Slate Magazine is not generally thought of as a medical journal, but in its recent issue it seems to have confronted, and clarified, a massive medical myth about wind power, conceived in northern New York by a pediatrician and nurtured in Maine by a radiologist, with potentially negative worldwide consequences.

In the Slate article, “communication illness” is suggested as a possible title for this disorder, which may be appropriate as, despite claims, it never made it to the medical literature and seems to be transmitted through the media.

Claims of negative health effects from wind turbines may have begun in England, but a New York pediatrician, Nina Pierpont, M.D., seems to have taken them up, full force, but without much thought or evidence. She self-published “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” a book now out of print, that was seized upon by the anti-wind factions.

Claimed to have been “peer reviewed,” it was, instead, reviewed by selected associates. Pierpont has since spoken extensively to the New York legislature and as far away as the Australian Parliament with various claims of harm related to wind. Strangely, a Maine radiologist from Fort Kent, Michael Nissenbaum M.D., enthusiastically took up the cause.

His “research” consisted of interviews with 15 families in Mars Hill, all anecdotal reports, which he parlayed into what he claimed was possible publication in the New England Journal. (That never happened.)

Nonetheless, Dr. Nissenbaum remains undeterred, and has given legislative testimony in Vermont, and been quoted extensively — notably, not in any medical publications — though in several news media outlets.

To correct the misinformation flooding the media, in December, 2009, “Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects, An Expert Panel Review,” was prepared for the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations, refuting the false claims and suggesting the “nocebo effect” (the psychological fear of being harmed) as a likely cause.

Finally, now, Keith Kloor has taken the further step of providing the press with a clear explanation, which is summed up quite succinctly here:

“Several recent studies might explain what’s going on here. One of them, published in Health Psychology, found that the power of suggestion can induce symptoms associated with wind turbine syndrome.

“Researchers exposed 60 participants to 10 minutes of infrasound, (vibrations too low in frequency to hear) and sham infrasound (silence). Before the listening sessions, half the group was shown television footage of people who lived near wind farms recounting the harmful effects they said were caused by noise from the spinning blades. Within this group, the people who scored high on a test of anxiety became symptomatic whether they were exposed to low-frequency noise, or sham infrasound.”

While, in time, we usually can prove that something does happen, (i.e. side effects from a treatment or a medication), it is not possible to prove that something will not happen. There is always some degree of risk.

Further study, as demanded by opponents of wind, will appropriately continue, and will take time. Given, however, the well-documented and peer-reviewed evidence thus far, there is no medical contraindication to wind power and, given the crisis of our unstable climate, there is no time for further delay.

Richard Jennings, M.D., is a member of the Maine Medical Association and a past member of the MMA Public Health Committee. A retired psychiatrist, he lives in Brunswick.

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