Aussie vaping advocates’ latest lobbying fiasco

In an earlier blog, I explored the luvvy relationships between Australia’s vaping advocates and the far right of Australian politics (Leyonhjelm, Bernardi, Abetz, Wilson, Paterson et al).

In a recent Senate motion from the Centre Alliance’s Sen Stirling Griff urging the government to regulate the manufacture and labeling of e-cigarette liquid to ensure safety and consistency of ingredients in imported and domestically-available products, and ban the importation of e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine, Griff was supported by his colleague Sen Rex Patrick, and all Coalition, Labor and Green Senators, with only the predictable brains trust of Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Roberts and Jacqui Lambie voting against the motion. The funereal-faced vaping supporter Senator Paterson was not there for the vote.

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 3.19.40 pm

In the eighth report of the Petitions Committee presented to the 46th Parliament on Feb 10, 2020, we read that a whole 238 Australians signed a Legalise Vaping Australia petition to  the parliament. This was considerably more than the 15 or so dedicated vaping advocates who turned out in a Sydney suburban park to launch Australia’s  first “Aussie Vape Day” in May 2019.

Undeterred by the political demise of  its political heavyweight champions Leyonhjelm and Bernardi, and the above rather modest numbers that Legalise Vaping Australia has  inspired to turn out at shows of strength or to sign petitions, like the limbless, gallant Black Knight with only a flesh wound, our local vape warriors are currently at it again. Another petition is up and running and there’s an on-line campaign to have vapers get into the inboxes of their local members and warn them that “we vape and we vote”, an observation that has not exactly changed the course of politics in earlier outings.

A few minutes of web browsing reveals that some vaping advocates risk getting a serious bout of repetitive strain injury from all this button clicking, not to mention a virulent dose of  dreaded Pinocchio nose syndrome.

This is producing some hilarious examples of unleashed lobbying ineptitude that seem destined to become case studies in how to not run a lobbying campaign. Here for your enjoyment and early voting for the political division in the 2020 Darwin Awards, are a couple of examples, out there in plain sight:

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 1.13.51 pm

Shayne didn’t seem to realise that senators don’t have electorates.

But the goalkeeper for the darts team?  Meet Stuart who has the same misconception, but … errm … has missed the idea that you are not allowed to be registered to vote in more than one electorate.

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 6.00.39 pm

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 6.00.53 pm

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 6.01.12 pm

Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 6.01.29 pm

Vaping Australia is a project of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance, and part of the same stable of regulation-loathing libertarians which all apparently share exactly the same thoughts on issues they tweet about.

AllOneID_2017-04-08 17.37.14

Legalise Vaping Australia says it has over “13,000” signatures on its latest petition.

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 2.31.18 pm

But LVA’s fraternal twin, the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, has what some might some  rubbery form with numbers.

Fluid Nymbers Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 10.54.39 am


Funny, but I have a feeling someone might be poised to go through these 13,000+ signatures and do some random checks on the bona fides of some signatories.

If self-isolating COVID-19 cases won’t isolate, should they be monitored with GPS wearables?

Update: since I published this blog 12 days ago, I’ve learned that the Singapore government has implemented GPS monitoring of its citizens who are required to self-isolate. This news report and the illustration below describes the process which involves daily texts sent to those in isolation requiring them to send their GPS coordinates.

As at 22 March 2020, Singapore has recorded 432 cases of COVID19 and 2 deaths, in a population of 5.7 million (74 cases per million population). This compares with Australia’s tally of 1072 cases and 7 deaths (42 cases per million).

Screen Shot 2020-03-22 at 7.10.14 am


On March 8, ABC News reported that a Tasmanian man who was awaiting his COVID-19 test results and had been asked to self-isolate until the results were known, ignored this and worked several shifts at a Hobart hotel.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 7.45.56 am

Self-isolation or self-quarantining at home is a core infectious disease containment strategy which can see forced isolation and strong penalties apply when a person fails to self-isolate. For example Queensland Health advises:

What happens to those who do not comply with self-quarantine orders?

“The health and wellbeing of Queenslanders is our top priority, and we know Queenslanders are always supportive of measures that protect the community.

Queensland Health is issuing notices to people who have travelled to at-risk areas, or who have been in contact with a confirmed case, that requests them to voluntarily quarantine themselves.

If a person is suspected to have breached the notice they had voluntarily agreed to, we’ll initially work closely with the person to ensure they not only understand their obligations, but also the importance and seriousness of self-quarantine under the current global circumstances.

There are additional compliance measures available to Queensland Health under the Public Health Act 2005, and any further failure to comply may be subject to enforced quarantine and receiving fines of up to $13,345 and other penalties.”

The British Medical Association’s ethics manager, Julian Sheather, has written this excellent summary of the ethical issues that arise in the decision of a state to coerce citizens into quarantine. He writes of the rights and duties of citizens, and of the key considerations of proportionality and government reciprocity when it requires the serious restrictions on individual liberty in quarantine:

“But where restrictions are justified, another critical principle comes in to play: reciprocity. Where individual rights are limited, the state accrues additional duties. These include ensuring that any burdens imposed are as limited as possible. Basic amenities such as food, water and medical care must be met. Compensation for lost income should be given. Priority access to novel treatments should be considered. Experience from Ebola suggests that without these guarantees, people will be imaginative in dodging restrictions.”

Here’s what the Australian Health Department means about isolation

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 11.07.39 am

As I write today, there are an estimated 50 million people in China’s Hubei province in lockdown, and 16 million in Northern Italy. [breaking: Italy has just declared the whole country to be in lockdown]. In Australia in the early days of the epidemic, those with Australian passports returning from China were asked to self-isolate. This has been extended to those coming from Iran and Korea with those arriving from northern Italy being carefully checked.

On seeing the ABC breaking news item above, I tweeted

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 8.09.47 am

The Tasmanian case struck me as highly unlikely to be unique. With a high proportion of COVID-19 positive cases experiencing mild symptoms, particularly in younger age groups, it seemed very likely that many being asked to stay fully at home for 14 days would self-diagnose that, hey, I’m not feeling  too ill, and self-exempt themselves from isolation, thereby risking infecting others in the community. If hundreds or thousands were to do this should the epidemic accelerate as it did in Hubei and is now doing in Italy and Iran, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Quarantine has been used around the world for centuries as a major strategy to try and contain outbreaks of deadly, highly infectious diseases like smallpox, plague, leprosy and TB (before the advent of effective drugs). Quarantinable diseases today include smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, plague, yellow fever, TB, Marburg and Ebola.

Courts have long used home detention in lieu of prison custodial sentences for those deemed suitable. Home detention is far less expensive than detaining someone in prison. It keeps families intact, avoids immersing some without previous criminal records in brutalising prison incarceration, keeps offenders away from the public in consideration of public safety and serves as a punishment. Wearable GPS-linked monitors like Fitbits are today inexpensive and in extremely widespread use particularly for personal activity and journey tracking, monitoring of those with dementia, and by parents wanting to track where their kids are. Programing them to signal when a person has moved out of a prescribed area is a basic capability. Making them non-removable without activating a signal is also the way they have long operated in custodial use.

The comparative costs of combining 14 day self-isolation of COVID-19 people with cost free, state-supplied, returnable mandatory wearable and non-removable monitors, against the stratospheric costs to lives and the economy of rapidly spreading COVID-19 is a no brainer.

Negative responses

My tweet set off several hours of extremely negative responses, all of which were highly case-in-point relevant to my assumption that the failure of self-isolation without monitoring would be anything but rare.

Here’s a sample of what I received. Stu opened the batting with:

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 8.41.05 am

Another agreed:

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 8.46.25 am

This of course, is an objection to quarantine per se, when those quarantined are not able to draw on employment sick leave benefits, nor compensated (almost never the case).

Ian seemed to think I was extremely wealthy and by raising monitoring for discussion, was offering to fund it!

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 11.35.31 am

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 11.57.30 am

Note the host of assumptions with all of these: that some ordered to self-isolate, particularly those with hand-to-mouth incomes, in the casualised or gig economy workforce with no sick or holiday leave entitlements, will put economic necessity, hunger and shelter ahead of any concern that they might infect others; that quarantine  “criminalises” and stigmatises people who are sick (when silly me thought it was all about trying to control a rapidly spreading disease with no cure or vaccine that could kill many, many people); that because China was engaging in quarantine, this is all we needed to know: it is a totalitarian state strategy (conveniently overlooking that every nation has quarantine laws and practices, Australia’s dating from the arrival of the first fleet); and that quarantine was somehow a knee-jerk authoritarian solution being proposed instead of every other possible strategy (rather than being just one vitally important component).

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 11.56.16 am

In late February I’d tweeted in anticipation of employers trying to shaft their staff, and especially causal workforces, who may have little to no sick leave to fall back on, that legislation should make it illegal for any employer to not pay an employee in isolation, or caring for child from a shut-down school, for example.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 11.45.04 am

No one tweeting against the monitoring idea who invoked the impact of short term quarantine on the most vulnerable workers seemed to have thought about the consequences on those same workers if COVID-19 became very widespread and devastated economies. Many industries employing casual staff would suffer badly with many casual staff laid off. So such objections seem very myopic.

Remarkably, those making these arguments were actually using them as arguments against fully complying quarantining, or perhaps didn’t understand that ordered self-isolation was already happening. They argued that there will be significant recalcitrance, pointed to the numbers who have “gone underground” in previous epidemics and implied that therefore because all won’t comply with its conditions, it should be abandoned.

But no public health and safety regulation has 100%  compliance, and this is usually not a sensible argument for abandoning liberty curtailing policies like random breath testing or speed limits. When I asked a few if they therefore did not support quarantine, interestingly none answered.

Just like HIV/AIDS

Some also castigated me for my alleged ignorance in not understanding the lessons from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, where coerced isolation (for example with HIV positive sex workers who kept working without condoms, needle sharing drug users) was only rarely used with just 5 cases of forced quarantine in the USA. If it didn’t need to be used with HIV/AIDS, it doesn’t need to be used for this new disease, ran the argument.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 9.56.38 am

But there are of course immense differences between deliberate attempts to not avoid HIV transmission by knowingly positive people via sex, needle sharing and blood donation and the unintentional way that COVID-19 is spreading around the world (eg: skin contact, sneezing and contact with everyday surfaces that harbour live virus).

Importantly, there is a large body of research showing that social distancing is an effective way of slowing contagion of infectious diseases (eg: see here, here, here and here).  A very recent paper with eye-watering modelling the of the comparative impact of quarantining and active monitoring of COVID-19 contacts concluded:

“individual quarantine may contain an outbreak of COVID-19 with a short serial interval (4.8 days) only in settings with high intervention performance where at least three-quarters of infected contacts are individually quarantined.”

Epidemic waning in China

The graph below compiled from WHO data by the University of NSW’s global biosecurity group shows how dramatically the Hubei epidemic is waning, following lockdown. Today, China reported zero new cases outside of Hubei for the third day in a succession. Few countries will be willing or able to enforce lockdowns or self-isolation in the manner China has been able to do (recall the ghastly, dramatic scenes from the recent Four Corners program where highly distressed COVID-19 positive people were being forcibly dragged into detention by authorities and doors of apartments were shown being welded shut to keep sick people inside).


In Australia, GPS monitoring of confined people over the two-week period of isolation may be a reasonable and far more humane way of minimising the spread of COVID-19. Some would very understandably have the instinctive reaction that a requirement to wear a GPS monitor for two weeks would be frankly insulting and a sign that the government did not trust them. For this reason, it may frighten policymakers off.

But against this, there are quite obviously many who already do not trust governments, very many who very sadly say they do not trust science and medicine (while relying on and benefit from it in practically all they do every day) and many who give little concern to infection control when they have colds, influenza and other communicable diseases.

People won’t like it

This is an idea that will have many practical, cost and social acceptability implications. Many will not like it, as Anthony below suggested.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.00.23 pm

For debate.


Did the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners really back vaping as a second-line therapy?

This is a guest blog from Sarah White PhD, director of Quit Victoria. Reproduced from Australian Doctor, with permission

Screen Shot 2020-02-18 at 8.44.23 am


The RACGP’s Smoking Cessation Guidelines are generally excellent.

However, I worry the e-cigarette recommendation is not pragmatic and that deliberate misrepresentation of the nuance in the recommendation risks will create a situation in which doctors are faced with an ethical dilemma.

The guidelines acknowledge the lack of approved nicotine-containing e-cigarette products and argue this is creating an “uncertain environment for patients and clinicians, as the constituents of the vapour produced by vaping have not been tested and standardized”.

They add: “However, for people who have tried to achieve smoking cessation with approved pharmacotherapies but failed, and who are still motivated to quit smoking and have brought up e-cigarette usage with their healthcare practitioner, nicotine-containing e-cigarettes may be a reasonable intervention to recommend.”

So is this the college endorsing vaping as a possible second-line therapy for doctors dealing with patients wanting to quit?

To me, the recommendations, when read in context, suggest that doctors should gently dissuade patients from using e-cigarettes through a “shared decision-making process”

It’s important to acknowledge the very real qualifications the guidelines make.

Firstly, they suggest doctors discuss the option only if brought up by the patient themselves when all else has failed.

They also say that doctors should make sure the patient is aware of the following:

  • there are no tested and approved e-cigarette products available;
  • the long-term health effects of vaping are unknown;
  • possession of nicotine-containing e-liquid without a prescription is illegal;
  • in order to maximise possible benefit and minimise risk of harms, only short-term use is recommended; and
  • dual use needs to be avoided (for example, with continued tobacco smoking).

This advice is not surprising given the current low certainty of evidence. However, more importantly, no products have been assessed as meeting basic Australian consumer safety standards, let alone having gained TGA approval.

There are literally tens of thousands of e-cigarette products available to any patient in Australia, presented by the possible combinations of multiple devices (some with adjustable temperature and electrical resistance settings) with e-liquids that can contain one (or more) of 2000+ chemical flavours, different ratios of carrier and flavouring liquids and a range of nicotine concentrations.

We don’t know which devices shed heavy metals and other chemicals from their interior or which e-liquids contain impurities or contaminants.

We don’t know the by-products created by admixture, pyrolysis and decomposition of e-liquids. Australia’s chemicals watchdog, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), set out these concerns in a comprehensive—and alarming—2019 review of a small number of non-nicotine e-liquids available for retail sale in Australia.

In my view, the e-cigarette recommendation should have been much less equivocal and based on a synthesis of evidence as it applies to the current retail and regulatory contexts in Australia.

Had this been the case, the recommendation would have been along the lines: “The RACGP is unable to recommend the use of e-cigarettes until a product has been approved by the TGA. If a patient chooses to use an e-cigarette, they should be made aware of the following issues to maximise potential benefit and to minimise potential harm….”

Naturally, inevitably, lobbyists and commercial interests (including tobacco companies) leaped to publicise the RACGP’s new guidelines, conveniently omitting the e-cigarette recommendation’s nuance.

One media release appeared an impressive 35 minutes after the guidelines were issued, claiming the RACGP “endorses” e-cigarettes “in a major policy shift”.

Some hours later, RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon was forced to tweet an unequivocal “the RACGP does not endorse vaping”.

I note these public relations efforts because I fear that doctors will start seeing patients wanting to discuss e-cigarettes because they have been told by those with vested interests that “doctors recommend them now”.

So, what is a doctor to do if a patient is adamant about trying an e-cigarette in the absence of any safety or efficacy data for a retail product?

Which device type or e-liquid(s) should be recommended? What dose of nicotine should be used? Is it a doctor’s responsibility to inform the patient how to dilute a potent neurotoxin to the right dose?

And how often should the device be used and for what duration? What is the legality of possessing liquid nicotine? (As of December 2019, nicotine possession, even with a doctor’s prescription, is illegal in the Northern Territory.)

Are doctors really going to recommend their patients pop down to the nearest high street ‘Wicked Groovy Vapes’ shop—as advocated by e-cigarette lobbyists—for the answers to these and other questions?

It seems inevitable that doctors will be forced into a choice of either refusing to provide a prescription for liquid nicotine or providing one in the full knowledge their patient could be harmed by how they use it.

To my mind, this presents an ethical dilemma that could have been avoided by a more definitive recommendation along the lines of that issued by Dr Nespolon on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2020-02-17 at 6.20.49 amScreen Shot 2020-02-17 at 6.21.59 am

Want to work for a pariah industry? Big Tobacco fears it is unable to attract top staff

Lying tobacco applicant

Imagine yourself as a newly-minted, honours-showered graduate from a world class business, marketing or management school. Lots of exciting career possibilities crowd your head: renewable energy, robotics, electric vehicles, affordable housing, to name just a few. You lay out company and agency profiles and analyses across the table and consider the risks and benefits of each, and the leverage of an early strategic choice might have if more exciting but highly competitive priorities were unrealistic at the moment.

How likely would it be today that such a short list would include a tobacco company? How would your resumé look to other employers later if they could see you’d made the choice to work for a tobacco company?

The tobacco industry has suffered public and corporate reputational bottom-feeder status for decades.

A 1993 corporate image study prepared for Philip Morris in Australia found the company were fellow cellar dwellers with other tobacco companies, running last against all other companies in the mix:

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 9.17.41 am

A year later in 1994, an Australian Financial Review article quoted Nick Waterford of Michael Page Recruitment saying:

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s harder to get enthusiasm for tobacco companies. There is a trend. If you have ten qualified candidates and you tell them it’s a tobacco company, five might say they don’t want the job.”

In the same piece, a former industry employee said:

“From a personal and family point of view, it just became wearing having to discuss and defend the industry at every dinner party we went to.”

In the 26 years since, things have almost certainly got a lot, lot worse.

An analysis of 5 years (1993-7) of Australian press reports mentioning the tobacco industry found routine narratives and memes of the industry as callous merchants of death, corporate leviathans, toxic pied pipers beguiling children, and blood money grant dispensers engaged in conspiracies to cover up awkward facts about death, addiction and targeting kids.

A 1999 South Australian survey on community perceptions of honesty and ethics found tobacco industry executives rated lower/very lower (73.6%) than even car salesmen (67%), the time-honoured low watermark of trustworthiness.

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 9.29.21 am

By 2004, 79% of Victorians (and even 71.3% of smokers) believed tobacco companies never or mostly don’t tell the truth. Can there be any other product where so many of its customers think those making and selling it are so dishonest?

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 9.55.23 am

And by 2010, the global Reputation Institute reported  “Again securing the last place [reputational] ranking [of 25 industries], the global tobacco industry’s average Pulse score dropped 4.4 points” with 51.24, against an all-industry average of 64.2. And there was daylight between the 24th place getter (diversified finance) and tobacco in last place.

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 10.09.35 am

No further reports have since been sighted but you could bet your house that if these had shown any upward movement by tobacco, the industry’s spinmeisters would have issued frenzied, gushing releases on the good news. But tellingly, there’s been utter silence, so go figure.

The companies love to publicly congratulate themselves on social media when they rank anywhere remotely respectable on anything other than their core business. Their pool room display cabinets are full of awards no one has ever heard of for every conceivable virtuous activity: affirmative employment action, greening policies, charitable giving, even picking up litter (where cigarettes butts are always the most common item). Yet global awards for annually causing the early deaths of two in every three of their longest, most loyal customers – more than 7 million a year — are strangely uncelebrated.

Decades of relentless, unflushable bad news like this inevitably reduces the quality of staff prepared to work for such industries. Big tobacco has become the index case for shorthanding corporate malfeasance. Just try googling “just like the tobacco industry”, and stand back while a Niagara of appalling fellow travellers pour down the screen.  The world has long calibrated corporate ugliness against the tobacco industry, although coal and other fossil fuel industries may by now be pressing their case for the most-loathed prize.

The tobacco industry has set the low watermark for corporate indecency and indifference to the consequences of its key performance indicators on the health of millions of people.  Unless they have been in a 40 year coma,  those joining the tobacco industry in 2020 do so with their eyes wide open to the toll wrought by the tobacco products which are the backbone of every tobacco company. While some staff would rationalise their decisions after a long draft of industry kool-aid about the recent embrace of ecigarettes and other putative reduced risk products, the day-to-day of working in a tobacco company for most employees remains all about selling as any cigarettes as possible.

A request I made in February 2019 to Philip Morris International for the release of typical key performance indicators of their cigarette division staff was ignored.

In 2016, before the big tobacco companies went into turbo drive to promote their “transformation” into quasi public health agencies via risk reduced products, Mike Daube and I published a collection of statements  companies had made to government corporate regulators about the risks that the companies faced, which were relevant to investors’ decisions.

Altria (Philip Morris USA’s parent company)  reported that, “Altria Group, Inc. may be unable to attract and retain the best talent due to the impact of decreasing social acceptance of tobacco usage and tobacco control actions … our strategy of attracting and retaining the best talent may be impaired by the impact of decreasing social acceptance of tobacco usage … ”

The Lorillard Tobacco Company reported that, “As a tobacco company, we may experience difficulty in identifying and hiring qualified executives and other personnel in some areas of our business. This difficulty is primarily attributable to the health and social issues associated with the tobacco industry”.

Philip Morris International report “… We may be unable to attract and retain the best global talent”.

And Reynolds American report “… Recruiting and retaining qualified personnel may be difficult given the health and social issues associated with the tobacco industry”.

These are all code for “understandably, most people aren’t rushing at the opportunity to work for a company whose addictive products cause the annual death of millions”

And today? 

So how do they see their prospects of attracting top tier staff today? At Altria the company report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for the quarter ending  Sept 30 2019 stated:

“We cannot guarantee that any forward-looking statement will be realized … You should bear this in mind as you consider forward-looking statements and whether to invest in or remain invested in Altria’s securities …we are identifying important factors that, individually or in the aggregate, could cause actual results and outcomes to differ materially from those contained in, or implied by, any forward-looking statements made by us … These factors include the following …

  • our inability to attract and retain the best talent due to the impact of decreasing social acceptance of tobacco usage and tobacco control actions”

How many other industries and companies would make a special point like this about the calibre of their staff being a possible risk for investors? It’s unlikely that they are referring here to their cleaning staff, their janitors, their gardening, driving, factory or secretarial staff. It seems far more likely that they are alluding to planning and marketing staff employed to maximise sales; to corporate affairs and government relations staff charged with defeating, diluting and if all else fails, delaying tobacco control policy which might adversely impact on sales; and to scientific staff who know which side of optimising nicotine addiction their salary bread is buttered on. And did those at the top who signed off these statements believe they might also apply to them?

So where do these tobacco companies get the idea that the “talent” they recruit and are able to retain may not be the very best? Does it come from intelligence gathered from recruiting agencies, urged to be candid about the quality they are seeing? And frankness about how many fine applicants run out of the room when it’s revealed an anodyne job description is in fact a job in a tobacco company? Or is it from facing up to the hard reality that there has been not a single policy or piece of legislation the industry has fought and won since they first tried and failed to defeat the very early tepid pack warnings, and every generation since? That the tobacco industry is where you go if you are going to fail to stop policy that will be bad for your industry. “What did you achieve in your last job?” “Oh, we lost every battle we fought.”

When I interviewed Australia’s Nicola Roxon, the former health minister and attorney general responsible for introducing our historic plain packaging laws, for our book, I asked her why the Labor government had done it. One of the most emphatic reasons she gave, described in the book, was that “it was a no brainer politically – everyone hates the tobacco industry.” They believed, accurately, that they would be cheered on by all sides of politics (except the tiny irrelevant libertarian fringe), by the public and even by large proportions of smokers. Those we interviewed for the book often made comments about how underwhelmed they were about the staff who led the local industry and fronted for it in media advocacy.

When the companies themselves feel obligated to acknowledge this issue explicitly to corporate regulators, it would be very interesting to be a fly-on-the-wall inside the industry as they struggle to work out this seemingly intractable problem.

Trump’s profligate and unpunished lies threaten to cause an epidemic of ethical collapse


Screen Shot 2020-01-22 at 9.13.57 am

Cathy Wilcox Sydney Morning Herald  Jan 2020

On December 16, 2019, the Washington Post’s on-going logging of Donald Trump’s false and misleading statements since becoming US president listed 15,413 of these across his 1,055 days in office: an average of 32 a day.

Trump has been busier selling his rancid pork pies to the world than a one one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest, all the while braying about other people’s “fake news”.

This week, the Guardian’s Greg Jericho tweeted about  Bridget McKenzie’s “they were all eligible” response to the revelations of the humongous pre-election pork-barrelling of community sporting development grants that “The biggest thing conservatives around the world have taken from Trump is to never admit error even in the face of total evidence. And then to keep doing what you were doing.”

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 12.15.47 pm

To which I replied “The legacy of this new normal obdurate political denial & lying for a generation of kids growing up witnessing the opposite of what mum, dad & teachers have always said about lying may be tragic for the basic civilised principle of honesty.”

I’ve helped raise three children and now have two grandkids, 7 and 9. My wife is a retired primary school teacher, with 40 years in front of classes of kids. Our dinner table and pillow talk has often seen long dissections of some outrageous lies that children tell – some highly amusing and others utterly flabbergasting – often in the face of in-your-face evidence that they can’t seem to take on board.

Across these years I’ve been fascinated at the evolution of children’s moral development. Our 9 year old is currently in a full embrace of altruism. She’s busked with her ukulele and set up table in the front of her house to sell unwanted books and toys to help raise money for fire victims. Bless her.

But it wasn’t long ago that she would clock her younger brother when she thought we weren’t looking and then strenuously deny it when it had been in full sight. With our kids, loose change around the house went missing occasionally, and homework had not been set that night when it had been. All very normal when you are a small child.

Jean Piaget’s classic The Moral Judgement of the Child (1932) described the normal moral development in children, with all the implications for when and how we should understand that a child fully understands notions of right and wrong.   A 2008 review of studies into children’s lying concluded:

“These studies have shown that children show rudimentary conceptual and moral understanding of lying around 3 years of age but take more than a decade to reach maturity (e.g., being able to consider intention when categorizing a statement as a lie and evaluate its moral values.)”

Screen Shot 2020-01-17 at 2.08.48 pm

So from this, if we are generous, we might conclude that Trumpian liars probably never made it into their teens and have the moral development of small children trapped in their adult bodies.

When you are an adult, foundational values on which all institutions and codes of conduct are built have honesty at their core. We have all known sad and pathetic adults who regularly lie. The law calls it perjury when it happens under oath. False declarations carry severe legal penalties in every area of finance, licensing, professional standards and the rest. Thou shalt not bear false witness, says the eighth commandment.

It would only be a psychopathic parent who would try to teach their infant children to lie and reward them for doing so. Yet each day the man in one of the world’s most venerated offices, role-models deception to the world. Many have made the point that if Obama or any president before him had misled the nation even once like Trump does every day, he would have been politically lynched.

Lying and misleading parliament has always been unpardonable in nations adhering to Westminster standards of honesty, integrity and concern for public trust in democracy. Under Trump’s example, abetted by slavering Republican politicians who line up beside him and are predicted to wave him through his impeachment, all this may disappear.

Trump has debased the office of the US President in almost uncountable ways.

The deafening silence of (most) global religious leadership to Trump and his ilk’s bottom-feeding ethical standards is shameful. The silence of nearly all of his Republican elected politicians is frightening.

45% of Americans today support Trump. These people presumably would say in ignorance or as mesmerised cultists tend to do, that they do not believe he lies and misleads. But many would say they don’t care if he does.  Ethically corrupt politicians around the world are watching this cataclysmic collapse of ordinary standards of honesty and taking their chances.

All who fear this ethical collapse need to speak out at every opportunity and on every occasion that our elected officials behave dishonestly. Civilisation will depend on it.


Prime Minister: let’s have a national architecture competition to design Australian fireproof housing

I played tennis this morning with a long time friend whose family holiday house was burnt to the ground at Rosedale, south of Bateman’s Bay. Built by his now deceased Canberra based parents many years ago for their children to enjoy, it lies today as ash in the burnt out bush.

One house in the affected area survived. It was a fireproof house.

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 11.09.03 am

The house was fully insured, so his family’s agony at the loss of a place he has visited for decades since boyhood was cushioned. This morning we spoke of  his early thoughts on rebuilding. A fireproof construction, sympathetically designed to blend in with the coastal bush was top of mind.

Many hundreds, perhaps thousands of Australian families will be in this position by the end of this summer.

So here’s a thought. Let’s have an national architectural design competition to produce a suite of fireproof building designs suitable for Australian bush living as we unarguably move into the era of extreme climate change on a continent that looks like it will be in the vanguard of what much of the world will experience.

These should traverse the most basic through to the more extensive of designs They should utilize the very smartest of sustainable and affordable  design while forging a new generation of design aesthetics compatible with the values that draw Australians to live in the bush.

The Commonwealth could fund the prizes across several categories, which would include both residences, garages, storage and workplaces.

Local governments across Australia should work closely together to revise building codes to embrace standards that will see all newly constructed and major renovated buildings conform to these codes.

Those affected will will be starting to plan rebuilds very soon. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Simon Chapman AO is a life member of the Australian Consumers Association (publishers of Choice) and a past chairman

Scott Morrison at the beach

Photographs of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison walking on Sydney’s Bronte beach wearing only  a pair of speedos have been published. They are found easily on the web. Some comments focused on his decision to relax on a Sydney  beach after his Hawaiian holiday while the fires still burn. But many dwelt on  his body.

Morrison is a large-framed 51 year old man with a sedentary job that almost certainly leaves him little time for serious physical activity. His schedule would include many working breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

No one would have therefore been surprised to see that he is considerably overweight.

The photographs gave license to some to add personal ridicule to the widespread anger and contempt that many feel about Morrison and his government’s policies on issues like climate change and asylum seekers, and his sycophancy with Trump. I personally loathe his politics, and contribute my share of denunciation in the hope that his support will reduce.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 6.46.12 am

The photos reaped the expected response across social media, with uninhibited expressions of disgust about a sight wits argued could never be unseen, calls for him to wear boardshorts and a rash shirt to spare us all from the “trauma” of seeing such a sight (Check the twiter hashtag #PutSomeBoardiesOn)

Body shaming is often a toxic combination of fat shaming and unadulterated ageism. When it comes to older men, a very Victorian puritanism is also thrown in: while it is just fine for lithe and muscular young men to wear speedos that can hint at their hidden endowment, it is never OK for anyone with less than a fully cut body to do so. Older men must do all they can to appear asexual. Tony Abbott, with a fit body, was constantly pilloried for wearing speedos as if he was somehow putting it out to all that he had a cock he wanted us to notice. Morrison too should wear swimming shorts or boardies, the mob insists.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 6.31.48 am

Princess Anne inspects the Australian rowing medalists at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

No one other than strict Muslims insist that women should wear swimming gear that covers all suggestions of the existence of breasts. But no man with less than George Clooney magnetism should ever wear speedos and hint that they may have a penis. – that seems to be the message that resonates with many today.

The message being sent to Morrison is a message that is also received by everyone with an older and less than perfect body: stay out of public sight. We find you repulsive. We shouldn’t have to look at you. You should understand how bad you look and keep your awful body covered up.

These messages can have serious repercussions. A large majority of the population don’t measure up to this standard with its neo-eugenic sub-texts: the old and anyone falling outside some ideal body type covers millions of Australians. The net impact of this sort of shaming across the population for feelings of low self-worth, esteem and acceptance manifests itself every day in dieting, anxiety and depression.

Morrison deserves all the criticism he gets. And more. But sorry, body shaming should never be acceptable.

Junk research journal and conference emails: the gifts that keep giving

Simon Chapman & Mike Daube

Every day, every academic we know receives numerous emails from purported research journals and conference organisers. But they are junk, predatory on-line journals and events. The emails never mention that they are from pay-to-publish factories often from India or China, set up to fleece inexperienced researchers who are often desperate to publish work to allow them to take their first steps up the academic ladder. This requires evidence of research publication or international conference presentation. They have portentous titles inferring that they are the key gathering (“world conference” or “summit”) in their fields, and entail substantial fees, but are often equally phoney – even run by the same groups.

The journals claim that they are peer reviewed (indeed, usually promising rapid review), indexed by renowned indexing agencies, and have impressive impact factors.  But in reality they are almost invariably sham operations where perfunctory “peer review” occurs internally, if at all (see an earlier article on these journals here), and the “Impact Factors” can be as spurious as the journals. And they charge – sometimes hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars – for the privilege of appearing on their websites as “publications”.

One of us tested the bona fides of these “journals” by creating a CV for his Staffordshire Terrier, Ollie (AKA Dr Olivia Doll DCS, Senior Lecturer in the Subiaco College of Veterinary Science, with research interests including “The benefits of abdominal massage for medium-sized canines”) and an older colleague, Professor Curig L’Épagneul, a spaniel whose CV indicates that he died in 1954, and who rejoices in the title of Macallan Professor of Alcohol Experiential Proficiency. They were both speedily accepted as editorial board members, and have co-authored papers accepted by these “journals” –  notably a paper co-authored by Dr. Doll with a distinguished American Staffie, Dr. Alice Wünderlandt (who works in association with a distinguished marine scientist, Dr. Phillip Clapham), entitled “ Solicitation of patient consent for bilateral orchiectomy in male canids: Time to rethink the obligatory paradigm” – a plea for informed consent by dogs before they are castrated.


Dr Olivia Doll DCS (left)

Over the years we have shared many of the more comical attempts to extract money from our wallets from these outrageous scam publications. In the spirit of Christmas, here are some winners from the last 12 months. In the spirit of academic collaboration, we would welcome any further suggestions, which might form the basis of a paper to be submitted to one of these journals.

Bonhomie bursting out

When we receive invitations from professional journals to review, write commentaries or editorials, the tone is matter-of-fact. They write to you because of your track record and reputation. There’s no need for the saccharine. But junk journal “editors” gush all over you from their very first words: “greetings of the day!” and “Hope you are doing well”.

And they like to target their greetings with Exocet precision: “Seasonal Greetings”, Autumn season wishes” – or even “Happy Tuesday!” and “Happy August!”.  Who knew there was a happy Tuesday?

Sometimes, there’s pathos too.

Dear Dr. Simon Chapman,

Good Morning!  Having seen your eminent profile, I would like to send you below cordial invitation. Advances in Cancer Research & Clinical Imaging is planning to release the Volume 1 Issue 2 by the end of this month.

All the authors around the globe are cordially invited to submit any type of the article based upon your research interest for the Christmas Edition.

I really need a warm support from an ideal person like you.

Await your submission.

Julia Vinscent

Awr shucks, Julia we’ve never actually met.

Or (albeit in a form of English that might not pass muster in second grade):

“Hello Editor. OLIVIA DOLL,

Hope you will available for this mail. I’m disappointed a lot with the lack of response from your end…… We feel the presence of articles from Editors in an issue is very worthful. Kindly consider about the welfare of the journal, for any credential the Editor’s activity is must so, please cooperate with us. We do accept manuscripts with your reference.

Hope to read from you at least this time.

Expecting your response!”

Slavering, obsequious, baroque praise

No recipient of these missives escapes a deluge of fawning flattery. Understand that the people at these journals have read your other publications. All of them. And, very correctly, they grasp that they are all wonderful, and that you are “a celebrated leader in this field” – even if this field is “Nano/molecular-medicine engineering”! They now want you to write more about the same thing or travel around the world to deliver a talk to a small room full of  saps who have fallen for all this – or perhaps want an excuse to use unscrutinised travel funds and enjoy Paris or Tokyo.

So we get “Respected Dr. Simon Chapman”, “The interest that our team has for your expertise is immense, so please make us delighted by letting us know your possibility of article submission for the upcoming issue.” “It is a pleasure to put my request to a great scholar like you.” “I appreciate the substantive intellectual contributions to your published study.” (Ermm.. which study was that, now?) ”Having seen your eminent profile, I would like to send you below cordial invitation”  “We expect your precious comments or suggestions” or “Dear Dr. Daube M, Good Wishes! Journal of Public Health Hygiene and Safety (JPHHS) aims to develop and uphold the standards by publishing the cut-edge research…..We have recently had good fortuity of reading your article…… which was rare well-written and informative……In this regard, we take honor in inviting you to contribute your upcoming research work towards our journal.”

Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in

The editors are often deaf or perhaps just persistent and undeterred by your having thrown them many times before into your spam bin.

“Please accept my apology if this email bothers you, as I have tried to send you this invitation in last months but without any response from you.”  “We have tried to contact you earlier, but with no response from you, we would like to contact you again.”

Game’s up: they know your secret expertise

We both work in public health. Yes, this is a broad church. And of course we know those in public health who stand ready and waiting to run at the mouth on any topic whatsoever. So this was tempting. “Currently we are seeking contributions on food science and nutrition therapy which is relevant to the area of your expertise.”

Then there was this: “Our committee came across your profile which is very impressive and we suggest you to present a talk at our conference 2nd International Meeting on Cosmetology and Trichology which is to be held in Dubai, UAE during April 19-20, 2019. This Year we adopted a theme for the conference “Allocating new possible innovations in cosmetology and Trichology fields”.

Captain, start the engines! We’re on the plane!

In the last two weeks one of us has had invitations from journals and events in some twenty areas ranging from “Plant hormones and other growth regulators” to “Economics and International Business Management” and “Pesticide, Fertilizers and Crop Cultivation”.

It is also clear that delegates at an upcoming gene conference would be scouring the program for any papers on alcohol policy, a leading edge topic in gene therapy: “It is our great pleasure and privilege to welcome you to join the World Gene Convention-2020 (WGC-2020) conference, which will be held during June 7-9, 2020 in Osaka, Japan. On behalf of the Organizing Committee, we would be honored to invite you to be a chair/speaker at Session 4-7: Antibodies/Vaccines while presenting about “What should be done about policy on alcohol pricing and promotions? Australian experts’ views of policy priorities: a qualitative interview study” at the upcoming WGC-2020.”

Now, do you understand what we’re looking for?

The editors can give precise, helpful directions on what the hope to get from you “We are looking forward for most complicated/rare cases which may help the future residents train to tackle with challenges.” The future residents? WTF?

Great strides on a great surface

When winnowing the grain from the chaff in journal selection, we always look at what advantage the journal can offer our careers. This one almost did it for us:

“Our organization is well affiliated with giant strides in the field of sports medicine. It is providing excellent services to the researchers with knowledgeable information.”

Then we wondered whether this one might have a ballroom dancing breakout session, always a bonus: “We really encourage you by providing with this great surface to share your experience of your research work.”

The mangled English that infects nearly every one of these emails is very surprising because they are mostly signed by people with very Anglo names like Christine Moore and Peter Smith who have US or English addresses (which when you chase them down are often paid forwarding addresses) and phone numbers (which are never answered). Call us cynics if you must, but we wonder if these are real people.

Taking the piss?

It’s remarkable  how many of these journals get becalmed in a publishing drought and are always falling short of their next issue’s paper quota by just one article. This urological journal went straight to a top urine researcher in its latest predicament.

“Dear Dr. Simon Chapman,

Good Morning…..!

Can we have your article for successful release of Volume 2 Issue 4 in our Journal?

In fact, we are in need of one article to accomplish the Issue prior December; we hope that the single manuscript should be yours. If this is a short notice please do send 2 page opinion/mini review/case report, we hope 2 page article isn’t time taken for eminent people like you.

Your trust in my efforts is the highest form of our motivation, I believe in you that you are eminent manuscript brings out the best citation to our Journal.

Anticipate for your promising response. Hope so this invitation will gives you a better opportunity and future endorsements.”

Time to open the judging panel’s envelope

After many hours in operating theatres undergoing recurrent hernia repair from laughing so much, we have made two awards for 2019.

The Dramatic Opening Award goes to the SM Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health:

Dear Doctor,

Desire to consider a proposal! 


The Least Appealing Award goes to the Scientific Journal of Research in Dentistry.

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 12.28.25 pm

The restrained opening sentence (“This is our heart whelming colossal desire to welcome you to a new era of innovative gatherings and scietific publications”) followed by the compelling incentive of “flashing with new peers” saw off all rivals.  Happy Christmas to all readers.




Je twitte, donc je suis (I tweet therefore I am): my 10 years on Twitter

Screen Shot 2019-11-08 at 11.33.15 am.png

Ten years ago today, I tentatively signed onto Twitter. My friend Melissa Sweet who in 2007 started Crikey’s then infant sibling, the Croakey health  blog, was an early adopter. She’d given a presentation to staff and students at Sydney University’s School of Public Health on the potential of various new-fangled social media to advance health.

When she described Twitter, I tuned out. I didn’t want to know about anything with such a ridiculous, trite name. But she persisted and got in my ear a few times, emphasizing that you could curate your own feed to have regular material seamlessly pop into your Twitter feed from all the outlets that you would otherwise take lots of time to manually search out. I instantly got the sense in that, so took the plunge. Twitter rapidly became an indispensable part of my day.

Among my earliest follows were the journal I edited for 17 years Tobacco Control, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Guardian’s George Monbiot, Stern’s world music shop, and Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science.

I also rapidly followed individuals I knew as polymaths, wits and those in possession of high powered bullshit detectors and truth serum dispensers for issues that interested me.

I started out by setting a personal rule that I wouldn’t follow more than 200 accounts. I didn’t want to be deluged every day with thousands of tweets that I could never hope to follow in any meaningful way as they flooded my inbox. I pruned those I lost interest in and some who turned out to be Twitter incontinents. I later nudged this limit to 300.

Today I have 10,998 followers and have tweeted (tweets, retweets and responses) 34,800 times, an average of 9.5 times a day. My follower-to-tweet ratio is 1:3.2 – so across 10 years, I’ve picked up (and retained) a new follower every 3.2 tweets.  In the past 12 months, my tweets have had 4.814m impressions. My two most retweeted tweets have been those below.

Screen Shot 2019-11-07 at 1.50.12 pmScreen Shot 2019-11-07 at 1.51.17 pm

On December 14, 2012 when the Sandy Hook gunman in Newtown, Connecticut killed twenty 6 and 7 year old children and six adult staff members, I tweeted a link to our 10 year evaluation of the impact of Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms on mass shootings.  In the month of December 2012, the paper received 83,310 views and downloads, far more than it had received across the 72 months it had already been available on-line. Today, it has an Altmetric attention score of 2,442. If it had been published in 2018 and had that score, it would rank as the 54th highest ranking paper published across all fields of research in the year, In my experience, Twitter is peerless as a dissemination tool for research.

The joys

The joys of Twitter are endless. By the time my non-tweeting wife has read the newspaper in bed on her iPad each morning, I have often read the same stories with rich commentary from those I follow, and a spiral of those I don’t follow but who’ve interacted with some of those I follow. When well curated, Twitter is incomparable in surrounding you with information and perspectives on your interests at breakneck speed.

Want deep legal takes on the latest moves against Trump? Interpretations of new data on climate change? A look at what the world’s best cartoonists are saying? A deep dive into the collection of maps and graphics on just about anything? Then geographer/demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is the go-to. Twitter allows you to liberate a mind-boggling selection of your reading interests, and to refine that selection as time goes by.

With your own posts, you quickly learn a lot about the sort of tweets which attract high interest. Arresting, apposite pictures plundered from Google images often punt a tweet into a large crowd far more rapidly than a text-only one. Twitter’s real time tweet analytics tab which provides an instant account of whether a tweet has died or is rocketing through cyberspace can by quite addictive. A tweet that rapidly soars past a 1000 impressions, can start building exponentially across the following days, particularly if it’s been retweeted or commented on by several with humungous followers.

There have been many, many occasions when someone has come up to me saying they follow me on Twitter and talks about a memorable tweet. I do the same with local people I follow. I often tweet about public health and climate change, so the knowledge is very motivating that tweeting spreads information I’ve thought was important and useful, or calls out nonsense to thousands of people who may have trustingly taken some misleading bait.

The tribulations

Twitter is sadly a magnet for miscreants, haters, obsessives and other RWFW detritus craving your attention and reaction. Their accounts are mostly dismal, anonymous little affairs with desultory followings from their tiny echo chambers. They often open their attempt at communication with slander and abuse.  Here’s a large selection from the cyber sewer I collected about me a few years ago.

A few years ago, some colleagues and I researched the characteristics of public health researchers in Australia who had been voted by their research peers as being most “influential” in Australia. (see our papers here, here, here, here  and here). We also interviewed policy makers like health ministers, a state premier, their senior staff and senior health bureaucrats.

In explaining why they chose to seek advice from some experts and avoided others, expected factors like reputation, responsiveness, and having an understanding of the political process were important. But several emphasized that, like us all, we prefer the company and advice of people whose first, second and continual impulse is not to abuse you, but to be respectful. When someone opens their engagement with you with a salvo of derision, coupled with an attempted Twitter pile-on from their fellow travelers, the future of your relationship looks grim.

The politician and mandarins we interviewed emphasized that this did not mean they wanted to just surround themselves with sycophants. They were very open to interaction with experts, practitioners and consumers seeking policy change. There were few if any who didn’t. But just as we all give wide berth to bores, drunks, dope heads and one-topic finger jabbers at parties and conferences, politicians unsurprisingly actively avoid them as well.

I’m not in the habit of politely listening to the pitch of every door-knocker trying to sell me something or offering to show me the path to salvation. I have a phone block on all “private” unidentified numbers and tend to let unknown, number-showing callers through to voice-mail where I can screen them. Abusive emailers get blocked or sent a reply advising the sender that “some idiot seems to have hacked your account and is sending out the garbage below. I suggest you contact your ISP.”

With Twitter, I either instantly block or browse their feed for any form that suggests anaesthetic-grade tedium ahead. If their handle identifies them with their cause (I’m -not-a-racist racism, climate change denial, Trump-love, firearms, anti-vax, electrophobia, whacko snakeoil, vaping and pouting on-line hookers) a decade of experience has long taught me that little to nothing is to be gained by interaction. These people’s identities are almost entirely bound up with their missions.

Twitter is a hugely positive thing in my life. I’ve “met” lots of extraordinary people on-line I’ve never met  face-to-face. For me, it’s been an indispensable tool to both learn from and help shape debates.

So thank you so much, all my followers and those I follow. Here’s a cyber gift of 50 wonderful music tracks I discovered and re-discovered in 2019 (on Spotify). I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I am.

See you on Twitter!



Wind turbine syndrome: the non-disease that only speaks English

Fig3.1 WindTurbinesEurope

Wind farms across Europe

I’ve just returned from a three week trip northern Germany and Denmark. After a week in Berlin, my wife and I drove north to Rügen Island on the Baltic Sea, then west towards the northern-most city in Germany, Flensburg. From there we took buses up into Denmark, ending in Copenhagen where I was speaking at a conference.

Shortly after leaving the outer Berlin suburbs, we began to see wind turbines. Lots and lots and lots of them. Sometimes we’d remark that in the last hour of driving, there were only moments when we could not see any turbines. On previous European holidays I’d seen similar densities concentrated in parts of Andalusia in southern Spain, in southern Portugal and in the Minervois region of Languedoc in France.  But in the north of Germany, they were ubiquitous. There were not just extensive pockets of them. They were just everywhere.

Occasionally they would be older models about as tall as a 4 to 5 story building, with towers constructed of crisscrossed, latticed steel. But far more often they would be truly gigantic modern turbines reaching over 150 metres.

We often drove off main roads and the autobahn to get a closer look and to see if we could discern anything that might suggest local policies about setback distances from houses, hamlets and towns.

#2019-10-14 19.39.51

While we saw plenty which were located in truly rural areas away from towns, we saw many  on the periphery of towns and hamlets, sometimes a few hundred meters away and often within a kilometer or two.

We also saw uncounted hundreds of single, obviously occupied farmhouses which were sometimes very close to individual turbines.

#2019-10-14 19.17.26

Parking next to a vast field of dozens of the very tallest we had seen, we turned off the car engine. We wound down the windows, immediately looked at each other and involuntarily said in unison “you have GOT to be kidding!”  Neither of us could hear a thing except the sound of a gentle wind in the poplar trees on the side of the road.

I got out of the car and walked over to the nearest one, about 40 metres away from the paved country road. I slowly walked around it to see if being upwind or downwind made any difference to what I might hear. I’d been similarly close to turbines in Victoria, New Zealand and on the earlier European holidays. With those, you could hear a gentle whoosh as they turned, often barely discernable within the soundscape of wind in your ears and in roadside trees or from passing cars. But with these German towers, neither of us could hear a thing.

Suddenly, as if we were being watched by CCT on some remote monitor, the turbine I’d walked around began to stop turning. When its blades became stationary we heard the sound of a mechanical alteration taking place to the shape of the curved blades. A sensor had triggered that the blade setting was sub-optimal and at least two points on each blade, we could see adjustments in process, with sections slightly pivoting to maximise the harnessing of the wind.

I’ve often asked European public health colleagues about whether they are aware of complaints being made about wind turbine noise or vibration or claims about illness being caused by exposure to sub-audible infrasound being generated by the turn of turbine blades. Their usual reply is “yes, some people don’t like them. They think they are ugly.” But when I press them on complaints about noise or health issues, I’ve never had anyone say they have ever heard of such a thing. When Fiona Crichton and I wrote our 2017 book Wind Turbine Syndrome: a communicated disease (free download), we were unable to find even a single clinical case report of “wind turbine syndrome” in the peer reviewed literature. Nothing has changed in the two year since.

From the late 1990s, a Portuguese research group has sought to describe something called “vibroacoustic disease” which they argue afflicts some in occupations where workers are exposed to various combinations of sound and vibration. They have described a single case of a boy said to have VAD because of exposure to wind turbines near his family property. I forensically eviscerated this claim in a 2013 paper and further comment in 2014.

The 50,000 watt sunlight question

But the question which shines 50,000 watts of plausibility-wilting sunlight on any claim about wind turbine audible and sub-audible noise  causing health problems and upsetting people who live near them is this: if it was really the case that wind turbine noise could distress and harm people, how is it that globally, many hundreds of thousands of people have lived very near to these turbines for (collectively) millions of individual exposure years, with it never occurring to them that the inaudible or barely audible noise is even worth remarking on, let alone something that causes them to become sick?

How is it that across all of this allegedly toxic exposure over these millions of individual exposure years, that there are no records of any doctor or hospital reporting case reports of such sickness in the clinical research literature, let alone of any national public health agency or government declaring it to be real? How is it that the residents of Copenhagen can go about their ordinary lives for years, with their city surrounded by wind turbines (see pictures below). In 2017, Denmark lead the world, producing 43.4% of its total energy from wind. If the “direct causation” hypothesis had even a mere sliver of plausibility, where are all all bodies in such places?

Claims about wind turbines causing annoyance and health problems have been highly concentrated in parts of the USA, Canada (especially Ontario), Australia, UK, New Zealand and Ireland, all English-speaking nations, while being very uncommon elsewhere. Some have asked whether this is a “disease” that only speaks English.

Health arguments now binned in Australia?

On my last day in Denmark, I read that the NSW Independent Planning Commission had decided that a new batch of 23 wind turbines would not be given approval to be built near Crookwell, 25km northwest of Goulburn.   The Commission based its judgement on visual amenity considerations, with objectors apparently having given up on spearheading objections based on health grounds. In accepting “we don’t like the look of them” objections, the Commission has inhabited the 2014 Joe Hockey “utterly offensive”  and Tony Abbott’ “ugly, offensive, dark satanic mills”

Australia, with its vast land mass, currently ranks 16th in the world for installed wind energy capacity.

Country Installed capacity 2017 (mw)
China 211,392
USA 96,665
Germany 59,560
India 35,129
Spain 23,484*
UK 20,964
France 15,307
Brazil 14,707
Denmark 14,700
Canada 12,816
Portugal 12,300
Italy 9,388**
Turkey 7,369
Sweden 7,216
Poland 5,807**
Australia 5,679*
  • End of 2018 ** 2016

With comparatively geographically small nations like Denmark, Portugal, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden dwarfing us in installed wind generated energy, it’s enough to make you sick.