Approaching scientific literature sensibly

thinking-conf-bias

We all suffer more or less from confirmation bias – it is just human.  So it’s natural for people to be selective, and to indulge in some cherry-picking and biased interpretation, when quoting scientific literature to support an idea they promote.

pseudoscience-cherry-picking

In the scientific community peer review and continual submission of ideas to scrutiny by colleagues helps keep this under control. But it can really get out of hand when used political activists use the literature to support their claims.

I have got used to anti-fluoride commenters on social media simply citing a paper or even providing a bare link, without comment, as if this somehow makes their claims irrefutable. Perhaps, in truth, they have not even read the paper they cite, or understood it, so do not feel confident discussing it.

But this tactic is particularly lazy – and stupid. To simply give a Google Scholar search as proof. Lately I have been presented with links to such searches to argue that fluoridation is toxic. Just a search for “fluoride toxicity.”

This is what that search produces – 234,000 hits:

Fluoride toxicity – 234,000 results

fluoride-toxicity

Sounds good to the uninitiated, I guess. It does seem to produce a large number. But does that mean anything?

What about searching for water toxicity. This produces over 2 million hits. Are we to assume from this that water is toxic, seemingly 10 times more toxic than fluoride?

Water toxicity – 2,190,000 results

water-toxicity

Yes, I know some social media do not offer much space for commenting but that should not be an excuse for such silly citations.

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7 responses to “Approaching scientific literature sensibly

  1. designafuture

    Hi Ken – I took your advice and checked out ‘fluoride toxicity’. I think your computer must be slow because mine returned: About 2,330,000 results (0.22 seconds) That’s 2.33 million.
    I now wonder what other ‘facts’ you may have got wrong?

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  2. designafuture

    Hi Ken – I goofed didn’t I? Your numbers referred to Google scholar whilst mine was total numbers. Sorry about that. However there must have been a flood of new material because as of a few minutes ago Google scholar returned 599,000 results (0.31 seconds). I suppose however none of them will be relevant if they provide claims of ill effects from added fluoride?

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  3. Did you bother checking – at about the same time – water toxicity. I did adjust now and got 32,000,000 results (0.27 seconds)!

    It obviously will vary from day to day – so don’t take these numbers as absolute – just relative. [Edit: And as you point out later Goggle Scholar will return fewer hits than Google.]

    My “facts” weren’t wrong (as you can see by the images provided as evidence). But the important thing is that comparing water toxicity with fluoride toxicity exposes how simple-minded such an apporoach is.

    Surely you aren’t trying to justify it?

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  4. “I suppose however none of them will be relevant if they provide claims of ill effects from added fluoride?” – why do you suppose that? seems silly to me.

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  5. designafuture

    My comment about relevancy is because every submission I have seen against fluoride, regardless of from whom or from where it originates, is thoroughly bagged by the pro fluoride proponents. More often than not with attacks on the personality, integrity or mental capacity of the submitter.
    That doesn’t seem particularly scientific or sensible to me!

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  6. I suspect confirmation bias but you could give some examples. After all, you said “every submission.”

    Perhaps we need to discuss specifics because here I have been dealing with the science – “attacks on personality, integrity or mental capacity” are usually aimed at me by anti-fluroiude propagandists.

    But specifically in this article I have shown a common tactic used by these propagandists which is just childish.

    >

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  7. My comment about relevancy is because every submission I have seen against fluoride, regardless of from whom or from where it originates, is thoroughly bagged by the pro fluoride proponents.

    Go through the comments made by the anti-flouridationists across various articles on this very blog. They are a rare old bunch. Feel free to name any of the ones that strike you as being sane and reasonable and following the basic rules of English grammar.

    More often than not with attacks on the personality, integrity or mental capacity of the submitter.

    This may surprise you but anti-flouridationists have not exactly covered themselves with glory. More that a few of them are clearly batshit krazy. In spades. That’s just the state of play. There are a multitude of examples. By all means, point out the commenters that are clearly sane and reasonable that you feel have been hard done by. Name some names.

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