Accepted Paper:

The race to build 'black boxes' in the scientific debate over the health effects of wind turbines   

Authors:

Jennifer Taylor (University of Toronto)
Nicole Klenk (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

We examine science 'in the making' in the scholarly debate over the health impacts of wind turbines. We find it a complex and partial process, revealing tensions implicit in discerning what constitutes a valid public health concern and precautionary approach in the uptake of renewable energy.

Paper long abstract:

We examine science "in the making" in the scholarly debate over the health impacts of wind turbines to explore knowledge production in the context of sustainable energy transition. One of the fastest growing sources of electricity in the world, wind energy serves as a potent symbol of a desirable energy future, widely regarded as a clean, safe and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Yet, wind farms have also been found to have a polarizing effect on many communities, perceived as industrial intrusions on the landscape that pose potential environmental risks, including risks to human health stemming from exposure to wind turbine noise and vibration. The authenticity and legitimacy of human health risks to is an ongoing debate in the scholarly literature, drawing input from social and physical scientists, medical practitioners, and industry consultants. We analyze this controversy with the conceptual tools of actor-network theory, examining trials of strength, allies, and chains of explanation used to construct evidence in 67 peer-reviewed articles addressing the question of whether wind turbines can make people physically ill. We find that the making of facts in the wind debate is a complex, partial and contingent process through which scholars promote physiological and psychosocial explanations and attempt to 'harden' them through technical, pragmatic and value-based reasoning. Furthermore, the debate reveals the tensions and ambiguities implicit in discerning what constitutes a valid public health concern and a precautionary approach in the uptake of new renewable energy technologies.

Panel T124
Energy Beyond Crisis: Energetic Bodies, Ecologies, and Economies