Category Archives: New Zealand

Water fluoridation – what to expect in the near future

drinking-water-glass-wiki

Community water fluoridation (CWF) will persist in science news for the foreseeable future – not for any valid scientific reason but because of reaction to political pressures against it. This is particularly so in New Zealand where our parliament will be discussing legislative changes to fluoridation decision-making this year.

This is not to say that all the relevant news will be political. There is still ongoing research into the efficacy, cost-effectiveness and possible health effects of fluoridation. Although much of this is a response to pressure from opponents of this social health policy.

So what scientific and political news about CWF should we expect to see in the coming years?

The legislation

In the immediate future, this will be dominated by the new parliamentary legislation [Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill– at least in New Zealand. However, US anti-fluoride campaigners are following this legislation very closely, and will probably become involved in submission on it, so I expect this will also get coverage internationally. At least in the alternative health media which has stong links to the US anti-fluoride activist organisation, Fluoride Action Network (FAN), and which routinely carry their press releases.

The NZ Parliamentary Health Committee is currently taking written submissions on the fluoridation bill. The deadline for these is February 2. Readers interested in making their own submission can find some information on the submission process in my article Fluoridation: members of parliament call for submissions from scientific and health experts.

The bill itself simply transfers the decision-making process for fluoridation from local councils to District Health Boards. But most submissions will inevitably be about the science and not the proposed changes to decision-making – and, considering the promise of the local anti-fluoride group to shower the committee with “thousands and thousands of submissions,” will misrepresent that science. I will be interested to see what allowance the committee chairman makes for such irrelevant submissions when it comes to the public hearings, which could begin as early as February.

The bill has support from all the parliamentary parties, except the small NZ First which apparently wants councils to keep responsibility for fluoridation decisions, but wants to make binding referendums obligatory. So, I predict the bill will be passed this year. However, there will probably be attempts at the committee stages to amend it to transfer decision-making to central government, probably the Ministry of Health. Such an amendment appears to be supported by the Labour Party, but not by the National Party.

The “IQ problem” – a current campaign

There will be some news about research on the question of possible cognitive effects of fluoride in drinking water in the next few years. Not because there is any concern about this among health professionals. But because the claim that fluoride causes a drop in IQ is pushed very strongly by anti-fluoride activists. While they have a long list of claimed negative health effects of fluoridation the IQ claim is currently central to their political campaigns.

The campaigners claim scientific support for this claim. But that support comes mainly from a number of poor quality papers outlining research results from areas of endemic fluorosis (where drinking water concentrations of fluoride are much higher than the optimum levels used for CWF), mainly in China. FAN has a lot invested in this claim because it financed the translation of many of these otherwise obscure papers into English.There is general agreement among health specialists that these studies are not relevant to CWF. Investigation of areas where CWF is used, and where natural fluoride levels are similar to those used in CWF have not shown any neurological effects due to fluoride.

There is general agreement among health specialists that these studies are not relevant to CWF. Investigation of areas where CWF is used, and where natural fluoride levels are similar to those used in CWF have not shown any neurological effects due to fluoride.

However, FAN is strongly pushing the idea that cognitive effects of fluoride (rather than very mild dental fluorosis) should be the main criteria used in determining the recommended maximum levels of fluoride in drinking water. They currently have a petition in front of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promoting this claim. This may make the news in the near future as the EPA must respond this month and the likely rejection of the petition will no doubt cause a flurry of press releases.

Paul Connett, who with other members of his family runs FAN, has also attempted to use the scientific publication path to promote this claim. His arguments and calculations defining an extremely low maximum concentration, are very naive and his draft paper has already been rejected by journals several times. However, he no doubt lives in hope for its eventual acceptance somewhere. If he is successful this will be trumpeted to the high heavens by his supporters because while they describe Paul Connett as the international authority of water fluoridation he actually has no proper scientific publications in that area.

Research on neurological effects

We expect some research publications in the next year or so from the current US National Toxicity Program research on claims that fluoride at the concentrations used in drinking water fluoridation could have neurological effects. This research is basically a systematic review – according to the proposal:

an “evaluation of the published literature to determine whether exposure to fluoride is associated with effects on neurodevelopment, specifically learning, memory, and cognition.”

The motivation for this work, apart from the political pressure arising from activist claims, is to attempt to evaluate possible effects at concentration relevant to CWF. (Most published animal and human studies have involved higher concentrations). As the proposal says:

“Previous evaluations have found support for an association between fluoride exposure and impaired cognition; however, many of the studies included exposure to high levels of fluoride. Most of the human evidence was from fluoride-endemic regions having high background levels of fluoride, and the animal studies typically included exposure during development to relatively high concentrations of fluoride (>10 mg/L) in drinking water. Thus, the existing literature is limited in its ability to evaluate potential neurocognitive effects of fluoride in people associated with the current U.S. Public Health Service drinking water guidance (0.7 mg/L).”

I discuss the background to the US National Toxicity Program fluoride research in my article Fluoride and IQ – another study coming up.

Canadian Professor Christine Till will soon start a study looking at cognitive and behavioral factors using a data set for pregnant women exposed to contaminants. She intends to investigate the possibility of relationships with markers for fluoride consumption (see ). Anti-fluoride campaigners hold out great hope for results from this study because Till’s previous research is widely used by them to claim that fluoridation causes increased prevalence of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, that research was flawed because potential confounders were not considered properly. In fact, her reported statistically significant correlations disappears when the confounders are included (see  ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridation).

Problems in areas of endemic fluorosis

Health effects including cognitive deficits: The World Health Organisation recommends that drinking water fluoride concentrations should not be higher than 1.5 mg/L because of negative health effects of high concentrations. Many areas of the world do have high drinking water fluoride concentrations and those areas suffer from endemic fluorosis – dental and skeletal fluorosis. This is, of course, a serious problem and there is a continuous stream of research papers devoted to these areas.

This research is not relevant to CWF (where the optimum concentration of 0.7 mg/L or similar levels is used). But, of course, anti-fluoride campaigners will continue to cite these papers as “evidence” against CWF. We may even see an expert on endemic fluorosis being toured in New Zealand to provide scientific credibility to the anti-fluoride campaign. Dr. Ak.K. Susheela, who works on endemic fluorosis in India and has links with FAN, has been speaking at meetings organised by the anti-fluoride movement in North America and has been suggested as a speaker the local anti-fluoride campaigners should bring to New Zealand.

I expect there will be more papers reporting IQ deficits in areas of endemic fluorosis and these will most probably continue to use a chemical toxicity model to explain their results. I personally am interested in the possibility of researchers considering other models, such as the psychological effects of dental and physical deformities like dental and skeletal fluorosis (see Perrott et al. 2015. Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits). Unlikely, considering how research can get locked into pet paradigms, but one can but hope.

Defluoridation: Another big issue in areas of endemic fluorosis is the need to lower drinking water fluoride concentrations. This if often done by finding alternative sources but there is continuing research on treatment methods to do this.

Again, not relevant to CWF – but I do follow this research and find some of it interesting chemically. Perhaps it reminds me of my own research many years ago.

Conclusions

The controversy around CWF is not going to go away. The opposition is strongly grounded in the “natural”/alternative health industry. It has plenty of financial and ideological resources and its message appeals to a significant minority of the population.

Most of the public interest this year will relate to the new legislation – expect plenty of press releases from the anti-fluoride groups as they organise to make and advertise their submissions, and express their anger at the probably inevitable decision that will go against them.

However, there will be a continuing dribble of research reports of relevance to CWF and to the claims advanced by anti-fluoride campaigners. While it is normal for a social health policy to be continually monitored and its literature reviewed, some of this research is a direct result of concerns raised by campaigners and activists.

Many in the scientific community find this sort of political activity annoying. But it does have its up side. CWF has been one of the most hotly contested social health programmes. Consequently is has received more than its fair share of literature reviews and new research.

And that is a good thing. Anti-fluoride activists often claim there is little research on the health effects of CWF. But that is just not true. Ironically it is the very political activity of such campaigners which has led to CWF being one of the most thoroughly researched social health policy.

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Anti-fluoride IQ claims are false

false-claims
Anti-fluoridation campaigners’ claims that community water fluoridation reduces IQ are simply false. That is the conclusion of  Alex Kasprak – and he says why in his new Snopes.com article (see Fact Check -Fluor-IQ).

These days anti-fluoridation activists use this claim as their main argument – and they often cite scientific articles to back it up. But, Kasprak says, this claim  is based on “either willful or negligent misreading of actual science.” The claim that  studies have “linked” fluoride to reduced intelligence “is a textbook-ready case of bait-and-switch:”

” the topic has surreptitiously been shifted from the act of water fluoridation as a public health measure to the broader concept of fluoride toxicity in children. Many otherwise benign chemicals can also be harmful in high concentrations. Thiocyanate, a chemical found in kale, may kill you at high doses, for example.”

Scale and context

Kasprak critiques the way anti-fluoride campaigners so often use and cite the Choi et al., (2012) study. This was a meta-analysis of 27 mostly poor quality Chinese studies from areas of endemic fluorosis where drinking water fluoride levels are much higher than that used in community water fluoridation.

Citing neuroscientist Steven Novella Kasprak points out:

“There was a lot of variability across the studies, but generally the high fluoride groups were in the 2-10 mg/L range, while the reference low fluoride groups were in the 0.5-1.0 mg/L range […]”

In other words – fluoridated water in the US has the same level of fluoride as the control or low fluoride groups in the China studies reviewed in the recent article, and the negative association with IQ was only found where fluoride levels were much higher – generally above EPA limits.

Note: The optimum level of fluoridated water in the US is 0.7 mg/L.

Anti-fluoride campaigners sometimes concentrate on those studies in the meta-review which did focus on concentrations close to that considered optimum. But:

“Of those eight studies, half of them co-investigated fluoride and iodine together (Lin et al 1991, Xu et al 1994, Yang et al 1994, Hong et al 2001) making it hard or in some cases impossible to separate out the combined effects, and two of those four studies reached conclusions that are counter to the hypothesis that fluoridation levels alone are the main driver of a lower IQ.”

And:

“Two of those eight studies use a control group with fluoride values that are literally the same or higher than the target range of fluoridation efforts in the United States (Xu et al 1994, Hong et al 2001), seemingly ceding the point that those levels do not affect children’s IQ.”

So, as far as scale is concerned, Kasprak concludes:

“Collectively, this demonstrates that most of the IQ variance presented in the Harvard study still stems from exposures to extremely high levels of fluoride that would already be considered dangerous in the US, and those studies finding effects on a smaller scale are not sufficient to demonstrate the effects those groups opposed to fluoridation claim they demonstrate.”

As far as context is concerned none of these 27 studies were relevant to community water fluoridation:

“Literally none of the studies involved tested populations of individuals exposed to drinking water that was artificially supplemented with fluoride as a public health measure. Instead, all of the studies come from China or Iran, both of which have areas of naturally occurring (endemic) high fluoride pockets of groundwater.

That means that studies utilized in its analysis are wholly irrelevant to the question that advocates claim they are answering. This is significant, as the use of these very specific studies introduces a veritable Homerian epic of confounding details, some of which came up in our analysis of the eight low-level fluoride studies discussed above. Among the most pressing of these are a lack of information on other confounding variables and the quality of the studies they utilized. These issues are noted by the authors of the Harvard study themselves”

The authors of the Choi et al (2012) meta-review also:

“explicitly state that the results cannot be used to estimate the possible limits of fluoride exposure with respect to developmental damage, due to lack of data – ‘Our review cannot be used to derive an exposure limit, because the actual exposures of the individual children are not known.'”

Other mechanisms

Kasprek disagrees with the unsubstantiated claim of Choi et al., (2012) that other neurotoxicants are unlikely to be present in the groundwater of the studied areas. Rightly so because all those studies suffer from insufficient consideration of confounding factors. As Choi et al., (2012) said: “Most reports were fairly brief and complete information on covariates was not available.” 

In fact, statistical analysis of the data in one of the better papers the anti-fluoride campaigners rely on shows that fluoride can explain only about 3% of the measured variance in IQ. It is extremely likely that inclusion of sensible confounders in the statistical analysis would have shown any relationship of IQ with fluoride is not statistically signficant (see Connett misrepresents the fluoride and IQ data yet again).

Kasprek briefly considered arsenic as a possible confounder but with subjects like cognitive ability or IQ there are many other physical and social factors that could be imnportant.contaminants. Parental income and education as well as the psychological consequences of deformities resulting from dental and skeletal fluorosis. I discussed this last aspect in my peer-reviewed article Perrott (2015), Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits and my post- Severe dental fluorosis the real cause of IQ deficits?

Fallacy of publication journal

I think Kasprek’s argument about the journal used for publishing some of these papers is fallacious:”

“Finally, four of these eight papers (Yang et al 1994, Lu et al 2000, Hong et al 2001, Xiang et al 2003a) are either published (or republished) in the allegedly peer-reviewed journal Fluoride, a publication of the “International Society for Fluoride Research Inc.” — an anti-fluoridation group whose editor-in-chief is a psychiatrist in private practice, with no academic background on the topic of fluoride toxicity.”

I am very much opposed to using the place of publication as an argument against the scientific veracity of a paper. True, Fluoride is a very poor quality journal. True, is has an ant-fluoride agenda. And true, it shows no evidence of proper peer review. However, it is disingenuous to use these facts to argue against the scientific content of these papers. Critique of the papers should rest on an analysis of their scientific content – not the place of publication.

This lazy approach is doubly worse because it carries the implication that if these papers had been published in a reputable journal with good peer review then that would be sufficient to guarantee the veracity of the science. It is not.

On the fluoride issue, there are plenty of examples of papers involving poor science that are published in reputable journals. I have discussed some of these in my articles – for example ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridationAnti-fluoride hypothyroidism paper slammed yet againPoor peer review – and its consequencesDoes community water fluoridation reduce diabetes prevalence?, The Harvard study and the Lancet paperControversial IQ study hammered in The Lancet and Repeating bad science on fluoride.

The lazy judgmentalism based on place of publication, and not content, is particularly relevant at the moment with the public concern about “false news” and efforts to introduce mechanisms of “fact checking.” Some people are advocating reliance on websites like Snopes.com – yet this site can be blatantly biased on political matters. And its bias can rest on the lazy approach of condemning a news article by its place of publication.

[A recent example was a Snopes.com article which cast aspersions on an independent journalist, Eva Bartlett, because – “She is also a contributor at RT, a news site funded by the Russian government.” OK, you may not see how lazy that argument is but try replacing the words RT and Russian by “Al Jazeera” and Qatar” or “BBC” and “British.” And, I also think describing the fact that Bartlett had been interviewed by an RT reporter, and participated in a debate aired by RT, as being a “contributor” shows a bias]

The good science

Despite delving into the details of the poor quality papers the anti-fluoride IQ argument relies on Kasprak is quite right to stress:

“This should not function as a distraction from the larger point that studying naturally occurring pockets of high fluoride and the assessing the risks of supplementing public drinking water in an effort to have it reach a concentration of 0.7 mg/L are two completely different beasts.”

So, my other criticism of Kasprak’s article is that he could have said more about the studies which are relevant to community water fluoridation.  He does briefly refer to the New Zealand study of Broadbent et al (2014) in a quote from  Ireland’s Health Research Board:

“There was only one study carried out in a non-endemic or CWF [community water fluoridation] area that examined fluoride and IQ. This was a prospective cohort study (whose design is appropriate to infer causality) in New Zealand. The study concluded that there was no evidence of a detrimental effect on IQ as a result of exposure to CWF.”

However, he missed the 2016 study of  Aggeborn & Öhman (perhaps it was too recent for him) which I discussed in my article Large Swedish study finds no effect of fluoride on IQ. The results of this study were so precise and the sample numbers used are so large it should be seriously considered by anyone looking at this issue.

Conclusion

Kasprak’s article is useful in exposing the false claim of activists that fluoride lowers IQ – especially when used in arguments against community water fluoridation. But he could have said more – and he could have avoided the fallacious argument based on place of publication which is so easily reversed to support poor quality science in reputable journals.

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December ’16 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

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Image Credit: Happy New year Images

There are about 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 December 2016. 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

Fluoridation: members of parliament call from submissions from scientific and health experts

The new community water fluoridation legislation is now on the way in the New Zealand parliament. The Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill was introduced on Tuesday and the parliamentary health committee has invited submissions.

It’s worth watching the videos of the twelve speakers in the first reading. These give an idea of how the legislation will be received by the different political parties. They also give an impression that members of our parliament are well aware of the tactics of the anti-fluoride pressure groups – they fully expect to be inundated with irrelevant and pseudoscientific submissions. But they are also aware that the science currently finds community water fluoridation to be both effective and safe.

After watching the debate these are my initial conclusions:

  1. The bill has almost unanimous support. Only New Zealand First voted against it.
  2. Many of the speakers see the legislation as only a little better than the current situation. The describe it as a half-way house – kicking the can down the road. District Health Boards (DHBs) will be subjected to the same uninformed or misleading pressure that the councils are at present. The government should have gone the whole hog and handed over responsibility for fluoridation decision to the Ministry of Health.
  3. All the speakers declared their support for the science that shows community water fluoridation effective and safe. Most showed they are aware of, and accept, the New Zealand Fluoridation review commissioned by the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.
  4. None of the speakers showed any support for the arguments or activities of anti-fluoridation campaigners. In fact, there were many derogatory comments made about tin foil hats, etc.
  5. New Zealand First is opposed because they prefer that communities make fluoridation decisions by referenda and are calling for these referenda to be binding. They criticised those councils like Whakatane and Hamilton that had ignored the wishes of the community.

Health Committee calling for submissions

The Parliamentary health select committee has called for submissions on the bill. Written submission will be accepted until February 2, 2017.

Information on making a submission is available on the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill website. And you can make your submissions online.

You can also give notice that you wish to make an oral submission to the Health Committee.

Possible issues of contention

From what speakers in the debate had to say I do not think the anti-fluoride lobby will get much sympathy. MPs are expecting the usual deluge of submissions from them but know from experience how worthless they will be.

However, several MPs stressed they did welcome submissions and particularly encouraged submissions from scientific and health experts. The Royal Society of NZ and the Prime Minster’s Chief Scientific advisor may be specifically invited to make submissions.

The bill is not really about the science, however, and MPs expect that the real content – the processes for making fluoridation decisions and the body responsible for these, should be thoroughly discussed.

I expect there will be a strong push to strengthen the bill by moving responsibility to central government, the Ministry of Health, as MPs still see problems with DHB responsibility.

The issue of community consultation should also come up – particularly as New Zealand First is promoting the idea of binding referenda in communities. As it stands the bill does not define how consultation should occur so this may well be made more specific.

The Green Party seems keen to introduce mechanisms for better informing of the public about the science behind fluoridation. They are conscious that the anti-fluoride groups are fear-mongering on this issue and feel that this can be countered by better information. If this is discussed in depth in the hearings there may well be some interest in defining more specifically how government updates its understanding of the research on fluoridation and how they disseminate new research results to the public.

A role for you, the reader

Well, the process is underway. If you have views or concerns on the bill or on the decision processes involved with fluoridation now is the time to put pen to paper, punch away on your computer keyboard, or prepare for making an oral submission to the health committee. If you want advice on how to do this have a read of Making a Submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee and the linked documents.

Remember, written submissions are accepted until February 2, 2017, and we would expect the Health committee hearings to start soon after that.

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November ’16 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

wagner

Image credit: Classical Music Humor

There are about 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 November 2016. 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

White Helmets confirm authenticity of acted “rescue” video

wh-video

The acted White Helmets “rescue” video, the crew involved and the professional actor who was the “victim”

It really is a case of “reader beware” these days.  There is so much misinformation about – in the mainstream media as well as in alternative and social media – that the reader really has to avoid accepting things at face value.

I am strongly aware of this when I attempt to follow-up a lead from social media that looks interesting. The video I posted yesterday is an example (see Manufacturing news, and opinion, about Syria). I believe things like this get faked all the time. Searching through social media I even found suggestions the video was a “false flag” – prepared by supporters of Syria to discredit the White Helmets.

What convinced me the video was genuine was that my original source for the video was the web site of RFS – the antigovernment Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office – website. I was also convinced by the fact that on visiting that site several hours later the video had been removed, suggesting that it had been uploaded by mistake

I think I was right to conclude this was an enacted video that had been uploaded by mistake and had been removed to remove the evidence once the internet uproar about it had spread. Trouble was, though, the video had by then been saved to other servers.

Further confirmation

Today the RFS Media Office issued a statement that confirming this was a genuine – enacted – video produced by the White Helmets (see RFS Statement of Clarification and the image below).

They attempt to explain it, and its enactment, away by saying it had been prepared more or less as a publicity video for entry on the International Mannequin Challenge!

OK, any person or group is welcome to join in the latest social media craze. But a respectable “first responders” group? Where would such a group find time for this playing around in the midst of a brutal war?

How many similar first responder groups have entered this competition? I am sure the genuine Syrian Civil Defence Force  didn’t – they were too busy dealing with real emergencies and saving people endangered by the war. (The Syrian Civil Defence Force is the legitimate “first responder” force in Syria and is recognised by  the International Civil Defence Association. The White Helmets, who have usurped this name, are not).

At the very least this fiasco indicates the White Helmets has more to do with propaganda and publicity – with producing high-quality videos – than saving people. It helps explain why none of their videos show credible paramedic equipment or genuine recovery procedures – usually only kids who are miraculously saved injury-free (except for being covered in dust) from bombed buildings. Sometimes these children seem to be recovered multiple times as they occur in different videos, carried by different White Helmets men, being recovered from different buildings.

The other thing that rings alarm bells is that their Mannequin Challenge video (they have titled it “On the Edge of Death”) looks exactly the same (except for the stationary introduction) as all their other videos. Well lit, well produced, frantic rescuers – but no credible recovery or treatment equipment in sight. And I can’t help asking – what genuine first responders group only goes into action attended by a professional camera crew and lighting? Surely they are too busy doing their job – saving people.

The White Helmets and their “rebel”/”terrorist” friends in the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office have obviously screwed up big time. Uploading this video only reinforced all the suspicions that this group is a propaganda arm for the “rebels”/”terrorists” and not  a genuine recovery group. It was too late to deny what had happened so they try to make the best of it in their statement (see below) and blame their fiasco on the Syrian Government:

“the regime used the video to distort facts and twist perceptions. As usual, the Syrian regime’s media workers took the video, abstracted of its background, and started spinning false stories about it to serve their own purposes and the purposes of Assad regime, that has been killing Syrians for nearly six years, accusing RFS media office of creating fabricated videos of rescue operations by civil defense teams.”

Wider concerns

It is one thing for groups to be involved in publicity and propaganda for participants in a brutal war and to pretend to be something they aren’t. But it is another thing, and this is what really concerns me, when people in authority and power take such groups and their propaganda seriously.

For example, Al Jazeera relies heavily on the White Helmets as a source for their news coverage of Syria – particularly Aleppo. White Helmets videos or often used and members of the group quoted for information. Beyond that I think Al Jazeera’s other most common source for new sin Syria are simply “activists.’ To me, that means participants in the war – “rebels”/”terrorists.”

My second example is closer to home – the New Zealand government (see White Helmets dupes New Zealand government?) The New Zealand Ministry’s of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs are coughing up about $100,000 to provide training for White Helmet’s members. Not much money – but it gives respectability to a publicity and propaganda organisation while ignoring the real Syrian Civil Defense Forces.

Let’s hope this fiasco, which can longer be blamed as a “false flag” operation or misinformation promoted by the Syrian government and their allies, is another relatively large step towards the final discrediting of the White Helmets.
rfs-satement
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Why should we subsidise religious leaders and their silly statements?

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Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki gives a geology lesson. Blames sinners for earthquakes. Image Credit: YouTube.

Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki’s statement blaming the Kaikoura earthquake on “gays, sinners, and murderers” highlights the stupidity of our charity laws which define the advancement of religion a charitable activity and give tax exempt status to religions purely because they advance religion.

Public revulsion at Tamaki’s statement resulted in an on-line petition calling for the removal of Tamaki’s tax exempt status. Currently, that petition has over 120,000 signatures.

I guess many of these signatories, and others objecting to Tamaki’s statements, are really restricting their criticism to this specific example. But, let’s be clear. Tamaki’s statement was a religious statement. It is part of his particular advancement of his particular religion. He gets tax exempt status for saying such things.

Any argument for treating him differently to others advancing religion would be discriminatory – and could be seen as illegal itself.

Tamaki was advancing religion

Sure, some people might object to my calling Tamaki’s statement advancing religion – but we can’t pick and choose. Many religious leaders have made equally silly claims – in fact, such claims are only to be expected from religious leaders given the non-evidential nature of religion.

Of course, Tamaki and other religious leaders have the freedom to make ridiculous statements like this – just as we have the freedom to ridicule them – or ignore them. But what many people object to is that such ridiculous statements are being made by people we subsidise through their tax-exempt status. They are making these statements as part of their advancement of religion. And we are effectively paying them for making those statements.

There is no logic in this day and age, and in this secular society, for a religion or belief (including atheism) to be subsidised by the public purely for advancing their beliefs. In fact, it seems to me undemocratic for people with different beliefs to be forced to subsidise the advancement of a religion or belief.

We subsidise the Destiny Church – and Tamaki

The Destiny Church is just one example but the Charities Register certainly shows they have taken full advantage of this subsidy. Here is a list of Destiny Church organisations  registered for tax exemption. You can check out their reasons (advancement of religion) and the financial statements via the links.

Charity Name Registration
Number
Registration
Status
Registered
Date
CC29039 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31639 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31176 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31170 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29070 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31465 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29107 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31406 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC29108 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31434 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31446 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC27986 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31454 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31461 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31439 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC31401 Registered 30/06/2008
CC30992 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31001 Registered 30/06/2008
CC27985 Registered 30/06/2008
CC50592 Registered 23/05/2014
CC30131 Registered 30/06/2008
CC31078 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC28102 Deregistered 30/06/2008
CC25962 Registered 17/06/2008
CC11272 Registered 5/10/2007

Yes, I know, some people are going to react by telling me that religious organisations do good work – charitable work. And, I do not disagree with that in many cases.

But the point is that truly charitable work, helping the poor and disadvantaged, providing social and educational facilities, helping during disasters, etc., is provided for  by the criteria defined as charitable. The advancement of religion is different – is related only to the advancement of a belief (in this case legally requiring belief in a supernatural entity). It has nothing to do with helping people.

True  charity not harmed by removal of religious tax exemption

Those religions actually doing real charitable work would not be disadvantaged by removal of the advancement of religion criteria. They could continue to provide the real charitable services – and receive tax-exempt status for doing so.

Removal of the advancement of religion clause would not reduce real charitable work one bit. Nor would it prevent silly people like Tamaki saying ridiculous things.

But at least we would not have to face the fact that we financially support such silly people and  their ridiculous statements.

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Anti-fluoride claims often not relevant to New Zealand

xiang-Endemic fluorosis

Much of the anti-fluoridation propaganda used by activists relies on studies done in areas of endemic fluorosis. Slide from a presentation by Q. Xiang to an anti-fluoride meeting organised by Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network in 2014.

As we head towards the parliamentary consideration of new legislation on fluoridation in New Zealand the anti-fluoride groups are building a campaign to oppose the transfer of responsibilities from local councils to District Health Boards. So, their Facebook pages are promoting myths that fluoridation is dangerous to health – and we expect this to intensify as parliament moves into its Health Committee hearings on the bill.

Also expect that the local anti-fluoridation groups, and their backers, will bring out tame “experts” to make presentations to the parliamentary Health Committee and to public meetings.

Has Connett lost his effectiveness in New Zealand campaigns?

Maybe (once again) Paul Connett or Bill Hirzy who are paid propagandists from the US Fluoride Action Network. An activist group financed by the US “natural”/alternative health industry. But perhaps these two are “old hat.” Connett has been making regular visits to Australia and New Zealand during the Southern Hemisphere summers for some time now and the locals have got a bit tired of him. Bill Hirzy accompanied him on last years summer vacation and really didn’t contribute much to the campaign. Thames overwhelmingly supported fluoridation in their referendum last year (see Thames voters decisively support fluoridation) – despite the highly publicised opposition by Connett and Hirzy).

A possible new anti-fluoridation “expert?”

susheela

Poster for an anti-fluoride meeting in Region of Peel, Canada. Image credit: Reiki with Christine

Perhaps local activists recognise this because they are floating ideas of bringing out a new “expert” – Dr A. K. Susheela. She might also have more credibility than either Hirzy or Connett – because, unlike them, she has actually published scientific papers on fluoride. In fact, she is the executive director of India’s Fluorosis Research and Rural Development Foundation – a small non-government organisation based in Delhi. The purpose of the foundation is to encourage awareness of fluorosis in both medical and local Indian communities to curb the spread of this crippling skeletal disease in India.

Susheela has also been doing  the circuit of anti-fluoride campaign meetings in North America (see, for example, ‘Fluoride is a deadly poison’ Peel’s water fluoridation committee has heard). As the poster above indicates, she is being promoted as an expert on fluoride toxicity and fluorosis.  But please note – this does not make her an expert on community water fluoridation.  All her work has concentrated on areas of endemic fluorosis – where dietary intake of fluoride is much higher than in fluoridated areas of New Zealand.

In a 1999 article for UNICEF (Susheela, A. K., Mudgal, A. (1999). Fluoride in water : An overview. UNICEF WATERfront, (13), 11–13.) she admitted:

“According to 1984 guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO), fluoride is an effective agent for preventing dental caries if taken in ‘optimal’ amounts.”

She went on to described the WHO recommendations for fluoride in drinking water:

“Water is a major source of fluoride intake. The 1984 WHO guidelines suggested that in areas with a warm climate, the optimal fluoride concentration in drinking water should remain below 1 mg/litre (1ppm or part per million), while in cooler climates it could go up to 1.2 mg/litre. The differentiation derives from the fact that we perspire more in hot weather and consequently drink more water. The guideline value (permissible upper limit) for fluoride in drinking water was set at 1.5 mg/litre, considered a threshold where the benefit of resistance to tooth decay did not yet shade into a significant risk of dental fluorosis.”

For comparison, the target fluoride concentration for community fluoridation in New Zealand is about 0.7 – 1.0 mg/litre. The natural levels of fluoride in New Zealand’s drinking water are even lower. There is no significant risk of skeletal or dental fluorosis of concern due to CWF, or natural levels of fluoride,  in New Zealand.

Dr Susheela has no expertise in the area of community water fluoridation – or areas of the world where drinking water fluoride levels are similarly very low. Perhaps this is why she made the mistake of including Australia and New Zealand among countries where fluorosis is endemic in the above article which included the map below.

susheela-unicef

Dr Susheela is mistaken about fluoride in New Zealand and Australia. Map from her article 

Fluoride Freee NZ disingenuously used this mistake to claim that New Zealand suffered from endemic fluorosis – and cited UNICEF in support.  I would hope that Dr Susheeela, if she does come to New Zealand to campaign against the upcoming fluoridation bill, publicly admits and apologises for this  mistake.

Conclusion

We are used to anti-fluoride campaigners misrepresenting the scientific research on the efficacy and possible health effects of community water fluoridation. But we should also be wary of their claims derived from research in areas of endemic fluorosis where dietary intake of fluoride is much higher than in New Zealand. This includes studies on possible IQ effects and skeletal fluorosis.

The research may be respectable – but the findings are just not relevant to countries like New Zealand where the drinking water fluoride concentrations (in fluoridated and unfluoridated areas) is much lower.

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October ’16 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

There are about 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 October 2016. 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

Shyness of anti-fluoride election candidates

Why do anti-fluoride candidates standing for District Health Boards (DHBs) shy away from proper discuss of community water fluoridation? After all, they have usually raised the issue themselves – and often claim that those supporting CWF avoid the discussion.

In my article Fluoridation & democracy: Open letter to DHB candidate Andrew Buckley I raised this with Andrew Buckley who is standing for the Waikato DHGB. Despite writing an article on the issue on his webpage he refused to allow any proper discussion of the issue there. He allowed slavishly anti-fluoride comments but nothing from anyone who specifically disagreed with his (often incorrect) claims. My open letter to him  was an attempt to get that discussion going. I even offered him the right of reply and space here – but he refused. He effectively ran away from an issue he had raised himself.

Now this is also happening with Stan Litras, a candidate for Capital and Coast DHB. Stan is a well-known anti-fluoride campaigner – often producing anti-fluoride press releases from his astroturf one-man group “Fluoride Information Network for Dentists” (FIND). He is clearly standing on an anti-fluoride ticket and the discussion on his campaign Facebook page makes that clear.

For example:

stan-1

Notice specifically his claim of knowing the subject and claiming he can “defend” his “opinion.” Also, notice his claim that supporters of CWF “cannot defend their views in an open discussion with any reliable evidence.”

That is completely misleading. I have often critiqued his claims and have particularly taken issue with his misrepresentation and distortion of the science. I have always offered him a right of reply and he has always rejected it. If he can “defend” his “opinion” why does he run away from such discussions?

This post of his is typical of the way he distorts the science:

stan-2

Preventing discussion and banning critics

Far from welcomin g discussion of their claims these candidates actually do everything to prevent proper discussion. Andrew Buckley banned any comments from me (and presumably anyone else critical of his claims) on his page. And now Stan Litras has done the same. He removed some comments taking issue with his claims (one of them was mine) and has presumably banned the commenters. Hehas certainlyy banned me from further comments.

This is how he justifies his actions.

stan-3

So he is backing  away from claims that are still on his page and labelling anyone critical of his misinformation as a “pro-fluoride zealot!”

And isn’t it hypocritical for him to label others as “pseudoscientific” and blame them for the fact that he is standing specifically as an anti-fluoride candidate?

Oh, here are some of my articles on Stan’s misrepresentations and distortions – and I have always offered him the right of reply to these:

Anti-fluoridation campaigner, Stan Litras, misrepresents WHO
Cherry-picking and misinformation in Stan Litras’s anti-fluoride article
Anti-fluoride campaigners cherry-pick irrelevant overseas research but can’t find relevant New Zealand research
Anti-fluoridation cherry-pickers at it again
Misrepresentation of the new Cochrane fluoridation review
Fluoride Free NZ report disingenuous – conclusion
A challenge to anti-fluoridationers to justify their misrepresentation of New Zealand research
Fluoridation: News media should check press releases from anti-fluoridationists

Have you voted yet?

I know how confusing it is so hope you haven’t been fooled by any of these anti-fluoride candidates.

A Spinoff article Quack hunt: Our vital tool for stopping anti-science crackpots infiltrating your DHB is useful guide to the candidates for DHB positions.

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