A disease in search of a cause: a study of self-citation and press release pronouncement in the factoid of wind farms causing “vibroacoustic disease”.

18 May 2012

Background In recent years, claims have proliferated that wind turbines cause a large variety of diseases. Two of these, “Wind Turbine Syndrome” (WTS) and “Vibroacoustic disease” (VAD) are frequently mentioned. Seventeen reviews of the evidence for wind turbines causing harm have concluded the evidence to be poor yet some regulatory authorities are now referencing health concerns as part of the rationale for set-back guidelines from residences, greatly reducing siting opportunities. Methods and Findings Google returns 158,000 hits for WTS and 298,000 for VAD. We conducted a search for all papers and citations on WTS or VAD, and searched for evidence for any association between wind turbine exposure and VAD. No papers on WTS were found in indexed journals. Thirty five papers on VAD were found, none reporting on an association between VAD and wind turbines. Of the 35 papers on VAD, 34 had a first author from a single Portuguese research group. Seventy four per cent of citations to these papers were self-citations by the group. Median self-citation rates in science are around 7%. Two unpublished case reports presented at conferences were found alleging that VAD was “irrefutably demonstrated” to be caused by wind turbines. Conclusions VAD has received virtually no scientific recognition beyond the group who invented the term. The claim that wind turbines cause VAD is a factoid that has gone “viral” in cyberspace and may be contributing to nocebo effects among those living near turbines.