Crikey journalist Amber Jamieson recently reported that the National Health and Medical Research Council is examining whether anti-wind farm campaigner Sarah Laurie has breached ethical codes of research conduct.
The NHMRC and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency were recently sent a dossier raising questions about the work of Laurie, CEO of the Waubra Foundation (an anti-wind farm activist group).
The dossier, whose author/s are not named, was forwarded to these agencies by the Public Health Association of Australia. It documents statements by Laurie about conducting interviews and other forms of research.
The Waubra Foundation has since put out a statement calling for ICAC or a Royal Commission to investigate the “anonymous and malicious” dossier.
“The Board of the Foundation considers that what has transpired, plus the contemporaneous and coordinated press campaign prominently featuring chronic critics of the Foundation’s works, is properly the subject of a referral to an ICAC or a Royal Commission,” the statement says. “To ignore the documented suffering of people, and openly to ridicule them, is not only unethical, it is immoral, if not criminal.”
The Waubra statement does not address the concerns raised by the dossier below. I wonder how long until we hear more on these matters from the NHMRC et al…
The content of the dossier is reproduced in full below
Research being conducted by the Waubra Foundation
There are consistent references on the public record to research activities of the Waubra Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer (formerly Medical Director), Sarah Laurie. Attached are a selection of quotes by Dr Laurie about her research methods and findings, together with relevant quotes from a range of media articles and quotes from two ‘subjects’ of Dr Laurie’s research taken from submissions to the 2011 Federal Senate Inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Wind Farms. The attached references date from October 2010 through to January 2013.
Of particular note are 2 presentations given by Dr Laurie (references 12 and 16 on the attached list), which explicitly describe the following sources of data for her research:
- Interviews with affected residents
(Interviews with affected residents are also listed in references 1, 8, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25 and 27). The most recent reference states that over 120 residents have been interviewed.
- Medical records
(Medical records, clinical history, medical symptoms and personal health journals are also noted as sources of data in references 1, 6, 8, 9, 18, 20-22, 25, 26 and 27)
- Treating physicians
(Obtaining information from, collaborating with, or providing advice/education to treating health practitioners is also noted in references 3, 5, 6, 8 , 14, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26 and 27)
- Personal health journals
- Acoustic monitoring inside homes
In addition to the above, the following are noted:
- Discussion of blood pressure data collection being undertaken as part of Dr Laurie’s research in references 2-6, 8 and 12. Reference 3 also contains an invitation by Dr Laurie to provide blood pressure results to her. These data appears to have been collected in conjunction with personal health journals, and used in public presentations and documents by Dr Laurie to suggest that exposure to wind turbines is correlated with high blood pressure. Some of the data collected by Dr Laurie was provided to the South Australian Environment, Resource & Development Court for a Jan 2011 hearing (see references 6 and 7). We note it was analysed by an independent expert from Adelaide University, who found no correlation between high blood pressure and wind turbine exposure.
- Explicit reference to ‘research subjects’ in references 6, 9, 10 and 11.
- Medical advice and/or clinical judgement by Dr Laurie contained in references 18 and 21.
As a former medical practitioner, Dr Laurie should be aware of the National Health & Medical Research Council National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. We note “the National Statement sets national standards for use by any individual, institution or organisation conducting human research. This includes human research undertaken by governments, industry, private individuals, organisations or networks of organisations” (page 7). The Statement also provides a definition of human research, which includes: taking part in surveys, interviews or focus groups; undergoing psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment; being observed by researchers; or researchers having access to information (page 8).
Based on the National Statement, Dr Laurie’s activities appear to clearly meet the definition of research involving human subjects. Accordingly, the Waubra Foundation should be asked to answer the following questions:
- Has Dr Laurie’s research been subject to review by a Human Research Ethics Committee?
- If so, which committee approved the study protocol and is/was responsible for monitoring how the research is conducted?
- If the research was not reviewed by an Ethics Committee, on what basis were Dr Laurie’s activities exempted from this requirement?
With regard to collecting information from treating health practitioners:
- How many treating physicians has Dr Laurie gathered information from?
- Which treating physicians have provided information, and what protocol has been followed to obtain this information?
- What has this information consisted of?
- Is the data collection listed above ongoing? If not, when did it cease?
Regarding the data collected, in an interview with Wind Wise radio on 19 February 2012 (reference 19), Dr Laurie stated that she has been “sharing information, the clinical information that I’m gleaning from the residents and their doctors, and sharing it with people from other disciplines so that we can get a multidisciplinary dialogue going on.” Objective 3 of the Waubra Foundation is also listed as “build the existing and new data into a high quality database suitable as a start point for properly constructed studies and review by qualified others”.
- To whom is the database available?
- What information is included in the database?
- How is the information on the database being managed and shared in accordance with standards of ethical research?
Dr Laurie is not currently registered as a medical practitioner. The Medical Board of Australia in conjunction with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency advises that medical practitioners should be registered if they have any direct clinical contact with patients or provide treatment or opinion about individuals. It also provides advice for practitioners to be registered when they are directing, supervising or advising other health practitioners about the health care of an individual(s).
As noted in references 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 16, it appears that Dr Laurie has had direct clinical contact with individuals, particularly in relation to collecting blood pressure data, personal journals and clinical histories. The document ‘Suggested Health Assessment Guidelines’ prepared by Dr Laurie (reference 18) provides advice intended for health professionals, and would also appear to be in breach of Medical Board of Australia guidelines. Dr Laurie should be asked to explain why she is undertaking these activities while not registered to practice medicine.