Subverting democratic consultation on the fluoride issue


Credit: Making Sense of Fluoirde

Denver Water, which as Colorado’s largest water provider, has been reviewing its water fluoridation policy. It will announce its decision in the next few days but I found its description of the consultation process interesting.

[Update: Denver Water has now voted unanimously to continue community water fluoridation (see Good News – Denver Water Votes to Continue Community Water Fluoridation!). A complete failure for the anti-fluoride campaigners who worked hard to defeat fluoridation in Denver.]

A spokeswoman for the board, Stacey Chesman said Denver Water had received nearly 1,200 comments, from as far away as New Zealand, with 1,078 opposed to fluoridation, and 663 of those submitting their comments on postcards created by We Are Change Colorado. Every public health agency in Denver Water’s service area urged it to continue fluoridating water (See Water systems sink teeth into debate over drinking it).

Pretty impressive, eh? Twelve hundred submissions and about 90% oppose community water fluoridation (CWF). But look again – over 60% of the opposing submissions were on postcards provided by the anti-fluoride propagandist group “We are Change Colorado.”

Manipulating council consultations

That reminds me of the Hamilton City Council’s fluoride considerations two and a half years ago. That Council’s  summary of submissions reported:

“Of the 1,557 submissions received 1,385 (89%) seek Council to stop the practise of adding fluoride to the Hamilton water supply. 170 (10.9%) seek Council to continue the practise of adding fluoride and 2 (0.1%) submitters did not indicate a stance.”

The Hamilton numbers are so similar to those in Denver that one might wonder if the same people or organisations organised many of the submissions. And, I suspect, the Denver number of 90% opposed is just as unrepresentative of the public’s view as the Hamilton 90% – as shown by the subsequent Hamilton referendum where 70% of voters supported CWF! (See When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science).

The postcard tactic used in Denver is also much the same as the New Zealand Fluoride Free organisation providing submission templates  (templates A, B, C, D, were used in Hamilton) and submission guides. And the comment that Denver water received submissions “from as far away as New Zealand” also rings a bell – many of the submissions received by the Hamilton City Council were from as far away as the USA. And, in fact, video links were used to enable oral submissions by anti-fluoride propagandists from the USA!

What we have seen in these two cases – and many others in New Zealand, the USA, Canada and Australia – is a highly efficient organised campaign from “out-of-towners” intent on subverting the consultation process and the democratic rights of local citizens. A process which one might think mature and sensible civil leaders could easily recognise and discount. However, some of these leaders are easily fooled. In Hamilton, the local council gave the high numbers of anti-fluoride submissions they got as one of the main reasons for deciding to stop CWF. This seemed to them more important than the real referenda results!

A fluoride referendum in Thames

In New Zealand, the small town of Thames will hold a referendum on fluoridation of their water supply in November (see Thames fluoride referendum set for 5 November). Campaigning will start soon and no doubt we will see the same circus of whirlwind visits from out-of-towners, propaganda from overseas anti-fluoride propagandists (who promote themselves as “world experts” on the subject), and billboard, newspaper and radio advertising – probably paid for by the “natural”/alternative health industry.

I hope the people of Thames will be rightly suspicious of these “out-of-towners,” and ideologically and commercially motived propagandists, and instead listen to the advice of their own social health and dental experts.

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19 responses to “Subverting democratic consultation on the fluoride issue

  1. 663/1078 = 61.5%, not close to 70%, Ken.

    Hamilton postcards 61.5% of 1385 opposers would be 851.8.

    If the post card ones had no individual comments and were counted as one only instead of 851 that would leave 533 “genuine” opposers in Hamilton, compared to 170 in support, if the supporters are not on postcards or some sort of forms either.

    533/170 = over 3 times as many “genuine” opposers. Still a high number in any election.

    So Ken, when you said: ” In Hamilton, the local council gave the high numbers of anti-fluoride submissions they got as one of the main reasons for deciding to stop CWF. This seemed to them more important than the real referenda results!” I don’t think you were looking closely enough.


  2. The good thing is the seagulls can all fly in and squawk there heads off but if they dont live there or are ratepayers, there noise means nothing.They have no say in the outcome. This is a good way to do it, stops a lot of meaningless rubbish being included in the vote


  3. Brain, I have been a little more precise (:-) ) and change the “almost 70%” to “more than “6o%.”

    Nowhere have I suggested that any of the submitters in the Hamilton consultation were not “genuine” as you suggest. Not have I suggested that postcards were used in Hamilton as the were in Denver. Here the FF people provided templates for use by their supporters.

    I cannot see what you object to in my statement. The local council did list the large amount of opposing submissions they received as one of the reasons for stopping CWF. And they were hardly unaware of the previous referendum result or their own polling showing overwhelming support for CWF. Item vi on their list reads:

    “vi. Not fluoridating the city water supply reflects the majority of views expressed through the Council tribunal process.”

    The obvious fact that the anti-fluoride people were highly organised and manipulated the submission process to score such high numbers is what discredits it and the council’s response. It is silly to give moire credence to such a manipulated result than to the actual referenda or the council’s own polling.


  4. soundhill,

    In the referendum in Hamilton, how many people supported fluoridation? I do know the answer, but I would appreciate your viewpoint when you compare that number to the number of postcards, or even those of “”genuine” opposers” received prior to the referendum.

    My impression from your comment is that you think the opinion of those “”genuine” opposers” outweighs the expressed preference of the majority in the referendum. Is this impression accurate? If so, why do you think that a majority should be overruled by a minority in a democratic society?


  5. Please note: my previous comment has nothing to do with the well established science of community water fluoridation. It is about the democratic process of the Hamilton referendum.


  6. Stuartg, here is a problem I am thinking about at the moment.

    Christchurch is built on a drained swamp. Earthquakes have lowered some of it making some areas more subject to flooding. Insurance is becoming impossible to get.

    Housing densification has allowed some zones to have up to 90% hard cover of land so storm water cannot get to the soil an be stored and gradually released. Rather it goes straight to the rivers.

    I suggest dense housing should be required to pay greater rates to give relief for losses of those downstream.

    I believe a referendum on the issue may produce a different result from a consultation in which elected members or commissioners decide the issue.

    It is the business of elected members or commissioners to have a much greater understanding of the issues than the general public can attain.


  7. Brian clearly has no knowledge or understanding of the Hamilton referendum so attempts diversion by rambling on about rainfall in Christchurch.

    I guess he might now run to qualify his statements about the business of commissioners now that we see Connett and his fellow propagandists have failed miserably in Denver. Denver Water board members appear to have had a lot more sense than the Hamilton City Council – they were able to recognise the lies being presented to them by Connett and his fellow propagandists.


  8. Normally I understand commissioners are supposed to go by the quality of the submissions, not the number. However in Hamilton they noted they did take the number into account.

    Not being satisfied with the result obtained by the usual process, some entity decided on a referendum to change it.

    In the Hamilton referendum about a quarter of eligible voters supported fluoridation. I presume the others either did not care or felt they did not know enough to make the choice.

    Referenda can be affected by large advertising input as in GMO labelling for which the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association in USA have spent huge millions.

    Commissioners’ can be interested parties. Were the Denver ones as careful in noting that as the Hamilton ones?


  9. Councillors, having absolutely no skills in the medical and scientific area, should have gone by their polling of the wishes iof the citizens who overwhelmingly support CWF.

    They specifically gave the number of submissions as one of their main reasons for their decision. As for quality, their report specifically stated cited “studies” by the number of times submitters referred to them. Guess whose study came at the top of the Council list – Declan Waugh who hasn’t got a scientific bone in his body. The council, in their ignorance, was completely fooled on the science and they ignored their obligations to voters.

    The voters – the citizens – were the “entity” not”satisfied” with the undemocratic decision and petitioned the council to allow a proper referendum – which Hamilton has a history of following on this issue.

    Yes, with a turnout of 34% (normal for local bodies) one-quarter of voters supported return of fluoridation. But only idiots and demagogues use such figures – especially as one could say only 10% of voters opposed fluoridation. The actual voting figures, including absentations, are quite consistent with he Oral Health survey I wrote about recently.

    There was a limit placed on advertising costs – and don’t forget that ant anti-fluoride people have big business backers in the “natural”/alternative health indiustry.

    Councillors can be interested parties – as for instance David MacPherson who was actively involved with the anti-fluoride people but still actively worked on council to oppose fluoridation. Maneuvers were used to exclude councillors who wer also DHB members – a tactic to reduce the influence of people with the knowledge. It is things like this that made voters so angry about the whole process. And eventually led to the defeat of the anti-fluoride people in Hamilton.

    Are you now trying to deny the reason given by Denver Water for deciding not to accept the claims of the Connett crowd – that these claims did not have scientific and expert support? Are you instead trying to slander their motives?

    Typical of you, Brian, anything to avoid the facts.

    And anything to give a clear answer to a clear question.


  10. It is not the number of eligible voters that turned out, its how they voted. Most local voting does not have a great turnout, But in this case it seems the scientific knowledge provided by the health professionals, was better received than the scaremongering from the Activists, And the result showed that
    Also around the same time the activists had verbally and physically attacked the N.S.W Medical officer, This sort of behavior does nothing to enhance the anti fluoride/vaccine support
    24635 voted yes
    11768 voted no
    864 were blank {If this is related to the “template,” that could explain this}
    9 were informal


  11. But only idiots and demagogues use such figures

    and Brian Sandle


  12. Oops, it was silly of me to restate that which was implicit within the quote.


  13. Waikato DHB spent $47,000 on the campaign. Do you know what the anti-fluoridationists spent?

    Commissioners are not supposed to bring their own views to a issue, your words: “have influence.” . The issues of the DHB are presented by officers.

    MacPherson was not present for the vote. Working on council for issues is normal and different from being in the role of commissioner, which councillors are trained to do.

    “Are you now trying to deny the reason given by Denver Water for deciding not to accept the claims of the Connett crowd – that these claims did not have scientific and expert support?”

    No I just if any excused themselves on account of their known leaning.


  14. Brian, if you don’t know what your side spent on their propaganda for the Hamilton referendum you surely can’t expect me to know.

    As far as I know the Fluoride Free people have not publicly declared their spending. The WDHB did – and it was below the limit set by the council.

    Fluoridation is now a dead issue in Hamilton.

    MacPherson was absent for only one vote – in the meantime he participated with the Fluoride Free people to produce an anti-fluoride video. He did not excuse himself from any of the meetings.

    Throughout that time he was extremely hostile towards scientific commenters. He was, in the end, erratic because his primary motivation was the chance of winning the mayoralty – something he failed miserably with and had to withdraw. He actually received the least votes of all the successful councilors in the 2013 elections.

    The Denver vote was unanimous – and, as they explain it, resulted from the inability of Coinnett’s crown to discredit the science as presented by the experts.


  15. “Throughout that time he was extremely hostile towards scientific commenters.”

    But you think I am hostile when I am asking searching questions.


  16. Brian – tell me when I have called you hostile – or think you are hostile.

    Simple or silly perhaps. Even idiotic. But not hostile. 🙂

    Butt I guess you would justify your comment, effectively defending MacPherson’s hostility towards science, “searching?”


  17. Was MacPherson trying to make sure the science was clear as in a the confusion brought about by Australian scientist David Evans in the climate debate? Or was he challenging science on a social level such as when it ignores feelings about dead bodies such as in burial sites? It is not all about science.


  18. But you think I am hostile when I am asking searching questions.

    Now it’s argument by absurdity (or comedy) from Brian.


  19. Brian – you are not asking searching questions when you refuse to read what I wrote (which was that MacPherson “was extremely hostile towards scientific commenters.”). macPherson did not discuss the science – he is incapable of that. You are correct – it was not all about science; he just abused people.

    I interpreted this as an indication of the intense political infighting going on in the council at the time. Important decisions should not be handed over to such clowns.


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