Fluoridation: News media should check press releases from anti-fluoridationists

A recent ruling from the New Zealand Press Council warns against news media  publishing press releases from biased groups without providing context or seeking comment from any other party. The ruling resulted from a complaint  by Toi Te Ora Public Health Service against the coverage of the fluoridation issue by The Whakatane Beacon. For the full ruling see Source: TOI TE ORA PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE AGAINST WHAKATANE BEACON.

Specifically, the ruling relates to two articles:

  • “Dentist group dispels dire warning message” provided by Stan Litras, spokesman for Fluoride Information Network for Dentists (an anti-fluoridation group). It asserted the Bay of Plenty DHB claims that increased tooth decay would result from removal of fluoride were not supported by reliable metadata studies.
  • “No Fluoride commonsense to campaigner” gave the views of Jon Burness, Fluoride Free Whakatane spokesman. He claimed reports that Ministry of Health figures show no justification for adding fluoride.

The Press council concludes:

“Importantly both published articles were effectively press releases from interest groups with a particular point of view. As the Council has had cause to comment in two recently upheld complaints (Cases 2478 and 2483) running a press release, without seeking comment from any other party, does not make for a balanced piece of journalism. There are significant dangers in simply regurgitating a Press Release and it does not accord with best journalistic practice unless it is clearly spelt out as a Press Release.”

Media should be wary of misrepresentation

Stan Litras’s press release criticised evidence used by Dr de Wit from the District Health Board and medical officer of Health. It misrepresented de Wet, yet the newspaper failed to put the criticisms and allegations to him. The Press council described this as “a simple failure of journalistic principles.” It added that it “is the obligation of the publication to allow an individual to comment if mentioned or quoted indirectly in an article.”

The Press Council made a similar observation with Jon Burgess’s press release, pointing out that the claims in the article were not put to the Ministry of Health (whose data Burgess was misrepresenting). The council put this specific complaint to one side as it did not have a direct complaint from the Ministry. It did comment, though, “that again this was not the best journalistic practice.”

Anti-fluoridation groups like Litras’s  Fluoride Information Network of Dentists (an astroturf group for Fluoride Free New Zealand) are constantly providing press releases misrepresenting studies and experts. These manufactured press releases are circulated within the international anti-fluoride network and the tame websites and magazines run by the “natural”/alternative health industry. Occasionally they end up being published in more reputable mainstream media outlets where they can do more damage.

It would be nice to think the mainstream news media was sufficiently responsible to actually check out the claims being made by such obviously biased groups. It seems a simple principle to actually check with the experts or organisation whose data is being used in the press release (the Whakatane Beacon slipped up there). But it would also be nice to think that responsible news media attempts to provide balance when they are producing articles critical of scientific findings – even when provided by a maverick scientist into self-promotion. It surely doesn’t take much to work out which expert or institution should be asked for a balancing viewpoint.

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7 responses to “Fluoridation: News media should check press releases from anti-fluoridationists

  1. HaHaHa . . . what a joke . . . since when did pro-fluoridationist – read ‘fraudsters and con artists’ ever present the other side of the story – all their decision serves to do is place the NZ Press Council firmly in the camp with the deceitful manipulative fraudulent fluoridationists . . . . :}

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  2. Greenbuzzer caught on film:

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  3. greenbuzzer,

    “Pro-fluoridationists” (= dentists, doctors, World Health Organisation, Ministry of Health, District Health Boards, etc.) merely present the science and epidemiology that has been developed during the seven decades that hundreds of millions of people around the world have received fluoridated tap water without harm and to their benefit.

    There is no “other side of the story” to science, not even a story, just the science.

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  4. Stuartg: “There is no “other side of the story” to science, not even a story, just the science.”
    But sometimes there is selective presentation. Maybe unintentional.

    Such as how Ken has said Broadbent et al have not considered fluorosis in their study and then closed off discussion without warning. I had already quoted from their followup in which they did consider it. I think it to be only fair for him to allow this reference. For members of Christchurch Library it is available in “Academic Search Premier.”

    Broadbent et al. AJPH
    February 2016, Vol 106, No. 2, p214
    Letters an Responses.

    “As a further way of identifying study
    members with high
    fluoride exposure, we
    tested for IQ deficits for study members with
    dental fluorosis, and no IQ differences were
    observed.”

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  5. soundhill1

    Ken quotes: “…running a press release, without seeking comment from any other party,”

    Definitely all sides should be heard.

    “Heitman notes that researchers lack tried and tested ways of soliciting input from the public at large about their work. For Esvelt, the bigger barrier is a scientific culture that often discourages researchers from sharing their experiments before they are published, for fear of being beaten to the finishing line by another group. “No one would rationally design the current scientific enterprise,” he says. “And right now it’s easier to engineer biology than culture.””

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fast-spreading-genetic-mutations-pose-an-ecological-risk/?WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20160608

    In Chrstchurch, the Mayor has noted how members of the public can bring knowledge that scientific reports may miss. There was much outcry about a report they commissioned which put a number of properties in a coastal hazard erosion zone. The report had used aerial photos back to 1941 and measured the advance of the dune toe and said it to be less in a certain area. Knowing the area I have been able to say that in order to protect a tram line, that area had already been engineered closer to the limiting sea prior to 1941 so could not show so much accretion since.

    And I feel that for fluoridation members of the public can bring to light knowledge that is being missed by “science media.”

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  6. Brian, I closed off that discussion because it had got incredibly silly. You bear most of the responsibility for that. Which is not a surprising observation to readers here.

    But, again, here nou are making comments completely unconnected to the post.

    Readers can find and download the letter of Broadbent et al at this link https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=FDC4EA4E0DB8931E!27645&authkey=!AJosz419sTUYG0M&ithint=file%2cpdf
    It was a response to an attempt by the Connett crowd (all members of the FAN “Team”) to argue firstly that there was insufficient “contrast” in F levels to detect a lowering of IQ (interpret this to be an acknowledgement that CWF does not influence IQ) and that a list of confounders were not considered. These arguments before and they have been dealt with in this response. (But, of course, Brian still falls back on them from time to time).

    His current obsession with the idea that many cases of “dental fluorosis” may be caused by other facts than fluoride is hardly new. It is a point sometimes made in local research papers – but is, of course, is irrelevant to the debunking of the FFNZ claim that CWF is responsible for a prevalence of 45% dental fluorosis in NZ.

    Broadbent was not looking at the effect of fluoridation on dental fluorosis (or “dental fluorosis”) – he simply responded to the FAN letter with a check which showed that dental fluorosis was not correlated with IQ.

    When people have raised the issue of neglecting confounders in the past it is usually to question a statistically significant correlation (as I did with the Malin and Till ADHD paper).

    In this case, the FAN team, and their devoted servant, Brian, are raising the issue because they are convinced that the data would have shown an effect on IQ if only their pet confounder was used. Broadbent has shown this to be not supported by the evidence. His inclusion of dental fluorosis was a small perk – and he was simply repeating and commonly made claim that dental fluorosis can be used as an indication of fluoride exposure (eg Brian should check pout Choi et al 2015 who resorted to using dental fluorosis, finding a correlation with IQ, when the fluoride drinking water concentrations showed no such correlation.

    I think it id naive to suggest the commonly found correlation of fluoride intake with dental fluorosis is an indication that fluoride is the only factor in such abnormalities. In fact, a simple check of published data shows other factors are involved.

    But all beside the point. Brian’s arguments do not in any way retrieve the credibility of FAN and this mistaken claim – it is thoroughly debunked.

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  7. Brian, can you cite one example or more, of a case where “members of the public” (I assume you mean the Connett crowd) have ever brought to light knowledge that is being missed by the science community.

    All examples I have seen have actually been attempts by Cornett’s crowd to misrepresent scientific finding. Connett has never produced any original research on fluoride – despite his qualifications and being touted as the world expert on CWF.

    Not that I am knocking any good faith input from non-experts. In fact, I consider my published article on Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits an example of such a contribution. It was made in good faith, as a suggestion for consideration, and without any badmouthing of other researchers.

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