Don’t tell researchers how to research

By Will Grant

It is said that the solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy. The same goes for science too.

Generally speaking, it's never a problem to bring more science to bear on an issue.

In those terms, the interim report released in June by the Senate's Select Committee on Wind Turbines appears entirely reasonable.

Drawing on an earlier finding by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that "the body of direct evidence" on the possible impacts of wind farms on human health is "small and of poor quality", the Senate Committee concluded that "independent, multi-disciplinary and high quality research into this field is an urgent priority". And that's not, on the face of it, a bad thing.

After all, what scientist worth their salt would reject the idea of doing more and better research on a possible problem?

When the Senate Committee asks, "Why are there so many people who live in close proximity to wind turbines complaining of similar physiological and psychological symptoms?", who would deny that it's important and legitimate to try and find out the answer?

But here's the thing. Research on this topic doesn't exist in a political or economic vacuum.

It is well established that renewable energy broadly and wind turbines, in particular, are matters of significant political debate.

[Former] Prime Minister Tony Abbott asserted his intention when renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target was to "reduce the number of these things [wind turbines] that we are going to get in the future", while his government will appoint a "wind commissioner" to address complaints about the industry.

Meanwhile, key members of the Senate Committee have used their positions to speak stridently against wind energy.