Category Archives: science

Anti-fluoridation advertising deceptive

 Looks like the scientific fight-back against the misinformation coming from anti-fluoridation groups is having some success. This press release from the on-line Making Sense of Fluoride group.

The complaints and decisions can be found at:


Anti Fluoridation Advertisements Rejected by The Advertising Complaints Authority

Over the past week, the Advertising Complaints Authority (ASA) has upheld three complaints made against the anti fluoride group (Fluoride Action Network of NZ) FANNZ. The complaints involved several advertisements authorized by FANNZ and placed in the Kapiti News earlier this year. The newspaper that ran the advertisements, the Kapiti News stated that it had received many phone calls from agitated members of the public saying that the information provided by FANNZ was ‘wrong’.

After seeing these advertisements, Making Sense of Fluoride (MSOF) legal spokesperson, Christopher Atkinson contacted the ASA voicing his concern that they that were not factual and were likely to cause concern about the safety of community fluoridated water. Consequently, the ASA upheld Mr Atkinson’s complaints and ruled that the advertisements be removed.

MSoF warn the Kapiti Coast District Council that they are the latest Council to be targeted in a series of attacks from anti-fluoridation activists and urges the Council not take activists claims in face value.

Hamilton stopped fluoridating its water supply after pressure from anti fluoride activists in June last year. After a referendum was held, residents overwhelmingly voted for fluoridated water and the council backed down, reversing their decision.
It was only after the recent High Court case in Taranaki which affirmed the widely held view that community water fluoridation is a safe and effective public health measure and did not violate the Bill of Rights legislation, the Hamilton City Council voted to resume water fluoridation.

MSoF hope that Kapiti Coast District Council will not follow the Hamilton example and be pressured into decisions concerning public health by activists threatening legal action.

The online advocacy group Making Sense of Fluoride (MSoF) is a group of students, academics, medical professionals, and other concerned individuals advocating that this significant public health initiative either be maintained or introduced. They provide a forum to discuss all aspects surrounding this topic; fb.com/fluoridewater.

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Fluoridation: putting chemical contamination in context

Anti-fluoridation activists often claim fluoridating chemicals used for water treatment are contaminated with heavy metals and radionuclides. I have written about this before in Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?Water treatment chemicals – why pick on fluoride? and Hamilton – the water is the problem, not the fluoride!  The issue was also discussed in my exchange with Paul Connett (see Fluoride debate).

Trouble is, many people have difficulty putting measured levels of contamination into context. After all, if there is a sufficiently sensitive analytical method available just about any contaminant will be detected and measured in our food and water. The important issue is the magnitude of the contamination (which is often natural anyway). That is why measured levels of contaminants must be compared with the maximum allowable values defined in regulations for food and water safety.

I have seen anti-fluoridation activists presenting submissions to councils who will flash on the screen a copy of a certificate of analysis as “evidence” of heavy metal contamination without any reference to the measured values at all! Their logic seems to be that the fact contaminant levels have been measured at all is some sort of “proof” of dangerous contamination.

Arsenic in Hamilton City water

It may help to consider the possible levels of contamination with the contamination from natural sources. In the graph below I have plotted the relative contribution of arsenic from natural and fluoridating chemicals in the treated Hamilton City (NZ) water. Arsenic is commonly mentioned by opponents of fluoridation.

As-River

The source water for Hamilton (Waikato River) contains arsenic from natural sources usually 2 or 3 times the maximum acceptable value (MAV) for drinking water (10 ppb As) (McLaren and Kim 1995). (ppb = parts per billion). In the figure the first bar represents river water arsenic content just under 30 ppb. After treatment up to 90% of the arsenic is removed so that it does not exceed the  MAV  (here 3 ppb) – red horizontal line. However, the contribution from fluoridation chemicals used (assuming about 2 ppm As in the FSA – the last batch used in Hamilton had 0.4 ppm As) is miniscule compared with that from natural sources (0.15 ppb).

Seems to me rather silly to argue against treating Hamilton water with fluoridating chemicals because they are “contaminated” with arsenic while ignoring the much large contribution of arsenic from the source Waikato River water.

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Declan Waugh scaremongers over fluoride – again

Mary Byrne, the convener of the anti-fluoridation activist group Fluoride Action Network of NZ, is promoting “alarming information” about incidence of neural tube developmental defects like spina bifida with the implication they are caused by community water fluoridation. Her authority for this is Declan Waugh!

DeclanWaugh_photo

Declan Waught - promoted as a “leading expert” on fluoride by anti-fluoride movement

Any critical examination of Waugh’s claims on fluoridation (and there are many) would show him to be the last person one should trust on the issue. Unfortunately, though, he does seem to fool some people – using a mixture of extensive, but misleading, citation of scientific papers and claims about the high incidence of many illnesses in the Republic of Ireland. Anti-fluoride activists love to quote him as “scientific proof” for their own extreme claims and, worryingly, the Hamilton City Council was persuaded that he is indeed a reliable “expert” – citing one of his reports in the list of 10 documents which convinced them to stop fluoridation last year (see When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science).

Very often simple checking will show his claims about the incidence of illnesses are actually completely wrong, and the scientific papers he cites don’t actually say what he claims. Completely dishonest but  it seems you can fool some of the people some of the time with fancy sciency-looking reports. Especially if your citations are so intimidatingly extensive few readers have the energy to check them.

Here I will take apart the fear mongering he is currently promoting over spina bifida and similar neural defects.

The incidence of neural defects in Ireland

The “alarming information” on incidence of neural defects in The Republic of Ireland  he relies on is a paper by McDonnell et al (2014), Neural tube defects in the Republic of Ireland in 2009–11.  The authors concluded:

“The incidence of NTDs [neural tube defects] in the Republic of Ireland appears to be increasing. Renewed public health interventions, including mandatory folic acid food fortification, must be considered to reduce the incidence of NTD.”

A press release from the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science in Dublin put this in context:

“This comprehensive national audit over three years found that the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs) increased slightly during the period studied, reversing the trend of the previous ten years.

NTD incidence had increased from 0.92/1 000 in 2009 to 1.17/1 000 in 2011. And nowhere was fluoride implicated as a cause of this.

So no basis for Waugh’s fear mongering and implication of community water fluoridation as the cause. However, I imagine the average anti-fluoride activist would be aghast at the idea of a social health policy involving mandatory folic acid food fortification and would campaign against it.

Manufacturing a link to fluoride

Declan Waugh manufactures a link of NTDs to fluoride and community water fluoridation in two ways:

1: The old trick of using a brief report from an area of high dietary fluoride intake. In this case the paper of Gupta et al (1994). This brief 2 page report studied children suffering dental and skeletal fluorosis in India. Drinking water concentration was high (4.5 to 8.5 ppm compared with the recommended 0.7 for community water fluoridation). Fourteen of the 30 children studied showed spinal bifida occulta (the mildest form which usually presents no problems) on X-rays but not on clinical examination.

Although the incidence in this small sample is higher than the 20% normally found in average spines the number of subjects is low so no conclusions are possible. In fact, all the authors did was to propose “a randomised controlled study to evaluate a possible correlation between spina bifida and high fluoride intake.” The also pointed out that they could not find any literature reports correlating spina bifida with fluoride.

So all pretty speculative – but enough for a desperate anti-fluoride “authority” like Declan Waugh to do a bit of scaremongering.

2: Waugh goes out of his way to suggest a mechanism for community water fluoridation causing neural tube defects – fluoride reduces folic acid concentration in the body! And he manages to cite a couple of scientific papers to support his ideas. Problem is – they don’t.

He argues in a 2012 report (which he describes as his “main report”) that “Fluoride is known to be an inhibitor of enzymatic activity and research has identified fluoride as an inhibitor of homocysteine hydrolase363 and this causes a decline in folic acid levels.

The cited paper is Mehdi S, Jarvi ET, Koehl JR, McCarthy JR, Bey P. The mechanism of inhibition of S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine hydrolase by fluorine-containing adenosine analogs. J Enzyme Inhib. 1990;4(1):1-13.

Waugh is citing work using “fluoride-containing adenosine analogs” to make the claim about the fluoride anion. Specifically, the compounds (Z)-4,5′-Didehydro-5′-deoxy-5′-fluoroadenosine, 5′-deoxy-5′-difluoroadenosine, and 4′,5′-didehydro-5′-deoxy-5′-fluoroarabinosyl-adenosine  - not fluoride.

Extremely sloppy!

Declan Waugh has just pulled out any old citation referring to fluoride – maybe he hasn’t even read past the title of the paper.

Yet the tame alternative health media make the claim that “amongst the international scientific community, Waugh is now regarded as a leading expert on the subject!”

That reminds me of the local anti-fluoridation activists who continually describe Paul Connett, from the sister activists organisations Fluoride Alert, as a “World expert on fluoridation!”

Actually, Waugh gave the show away in his 2013 report when he said:

“To my knowledge no study has ever been undertaken to examine if fluoride exposure combined with nutritional status may be a contributory factor to the alarming levels of congenital defects in fluoridated compared to non-fluoridated countries.”

But as is often the case with these sorts of admissions, the very lack of evidence appears to be used to infer a cause. He is advancing the fallacy that the lack of evidence really means the evidence is there but just hasn’t been found yet – probably because evil scientists are conspiring to prevent the necessary research.

The old trick of making a wild claims, suggesting something as a possibility and then promoting the idea as some sort of scientifically proven fact in his scaremongering.

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Pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners

Screenshot-2014-04-07-11.19

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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International cooperation in space serving humanity

Sentinel-1A_Liftoffw

Photo credit: SENTINEL-1 LIFTS OFF

This morning I watched the launch of the Sentinel 1A satellite. The launch was perfect and the coverage on Spaceflight Now excellent with plenty of explanation along the way.

The satellite was launched aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch pad Kourou near the town of Sinnamary, French Guiana, on South America’s northern Atlantic coastline. Sentinel 1A was built by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. The satellite is now being managed from a mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

International cooperation important

Viewing this event I couldn’t help noticing the programme is a result of cooperation between several countries. First of all, countries in the European Commission and ESA, but also Russia which provided the launcher and whose companies were involved in the launch. That cooperation is obvious from the fact that English, French, German, Italian and Russian languages were being used.

I think there are two important points about this cooperation in our modern world:

  1. International cooperation is vital to the success of these scientifically important projects. They are just too big and complex to be handled by single nations.
  2. Scientific success is not an end in itself – is the basis for humanitarian success. international cooperation is vital for solving environmental, economic and security problems all countries face today.

So, alongside this good news of the Sentinel 1A success I am concerned about the bad news that NASA is to take part in the politically initiated sanctions against Russia. Yesterday, NASA released this statement:

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation. NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Any long-term operation of these sanctions, despite the exclusion of the International Space Station work, will inevitable have a negative effect on international scientific cooperation. And will inevitably retard humanity’s work on alleviating our environmental, economic and security problems.

Frankly I think these sanction are cynical measures resulting from inevitable geopolitical frictions and should only have a relatively short lifetime.

Let us hope so.

Copernicus and Sentinel 1A

Sentinel 1A is the first of 17 satellites to be launched over the next decade in the Copernicus programme – described as “the largest Earth-observation program in history.”

“When all of the Sentinel satellites have been launched, they will form a network tasked with gathering an unprecedented amount of data regarding the planet. . . Using a wide variety of instrumentation, the Copernicus program will be able to provide scientists, government agencies and other parties with the necessary data to precisely determine the exact current state of the planet. Moreover, the data will also be useful in creating simulations and predictions of future climate and weather trends.”

Have a look at this infographic for a summary of the Copernicus programme and the satellites involved.

airbus_infographic

Click on image to enlarge

An overview of the Copernicus programme describes it this way:

“Copernicus provides a unified system through which vast amounts of data, acquired from space and from a multitude of in situ sensors, are fed into a range of thematic information services designed to benefit the environment, the way we live, humanitarian needs and support effective policy-making for a more sustainable future.

These services fall into six main categories: land management, the marine environment, atmosphere, emergency response, security and climate change.

In essence, Copernicus will help shape the future of our planet for the benefit of all. ESA is contributing by providing a proven framework for the development of operational systems on behalf of the user community, paving the way for investment in future generation systems. ESA is exploiting its 30 years of expertise in space programme development and management to contribute to the success of Copernicus.”

See also: European Earth observing craft prepared for launch.

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Is anyone listening?

anyone

Thanks to: Twitter / SonyKapoor: “Is this mic actually on?” ….

Scientific cooperation despite political posturing

I find it heartening scientific cooperation continues (so far) despite all the political posturing going on down here over the Ukraine political crisis.

Here we see the arrival of Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson at the  International Space Station (ISS). This brings the ISS to its full capacity of six people. The arriving astronauts were welcomed by three astronauts on board the ISS, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.

Soyuz docks succesfully, astronauts meet

Fluoridation returns to Hamilton City.

referendums-being-ignored

The Hamilton City Council voted this afternoon to recommence fluoridating the city’s water supply

The vote was overwhelming - 9 for, 1 against. The overwhelming support for fluoridation in last year’s referendum was decisive in the decision.

There is a threat to bring legal action against the council – the Deputy Mayor’s comment on this – “Bring it on – a legal decision will decide for the whole country.”

See also:

Fluoride to return to Hamilton’s water supply
Hamilton votes to restart fluoridation
Fluoride back for Hamilton – Council backs the community response

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Dental fluorosis: badly misrepresented by FANNZ

Ideologically motivated political activists often make extreme claims. Perhaps they feel their claims will never be challenged because they are aimed at their own supporters. Sometimes I think it is because they just don’t get challenged enough by reasonable people.

I have previously shown examples of misrepresentation of science by local anti-fluoride activists (see Fluoride and heart disease – another myth , Anti-fluoridation porkies – Mullinex’s ratsFluoridation: the hip fracture deceptionAnatomy of an anti-fluoridation myth , Fluoridation – the IQ mythActivists peddle chemical misinformation for fluoridation referendaCherry picking fluoridation dataFluoride sensitivity – all in the mind?Fluoridation – topical confusionFluoridation – it does reduce tooth decayFluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?).

Here’s another blatant example – their misrepresentation of dental fluorosis. In this case it involves knowingly using the wrong photographs while quoting a Ministry of Health (MoH) source on the subject. I have posted below both the official photographs used by the MoH and the photographs they were replaced with in the anti-fluoridation quote. This blatant misrepresentation occurs on the official website of the Fluoride Action Network of NZ (FANNZ).

But first, this is what I wrote about dental fluorosis in my exchange with Paul Connett. The graph illustrates the nature of dental fluorosis observed in New Zealand.

Proponents of fluoridation do acknowledge dental fluorosis in a negative, although minor, aspect of fluoridation.

Opponents of fluoridation will often quote high values of the incidence of fluorosis which ignore the fact that much of it is “questionable” and/or “very mild.” These grades are really only cosmetic and usually can only be detected by a professional. Opponents may also hide the fact that the incidence of fluorosis for children living in fluoridated may often be the same as, or only slightly greater than, the incidence for children living in non-fluoridated areas.

The graphs below shows the situation reported for New Zealand in the 2009 New Zealand Oral health Survey (see Our Oral Health).

Health experts have generally concluded that the apparent rise in the incidence of fluorosis is caused by increases in other forms of fluoride intake, such as from eating toothpaste, and not from fluoridated water.

Ministry of Health version

I am quoting here from the MoH website page - Infant formula and fluoridated water. This is the page FANNZ quoted from

Enamel fluorosis

Tooth enamel fluorosis is one of a range of changes to tooth enamel. Living in an area with fluoridated water can increase the mild white flecks or streaks in the tooth enamel.

The following photos provide examples of normal teeth and the types of mild to moderate diffuse enamel fluorosis that is most commonly associated with water fluoridation. The most recent New Zealand information indicates that about 29 percent of 9-year-old children in Southland who had always received fluoridated water had these changes to the tooth enamel. This level had not changed since several earlier studies undertaken in the 1980s. (Bold my stress)

normal-dental-enamel
Normal dental enamel
mild-diffuse-enamel-hypoplasia
Mild white spots on teeth – mild diffuse enamel hypoplasia
moderate-diffuse-enamel-hypoplasia
Mild white spots on teeth – moderate diffuse enamel hypoplasia
moderate-white-streaks

Moderate white streaks associated with enamel fluorosis

Other defects on teeth

Severe enamel fluorosis involves brownish defects to the tooth enamel which may also be pitted.

This form of enamel defect is uncommon in New Zealand. The most recent New Zealand information from 9-year-old children in Southland indicates that about 5 percent of children had similar defects.

These defects were just as common in children who had received fluoridated water as non-fluoridated water and the level of these defects had decreased about three fold from about 15 percent of children in the mid-1980s.

FANNZ version

The quote here is from the FANNZ website page Dental health.

Fluoridation causes dental fluorosis

Dental fluorosis is the outward sign that has a child has consumed too much fluoride – it is a bio-marker of over-exposure.  In New Zealand, dental fluorosis statistics are lacking, even though the Ministry of Health acknowledges this condition to be an undisputed side effect of fluoridation.

fluor_mild
Very mild fluorosis
fluor_mod
 Moderate fluorosis
dental_fluorosis_severe
Severe fluorosis
fluor_sev1
Severe fluorosis

According to the Ministry of Health*, “The most recent New Zealand information indicates that about 29 percent of 9-year-old children in Southland who had always received fluoridated water had these changes to the tooth enamel. This level had not changed since several earlier studies undertaken in the 1980s.” (Bold my stress).

* Note this link goes only to the MoH front page – not the page from which the quote was taken and which contains the photographs. Now, I wonder why the link isn’t direct?

So a blatant example of misrepresentation. Conscious misrepresentation at that because it involved substitution of the official photos by others. The intention was clearly to make the MoH seem to state that fluoridation causes severe fluorosis when the MoH clearly did not state that.

I really wonder how these people sleep straight in their bed at night.

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What makes something right or wrong?

Here is another of the  4 animated videos produced by the British Humanist Association. They are all narrated by Stephen Fry.

This one deals with aspects of morality – an important subject where the voice of non-theists is often ignored.

“What makes something right or wrong?” Narrated by Stephen Fry 

See: That’s Humanism: Four animated videos about Humanism narrated by Stephen Fry

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