Fluoride debate – some housekeeping

debate-2Image credit: J. P. Greene’s Blog

I am just dealing here with housekeeping issues that are coming up in this debate. Hopefully this will involve less distraction than if we deal with them in the exchange itself.

Some of these issues are arising from my moderation of comments so I want to clarify a few guidelines. Paul has also raised some other issues.

Moderation of comments

The fluoridation issue seems to bring out the worst manners in many internet commenters. Both Paul and I want to limit the bad effects abusive and harassing comments have on discussion.

The moderating software does automatically stop comments with excessive links – and I certainly will not approve comments which link just for the sake of it, or do so thoughtlessly. However, if you wish to refer to a publication or post please give a link. I can easily approve comments with justifiable links.

Citations are another example where links are useful. It is important that when people give a citation or reference they should at least give details which enable readers to check them out. Comments which simply give authors’ names without details will likely not be approved.

I find information in comments that is backed up by proper citations or references is very useful so want to encourage the practice.

Finally, copy and paste is a big problem with commenters on the fluoridation issue. Large pieces of text from Fluoride Alert or other web pages, or from on-line books or PDFs seem to commonly be presented as comments. I find such copy and past offensive – it indicates the commenter has refused to do the work necessary to explain in their own words, maybe hasn’t even read and understood the original. Yet they expect readers to spend time on it!

Such lengthy copypasta will not be approved. (Don’t let that stop you using reasonable and genuine quoting of referenced sources though).

By the way, only 2 comments have been held up in moderation or spam for being abusive and just a few more for not providing citations or reference details. So we don’t yet have a big problem. Still, it is early days.

Scope of debate

Paul has asked me to limit my part of the exchange “to addressing my [Paul’s] arguments without going into the opinions and arguments of others, especially the more extreme views.” I find that strange and am certainly not going to limit myself this way.

We each have our own information to convey and arguments to make. That is normal in an exchange like this and Paul has certainly not limited himself only to my opinions and arguments. How could he – after all he wrote the first article in the exchange. He has certainly critically commented on what he sees as distortions or mistakes made by supporters of fluoridation (such as his comments on Queensland Health). That doesn’t worry me and I don’t think he should be concerned when I make similar criticisms – or take them personally.

I agree it is wrong to attribute the views of others, especially extreme views, to one’s discussion partner and certainly have no intention of doing so. Nor do I think I have done that yet. I have been careful to specify when any of my criticisms apply to Paul, for example in my comment on his use of appeal to authority in his first article.

Terminology

Paul has objected to the use of the term “anti-fluoridationist” and wants me not to use it. He finds it offensive – “It makes opposition to fluoridation sound like some mental disease! “

Hmm. The word never struck me that way, but I guess out of respect for his feelings I should look for alternatives – at least when referring to Paul. I realise the everyone has their foibles, and I prefer to label myself as “pro-science” and not “pro-fluoridation” – but then that seems to upset people who aoppose fluoridation! You just can’t win.

What do people think. Have terms like anti- and pro-fluoridation become offensive to them? If so what do you suggest? Perhaps we have sensitivities around fluoride similar to those around climate change and it’s denial.


Anyone wanting to follow the debate and/or check back over previous articles in the debate can find the list of articles at Fluoride Debate.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page

32 responses to “Fluoride debate – some housekeeping

  1. Ken, in response to your question about the use of “anti” or “pro” fluoridationists, I find it ridiculous and irrelevant for Paul to make this an issue. This, along with his claims of being “insulted” are typical of him, however, and indicative of his overly thin skin. My personal opinion is to humor his request as being no big deal. Call him “Your Eminence” if he so desires, and move on to issues of relevance.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  2. Personally, I am not so bothered by the term “anti-fluoridation” as by references to “the anti-fluoridationists” as though any person who raises objections to any aspect of fluoridation must be forever grouped together with the paranoid extremists who believe in some sort of global conspiracy that includes fluoridation and forced sterilization.
    I don’t see how it is helpful to refer to the arguments of other people who oppose fluoridation as part of a clear and explicit response to Paul’s argument. He did not limit his piece to a critique of only your arguments because that’s not the way the debate was set up. I personally would have preferred to start with your “case for fluoridation” and Paul’s “case against fluoridation” and then you would each have your opportunity for rebuttal. As it stands now, readers haven’t had the opportunity to see the basic arguments favoring fluoridation as you see them, Ken. Instead, we’ve seen Paul’s overview of the case against fluoridation followed by your critique of Paul’s argument interspersed with your general dislike for a wide range of other anti-fluoride arguments you’ve come across. There is plenty of opportunity to respond to people other than Paul in the comments section, and you have already outlined many of your problems with the anti-fluoridation movement in other pieces on your blog.
    Some of us are truly interested in hearing what you have to say specifically about Paul’s arguments. Not because we are sitting on one side or the other cheering for one of you and booing the other, but because we are genuinely perplexed about why this practice has continued and honestly and sincerely trying to further or understanding.
    It is exhausting to try and ask a question in total sincerity or point out what appears to be an inconsistency with the practice of fluoridation, and be automatically attacked as an anti-science wacko. I guess I understand why the bias exists and perhaps I just need to accept it, but it seems like such a waste of time. I’m 29 and new to the debate, but have studied the peer reviewed literature extensively because I love science and usually find that anti-government or anti-mainstream science movements and arguments don’t convince me at all (chemtrails, climate change denial, anti-vaccine, etc). I have, though, been surprised by the way that the scientific consensus on the way fluoride works has seemed to change over the years without a corresponding change in the policy. There are many people out there like me who are actually open-minded about learning more, and just want to further our own understanding, even if that means admitting a mistake or recognizing that we’ve overlooked something. I have been viciously attacked by anti-fluoride people on the Internet, just like you have; sometimes for pointing out some of the same tendencies that you have criticized, and sometimes for simply refusing to agree that the phosphate companies are in bed with the dentists. There is no shortage of articles on the Internet which point out the errors in these arguments. What is lacking is a sincere scientific debate which showcases the best arguments against fluoridation side by side with the best arguments against it.
    Also, a question about references to journal articles. Do you prefer that a link be accompanied by a summary/abstract of the study or is it preferred that we not cut and paste the abstract at all?

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  3. Alison, I, for one, have gained a great deal of respect for you in reading your comments. We disagree on the need for fluoridation, but I can appreciate someone who actually is as open-minded as you appear to be. You raise good questions. Although I certainly make no claim of being any kind of an expert on the issue, if I have any information that may be of help to you I will gladly share it.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  4. Unfortunately it is common in NZ to refer to anyone to asks questions about so-called mainstream science as a wacko, a nutjob or a conspiracy theorist.

    I have been called all these things for merely quoting the IPCC on climate change, pointing out the internal inconsistencies in their arguments.

    I don’t have any opinion on Fluoride, but I do find those that dogmatically support it a little suspicious

    I think a certain type of person is drawn to either side of these arguments.

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  5. “I think a certain type of person is drawn to either side of these arguments.” So true. As illustrated by your inability to comment on the suspiciousness of opponents of fluoridation – after all some of those people are extremely whaky.

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  6. Andy, it seems obvious to me that you most certainly do have an opinion on fluoride, whether you choose to admit this or not.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  7. I’m pretty sure Paul Connett would also say he is “pro-science”.

    I agree with Alison in the above comment that I’d like to see your “case for fluoridation” similar to Connett’s first post in the debate. Are you taking turns on who “speaks” first?

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  8. Doesn’t Ken get a response to Connett’s response?
    Or do further responses get added as update in the first (only) rebuttal made by Ken?

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  9. Also, I object to being called a pro fluoridationist. Those you do so will be pompously reprimanded.

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  10. OK, Mel and Alision, you want a seperate post from me – not dealing with Paul’s comments or any of the anti-fluoride arguments. Purely putting up a chemical argument for the beneficial role of F in bioapatites?

    Actually, I am not against doing that (although in our negotiations Paul did object to that approach, wanting me to concentrate purely on responding to his book – but then again it is not my responsibility to promote his book, is it?)

    Hopefully in responding to Paul’s arguments my material will often descibe the benefits of fluoridation. And I will be itroducing my own material from time to time, anyway. For this reason it is important for me to reject Paul’s request that I limit my contribution to just addressing his arguments.

    Alison, you say “Some of us are truly interested in hearing what you have to say specifically about Paul’s arguments. “ So I guess you are arguing for retaining the current format. Just perhaps addition of an article specifically describing the benefits of fluoridation without reference to Paul’s position.

    Regarding references. I am trying to stop the practice of unthinking copy and paste. Often such copypasta will include references to papers without any citation information. I think that is very rude. The least a commenter should do if they wish to refer to published work is to reference it properly and preferably provide a link.

    No, I am not against copy and paste of abstracts if they are relevant – and if properly referenced or linked. But even here there is such a lot of thoughtless copy and past of abstracts accompanied by “See there – you are wrong” (if at all) and no personal input. And it would be really good if people took the trouble to access and read the full text before promoting an abstract. Again and again I find commenters have misunderstood or misrepresented abstracts.

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  11. Andy, it seems obvious to me that you most certainly do have an opinion on fluoride, whether you choose to admit this or not.

    No I don’t

    I don’t give a damn about fluoride, or the people who either advocate its use or condemn it. I have no interest in the topic whatsoever. I just find the behaviour of the people interesting.

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  12. I’d just like to thank Ken for making this debate possible. Much superior to reading the opinions off one-eyed bloggers.
    Well done old chap!

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  13. Richard, we original intended to add responses as updates to each article and do about 5 seperate pairs of articles. However, Paul’s current response was so I long I thought it best to post it as a seperate article – 1a Connett. I will be responding to this with my own article in the next few days 1a Perrott. Then hopefully Paul will have a new article soon. If that is delayed (he is travelling at the moment) I might do one of my own along the lines suggested by Alison and Mel.

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  14. As we do yours, Andy. Very interesting.🙂

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  15. Ken, I heartily second RossN’s thanks! This is an outstanding format and you’ve done an excellent job of keeping us all as civil as possible. Paul should consider this format more often.

    I also second your opinion on responding to his book. He constantly promotes, and seeks to have people respond to it “point by point”. My opinion has always been that he should’ve put his opinions in the proper format for peer-review and publication in a respected scientific journal, instead of circumventing the process by publishing it as a non peer-reviewed book. He wants it both ways. No peer-review, yet treated as a valid source of scientific information. Respected science doesn’t work that way.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  16. Yes, Ken… I’m not trying to advocate for an entire format change. I basically just want a way to see the best form of each argument. I understand that one single review can never say everything, but a general overview of what convinced you that adding fluoride to municipal water is the best possible public health practice for reducing tooth decay without unintended consequences.
    I am tired of listening to public health representatives say things like… “fluoridation is still necessary because some people are so poor they can’t even afford toothpaste.” Local dentists in my area advocate fluoridation by saying things like “topical fluorides help too but the real magic happens when systemic fluorides are incorporated into the developing tooth enamel”. It’s frustrating that they are so far behind on the research. I understand that research shows that ingested fluorides also play a role in the topical benefit, so fluoridation is still considered relevant, but it is hard to have faith in the opinions of local dentists when they are out of touch with such an important part of the equation.
    The best form of the arguments for and against fluoridation with less of the nonsense. Not easy, I know… but this is the best opportunity I’ve seen for raising the level of debate on both sides.
    Thank you.

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  17. And thank you, Steve. I do sincerely appreciate the time you take to respond respectfully to me. I disagree with you on a lot of the things, but you answer my questions and take the time to consider other ideas when people show that they have educated themselves. Your perspective seems to come from a genuine desire to prevent a painful problem in our society, and I can certainly respect that. I wish that the other dentists and health professionals I have spoken with would take the time to research the issue like you have. In this way, their opinions would carry a lot more weight in my mind.

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  18. Alison I wish that the other dentists and health professionals I have spoken with would take the time to research the issue like you have.

    That all sounds very reasonable to expect, but is it really? They probably haven’t the time.

    Is it really the average dentist’s job to keep on top of all of the current and historical scientific research and to be prepared to trot it out, in detail, on demand? To be able to counter every cherry picked study presented by kooks and activists (as well as the genuinely inquisitive) etc, or, is it more reasonable to allow them to rely on those professionals within health organisations and associations who are charged with periodically conducting such surveys and meta-analyses. I would argue that it is perfectly reasonable to answer most questions with the dentist’s professional associations position statements and direct the more inquisitive to those bodies (and perhaps also warn about danger of conducting personal research on the web).

    This illustrates Cedric’s point about methodology.

    It might sound all very deferential toward established authority but with reasonable justification, as such authorities have the training and expertise and are best placed to undertake such analysis.

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  19. Yes, Richard. I agree. My surprise has been that many are not familiar with these position statements. I think it’s reasonable to expect that a dentist be familiar with the ADA’s “Fluoridation Facts” document. Dentists and pediatricians should also be trained to properly assess fluoride intake from all sources so that they can be in a better position to make a decision on fluoride tablets.
    I’m curious, Steve. Are fluoride tablets ever prescribed to adults?

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  20. What is lacking is a sincere scientific debate which showcases the best arguments against fluoridation side by side with the best arguments against it.

    The “debate” doesn’t happen on the internet.
    It happens in the scientific arena.
    There’s no controversy. None.
    There’s no controversy over evolution or vaccines or any of it.
    If science deniers want to debate, then they should abandon the blogs and the shonky book peddling and get some work done. That’s where the the real “debate” happens. That’s how people win Nobel Prizes.

    …any person who raises objections to any aspect of fluoridation must be forever grouped together with the paranoid extremists who believe in some sort of global conspiracy that includes fluoridation and forced sterilization.

    You recognise those paranoid extremists. You see what they do and how they behave. You see the links they provide.
    How about…not doing that? Putting a gigantic gap between you and them?

    Assurances that you are not really like them because you’re much nicer are not worth much if you end up doing a milk-and-water version of what they do.
    Actions speak louder than words.
    Methodology.
    Whatever it is you do, make it clearly different and of much better quality that the paranoid extremists that you acknowledge exist.
    It’s not like we’re making them up.
    Surely, you can spot them for the same reasons we can?

    I am tired of listening to public health representatives say things like… “fluoridation is still necessary because some people are so poor they can’t even afford toothpaste.” Local dentists in my area advocate fluoridation by saying things like “topical fluorides help too but the real magic happens when systemic fluorides are incorporated into the developing tooth enamel”. It’s frustrating that they are so far behind on the research.

    Yes. Somehow they’ve got it all wrong. Only you see it all clearly.
    It never once occurs to you that maybe (like many others) you’re the one that’s mistaken and you’ve been listening to the wrong crowd.

    I wonder if….just looking at it…maybe if we switch the labels…hmmm….

    “I am tired of listening to NASA saying things like… “climate change is real and humans are behind is.” Local scientists in my area advocate for greater public awarenss on climate change by saying things like “it’s getting worse, we’ve got to stop taking coal out of the ground”. It’s frustrating that they are so far behind on the research.”

    It’s uncanny.

    And just to be fair, how about we take Richard’s last comment and mess with the labels on that one? I’m sure he won’t mind.

    “It might sound all very deferential toward the established authority of NASA but with reasonable justification, as such authorities have the training and expertise and are best placed to undertake such analysis of climate change.”

    “It might sound all very deferential toward the established authority of the CDC but with reasonable justification, as such authorities have the training and expertise and are best placed to undertake such analysis of fluoride.”

    Two peas in a pod.

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  21. My view on the two terms ‘anti’ and ‘pro’ are that they should be avoided. they create a dicotomy in the argument that is often unfounded. The Fluoride debate is a good example of this.

    Personally I could call myself ‘pro-Fluoride’ as i support the Use of topical pastes.

    I could equally call myself ‘anti-fluoride’ in that i do not support the fluoridation of reticulated water supplies.

    I’m on the fence about milk and table salt at present… but thats for a variety of reasons I am still looking into, and not necessarily to do with the addition of fluoride perse…

    Personally, and psychologically the use of such labels dehumanises the individual who holds their own unique views on a topic. That in itself is offensive and likely to lead people into polarised and often irreconcilable positions.

    Finding common ground to begin with, a commonality outside of the problem, is often the first step towards meaningful reconciliation. I think we can all agree on one label, we are all Pro-truth, so lets stand together as truth seekers on the Issue of Fluoride and work towards uncovering what is irreconcilable and near absolute.

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  22. Social beverage, why do you say we are all pro-truth?

    Humans are not a rational species, they are prone to confirmation bias, selective viewing and presentation. They often misrepresent to support their argument. In that situation, whatever our intentions, or declared intentions, we are not all “pro-truth.”

    I agree about the dehumanising aspect of labels – personally I am agin them. But then again in normal discourse we sometimes need to refer to a groups defined by their political stance.

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  23. Mr socialbeverage,

    What term do you suggest should be as a collective noun when referring to arguments of those who are “opponents of fluoridation” (being Connett”s term – which to me, btw, means exactly the same as anti-fluoridationists)?

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  24. “Personally, and psychologically the use of such labels dehumanises the individual who holds their own unique views on a topic.”

    They’re not “unique”. They are usually cut-and-pasted from the same dreary, blogs. It’s from the McCarthy era. This stuff is old. Very old.

    That in itself is offensive and likely to lead people into polarised and often irreconcilable positions.

    So people become anti-fluoride because thoughtless people offended them by calling them anti-fluoridationists?
    Does that apply to Flat Earthers too?

    …we are all Pro-truth, so lets stand together as truth seekers…

    Very creative. We could call the tobacco lobby pro-health too.
    Oh wait, they already did that.

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  25. John, Perhaps i should have stated that we should all aspire to be pro-truth? I would sincerely hope that everybody involved in this debate seeks to clarify rather than to obscure…

    All beings are rational, Each choice we make is based on our own past experiences. To an outside observer they may give the semblance of Irrationality, but If you dig deep enough I can guarantee there will be some form of logic at work, even if the observer is unable to see the patterns leading to their actions.

    Richard, The point of my statement was to highlight that if the truth of the matter is to be found we need to cast aside our differences and focus on or commonalities. We are all seeking answers to the questions surrounding fluoridation by means of scientific inquiry. To take sides in this debate will only lead to a dichotomy and an inability to establish a consensus.

    Seek to see the logic behind those who are for or against, To move forward with an open mind and understanding is far more fruitful for progression.

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  26. All very noble, but what collective noun should be used? Or should we insert a 15 odd word explanatory and inclusive phrase every time we would normally use the word anti-fluoridationist?
    Remember also, the topic is public water fluoridation. It’s quite clear antifluoridation is used in this regard.

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  27. Connett is being unbelievably precious.

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  28. I disagree – we are not a rational species. More a rationalising one. In fact we would have gone extinct if we had evolved to be rational. Reasoning and logic is just too slow a process to deal with the dangers of the world. Intuition and emotion are necessary for rapid response.

    This does not mean we can’t attempt to apply reason, especially when in the reflecting mode. But we never lose our emotions. These always play a role.

    The scientific process helps because we must validate ideas against reality and there is a social process helping to keep is honest. But not every one in this specific issue is really approaching things scientifically – even when they pretend to. Confirmation bias and cherry picking is rampant.

    My perspective is that we should take sides – the side of a scientific approach and honesty. Some people are not taking that side and they need to be taken to task for it.

    Anyway, the best way of showing what you are preaching is to participate in the substantive discussion. Let’s see you apply your logic and scientific approach.

    Advance your reasons and evidence for the positions you have declared. Take issue with other’s positions.

    Get into the discussion.

    >

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  29. Alison, yes, fluoride supplements are prescribed to adults, but only infrequently and in response to significant problems with recurrent dental decay. They ate normally prescribed for kids in non-fluoridated areas during their decay prone years.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  30. Socialbeverageguy, your comments are predicated on the assumption that there are two equal sides to the issue of water fluoridation, each having good points. There are not. Science and healthcare are evidence based, not opinion based, not personal ideology based. Antifluoridationists, fluoride opponents, or whatever you choose to term them do not have valid scientific support for their position and thus have no equal basis with legitimate science and healthcare.

    Connett constantly seeks to legitimize himself and his position by putting himself on a stage with a representative of legitimate science in what appears to be an equal basis. However, when Connett’s arguments are carefully analyzed, in the controlled manner in which they should be, they do not stand up to accepted scientific standards. That he is fully aware of this fact is evidenced by his failure to put his opinions in the proper format for peer-review, instead, opting to circumvent this process by publishing his opinions in a non peer-reviewed book, which he sells for $25 per copy. If you want a good example of how legitimate scientists present their opinions, the following is an excellent, peer-reviewed paper on fluoridation, by Howard Pollick. Unlike Connett’s book, this paper is available free to anyone who desires to read it. Whether you agree with the contents of the paper is not the point. I simply present it as an example of how legitimate science works.

    http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/pdf/pollick.pdf

    My concern is strictly with the overwhelming problem we have worldwide, with rampant, unmet dental needs. The amount of pain, debilitation, and life-threatening infection we have from untreated dental disease is staggering beyond comprehension. Water fluoridation is a proven effective tool we need to assist us in combatting this problem, with no proven adverse effects in its entire 68 year history. I couldn’t care less about placating anyone’s wounded ego, or their feelings of not getting respect they deem they deserve. If public debate and respect are what you are seeking, then get into the political arena or join a self-help group. Healthcare issues are far too important for the well-being of all of us to be trivialized into public “debates” and bruised feelings. As for the truth, it’s readily available. All you have to do is seek it out from reliable, respected, and original sources.

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

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  31. With respect to Dr. Connett’s request to exclude anti-fluoridation views which are “extreme.” Perhaps this is an opportunity to have Dr. Connett disavow many of the issues which are so often brought, with much political effectiveness, against community water fluoridation.

    He is already on record that the Nazi’s did not use fluoride to pacify prison camps. He has made comments about the reality of the ionic chemistry of hydrofluorosilicic acid. Perhaps he might confirm that HFSA completely dissociates and is not present at the tap. Or that the economic effectiveness of fluoridation conceivable has anything at all to do with the % of the water additive people swallow.

    Professor Connett must more clearly understand that these matters have actual political effectiveness. Whether there is evidence to justify these beliefs is really wide of the point.

    If Dr. Connett is to reasonably demand that Ken Parrott is to refrain from citing “extreme” views he must surely be willing to list the many arguments which remove or avoid community water fluoridation he believes to be mistaken and “extreme.”

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  32. Picker22 makes an excellent point. Would Paul care to address Picker’s question as to what “extreme” opposing views should be discounted?

    Steven D. Slott, DDS

    Like

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