Category Archives: New Zealand

June ’15 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

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Big problems with Sitemeter

The problems with SiteMeter are even worse this month. No data could be obtained for about 50 blogs using SiteMeter. People have also reported strange results. So if you wish to query the information in the table I suggest you check out the data in the SiteMeter pages.

If you are using SiteMeter, and especially if you find you page isn’t included this month, I suggest you consider transferring to a more reliable counter like StatCounter. Have a look at the NZ Blog Rankings FAQs if you need help with this.


There are now over 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake, or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters. Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for June 2015. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers. Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email Find out how to get Subscription & email updates Continue reading

New science bloggers wanted for Sciblogs 2.0

Sciblogs 2.0 coming soon

After nearly six years in operation, Australasia’s largest blog network is getting a facelift and some fresh voices.


Sciblogs features commentary from around 30 scientists and science writers and is consistently ranked among the country’s top 10 blogs based on Sitemeter statistics.

But the platform is well overdue for a revamp and will soon be relaunched with a new look, new additions to the blogging line-up and a remit of appealing to a wider audience.

Among the changes will be:

  • A more visual look and refreshed blog homepages
  • Mobile-friendly design so Sciblogs looks good on smartphones and tablets
  • Some new bloggers covering everything from drones to psychology
  • News content drawing from sources such as our new Scimex.org research news portal.



Become a Scibling

We are on the lookout for new science bloggers to join our lively stable of bloggers and as well as writers, videographers and social media gurus who are passionate about science communication and who are keen to collaborate on Sciblogs.

“The likes of Iflscience, Science Alert and the science blog networks of Scientific American and Scienceblogs shows there’s strong appetite for science news and commentary,” said Sciblogs editor and SMC Director, Peter Griffin.

“We want to grow the Sciblogs community featuring the best, most interesting science from New Zealand and around the world. We’ll improve our mobile and social media presence so Sciblogs content is easier to browse and share.”

The new Sciblogs will go live by the end of August – contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin if you would like to get involved.

Gagging of scientists – a common problem?

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A recent NZ Association of Scientists survey indicates that 40% of NZ scientists report they feel gagged from communicating their scientific findings to the public. Management policies and funding problems were blamed and there are issues around “embarrassing the government.”

The Science and Innovation Minister, Stephen Joyce, is not convinced by the survey results but is unwilling to accept there is a problem without  “a heck of a lot more evidence than we’ve got from one write-in survey.” (See Call for closer look at scientists’ claims | Radio New Zealand News.)  You can be sure he won’t go out of his way to look for such evidence.

Wider than direct censorship

Despite Joyce’s attempts to “turn a blind eye,” I think there is a problem and can certainly remember examples from my time working in a Crown Research Institute (these problems may not be as bad in the Universities). But the problem is wider than direct censorship – limiting publication because of commercial sensitivity, protection of intellectual property,  fear of scaring away or offending potential funders and succumbing to legal action – or just threats of legal action – from commercial interests.

There is also the gagging effect arising from the institutional culture, the attitudes and perceived interests of management bureaucracy, the old-boy network (which these days incorporates people from the commercial  sectors as well as the government and political system). I experienced an example of the old-boy network when a National MP attempted to get my director to “discipline” me because I had made a public statement on nuclear disarmament! I am sure this sort of “behind the scenes” pressure is exerted all the time on research institute managements by commercial and political figures. And how often do management figures consider the interests of freedom of expression and information, or the responsibility of science to communicate with the public, when subjected to such pressure with its implied threats to the funding or “name” of the institute?  Or to the career of the management figure themselves?

Wider than one’s own research

The issues, for and against, may be fairly clear when the findings being gagged are the research results of the scientists themselves. But scientists do have the responsibility to speak up about science itself, and about general findings which may not be directly linked to the narrow field of specialisation of the scientist concerned.

This is especially true today when so much pseudoscience and outright distortion of science is promoted in the public sphere. Very often the promotion is done in the interests of business so managements may feel the need to prevent staff from fulfilling such responsibilities so as to avoid commercial pressures on the institute.

A common example is the scientific misinformation peddled by the “natural”/alternative health industry, which today is a big and profitable business – despite attempting to present itself as the “David” challenging the “Goliath” of “Big Pharma.”

Institutional management may pressure staff not to face up to their responsibility to fight this misinformation – especially if they believe there may be possibilities of research contracts from businesses within that industry. Maybe management will express this in relatively bland terms such as the need to protect the “name” and “reputation” of the institute. Or express the concept that the institute should not be seen to be “taking sides” as this undermines its credibility and appearance of objectivity.

Becoming a “street fighter” or abdicating scientific responsibility?

Then, of course, there is just the outright viciousness of some anti-science campaigners. Getting into public fights with some ideologically motivated activists can be like participating in a pub brawl. Responsible management cannot be happy about staff being seen as “street fighters.”

Management also has a responsibility not to expose their staff to danger. In New Zealand District Health Boards have tended not to take part in public meetings which are stacked with anti-fluoride activists – partly for the safety reason. And recent reports of attacks on health spokespersons and city council leaders, by anti-fluoride activists, show this is a reasonable concern (see  Lismore mayor assaulted in broad daylight by fluoride-hater, and Beware the violent antis – Lismore Mayor physically assaulted).

33618It is a complex issue. On the one hand engagement with those who are misrepresenting science can sometimes end up like fighting a pig – one’s opponent is so slimy they can escape from any rational debate and the expert ends up just a dirty as the pig in the end. In the other hand not to take part in the public debate  results in the abdication of our scientific responsibilities and handing over the public issue to those who promote misinformation and pseudoscience. (In NZ anti-fluoride propagandists are continually claiming  the refusal of district health boards to front up to their meetings as evidence that science does not support fluoridation!)

Social media

Social media can be just as nasty to pro-science people who attempt to challenge misrepresentation and pseudoscience (have a look at the abuse rendered by the Australian anti-fluoride propagandist Dan Germouse here). There is little point in engaging extremists on social media – unless one is sure there are other readers, or “lurkers,” who may learn something from the exchange.

But one thing is sure, advocates of science do not use social media as often or as effectively as they should. Studies do show that pseudoscientific groups and those peddling scientific misinformation tend to dominate social media like Facebook and Twitter. Social media can be effective in creating opinions – and anyway it is a popular forum which we ignore at our peril.  Scientists need to find ways to effectively take part in social media – if we don’t we are abdicating our responsibility to society to defend science and oppose misinformation.

Conclusion

Gagging of scientists is much wider than the few cases where publication of individual research findings is restricted.Unfortunately institutional culture, its conservatism, authoritarianism and bureaucracy, inhibit the freedom of scientists to take part in the public debate around scientific issues. They inhibit participation in social media where much of the public debate occurs (see Science and social media in new Zealand). Institutional culture can therefore restrict a scientist’s ability to fulfill his or her responsibility to communicate science to the public and to oppose widespread misinformation and pseudoscience.

Similar articles

 

May ’15 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

There are now over 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake, or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters.

Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for May 2015. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings

Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email

Find out how to get Subscription & email updates

Continue reading

RSNZ Science Book Prize winner – Tangata Whenua

Tangata Whenua: an Illustrated History won the Royal Society of NZ Science 2015 book prize. It is written by Atholl Anderson, the late Dame Judith Binney and Aroha Harris and published by Bridget Williams Books. The book charts the sweep of Māori history from ancient origins through to the twenty-first century.

In announcing this result on Friday Dr Andrew Cleland, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of New Zealand, noted that Tangata Whenua incorporates research from a range of disciplines from the sciences, including social science, and the humanities, which mirrors the breadth of scholarship supported by the Society.

In addition to being a history, the book is based on research on genetics and climate science as well as:

  • archaeology (the study of past human activity through material left behind by human populations)
  • anthropology (study of human society)
  • ethnography (study of culture)
  • paleoecology (study of past ecosystems or environments, reconstructed from fossils).

The other books shortlisted for the 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Book Prize were:

  • The Wandering Mind by Michael Corballis (Auckland University Press)
  • Gathering Evidence by Caoilinn Hughes (Victoria University Press)
  • Dolphins of Aotearoa: Living with New Zealand Dolphins by Raewyn Peart (Craig Potton Publishing)
  • Manuka: the Biography of an Extraordinary Honey by Cliff Van Eaton (Exisle Publishing)

You can buy your own copy from Whitcoulls for $99.99.

See also:

New Zealand science book prize – 2015 Short list
The Long Journey to Aotearoa – Veronika Meduna, Radio NZ, talks to Atholl Anderson

What a nice idea

pc-150509-immortal-regiment-jsw-03_4dd6a50cf7f3448b58856367221051d8.nbcnews-ux-1440-900

Click to enlarge – Moscow Celebration of Victory day.
Image Credit:
 NBC News

The recent commemorations of ANZAC Day (in New Zealand), Victory day (Internationally) and Mothers’ day got me thinking about how we mark these events. Thinking spurred on by a family discussion precipitated by a difference of opinion about the Victory day Celebrations (or the reporting of them) in Moscow.

Firstly – Mothers’ day. I was struck by Facebook entries some of my relatives made dedicated to their mothers. The sincere expression of love and respect for, and thanks to, their Mothers. Quite moving but really lovely to see the expressions of gratitude to parents.

ANZAC Day is a notable day in New Zealand. In my youth, many people felt bad about it because of its glorification of war and support of a bad war in Indo-China. Being of “call-up” age at the time my pacifist tendencies (and support for the Vietnamese) meant I rejected what ANZAC Day seemed to stand for then.

But more recently ANZAC Day celebrations in New Zealand have come to recognise the horrors of war, to oppose militarism and to be a time when we remember the sacrifices of our relatives who died in wars. It has come to be more concentrated on the losses at Gallipoli in the First World war (the event which initially launched ANZAC day).

There was very little here marking the Victory Day Celebrations commemorating the end of the war in Europe on 8/9 May, 1945. And local reporting of overseas commemoration events was no better. A pity, as many New Zealanders did fight and die in Europe – and for a much better reason than some other wars we have fought in.

Personalising the commemorations

The media sometimes makes a big thing of the Military Parade in Moscow’s celebration of Victory Day – and I must admit military parades don’t appeal to me. But, unfortunately, our media often ignores the mass participation in Victory Day Celebrations. The photograph at the head of this post is a shot from this year’s mass commemoration in Moscow (click to enlarge – it is worth it).

It is the nature of this mass participation which interested me.  It is sometimes called the parade of The immortal regiment. Here is how the US Rusky Mir Foundation, which reported on an immortal regiment march in New York, describes this mass participation:

“The Immortal Regiment (or Besmertny Polk) dates from 2012, when people in the Siberian city of Tomsk were debating how to keep the memory of World War II heroes alive even as the veterans themselves passed on. They asked people to create large posters with photos of their relatives who had served in the war, and carry them in Victory Day parades. This year, more than 800 cities will have a “Besmertny Polk” parade.”

That is the idea that appeals to me – the use of portraits of lost relatives in these commemorations. It personalises the celebration and expression of gratitude – in much the same way that Facebook posts on Mothers’ day do. And it figuratively enables our lost relatives to be seen participating in the events.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see more people bring along and display photos of their relatives in New Zealand’s ANZAC celebrations? That would help improve the personal and family aspects of the celebration and the display would surely be moving.

Here is some video footage of the Moscow parade – but there is a lot more around, much of it from other countries.

Similar articles

April ’15 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Social-Media_EmailImage credit: Hosting A Competition To Increase Blog Visits

There are now over 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake, or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters.

Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for April 2015. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings

Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email

Find out how to get Subscription & email updates

Continue reading

Commercial and ideological support of anti-fluoride activity

Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) promotes a list of “NZ Health Professionals who are calling for an end to fluoridation.” I am generally cynical about such endorsement lists, but the details in this list do give a picture of the commercial and ideological alignment of the FFNZ supporters and activists. So I did my own analysis, dividing the list into those described as “Science and Environmental PhD Professionals”, “NZ Dentists, “NZ Doctors” and Alternative health professionals (Chiropractors, naturopaths, Homeopaths, etc.).

Of course, this is approximate as, for example, some listed as doctors may have specialised in one or another alternative fields. The pie chart below shows the distribution of FFNZ supporters among these groups.

Clearly with such a large proportion of supporters coming from alternative health fields this above distribution is not representative of professionals in general, let alone health professionals. However, anyone who has looked at the anti-fluoride movement or debated with anti-fluoride activists would not be surprised as “natural”/alternative health arguments and sources are frequently used.

I wonder, though, to what extent local body councillors are aware of this commercial and ideological orientation when considering submissions they get on the fluoridation issue. I suspect they aren’t. Yet groups like FFNZ engineer these submissions from their supporters – often providing templates for individuals to sign – and usually dominate the submission process.

Personally I think this is a defect in our system of representative democracy – councils should actually insist on declarations of conflict of interest, details of employment and commercial interests from submitters. Their failure to do this explains how some local bodies, like the Hamilton City Council, have unwittingly been captured by ideological and commercial interests from the “natural”/alternative health industry during such submission processes.

Financial links

Declaration of conflicts of interest and details of employment, etc., may to some extent help identify big business interests financing this sort of submission in future. At the moment, we are largely left to speculate. However, there are financial data available showing the money trail involved in at least one anti-fluoride campaign – the High Court case against  the South Taranaki District Council aiming for a judicial review of a decision to fluoridate water supplies in Patea and Waverley (see Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).

This action was taken by New Health NZ – an incorporated body set up by the NZ Health Trust – In November 2013. Statements of financial performance of these two organisations are available online and show the following movements of large amounts of money during the year to March 2014. NZHT As the NZ health Trust is a lobby group for the “natural”/alternative health industry the grants it receives must come out of the profits of this industry which is actually a big business in New Zealand. Although the financial statements do not identify sources and recipients the $100,00 grant to New Health NZ clearly came from its parent body and is included in their declared $125,ooo grants and donations.

The $95,156 paid out by New Health NZ in professional and consulting fees would have covered the costs involved in their High Court action. So this is a clear example of pretty direct funding of anti-fluoride activity (the High Court action) by corporate interests – the “natural”/alternative health industry.

But none of the reporting of this High Court action identified the commercial interests involved. Readers were given the impression that New Health NZ was just another one of these anti-fluoride activist groups and possibly assumed funds for the legal action came from donations.

Again, this is a flaw in our representative democratic system. There should be more transparency of financial links. Corporate interests should not be able to hide behind astroturf organisations and the dishonesty that their actions are the result of concerned citizens and not the ideological and commercial interests of big business.

Similar articles

March ’15 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

BlogThere are now over 300 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters. (Let me know if I weed out yours by mistake, or get your stats wrong).

Every month I get queries from people wanting their own blog included. I encourage and am happy to respond to queries but have prepared a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) people can check out. Have a look at NZ Blog Rankings FAQ. This is particularly helpful to those wondering how to set up sitemeters.

Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats.

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for March 2015. Ranking is by visit numbers. I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks

Subscribe to NZ Blog Rankings

Subscribe to NZ blog rankings by Email

Find out how to get Subscription & email updates

Continue reading

Open letter to Lisa Hansen on NZ Fluoridation Review

Dear Lisa,

There are mistakes and misinterpretations of the scientific literature in your recent open letter to Sir Peter Gluckman and Sir David Skeggs. The letter also misrepresents the NZ Fluoridation Review (Eason et al., 2014) and the Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ) report criticising that review. It gives the latter report more credibility and status than it deserves.

I am responding with an open letter of my own because I think the mistakes and misrepresentations need correction. I hope you receive my critique with the respect for the scientific openness,  criticism and healthy discussion you assert in the last paragraph of your letter. That certainly describes my approach and in that light I offer you a right of reply on my blog to this open letter.

First I consider some aspects of the way you present the NZ Fluoridation Review and the FFNZ report.

Citing the NZ Fluoridation Review

You generally cite Health Effect of water fluoridation: A review of the scientific evidence (Easton et al., 2014) as  the “Gluckman/Skegg report.” I realise you did this because your clients, and particularly the Fluoride Free NZ activist group, have adopted that terminology. It is however disrespectful to the real authors of the review. Such reports are not usually attributed to the heads of institutes or organisations.

Nature of the NZ Fluoridation Review

You unfairly compare Easton et al., (2014) to other major reviews in terms of cost, time taken, processes and the publication period reviewed. You are simply citing the activist FFNZ report which set out to discredit the NZ Fluoridation Review in any way possible.

The Fluoridation Review describes its approach in this way:

“Several previous rigorous systematic reviews were used as the basis for this analysis, and literature searches in Medline, EMBASE, the Cochrane library database, Scopus, and Web of Science were undertaken to identify subsequent studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Alleged health effects from both the scientific and non-scientific literature were considered, and many original studies relating to these claims were re-analysed.” [My emphasis].

The Review’s purpose was not to duplicate the previous extensive reviews on this subject. It instead summarised them and reviewed later research. In other words the goals were simpler and less costly. (Costs were in any case determined by the local bodies which commissioned and, together with the Ministry of Health,  paid for the review.)

The FFNZ comparison is disingenuous.

The FFNZ Report.

You promote the inaccurate self-description of the FFNZ report (Scientific and Critical Analysis of the 2014 New Zealand Fluoridation Report) as “international peer reviewed.” That is the impression FFNZ attempts to convey  but it is dishonest – all the authors and “peer-reviewers” are connected with, or work for, Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network and similar activist organisations in the US or NZ. I illustrate some of the links in the figure below taken from the blog article The farce of a “sciency” anti-fluoride report.

I have provided an in-depth analysis and critique of the FFNZ report in a series of blog articles which are available in a single PDF document (Fluoridation is safe and effective: A critique of Fluoride Free NZ’s criticism of The NZ Fluoridation Review).

Now, the substantive issues you raise in your open letter.

Endemic fluorosis, community water fluoridation and IQ

Up front we must be clear about the situations behind the various scientific studies on the issue of fluoride and IQ.

So far, the only study  directly relevant to community water fluoridation (CWF) is that of Broadbent et al., (2014). This studied populations in the Dunedin region over a long time period. Notably you do not refer to this study, despite its extensive nature and relevance to the issue at hand. In  fact you seem unaware of the research as you claim in your letter that the “impact on IQ from water fluoridation at between 0.7 and 1 ppm” is “as yet unmeasured!”

The studies you do cite (mainly Choi et al., 2012) are from areas of higher fluoride consumption. Most of the studies were from areas of endemic fluorosis – mainly in China. This means that the findings cannot simply be transferred to areas like NZ.

Choi et al., (2012) are clear about the criteria used for choice of studies in their metareview. They say:

“We specifically targeted studies carried out in rural China that have not been widely disseminated, thus complementing the studies that have been included in previous reviews and risk assessment reports.”

And

“Opportunities for epidemiological studies depend on the existence of comparable population groups exposed to different levels of fluoride from drinking water. Such circumstances are difficult to find in many industrialized countries, because fluoride concentrations in community water are usually no higher than 1 mg/L, even when fluoride is added to water supplies as a public health measure to reduce tooth decay.”

This is why the Choi et al., (2012) meta review is not directly relevant to CWF.

Choi et al., (2012) not relevant to CWF.

I can illustrate the difference between that situations reviewed by Choi et al., (2012) and the New Zealand situation where CWF is common using dental fluorosis data from the recent paper of Choi et al., (2015),  Our Oral Health (2010) and Beltrán-aguilar & Barker (2010) (see Water fluoridation and dental fluorosis – debunking some myths).

There is very little severe or moderate dental fluorosis in NZ and USA. But it is very common in the area studied by Choi et al., (2015) which is probably typical of the areas reviewed by Choi et al., (2012) and the Indian paper you cite (Saxena et al., 2012). Unfortunately most of the studies reviewed by Choi et al., (2012) are of poor quality (see below) and do not include data for many possibly confounding factors like severe dental fluorosis, pesticide use, etc.).

So – clearly different situations.

The metareview of Choi et al (2012) was a metareview of studies from higher fluoride areas – not a metareview of studies from all areas, or studies from areas where CWF is common. Their review is not directly applicable to situations where CWF is considered, like NZ and USA.

The authors have stated this themselves:

“These results do not allow us to make any judgment regarding possible levels of risk at levels of exposure typical for water fluoridation in the U.S. On the other hand, neither can it be concluded that no risk is present.”

Note: I have suggested (Perrott 2015) that the small cognitive deficits report by the Choi et al., (2012) could be caused by severe dental fluorosis, and not directly caused by chemical toxicity. (I discuss this further below.) This is consistent with the results of Choi et al., (2015) who observed a significant relationship of cognitive deficits to severe/medium dental fluorosis but did not find a significant relationship with the fluoride concentration of the drinking water.

I believe researchers studying IQ effects in areas of endemic fluorosis should consider this hypothesis.

The “error” in the NZ Fluoridation Review

Your open letter concentrates mainly on an “error” in the NZ Fluoridation Review. This “error” was little more than a “typo,” occurred only in the executive summary (the body of the review reported the science correctly), and was corrected by the authors when brought to their attention. They also corrected at least one other error at the same time. I have discussed this in Did the Royal Society get it wrong about fluoridation?

Any publishing author is well acquainted with the problems of typos and similar errors. Despite the best proof-reading of drafts one inevitably finds some errors only after publication. (An example of Murphy’s Law, I guess.) This error has only become an issue because of the intention of activist organisations who wish to discredit the review.

It is worth noting that the Harvard University press release reporting the research concerned made exactly the same error and acknowledged and corrected it when pointed out. The current version now says:

“The average loss in IQ was reported as a standardized weighted mean difference of 0.45, which would be approximately equivalent to seven IQ points for commonly used IQ scores with a standard deviation of 15.*

** This sentence was updated on September 5, 2012.”

Yet, you, FFNZ and their associates do not criticise Harvard University!

Your mistaken description of error.

First, I will stress again that discussion of this “error” refers to the work of Choi et al., (2012) and areas where fluorosis is most likely endemic. That research does not deal with CWF or the situations where drinking water fluoride concentrations are that low.

The slide below, from a presentation made by Xiang (2014) at Paul Connett’s last conference in Washington, gives an idea of the situation in areas where these studies were made. Xiang is the author of several of the papers reviewed by Choi et al (2012) and commonly used by anti-fluoride activists in arguing against CWF.

This is clearly a different situation to New Zealand.

What did Choi et al (2012) actually report?

They report in their abstract “The standardized weighted mean difference in IQ score between exposed and reference populations was –0.45.” This is a standard deviation resulting from their analysis of 27 studies with different methods and quality of data. It is not a difference in IQ score.

This approach was necessary because the different studies reviewed had different IQ scales, different measurement methods and different levels of variation in the data. They standardised the differences by expressing them as a fraction of the standard deviation for each study. A mean value over all studies was determined, weighting the contribution from each study according to the precision of the IQ measurements.

Mistakenly, Harvard University and the NZ Review summary originally described this as an IQ score difference instead of SD. (Note – this mistake was not in the body of the NZ Fluoridation Review). In fact many readers were confused as the statistical process used by a Choi et al (2012) was not sufficiently well explained from a lay person’s viewpoint and they had to publish an extra explanation later (Choi et al., 2013).

Going from a standardised weighted mean difference value to a difference in IQ points.

Standard deviation is a function if variation in data so it is wrong to assume a value for all situations. It will be different for different sets of data.

The standardised weighted mean difference value of 0.45 has meaning because we know it represents less than half of one standard deviation so it indicates how it compares with measurement error. Many people have equated the difference of 0.45 to 7 IQ points. However, Choi et al., (2012)  did not report a difference of 7 you claim. This value came out of the explanation in Choi et al., (2013) in their response to a letter to the editor. They provided an example for a commonly used IQ scale normalised against a theoretical bell curve:

“For commonly used IQ scores with a mean of 100 and an SD of 15, 0.45 SDs is equivalent to 6.75 points (rounded to 7 points).”

This cannot simply be translated to any other IQ scale. For example these values would be inappropriate for the IQ scale used in Saxena et al., (2012)  study you refer to later in your letter.

The significance of the 0.45 standard deviation decrease in IQ points.

It is easy to throw around values of 7 and 15, as you do, but what is the significance of the result (for areas of endemic fluorosis – let’s not forget this study is not directly relevant to CWF). Choi et al., (2012) themselves warn that a decrease of 0.45 standard deviation “may seem small and may be within the measurement error of IQ testing.”

All this says is that many data sets, especially those with high variability, may not show a difference between children from high and low fluoride areas because the difference measured by Choi et al., (2012) is relatively small. In saying that I am not trying to deny any significance at all to their results. However, it is provisional and, as they say, it needs further confirmation. I think two points must be made here:

  1. The metareview was purposely biased towards studies from China and high fluorosis areas – many of which show endemic fluorosis. It is not directly relevant to the issue of CWF;
  2. The articles reviewed were in themselves mostly of poor quality, did not consider confounding factors and were often very brief (see figure). Not the fault of Choi et al., (2012) and hardly a surprising situation for the regions of interest, but this does help put the value of 0.45 standard deviation into context. It is, as yet, really only provisional.

Histogram showing size of the reports reviewed by Choi et al., (2012) from 

Your claim the Fluoridation Review misrepresented Choi et al (2012) in a specific quote.

Choi et al., (2012) themselves say:

“The estimated decrease in average IQ associated with fluoride exposure based on our analysis may seem small and may be within the measurement error of IQ resting.”

This is a valid assessment because the mean difference they observed amounted to only 0.45 of a standard deviation which can be related to measurement error.

The Review refers to this text (and quotes as section of it) as follows:

The authors themselves note the difference is so small that “it may be within the measure tn error of IQ testing.”

I really don’t see any misrepresentation there. The authors did note that the difference was small compared with measurement error.

In summary I reject your criticisms on this issue for these reasons:

  1. You have relied for claims on a metareview of studies from areas of endemic fluorosis. A study reviewing reports of mainly poor quality and which the authors had described as not relevant to areas using CWF.
  2. You misrepresent correction of the small mistake as a change in recognition of the science or a “misreading of the available evidence.” There was no change as the science was correctly reported in the body of the review – the mistake occurred only in the summary. Others have made similar  mistakes – including Harvard University in their press release.
  3. You repeatedly refer to an IQ point differences of 7 without at any time considering how significant this value is compared with the measurement errors.
  4. You imply that this issue was not thoroughly addressed, which is wrong as it was discussed in the body of the review. Correction of the mistake in the summary is all that was required.

But, I stress again, whatever the significance of the small IQ differences reported for areas with endemic fluorosis in these studies they are not relevant to areas like NZ where no IQ deficits have been reported for CWF. In fact, quite the opposite (Broadbent et al., 2014).

Claims of neglected evidence

You  express concern “relevant evidence” was neglected by the authors of the review.

You refer to 2 papers:

1: Cheng and Lynn (2013) and a study “(referred to by Cheng and Lynn).” However, you do not attempt to explain what this paper contributes. The journal (it is in Mankind Quarterly) is not one normally considered for publishing scientific papers and is extremely difficult to access. My reading of the paper indicates nothing new – in fact it is a repetition of the data from the Choi et al., (2012) paper (which I find strange as it doesn’t even cite that paper).

Why do you wish Mankind Quarterly to be cited? Published by the Ulster Institute for Social Research (and not a scientific body), Wikipedia describes it this way:

“It has been called a “cornerstone of the scientific racism establishment” and a “white supremacist journal”, “scientific racism’s keepers of the flame”, a journal with a “racist orientation” and an “infamous racist journal”, and “journal of ‘scientific racism'”.

2: The cross-sectional study by Saxena et al., (2012). I agree this wasn’t included – but then again it is not relevant to CWF. The study considered situations where drinking water F concentration was greater than 1.5 ppm.

Unfortunately the images you reproduce could give a misleading impression. The linear plot in your figure was actually for the relationship between urine F concentration and drinking water concentration.

The plot for intelligence grade does not look so impressive (see figure).

Saxena

Saxena et al., (2012 ) do show an increase in mean intelligence grade (corresponding to a decrease in IQ) for the increasing concentration ranges. (You should perhaps note your reference to a standard deviation of 15 in such studies is clearly irrelevant to this study). They admit to several limitations in their study. We can agree with their assertion there is a “need for a more careful evaluation of the effect of fluoride on intelligence.” But given the endemic fluorosis in the area they studied, and in the areas of the studies reviewed by Choi et al., (2012) and studied by Choi et al., (2015) I suggest this is only relevant to such areas. I stress –  no such IQ differences were observed in areas where CWF is used (Broadbent et al., 2014).

I am aware of a number of other studies reporting cognitive deficits in areas of endemic fluorosis – suggesting IQ may well be a topical area of research in such areas. The NZ Fluoridation Review may not have cited these – precisely because they are not relevant to our situation.

However, I will reproduce some data from one of them (Sudhir et al., 2009) because it is directly relevant to the next topic. These authors did see increasing cognitive deficits with increasing concentration of F in drinking water. But they also saw a strong relationship between cognitive deficit and severe dental fluorosis (see figure below).

Sudhir

In this study IQ grade 5 is “intellectually impaired” and grade 3 is “intellectually average.”

Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits

I stressed at the beginning of this letter that these IQ studies have all (except for Broadbent et al., 2014) concentrated on areas of endemic fluorosis. Children in these areas show high incidence of severe dental fluorosis and this is quite different to New Zealand (see the second figure in this letter). It is also noteworthy that Choi et al., (2015) chose to extend their work in an area of endemic fluorosis (in a Chinese village) and not an area of the USA where CWF is common. Maybe they recognise this is a problem for areas of endemic fluorosis and not for areas using CWF.

Unfortunately researchers like Choi et al., (2015) have limited their working hypothesis only to chemical toxicity. But, dental defects are known to cause decreased quality of life and this could be translated into learning difficulties and reduced IQ scores. In a recent article I suggested these researchers widen their considerations to including the hypothesis that severe dental fluorosis, in itself, could be a cause of cognitive deficits simply because of the effect of physical anomalies and appearance on IQ (see Perrott 2015).

This is, after all, consistent with their findings that cognitive deficits were significantly related to incidence of severe/medium dental fluorosis but not to the F concentration in the drinking water.

Other oral defects like bad dental decay are also known to cause a reduced quality of life and may lead to learning problems and cognitive deficits. While severe dental fluorosis is a problem in  areas of endemic fluorosis it is not here. I suggest you worry more about possible IQ effects of tooth decay than any due to fluoride in our drinking water.

You are just scaremongering with your flight of fancy suggesting that “institutionalizing the additional proportion of the population due to mental deficiency” should be considered as a cost against CWF. One could more sensibly say that in NZ the quality of life and possible cognitive deficits arising from dental decay should be considered as a cost against opposition to CWF.

Conclusion

Your letter is part of an ongoing campaign by New Zealand anti-fluoridation activists like FFNZ and New Health NZ to discredit the NZ Fluoridation Review. New Health NZ is part of the NZ Health Trust, a well-funded lobby group for the “natural”/alternative health industry in New Zealand. It campaigns on issues like fluoridation, vaccinations and “chemtrails” (see Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).

On the surface your complaint about the mistake in the summary of the NZ Fluoridation review is at least churlish. Especially as it was corrected when brought to the authors’ attention and there was no mistake in the body of the review. Despite the same mistake in the original version of Harvard University’s press release on the research neither you nor your colleagues in the NZ anti-fluoride movement have complained to Harvard University.

One would have though the correction of the mistake would have pulled the rug out from under the anti-fluoridation critics but you have unjustly tried to use the original mistake to argue that the authors of the NZ Fluoridation Review misunderstood or misrepresented the science. In fact, the misrepresentation comes from you and your anti-fluoridation colleagues as the study you seem to pin all your arguments on was made in areas of endemic fluorosis,  (mainly in China) and has no direct relevance to New Zealand CWF.

New Zealand health professionals and members of local bodies should see your complaint for what it is – part of the ongoing activist campaign against CWF. These decision makers are justified in the confidence they have in the NZ Fluoridation Review.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Ken Perrott

References

Beltrán-aguilar, E. D., & Barker, L. (2010). Prevalence and Severity of Dental Fluorosis in the United States , 1999 – 2004 (pp. 1999–2004).

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2014). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 72–76.

Cheng, H., & Lynn, R. (2013). The adverse effect of fluoride on Children’s intelligence: A systematic review. Mankind Quarterly, 53, 306–347.

Choi, A. L., Sun, G., Zhang, Y., & Grandjean, P. (2012). Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(10), 1362–1368.

Choi, A. L., Grandjean, P., Sun, G., & Zhang, Y. (2013). Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: Choi et al. Respond. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(3), A70.

Choi, A. L., Zhang, Y., Sun, G., Bellinger, D., Wang, K., Yang, X. J., … Grandjean, P. (2015). Association of lifetime exposure to fluoride and cognitive functions in Chinese children: A pilot study. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 47, 96–101.

Eason, C., & Elwood, JM. Seymour, Thomson, WM. Wilson, N. Prendergast, K. (2014). Health effects of water fluoridation : A review of the scientific evidence (p. 74).

Fluoride Free New Zealand. (2014). Scientific and Critical Analysis of the 2014 New Zealand Fluoridation Report

Hansen, L. (2015). An open letter to the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and to the President of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Ministry of Health. (2010). Our Oral Health Key findings of the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey. Wellington, Ministry of Health.

Perrott, K. W. (2015). Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits. Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

Saxena, S., Sahay, A., & Goel, P. (2012). Effect of fluoride exposure on the intelligence of school children in Madhya Pradesh, India. Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, 3(2), 144–9.

Sudhir, K. M., Chandu, G. N., Prashant, G. M., & Reddy, V. V. S. (2009). Effect of fluoride exposure on Intelligence Quotient ( IQ ) among 13-15 year old school children of known endemic area of fluorosis , Nalgonda District , Andhra Pradesh . JOURNAL OF THE INDIAN ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC HEALTH DENTISTRY, 2009(13), 88–94.

Xiang, Q. (2014) Fluoride and IQ research in ChinaKeynote Address at FAN’s 5th Citizens’ Conference on Fluoride.