Fluoride, coffee and activist confusion

Havana Coffee Works in Tory Street, Wellington. Great coffee and chance to see roasting in action. On the site of what was the old Wellington Milk Department in the 1950s.

I have been in Wellington for the Parliamentary select committee hearings on fluoridation. Well, that was the excuse – I was really there to catch up with my family (always a joy and am amazed at how tall my grandson has become) and to enjoy the great food in Wellington cafes.This time I

This time I also set out to acquire some freshly-roasted coffee beans from one if the many roasters in Wellington.

The Havana roaster turned out to be a surprise. Not only are their coffee beans excellent ( I am looking forward to getting home and drinking coffee made with them) – they are based in Tory Street as the site of what used to be the old Milk Department. Some of you may still remember the days when milk was delivered to your house in the middle of the night by a milkman. My Dad was one of those milkmen, and my siblings and I all spent time helping him deliver milk in the dead of night. So that building brought back memories. Even got to walk along Channing street on the way back to my hotel. You wouldn’t know it now but that street was very disreputable in the 50s because of the opium dens in the old houses.

Select Committee Hearings

These were interesting. Submissions were called for on  Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill currently before parliament. This legislation is not about fluoridation itself. It is about how decisions should be made – about the process, not the science. In effect, it proposes transferring decisions from local councils to District Health Boards.

Pressure for the law change came from local councils who were sick to death of the hounding from activists and being forced into making decisions – not about whether to fluoridate or not – but about the science. Activist submitters continued to deluge them with passionately-worded submissions full of scientific claims – councillors with no scientific skills were being forced into making decisions about the science – were the activists correct in their claims that fluoridation causes all the ills known to mankind or should they accept the science presented by the experts. After all, activist submissions could look very sciencey – they were often full of citations to the scientific literature!

True to form the anti-fluoride activists deluged the select committee with submissions which were irrelevant to the bill – very few of them actually suggested changes or showed any evidence they had read the bill. No, they did their usual trick of preaching about the “science” – their claims of harmful effects from fluoridation and that it does nothing for oral health anyway.

It is amazing to hear people make outrageous claims about the scientific literature – claims which make clear they have never bothered to read the source they are citing. I guess they think they can get away with such porkies and misrepresentations because they are talking to politicians. However, my impression was this failed at these hearings – unless submitters raised suggestions about the process they were simply politely thanked and sent away.

So I found it frustrating to hear such lies being peddled about the science (and discussion by the public was not allowed) but confident in the fact the select committee was just humouring these people. Responses from committee members were always about process – not the scientific claims.

My submission

There were only a few submissions which dealt properly with the wording of the bill – the vast majority were just empty anti-fluoride rhetoric. I made a submission as an individual scientist but also as part of the Making Sense of Fluoride (MSoF) team. It was great to catch up with MSoF people who I tend to talk with on-line every day but have not till now met in person.

This was my oral submission:


As Monty Python used to say: “And now for something completely different.”

I support this bill as far as it goes but don’t think it will solve the basic problems without changing the way the science is considered. I want to suggest a change.

The current submissions show the problem. This committee has been inundated with large numbers of written and oral submissions. Many of these are duplicates or form letters. Most are opposed to community water fluoridation and usually make scientific claims – such as fluoride is a neurotoxin, that it causes a high prevalence of dental fluorosis or uses contaminated chemicals.

Submissions often cite scientific articles – some have even attached copies of these articles. This sort of thing can impress the layperson – perhaps some of the members of this committee are impressed? After all, it is easy to fool the ordinary person with scientific claims, citations, documents and publications. Advertisers do it all the time.

But this committee is simply not considering the science. Political committees – parliamentary, local body or District Health Board should not make scientific decisions. They do not have the skills for this. Yet that is what most of these submissions are asking of this committee. It’s what was being asked of local councils and it will be what is asked of DHBs.

Consideration of the science behind community water fluoridation requires people with scientific and health skills. Such people need to check evidence provided, check citations when they are presented, check what the scientific literature actually says (which could be very different to what submitters claim). Proper scientific consideration requires that the claims and cited scientific literature need to be considered intelligently and critically. The wider literature needs to be consulted. Cited claims need following up.

I have attached a couple of documents that do this – these are responses to documents used by several submitter arguing against community water fluoridation.

The current wording this bill requires DHBs to consider the scientific evidence. That just invites opponents of community water fluoridation to inundate DHBs with the sort of submission this committee has received – and local councils have been inundated with. DHBs are no better equipped to deal with this than this committee or local councils.

I suggest a change requiring DHBs to take advice on the scientific evidence from central bodies – the Ministry of Health and the Public Health Advisory Committee. This would transfer responsibility for scientific considerations to central bodies better equipped to do that evaluation.

The Public Health Advisory Committee has a legislated role to consider questions like this and advise the Minister. It is also able to consult interested organisations, experts like the Royal Society and the Prime Minister’s Chief Scientific Advisor who performed the most recent fluoridation review. It can also consult appropriate individuals.

This would not remove the right of lay persons to make submissions about the science – it simply redirects those submissions to a more appropriate body.

I think a change like this should be welcomed by everybody. It removes from DHBs the impossible job of making decisions about the science they are not equipped to make. It provides a proper venue for the science to be considered intelligently and critically. It is a credible and authoritative body for scientific organisations, health organisations, activist groups and the ordinary person who has concerns on this issue – whether for or against community water fluoridation.

After all – if someone has a genuine concern or has evidence they think will stand up to scientific scrutiny why should they want to waste time submitting it to a committee of politicians? Wouldn’t they be far happier knowing they are appealing to people who have the skills to evaluate their concerns properly?

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Trump didn’t invent the problems – and his opponents didn’t invent protest

Anti-Trump rally. Union Square, Manhattan, New York. November 2016. Image credit: Kelly Kline

At last, I find myself agreeing with something written by PZ Myers – well, sort of. I agree with the main message in his article about the current US political mess  – It is disturbing that the news is all Russia all the time – but it really does not go far enough. It doesn’t identify what actions should be pursued – nor does it identify the problems that have resulted in his main complaint.

Let’s get the fallacy in his first sentence out of the way. A fallacy which undermines the rest of his argument. Talking about the current political turmoil in the US he says: “I agree that the administration’s Russian connection ought to be pursued.” But he doesn’t say why.

The Russophobic diversion

The fact is Russia is a normal and natural country in the modern world. Its economy has strong international links and it is only natural that business and political personalities in the US will have, or will have had, links to Russian business, diplomats, and political personalities. Just as they have, and will have had, links to such entities from other countries, the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Poland – and even little old New Zealand.

And that goes for US business and political personalities of all different political persuasions. Are US officials really going to get distracted by pursuing all these links, or even all the links with Russian entities? What about the international business links, including with Russia, of Democrat politicians – including the Clintons? What about the contact between Democrat politicians and Russian diplomats? Hell, should officials really investigate, and cast aspersions, on the many meetings ex-President Obama’s White House administration had with the Russian ambassador?

These links and contacts are perfectly natural in our modern global society – and they are only a current issue in the US because of the wave of neo-McCarthyism stalking that country. Neo-McCarthyism, we should remember, launched by Hillary Clinton to divert attention away from the political corruption in the Democratic Party revealed by Wikileaks. Neo-McCarthyism now maintained by Democrat politicians and anti-Trump elements of the intelligence community and mainstream media as a tool to control or limit the powers of the new administration.

Neo-McCarthyism is terribly dishonest and pernicious. It relies on Russophobia (which I often see as a form of racism – the last respectable form see Western racism and the stereotyping of Russians) and, in the end, the fear of being outed as a traitor, to bring people’s thinking “into line.”

And PZ Myers has fallen completely into that trap with this acceptance of neo-McCarthyism in his first sentence.

The real problems – and they aren’t new

But Myers goes on:

“but I am not happy that that is being treated as the primary reason to delegitimize Donald Trump. The man is a destructive incompetent with a fist full of bad policies, and the most effective way to bring him down is to expose the fact that his campaign staff talked to the Russian ambassador? What? Have you looked at what he is doing to the country right now? Because there is a whole lot of crap going down while we’re busy looking for Russians under the bed.”

Myers should be unhappy that such neo-McCarthyist reasons are used at all – from the point of view of democratic and human rights. But, yes, he makes a valid point – the neo-McCarthysim is a diversion. People should be paying attention to the real problems the US election result has left them with – a President and, probably more importantly, a Congress where anti-science and anti-human rights elements have been strengthened.

PZ illustrates this by listing some of the proposed cuts to the EPA budget. Others will find similar regressive proposed action in other areas. But PZ Myers is all at sea when it comes to fighting these problems:

“There is no single reason to rise up and throw these assholes out — they’ve provided an embarrassment of causes that make them terrible leaders, which is part of the problem, that the reasons for taking action have been diffused so widely. It seems to me that our targeting is off when conversations with Russian diplomats become the strongest reason for investigating the president, rather than his habit of appointing incompetents and looters like DeVos and Pruitt to run major government agencies.”

It is politically immature to see the solution as “to rise up and throw these assholes out.” Come off it. The president was legally elected. It is childish for the defeated parties to see “rising up and throwing out” elected leaders as a solution. Such advice, while it may appeal to the more emotional and immature, is a recipe for continued defeat, not a solution.

The fight-back is not new either

These problems upsetting people did not suddenly appear with the election of a new president. They have been there for a long time – as has the struggle against them. The election results did not create the problems – it simply made them worse.

Democratic and humanitarian-minded people (and science-minded people) have been fighting these problems for years. The fight against racism, environmental pollution, climate change denial and limitations on the reproductive and other rights of women is not new.

The fight-back uses many methods – lobbying and representation to Congressional committees, publicity in the mass media and alternative media,. petitions, citizen’s meetings. participation in political parties, rallies, and demonstrations.

No, the current rallies and demonstrations are not new. But, I am amazed that some people who have joined these, donned knitted pink hats and vented their feelings at anti-Trump rallies think they have invented something new. Perhaps the only new thing in their political activity has been the lack of clearly defined purpose. (And perhaps it is this focus on Trump himself which has made them susceptible to the ne0-McCarthist argument – to the extent they will often use it in their slogans).

Where have these people been? And that is a valid question as there is a school of thought that some of the current protesters had, in the past,  been lulled into inactivity, a false sense of contentment because they believed “their” democratic president was handling the situation. Solving all the problems. Stopping US interventions and war mongering overseas.

While it is true that Trump’s election may have encouraged some people to become active and to join the fight back, let’s not pretend the fight-back is at all new or that these newcomers have invented it. If anything, their lack of specific targets and resort to personal expression of their own anger is a bad sign, not a good one.

Because the fight back on all these important issues is not new and has developed its own maturity it will not disappear when the current highly motivated and emotional responses subside. Hopefully, many of the people who have joined the fight back because of their response to the presidential election result will stay and participate in the long-term struggles.

It would be nice to think that PZ Myers would get past his current emotional concept of the fight-back – “rising up and throwing out the assholes.” That he might actually participate in the day to day struggle of people fighting against the anti-democratic, anti-women, racist and anti-science policies.

Unfortunately, if his current habit of attacking people involved in these struggles because they do not measure up to his standards continue, this will not be the case.

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See also: The Democratic Party seems to have no earthly idea why it is so damn unpopular.

 

 

 

Anti-fluoride authors indulge in data manipulation and statistical porkies

Darrell Huff & Irving Geis wrote a classic book – How to Lie With Statistics. They outline various ways data can be presented to give the wrong story. However, there is an even more naive use of statistics to misrepresent data – just declare that a relationship is statistically significant, don’t show any data or statistical analysis.

Unfortunately, many people are fooled by the use of those magical words – “statistically significant.”

I suppose the lay person could be excused – although it would pay even them to be a bit more sceptical about such claims. But it seems that even some “scientific” journals, or perhaps inadequate peer reviewers, can be fooled by those magical words. Here is an example in the paper by Hirzy et al., (2015) in the journal Fluoride. (Yes, I know, this journal is well known for its anti-fluoride stance and poor scientific quality but I would have thought the editor, Bruce Spittle,  would have picked this one up – even if they do not have an adequate peer review system. Perhaps the fact Spittle is one of the authors of the paper is a factor).

I critiqued the paper in my article Debunking a “classic” fluoride-IQ paper by leading anti-fluoride propagandists and have submitted a more formal critique to the journal (see – Critique of a risk analysis aimed at establishing a safe dose of fluoride for children.) But here I just want to deal with those magical words used in the paper – “statistically significant.”

Hirzy et al (2016) rely completely on data reported by Xiang et al., (2003) and claim they “found a statistically significant negative relationship between . . . .  drinking water fluoride levels and IQ.” Trouble is – you can search through the data presented by Xiang et al., (2003) and there is absolutely nothing to indicate a “statistically significant” relationship. Sure, that paper actually claims “This study found a significant inverse concentration-response relationship between the fluoride level in drinking water and the IQ of children.”  But there is no table or graphic presenting the individual data points and no statistical analysis for drinking water F and IQ. Rather surprising because Xiang et al., (2003) did present the individual data points for urinary fluoride and did present some results for statistical analysis of other relationships.

The trick behind the misleading use of Xiang’s data

However, what Xiang et al (2003) did do was separate their drinking water fluoride and IQ data into different ranges. This is a table of their result.

While group F was data for one village (Xinhuai) and the data in the other groups were for a separate village (Wamiao), there was no explanation of the criteria used for the groups – and the numbers in each group very tremendously. Over half the children (290 of the total 512) were in Group F and the size of the other groups seem to arbitrarily vary between 8 and 111.

This manipulation produces data which can be used to imply a statistically significant relationship. Do the statistical analysis for water F and IQ in the above table and sure you get a lovely straight line, a correlation of 0.96 and very significant statistically (p=0.003). But because of the manipulation, this says exactly nothing about the original data.

I will illustrate this by taking some data which Xiang et al (2003) did provide – for urinary fluoride and IQ. The data are illustrated in the figure below from the paper.

A statistical analysis of that data did show it was statistically significant – Xiang et al. (2003) cite a “Pearson correlation coefficient –0.174 , p = 0.003.” Now, that explains about 3% of the variance in IQ and I would have liked to see a similar analysis for water F as other workers have usually found weaker relationships for water F than for urinary F.

But let’s try using the manipulation of Xiang et al (2o03) and Hirzy et al (2016) to make the relationship between urinary F and IQ look a lot better than it is. I used a software tool to extract data from the figure – it didn’t extract all the points (264 out of a total 290) because of overlaps but statistical analysis of my extracted data gave a Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.16, p=0.010. Very similar to that reported by Xiang et al., (2003).

The tricky manipulations

I have absolutely no idea why Xiang et al., (2003) used different group sizes – so, to be fair, I have divided my extracted data into 6 groups of 44 pairs each (after sorting them into order based on urinary F) to produce the following table.

Urinary F IQ
A 1.79 105.57
B 2.30 89.45
C 2.30 77.72
D 2.69 68.58
E 2.48 56.25
F 2.69 40.10

This produces a lovely graph:

But, just a minute, I can get a better graph if I sort  the data according to IQ instead of urinary F:

But why stop there. If I choose different group sizes – remember Xiang et al., (2003) had groups ranging from 8 to 250 in size – I am sure I can get an even better presentation of the data.

TBut these graphs look far better than the one presented in Xiang et al (2003) for urinary F. We have taken data where the urinary F data explains only about 3% of the variance in IQ and produced graphics implying it “explains” up to about 75% of the variance. And we could “explain” more with a bit of extrra manipulation.

Conclusion

Data manipulation like this doesn’t change the fact that while the relationship between urinary F and IQ is statistically significant it only explains about 3% of the variance in IQ. This means that other factors, or confounders, should be considered – and when they are it is likely the significant relationship of IQ to urinary F would disappear.

Although Xiang et al., (2003) did not provide any statistical analysis to support their claim there was a significant relationship between water F and IQ I am sure the relationship is similar to that for urinary F – maybe even worse. Manipulating the data by using a range of groups of different sizes has certainly made the data look a lot better – but it is completely misleading.

I think it shocking that the authors of the Hirzy et al., (2016) paper have used manipulated data in this way – first to claim that fluoride in drinking water has a major negative effect on IQ and secondly to use such massaged data to work out a “safe dose.”

Worse, the journal Fluoride, and its peer reviewers, should never have accepted this paper without querying the claim of a significant relationship between drinking water F and IQ.

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Be careful what you wish for

I find the current anti-Russian hysteria rather childish – illustrating how shallow many people’s approach to politics is. Hillary Clinton relied on Russophobia in her attempt to divert the attention of  US voters away from the  Democratic Party manipulations to prevent Bernie Sanders’s nomination. She blamed the Russians, and in particular blamed Russian president Putin, for exposure of the corruption – and that saga continues today.

The fact this seems to have fooled some people, at least the more politically partisan, is worrying. I have often seen Russophobia as essentially a form of racism. It is, at least, a very unsophisticated approach to politics and it is sad to see people manipulated by its use.

The demonisation of president Putin is particularly laughable. Not only does it show a willingness to believe the most outlandish stories about the man, it also shows a complete ignorance about his place in the Russian political system. In particular, our media often resorts to quoting who they call the Russian “opposition” – people who can not even get sufficient electoral support to win Duma seats,  or even organise a credible political party. These people do not represent a real threat to the current president – nor should we see them as credible alternatives to Putin.

In fact, if the Russophobes actually considered things a bit more objectively and recognised who the credible alternatives to Putin are they just might change their tune.

In Russian politics be careful what you wish for – particularly if your wishes are coming from a position of ignorance.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky – Russia’s Trump!

The video above shows a speech by a real Russian opposition leader. He does have a Duma seat. Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. In the 2016 Duma elections that party came third, with just slightly less support than the Duma opposition party – the  Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

But current polling indicates the Liberal Democrats are now in second place. More importantly, Zhirinovsky has already been nominated as a candidate for next year’s presidential elections. So far the only announced candidate!

As the Russian Communist Party is rumoured to not be standing their current leader, Zhirinovsky is surely the real and only credible presidential alternative to Valadimir Putin. That is if Putin actually stands!

Putin’s party, United Russia, has yet to announce a candidate and Putin himself has been a bit cagey – hinting that he actually sees a life beyond politics and has several non-political projects he is keen to get involved in.

I don’t think there is any doubt about Putin’s popularity in Russia. He would be sure to win the presidential elections if he stands – but what if he doesn’t? It is possible that even another  United Russia candidate, may not be certian to win against Zhirinovsky.

Perhaps those people in the west currently succumbing to Russophobia, and Putinphobia, should have a think. What would a Zhirinovsky presidential administration look like?

Have a look at the video and see what you think.

Perhaps Vladimir Putin really is a responsible and careful leader after all. Someone protecting the interests of his own country – internally and internationally – but at the same time recognising that other countries also have legitimate international interests. Someone who appears always ready to unwilling to get into the childish abusive political labelling we are so familiar with in the west. I think Putin is – but I do not think Zhirinovsky is.

Be realistic – which leader would you prefer had their finger on the nuclear button in Russia?

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An Oscar for Al Qaeda?

al-qaeda

It was bound to happen. The White Helmets were seriously promoted for a Nobel Peace prize. This failed, so I guess the Oscar counts as a sort of consolation prize.

The Oscar was awarded in the short documentary category but anyone who follows the White Helmets may appreciate the irony – they are well-known for their acting ability. There are strong suggestions that many of their ‘rescues’ are staged. And, at least, they always seem to make sure that they have expert cinematographers in attendance when they go into action.

I have written about the White Helmets before – see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about SyriaAnti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsWhite Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video.

In short, although presenting themselves as an independent, non-aligned NGO with only humanitarian interests they are known to have strong links with “rebel”/”terrorist” groups, some of their members seem to “moonlight” as active armed fighters, and they are heavily involved in propaganda – propaganda against the Syrian government and in favour of the “rebels”/”terrorists” they are embedded with.

The White Helmets is one of the groups our mainstream media seems to rely on for news reports from Syria -especially from areas held by “rebels”/”terrorists.” They were very active in east Aleppo during that battle – but left with the fighters and their families when the surrender was arranged. Now they are most active in Idlib province.

An Official Information Act request

After the White Helmets managed to dupe $100,000 out of New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) I made an official information request. I specifically asked for information on:

  1. Any contact with the International Civil Defence Association or the Syrian Civil Defence Forces during the Ministry’s vetting of the White Helmets?
  2. Any checking of White Helmet’s operations and the messages promoted in their propaganda material?
  3. Correspondence with US authorities regarding the denial of entry to the US White Helmets leader Raed Saleh to the US.
  4. The contact the ministry had with independent reporters who have been investigating the activity of the White Helmets?

The Ministry could not give any information for queries 1, 3 or 4 – which is interesting. I interpret this to mean the Ministry has not checked with the International Civil Defence Association or the recognised Syrian Civil Defence body. If nothing else, this illustrates a bias – a willingness to ally with a “civil defence” group embedded with the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not provide unbiased and balanced help. After all, civilians in government-held area also need rescuing and perhaps we should provide support to the legitimate Syrian Defence body that does this.

Due diligence

But I did get copies of emails involved in internal (within the NZ Ministries and diplomats) checking out of the White Helmets. In fact, back in January 2016 a formal message about possible engagement of NZ with the White Helmets identified as a “key question” the “further due diligence on the Syrian Civil Defence and on Mayday rescue to ensure New Zealand comfort with supporting these organisations.”

[Point of clarification – the White Helmets have unilaterally co-opted the name (and much of the equipment) of the real Syrian Civil Defence force which is recognised by the International Civil Defence Association. Mayday Rescue is an organisation set up by a former mercenary which organised and helps fund the White Helmets].

And in January 2016 reports from the embassy in Ankara suggested:  “given the security and political activities around Syria, it will be vital that we can demonstrate due diligence in this regard.”

But I cannot find any evidence of due diligence in the material I was given. There were personal declarations in the diplomatic community of admiration for the White Helmets work – based entirely on claims made by the White Helmets. There was an acknowledgment that the White helmets operated only in “rebel”/”terrorist” – held areas. That they did not work in government or Daesh-held areas. And complete silence about the fact that it operated in areas where Al Qaeda groups like Al Nusra (recognised by the UN as a terrorist group) are active. In fact, testimony from citizens of east Aleppo after that area was liberated indicated that many saw the White Helmets as embedded with, and operating as a civil defence force for, the Al Qaeda-led groups.

Now I do not call that “due diligence.”

Last minute “due diligence”

The final recommendations to the Ministers on the issue of support for the White Helmets summarised the description of the organisation as a ” volunteer organisation working in opposition-controlled Syria to save lives through urban search and rescue (USAR), firefighting, medical evacuation, and other civil defence activities.” This was after last-minute checking with the Ankara embassy because of damaging critical reports about the organisation.

Those reports had surfaced in Al Jazeera – and the Ankara embassy dismissed them simply by referring to the Al Jazeera report – which simply noted the White Helmets’ rejection of critical reports by the investigate journalist Max Blumenthal. Al Jazeera made no effort to investigate or report on the criticisms – no did the Ankara embassy.

[You can read Max Blumenthal’s reports at Inside the Shadowy PR Firm That’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria and How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria]

Below is the request from NZ for comments on those reports and response from the Embassy in Ankara on October 6, 2016

october-exchange

This exchange indicates an unwillingness to check out reports (beyond Al Jazzera’s rejection of them). I also find the redacted sections interesting

It refers to “the pro-Assad ??” What is the redacted part? Is this a derogatory phrase? Is it describing the Max Blumenthal in a derogatory way?

Who are these funders in “the West” that have been redacted? The CIA, British intelligence, etc.?

The White Helmets were certainly “shining a light” on alleged atrocities (and their claims were very questionable) but what were the specific “atrocities resulting from airstrikes in recent weeks ???” Were they the embarrassing attacks on the “last hospitals in Aleppo” which were reported by our media more than 27 times during 2016?

I really cannot see why these sections were redacted using the excuse “to protect the free and frank expression of opinions by departments.” Surely the issue is more important than that.

White Helmets is a propaganda group

The Ankara embassy was certainly sensitive to any possibility of the credibility of the White Helmets being questioned because it would “undermine the accounts they produce of war crimes being committed in Aleppo and elsewhere ??” What was redacted? Did someone raise a question about the credibility of those accounts? Or about the war crimes committed by the head choppers in east Aleppo? And if we are concerned about the credibility of the White Helmets as  an anti-government propaganda source then we should not be pretending that we are considering them as just a civil defence group.

And the final sentences:

“Not to say, of course, that every member of the SCD is beyond all scrutiny. Some may have pasts (they are after all drafted from all areas of Syrian society). But as far as we are aware it is a non-political and neutral organisation directed at civil defence and USAR activities. So our comfort levels are in line with yours.”

This email underlines that White Helmets is much more than a civil defence organisation. It is also involved in dissemination of news and information – propaganda. the embassy acknowledged that and declared its appreciation of it.

 

So we have New Zealand diplomats unwilling to give proper due diligence, to check out the detailed reports of Max Blumenthal (or similar critical reporting about the White Helmets) and to be satisfied with an Al Jazeera report rejecting that research out of hand.

These diplomats also reveal an interest in the anti-government, pro-rebel propaganda of the White Helmets – despite continuing with the fiction that it is solely an independent rescue group.

The whole attitude towards the stinging criticism of the White Helmets is to protect the group’s credibility and value as a propaganda organisation,

So much for due diligence and the fiction that the White Helmets is a rescue organisation

And so much for Hollywood which is participating in a propaganda war by glorifying this propaganda group.

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February ’17 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

here are about 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 February 2017. 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

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

EPA comprehensively debunks anti-fluoride claims of a fluoride-IQ effect

FAN propaganda video promoting their petition to the EPA to stop community water fluoridation

The US environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has denied an anti-fluoride petition to ban community water fluoridation. The document outlining its reasons for declining the petition is valuable because it considers all the arguments and evidence presented in the petition and comprehensively shows them to be misleading or even false.

This is a humiliating defeat for the petitioners – the US  Fluoride Action Network (FAN), Food & Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association, American Academy of Environmental Medicine, International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology and Moms Against Fluoridation. FAN, and in particular Michael Connett, had put a lot of work into their petition. The petition is a 76-page document, heavily referenced and, importantly, presenting all the best arguments that FAN could find. FAN did not keep any of their powder dry.

Of course, FAN and their associated international groups, Facebook pages and websites heavily promoted this petition. They had high hopes – Paul Connett himself has argued that their evidence would bring about the complete demise of community water fluoridation within a few years. The local Fluoride Free NZ issued a press release with the heading EPA Petition Could Spell End of Fluoridation claiming “FAN’s assessment provides unequivocal proof that current allowable levels of fluoride are not protective for all members of the population from damage to the brain.” Mary Byrne, their spokesperson asserted:

“Fluoridation belongs to a by-gone era and far too much is now known about adverse health effects for any further consideration on fluoridation to be seriously considered.”

Many anti-fluoridation submissions to the Parliament Health Committee considering changes to fluoridation legislation in New Zealand have relied strongly on the FAN petition – presenting it as the best thing since sliced bread.

Serious consideration

The EPA did give the petitioners arguments serious consideration – as we should expect from such an authoritative organisation. The petition was not rejected out of hand – the EPA’s 50-page document eexaminesthem in detail.

This is what makes the EPA document so available – it considers all the FAN arguments, the scientific papers presented and the evidence claimed. It shows how many of these papers and claimed evidence are misrepresented by the petitioners. It points to the limitations of the studies FAN relies on. It shows how FAN has not even established a case for reconsideration of recommended safe levels for fluoride and explains that the methodology used by FAN, and the recent publication by FAN staff (Herzy et al., 2016 – see Debunking a “classic” fluoride-IQ paper by leading anti-fluoride propagandists), is not valid.

The documents overall assessment of the petition’s arguments is damning:

“The petition has not set forth a scientifically defensible basis to conclude that any persons have suffered neurotoxic harm as a result of exposure to fluoride in the U.S. through the purposeful addition of fluoridation chemicals to drinking water or otherwise from fluoride exposure in the U.S. Still less has the petition set forth a scientifically defensible basis to estimate an aggregate loss of IQ points in the U.S, attributable to this use of fluoridation chemicals. As noted previously, EPA has determined the petition did not establish that fluoridation chemicals present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, arising from these chemical substances’ use to fluoridate drinking water “

Some specific rejections

The petition argued about 12 points and the EPA responded to all of them. Here are a few extracts.

The central claim of the anti-fluoride petitioners is that  Fluoride is neurotoxic at levels relevant to U.S. population. It cited human studies to support this but the EPA document responded by pointing out “the petition ignores a number of basic data quality issues associated with the human studies it relies upon.”

A central problem is the lack of  consideration of other factors possibly involved in influencing IQ – confounders:

“The petition . . .  does not properly account for the relatively poor quality of the exposure and effects data in the cited human studies (e.g., it appears to give all studies equivalent weight, regardless of their quality). When an association is suggested between an exposure and a disease outcome, the studies need to be assessed to determine whether the effect is truly because of exposure or if alternate explanations are possible. The way to do that is to adjust for potential confounders, such as diet, behavior, and socioeconomic status, in order to appropriately assess the real relationship between the exposures to a specific substance and health effects. In other words, when these confounding factors are potentially present, but not recognized or controlled for, it is not possible to attribute effects to the contaminant of concern (fluoride) as opposed to other factors or exposures. The evidence presented did not enable EPA to determine whether various confounding factors (e.g., nutritional deficiencies) were indeed placing particular subpopulations at a “heightened risk of fluoride .”

The issue of confounders is central to the petitioners claim that recent epidemiological studies corroborate neurotoxic risk in Western populations. The petition cites two studies from Western populations to attempt to corroborate the assertion that exposure to fluoridated water presents unreasonable risks for neurotoxicity. I have discussed these in previous posts – Peckham et al (2015) which claim to show that hypothyroidism is related to fluoridation and Malin & Till (2015) which demonstrated a relationship of ADHD prevalence to extent of fluoridation.

The EPA response says of the Peckham et al (2015) paper that:

“Adjustment for some confounders was considered, including sex and age, but other potential confounders (such as iodine intake) were not assessed. Fluoride from other sources and other factors associated with hypothyroidism were not assessed in this study.”

Iodine deficiency is a well-known factor in hypothyroidism.

The EPA response was relatively kind in its comment on the Malin & Till study:

“Although it is possible that there may be biological plausibility for the hypothesis that water fluoridation may be associated with ADHD, this single epidemiological study is not sufficient to “corroborate” neurotoxic health effects, as stated in the petition. More study would be needed to develop a body of information adequate.”

I showed in my article ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridation that once factors like elevation, poverty, and house ownership were included there was no statically significant relationship between ADHD prevalence and the extent of fluoridation in Malin & Till’s data. That is a clear example how conclusions based on correlations can be completely wrong when confounders are not properly considered.

The petitioners fell back onto their claim that neurotoxic risks of fluoride are supported by animal and cell studies – a common anti-fluoride tactic. However, the EPA document responded by pointing out that the petitioners had misrepresented such studies. It pointed out that these studies had been recently reviewed by the US National Toxicity Program (NTP) and the petitioner’s misrepresentation of the studies:

“do not change EPA’s agreement with the conclusions of the NTP report that their “[r]esults show low-to-moderate level-of-evidence in developmental and adult exposure studies for a pattern of findings suggestive of an effect on learning and memory.”

The petitioners claim susceptible subpopulations at heightened risk from CWF is a common claim of anti-fluoride propagandists. The EPA found this argument unconvincing:

“The data and information provided in the petition do not support the claims that “nutritional status, age, genetics and disease are known to influence an individual’s susceptibility to chronic fluoride toxicity.”

The petition argued there were no established benefits of CWF to public health. The EPA responded by outlining some of the evidence for CWF benefiting oral health and responded to the petitioners claims with:

EPA does not believe that the petition has presented a well-founded basis to doubt the health benefits of fluoridating drinking water.

Despite not showing that community water fluoridation is linked to IQ losses the petitioners asked that because fluoridation covers a large population any harm would affect a large number of people so drinkign water fluoridation should be stopped on those grounds alone. Incidentally, Hirzy et al (2016) promised a future paper where they estimate economic losses to the USA because of fluoridation. I guess they will just ignore the Swedish work that actually shows drinking water fluoride levels are positively related to increased income and chances of employment (see Large Swedish study finds no effect of fluoride on IQ).

The EPA response to this argument:

As noted previously, EPA has determined the petition did not establish that fluoridation chemicals present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, arising from these chemical substances’ use to fluoridate drinking water. The fact that a purported risk relates to a large population is not a basis to relax otherwise applicable scientific standards in evaluating the evidence of that purported risk.

I like that bit about “relaxing scientific standards.” Doesn’t it just describe the whole approach of the anti-fluoride propagandists to the science?

What now?

According to the rejection letter the Petitioners, the Fluoride Action Network and their ideological mates can appeal the declining of their petition:

“by commencing a civil action in a U.S. district court to compel initiation of the requested rulemaking proceeding within 60 days of the date of this denial letter.”

The letter was dated February 17 – so they have until mid-April to get this underway. Michael Connett – who did the heavy lifting in the preparation of this 76-page petition – is an attorney so may be more capable with such legal action than he appears to be with the scientific arguments.

fluoride-theology

At the moment anti-fluoride propagandists appear more concerned with the theological questions related to leprechauns than they are with the EPA’s rejection of their petition.

At the moment the anti-fluoride groups, including those in New Zealand, are silent. It’s as if they did not receive their rejection letter almost 10 days ago. Perhaps they are busy debating their possibilities – and the public stance on this rejection they will eventually have to take.

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Anti-fluoridationists go to Supreme Court – who is paying for this?

trekearth05-patea-egmont-st

Main street, Patea. Photo credit: TrekEarth

The costly battle to prevent fluoridating the water supply of two small Taranaki towns has gone on for four years – and it looks like continuing.

Last October the South Taranaki District Council won a costly four-year court battle for the right to fluoridate the water supplies of Patea and Waverley. New Health NZ, which took High Court action to prevent fluoridation,  appealed several times against the decisions that went against them. Now the Supreme Court of New Zealand has granted New Health NZ the right to appeal those decisions (see Supreme court grant right for another appeal for New Zealand’s fluoride “test case”).

Hopefully, a Supreme Court rejection of their appeals will put an end to the matter. But it has been an expensive process. South Taranaki District Council’s corporate services group manager Phillippa Wilson said: “The costs to date are in excess of $320,000.”

Follow the money

If there is any justice the courts this time will award costs to the Council. But how is it that an anti-fluoridation group can afford to take such costly legal action – and continue taking it despite many defeats?

The answer is big business backing. New Health NZ is not supported by donations from anti-fluoride activists. It is financed by big business – specifically the “natural”/alternative health industry through their lobby group, the NZ Health Trust. This lobby groups set up New Health NZ as an incorporated society whose functions seems to be almost exclusively the campaign against fluoride.

It is quite easy to see the money flows (although specific details are not available) because the annual statement of income and expenditure for the NZ Health trust and New Health NZ are available on-line.

Between 2013 and 2016 the NZ Health Trust received grants ranging from $190,000 – $320,000. Always round figures indicating lump sum grants. It has listed “consultancy and legal expenses” ranging between $74,000 and $208,400. I assume these have been for their other ongoing campaigns on Natural and Traditional Health Products legislation.

But the interesting figure is the “Grants and Donations” made by the NZ Health trust. This was zero in 2013 but has ranged from $110,000 – $130,000 between 2014 and 2016.

Those figures fit in with the declared “Grants received” by New Health NZ: zero in 2013, $100,00 in 2014 and $95,000 in 2015.  Again – round figures indicating lump sum payments instead of donations. Most of this was paid out as “Professional and Consultancy Fees” by New Health NZ.

This fits in with the sort of legal expenses involved in taking these High Court actions. The graph below illustrates the movement of funding from the “natural”/alternative health industry, through the NZ Health Trust – New Health NZ to legal funding. No transfers occurred in 2013 and we do not yet have the New Health NZ financial report for 2016.

follow-the-money

The “natural”/alternative health industry in New Zealand was estimated to be worth $1.4 billion dollars in 2015 (see Inside story: Alternative medicines, quackery or not?). It is also growing fast – 40% in the five years up to 2015. As a big business, with a strong ideological flavour, it can afford and is motivated to take the sort of legal action we have seen in South Taranaki.

But the influence of the “natural”/alternative health industry does not stop at funding legal actions. According to the 2015 article, there are also a bewildering:

“multitude of alternative health practitioners such as homeopaths, naturopaths, osteopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, iridologists, reflexologists, aromatherapists, massage therapists and goodness knows who else.”

“ACC payments to osteopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists alone have more than doubled in the past decade and are now around $40 million a year.”

Have a look at the huge number of submissions on fluoridation made to local councils over the years – or even the submissions to the Parliamentary Health Committee considering current legislative changes to fluoridation. You will see large numbers of “alternative health professionals.” They have the ideological motivation – and, as self-employed “practitioners,” they seem to have the time for such activism.

Then look at the propaganda disseminated by these activists – much of it comes from publications and websites of the “alternative” health industry. Or look at the main US anti-fluoride activist group – the Fluoride Action Network (FAN). It receives the bulk of its funding from Mercola.com – a well established alternative health company.

An unholy alliance?

Most New Zealanders have had a gutsful of the never-ending fluoridation issue. Local councils certainly have. After the consultation fiasco in Hamilton one councilor’s recommendation to other councils was:

“If you can stay out of the fluoridation debate, stay out of it, it’s an absolute nightmare.”

This “debate” has only gone on as long as it has because of an alliance between big business – the “natural”/alternative health industry – with big pockets, and ideologically motivated activists on the ground able to swamp decision makers with meaningless submissions.

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Debunking a “classic” fluoride-IQ paper by leading anti-fluoride propagandists

epa-meeting-sept5-2014

Three of the paper’s authors – Quanyong Xiang (1st Left), Paul Connett (2nd Left) and Bill Hirzy (far right) – preparing to bother the EPA.

Anti-fluoride groups and “natural”/alternative health groups and websites are currently promoting a new paper by several leading anti-fluoride propagandists. For two reasons:

  1. It’s about fluoride and IQ. The anti-fluoride movement recently decided to give priority to this issue in an attempt to get recognition of possible cognitive deficits, rather than dental fluorosis,  as the main negative health effect of community water fluoridation. They want to use the shonky sort of risk analysis presented in this paper to argue that harmful effects occur at much lower concentrations than currently accepted scientifically. Anti-fluoride guru, Paul Connett, has confidently predicted that this tactic will cause the end of community water fluoridation very soon!
  2. The authors are anti-fluoride luminaries – often described (by anti-fluoride activists) as world experts on community water fluoridation and world-class scientists. However, the scientific publication record for most of them is sparse and this often self-declared expertise is not actually recognised in the scientific community.

This is the paper – it is available to download as a pdf:

Hirzy, J. W., Connett, P., Xiang, Q., Spittle, B. J., & Kennedy, D. C. (2016). Developmental neurotoxicity of fluoride: a quantitative risk analysis towards establishing a safe daily dose of fluoride for children. Fluoride, 49(December), 379–400.

bruce-spittle

Co-author Bruce Spittle – Chief Editor of Fluoride – the journal of the International Society for Fluoride Research

I have been expecting publication of this paper for some time – Paul Connett indicated he was writing this paper during our debate in 2013/2014. FAN newsletters have from time to time lamented at the difficulty he and Bill Hirzy were having getting a journal to accept the paper. Connett felt reviewers’ feedback from these journals was biased. In the end, he has lumped for publication in Fluoride – which has a poor reputation because of its anti-fluoride bias and poor peer review. But, at last Connett and Hirzy have got their paper published and we can do our own evaluation of it.

The authors are:

david-c-kennedy

Co-author David C. Kennedy – past president of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology – an alternative dentist’s group.

Bill Hirzy, Paul Connett and Bruce Spittle are involved with the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), a political activist group which receives financial backing from the “natural”/alternative health industry. Bruce Spittle is also the  Chief Editor of Fluoride – the journal of the International Society for Fluoride Research Inc. (ISFR). David Kennedy is a Past President of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology which is opposed to community water fluoridation.

Quanyong Xiang is a Chinese researcher who has published a number of papers on endemic fluorosis in China. He participated in the 2014 FAN conference where he spoke on endemic fluorosis in China.

xiang-Endemic fluorosis

Much of the anti-fluoridation propaganda used by activists relies on studies done in areas of endemic fluorosis. Slide from a presentation by Q. Xiang to an anti-fluoride meeting organised by Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network in 2014.

Critique of the paper

I have submitted a critique of this paper to the journal involved. Publication obviously takes some time (and, of course, it may be rejected).

However, if you want to read a draft of my submitted critique you can download a copy from Researchgate – Critique of a risk analysis aimed at establishing a safe dose of fluoride for children.  I am always interested in feedback – even (or especially) negative feedback – and you can give that in the comments section here or at Researchgate.

(Please note – uploading a document to Researchgate does not mean publication. It is simply an online place where documents can be stored. I try to keep copies of my documents there – unpublished as well as published. It is very convenient).

In my critique I deal with the following issues:

The authors have not established that fluoride is a cause of the cognitive deficits reported. What is the point in doing this sort of risk analysis if you don’t actually show that drinking water F is the major cause of cognitive deficits? Such an analysis is meaningless – even dangerous, as it diverts attention away from the real causes we should be concerned about.

All the reports of cognitive deficits cited by the authors are from areas of endemic fluorosis where drinking water fluoride concentrations are higher than where community water fluoridation is used. There are a whole range of health problems associated with dental and skeletal fluorosis of the severity found in areas of endemic fluorosis. These authors are simply extrapolating data from endemic areas without any justification.

The only report of negative health effects they cite from an area of community water fluoridation relates to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and that paper does not consider important confounders. When these are considered the paper’s conclusions are found to be wrong – see ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridation, and ADHD link to fluoridation claim undermined again.

The data used by the Hirzy et al. (2016) are very poor. Although they claim that a single study from an area of endemic fluorosis shows a statistically significant correlation between IQ and drinking water fluoride that is not supported by any statistical analysis.

The statistically significant correlation of IQ with urinary fluoride they cite from that study explains only a very small fraction of the variability in IQ values (about 3%) suggesting that fluoride is not the major, or maybe not even a significant, factor for IQ. It is very likely that the correlation between IQ and water F would be any better.

Confounders like iodine, arsenic, lead, child age, parental income and parental education have not been properly considered – despite the claims made by Hirzy et al. (2016)

The authors base their analysis on manipulated data which disguises the poor relations of IQ to water fluoride. I have discussed this further in Connett fiddles the data on fluorideConnett & Hirzy do a shonky risk assessment for fluoride, and Connett misrepresents the fluoride and IQ data yet again.

Hirzy et al. (2016) devote a large part of their paper to critiquing Broadbent et al (2014) which showed no evidence of fluoride causing a decrease in IQ  using data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. They obviously see it as a key obstacle to their analysis. Hirzy et al (2016) argue that dietary fluoride intake differences between the fluoridated and unfluoridated areas were too small to show an IQ effect. However, Hirzy et al (2016) rely on a motivated and speculative estimate of dietary intakes for their argument. And they ignore the fact the differences were large enough to show a beneficial effect of fluoride on oral health.

Conclusion

I conclude the authors did not provide sufficient evidence to warrant their calculation of a “safe dose.” They relied on manipulated data which disguised the poor relationship between drinking water fluoride and IQ. Their arguments for their “safe dose,” and against a major study showing no effect of community water fluoridation on IQ, are highly speculative and motivated.

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Islamophobia or mental illness?

islamophobia

OR

mental-illness-4

Mental illness is far more widespread than we often wish to admit. In fact, it is probably worth considering it a normal part of life – like the occasional cold or other ailments we all get.

But occasionally mental illness can be more debilitating – even embarrassing. Does any family not have a member who sometimes embarrasses them by behaving inappropriately?

I will be upfront and say this has been the case in my family. I can certainly understand why sometimes the law needs to take into account metal illness, or even turn a blind eye to behaviour which may be insulting or technically illegal.

That was my first response to the reported abuse of a Muslim woman in Huntly. Now that this has come to court I hope the person who was abusive gets some understanding from the court, and the help she may need, if mental illness is an issue.

Having reacted this way I now find myself in strange company – seeing a possibly similar reaction from people who I do not normally align with.

The NZ Herald reports that former Whanganui mayor and broadcaster Michael Laws has come out on Facebook expressing his sympathy for the woman charged over the attack in Huntly. Of course, he is now being attacked for this. But I find many of the comments inhumane – exhibiting a really backward attitude to the idea mental illness may be involved. Seeing it as an excuse! Just imagine treating someone with a physical disability as if they were using that as an excuse.

Something I hadn’t considered was the motivation of the complainant – although I did think it strange this woman thought to video the event and make it public. If it had been me I would have treated it as an unfortunate event, best forgotten and certainly not something to make political capital out of.

According to the Whale Oil blog the complainant is actually something of a political activist – advocating for Muslim causes (see Activist or ordinary Kiwi Muslim? What does her twitter feed reveal?)OK, I certainly don’t hold that against her but it seems to explain why the whole thing has become so public.

The way I see it this whole event seems to have been created by a mixture of mental illness and political activism (and, as alway, media exaggeration). On the one hand, this may have been unfortunate and embarrassing for the family of the women who was abusive. On the other hand, if this is a case of mental illness then perhaps the involvement of the court may bring her some help.

One thing I am sure of. Whatever the reason for the videod abusive behaviour – ethnic or religious hatred, drunkenness or mental health – this is not normal behaviour for New Zealanders and we shouldn’t let others think that it is.

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