absolutely safe.
Of course, there have been some believable reports that living near wind turbines isn't exactly a picnic: not only noise but also the potential for some to shed ice from the blades is a genuine risk, but can one escalate that to a health scare of the likes of power line cancers, mobile phones etc.?
Or could this be simply a case that even despite the green credentials of wind turbines the activists won't, like the the scorpion crossing the river on the frog's back, be able to help themselves from attacking yet another piece of modern technology involving electricity?
Anything that makes people poorer and electricity more expensive is a health risk. Relying on an unreliable source of power is a health risk. Environ-mentalism is a health risk.
More research is needed.
This is probably just another case of someone stirring up the pot for funding / selling papers / scaring people. It has happened before, and to much more innocent implements such as microwaves, mobiles, and electricity in general.
It will probably amount to as little, but at least it is a sign of less than wholesale acceptance of the behemoths.
There was a fairly famous experiment carried out on infrasound (sound below the frequency range of human hearing) in 2003. Two music concerts were held, one with and one without the contribution of a 17 Hz infrasound generator, as described in this link:
In the results they found a 22% increase in the number of 'strange experiences' for the audience:
Richard Wiseman, the Nether Wallop -type professor that JEB mentions now and again, was involved in the experiment.
Sound is known to have an effect on the human body and certain frequencies are alleged to cause resonance in the abdominal cavity.
There was even a story at one time about a French military experiment with low frequency sounds that caused death by "scrambling" the internal organs.
However, the closest we get is "brown sound" and even then, the rumours don't keep up with the reality.
The wiki article comments that low frequency does not propagate well in air.
So, for there to be a significant effect one would have to suppose it is conducted through the turbine structure, through the ground and thence into the homes and into the people. That the people can experience these sounds via the gorund and the structure of their homes does seem reasonable as we might agree from the experiences of Evelyn Glennie which she describes here:
It is my understanding that there is a particular throb that comes each time one of the blades sweeps past the supporting tower and that the towers have to be separated by some distance to avoid wake effects (vortex shedding). Driving along in your car with a back window open you can also become somewhat irritated by the pulsing noise it creates.
So there would certainly seem to be conditions where wind turbine noise can be a nuisance, and an irritation and even disturbing but whether it can cause any health problems (other than psychological) remains to be seen.
At the moment I see they are trying to stop us dismissing the report on the basis that other problems have been identified and validated by further research that started from a similar shaky beginning... BSE and lead in petrol, suggests the Telegraph, but we should also bear in mind that such reports have also caused very significant damage.
I'd suggest the tripple vacine and autism as one such, the rumours of cancer clusters around nuclear power stations (that in one case proved to exist before the station was completed and before it even had any radioactive material on site) show that this is another "precautionary" approach that can cause more damage than is justified.
The best thing for such projects is that they are reviewed and unless there is some compelling justification, a causal link, a high significance etc that the report is filed and we wait for people to start dropping like flies - I suspect we will have a long wait. There has to be some more rigorous approach to assessing such reports for inherent frivolity.
Indeed, it seems to me that some "scientists" today deliberately "sex up" their weak research through alarmist and emotive language simply to manipulate funds for further research and do so with the complicity of the media who sell more advertising.
Something I do might have a negative effect on someone else. If I smoke a cigarette, someone gets annoyed by the smoke, whether or not it does them any objective harm. If I build a windmill and hope to make money selling the electricity, it might annoy someone, diminish the value of their property, whatever. The simple thing to do is to build in the negative externality to the cost of doing whatever it is. For example, tax is levied on cigarettes (not that hardline anti-smokers will regard that as adequate compensation for the negative externality inflicted by smokers on society), and with a windmill, it would be quite easy to pass legislation requiring the builders of such things to compensate those they harm in the process. There are well-established guidelines for compensation for loss of utility caused by, for example, building work out of hours, and these could be applied more long-term to whatever effects the windmills have. The builders should expect to have to pay the full economic costs associated with their project, including where they are restricting other people's utility. It's not fair for them to have a profit margin based on someone else who has no say in the matter being diminished. Were this kind of arrangement in place, you will of course see a few marginal projects cancelled, but if the idea is economically viable overall you will at least not strangle it at birth. It's worth remembering that your average NIMBY is happy to tilt at any kind of windmill - and things like overhead power cables have come in for similar luddite inverse-square-law-ignorant terror at the homeopathic doses of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation they dish out compared to what you get from your TV set. With adequate compensation for loss of utility real or perceived, those who don't like it can sell up and move away. Less tangible effects of windmills, such as their aesthetic, ahem, values, would be more difficult to compensate for.
In all probability, with their new use of Google Earth to discover swimming pools and conservatories, scenic views, river views, etc and levy a rates penalty, it would not surprise that instead of compensating those with Turbines in the back yard, they penalise those without.
It is really quite simple.
On the one hand the government or local authority will be paying out compensation while on the other hand they can be collecting in additional money.
Now, which do you suppose is the more probable outcome?
Erm, what abdominal cavity? As far as sound is concerned the body is largely a blob indistinguishable from water, in which it travels at about 1500 fps. Accordingly, a 7 Hz sound wave with a wavelength of about 230' isn't even going to notice.
I'm not at all sure that LF sound doesn't travel well in air - what about the low rumbles from distant thunder or gunfire? They seem to have travelled better than the higher frequencies.
Some people definitely do become sensitised to LF and it can cause great distress. James suggests compensation but that would be virtually impossible to effect, especially since peoples' reactions differ so widely and objective measurement is so difficult.
Did we have a knowledgeable, disinterested government to act as an honest broker it might be different, as anyone wishing to erect such monstrosities would have to demonstrate clearly that a) they were genuinely needed, b) they did what was claimed and c) the proposer accepted full legal responsibility for any adverse effects emerging later. That should put a stop to most of this builditquickandwalkaway nonsense.
The best way of understanding the structural dynamics of the human body is to split up into an assembly of mass-spring systems (rather than try to regard it as like a volume of water), as shown in Fig 1 of this link:
There is a pretty low natural frequency of only a few Hz associated with the 'thorax-abdomen' system, the abdomen mass is quite heavy and the interface between the abdomen and chest area above can be regarded as a weak spring.
The funny thing is that they never build windmills, power stations, incinerators or anything else near the houses of important people. It's good of important people to take up the most useless places to live in, I suppose.