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Feb 23, 2015

Chapman: sorry, Gerard, I actually am an authority on health

University of Sydney Professor of Public Health Simon Chapman hits back at his fans in The Australian.

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Over the weekend and this morning, The Australian’s Gerard Henderson and Simon King spent a lot of ink explaining to readers that I have “as much authority to discuss health affairs as I [Henderson] do. Namely, Zip.”

Their readers needed to be told this because last week Media Watch tipped a very rancorous bucket over The Australian’s reportage of a “study” from Victoria by acoustic engineer Steven Cooper that involved just three households of altogether six long-time complainants about the local wind farm. There was no control group. Here and here are critiques of the many manifest inadequacies of his report.

I was one of four people quoted by Media Watch in the program, and this got our Gerard very excited. He wrote to the program:

Media Watch’s decision to associate Professor Chapman with the words ‘expert’ and ‘scientific’ gave a clear impression that he is qualified to assess scientific research. However, Paul Barry neglected to advise Media Watch viewers that Simon Chapman had no scientific or engineering or medical qualifications. He has a BA (Hons) from the University of New South Wales and a Ph.D. from Sydney University. Dr Chapman’s Ph.D. is in Sociology. In other words, Simon Chapman has no qualifications to assess the research of the acoustic engineer Steven Cooper … Media Watch misled its viewers last Monday by implying that Professor Simon Chapman is an ‘expert’ who is ‘scientifically’ qualified to assess the heath effect on humans of wind farms. The fact is that Simon Chapman has no formal qualifications in science or medicine or engineering.”

This morning Simon King went one better with his discovery that “He does not have a PhD in Medicine”. In fact, I do have a PhD in medicine. Here’s a list of 14 of us who graduated in 1986 with … wait for it … a “PhD in medicine”, as King could have read if he’d checked my CV (line 1, page 3) or asked me.

I did my PhD in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine (that M word again). The duffers on the Order of Australia committee also seem to know that I contribute to health and medical research. My citation reads “for distinguished service to medical research as an academic and author”.

King and Henderson appear to know nothing about the nature of contemporary expertise and how nearly all complex problems in health and medicine today involve researchers from different disciplines working together. In my school in the faculty of medicine there are staff who are biostatisticians, historians, psychologists, ethicists, economists, epidemiologists, and social scientists. Only some — probably a minority — have undergraduate degrees in medicine. Henderson’s primitive understanding of expertise begins and ends with the possession of an undergraduate degree. It is rare these days for research grants to be submitted by people all from only one discipline. My university’s massive new investment in obesity and chronic disease research, the Charles Perkins Centre, epitomises the importance of trans-disciplinary research.

There are many fools other than those at Media Watch who have also fallen for my fake expertise about wind farms and health. They include the nincompoop editors of the specialised research journals Noise and Health, the International Journal of Acoustics and Vibration, and Energy Policy, who asked me to review research submissions for them last year; the editors and reviewers of these papers here, here, here, here and here that I’ve published on wind farms and health; the National Health and Medical Research Council, which appointed me as an expert reviewer of its 2010 rapid review of the evidence on wind farms; and the dazed incompetents running the Australian Acoustical Society, the Australasian College of Toxicology and Risk Assessment and the Clean Air Society of Australian and New Zealand, who asked me to give keynote talks to their scientific meetings recently.

Steven Cooper, whose CV has no mention of any PhD or undergraduate degree in medicine, until recently referred to himself as “Dr Cooper” on his home page. I look forward to The Australian covering this.

In 2011 Henderson asked me to talk on plain packaging of cigarettes at his portentous-sounding Sydney Institute. I had little idea what to expect. I assumed I would walk into some well appointed auditorium and be speaking to social policy scholars. Instead, you speak in the tatty living room of a terrace house to about 20-30 superannuated types who have driven their Daimlers over from Mosman for a nice talk and a few ports. One knowingly asked me something like “Don’t you think that all this warning about tobacco might be having the opposite effect on young people … after all, there are so many of them smoking.” Actually, smoking by young people is the lowest ever recorded.

Henderson’s smearing of me belongs to the same pathetic, out-of-touch world. Time, gentlemen.

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