Category Archives: diversity

Fluoridation: Freedom of choice – and responsibility

PN Tap

Alia Grant, 7, collecting “fluoride-free” water from the Papaoeia Park tap in Palmerston North. Credit: Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Apparently a source of “fluoride-free” water provided by the Palmerston North City Council since last May has seen little use. Despite the council providing the “fluoride-free” public tap at the request of campaigners, the data on its use shows an average of only about 4 people a day drawing water from it (see comments by Palmerston North City Councillor Aleisha Rutherford and email to her from council officials).

This data will interest other councils, like the Hamilton City Council, who are considering installation of similar “fluoride-free” taps. They might question whether such low use warrants the costs involve (more that $90,000  for Palmerston North and a budgeted $60,000 for Hamilton). But I am more interested in what this low usage implies for they way anti-fluoride campaigners have exerted their own freedom of choice.

Freedom of choice involves responsibility

I have always argued for freedom of choice on issues like community water fluoridation (CWF) where opinions are divided. I believe that freedom of choice is actually guaranteed by democratic processes.

Yes, I know, the minority sometimes complain that such democratic decisions remove their freedom of choice – and certainly anti-fluoride propagandists make much of this. Often claiming that the minority’s freedom of choice, in this case, is more important than the health of the community as a whole.

But that argument is disingenuous. Such choices are about the availability of a service or social health measure – not about having such services or health measures imposed on people. There is always a choice – and that is the great thing about democratic decisions. The community supports socially provided health care and secular education. But that in no way prevents the minority, who oppose such measures, the freedom to organise their own healthcare or education. Free secular education and healthcare is not imposed on anyone.

So, it seems obvious to me that someone who genuinely believes fluoridation is not OK should be responsible enough to take their own steps to either filter the water supply or arrange for a different source if they find themselves in the minority. I am not for a minute suggesting they give up their belief, or even their attempts to convince others. Just that they be responsible, accept the majority have spoken and that the majority decision should prevail – at least until there is a democratic change of mind.

Given the ready availability of alternative water sources or filtration devices, it would be silly not to take advantage of them. That is exactly what I would do if in that situation. But very few of my anti-fluoride discussion partners on this issue, when asked, acknowledge they take such steps. Instead, they will often complain about costs, even claiming these costs are prohibitive, and moan about having fluoridation “forced” on them.

Water filters a common

So the low usage of this “fluoride-free” tap indicates to me that people who seriously object to fluoridation of their water supply are already taking their own steps to remove it – most probably using a relatively cheap filter. And, I believe their use of such filters probably predates any public action they have taken on the issue. Similar filters are, after all, quite common and many people use them for aesthetic reasons to remove the taste of chlorine or organic matter.

So why do anti-fluoride activists make such a fuss – attempting to deny a democratically accepted social health measure to people who support it? After all, any personal claims of their own sensitivity to fluoride are surely invalid if they have exercised their freedom of choice and taken steps to filter their water or find another source.

The water consumption data for the “fluoride-free” tap in Palmerston North suggests that all but a very few (perhaps 4 people?) are responsibility taking their own steps to filter the water. This fuss, then, surely has nothing to do with their own situation. I can’t help thinking it derives from their own ideological and political beliefs about what society as a whole should do.

Perhaps these ideological and political beliefs, rather than any scientific fact, are the real source of their claim about the danger of community water fluoridation?

See also


What is life?


I am being purposely provocative here – and who else provokes better that Richard Feynman.

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Rapid change in attitudes to marriage equality


Click the image to go to the video (unfortunately I can’t embed the video here).

The video demonstrates “The Stunning 15-Year March to Marriage Equality Around the World.” And it certainly shows how rapid this change in community values has been.

I suppose many people will look at the map and feel they occupy the moral high ground because we are citizens of a country that has accepted marriage equality. The map certainly differentiates between those who have accepted and those who haven’t.

But the very rapidity of this change in community values is also a lesson. We should expect more countries to accept marriage equality in the near future. and secondly, we should be a bit humble and not make judgments on people and countries who have not yet accepted marriage equality.

After all, we were in that position a very short time ago.

Thanks to:  Same-sex marriage world map: Countries where gay unions are permitted after Supreme Court (VIDEO)..

Being open-minded

This meme is for those commenters here who accuse me of having a closed mind.

open minded

I am always happy to change my opinion or view of things – if there is evidence to suggest I should.

And no, claims that “science once thought the world was flat,” or “science once supported smoking,” is not a credible argument that we should ignore current scientific consensus. It’s especially not an argument we should suddenly adopted unsupported claims as “gospel truth.”

Along these same lines, it’s worth considering this quote from Carl Sagan – if you want me to consider a really extraordinary claim your evidence had better be exceptional.


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Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in the USA?


Photo credit: REUTERS

Most readers are aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very high popularity rating in his own country – a rating that most politicians  would die for. But it turns out he is also popular in the USA.

Putin came in at the number one spot in this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll with 6.95% of the votes. According to TIME:

“Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.”

Putin was the only political leader in the top ten:

“Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively. Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%).”


I guess Putin is happy with the result – perhaps he is doing something right.

But here’s the interesting thing:

“More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.”


One of the tamer cartoons demonising Putin

Despite continuous demonisation of Putin (and the Russian Federation) by the mass media in the US, UK and Canada in recent years he seems to be more popular than any other political leader – including the leaders of the countries where the readers live!

I wonder why that is? Is the naive demonisation counter-productive?

Do readers here have any suggestions?

Note: The TIME 100 readers’ poll closed April 10. It is not the same as the annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. That is actually chosen by the editors of TIME – this year’s list will be unveiled April 16.

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“I just know”

This is from a satirical site – but the trouble is many people seems to think this way. They are continually commenting on blogs and other social media and think their arguments trump science!

From The Spudd.


“I just know” replaces systematic reviews at top of evidence pyramid

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) announced today that “I just know” will replace systematic reviews as the top level of evidence available in medical research. For years scientists and doctors have dismissed anecdotes from the likes of anti-vaxxers and pseudoscience pushers, but it appears they are finally ready to listen.

“After much research and deliberation, we feel we cannot ignore what a parent or conspiracy theorist feels “in their gut”. There are just too many anecdotes and too many people buying untested alternative health products to ignore this any longer,” explained SHEA spokesman Dr. Harold Rami.

Homeopaths, Naturopaths, Chiropractors and anti-vaxxers the world over are celebrating this as a huge victory.

“Even though my son was showing signs of autism before he got vaccinated, I know in my gut and in my heart that it was still the vaccines that caused it,” said mother and anti-vaccine advocate Cheryl Jones.

“This is a big win for us,” said Naturopath and homeopathy dispenser, Paul Theroult. “I have seen it many times. I sell my patients a homeopathic remedy – for say the common cold – and then bam, they are cured within one to two weeks. There is no science backing up my claim that the homepathic pill cured their cold, but in my gut I just know it did.”


The victims of terror

Appropriately, some of the most effective protests against the most recent act of terrorism has come from cartoonists.

Charlie Nebdo

Let’s hope the pencil, and brush, are mightier than the weapons of terror.

down with terror

The MH17 blame game

I know this is provocative, but couldn’t help thinking of the blame game going on around the MH17 tragedy (the Malaysian plane shot down over Eastern Ukraine in July) when I saw these on social media.


Thanks to David for this meme


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Catch 22 in Ukraine

MH17 recovery

MH17 recovery team finally start work at crash site. Credit:  RIA Novosti. Alexey Kudenko

The Dutch team investigating the MH17 Malaysian Airline crash in eastern Ukraine report it has problems collecting debris from the crash site in eastern Ukraine. But aren’t these problems largely of their own making? And isn’t this just one glaring example of the Catch-22 situation presented by problems of recognition in Ukraine?

On the one hand the investigation team has problems organising recovery of material – but on the other hand they refuse to negotiate with the authorities controlling the crash zone! Isn’t the solution obvious? – Talk to the local authorities. Don’t try to pretend they don’t exist and attempt to do everything through intermediaries like the OCSE.

The issue is just too important to allow such distraction by childish political games.

This impasse has gone on long enough. Four months since the crash and there has been no recovery of any of the crashed plane parts. This could have been done months ago. People are getting impatient – they want answers and the Dutch investigators are now criticised for dragging their feet. The situation has became more urgent because of the impending winter and the possibilities of destruction of evidence by shelling of the remains.

I can’t help thinking that even this military action, violating UN resolutions on the tragedy, could have been stopped if the Dutch investigators had manned up and applied more pressure on the Kiev government. After all, it is not the rebels who are shelling this area.

Problems of recognition

I understand the wish not to imply recognition of the rebels. But the Malaysian government negotiated with the local authorities right at the beginning and quickly obtained the recovered black boxes and began the task of recovering the passenger bodies. No recognition was implied by the contact – simply the willingness to discuss the practicalities with the people in the area. Why cannot the Dutch investigation team do the same?

The Dutch investigators claim it is because the government in Kiev does not want them to. But that did not stop the Malaysians. Nor should that be a real consideration considering that elements of the Kiev regime are possible suspects in the shooting down of the plane.

Ukraine’s attitude towards Malaysia did cool because of those direct negotiations. But the Kiev regime itself is caught in its own Catch-22 with its unwillingness to imply any recognition of the rebel regimes in the Donbass.

Right from the beginning, the day before the coup in Kiev (see Agreement on the Settlement of Crisis in Ukraine), agreements on Ukraine have referred to the need for constitutional reform in the country, and the need to involve all parts of the country in negotiating a new constitution. Neither the junta resulting from the coup or the subsequent elected president and government have shown any willingness to honour that aspect of agreements. They have negotiated with themselves and the oligarchs – but never with the real authorities in power in eastern Ukraine – or the people who support them.

Even the Trilateral Contact group on Ukraine which produced the recent cease-fire agreements did not have proper representation from the Kiev regime because they refused to negotiate with the representatives from Donetsk and Luhansk. Instead the Kiev government worked through the Second President of Ukraine, L.D. Kuchma.

Negotiation does not imply recognition

Again, there is the wish not to imply recognition. Interestingly Kiev been on the receiving end of that dilemma as the government of the Russian Federation did not recognise any presidential authority in a regime that had come to power via an armed coup after evicting a democratically elected president. That was eventually resolved when new presidential elections brought Poroshenko to power – and in the interim other forms of contact were used. I think this shows that non-recognition does not mean that contact and negotiation is impossible. Nor does negotiation imply recognition.

Since the February coup there have been presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine and a referendum plus parliamentary and government elections in the Donbass. One can easily find fault with all these elections and the referendum  but the important thing is that they have given a degree of legitimacy to the governments in Kiev and the Donbass. This means their officials have increased authority in  any negotiations – which surely makes possible better progress in stopping hostilities, carrying out constitutional reform and settling the degree of autonomy granted to the Donbass region.

Instead, the Kiev government is using the increased legitimacy in the Donbass as further reason not to negotiate. The Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk wants to abandon the Minsk talks altogether and go back to the Geneva negotiations format which did not include representatives of the rebel forces.

“Sitting [down] with them for bilateral negotiations is useless,” Yatsenyuk said. “One of the most efficient and real formats is the Geneva format, which included the participation of the US, the EU, Ukraine and our geographically northern neighbor.”

Yet, surely, negotiation between both sides in this civil war is the only way to reach the peaceful settlement which most Ukrainian’s want. Does this imply the Kiev government refuses to try to reach a peaceful settlement?

How can Yatsenyuk claim such negotiations are useless when he has consistently refused to even try them?

Whatever – his approach does not seem politically mature. Negotiations should never be seen as a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength which comes with a willingness to deal with realities on the ground.

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Fluoride debate: Response to Daniel Ryan’s critique – Rita Bartlett-Rose

Rita F. Barnett

Rita Barnett-Rose, author of Compulsory water fluoridation: Justifiable public health benefit or human experimental research without informed consent” has replied to Daniel Ryan’s critique of her paper. Daniel’s critique was posted yesterday at Fluoride debate: A response to Rita Barnett-Rose – Daniel Ryan.

Rita’s reply is available to download as a pdf

RE: CWF Working Paper Article

Dear Daniel,
I have now had a chance to consider your comments to my draft article. In some respects, I am flattered that you have devoted so much time to an unpublished working paper, and I thank you for giving me some of your opinions. I absolutely want to make sure that I have cited to sources accurately and have not mischaracterized any particular study I reviewed. To that end, I have now engaged independent review of my article from several highly-qualified scientists/researchers with the specific request that they review my article for scientific accuracy. After I have received their comments, I will revise my draft accordingly.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for me), I did not find in your review any specific places where I actually mischaracterized any cited study. Instead, your primary points of contention seem to be twofold: (1) you object to my use of Fluoride Action Network’s (“FAN”) website as a cited source; and (2) you object to my failure to include contrary studies that reaffirm the (English-speaking countries’) public health agencies’/dental lobby positions on the safety and benefits of compulsory water fluoridation.

First, with respect to my reliance on FAN. Of the 209 footnote references in my article, I believe only 17 of them are cites to FAN. Of those 17 cites, I am citing to the FAN website primarily as an easy way to get to the primary source material (e.g., studies or newspaper articles from around the world). For example, in footnotes 85-87, I could have listed the primary source studies, but I have found that many of these studies are hard to get on the internet for those who do not have paid subscriptions to the various science databases. I myself had to order a number of the primary sources from my University intra-library loan system and felt that it would be better to simply provide a link so that the reader could see the names of the studies and determine for himself/herself how to get to those primary sources. Nevertheless, your point is well-taken that I should not give the appearance of relying upon an advocacy group (including yours), and I will review those 17 cites to see if I should instead cite to primary sources.

Second, with respect to your complaint or desire that I cite to contrary (i.e., pro-fluoridation) studies in addition to (or in lieu of) the published studies that I cite that tend to weigh against fluoridation, as I have already indicated to you on two occasions: I am not interested in a battle of the studies debate, and I urge you to conduct such a battle with a more appropriate sparring partner, such as FAN-NZ. Specifically: you complain about FAN not being a legitimate source of credible scientific information, but your organization is also a political advocacy (pro-fluoridation) group, and, from your critique, you are just as guilty of “cherry picking” your sources and your studies as you suggest I am. Moreover, and in stark contrast to you, the section of my article where the studies are discussed is specifically entitled: “Scientific Evidence Against Compulsory Water Fluoridation.” It is not meant to be an exhaustive examination of all studies on fluoridation and is specifically and accurately identified for what it is. I am well aware of many of the pro-fluoridation studies — as well as the criticisms of many of those studies (in terms of who funded them, flaws in methodology, conflicts of interest, etc.) by those opposed to fluoridation. I do not believe either side has definitively proved their case with respect to safety/benefits or lack thereof. However, what I do believe is that the burden of proving safety and effectiveness lies with the pro-fluoridation side, as it is your side that is insisting on imposing this “public health measure” on everyone else, even in the face of substantial objection and despite existing studies suggesting serious risks of harm. It also appears to me that the pro-fluoridation side is playing “whack a mole” with the studies weighing against CWF – often trying to hammer down/marginalize the opposition each time a negative study pops up, rather than trying to consider the evidence objectively. I note throughout your critique that you often refer to studies that weigh against fluoridation as “flawed” or “debatable” or as somehow lacking in proper control mechanisms – while studies that support fluoridation are “quality studies.” (p.8). You also minimize any existing evidence weighing against fluoridation by qualifying it: “there is no quality research” (p. 4) “there is no robust evidence” (p. 4), “there is no strong evidence” (p. 6). However, to me, if even one strong study exists, then the entire compulsory practice must be reevaluated.

Please also note that any and all of your cites to the ADA lobby, or to the CDC (which, though its oral health division, works hand in hand with the ADA promoting fluoridation and thus has a serious conflict of interest/credibility problem) are unpersuasive to me – as they should be to anyone conducting even a minimum level of research into the history of and politics behind fluoridation (some of which is chronicled in my article, including the story of the EPA’s NTEU battle). Incidentally, as someone who did not have a pony in this race before doing the actual research (i.e., I am not a long-time anti-fluoridation advocate), it does not take long to discover how politically motivated many “public health agencies” and “professional dental associations” are — or how willing they are to obscure, minimize, or bury contrary evidence or to marginalize the anti-fluoridation messengers, regardless of the evidence or the credentials of those messengers (e.g., Waldbott, Taylor, Marcus, Mullenix, Bassin, Hirzy).

With respect to the NRC Report, I agree with you that it did not specifically address compulsory water fluoridation. However, I believe that its review of fluoride toxicology is highly relevant to exposures from fluoridated water (and its exposure data itself suggests that some people drinking fluoridated water can, indeed, receive doses that can cause adverse health effects, including severe dental fluorosis and bone fractures). In addition, in a number of health risk areas, the NRC panel concluded that there was not enough data, and/or that more research needed to be conducted, before definitive statements could be made with respect to other potential adverse health effects due to excess exposure to fluoride. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the safety of fluoride or fluoridation. Nor is the NRC Report irrelevant to the fluoridation debate.

I see no point in going through your critique page by page to point out various flaws in it, as mostly you seem to be trying to persuade me with contrary evidence rather than identifying any mischaracterizations of the studies I did cite. I will, however, point out that your opening accusation on p. 2 that my “paper starts off by saying there is mounting scientific evidence against fluoridation” and that I used an opinion piece by John Colquhoun as my “evidence” to support this statement is outrageously incorrect, and it almost prompted me not to respond to you at all, as I do not appreciate my words being twisted or my cites misused to inflate your argument. This statement about “mounting scientific evidence” at the start of my paper (near fn. 2) actually references an entire section of my article – (“See discussion infra Sec. II-B”) — and not an opinion piece by Colquhoun, which is only referenced – appropriately – at footnote 65 (referring to “formerly avid fluoride proponents” who have changed their minds). I have no desire to engage with insincere zealots, so I hope that you simply made a mistake there.

As I said to you privately, I am more than willing to revise my article where I have misstated any of the cited scientific evidence. However, I disagree with you that a discussion on the legal and ethical aspects of CWF would be “confusing” or “pointless” at this point and I would genuinely be interested in knowing why you feel so strongly that imposing this practice on everyone is ethically justifiable. Data published by the WHO suggests that the decline in dental caries is similar in both fluoridated and unfluoridated countries, and I have heard of no massive outbreak of a worldwide dental carie epidemic that has been attributed to a lack of fluoridated water (rather than to poverty, poor nutrition, or a lack of access to proper dental care). Thus, I am very curious as to why there appears to be such an aggressive campaign on the pro-fluoridation side to impose this practice on the world – and why anyone believes that personal liberties and rights to bodily integrity should be sacrificed for a public health practice addressing a non-contagious disease. I would also be interested in understanding where you personally believe compulsory public health practices should begin and end (e.g., do you believe governments should mandate compulsory flu shots? What about the HPV vaccine that the Governor of Texas tried to mandate for girls? Where should the personal right to bodily integrity begin and end, in your opinion? And how comfortable are you with public health officials mandating what is good for you? Do you contend that they haven’t been wrong on a public health issue before?).

As for me, I remain convinced that CWF is legally and ethically unjustifiable. My article sets forth my reasons, so I won’t repeat those arguments here. These reasons would remain even if compulsory water fluoridation were proven to be entirely safe, which it most definitely has not, despite the presumed “majority” view in the English speaking countries. You will also find many of my reasons articulated by dissenting justices in fluoridation cases over the last 60+ years, when presumably even less “science” was available to support their nevertheless valid legal/ethical objections to CWF. I include some of these cases and dissenting opinions in my article.

Daniel, I thank you for your (heretofore) civilized exchange with me and I do welcome your thoughts if you have any on the legal and ethical justifications of CWF. After this exchange, however, I am only interested in a private discussion with you, which is something you may not be interested in as it may not advance your organization’s agenda. However, your facebook posting has generated some contact to me by a few rude (and seemingly unbalanced) pro-fluoridation folks, and I have no interest in entertaining their rants (which certainly do nothing but convince me that the pro-fluoridation side has something to hide). In any event, I do thank you for reaching out and for your interest in my article. I hope to ensure that my final draft will address any legitimate criticisms/issues.

Daniel Ryan’s response to Rita’s reply will be posted tomorrow. See Fluoride debate: Second response to Rita Barnett-Rose – Daniel Ryan.

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