Category Archives: science

Making money out of fanatics

bad science

Click on image to enlarge

This looks like a Xcd cartoon. I picked it up from a new Facebook page The Girl Against Fluoride Lies. Good to see more and more Facebook pages like this.

Speaking of fluoride – the cartoon sort of reminds me of Paul Connett’s book – The case against fluoride?

 

Dirty politics on the Royal Society fluoride review

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge

In Anti-fluoride activists unhappy about scientific research I related how local anti-fluoride propagandists were busy rubbishing the Royal Society of NZ  fluoride review – even before it was released. Now that it is released (see Health Effects of Water Fluoridation: a Review of the Scientific Evidence) they have gone into a manic mode – launching press releases and facebook attacks. Given that some of these were launched within hours of the report’s release these propagandists hadn’t bother actually reading the report itself.

These attacks are typical of anti-science people when confronted with scientific information undermining their strong beleifs. As we say in New Zealand, these critics “play the man rather than the ball.” But first, let’s deal with  the single criticism of the scientific content of the report – the question of the mechanisms of the beneficial roles of fluoride for teeth.

The old “topical” argument

The anti-fluoride brigade has a thing about this – claiming that the mode of action of fluoride is by topical contact with the teeth – and then usually they try to claim only high concentrations, as in toothpaste, are effective topically. Anything to rule our a role for fluroidated drinking water.

The Royal Society report discusses various studies, saying they:

“suggest that the predominant effect of fluoride is mainly local (interfering with the caries process) rather than systemic (pre-eruptively changing enamel structure), though the latter effect should not be dismissed.”

It then discusses the evidence for a systemic role in the section Contribution of pre-eruptive fluoride exposure to preventive effects.

“Despite a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the predominant effect of fluoride in mitigating the caries process occurs post-eruptively and topically, some recent studies provide additional evidence of a systemic effect of fluoride on pre-erupted teeth. Singh et al.[79] found that fluoride is acquired in enamel during crown completion in the first permanent molars, during the time that the matrix is formed and calcified in the first 26-27 months of life. The same group had previously evaluated the pre- and posteruptive effects of fluoride exposure at the individual level, controlling for multiple fluoride sources and potential confounders, and showed a significant effect of pre-eruptive fluoride exposure on caries in permanent teeth.[80] However, they determined that maximum benefit was gained by having both pre- and post-eruptive fluoride exposure. Other groups have also found that a higher percentage of total lifetime exposure to fluoride was associated with lower caries burden,[81-83] indicating that fluoride is effective throughout the lifespan, including pre-eruptively.”

Being a scientific review, let’s list the citations used in the section quoted. Interested readers can check them out:

79: Singh, K.A., A.J. Spencer, and D.S. Brennan, Effects of water fluoride exposure at crown completion and maturation on caries of permanent first molars. Caries Res, 2007. 41(1): p. 34-42.
80: Singh, K.A., A.J. Spencer, and J.M. Armfield, Relative effects of pre- and posteruption water fluoride on caries experience of permanent first molars. J Public Health Dent, 2003. 63(1): p. 11-9.
81: Slade, G.D., et al., Associations between exposure to fluoridated drinking water and dental caries experience among children in two Australian states. J Public Health Dent, 1995. 55(4): p. 218-228.
82: Slade, G.D., et al., Caries experience among children in fluoridated Townsville and unfluoridated Brisbane. Aust N Z J Public Health, 1996. 20(6): p. 623-9.
83: Spencer, A.J., J.M. Armfield, and G.D. Slade, Exposure to water fluoridation and caries increment. Community Dent Health, 2008. 25(1): p. 12-22.

Hardly suprising to anyone recognising that reality is rarely as simple as they might desire. The benefits of fluoride are confered both by a systemic effect on pre-erupted teeth and by a topical or surface effects on existing teeth.

Yet Fluoride Free NZ claims (see Fluoridation review ‘Dirty Science’)

“One surprise is that the review has gone so far as to claim that fluoridation works systemically (i.e. by swallowing) before teeth erupt.

This belief was not only scientifically discredited 15 years ago by the US Public Health Service’s Centers for Disease Control, but has also been acknowledged as wrong in court in sworn affidavits by Health Ministry representatives and is contrary to what the top consultant to the MoH’s National fluoridation Information Service told the Hamilton City Council last year”

No real citations there to list – just the “authority” of ignorance. The idea that, as Isaac Asimov said, “democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

I discussed this attempt by Fluoride Free NZ to distort the evidence and literature in my articles Fluoridation – topical confusion and Topical confusion persists. It seems that Fluoride Free NZ would have been happier if the authors of this review had actually ignored the scientific literature on the topic.

Media Manipulation

I will leave aside for now the emotive language and personal attacks used by the anti-fluoride propagandists in their attacks on this review. Also, I will ignore their laughable suggestions for the “experts’ they would have liked to see on the review panel and their demand that such review should actually be a public discussion (yet they refuse to allow any open discussion on their own facebook pages!).

Let’s just consider why these people take the effort to submit press statements that few credible news sources would bother picking up. I discussed this in Anti-fluoridationist astro-turfing and media manipulation where I illustrated how planted press releases were picked up by tame “natural” health websites, Paul Connett’s Fluoride Alert website and their own Facebook and twitter social media. this self-promotion get’s requoted by anti-fluoride propagandists around the world – and sometime even makes its way into mainstream media.

Wellington Anti-fluoride dentist, Stan Litras, planted just such a press release. He provided a misleading headline Review ‘confirms fluoridation must end’ which was picked up and circulated by Connett’s Fluoride Alert. It has also been heavily circulated on Twitter and anti-fluoride Facebook pages.

I guess there are now a host of anti-fluoride activists around the world who actually believe the Fluoride Review produced by the Royal Society of New Zealand recommended the end of fluoridation!

Yet, in fact, the review concluded:

“Councils with established CWF [community water fluoridation] schemes in New Zealand can be confident that their continuation does not pose risks to public health, and promotes improved oral health in their communities, reducing health inequalities and saving on lifetime dental care costs for their citizens. Councils where CWF is not currently undertaken can confidently consider this as an appropriate public health measure, particularly those where the prevalence and severity of dental caries is high.”

How do these guys sleep straight in their bed at night?

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Review finds community water fluoridation safe and effective

A press release from the Royal Society of NZ today. I think the “take home message is:

“The panel concluded that the concerns raised by those opposed to fluoridation are not supported by the scientific evidence”


A review of the scientific evidence for and against the efficacy and safety of fluoridation of public water supplies has found that the levels of fluoridation used in New Zealand create no health risks and provide protection against tooth decay. Councils currently implementing this measure can be confident about its public health benefits, while those not currently fluoridating water can consider it a safe and effective option.

The review, entitled Health Effects of Water Fluoridation: a Review of the Scientific Evidence, was commissioned by Sir Peter Gluckman, the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and Sir David Skegg, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand at the request of Auckland City on behalf of several local Councils.

“The process for the review was rigorous,” said Sir David Skegg. “It included an extensive evaluation of the scientific literature by a panel of five experts, as well as one lay observer with local body experience. The resulting report was reviewed by three international experts and by the Director of the National Poisons Centre,” he said.

According to Skegg, the panel paid particularly close attention to the claims that fluoride contributes to the risks of cancer, musculoskeletal and hormonal disorders, as well as to claims that it has adverse effects on brain development – these being the major contentions about potential harms that have been made.

“The panel concluded that the concerns raised by those opposed to fluoridation are not supported by the scientific evidence,” said Skegg.

According to the report, the only side effect of fluoridation at the levels used in New Zealand is mild dental fluorosis, which can cause opaque white areas in the tooth enamel that is usually of no cosmetic significance. This is found to be as common in non-fluoridated areas as it is in fluoridated areas, which is probably a reflection of behaviour such as swallowing of fluoridated toothpaste by young children.

“The review finds compelling evidence that fluoridation of the water at the established and recommended levels produces broad and continuing benefits for the dental health of New Zealanders,” said Sir Peter Gluckman. “The public can be reassured on the basis of robust scientific data, that the implementation of this public health measure poses no risk of adverse health effects,” he said.

“It is worth noting that dental health remains a major issue for much of the New Zealand population, particularly in communities of low socioeconomic status.”

From a scientific perspective, the report finds that community water fluoridation provides a cost-effective and equitable way of improving public health.  However, it should be noted that the review does not address the broader philosophical issues that have surrounded fluoridation.

Visit Health Effects of Water Fluoridation for full report, executive summary and a list of contributors.

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The Mind of the Science Denier

Over recent months I have been following, and learning more about, the issues of fluoridation and the Ukrainian civil war. One is a scientific issue (at least in most of the debate), the other political. Yet in the social media discussions both issues are dominated by motivated reasoning, cherry-picking, confirmation bias and outright prejudice. The same thing is going on in both issues and in many cases show denial, the favouring of belief over facts and evidence.

Donald Prothero points out that this is just human nature. We are not “rational machines,” and, if we are honest, we should all be able to recognises these faults in our own approaches, no matter how sceptical and scientific we think we are.

Prothero presented an interesting talk at the recent Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, he deals mainly with creationism, climate change denial and anti-vaccination beliefs but the lessons have much wider applicability.

He has some great cartoons in his lecture. But I also liked how he drew lessons from his analysis about how supporters of science and scepticism should deal with discussions when science denial occurs. Simple antagonistic argument and debunking is usually not effective. We need to recognise the beliefs and values underlying the denial and respond to those.

TAM2014 – Donald Prothero – The Mind of the Science Denier.

The lecture is based on part of Prothero’s recent book Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future.

 

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Open letter to Jane Nielson – a “fluoridation convert.”

Hi Jane,

I read your article in the Sonoma County Gazette which was republished at Paul Connett’s Fluoride Alert website – Fluoridation convert. A scientist explains what changed her mind. You briefly described scientific studies which you claim convinced you to take a stance against community water fluoridation. Apparently you found these so convincing you are now a board member and steering committee member of several anti-fluoridation organisations.

My purpose here is to discuss the studies you refer to because I think your interpretation of them is mistaken. I offer my critique of your interpretation in the spirit of normal scientific exchange and discussion and hope you will respond in the same way.

You wrote that you were exasperated with the fluoridation debate so:

“I started researching for myself. This was familiar terrain: I had published many papers, so I know what it takes to prove a point scientifically, and the data required to get a paper published. I had performed analyses, plotted data and defended my research and interpretations in public forums.”

Good on you. I believe experience in scientific research, scientific publication and the use of scientific literature helps cultivate a critical and intelligent approach to the literature. I think this is essential if one seriously wishes to make sense of apparently contradictory evidence and overcome one’s own confirmation bias.

Is fluoridation effective? The WHO data

You say:

“I quickly found World Health Organization data that stunned me:

• Tooth decay has plummeted in developed countries worldwide, regardless of fluoridation.

• Cavity rates are the same—or even lower – in many non-fluoridated countries compared to the U.S.”

Just a minute! Did you look at the WHO data carefully? Did you take into account the well established multiple factors, beside fluoride, influencing dental health? (Things like diet, health services, dental treatments available, other social health services etc.) Did you consider the difficulty of drawing conclusions from data, especially a small amount of data, taken from different cultural, social and political situations? And, importantly, did you check out the WHO data which compared data from fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas in the same country? (Many of the other confounding factors can be eliminated by making comparisons  within a country).

The figure on the left below is the one most often used by anti-fluoride activists for obvious reasons – it confirms their bias. But it suffers from all the problems mentioned above (including the fact that the straight lines result from using just 2 data points for each country) and so does not allow a truly objective  person to conclude what you have.

Surely with your scientific experience you checked out the detail in the data – such as the WHO data for the Irish Republic which included that for both fluoridated and unflouridated areas? The plot of that data (see figure in the right) suggests your conclusion is unwarranted (the dotted line is the average of fluoridated and unfluoridated and corresponds to the data in the graph on the left.).

combined-who-ireland

My conclusion from the WHO data is that tooth decay has decreased in all these European countries over the last 30 years. Fluoride is just one factor in this but it is wrong to conclude from the WHO data that fluoride is ineffective (see Fluoride Debate).

Dental fluorosis

This concerns you because:

• The one clear correlation with water fluoridation is disfiguring “dental fluorosis” supposedly only a cosmetic problem.

But, Jane, have you looked at the available data on dental fluorosis carefully? Your conclusion is a misinterpretation which anti-fluoride propagandist love to promote because it confirms their bias – “fluoridation causes a “disfiguring” complaint – dental fluorosis.” But “disfiguring” or serious dental fluorosis is not caused by community water fluoridation. It is caused by excessively high fluoride dietary intake due to high natural levels of fluoride, industrial contamination or obsessive consumption of toothpaste. It is also very rare in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Dental specialists identify various levels of fluorosis ranging from not present, through questionable, very mild, mild, moderate to severe – see the figures below (taken from Fluorosis Facts: A Guide for Health Professionals):

Fluorosis-pie-chart

Some idea of the appearance of dental fluorosis at these various levels in given by the photos below.

df

 I agree that often (not always) the occurrence of total dental fluorosis may be higher for people in fluoridated areas than in non-fluoridated area – but the “disfiguring” moderate and severe forms are not the result of community water fluoridation. The milder forms which may arise from community water fluoridation tend to be either unnoticeable or so mild as to be of only cosmetic significance.

So Jane, I am surprised that with your scientific experience you came to such an unwarranted conclusion. If you had truly looked at the data intelligently and critically surely you would not have drawn the extreme conclusion you did about community water fluoridation and dental fluorosis.

What about studies showing fluoridation is ineffective?

You refer to studies which show only minimal or no difference in oral health between fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas. I have also seen those studies. But you and I are scientists so know we should always look at the details and not rely on the conclusions drawn by political activists who misinterpret these studies. Hell, as scientists we shouldn’t even rely in the conclusions made by the researchers themselves – we should always look at the details.

Tooth decay for children living in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas has been compared in many studies. It is easy to find results confirming ones bias – pro-fluoridation or anti- fluoridation. So as scientists both you and I should consider all the studies – not just those confirming our particular bias. That should be obvious to us.

I have seen plenty of studies showing a positive effect of community water fluoridation on oral health – so how do I deal with those other studies showing no effect? Well, I certainly don’t ignore them but it helps to look at the details. For example, in my article Fluoridation: what about reports it is ineffective?  I discussed a 1985 paper by a New Zealand researcher, John Colquhoun, who found no differences in tooth decay between children in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas.

Colquhoun, who was also an antiifluoridation campaigner, chose to conclude that fluoridation had no effect on oral health. But here is the problem – the children in the non-fluoridated areas he studied all received regular topical dental fluoride application treatments, whereas most of the children in the fluoridated areas did not.  So the lack of effect was hardly surprising. In scientific terminology his control group was not a proper control.

What happens when fluoridation is stopped

The studies showing no increase in tooth decay when fluoridation is stopped are continually quoted by anti-fluoridation propagandists – but never the ones that do show such an increase. So your reading of the published studies cannot have been very thorough for you to conclude:

 “Tooth decay did not go up when fluoridation was stopped.”

For example, consider just one study in South-west Scotland by Attwood and Blinkhorn (1991) I discussed in article What happens when fluoridation is stopped?   The figure below displays some of their data

Decayed missing and filled teeth for 10 year olds. Stranraer fluoridated until 1983. Annan not fluoridated.

This study showed tooth decay increased after fluoridation was stopped in one town (Stranraer) even though there was a general decrease in tooth decay (no doubt resulting from things like improvements in diet, tooth brushing, dental treatments, etc.) indicated by the data from the town that had never been fluoridated (Annan).

Still, what about those studies which showed no increase in tooth decay when fluoridation was stopped? Studies in Cuba, the former East Germany and Finland are frequently quoted by anti-fluoridation activists.  I discussed these  in my article What happens when fluoridation is stopped? 

In all the studies referred to the researchers themselves drew attention to the role of other factors which helped maintain oral health. For example, the introduction of a school mouthrinsing programme, which has involved fortnightly mouthrinses with 0.2% NaF solutions” in La Salud, Cuba. Or “improvements in attitudes towards oral health behaviour and, on the other hand, to the broader availability and application of preventive measures (F-salt, F-toothpastes, fissure sealants etc.)” in the former East Germany.

The authors of the Finnish study even warned against drawing the conclusion you have from these studies:

“The main reason for the modest effect of water fluoridation in Finnish circumstances is probably the widespread use of other measures for caries prevention. The children have been exposed to such intense efforts to increase tooth resistance that the effect of water fluoridation does not show up any more. The results must not be extrapolated to countries with less intensive preventive dental care.”

The whole issue of dental health is clearly complex and many factors influence it. As a scientist used to dealing with complex issues you must surely agree the scientific literature should not be cherry-picked. It must be approached critically and intelligently.

Apply It, or Swallow It?

Finally, Jane, we come to the question of the mode of action of fluoride – does it work systemically via ingestion, or topically by a surface reaction on existing teeth? You assert:

In recent years the differentiation between swallowing fluoride and coating teeth with it has become lost in the discussion. But this differentiation is essential. The overwhelming consensus among scientists, including the Centers for Disease Control CDC and the National Research Council, is that fluoride works when it’s applied to the tooth surface, NOT when it’s swallowed.

I know this is the position anti-fluoride propagandists keep promoting but it doesnt actually accord with the evidence. Research shows ingested fluoride plays a beneficial role during tooth development before eruption (see my article Ingested fluoride is beneficial to dental health.

With existing teeth fluoride transferred from water and food during drinking and eating helps maintain a concentration in saliva and tooth biofilms necessary to inhibit tooth decay by a surface reaction. Researchers usually refer to the reaction of fluoride at the tooth surface responsible for inhibiting demineralisation and promoting remineralisation as the “predominate” – not the only – mechanism for the beneficial role of fluoride.

Jane, you should have read the CDC report you refer to more carefully. Far from denying a role for “swallowed” fluoride the  CDC report Recommendations for Using Fluoride to Prevent and Control Dental Caries in the United States actually says:

“However, drinking fluoridated water, brushing with fluoride toothpaste, or using other fluoride  dental products can raise the concentration of fluoride in saliva present in the mouth 100-to 1,000-fold. The concentration returns to previous levels within 1–2 hours but, during this time, saliva serves as an important source of fluoride for concentration in plaque and for tooth remineralization.”

Unfortunately, opponents of CWF claim this surface mechanism means that ingested fluoride plays no role and fluoride is only effective when topically applied – as with toothpaste. This is a gross simplification and distortion. Ingested fluoride is beneficial to teeth duing their development before eruption. And ingested fluoride contributes to the surface reaction protecting existing teeth.

Fluoridated toothpaste (and dental fluoride applications) also contribute to this surface reaction. But the more frequent “top-up” of saliva fluoride concentrations via drinking fluoridated water also make an important contribution.

An invitation

Jane, I don’t claim to have provided the final answer to all criticisms of community water fluoridation here. I have simply responded to your assessments and shown why I think them wrong.

I am open to hearing your responses to my critique and welcome any scientific exchange on this important issue with you.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Ken Perrott.

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Image

Tactics for science denial

Natural News comes out with a load of heavy metal rubbish on flouride

Heavy-MetalsFRAUD

The web site “Natural News” is a prime source of information for alternative and “natural” health enthusiasts. It promotes a lot of misinformation on fluoridation and is often cited by anti-fluoridation propagandists. So – no surprise to see a recent campaign in social media promoting a Natural News article Natural News exclusive: Fluoride used in U.S. water supplies found contaminated with lead, tungsten, strontium, aluminum and uranium.

The article was dutifully tweeted ad nauseum and of course local anti-fluoride campaigners also dutifully and uncritically promoted it. But no-one actually looked at the data in the article to see if it was in any way meaningful or supported the claims of contamination being made. In fact, it is just another example of the sort of misrepresentation I referred to in the article Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination. That is, people getting hysterical about contamination  data which actually show very low levels of contaminants.  Getting hysterical about numbers just because they are numbers without any understanding of what they mean.

Lead researcher – the Health Ranger

Mike Adams, who calls himself the Health Ranger, wrote the article which pretends to be a scientific investigation of contaminants in 6 samples of sodium fluoride obtained from Chinese sources. He reports the maximum and average values of a number of contaminants. Of course he uses parts per billion (ppb) because that gives him larger numbers by a factor of 1000 than the usually used parts per million (ppm). I will convert his values for readers and compare them with values found in Australia and New Zealand for contaminants in fluorosilicic acid, the most commonly used fluoridation chemical (actually fluorosilicic acid is also the most commonly used fluoridation chemical in the USA – so its strange that the “Health Ranger’ didn’t analyse that).

The table below compares “the Health Ranger’s” analytical values with those for fluorosilicic acid reported in my article  Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination. Also included are the regulated maximum values for these two fluoridation chemicals. I have included only values for arsenic and lead as these are the only ones of “the Health Ranger’s” list included in New Zealand regulations (see NZ Water and Wastes Association Standard for “Water Treatment Grade” fluoride, 1997).

Arsenic (ppm) Lead (ppm)
Fluorosilicic acid
Regulated maximum 132 132
Range certificates 1.1 – 4.3 <0.001 – <5
Sodium Fluoride – Mike Adams
Regulated maximum 366 366
Maximum – NN 0.14 1.0
Average – NN 0.07 0.3

So, “the Health Ranger” produces hysterical headlines for fluoridation chemicals using figures showing extremely low levels of contamination! They are even low in comparison with the fluoridation chemicals used in New Zealand and they are certainly very much lower than the local regulated maxima. And don’t forget that these concentrated chemicals are diluted millions of times over when added to drinking water.

Yes, I know, there are some people who think any measured value is too much. But put this into context. Even the most pristine water or food will contain (very low) levels of contaminants if we use an analytical method that is extremely sensitive. That is why we should check claims of contamination by comparison with “uncontaminated” material and regulated maximum values. We must put the numbers into context.

Contamination from source water – not treatment chemicals

To put the situation of fluoridation chemicals into further context contribution of contaminants to drinking water from other sources should be considered. In Fluoridation: putting chemical contamination in context I compared the amounts of arsenic contributed from fluoridation chemicals to local drinking water (Hamilton City in the Waikato) to the arsenic already present in the source water from the Waikato River. The figure below shows any contribution from the fluoridation chemicals used is miniscule compared with the natural levels already in the water.

I won’t comment on the other heavy metals “the Health Ranger,” (who describes himself as the “lead researcher” in this pathetic study) mentions as they are not covered by local regulations. However, the certificates of analysis for fluorosilicic acid included in my article Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination all reported Uranium at levels  < 2 ppm. “The Health Ranger” reported a maximum of 1.4 ppm and average of 0.2 ppm.  Not so impressive in ppm – you can see why he prefers ppb.

Similarly he makes a song and dance about titanium – despite the fact that he detected it in only 2 of his 6 samples and at concentrations apparently too low to enable “quantitative analysis.”

Conclusion

Cleary another scare-mongering article from Natural news. It is accepted uncritically by anti-fluoride activists and heavily promoted by their propagandists. But it is worthless – some would say fraudulent.

This sort of fraud going on in the “natural” health movement needs to be widely exposed. The ordinary reader has no way of evaluating these claims or the numbers involved. However exposure of these sort of fraudulent articles will help readers  be wary about future claims from these sources.

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Declan Waugh continues his distortion of Finnish fluoride research

In my last post (Another fluoridation whopper from Declan Waugh) I described how Declan Waugh (a self-professed “scientist and fluoride researcher”) badly misrepresented data from a Finnish study which had concluded the prevalence of ailments attributed to fluoridation were “likely connected with psychological rather than physical effects of being exposed to fluoridated water.”

However, he has continued with his distortion and misrepresentation of the data in this study.  On Monday he claimed:

“The study into health effects of cessation in artificial fluoridation in Finland published in 1997 reported that within THREE WEEKS of stopping fluoridation and without the public being aware it had ended, respiratory ailments reduced by 31 per cent in adults.”

On Tuesday he presented another of his infamous bar graphs (see below) derived from manipulating data in the paper.

Declan2

Here are my comments about this latest distortion.

1: The groups for the time when the drinking water was fluoridated and the time when it wasn’t (but people believed it was) were separate samples so any differences could simply reflect that fact. The authors noted people in the original fluoridated group “reported being slightly healthier than those in the” unfluoridated but unaware group. “Thus the smaller number of symptoms in the” later group “probably was not caused by cessation of fluoridation.”

“Taken altogether, two-thirds of the recorded symptoms were slightly more rare in [the unfluoridated but unaware group] than in [the fluoridated group]. For one-third of the symptoms, the situation was the opposite. However, the difference was statistically highly significant for only one symptom, “other skin rash”, which appeared more often in [the fluoridated group]  than in [the unfluoridated but unaware group].”

One reason for the differences in the reported health of the two samples (fluoridated and unfluoridated but unknown) could be beliefs about fluoridation. The table below shows that fewer people in the fluoridated group believed fluoridation beneficial. The authors point out that “In both groups the mean number of symptoms was lower among those who considered fluoridation to be good than among those who thought it was bad or who had no opinion.”

2: Again, Waugh has taken a “percentage of a percentage” in his recalculations. In the process converting statistically insignificant differences into what seem like very large effects. In the table below I have shown how ridiculous this is for the ‘urticaria’ symptom. This had a prevalence of 1.3% in the fluoridated group, 0.5% in the unfluoridated but unknown group and 1.5% in the last known unfluoridated  group. These differences have no statistical significance but Waugh’s graph shows a huge 62% difference!

3: Waugh also grossly distorted the numbers claiming “more than 2 thirds of people actually felt better after fluoridation was stopped and they didn’t know it had.” But the Finnish authors described the incidence of symptoms in the unflouridated group as only “slightly more rare” with only one difference being statistically signficant. In fact, the better health of the unfluoridated but unknown group is really limited to the fact that 65.5% reported no ailments compared with 63.5% of the  fluoridated group (see table below) – a mere 2%, not two-thirds!

Fluoridated (%) Stopped-Unknown (%) Stopped – known (%)
Beliefs about fluoridation
Good 39 45
Bad 20 15
No opinion 41 40
Ailments
Nettle rash (urticaria) 1.3 0.5 1.5
Other skin rash (eczema) 10.6 4.3 4.9
Insomnia 8.1 11.5 5.6
None of the  symptoms 36.5 34.5 50.1

Although Declan Waugh’s graphical presentation grossly distorts the true data in the paper I have expanded it in the figure below to include all the ailments. Waugh had deleted the data for one-third of the ailments – presumably because their negative “percentage reduction” would have interfered with the misrepresentation he wished to convey.

Declan4

Actually, I cannot leave this with Waugh’s distortion of the data producing such high figures. Here is a more realistic presentation of the difference in percentage of reported ailments. Please note, Lamberg et al (1997) report that only significant difference is for “other skin rash” which the authors commented on – “this group of people should be studied further.” All other differences are in the -4 to +4% range.

Declan5

Finally, a comment on an old study constantly being used by anti-fluoridation propagandists to “prove” claims of fluoride sensitivity. Waugh comments on the Lamberg et al (2007) study saying:

“Regretfully, the authors of this study did not refer to one of the only double blind clinical studies on fluoride every undertaken, and published, which also demonstrated similar outcomes from exposure to fluoride.”

He refers to the paper:

Feltman, Rueben; Kosel, G. (1961). Prenatal and postnatal ingestion of fluorides – fourteen years of investigation – final report. Journal of Dental Medicine, 16(4), 190–198.

Feltman & Kosel (1961) did state they observed possible side effects of the fluoride treatment (use of fluoride tablets):

“One percent of our cases presented evidence of undesirable side effects from fluoride therapy. It is pointed out that if a patient is affected by the fluoride, by this method, the allergen or intoxicant  can be removed readily from the diet by discontinuace of the dietary supoplement.”

However, the paper did not present any data for side effects to support the statement. It is impossible to judge the validity of their conclusion. And Waugh is not able to produce a fancy but misleading bar graph from Feltman & Kosel (1961) as there isn’t any data to work with.

Conclusion

Again, Declan Waugh has been caught out distorting data to produce a completely unwarranted conclusion. In the process he has produced fancy-looking bar graphs which are misleading. This is not valid scientific evidence. It is dishonest distortion

However, this won’t stop Declan Waugh and other anti-fluoride propagandists presenting his claims and bar graphs to gullible city councillors. They will no doubt accompany these distortions with citation of Feltman & Kosel (1961) and Lamberg et al (2007) to make their submissions look sciency and “authoritative.”

It’s about time we exposed these frauds.


Note: I sent Declan Waugh a message bringing his attention to my earlier article (Another fluoridation whopper from Declan Waugh) but got no response. So I repeat my offer to Waugh that he debate his claim here. I am happy to give space for him to argue his case so that a proper scientific exchange can occur.

See alsoFluoride sensitivity – all in the mind?

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Another fluoridation whopper from Declan Waugh

Declan Waugh is a self-proclaimed “scientist and fluoride researcher” who seems to spend all his time misrepresenting and distorting  scientific literature and health data to promote his anti-fluoride cause. Waugh has an avid following, among fellow anti-fluoride activists and propagandists. The sad thing is that he “reports” do manage to fool some gullible people. The Hamilton City Council staff listed one of his reports at the top of the “list of scientific information” they relied on when they stopped fluoridation last year (see When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science). And the “Physicians and Scientists for Global responsibility, NZ” also relied heavily on this report in their anti-fluoridation submission to councils.

But Declan Waugh’s latest “scientific” gem is a real whopper. He has extracted data from a 1997 Finnish paper to produce “evidence” fluoridation causes all a sorts of ailments. In the process he surely can’t have missed the fact the authors found the same level of expressed symptoms from people who were drinking unfluoridated water but believed it was fluoridated. That is, the symptoms seem to have a psychological cause, the belief threat drinking water was fluoridated, and not a physical cause – fluoride in the water.

The paper is Lamberg, M., Hausen, H., & Vartiainen, T. (1997). Symptoms experienced during periods of actual and supposed water fluoridation. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 25(4), 291–5. Or see the full text.

Here is the image Waugh is promoting, and which is being repeated by anti-fluoride propagandist. For example fluoride Girl tweeted this:

@FluorideGirl: In Finland they Removed #fluoride in the tap water…Look at the reductions in diseases in just 3 months or 12 weeks! http://t.co/Lofb16ucnC

And this links to Waugh’s Facebook image:

Seriously? Waugh’s bar graph will be interpreted by many as evidence 72% or more of people drinking fluoridated water report “nausea and vomiting” which disappear when fluoridation is stopped!

Intentionally dishonest!

Trouble is, that image is extremely dishonest and intentionally so. Waugh could not have extracted that data from the paper without seeing and understanding the data alongside it for people who were not drinking fluoridated water but believed they were. He has made 3 outrageous distortions to produce his data:

  1. He has ignored that actual data (in the same table) for % reduction of reported symptoms for both the group that had originally drunk fluoridated water, and the group who had originally drunk unfluoridated water in the mistaken belief it was fluoridated.
  2. He took his data from the information for all respondents, combining both groups in the final survey but ignored the column for people drinking unfluoridated water but believing it was fluoridated.
  3. He then took a “percentage of a percentage” so that, for example, although the percentage of respondents reported “Nausea and vomiting” when drinking fluoridated water was 3.8% (and 2.3% for the group who wrongly assumed they were drinking fluoridated water)  had dropped to 1.1% when knowingly drinking  unfluoridated water (a decline of 2.7% which was not statistically significant) his calculation produced a decline of 72%!

What a whopper!

An honest depiction of the data would have included both sets as below:

Waughs-cockup

Very different to his figure.

Lamberg et al (1997) concluded:

“Since the occurrence and mean number of symptoms were fairly similar during actual and supposed fluoridation, the results do not support the theory that the symptoms considered in this study are caused by the physical effect of fluoridated water. On the other hand, the significant reduction in the number of symptoms only after the respondents had become aware of the discontinuation of fluoridation reveals that fluoridation may have psychological effects which present as perceived symptoms.”

The authors did toss a small glimmer of hope the hypochondriacs who claim fluoride sensitivity is real. The differences in reported decline in incidence of ailments between the fluoridated and supposed fluoridated groups are statistically insignificant for almost all the tested ailments. The exception was for “skin rashes” and the authors say:

“However, the significant decrease in the number of other skin rashes leaves room for speculation, seeming to favor the view that a small segment of the population may have some kind of intolerance to fluoride. This group of people should be studied further.”

The again, it is not uncommon to get a false positive when considering a large number of ailments in the same study.

“Tasting fluoride” in water

Nearly 10% of the respondent in the Finnish study claimed they could taste the fluoride in fluoridated water – which is known to be impossible for humans.

“However, the respondents made this claim equally often during actual and supposed fluoridation. As expected, the percentage reporting this “fluoride taste” dropped to nearly zero during known discontinuation of fluoridation in March. The psychological aspect is further confirmed by the fact that the illusory tasters seemed to be predisposed to perceived symptoms, as were also those who regarded fluoridation as a bad practice in general.”

No wonder the authors concluded:

“it seems likely that the prevalence of the symptoms
considered in the current study is connected with the psychological rather than with the physical effects of being exposed to fluoridated water.”

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I am still waiting for my cheque

LiarI have often said I wonder how some of the anti-science propagandists sleep straight in their beds at night. Lately this refers to various members of the local anti-fluoridation movement and their claims.

Pity I am not the litigious sort – there could be a bit of money in a recent claim because it slanders me, and a fellow SciBlogger, personally

Lynn Jordan, the Wellington representative of Fluoride Free NZ recently declared (under her on-line pseudonym “Penelope Paisley”) on Fluoride Free Hamilton NZ:

Penelope Paisley Peter- you asked what Debz and Ken get out of it. Ken and Alison are getting paid to blog about fluoridation. “

As I said, I am still waiting for my cheque.

Apparently Lynn’s “evidence” for this is the fact that this blog, and Alison’s Bioblog, are both syndicated on the NZ SciBlog platform as Open Parachute and  BioBlog.

I certainly appreciate my association with NZ SciBlogs, and I am sure Alison does to. But neither of us expect payment – nor is SciBlogs in a position to pay its syndicated bloggers or its full bloggers (of which there are now quite a few  –  check them out).

Lyn may not like the fact that Alison and I have blogged about the scientific aspects of fluoridation, and in the process revealed the misinformation and distortion promoted by Lynn and her fellow activists, but that does not provide a basis for her claim. She is simply telling porkies in an attempt to shoot the messengers and avoid the message.

Why is “Penelope” telling porkies?

At this stage I have no interest in making an income, either through blogging or anything else. It feels good as a retiree not to feel obliged to support, or suffer the control of, an employer. Of course, it may well be different for Lynn. In my post The irony of some peer-review and citation complaints I wrote this about her:

“Penelope” is the on-line name used by Lynn Jordan – the  Fluoride Free NZ Committee member for Wellington. She also practices as a  cranio-sacral therapist in Wellington. Cranial-sacral therapy is an alternative or “natural” therapy which Edzard Ernst  described as more or less bogus (see Up the garden path: craniosacral therapy).

Obviously she has ideological and financial committment to the “natural” health business. She relies on it for her income. If you were spiteful you might even think  she is paid to advance propaganda and to attack those who support an evidence based approach to health. But I wouldn’t possibly make that claim.

By the way, in the best tradition of astroturfing, Lynn  often sends submissions to councils opposing fluoridation under the name of an organisation NZ Health Professionals Opposing Fluoridation. What the hell is a “cranial-sacral therapist doing representing health professionals? I leave that to your imagination but it hardly adds credibility, does it?

Mind you, many councillors seem to be gullible. They certainly were in Hamilton last year.

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