Pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners

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Twitter time-line from an anti-fluoride propagandist – Click to enlarge

Social media can be bloody frustrating at times.

I do find Twitter useful for identifying interesting newspaper reports, scientific articles and videos – often long before I would see them myself on other sources. But, boy, there is loads of rubbish – especially when following a search term rather than people you trust.

Take search terms like #fluoride and #fluoridation – most of the time these are a complete waste because they are dominated by crazies who are using Twitter as a political propaganda tool. Click on the image to the left to see just a small part of the timeline from one of these propagandists.

But there are exceptions. Over the weekend these search terms went crazy with links to a great article in the Guardian by David Robert Grimes –  Politicians should stop pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners. I recommend you read this if you haven’t already.

Sound and fury of opposing ideology

Grimes

David Robert Grimes

Grimes is commenting on the irrational backlash against fluoridation in the Republic of Ireland – and expecting a similar backlash to last week’s report from Public Health England urging more councils to consider fluoridating their water supplies. He said “as with so many public health interventions, the sound and fury of opposing ideology often trumps rational analysis.”

“Fluoride has been added to water in Ireland since the 1960s and has substantially improved the nation’s dental health, even in the era of fluoridated toothpaste. Despite this, a small but highly vocal opposition repeatedly pops up to claim fluoridation is harmful to health. These claims have been debunked time and time again.

The current incarnation of the opposition relies heavily on a report by self-proclaimed “fluoridation scientist” Declan Waugh, who blames fluoride for a range of illnesses. The report has been roundly dismissed by the Irish Expert Board on Fluoridation and Health, its chairman Dr Seamus O’Hickey concluding that … in spite of its presentation, its content is decidedly unscientific … the allegations of ill-health effects are based on a misreading of laboratory experiments and human health studies, and also on an unfounded personal theory of the author’s.”

Despite this, clever use of social media and strong lobbying has gained fluoridation naysayers considerable political traction, prompting the Irish government to promise yet another full review of the practice.”

Appeasing politicians

And this is his concern –  appeasement by politicians:

“perhaps the ugliest facet of the Irish debate is how elected representatives have given such outlandish fringe assertions a sense of legitimacy. One Irish politician has claimed that fluoridation causes cancer and Down’s syndrome; others have demanded an end to the practice, parroting claims that would have taken all of three minutes on Wikipedia to expose as utter nonsense.

The Irish government’s response is appeasement, and a waste of time and public money. Not only is there already an Irish body that routinely reviews the safety of fluoridation, this is a Sisyphean task because anti-fluoride groups have already reached their conclusion, and will trust no expert body unless it agrees with their assertions. Almost certainly fluoride will get yet another clean bill of health, campaigners will reject the findings and the same tedious cycle will repeat again, in much the same way parents who oppose vaccination are impervious to the scientific literature undermining their position.

It is irresponsible for politicians to show such contempt for science that they’re willing to take the lead from pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists rather than experts. Leadership should be about making the best decisions based on the data available, even on emotive issues such as fluoridation and vaccination.”

Hear, hear – that is exactly how I felt about the Hamilton City Council politicians who gave far more weight to “pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists rather than experts” in their deliberations on fluoridation last year.

A quirk of human psychology?

Grimes makes an interesting observation that the sort of irrationality, conformation bias, motivated reasoning and conspiracy theories we see in the anti-fluoridation and similar movements is really just part of human nature.

“That such beliefs persist in the face of strong evidence may be a quirk of human psychology. Campaigners may see themselves as enlightened crusaders, so when their assertions are questioned or contradicted by the data, this is viewed not as a useful correction of error but rather an attack on their identity and narrative. Conspiratorial thinking is endemic in such groups with critics being regarded as agents of some ominous interest group – big pharma is a common bogeyman – that wants to conceal the truth. This becomes a defence mechanism to protect beliefs that are incompatible with the evidence.

If all else fails, attacking the messenger may be easier than accepting that your whole raison d’être is misguided.

Motivated rejection of evidence is often a symptom of cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals are challenged by information inconsistent with their beliefs. They may reject unwelcome information, seek confirmation from those who already share their beleaguered viewpoint, and try to convince others of the veracity of their world view. This may explain why some people proselytise even more vigorously after their beliefs have been debunked.”

So, perhaps we can understand the psychological motivations of people promoting pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. But, as Grimes says,” this does note excuse the fact that “elected representatives have given such outlandish fringe assertions a sense of legitimacy.” That goes for Hamilton as well as Ireland.

Grimes finishes with a message to the politicians:

“what is crucial is that decisions are based on scientific research, not misinformation and fear. The cost of such folly is clear to anyone who remembers the human suffering in the wake of the misinformed panic over the MMR vaccine just a decade ago.”

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19 responses to “Pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners

  1. Yes Ken I absolutely agree with the conclusion drawn by Mr Grimes;
    “what is crucial is that decisions are based on scientific research, not misinformation and fear”.
    The Hamilton tribunal contribution by the WDHB led contingent in support of fluoride was a classic illustration of misinformation and fear mongering. Despite being requested to provide the research on which the pro-fluoridation stand is based they resorted to unverified data on decay rates and glossy photos of decayed teeth. And of course the tedious repetition of the 1950s spin doctors mantra of “safe, beneficial and cost-effective”.
    The taxpayer funded agencies set up in all the fluoridating countries to look at the evidence on both sides of the argument have one thing in common, they are tasked to promote fluoridation as the greatest public health intervention of the last century. In NZ there is no apparently no research in the past two decades worthy of consideration because the only reference cited by the MoH, NFIS, DHBs and politicians of all makes and models is the 1999 YORK review. That review of evidence from the 1930s through to the mid 1990s was described in 2003 by the chair of the review panel, Professor T Sheldon, as not coming to the conclusions cherry picked from it by the BMA, BDA and others defenders of fluoridation.
    In NZ the debate over fluoridation could stop tomorrow if the health authorities could produce independently verifiable research as has been requested for over 20 years. Obviously they cannot and that indicates to me research into the claims of the anti-fluoridationists is not being carried out. If it were why then do the authorities charged with protecting our health and wellbeing keep trotting out the York review, dubious data, unsubstantiated good news on fluoridation and the decades old mantra of ‘safe, beneficial and cost effective’?

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  2. Bojangles, I suggest you actually do a bit more reading of the publicised research on community water fluoridations you will find it very substantial – and in fact the “York review” is nothing more than that – a review of research published to that date. Not original research itself.

    We even have a government financed unit which continually surveys the published literature resulting from research on fluoride. The NZ National Fluroidation Information Service. You could do worse that check out some if their recent summaries.

    Ideologically motivated anti-fluoride activists managed to capture the Hamilton City Coumcil last year – and they did use fear and misinformation in the process. The council management still repeats an unscientific understanding of the issue and places a silly amount of reliance on the high numbers of submissions the anti-F people manufactured. They chose to ignore the expert opinion. And also ignored the well known a facts of voter support for fluoridation until it was rubbed in their noses by a new referendum.

    The council made the city appear moronic and they should be embarrassed over this history. Political councils do not have the expertise to make judgments on science – especially when they demonstrate a it-scientific and pseudoscientific prejudices themselves.

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  3. Anoymous Bojangles2014 on the internet (above)

    or

    The Royal Society of NZ ( http://www.ttophs.govt.nz/vdb/document/663 )
    (… and every public health organisation in the world)

    Oh! whose take on the topic to accept?

    PS. bojangles2014, Grimes’s comments about ideologues are about you.

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  4. Ken, over the past 9 months I have read extensively, I even waded through your lengthy and erratic responses to Paul Connett. Contacted the WDHB boss, Craig Climo and asked him for the material from the NFIS that the board used to reject the claims of those opposed to fluoridation. You should note I said fluoridation not fluoride.
    I even had a flu injection a couple of weeks ago, so am obviously not your run of the mill Nutter. I note a link to a site about vaccinations which had a very salient phrase therein; More study of pro-vaccine messaging is needed.
    That is the conclusion the MoH and Tony Ryall have come to as well. In the absence of any valid research the response is to look at the spin-doctored arguments and because they are not convincing enough there is now a project under way to redefine the pro fluoride message. Note, nothing about researching the claims of the opponents of fluoridation just re-spinning the old arguments to counter the changed reality.
    Richard, your comments add nothing to the debate. You can doubtless provide me with a long list of experts that will absolutely verify what you believe to be true. I can also put together a long list of experts who will verify that the other list of experts are bullshit. The fact that the best the NFIS can provide the WDHB and experts like the glamour boy of dental decay, J Broadbent, is the York review speaks volumes for the lack of research on the human health effects of the compounds being added to community water supplies.
    Since I stopped ingesting fluoridated water 12 months ago my severely arthritic hip, which my orthopaedic surgeon told me needed replacement, has improved markedly, my aching joints likewise, I am sleeping better and my relapsing polychondritis condition which had me in hospital 3 times on an IV drip over a two year period has not relapsed.
    Of course I am sure you can put up a logical explanation for my dramatically improved general health and wellbeing but I suggest, like many other people who have had the same experience, that not ingesting fluoridated water and what has happened to my body is not just co-incidental.
    I look forward to the research evidence from you guys that will prove me wrong!

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  5. Bojangles, since Hamilton stopped fluoridation almost a year ago I have suffered chronic fatigue, developed skin sores and have a painful neck and back. I don’t believe that what has happened to my body is just coincidental. I look forward to the research evidence from you and your mates that will prove me wrong.

    Meanwhile I am thankful that democracy has finally won and fluoridation will be returned in a few weeks. Perhaps I will be able to report to you how my skin has cleared up, my fatigue has gone and I am pain free. :-)

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  6. Richard, your comments add nothing to the debate. You can doubtless provide me with a long list of experts that will absolutely verify what you believe to be true. I can also put together a long list of experts who will verify that the other list of experts are bullshit.

    Richard can do much better than provide you with “a long list of experts”.
    We all can.
    On the other hand, you cannot.

    It’s not a tit-for-tat game where you give a name and then we give a name.
    It’s not your “expert” versus our “expert” one after the other.
    It’s not one link versus another link or one paper/study/review versus some other paper/study/review ad nauseum.
    It’s not one blog versus some other blog.
    There’s no “debate” so why pretend there is one?

    It’s childishly easy to just cut to the chase.
    Name a single scientific community on the planet that rejects the scientific consensus on water fluoridation.
    The key phrase here is “scientific community”.
    Name one.

    (…awkward silence…)

    A scientific consensus does not happen by magic.
    Any scientific consensus is created the same way.
    Work.
    Lots of it.
    Research paper after research paper, study after study, usually slowly over decades building up a massive body of evidence.

    There’s a scientific consensus on evolution.
    There’s a scientific consensus on Germ Theory.
    There’s a scientific consensus on the moon landings.
    There’s a scientific consensus on the safety of water fluoridation.
    There’s a scientific consensus on a whole range of issues.
    It’s a result that doesn’t just somehow mysteriously happen.

    Do you want to turn your back on the scientific consensus on topic “X”?
    Turn your back on all that work?
    Ok.
    Only you have to have a really, really, REALLY good reason to do so.
    The kind of really, really, REALLY good reason where they’re shoving a Nobel Prize into your hands.
    Otherwise, you can take the bus to Crackpotville like all the other loons that came before you.
    It’s put up or shut up.

    Since I stopped ingesting fluoridated water 12 months ago my severely arthritic hip, which my orthopaedic surgeon told me needed replacement, has improved markedly, my aching joints….

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

    The Problem with Anecdotes by QualiaSoup

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  7. Since I stopped ingesting fluoridated water 12 months ago my severely arthritic hip, which my orthopaedic surgeon told me needed replacement, has improved markedly, my aching joints likewise, I am sleeping better and my relapsing polychondritis condition which had me in hospital 3 times on an IV drip over a two year period has not relapsed.

    That was when the analogue television broadcasting was withdrawn in your area.

    Or, was it when Peter Dunne was stood down from his Ministerial position outside Cabinet?

    I’d say the later, it brought real relief to thousands.

    Prove me wrong

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  8. In reply all I can do is quote your own source as being applicable to where you are coming from;
    “If all else fails, attacking the messenger may be easier than accepting that your whole raison d’être is misguided.
    Motivated rejection of evidence is often a symptom of cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals are challenged by information inconsistent with their beliefs. They may reject unwelcome information, seek confirmation from those who already share their beleaguered viewpoint, and try to convince others of the veracity of their world view. This may explain why some people proselytise even more vigorously after their beliefs have been debunked.”
    I am sure you are aware of the furore over Tamiflu where a study has found that evidence which would have been detrimental to the manufacturers sales strategy was effectively hidden. The same devious process is evident in the history of CWF. It was a feature of the decades long defence of lead in petrol and other toxic chemicals and substances.
    All you people have in response to those you label as nutters and cranks is smart-arse denigration which has been the tactics of losers for hundreds of years. That indicates to me that you are part of that group of dinosaurs who learn absolutely nothing from history and condemn us all to history being repeated.
    I laughed at Cedric’s comment – “The kind of really, really, REALLY good reason where they’re shoving a Nobel Prize into your hands.”
    If that is right Cedric you should then agree with 2000 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient, Arvid Carlsson, who stated that fluoridation should be illegal for ethical reasons e.g. it violates modern pharmacological principles and needs to be tailored to individuals.
    The Council of Europe’s convention on human rights and biomedicine states;
    “All medical interventions must be carried out under proper medical supervision and in accordance with the patients needs and fully informed wishes.
    If you guy’s simply produced the research based evidence to support you conclusion, rather than play silly buggers with your intellectual gymnastics, you would have a little more credibility. In the meantime all you are good for, apart from some amusement, is bugger all!

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  9. Quite a rave there, Bo. But I look at the situation in my city, Hamilton, and ask who has credibility. Well the pro-science people like us, the experts in the MoH and Health Board certainly seem to have credibility with the voters – the referendum result tells us that.

    Yes. The pseudoscience, “natural health”, anti F people did manage to capture many in the City council with their saturation bombing of misinformation. Especially they captured councillors with known anti-science prejudices.

    The anti-F people did not have the votes, they did not have the science and the recpcent High Court decision shows they don’t have the law. At the moment all they seem to be good for is amusement.

    Personally, Omrhink Horne fact that pro-science people area tending up and saying enoug is enough, and this is being welcomed by the person in the street, the anti-f people will more and ore just be laughed at.

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  10. If that is right Cedric you should then agree with 2000 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient, Arvid Carlsson…

    Don’t be stupid.
    That’s an argument from authority.
    You can be dripping in Phds and Nobel Prizes and still be completely wrong.
    The only way to successfully challenge a scientific consensus is through work.
    A scientific consensus does not happen by magic.

    The idea is to reject the scientific consensus on “X’ for a reason. A really, really, REALLY good reason. A reason so good that it leads to them putting a Nobel Prize in your hands.
    Sadly, Carlsson is not getting a Nobel Prize because of his opposition to water fluordiation.

    The Council of Europe’s convention on….

    Reading comprehension fail.
    Focus.

    Name a single scientific community on the planet that rejects the scientific consensus on water fluoridation.
    The key phrase here is “scientific community”.
    Name one.

    Let me help you with that.
    “Council of Europe” =//= “scientific community”.

    All you people have in response to those you label as nutters and cranks is smart-arse denigration which has been the tactics of losers for hundreds of years. That indicates to me…

    “They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.” – Carl Sagan

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  11. Christopher Atkinson

    Hi Bojangles….I am intrigued..

    You appear to be influenced by many logical fallacies as Cedric, Richard and Ken have pointed out to you.

    Do you think that your ability to think rationally and critically is compromised or have they “got it wrong” and have either misjudged what you are saying or have some sort of biased “agenda” against you? :-)

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  12. bojangles, the script you follow is very familiar around here. Dozens of your pals from crankland have already paraded the tin foil badges they earned for ten minutes of hard research on the University of Google.

    They waltz in, brazen and confident in denigrating the scientific community and throwing conspiracy assertions about.
    Like this:

    The taxpayer funded agencies set up in all the fluoridating countries to look at the evidence on both sides of the argument have one thing in common, they are tasked to promote fluoridation as the greatest public health intervention of the last century.

    They exhibit extreme confidence that their living room research ability trumps that of trained experts in a scientific field.

    They proudly provide awe-inspiring justification for their expertise:

    Ken, over the past 9 months I have read extensively,

    Commonly, they imply that they are being rorted by hidden hands in…the taxpayer funded agencies… enabled by bureaucracies in the pockets of left-wing green politicians. And it’s not just them but all suffering taxpayers that are being rorted by socialism hiding behind the banner of science.

    Of course they are never your run of the mill Nutters, they are all ever so special, so special that their personal anecdotes are always proof positive that correlation equals causation. Prove them wrong on that one.

    They know all mainstream scientific claims and experts are bullshit.

    They all understand that one study immediately negates dozens of other studies, just look at Tamiflu !!! – they know such shocking studies are invariably suppressed and the same devious process is evident in the history of CWF. It’s magic when that happens. Proof positive they are right.

    Yeah, we’ve been here before.

    Even the part where they blubber about denigration and being mocked and claim to be in the company of historical deliverers of of truth and justice.

    Same old.

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  13. Of course they are never your run of the mill Nutters,

    Except for Trevor, and of course, except for Ian.

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  14. Ian was very special.

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  15. Oh, all right, I admit it, Ian was special too.

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  16. Who the hell was Ian?

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  17. Be grateful you never had to deal with him. We did.
    Repeatedly.
    He had a bee in his bonnet about fluoride and (for some weird reason) English grammar and punctuation.
    A genuine burden on society.

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  18. Critique of David Robert Grimes: http://objectiveskeptic.blogspot.co.uk/

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  19. Mattthew, noramally I would not let such a trolling link through. Perhaps you could present you argument instead of simply a link so we can get some idea of what the hell you are on about. Otherwise perhaps I will just treat you as a drive-by troll in future.

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