Fluoride and the 5 easy steps of a conspiracy theory


This brief article by Emily Willingham in Forbes shows how  the internet has been a real blessing to conspiracy theorists – especially those who are attacking scientific consensus. In Hyping Your Conspiracy Theory In 5 Easy Steps. She  is using the anti-vaccination movement as an example. But it is just as applicable to the anti-fluoride movement.

“1. Find something online that is related to your subject. Like this Senate committee report on an investigation of government agencies regarding safety claims of thimerosal in vaccines.”

And there is no short of internet material on fluoride – Activists just have to do a bit of googling If you are too lazy for that others have done it for you. Just go to Fluoride Alert, Mercola and hosts af “natural” health web sites).

“2. Cherry-pick partial quotes that seem to support your position (here, that vaccines cause harm) and assert conclusions that support your claims. Be sure the conclusions are sufficiently scary and conspiracy worthy. Mention of children and/or pregnant women is always good.”

Again, other activists sites have done that for you. Most anti-fluoride activists may have never read any of the scientific papers they “quote.” At most they seem only to have glanced at an abstract.

“3. Ignore the full context that specifically presents the reverse conclusion from the one you want to claim. Full context like this, from the actual Senate committee report (italics mine):”

This is rife in the anti-fluoride community. Take this paper they are currently quoting as “evidence” that fluoridation is not effective:

Majorana et al. BMC Pediatrics 2014. “Feeding and smoking habits as cumulative risk factors for early childhood caries in toddlers, after adjustment for several behavioral determinants: a retrospective study.”  BMC Pediatrics

The study did not even consider fluoridation and their notes on the apparent ineffectiveness of  prenatal fluoride supplementation using fluoride drops have been misrepresented. (See this outline by Andrew Sparrow for further details). 

“4. Use quotable sound bites so that the misleading information spreads to those eager to take it up and use it in similar ways. Like this. And this. And this.”

Be very wary when the word “Havard” is used – misleading information coming up! For example – claims like Harvard study shows “exposing youngsters to fluoride could lead to brain damage and reduced IQ.”  Or a Havard paper “looked at 27 studies on children exposed to fluoride in drinking water in China, which on average resulted in a loss of seven IQ points.”

For the story behind these “Harvard studies” have a look at  Quality and selection counts in fluoride research and Repeating bad science on fluoride.

“5. Periodically resurrect dead debates that you lostshined up to look new and scary for a new cohort of anxious folk and make claims of a coverup, despite the fact that the allegations you’re resurrecting have been addressed and debunked again and again.”

Rubber_DuckyBoy does that happen on the fluoride issue. Sceptics call these stories “rubber ducks” It doesn’t matter haw often these fallacious claims get knocked over they continue to resurface – very often used by the same people.

So much for integrity.

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2 responses to “Fluoride and the 5 easy steps of a conspiracy theory

  1. Stuart Mathieson

    The periodic resurrection of discredited arguments is an interesting one. The people most likely to be impressed are those who surf the net superficially and are unlikely to systematically explore the debate in depth. Their self proclaimed “research” is likely to be restricted to a few like sounding recent postings or sites which operate as echo chambers. Propagandists must know this. They are counting on impressing itinerants who are impressed by similar claims coming from several sources. This is the purpose of astroturfing of course.


  2. The sad fact of PRATTs is that they work.
    They fool the incurious.
    I’m always going on about people fact-checking. I labour the point with creationists, climate deniers, anti-fluoridationists and the rest of ’em all the time.
    They never seem to cotton on.
    It’s almost like they think that fact-checking is a form of cheating somehow.
    Yet, if somebody fact-checks, the myths implode straight away.

    “The theory of Evolution says that….”

    No it doesn’t. You are repeating a shopworn PRATT. Ten seconds on google will set you straight. What you are saying is not just wrong. It’s famously wrong.

    “Some woman’s horses got sick and died because flouride was….”

    No. It’s not true. You’ve swallowed a PRATT. You are the tenth person this month to parrot this particular PRATT on this blog. Fact-check, you idiot.

    “There’s a graph that proves that global warming…”

    No. Just stop and think. In the real world, science doesn’t revolve around one single graph or paper or study or whatever. There’s no silver bullet.
    Hint: Did you find this OMG, OMG, OMG!!! graph by yourself or did some no-name blog lead you to it by the nose?
    (…awkward silence…)
    Fact check. You’ll find that this particular PRATT has already done the rounds. Before you just bleat and repeat, do us both a favour and fact-check. It would save a lot of time.


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