Unfortunately, due to a medical emergency, I have landed in hospital so am not able to do a current update on the NZ blog statistics.
Let’s hope I can get back to this in good time.
Unfortunately, due to a medical emergency, I have landed in hospital so am not able to do a current update on the NZ blog statistics.
Let’s hope I can get back to this in good time.
I am on holiday so will be a few weeks late with this month’s blog rankings.
Caitlin Johnstone is an amazing woman. Very literate and on the ball politically.
Her analysis of recent changes in information transfer offered by the internet and the reaction of mainstream media is important. This speech, “How to Win a Grassroots Media Rebellion,” is well worth watching.
It explains a lot of the recent history of the media, the control of information and the threats to media and internet access by ordinary people.
Today and tomorrow we remember the end of the war in Europe 72 years ago. I think this video provides a fitting illustration of what that war meant to nations and families around the world – and why we commemorate its end.
It’s also an excellent example of what can be done with data visualisation. I don’t think I have seen a better presentation of the reality of that war – of the numbers of soldiers and civilians killed in the different countries during that war.
Something to aspire to for anyone involved in data presentation.
Image credit: Built in Colorado
Every year local anti-fluoride activists eagerly await release of the latest Ministry of Health (MoH) data on the oral health of New Zealand School children. These data are a mine of examples which can be cherry-picked to argue that community water fluoridation is ineffective – or even that the oral health of children in non-fluoridated areas is better than fluoridated areas.
Well, the latest data (for 2015) has just been released and the anti-fluoridationist reaction is typical. They are presenting selected data to argue that “the gap [between the numbers of caries-free children in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas] has become practically non-existent.”
And the make a big thing of comparing this “practically non-existent” gap with the 40% difference claim they attribute to the MoH. Needless to say, they are wrong.
Let’s have a look at what the 2105 data shows, how this compares with data from previous years and what the limitations of the data, and consequently any conclusions drawn from the data, are.
The figures below show the data – I have included it in graphs showing the data for earlier years. Notice that the data is for Māori and “Other.” This is because the “Total” figures in the data tables throw all ethnic groups together and are therefore misleading. As I have pointed out several times in the past (Anti-fluoridation cherry-pickers at it again, A challenge to anti-fluoridationers to justify their misrepresentation of New Zealand research, Debunking anti-fluoridationist’s remaining 12 reasons for opposing fluoridation and Schluter & Lee 2016 noted in their paper Water fluoridation and ethnic inequities in dental caries profiles of New Zealand children aged 5 and 12–13 years: analysis of national cross-sectional registry databases for the decade 2004–2013), Pacific island children, whose oral health is poorer than other groups, are concentrated in fluoridated areas of Auckland. This distorts the “Total” figures (in particular underestimating the oral health for fluoridated areas). Local anti-fluoride propagandists have taken advantage of this in the past to make untruthful claims.
The “Other” group will be mainly Pakeha, but also will contain some Asian. I have not included the data for Pacific island children – the relatively small number in non-fluoridated areas mean the comparison is rather erratic.
Data are presented for “% caries-free” – the proportion of children with no tooth decay, and mean dmft – the average number of decayed missing or filled tooth for each child.
In summary, the reduction of dental decay (using % caries-free figures) for 5-year-old Māori varied between 8% and 60% in the years 2005 – 2015 and was 25% in 2015.
In summary, the reduction of dental decay (using % caries-free figures) for 5-year-old “Other” varied between 3% and 22% in the years 2005 – 2015 and was 3% in 2015.
In summary, the reduction of dental decay (using % caries-free figures) for year 8 Māori varied between 12% and 48% in the years 2005 – 2015 and was 12% in 2015.
In summary, the reduction of dental decay (using % caries-free figures) for year 8 “Other” varied between 5% and 27% in the years 2005 – 2015 and was 5% in 2015.
It’s worth looking at average effects out over several years to limit the effect of variability in the data. The is the result of the effect of fluoridation in reducing tooth decay (using % caries-free figures) – average effect in the period 2005 – 2015.
Average reduction of tooth decay: 2005 – 2015
|5-year-olds||Year 8 children|
Of course, this data is not meant to provide definitive measurements – it is simply the records for oral health (% caries-free and dmft) for different regions. There has been no determined effort to make sure that the resident regions of the child are the same as the school region. While there is some separation into ethnic groups there has been no effort to take into account factors like sex differences, socio-economic influences, dietary differences, and other dental treatment differences. For example, in some regions the health authorities have a programme of treating children in non-fluoridated areas with fluoride varnishes or taking extra steps to provide access to dentists.
It’s interesting that the anti-fluoride people prefer such data to more definitive data corrected for problems. Well, they do at the moment as they are cherry picking to support their claims (see MoH says Fluoridation reduces dental decay by 40% – No it doesn’t!). They are very critical of data from the MoH’s New Zealand Oral health Survey. The MoH acknowledged limitations inherent in this survey for determining an effect of fluoridation – and the anti-fluoride people love to quote that acknowledgment. But at least the Survey did give data:
“for people living in non-fluoridated areas, which are adjusted for age, sex, ethnic group and neighbourhood deprivation to allow appropriate comparisons with people living in fluoridated areas.”
Instead, the anti-fluoride people rely on cherry-picked comparisons from data where no such adjustments have been made. And they never acknowledge the limitations of that data.
The graphs above do show a tendency for the fluoridated and non-fluoridated lines to approach each other. One could speculate on the reasons and more definitive studies are required to check out such speculation. But here are some of my ideas:
The results could be influenced by changes in residential vs school or dental clinic location. For example, the introduction of “hub and spoke” dental clinics during the 2000s may mean that more children now live in a region with different access to fluoridated water than that for the clinic or school. The recent provision of extra dental care, such as fluoride varnishes or more dentist visits in non-fluoridated areas, is also a likely possibility.
But another possibility is that the efficacy of community water fluoridation is declining – maybe because of better health care, diet, and parental responsibility. In fact, the evidence indicates that community water fluoridation may now have less importance in some cases than dietary intake from other food sources. This graph from a US Environmental Protection Agency report (Fluoride: Exposure and Relative Source Contribution Analysis) shows fluoridated water may now contribute less than 50% of the dietary intake for many children and certainly no more than 70%.
This has resulted in a “Halo effect.” Because processed foods and beverages now contain more fluoride than in the past (when non-fluoridated water may have been used in processing) the difference in total dietary fluoride intake between children living in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas has been reduced. The common use of fluoridated toothpaste also contributes to this “Halo Effect.”
This does raise the question – if community water fluoridation is less important as a dietary source perhaps it could be stopped? Although the warning is that if community water fluoridation was stopped perhaps other dietary sources like processed foods and beverages would have a lower fluoride content and dietary intake would then fall below optimum levels.
It’s a complex issue.
Once again the local anti-fluoride activists have been caught out misrepresenting the MoH data by cherry-picking and purposely ignoring important factors like ethnicity.
Amnesty International has just produced a report on mass executions in a Syrian prison. It has received a lot of publicity and can be downloaded from Human slaughterhouse: Mass hangings and extermination at Saydnaya prison, Syria.
The trouble with reports like this is that they can be based on limited evidence – yet once published they become evidence themselves. From now on people will cite this report as “evidence” for mass atrocities in Syria, despite the fact the report contains only a small amount of evidence, mostly hearsay from opposition sources, and extrapolates freely to produce very large numbers.
I agree – where there is smoke these is usually a fire. And I do not believe Syria has been exempt from human rights problems. But, then again, what country – inducing those claiming to be bastions of democracy – are really exempt from human rights abuses? And do the human rights violations in secular Syria occur so frequently or unjustly as in neighbouring Gulf states like the theocratic Saudi Arabia?
Anyway, download and read the report if you are interested. I have. But I have also looked for critiques of the report.
I think the above interview with the Syrian President provides some response to the Amnesty report. His specific comments on the report occur from about 13 minutes on – but the whole interview is very interesting. Because of his views on the Syrian conflict and its possible solutions. But also in his refusal to interfere in the internal affairs of the US by taking sides in domestic disputes.
Perhaps we could all learn something from his attitude.
This morning my social media threads seem full of emotional outbursts, even hatred, and the ripping of garments. All over the results of the US presidential elections.
But I have to ask – why this emotion? Why the surprise? And why blame the voters.
Why the surprise? Surely a Trump victory was on the cards – even a strong possibility? At least that is how it appeared to me. But then again I did not have a dog in this race. I wasn’t going to vote. I didn’t support either of the main candidates – and weren’t we all saying it was a matter of choosing between two evils? Then why get so partisan, so emotional?
Perhaps it is because of that irrational indulgence – wishful thinking. By the media – to me the election coverage of the main stream media was partisan and biased. And certainly many people in my social media streams were partisan – refusing to face up to the way the US establishment manipulated the election process (successfully in the case of the Democrats) and willfully allowing themselves to be diverted and manipulated by cynical neo-McCarthyism.
But why blame the voters – especially if it was a choice between two evils? Why not blame the system that delivered such a limited choice to voters?
I could go on – but Thomas Frank’s article in the Guardian today certainly says it more eloquently than I can – Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there.
Frank starts by ripping into Trump and his campaign. Many will agree with his criticisms – although the fact Trump succeeded suggests the possibility he may have known something his critics didn’t, or understood the mood of the electorate better than his critics did.
Frank considers the election result “is a disaster, both for liberalism and for the world.” Again, Frank may be exaggerating. I think he is a buffoon but if Trump’s policies of real international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and getting along with other countries become realities I consider that a positive.
But instead of expanding on what is wrong with Trump, Frank asks the questions others have been afraid to ask.
The electorate was in a mood to punish the establishment – so why put up an establishment candidate? Frank puts it this way:
“What we need to focus on now is the obvious question: what the hell went wrong? What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?
“Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.
“She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.
“And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest. They chose Hillary even though they knew about her private email server. They chose her even though some of those who studied the Clinton Foundation suspected it was a sketchy proposition.
“To try to put over such a nominee while screaming that the Republican is a rightwing monster is to court disbelief. If Trump is a fascist, as liberals often said, Democrats should have put in their strongest player to stop him, not a party hack they’d chosen because it was her turn. Choosing her indicated either that Democrats didn’t mean what they said about Trump’s riskiness, that their opportunism took precedence over the country’s well-being, or maybe both.”
Frank also blames the media – and in my view rightly so. Even with my limited appreciation of politics the media bias and manipulation stood out like a sore thumb:
“Clinton’s supporters among the media didn’t help much, either. It always struck me as strange that such an unpopular candidate enjoyed such robust and unanimous endorsements from the editorial and opinion pages of the nation’s papers, but it was the quality of the media’s enthusiasm that really harmed her. With the same arguments repeated over and over, two or three times a day, with nuance and contrary views all deleted, the act of opening the newspaper started to feel like tuning in to a Cold War propaganda station.”
After listing some of the medias biased pro-Clinton propaganda Frank says:
“How did the journalists’ crusade fail? The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?”
I think this post-election media comment is very relevant – The media didn’t want to believe Donald Trump could win… So they looked the other way.
What has amazed me, and taught me a lesson (I guess), is how irrational some of my Facebook friends were about this election. And these were people I had friended because on many issues (particularly scientific ones) I considered them rational and unbiased. In the end we are not a rational species and wishful thinking, confirmation bias and avoidance of self-criticism are only human traits. But Frank describes this self-delusion as “the single great mystery of 2016:”
“The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment.”
That insulting and silencing were very real. I experienced the shouting down when I criticised Clinton’s dishonest use of neo-McCarthyist tactics to divert attention aways from her faults. Critics, and even the ordinary people, were insulted and, yes, silenced by this intimidation. Frank points out – “And then they lost.” We are now forced to face up to facts – the emperor really has no clothes.
But I hope at least some of those social media friends who were caught up in the wishful thinking and group thinking – the partisanship of the US elections – can take on board this bit of advice from Frank:
Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.”
This is the second article in the debate between Tom O’Connor and me. It is a response to his post Debating fluoridation and tyranny – Tom O’Connor responds).
I think Tom’s concept of “freedom of choice” is confused. He appears to be arguing for his own right to determine a social decision. But that is undemocratic, it imposes an individual’s wish on society.
We all have the freedom to influence, make submissions on, contribute to, etc., a social decision. In the end, that decision is made democratically. The minority does not have the right to use the individual’s “freedom of choice” argument to demand that decision not be democratic.
That is not the ‘tyranny of the majority” Tom claims because on most issues the individual still has the “freedom of choice” to make individual arrangments to satisfy their position. No one is being coerced and the individual can take personal responsibility for their own arrangements. This is particular true with community water fluoridation (CWF).
Tom and I have different values or politic outlooks underlying our different attitudes towards CWF.
I don’t want to put words in Tom’s mouth but in practically he is opposed to CWF despite the clear social benefits. He is claiming his personal “freedom of choice” is more important than the community’s – or at least the majority of the community.
In contrast, I support CWF because of its social benefits. However, I accept the obligation of governing bodies to consult the community when there is a controversy and support the decisions of the community (I also support the right of individuals and communities to make the wrong decision – within reason, of course).
In the most general terms, these boil down to issues of social responsibility vs individual or personal responsibility. Put simplistically, some would see the conflict a between a “socialist” or “libertarian” perspective. (I apologise for using labels.) These different values systems lead to different understandings of freedom of choice (and of being “forced”).
Given the stand of personal responsibility, as a personal values system, Tom should not need to seek the justification of advancing or questioning facts. He should simply stand on principle, and seek support for that principle. On the other hand, there is an obligation on people arguing for social responsibility. We need to show that the advocated social policy provides a net advantage to the community and/or individuals. If there are no advantages there is no point in such policies and the personal responsibility or “libertarian” position may as well stand.
Tom is welcome to his values system, and he no doubt says the same about me. We live in a pluralist society and most of us accept such differences are handled by the democratic process. I should also add that most people do not adhere to an absolutist “libertarian” or “socialist” approach and prefer a more balanced and sophisticated approach to social issues.
Society usually attempts to balance individual rights/responsibilities and freedom of choice against social responsibility. After all, individual rights and social responsibility are co-dependent. Our individual rights and freedom of choice cannot survive where our freedom, rights, health and well-being are not supported by sensible social policies.
A democratic social decision may appear to result in the loss of that freedom of choice. After all, I can express my freedom of choice to have a Green government, but after the election I have to accept that freedom is put on hold for another three years and in the meantime I have to put up with a National-led government. But that does not deprive me of the freedom to advocate for policies underlining my preference for the Greens – and under MMP such advocacy can be effective even between elections.
Similarly, the minority in a decision on CWF does not lose personal “freedom of choice.” If they are willing to take personal responsibility for their situation they can with very little effort, make personal arrangements. Those with a hangup about fluoride can use to filters or alternatives sources. Those who wish to use fluoride can resort to mouth rises or alternative water sources. In taking these actions we are exerting our freedom of choice.
Tom has stepped outside the ethical issues to argue some statements of fact which need challenging.
“Both sides have accused the other of engaging in pseudo-science and scare mongering. Both are, to some extent, probably accurate and in agreement on that point alone. However, where doubts exist, it is probably better to err on the side of caution.”
Putting “both sides” into the same box of “engaging in pseudo-science and scare mongering” is a Clayton’s argument. A claim made without any substantiation but appealing to “balance” nad “fairness. Rather than relying on such “warm fuzzies” Tom should present the examples and evidence if he wishes to make such claims.
Similarly, unsupported claims of doubts and the need for caution can be a way of discounting the science and its quality. Hence, the emotional slogan “if in doubt, leave it out!” Society should make decisions based on evidence, not warm fuzzies and catchy slogans.
We are familiar with the financially and ideologically motivated purposeful raising of doubt on issues like the science regarding tobacco use and climate change. Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes and Conway provide a good description of such dishonest tactics – and the title is very appropriate.
“The principle responsibility of local authorities, as outlined in the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand, administered by the Ministry of Health, is to ensure drinking water is as free from all other substances and organisms as possible.”
Where do the standards say that, Tom? My checking of Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand produced these principles:
“all water suppliers have a duty to ensure their water is safe to drink.”
“all drinking-water suppliers providing drinking-water to over 500 people must develop and implement a water safety plan (originally known as a Public Health Risk Management Plan, PHRMP) to guide the safe management of their supply. This quality assurance approach is complemented by the DWSNZ, which specify the maximum acceptable concentrations of harmful contaminants in the water.”
What these standards do is set maximum acceptable values (MAVs) for a whole list of possible “harmful contaminants” – occurring naturally or from the water treatment itself. Think about it – no realistic body would set standards demanding water was “free from all other substances and organisms as possible” – leaving interpretation up to the individual operator!
Of course, individuals may want to lower these MAVs (or even make them zero) – but they are derived from the best available science and practical considerations. If individuals are unhappy they can, of course, challenge the standards. But they do not have the “freedom of choice” to arbitrarily replace them with their own personal values. They do have the freedom of choice to use other water sources or tap filters. That is the sensible and responsible thing to do, rather than childishly demand a change just to satisfy their own hangup.
This involves additions to water that Tom has absolutely no control over. Why does he not object to that addition on his ethical stance that he has the “freedom of choice” to control what goes into community water supplies?
Personally, I would oppose chlorination long before I objected to fluoridation because irrespective of whether there is any detectable chlorine “at the end of the process” (there should be), chlorine can react with naturally occurring organic material to produce possible hazardous or carcinogenic compounds. That is why local authorities check for these in our water.
My city uses UV irradiation for the early disinfection process and only adds chlorine at the end so that the tap water remains organism free. But if I lived in a city where the first disinfection use chlorine I would seriously consider using a tap filter to remove possible hazardous compounds.
Tom is OK with the “mass medication or treatment” involved in iodised salt because there is “always un-iodised salt as a practical, convenient and affordable option on grocer shop shelves for those who did not want it.”
Does he bother to exert that “freedom of choice” when he shops? Has he even checked the availability of uniodised salt? I checked the other day and my supermarket had plenty of iodised salt but no specifically non-iodised salt. It had boutique salts (even “chemical free” salt) and I imagine the chemophobic shoppers might prefer those products to iodised salt – not realising they also contain iodine.
This can get silly. There are anti-fluoride people who treat their water by reverse osmosis – then replace the removed minerals by adding Tibetan salt which contains fluoride (and is sometimes sold as “chemical-free.”
I would willingly support mandatory folic acid fortification. More countries will probably do this in future because the evidence is pretty clear that it helps prevent the tragedy of neural tube defects. It seems a sensible approach because of the need for folic acid at the stage of pregnancy where the mother may be unaware.
At the moment, New Zealand has a voluntary folic acid fortification system. About 17% of packaged bread was fortified with folic acid in 2012. The industry is working towards fortification levels of 50% – with at least 25% meant to be achieved by the end of 2014.
Tom, you appear to oppose folic acid fortification. Do you check your bread packaging to check it hasn’t been fortified? I suggest hardly anyone does so.
There are lots of things individuals can have hangups about. Some people object to chlorination. Some to pasteurized milk. Given that society does set standards for our food and water it is inevitable individuals may sometimes have to take personal responsibility and check the food and water they purchase. But I cannot understand the directed concern over fluoride as it is one of the easiest things to check and make personal arrangements for.
While I had plenty of choice at my supermarket if I wanted “fluoride-free” water. I had no choice if I wanted “iodine-free” salt” or unpasteurized milk. If I had a hangup about folic acid I would need to make the effort to carefully scrutinise bread packaging to find “folic-free” bread. And do that often because of plans to increase folic acid fortification of bread over time.
Tom really should back up this claim:
“Suggesting that those who object to fluoride in the water they pay their local authority to deliver can obtain alternative supplies from a community tap or buy it from the supermarket is unacceptable. These options are not possible, practical, convenient or affordable for many people.”
What about some monetary figures to claim alternatives are not affordable? Frankly I do not think he has a leg to stand on here as people who choose to opt out of our secular education and free hospital systems face far bigger financial costs. In my experience most anti-fluoride campaigners already take such steps for themselves and when pressed claim they are speaking up for others less fortunate than themselves. Yeah, right!
Tap filtration practical and convenient. “Fluoride-free” water is readily and cheaply available (more so than unpasteurised milk and non-iodised salt I have found). And the slight inconvenience involved is of little consequence to someone who really believes the anti-fluoride story.
Incidentally, several cities provide “fluoride-free” community taps. the fact these get very little use suggests to me that those who are really concerned already have more convenient arrangements.
The “fluoride damages IQ” myth won’t go away – mainly because it is avidly promoted by campaigners against community water fluoride (CWF). This is despite the fact that no link has even been drawn between CWF and IQ (the only relevant study shows no connection). But that doesn’t stop ideologically driven campaigners who rely on poor quality studies from areas of endemic fluorosis where dietary fluoride intake is higher than in areas using CWF.
There are plenty such studies, but a more recent one illustrates their problems – and the role confirmation bias seems to play in these studies. It is:
Kundu, H., Basavaraj, P., Singla, A., Gupta, R., Singh, K., & Jain, S. (2015). Effect of fluoride in drinking water on children′s intelligence in high and low fluoride areas of Delhi. Journal of Indian Association of Public Health Dentistry, 13(2), 116.
It’s another study where the IQ values of children from a “high fluoride” area were compared with those for children from a “low fluoride area.” There was a statistically significant difference and the paper goes on to claim:
“High F concentration in the drinking water was found to have marked systemic effects on the IQ of children. Though the precise mechanism by which F crosses the blood brain barrier is still not clean‑cut; enough evidence survives for the influence of F intake via drinking water and low IQ of the child.”
However they do acknowledge:
“Apart from fluoride there are other factors which also affect IQ of children. In the present study, mothers diet during pregnancy also significantly affected the IQ of the children.”
The supporting data is poorly presented and described – for example, no indication is given of the fluoride concentration in the drinking water of the “high fluoride and “low fluoride” areas used. Although they do cite areas in Delhi (where the study was located) with fluoride concentration as high as 32.5 ppm!. And I cannot find any details on “mothers diet during pregnancy” (except perhaps division into two groups – “routine” or “special diet as suggested by the doctor during pregnancy”).
These sorts of studies almost always rely on finding a statistically significant difference in the IQ values of children in two different areas or villages. But that statistical significance says nothing about the causal factors involved – it may have nothing to do with differences in fluoride levels.
Kundu et al., (2015) do at least include some data on confounding factors which is often missing from such studies. These show significant difference between the groups from the “high fluoride” and “low fluoride” areas which have no connection with fluoride in drinking water – such as father’s occupation, mother’s education and father’s education) – or only an indirect connection (dental fluorosis).
Here is a summary of the data for the various factors. I have selected the data so to show as two values – equal to “high fluoride” and “low fluoride.”
You get the picture. The areas were chosen according to the concentrations of fluoride in drinking water (whatever they were), but they could equally have been chosen on the basis of parental education, father’s occupation or prevalence of the more severe forms of dental fluorosis.
In fact, rather than concluding drinking water fluoride has a “marked systemic effects on the IQ of children” we could equally have concluded:
The dental fluorosis factor interests me as I have suggested that, in areas of endemic fluorosis, the physical appearance of defective teeth could lower quality of life and cause learning difficulties which are reflected in lower IQ values (see Severe dental fluorosis the real cause of IQ deficits?, Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits – now peer reviewed and Free download – “Severe dental fluorosis and cognitive deficits”).
I think that this is more reasonable as a mechanism than the chemical toxicity mechanism that almost all authors of these sorts of papers assume – but never support with any evidence. Even when dental fluorosis is considered it is usually treated as an indicator of lifetime intake of fluoride (which it is) rather than and independent cause of low IQ.
Most studies like this seem to be motivated by confirmation bias. Despite the possibility of a range of factors being involved, and some of these such as parental education being a more obvious cause, there appears to be an urge to interpret data as evidence of a chemical toxicity mechanism involving fluoride. And there is never any experimental work to confirm this preferred mechanism.
To my mind, if fluoride is implicated in the low IQ values the mechanism involving effects of dental fluorosis on quality of life and learning difficulties appears more credible than an unproven chemical toxicity.
Note: None of this is directly relevant to areas where CWF is used. The prevalence of more serious forms of dental fluorosis is very small in these areas and not related to CWF. Also, no study has yet found an effect of CWF on IQ. Given the higher levels of fluoride used in the studies from areas of endemic fluorosis, and the higher levels of serious forms of dental fluorosis, extrapolation of the results to areas where CWF is used is completely unwarranted.
Despite claims of proof made by politicians like David Cameron, Barack Obama and Tony Abbott after the downing of flight MH17 in Ukraine in 2014 no intelligence agencies in their countries ever provided any evidence. I find that surprising as these intelligence agencies were obviously monitoring the area and should have been able to give evidence to back up the claims. In fact, rumours suggested the intelligence evidence didn’t back up the claims.
I am forced to conclude the claims owe more to politics, in particular, the geopolitical struggle, than they do to facts.
Perhaps it is in their (and their political masters) nature that intelligence agencies may not be forthcoming on this issue. But I recently came across a largely unpublicised report which I think does give some idea of what the intelligence community did know at the time. The Review Report arising from the crash of flight MH17 was prepared by the Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence Services specifically to answer questions from the Dutch government on what the intelligence community knew, and what they could have done to avert the disaster.
The review covers the role and knowledge of the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) and the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (AIVD).
No, it doesn’t give the intricate details. But it does summarise their knowledge at the time – a knowledge which was informed by material from allied intelligence agencies (The Netherlands is part of NATO) and which they would have passed on to those agencies. As such, I think it provides a valuable insight into what was known – an insight enabling us to judge the claims being made by the politicians at the time. Perhaps an insight helping us to decide for ourselves which party was likely responsible for the downing of the plane, and hence the killing of 283 passengers and 15 crew.
The report says:
“there were three relevant actors with military capacities in the period prior to the crash:
• Russian armed forces
• Ukrainian armed forces and
• Pro-Russian separatists.”
I have made this point repeatedly in the discussion we have had on the issue here – also saying I did not commit to any conviction that either of these parties had yet been shown to be the real culprit.
However, I now think the intelligence community probably rules out the “Pro-Russian separatists.” The report says that neither of these parties had the intention to destroy a civil aircraft and only the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces had the weapons required. It concluded:
“Prior to the crash of flight MH17, the AIVD and the MIVD possessed the following information regarding the security situation in Eastern Ukraine that was relevant for assessing a threat to civil aircraft flying over the area:
• The Russian and the Ukrainian armed forces did have the capacity and potential to hit a civil aircraft at cruising altitude. However, they did not have the intention. There were no indications that they were engaged in activities (such as preparations) targeting civil aviation.
• There were no indications that the Separatists had the capacity to hit civil air traffic at cruising altitude. Moreover, there were no indications that they would target civil air traffic or that they were engaged in activities with this objective in mind.”
The report concluded:
“Even though there was information pointing to the fact that the Separatists had been supplied with heavy weapons by the Russian Federation, there were no indications that these were powerful anti-aircraft systems.”
Politicians may debate that. After all, the Ukrainian Armed forces were shelling and bombing the separatist cities and villages and the separatist armed forces were certainly shooting Ukrainian planes out of the sky. But it was the very fact that separatists had been successfully shooting down those planes (particularly an An-26 military cargo plane on July 14 (3 days before flight MH17 was hit) that led intelligence forces to look closely at their capabilities. Here’s how the report describes this:
“On 14 July 2014, an An-26 military cargo aeroplane (referred to hereafter as: the Antonov), belonging to the Ukrainian airforce, was shot down. The Ukrainian authorities reported the event the same day in a briefing with Ukraine’s presidential administration in Kiev. The MIVD also received a concise report of the briefing from the Dutch Defence attaché. The report revealed that the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Klimkin, declared that the situation in the east had reached a new and dangerous phase because the Russian Federation was now openly providing the Separatists with military support. As an example of the escalation, Klimkin cited the Antonov’s being shot down in the area of Lugansk. Klimkin reported that the Antonov was flying at an altitude of 6,200 metres and could only have been hit with Russian equipment, because the Separatists did not possess this kind of anti-aircraft systems.
According to a media report on 14 July 2014 (which the MIVD possessed), the Ukrainian authorities stated that the aeroplane was flying at 6,500 metres and was not shot down by a portable anti-aircraft system but by a more powerful system. This was probably carried out from Russian territory. In the media, the Separatists claimed that they had shot down the aeroplane and taken some of the crew prisoner.”
So, spokesman for the Kiev regime were claiming (although probably didn’t really believe) that the Russian armed forces had directly entered the fray. Perhaps they were implying the Russians were effectively setting up a “no-fly zone” for Ukrainian military planes. At any rate, the possibility of direct involvement of Russian armed forces would explain the presence of Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons in the area despite the separatists not using aeroplanes.
The intelligence community appears to reject claims of direct Russian involvement:
“If the Antonov had indeed been shot down by, or even from, the Russian Federation, this would have been a game changer. Direct Russian participation in the conflict would have become a fact.
That is why the MIVD immediately launched an investigation into the incident. In the morning of 17 July 2014, the MIVD communicated the results of this investigation in its daily intelligence summary (‘dagintsum’), which had a number of users, including the NCTV and the AIVD.”
This intelligence assessment was communicated on the very day Flight MH17 was shot down.
“The MIVD assessed it to be unlikely that the Antonov had been shot down by a powerful anti-aircraft system (separate from the question whether this had been carried out from Russian territory). From pictures of the wreckage and eyewitness accounts it was clear that the aeroplane’s right-hand engine had been hit and that 5 to 6 parachutes had subsequently appeared. The Antonov had allegedly crashed only then. On this basis, the MIVD concluded that the appearance of the damage was not consistent with a hit by a powerful anti-aircraft system. The aeroplane would in that case probably have been destroyed in the air.
The crew would probably not have survived if this had been the case. According to the MIVD, the wreckage and the eyewitnesses supported the fact that the aircraft was shot out of the air by a MANPADS from Ukrainian territory. This would only have been possible if the Antonov were flying substantially lower than 6,200 or 6,500 metres. Another possibility was that a short-range, vehicleborne anti-aircraft system”
And apparently the Ukrainian authorities, at least in their public statements, also did not believe that separatist armed forces had the capability of shooting down a civil airliner. I need to give the qualification because Ukrainian authorities are well known for providing inaccurate information for political purposes. It is likely they well knew the Antonov was not flying at the height they claim but wished to implicate the Russian federation.
Although not completely ruling out an air-to-air missile the Final report of the Dutch safety board determined that MH17 was most probably hit by a missile from a Buk system (see MH17: Final technical report). But this review concluded that separatists just did not have such a weapon:
“The AIVD was aware that the Separatists, in addition to a broad range of artillery (eg machine guns), light anti-aircraft artillery (e.g. rocket launchers), anti-tank weapons and tanks, also possessed MANPADS and possibly short-range vehicle-borne anti-aircraft systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range, the aforementioned weapons do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude.
“On 16 July [the day before MH17 crashed], the AIVD received a report from a reliable source that stated that there was no information that indicated that the Separatists possessed a medium-range SAM system. This comment was made in view of the circumstances related to the Ukrainian armed forces’ Antonov being shot down on 14 July 2014 in Eastern Ukraine.”
“The AIVD did not have any information that indicated that the Separatists possessed an operational, powerful anti-aircraft system such as a Buk system, also called an SA-11, prior to the crash of flight MH17.”
But what about a Buk system the separatists had captured from the Ukrainian armed forces?:
“On 29 June 2014, the Separatists captured a Ukrainian armed forces military base in Donetsk. At this base, there were Buk missile systems. These are powerful anti-aircraft systems. This development was reported extensively in the media prior to the crash. The MIVD also received intelligence information on the subject, on 30 June and 3 July 2014 as well as on other dates. During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational. Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”
I had always considered the separatists could have been the culprit because of the availability of a captured Buk system but the intelligence community seems to have confidently ruled out that possibility.
Some motivated sources have promoted on social media a story that flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian Buk system specifically brought into eastern Ukraine for the job and removed directly after the crash. Of course, investigators must look into such stories but there does not appear to be any intelligence evidence to back them up.The review describes the relevant tasks of the Dutch intelligence bodies as investigation focused of the Russian Federation and the possible risk of an incursion into Eastern Ukraine (MIVD) and investigation of the politico-strategic aspect of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and on the Russian Federation’s political influence on Ukraine.
The review describes the relevant tasks of the Dutch intelligence bodies as investigation focused of the Russian Federation and the possible risk of an incursion into Eastern Ukraine (MIVD) and investigation of the politico-strategic aspect of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and on the Russian Federation’s political influence on Ukraine (AIVD).
Given the size of the Buk systems and the associated vehicles, it is hardly likely intelligence forces could have missed the movement of such a system in and out of eastern Ukraine, crossing the international border in two directions.
This may be the only direct public information about intelligence assessments of the situation in eastern Ukraine at the time of the MH17 crash the public will ever see. It is not detailed but is meant as a reliable summary for governments. And given the degree of cooperation and exchange of information among western intelligence agencies, I think it is probably an indication of the conclusions from all these agencies, not just the Dutch.
Intelligence agencies in the Russian Federation may have different or alternative information. Some, but probably not all, of this has already been released by the Russian government.
In the past, I had considered that it was highly probable Flight MH17 was accidentally shot down by separatist forces using a captured MH17 system and operators who had defected from the Ukrainian armed forces. But I now think that scenario is very unlikely. I had also thought that it was equally probable that the culprits were a unit of the Ukrainian armed forces making a mistake during a training exercise with a Buk system. I thought a scenario involving armed forces of the Russian Federation was far less likely.
Currently, I think the most likely scenario is that MH17 was mistakenly shot down by a unit of the Ukrainian armed forces – maybe in a training exercise or in an act of defense. While there is no evidence of direct involvement by air forces of the Russian Federation it is very likely that story was believed by forces on the ground, if not the politicians in Kiev promoting the story. Fear of a Russian aerial attack would also have been promoted by a series of losses of Ukrainian aircraft in the days before the MH17 crash – especially as the authorities in Kiev were claiming these could only have been shot down by Russian forces.