Fluoride debate: The scientific evidence against fluoridation – Rita F. Barnett

Recently an unpublished paper by Rita F. Barnett, an associated professor of Legal Research and Writing at Chapman University, was heavily promoted by Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network and associated social media groups. Although basically a legal paper it did have a comprehensive section on the scientific  aspects of fluoridation.

Rita F. Barnett

She argued that the science indicated that community water fluoridation was neither effective or safe and was criticised for that. One of her critics, Daniel Ryan from the Making Sense of Fluoride group, participated in an exchange with her about the science.

As this has only been available in downloadable pdf format I am posting this exchange over the next few days as part of the ongoing fluoridation debate.

This post today is the section from Rita Barnett’s paper in which she argues that the science does not support community water fluoridation.


Scientific evidence against compulsory water fluoridation

(extract from Compulsory water fluoridation: Justifiable public health benefit or human experimental research without informed consent by Rita F. Barnett.)

Fluoridation proponents have historically characterized those opposing or questioning fluoridation as “irrational, fanatical, unscientific, or fraudulent,” regardless of the legitimate scientific credentials of those opposing fluoridation.64 However, the mounting scientific evidence against fluoridation has begun to persuade an increasing number of scientific researchers and dental and medical professionals, and even some formerly avid fluoride proponents.65

While a comprehensive review of all existing and emerging toxicological, clinical and epidemiological studies weighing against fluoridation or urging further research is beyond the purview of this article, a brief discussion of some current areas of concern follows.

1: Dental Fluorosis

Dental fluorosis occurs when children absorb too much fluoride. This excess fluoride “causes the biochemical signal to go awry, thereby creating gaps in the crystalline enamel structure.”66 When the tooth finally erupts, is it unevenly colored, and may even be pitted and brown.67

Although early fluoride proponents claimed that mild dental fluorosis was the only potential, and relatively rare, negative side effect to systemic fluoride exposure, today about 30-40% of American teenagers show visible signs of dental fluorosis, with the rate as high as 70-80% in some fluoridated areas.68

Exposure to multiple sources of fluoride beyond fluoridated water supplies may partly explain the higher than expected rates of dental fluorosis, the first sign of fluoride toxicity. Indeed, it is nearly impossible today to avoid consuming fluoride even in non-fluoridated areas, since fluoride is now found in fluoridated toothpaste, the pesticide residue on fresh produce, processed food and beverages made with fluoridated water, and many pharmaceuticals.69 Yet, research from the Iowa Fluoride Study, the largest long-running investigation on the effects of fluoride, has indicated that the most important risk factor for dental fluorosis is exposure to fluoridated water.70 Perhaps for this reason, the American Dental Association now recommends that parents use non-fluoridated water for infant baby formula, while the Institute of Medicine recommends that babies only consume a miniscule 10 micrograms of fluoride daily, a near impossible feat when babies are fed infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water – even where levels are within the “optimal” range of 0.7- 1 ppm.71

Despite the fact that dental fluorosis not only produces unattractive teeth but may also increase the risk of tooth loss, the EPA and other U.S. public health officials downgraded even moderate to severe dental fluorosis from an adverse health effect to a purely cosmetic one.72 This downgrade has been largely perceived as a bow to political pressure rather than a legitimate health risk assessment.73 In any event, “it is widely acknowledged that dental fluorosis is a manifestation of systemic toxicity,” leading to far more serious health risks than unattractive teeth alone.74

2: Skeletal Fluorosis and Bone Fractures

Fluoride, of course, is not equipped with a smart GPS, able to provide benefits to teeth while bypassing bone and other organs of the human body.75 Instead, approximately 93% of ingested fluoride is absorbed into the bloodstream, and while some of it is excreted, roughly 50% is deposited into bone, potentially leading to skeletal fluorosis.76 Skeletal fluorosis is characterized by painful and limited joint movement, spinal deformities, muscle wasting, and calcification of the ligaments.77 Numerous studies have already linked skeletal fluorosis to excess fluoride intake, and although health officials had formerly insisted that skeletal fluorosis would not develop unless a person ingested 20 milligrams of fluoride per day for over 10 years, current research now suggests that doses as low as 6 mg/day can cause early stages of the disease, and that skeletal fluorosis can develop even with fluoride levels as low at 0.7 to 1.5 ppm, the range used in many fluoridation schemes throughout the United States.78 Unfortunately, skeletal fluorosis may go undetected or misdiagnosed because some of the symptoms mimic symptoms of arthritis or other bone diseases, and because many doctors do not know how to diagnose it.79

In addition to skeletal fluorosis, epidemiological studies have now also linked high fluoride exposure to an increase in bone fractures, especially in vulnerable populations such as the elderly and diabetics.80 Related studies have shown that people once given fluoride to “cure” osteoporosis wound up having increased fracture rates.81

3: Pineal Gland and Endocrine Disruption Studies

Researchers have now discovered that an even greater amount of fluoride accumulates in the pineal gland than in teeth and bone.82 The pineal gland is responsible for the synthesis and secretion of the hormone melatonin, which regulates the body’s circadian rhythm cycle and puberty in females, and helps to protect the body from cell damage from free radicals.83 While it is not yet known if fluoride accumulation affects pineal gland function in humans, experiments have already found that fluoride reduced melatonin levels, interfered with sleep-wake cycles, and shortened the time to puberty in animals.84

In addition, studies have now shown that fluoride can contribute to hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), which is unsurprising, since fluoride was once used as a prescription drug to reduce thyroid gland function in patients with hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).85 The fluoride dose capable of reducing thyroid function is low – just 2 to 5 mg per day over several months. This is well within the range of what individuals living in fluoridated communities are receiving on a regular basis.86

4: Cancer Studies

Numerous studies have now suggested a link between cancer and fluoride.87 However, perhaps even more disturbing than the evidence supporting the fluoride-cancer link is the evidence suggesting that political and other agendas have played a large part in the outright suppression of this evidence.88

First, in the early 1950’s, Dr. Alfred Taylor, a biochemist at the University of Texas, conducted a series of experiments in which cancer prone mice consuming water treated with sodium fluoride were found to have shorter lifespans than cancer-prone mice drinking non-fluoridated water.89 After discovering that his first round of tests had been contaminated because both groups of mice had eaten food containing fluoride, Dr. Taylor repeated the experiment, and found the same results – a shorter life span for the mice drinking the fluoridated water. However, because these damaging results appeared around the launch time of the early fluoridation schemes, and because public health officials had already come out in staunch support of fluoridation, Dr. Taylor’s work was misrepresented. Specifically, fluoridation proponents falsely claimed that Dr. Taylor had never conducted the second study revealing that the fluoride-cancer link was still present when the necessary controls were put in place.90

Then, in 1990, a study conducted by the U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program (“NTP”) found a positive relation for osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in male rats exposed to different amounts of fluoride in drinking water.91 When NTP downplayed the results in order to avoid a public outcry over compulsory fluoridation, a storm of controversy erupted, with a number of scientists outraged at the failure to report the cancer linked results accurately.92

Finally, in 2006, Elise Bassin and her colleagues at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Causes and Control, which also showed a link between fluoridation and osteosarcoma in young men.93 Incredibly, Bassin’s own dissertation advisor at Harvard, Chester Douglass, wrote a commentary in the same journal warning readers to be “especially cautious” about Bassin’s results. This lead to yet another controversy, with Bassin’s defenders calling for an ethical investigation of Douglass, since, as it turned out, Douglass had some conflicts of interest and was the editor in chief of a newsletter for dentists funded by Colgate. 94

5: Lower IQ’s in Children

Researchers have also begun to focus on the damaging effects fluorides appear to have on the human brain. In the 1990’s, researcher Phyllis Mullenix studied the brain and behavioral effects of sodium fluoride on rats.95 Her study revealed that pre-natal exposure to fluoride correlated with life-long hyperactivity in young rats, while post-natal exposures often had the opposite, “couch potato” effect.96 Although Mullenix’s research was published in a well-respected peer reviewed journal, the fluoride proponents attacked her methodology and declared her results flawed.97 Since then, however, forty-six other studies have emerged showing a connection between excess exposure to fluoride and lowered IQ’s in children, with 39 of the 46 finding that elevated fluoride exposure is associated with decreased IQ, and 29 of the 31 animal studies showing that fluoride exposure impairs the learning and/or memory capacity of animals.98

In 2012, after conducting a meta-analysis of 27 of the fluoride-human IQ studies, conducted mostly in China, a team of scientists from Harvard’s School of Public Health and China’s Medical University in Shenyang concluded that the studies suggested an average IQ decrease of about seven points in children exposed to raised fluoride concentrations.99 In 2014, one of the chief authors of the initial 2012 meta-analysis, Harvard professor Philippe Grandjean, concluded in a follow-up article that “our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence,” and that fluoride’s effect on the young brain should now be a “high research priority.”100 Notably, a majority of the 27 studies analyzed were of water fluoride levels of less than 4 mg/L, which falls under the allowable concentrations of fluoride under current EPA regulations.101

6: Benefits from Systemic Fluoride Intake?

With so many current studies linking fluoride to serious health risks beyond dental fluorosis, the question remains whether fluoride’s public health benefits outweigh any and all of these risks. The Centers for Disease Control has deemed water fluoridation one of the “top ten health achievements of the 20th Century.”102 Proponents therefore insist that even if there are a number of recognized risks of fluoridation, there has been enough evidence to show that these risks are remote and are far outweighed by the benefits.103 Yet much of the available scientific data today suggests that any benefit from fluoride in terms of preventing tooth decay has been from topical application, rather than systemic ingestion.104 Moreover, even the benefits of topical fluoride treatments have been recently questioned, since most dental caries today are in the “pits and fissures” of the molars rather than on the flat surface of teeth, and various studies have now indicated that fluoride has no impact on the pits and fissures.105

Research conducted over the last twenty years has also shown that the estimated reduction in tooth decay due to compulsory water fluoridation has been grossly exaggerated. While at one time proponents boasted a 50-65% reduction in tooth decay, a great deal of current evidence suggests the real percentage is significantly lower, with some studies showing no measurable reduction at all. 106 Confounding claims of benefit even further, numerous studies have shown a substantially similar decline in the dental caries rate in countries that do not fluoridate, and in areas within the United States that remain unfluoridated.107

Nor have the asserted economic benefits of compulsory water fluoridation come to fruition. In fact, a number of economic evaluation studies have indicated that the costs of dental care may actually be higher in fluoridated communities than in non-fluoridated communities.108

Unfortunately, rather than considering the new data objectively, public health officials and dental lobbies spearheading fluoridation schemes often ignore, reject, or suppress the evidence that does not toe the pro-fluoride party line.109 Nevertheless, as evidence against fluoridation continues to 20 Compulsory Water Fluoridation [23 Sept 14 accumulate in a variety of health risk areas, two conclusions seem readily apparent. First, there remain significant unanswered questions about the risks and benefits of systemic fluoride, and further research before imposing or continuing fluoridation schemes seems not only scientifically prudent, but ethically necessary. Second, it is no longer acceptable for public health officials to simply dismiss the accruing negative data and to continue to insist that the levels of fluoride children and adults are receiving on a daily basis are without any serious health consequences. Fortunately, tentative moves by the EPA and other federal agencies suggest that at least some public health authorities are inching towards similar conclusions.

References

64 See e.g. Hileman, supra note 18, at 4. See also Graham, supra note 17, at 195 (noting a pro-fluoridation report characterizing fluoride opponents as follows: “The opposition stems from several sources, chiefly food faddists, cultists, chiropractors, misguided and misinformed persons who are ignorant of the scientific facts on the ingestion of water fluorides, and, strange as it may seem, even among a few uniformed physicians and dentists.”). See also Leila Barraza, Daniel G. Orenstein, Doug Campos- Outcalt, Denialism and Its Adverse Effect on Public Health, 53 JURIMETRICS J. 307, 307 (calling those who oppose fluoridation “denialists” who “misuse science to advocate positions that contradict the overwhelming weight of existing evidence”).

65 See e.g., John Colquhoun, Why I Changed My Mind About Water Fluoridation, 41 PERSPECTIVES IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE 1 (1997); Dr. Hardy Limeback, Why I Am Now Officially Opposed to Adding Fluoride to Drinking Water, FLUORIDE ACTION NETWORK (April 2000), http://fluoridealert.org/articles/limeback/; J. William Hirzy, Dr. William Hirzy, Former Head of EPA’s Headquarters Union Recommends Portland Flush Fluoridation Proposal (March 2013), FLUORIDE ACTION NETWORK, http://fluoridealert.org/content/hirzy_portland/.

66 Fagin, supra note 26, at 78.

67 Fagin, supra note 26, at 78; Hileman, supra note 18, at 9.

68 See Beltran-Aguilar, et. al., Prevalence and Severity of Dental Fluorosis in the United States, 1999-2004, NCHS DATA BRIEF NO. 53 (2010), http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db53.pdf. See also Czajka, supra note 13, at 125.

69 Beltran-Aguilar, supra note 68; Peckham, supra note 13, at 165.

70 Fagin, supra note 26, at 79 (children exposed to fluoridated water were 50% more likely to have dental fluorosis than children living in non-fluoridated areas).

71 Peckham, supra note 13, at 165-66.

2 See Hileman, supra note 18 at 10.

73 Id.

74 Peckham, supra note 13, at 166.

75 Limeback, supra note 65 (“it is illogical to assume that tooth enamel is the only tissue affected by low daily doses of fluoride ingestion.”); Colquhoun, supra note 65 (“Common sense should tell us that if a poison circulating in a child’s body can damage the tooth-forming cells, then other harm also is likely.”).

76 Czajka, supra note 13 at 125.

77 Null, supra note 17, at 74.

78 Czajka, supra note 13, at 125.

79 Null, supra note 17, at 74; Hileman, supra note 18, at 13.

80 Fagin, supra note 26, at 79.

81 See Null, supra note 17, at 74-75.

82 Jennifer Luke, Fluoride Deposition in the Aged Human Pineal Gland, 35 CARIES RESEARCH 125-128 (2001). See also Czajka, supra note 13, at 126.

83 Fluoride Action Network, Pineal Gland, FLUORIDEALERT.ORG, http://fluoridealert.org/issues/health/pineal-gland/ (last visited June 25, 2014) (discussing/listing pineal gland studies).

84 Id.

85Fluoride Action Network, Thyroid, FLUORIDEALERT.ORG, http://fluoridealert.org/issues/health/thyroid/ (last visited June 25, 2014) (discussing/listing numerous thyroid studies).

86 Null, supra note 17, at 71. See also Fluoride Action Network, Endocrine, FLUORIDEALERT.ORG, http://fluoridealert.org/issues/health/endocrine/(last visited June 25, 2014) (discussing/listing numerous endocrine system studies).

87 Fluoride Action Network, Cancer, FLUORIDEALERT.ORG, http://fluoridealert.org/issues/health/cancer/ (last visited June 25, 2014) (discussing/listing numerous cancer studies).

88 See e.g., Null, supra note 17, at 77; Graham, supra note 17, at 229-240.

89 Null, supra note 17, at 77.

90 Id.

91 NTP Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Sodium Fluoride in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice (Drinking Water Studies), 393 NATL. TOXICOL. PROGRAM TECH REP SERV. 1-448 (1990).

92 Null, supra note 17, at 78-79.

93 E. B. Bassin et. al., Age Specific Fluoride Exposure in Drinking Water and Osteosarcoma, 17 CANCER CAUSES & CONTROL 421-28 (2006) (finding an association between fluoride exposure in drinking water during childhood and the incidence of osteosarcoma among males but not consistently among females). See also S Kharb et. al., Fluoride Levels and Osteosarcoma, 1 SOUTH ASIAN J. CANCER 76-77 (2012) (finding positive correlation between fluoride and osteosarcoma).

94 Fagin, supra note 26, at 80. 95 Phyllis J. Mullenix, Neurotoxicity of Sodium Fluoride in Rats, 17 NEUROTOXICOLOGY AND TERATOLOGY 169-177 (1995).

96Fagin, supra note 26, at 80. See also Null, supra note 17, at 74 (describing an ad campaign promoting a fluoridated spring water “for kids who can’t sit still.”).

97 Fagin, supra note 26, at 80.

98 Fluoride Action Network, Brain, FLUORIDEALERT.ORG, http://fluoridealert.org/issues/health/brain/ (last visited June 25, 2014) (discussing/listing numerous brain studies).

99 See Anna L. Choi et. al, Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 120 ENVIRON. HEALTH PERSPECT. 1362-1368 (2012).

100 Philippe Grandjean & Philip Landrigan, Neurobehavioural Effects of Developmental Toxicity, 13 THE LANCET NEUROLOGY, 330-338 (2014) (“untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.”). See also Diana Rocha-Amador, Decreased Intelligence in Children and Exposure to Fluoride and Arsenic in Drinking Water, Cad. Saude Publica, Rio de Janeiro, 23 Sup. S579-587 (2007).

101 See discussion infra Sec. III.

102 CDC FLUORIDATION, supra note 18.

103 Hileman, supra note 18, at 2.

104 See Czajka, supra note 13, at 127.

105 See e.g., Letter from Dr. Paul Connett to Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks, the European Committee, at #7 (March 30, 2009), available at http://www.fluoridealert.org/wp-content/uploads/scher.march_.2009.pdf (“Since 1950, it has been found that fluorides do little to prevent pit and fissure tooth decay…This is significant because pit and fissure tooth decay represents up to 85% of the tooth decay experienced by children today.”).

106 Hileman, supra note 18, at 5.

107 Hileman, supra note 18, at 6-7. See also Michael Connett, Tooth Decay Trends in Fluoridated vs. Unfluoridated Countries (March 2012), FLUORIDEALERT.ORG, http://fluoridealert.org/studies/caries01/ (noting that decay rates in non-fluoridated countries have declined at the same rate as those in fluoridated countries).

108 Hileman, supra note 18, at 7. 109 See e.g., Voices of Opposition Have Been Suppressed Since Early Days of  Fluoridation, CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS (August 1, 1988), available at

http://www.nofluoride.com/CEN_Voices_of_opposition.cfm.


Daniel Ryan’s first response to Rita’s unpublished paper will be posted tomorrow – see Fluoride debate: A response to Rita Barnett-Rose – Daniel Ryan

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Another legal defeat for NZ anti-fluoridation activists

The NZ High Court has thrown out the appeal from an anti-fluoride group against the decision rejecting their request for a decision against community water fluoridation. The original case claimed that fluoridation violated human rights legislation and was beyond the legal power of councils. The rejected appeal claimed that fluoridation was prevented by the medicines act.

Latest in string of defeats

Justice Collin’s decision is just the latest in a string of defeats for the anti-fluoridation movement in New Zealand.

Earlier this year the Hamilton City Council reversed its previous decision to stop fluoridation. This came after a referendum held alongside the 2013 local body elections decisively supported fluoridation. Similar referenda in Hastings and Whakatane also supported fluoridation. The local bodies national conference this year resolved to ask that the fluoridation issue be taken out of councils’ hands and handed over to central government departments. This was also a recommendation from the Parliamentary Health Committee last year.

This current high court junction resulted from an appeal against the High Court 2013 rejection of action by the “natural health” industrial lobby group New Health NZ to prevent fluoridation In South Taranaki. And in August the Royal Society of NZ and the office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor released a review of the scientific issues around fluoridation which supported its efficacy and safety. This review was partly commissioned by local bodies and will no doubt strengthen their resolve to resist future pressure from anti-fluoride activists.

All this means that the anti-fluoride organisations had lost much of their credibility with local body councils they formerly had. Serious moves to remove the issue from council consideration also weakens the activist strategy.

Fluoridated water not a medicine

In the current decision Justice Collin’s pointed out that in the Medicine Regulations 1984 “every reference to a medicine in this Schedule applies … only if the concentration of the medicine is greater than 10 milligrams per litre …”.  But, “when fluoride is added to domestic water supplies within the maximum allowable concentration of 1.5 mg/l the concentration of fluoride in domestic water supplies will be well below the concentration threshold required for fluoride to be a medicine in Schedule 1 of the Regulations.”

This “leads to the conclusion that the concentration threshold for fluoride in Schedule 1 of the  Regulations is so vastly higher than the maximum allowable concentration of fluoride in domestic water supplies that, when fluoride is added to domestic water at the authorised levels, it falls outside of the definition of “medicine” in the Act.” However, “fluoride would be a medicine under the Act if it was added to domestic water supplies in concentrations of 10 mg/l or more.”

Anti-fluoridation propagandists promoting shonky “review”

The anti-fluoridation internet propaganda machine is currently promoting a shonky paper – partly in their attempts to discredit the Royal Society of NZ Review. The substitute they offer was promoted  by them earlier this years and is being recycled.

So I will just recycle my critique of that paper from last April.


peer review

Is peer-review really a “gold standard?” Credit: Peer review, or it didn’t happen

Occasionally groups with an anti-science message will get hold of a ‘peer reviewed’ paper in a scientific journal which fits their message completely. They will promote it heavily as scientific ‘proof” for their message. This is currently happening with a paper published in the Scientific World Journal. Its content (sometimes its full text) is being repeated in multiple newspapers and on-line sites (such as 18 Scientifically Validated Reasons to End Public Water Fluoridation – Waking Times). And it has become the latest hot link shared by drive-by trolls on blogs sites, Facebook and Twitter. The paper is Peckham & Awofeso (2014), Water Fluoridation: A Critical Review of the Physiological Effects of Ingested Fluoride as a Public Health Intervention, The Scientific World Journal Volume 2014 (2014).

Have a read if you have not already seen it. There is nothing new or challenging in it. If you can read anti-fluoridation articles by Paul Connett or Declan Waugh you can read this. It may just as well have been copypasta from Connett’s book or one of Waugh’s reports.

Peer-review a “gold standard?”

This paper illustrates a concern I have that many people see publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal as some sort of “proof” of truth. Interestingly though, this is not the attitude of active researchers. Sure, that is where they look for previous credible findings and possible methodologies but, after all, scientists are in the job of at least improving on existing knowledge, if not outright changing it. They do not accept published findings or opinions published in peer-reviewed journals as infallible. I can understand why intelligent people in social debates will treat peer-reviewed scientific papers as some sort of “gold standard.” After all, the usual alternatives they are bombarded with are misinformed and distorted populist articles in ideologically motivated “natural” health magazines and on similar web sites.

But peer review is hardly fool-proof, authors of scientific papers hardly always objective themselves and some scientific journals hardly efficient or necessarily ethical in their peer-review processes. I think everyone who uses citations like these in their debates should be aware of this and approach their use of scientific literature critically and intelligently. They should evaluate authors, the quality of their papers and the reliability of journals’ publishing processes.

Ideologically motivated authors 

Of course ideological motivation should not, by itself, mean that arguments used in a paper are invalid. Not at all. But it does require that papers are carefully peer-reviewed. Even an honest author attempting to be fair finds it difficult toa void their bias. An intelligent reader should be aware of an author’s possible motivations and the extent of peer review normally offered by the author’s institution and the journal.

Peckham

Author Stephen Peckham – former chairperson of activist group “Hampshire against fluoridation”

These days it is common for authors to declare any interest – as they did in this statement of conflicts of interest of this paper: – The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.”

Frankly I do not think this is good enough. In this case Stephen Peckman (the senior author) is a former chairperson of the activist group Hampshire Against Fluoridation. He is an active political campaigner on the issue of fluoridation – see, for example, this TV debate on the BBC a few years ago. Perhaps this should have been declared in the “Conflicts of interest” section? At least awareness of this activism is a warning to the intelligent reader to be vigilant in their reading of the paper.

“Bottom-feeding” journals

The intelligent reader should also be conscious of the journal used for publication. Some journals really should ring alarm bells. Not just journals like Fluoride which have a clear political position on fluoride and fluoridation. But journals who have a poor reputation for their peer review and other publishing processes. For example, some journals which charge authors for publication may be financially motivated to publish any old rubbish. Willing to use poor peer reviewers, etc. They may also allow authors to use unethical citation procedures for promotion of themselves or their groups – or raising the journal impact factor.

bottom feeder

Some “peer-reviewed” journals really are “bottom-feeders.”

In general researchers get to know the names of these poor quality journals and avoid them for their own reputations sake. However, such journals (which one commenter has described as “bottom feeders” – see Science Denialists Make Fake Journal, Get Shut Down) do provide a publication avenue for the less scrupulous author who finds difficulty publishing elsewhere. The Scientific World Journal, where Peckham chose to publish this paper, is one of these.

Here are some on-line comments about The Scientific World Journal.

Jeffrey Beall in his article Predatory Publishing:

“One result is that the open-access movement is producing an almost boomtown-like increase in the number of scholarly open-access publishers, fostered by a very low barrier to entrance into the learned publishing industry. To become a scholarly publisher, all you need now is a computer, a website, and the ability to create unique journal titles.

Bolstering this trend is the so-called “gold open-access” model, in which publishing is supported not by subscription fees but by author fees. An example of a gold open-access journal is The Scientific World Journal, currently published by Cairo-based Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This megajournal covers virtually all scientific fields and imposes an article processing charge of $1,000 for each accepted article. “

This “gold open-access” model provides an easy way for unscrupulous authors to buy space for their articles.

Nature reported that The Science World Journal was banned from lists of impact ratings because it allowed the unethical practice of self-citation (see Record number of journals banned for boosting impact factor with self-citations):

“Every year, Thomson Reuters, the firm that publishes the impact-factor rankings, takes action against the most extreme offenders by banning them from the latest lists. It lets them in again, suitably chastened, a couple of years later.

Almost all of those banned [in 2011] are excluded because of excessive self-citation, although three journals — Cell TransplantationMedical Science Monitor and The Scientific World Journal — apparently worked together to cite each other and thus raise impact factors.  That “cartel” was originally reported by Phil Davis on The Scholarly Kitchen, and he has today posted a follow-up article on that ban. “

David Rothschild at Plagiarism Blog also reported that The Scientific World Journal had taken the “unprecedented action” of retracting some of its own papers because of self-citations (see Scientific World Journal Takes Action After Thomson Reuters Exclusion):

“In 2011, The Scientific World Journal was excluded from the annual Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports for being an accomplice in a ‘citation cartel.’  Phil Davis over at the Scholarly Kitchen first uncovered evidence against the Scientific World Journal for excessive self-citation practices along with two other journals that shared common board members: Cell Transplantation and Medical Science Monitor. This past occurrence has more recently lead to The Scientific World Journaltaking unprecedented action by retracting two of their own papers after finding a number of self-citations in them with the clear goal of improving impact factor rankings. “

Readers can probably relate similar stories of ideologically motivated authors using “bottom feeder” journals to get their material published in an apparent peer-reviewed journal. It has happened a  bit in the climate change field. And their are several other examples of the technique being used in the anti-fluoridation movement.

In my article When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science I gave an example of such a paper which the Hamilton City Council had been misinformed by. This is the paper Kauffman, J. M. (2005). Water Fluoridation : a Review of Recent Research and Actions. Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, 10(2), 38–44.

Quackwatch lists the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons as an untrustworthy, non-recommended periodical. Investigative journalist Brian Deer described the journal as the:

“house magazine of a right-wing American fringe group, the Arizona-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which campaigns against US vaccination policies. The association is also vocal in opposing moves to combat fraud by private doctors, and medical professional efforts to reduce deaths from domestic firearms. In 2005, Time Magazine reported that the association had only 4,000 members. Although cited by Private Eye in stories attacking MMR, the association’s journal – recently renamed from the Medical Sentinel, presumably for the purpose of attempting to give its ideologically slanted material the aura of science – is barely credible as an independent forum for such material. No objective medical scientist with important information of any standard would submit it to such a publication, unless they couldn’t get it published anywhere else.”

This is the thing about these “bottom-feeding” journals. No reputable researcher uses them for fear of losing their reputation. But they do provide an avenue for papers that couldn’t get published in a reputable journal for reasons of poor quality or because they amount to propaganda for political activists.

Don’t be fooled by such tactics. Always approach articles, even those in “peer-reviewed” journals, critically and intelligently.

And don’t accept at face value the claims by activist propagandists that the material they promote has a scientific stamp of approval.

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How to change your Mind – and why it is good for you

It’s funny how we all recognise confirmation bias in others but a loath to see it in ourselves.

Yet it is only human – and in fact the desire to fit new evidence into existing models in our mind does play an important role in attempts to understand the real world. At the same time, one must realise that our mental models do not correspond exactly to reality, no matter how good they are, or we think they are.

That is why it is important to develop the skills to recognise when our mental models really are out of step with new evidence, with reality.

Julia Galef trains people to do this. To learn to change their mind. She described the process in her talk at TAM 2014.

TAM 2014 – Julia Galef – How to Change Your Mind -TAM 2014.

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The science and politics of climate change

Michael Mann: The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars – TAM 2013.

Have a look at this video for an excellent description of the history and science of climate change. It’s presented by one of the central figures.

Michael Mann has become a great popular science communicator – especially on climate science and the political attacks on science.

He was effectively forced into this public role by the political attacks on him He tells his story very well in his book  The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. It’s a great read – highly recommended.

Read “Good faith” science – and its enemies for my review of Michael Mann’s book.

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Science and belief

IMG_0616As long as it agrees with, or can be interpreted to agree with, one’s beliefs.

 

September ’14 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

education-bloggers


PLEASE NOTE: Sitemeter is playing up again making it impossible to automatically get the stats for some blogs – those I list below. Maybe more bloggers will shift to StatCounter or other counter.

No stats could be found for these blogs:

Works in progress Sportsfreak
Weakly Whirled News Infectious thoughts
Two Minutes Sport Science Behind the Curtain
Wysiwygpurple’s Blog Grumpollie
Stats Chat Louis’ Outlook
Webweaver’s world West City Darts
Social Media and the 2014 General Election A conservative perspective
Love your work Save our schools NZ
Today is my birthday The Meaning of Trees
This Mum Rocks

There are now over 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake, or get your stats wrong).


Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters.

Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for September 2014. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

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Peer review of an anti-fluoride “peer review”

In  Anti-fluoride activists define kangaroo court as “independent” I promised to review the anti-fluoridationist International Peer Review.” This is Anti-fluoride  critique of the recent review Health Effects of Water Fluoridation: a Review of the Scientific Evidence produced by the Royal Society of NZ together with the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor (hereafter refered to as the Royal Society Review).

So here is my peer review, of a review, of a review.

General comments

Anti-fluoride activists have  busily mentioned all the apparent contributors to this critique but I will only deal with Kathleen Theissen’s and Chris Neurath’s comments as only these have any substance.  James Beck declined comment saying only “On the current New Zealand case I don’t think I can do any better than Chris has done.” Similarly Speeding Micklem says only that “Chris’s analysis is excellent.”

Hardy Limeback does not engage at all with the science in the Royal Society Review, but does express his emotional attitude towards it. He says:

“I can’t be bothered to show step by step where this review does not meet the standards of critical scientific analysis. . . . Chris is right on the ball in critiquing this review. I’m not sure many people will appreciate just how detailed he is.
I’m disgusted by how sloppy the NZ reviewers were. They were obviously politically motivated.”

However, Limeback’s comment on the use they will make of their critique is interesting:

“The effort to critiquing every paragraph of the NZ review is taxing but once it is done and posted on the website, it would be most useful for those people who want to take on the promoters of fluoridation who will undoubtedly use this review to support the profluoridation agenda and point to how unscientific, one-sided, politically motivated this review really is.
I would be happy to lend my name to the list of scientific reviewers of this critique.”

So, you can get an idea of what their purpose is in their “peer review.”

Now, the specific issues raised in Theissen and Neurath’s comments.

Margin of safety

The Royal Society Review found some population groups may exceed the prescribed “safe” levels of F intake. So Theissen concludes that “the fluoride concentration in drinking water is too high and should be lowered.” However, she ignores completely the review’s comments on this issue.

“Infants 0-6 months of age who are exclusively fed formula reconstituted with fluoridated water will have intakes at or exceeding the upper end of the recommended range (UL; 0.7 mg/day). The higher intakes may help strengthen the developing teeth against future decay, but are also associated with a slightly increased risk of very mild or mild dental fluorosis. This risk is considered to be very low, and recommendations from several authoritative groups support the safety of reconstituting infant formula with fluoridated water.”

The review also noted that children from 1 – 4 yrs old do not exceed recommended levels on F intake but intake from ingested toothpaste my increase intake above recommended levels. It goes on to conclude:

“Consumption of fluoridated water is highly recommended for young children, as is the use of fluoride toothpaste (regular strength – at least 1000ppm), but only a smear of toothpaste should be used, and children should be supervised during toothbrushing to ensure that toothpaste is not swallowed/eaten.”

I also discussed the issue of risk for formula-fed infants in my article When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science  and in my exchange with Paul Connett. Here I note how “peace of mind” advice to those parents who may be concerned about increased risk of dental fluorosis gets presented by anti-fluoride people as safety warnings.

Adequacy of standards for fluoride intake

Theissen discusses the adequacy of a stands for F intake at length but her only beef with the Royal Society Review on this appears to be that it doesn’t challenge existing standards. She herself considers that these standards should be revised to “obtained values much lower than those currently considers desirable by the New Zealand government.” But here she is promoting a personal agenda and not objectively critiquing the Royal Society Review.

Effects of community water fluoridation (CWF) in NZ

Theissen considers that the NZ review offered “little documentation for the beneficial effects of fluoride.” Strange – has she read the review? Table A2 lists 21 major reviews it considered and 7 New Zealand sources were included – the 2009 NZ Oral Health Survey and regional studies in Otago, Southland, Canterbury, Wellington, Auckland and Northland.

If that was insufficient for Theissen then why is her only counter to mention John Coulquhoun’s reminiscences in his article of 1997? It is not enough for Theissen to use his assertions “that there are virtually no differences in tooth decay rates related to fluoridation” and “25 percent of children had dental fluorosis.” But has she bothered to check out his data at all critically? Why no more citations supporting her  claim?

Coulquoun was a committed anti-fluoridationist  and a critical check of his claims show them to be unreliable. Here is a sentence from the abstract of his paper Colquhon 1985:

“In the unfluoridated areas all the children, and in the fluoridated areas only selected children, had received regular topical fluoride treatments.” And he concluded “When the socioeconomic variable is allowed for, child dental health appears to be better in the unfluoridated areas.”

Apart from the wishful thinking displayed in his interpretation of a statistically non-significant difference he has glossed over the fact that both fluoridated and unfluoridated groups were receiving fluoride treatments of one sort or another!

Similarly, Theissen puts more trust in Colquhoun’s brief comment on dental fluorsis than the several  pages on this subject in the review. Anti-fluoride propagandists are continually misrepresenting dental fluorosis data to imply any extremely mild forms attributable to fluoridation should be treated like the severe forms which are not caused by fluoridation. The Royal Society review’s comment on the aesthetic effects help bring some context back on this issue:

“It is important to note that the seemingly high prevalence of fluorosis reported in some studies and systematic reviews includes mainly mild and very mild (and sometimes questionable) degrees of fluorosis, with only a small proportion that would be considered to be of aesthetic concern.

Surveys have shown that very mild to mild dental fluorosis is not associated with negative impact on perception of oral health,[142] and that adolescents actually preferred the whiteness associated with mild fluorosis.[143] In a recent study, adolescents answered a questionnaire regarding the impact of enamel fluorosis on dental aesthetics, older adolescents rated photographs of mild fluorosis more favorably than younger ones. A fluorosis score indicative of moderate fluorosis was the level considered to have aesthetic significance. Carious teeth were rated significantly lower than fluorosed teeth.[144]

Carcinogenicity and genotoxicity

Theissen, like almost all anti-fluoride propagandists, relies completely on the  the Bassin et al (2006) study for evidence here and ignores later studies which did not confirm Bassin’s work. In my exchange with Connett I criticised him for the same tactic (see Fluoride debate: Final article – Ken Perrott):

“the importance Paul gives to a single study on fluoride and osteosarcoma illustrates his mechanical and selective approach to “weight of evidence.” He has not bothered including either the study by Comber et al (2011) of this issue in Ireland or the study by Levy & Leclerc (2012) for the US. Possibly because both of these concluded that water fluoridation has no influence on osteosarcoma incidence rates.”

So while Theissen is upset the Review “dismisses” Bassin’s work, this is not the “out of hand” rejection she implies. The Review says:

“The few studies that have suggested a cancer link with CWF suffer from poor methodology and/or errors in analysis. Multiple thorough systematic reviews conducted between 2000 and 2011 all concluded that based on the best available evidence, fluoride (at any level) could not be classified as carcinogenic in humans. More recent studies, including a large and detailed study in the UK in 2014, have not changed this conclusion. “

Neurotoxicity

I partially agree with Neurath’s charge on the inadequacy of the Royal Society’s comment on the standardised weighted mean difference in IQ scores discussed by Choi at al (2012). Some people have made a lot of the confusion around this issue. I would like someone with good statistical skills to comment on the risks involved in making such an analysis in a meta study where there is no conformity of experimental design or treatment in the individual studies.  Wikipedia lists a number of pitfalls in statistical meta analysis, two of which seem particularly relevant here – publication bias and agenda-driven bias. In my article Quality and selection counts in fluoride research I described how the studies used had been selected and it is hard not to see an agenda behind this. So, I do think Choi et al’s statistical analysis is questionable.

However,  this issue is irrelevant to CWF because of the generally high drinking water fluoride concentrations used in these studies. Theissen and Neurath resort to the special pleading in their efforts to avoid that problem.

Theissen stressed that in the Choi et al review “One study had “high” at 0.88 mg/L, quite relevant to CWF.” Neurath says “In fact, one of the Chinese IQ studies had an average water concentration of 0.88 mgL in the high exposure group.”

At first sight this seems relevant to CWF and Paul Connett, like many anti-fluoride activists, stress this study in defending the relevance of Choi et al (2012). Strange then that none of them actually discuss the study details. Perhaps we should.

The study is a one and a half pages newsletter report:

Lin et al (1991). The relationship of of low-iodine and high-fluoride environment to subclinical cretinism in Xinjiang. Iodine Deficiency Disorder Newsletter, 24–25.

It has few of the details we normally expect in scientific papers. For example, I would like to know what the range of fluoride concentrations was in the drinking water, what other dietary intake occurred, how was the “dental fluorosis” observed defined, etc.

Children from low iodine areas were compared with a group from another area that had received iodine supplementation. About 15% of the children suffered mental retardation, 69% of these exhibited subclinical endemic cretinism. The effect of iodine supplementation was clear, the effect of fluoride not so clear. But anyway, hardly a report to hang any conclusion on about CWF in New Zealand.

They also resorted to special pleading to downplay other problems with these studies:

Theissen:

“the one study . .  that did not show lower IQ still showed a tendency in that direction (just not statistically significant) and it certianly did not show clear absence of any effect”

“While some of the neurotixicity studies did not address confounders, some did handle them responsibly” [Most of them didn't]

Neurath:

“most of the studies did consider other sources of exposure such as from food dried over coal fires . . . This in almost all studies, major alternative sources of fluoride exposure were ruled out or controlled for” ”  – [In fact they weren't as most didn't consider other inputs]

“several of the studies did consider each of these potentially confounding factors, and at least one group of researchers (lead by Xiang) considered all of them and more.” [yes, one – “all and more” – but why not consider Xiang in detail then? Why try to spread his thoroughness throughout all these meagre studies?

“simply failing to assess these factors in a study does not mean the study was confounded and produced invalid results.” [well no, but isn't it best to check known confounders?]

fan-conf-2014-sturmer-300x200

“Connett’s get-together” – 5th FAN Conference, Sept 6-8, 2014. Credit: Photo by Corey Sturmer,

Anti-fluoride people also often single out the study of Xiang, et al (2003). Effect of fluoride in drinking water on children’s intelligence. Fluoride, 36(2), 84–94, because unlike the others it is more detailed.  Xiang’s team has studied areas where fluorosis is endemic. Here is a slide from his presentation  to Paul Connett’s recent anti-fluoride “get-together” (Xiang 2014). This is not the very mild dental fluorosis attributed to CWF.

xiang-Endemic fluorosis

Now I think severe dental fluorosis like this would create learning difficulties for children in the same way dental decay does (Seirawan et al 2012). I suggested this in Confirmation blindness on the fluoride-IQ issuePresumably Xiang could have analysed his data to check if the apparent IQ drop was correlated with the prevalence of dental fluorosis. I would think that could be an obvious first step.

Theissen  berates the Royal Society review for suggesting there is no plausible mechanism for the effect of F on IQ. Instead she resorts to special pleading again – admitting “no mechanism has been established,” attributing that to lack of research, not the absence of a mechanism. And then speculating on possible mechanism related to thyroid function, etc. The trouble is that this sort of special pleading can soon convert logical possibilities into established proof in the minds of the faithful. And meanwhile an obvious possible cause of the IQ data may be staring her in the face but she is oblivious because it does not involve “brain damage.”

Animal studies

Theissen rejects the Royal Society’s dismissal of results from animal studies because of the high concentrations used in them. She says baldly “animals require much higher exposures (5-20 times higher, or more; see NRC 2006; 2009). But what does NRC 2006 actually say (The NRC 2009 simply references NRC 2006)? It discussed the contradictory data used for attempting to show a ratio between humans and rats for blood plasma levels and concluded:

“Dunipace et al. (1995) concluded that rats require about five times greater water concentrations than humans to reach the same plasma concentration. That factor appears uncertain, in part because the ratio can change with age or length of exposure. In addition, this approach compares water concentrations, not dose. Plasma levels can also vary considerably both between people and in the same person over time (Ekstrand 1978).”

Again Theissen resorts to special pleading converting a vague possibility into an established “fact” in an effort to justify the unquestioned use of animal studies using high concentrations.

Mullinex et al (1995) also attempted to justify use of similar animal studies by comparison of blood plasma F levels. However, there is a huge range and variability in these levels so extremely easy to make subjective justification. I am suspicious of such speculation.

While I am happy to  acknowledge that it may be too simple to equate the effects for humans and animals at the same intakes, I think Theissen’s assertion “animals require much higher exposures” is straw-clutching. Millunex et al (1995) exhibited the same straw-clutching when she asserted plasma levels in her rats were similar to those in “humans exposed to high levels of fluoride.” Anti-fluoride activists love to quote Mullinex while ignore or downplaying the word “high.” She was quoting plasma F concentrations for children receiving 5 – 10, and 16 mg/L F, 10 or 20 times higher than used in CWF! But the huge effect of treatment time on plasma F concentration in rats must surely warn any objective reader to be very careful about these sort of claims. (Rats receiving 125 ppm F had plasma concentrations of about 0.1 mg/L after 6 weeks exposure but 0.64 ± 0.31  mg/L after 20 weeks).

Endrocrine effects

Theissen appears not to have properly read this section of the Royal Society Review.

Contrary to her assertion it does refer to the NRC discussion of these effects and comments:

“Most of the reviewed animal studies were designed to ascertain whether certain effects occurred, and not to determine the lowest exposures at which they occurred. The report concluded that fluoride (at unspecified levels) can affect normal endocrine function or response, and that better characterisation of fluoride exposure in humans in epidemiological studies is needed to investigate the potential endocrine effects of fluoride.”

It acknowledges potential effects (at unspecified levels) despite Theissen’s claim it “failed to mention” them. However, at this time no such effects have been observed in humans at the concentrations used in CWF. So the Review summarises its findings this way:

“A number of other alleged effects of CWF on health outcomes have been reviewed, including effects on reproduction, endocrine function, cardiovascular and renal effects, and effects on the immune system. The most reliable and valid evidence to date for all of these effects indicates that fluoride in levels used for CWF does not pose appreciable risks of harm to human health.”

Conclusion

The Royal Society Review evaluated current scientific knowledge on health effects of fluoridation. It was requested by the Auckland Council on behalf of several local Councils. They wanted a review of the scientific evidence for and against the efficacy and safety of fluoridation of public water supplies. This requirement arose from the recent campaigns by anti-fluoridation activists who targeted individual councils with a barrage of misinformation.

We should understand that the size and accessibility of the Review is aimed at informing public decision-making on the issue.  For this reason it also deals with New Zealand aspects. It is not meant to be as extensive and detailed as the 530 page US National Research Council report.

Hopefully any future consideration of community water fluoridation by local body councils will be better informed because of the Royal Society review. In particular it should help counter the sort of misinformation that has confused some councils in the past.


References

Colquhoun, J. (1985). Influence of social class and fluoridation on child dental health. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, 13(1), 37–41.

Bassin, E. B., Wypij, D., Davis, R. B., & Mittleman, M. a. (2006). Age-specific fluoride exposure in drinking water and osteosarcoma (United States). Cancer Causes & Control : CCC, 17(4), 421–8.

Choi, A. L., Sun, G., Zhang, Y., & Grandjean, P. (2012). Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(10), 1362–1368.

Comber, H., Deady, S., Montgomery, E., & Gavin, A. (2011). Drinking water fluoridation and osteosarcoma incidence on the island of Ireland. Cancer Causes & Control : CCC, 22(6), 919–24. doi:10.1007/s10552-011-9765-0

Eason, C., & Elwood, JM. Seymour, Thomson, WM. Wilson, N. Prendergast, K. (2014). Health effects of water fluoridation : A review of the scientific evidence (p. 74). Royal Society of New Zealand and Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

Levy, M., & Leclerc, B.-S. (2012). Fluoride in drinking water and osteosarcoma incidence rates in the continental United States among children and adolescents. Cancer Epidemiology, 36(2), e83–e88.

Lin Fa-Fu, Aihaiti, Zhao Hong-Xin, Lin Jin, Jiang Ji-Yong, Maimaiti, and A. (1991). The relationship of of low-iodine and high-fluoride environment to subclinical cretinism in Xinjiang. Iodine Deficiency Disorder Newsletter, 24–25.

Ministry of Health. (2010). Our Oral Health: Key findings of the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

Mullenix, Phyllis J., Debenstein. Pamela K., Schunior, A., & Kernan, W. J. (1995). Nuerotoxicity of sodium fluoride in rats. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 17(2), 169–177.

National Research Council. (2006) Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Seirawan, H., Faust, S., & Mulligan, R. (2012). The impact of oral health on the academic performance of disadvantaged children. American Journal of Public Health, 102(9), 1729–34.

Thiessen, KM., & Neurath, C. (2014). International Peer Review of the Royal Society/PM Science Advisor Office Fluoridation Review. Internet document.

Xiang, Q; Liang, Y; Chen, L; Wang, C; Chen, B; Chen, X; Zhouc, M. (2003). Effect of fluoride in drinking water on children’s intelligence. Fluoride, 36(2), 84–94.

Xiang, Q. (2014) Fluoride and IQ research in ChinaKeynote Address at FAN’s 5th Citizens’ Conference on Fluoride.

 

 

The information war – The NZ Listener takes up arms

First – have a look at this satirical programme from Germany. It has English captions but is worth watching a few times for the subtleties.

I have commented before about the information war going on around the Ukrainian conflict. It might seem like a distant issue here (and it usually doesn’t get much coverage). But I believe the biassed propaganda we are exposed to is dangerous because of its jingoism.

And this week the NZ Listener brought the conflict right into our living rooms with an editorial which uses the same innuendo and unconfirmed claims that feeds this jingoism (see Alarmed World).

Out of the blue in a piece seeming to be about Islamic State and the conflict in the Middle East we get this:

The West faces a similar test of its resolve in Ukraine, where attempts to deter Russian-backed aggression have been largely ineffectual. The world knows that Russia supports the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, that it has troops on Ukrainian soil and that it probably supplied the missiles that brought down a Malaysian airliner. Yet the European Union’s sanctions against Russia have succeeded only in provoking economic counter-measures that have hurt European food producers, for whom Russia was a $19 billion export market, and threats to ban “unfriendly” airlines from Russian airspace.

The assertion the “world knows” has become a substitute for evidence! The world certainly knew when the USSR invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, or the US invaded Iraq. We could see the evidence. Tanks surging across borders, planes bombing, troops on the ground. But nothing of that here (except the occasional soldier who claims to have lost his way – or fuzzy satellite photos of combine harvesters*).

[Yes, I know the presence in Ukraine of Russian and other voluntary (or even mercenary) fighters is well established - fighting on both sides. But that is not the same as invasion of a foreign army the media often claims.]

The “world knows” that Russia “probably” supplied missiles used to shoot down Malaysian airline MH17 – when the world knows nothing of the sort! At this stage this issue is wide open (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact) – but it seems our media thinks we don’t deserve anything better than unwarranted claims on such a serious matter.

That shows no respect for the victims of this tragedy.

As for the danger of this sort of biased reporting and media manipulation, and the jingoism it promotes, we can read the last paragraph in the Listener editorial.

“What has become painfully apparent, in both the Middle East and Ukraine, is that the democratic West is susceptible to paralysis and self-doubt when confronted with the forces of totalitarianism and autocracy. Perhaps it’s time to consider what the world’s fate might have been without the moral resolve exhibited by Churchill and Roosevelt in World War II.”

Isn’t this the sort of talk used to prepare a population for war?


UPDATE

* Of course I have taken poetic license here about these fuzzy photos. After all,  whether these were photos of artillary or combine harvesters is not evidence for or against an invasion. We know that both sides in Ukraine have plenty of artillery weapons and are using them. But for the pedantic, and those confused by my aside, here are some links to the combine harvester/artillery story:

Dave Lindorff writes about it in his article Satellite Images of Alleged Russian Artillery in Ukraine Come A-Cropper. He produced this photo below:

combines.preview

And commented:

“In the ongoing propaganda campaign mounted by the Obama administration to claim that Russia has “invaded” Ukraine from the east, it offered up some grainy black-and-white satellite images purporting to show heavy Russian military equipment inside Ukraine.

I earlier noted how unlikely it was that heavy mobile artillery pieces would be set up in a perfect line in what appeared to be a field of crops, with, as the government claimed, cannons aimed towards Ukrainian positions in toward the west. As I pointed out, there was no sign of piles of ammunition alongside these “units” as we routinely see in closeups of heavy mobile artillery — for example in photos of IDF pieces positioned outside of Gaza. I also noted the unlikelihood that such equipment would have been set up in an open field, unprotected by trees or other cover, and lined up to make for easy targeting by enemy artillery or air attack.

Now an alert reader from the agricultural state of Texas (Laredo, TX to be precise), has sent a note suggesting out that what the supposedly incriminating images most likely show are combines in a field of grain or some other crop planted in rows. He sent along photos showing harvesters, which of course feature a long, straight “cannon-like” tube which is used to shoot the harvested grain up and into an accompanying truck to be hauled off to market or to a storage silo.”

Here is a higher resolution of the satellite photo which, I understand, came from the US State Department:

artillery_2

(from European Union Court of Justice Imposes Anti-Rasmussen Rule – Sanctions Cannot Be Imposed by Reason of Fabrication, Lies, Dissimulation)

I wouldn’t pretend to draw any definite conclusions from these photos but I think Dave Lindorff  has a point:

“Now maybe the released satellite images do show Russian artillery, but given Washington’s extensive history of abject lying in the interest of promoting its war agenda (think Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq WMDs and mobile poison gas factories, Assad gas attacks in Damascus, etc.), it’s worth taking the claim with a “grain” of…well, in this case actual grain.”

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MOM “a thousand times better than cricket”

This is how the Indian Prime Minister responded to the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) yesterday:

“History has been created by our scientists”, said PM Narendra Modi in his speech immediately after the scientists declared the mission a success. “We have dared to reach out to the unknown.”

“When our cricketers win a tournament, we celebrate in a big way. What these scientists have achieved is thousand times bigger,” he added.

MOM

It’s certainly a great achievement – India managed a succesful Mars orbit introduction with the first spacecraft they sent to Mars. We can measures ts success against the fact that more than half the world’s previous attempts – 23 out of 41 Mars missions – have failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

The Indian Mar’s Orbiter arrived in Mar’s orbit just a few days after the US Maven orbiter. Both orbiters have similar tasks. MOM’s scientific goals including using five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.

The BBC described the cost of MOM as “staggeringly cheap”  by Western standards. The US Maven orbiter is costing almost 10 times as much. This bodes well for the future of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – especially for launches of commercial satellites for overseas countries and companies.

india.si

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists and engineers monitor the movements of India’s Mars orbiter at their Spacecraft Control Center in the southern Indian city of Bangalore (Credit: Reuters / Stringer)

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