Russian sports doping scandal looking like an illusion?

Image credit: RussiangateDOPING SCANDALS IN RUSSIAN SPORTS

There is often a difference, sometimes a big difference between public perception, even media reports, and the facts. Recent news from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) illustrate this for sport.

The belief that Russian sportsmen and women indulge in doping to a much higher degree than for other nations is widespread. Our media reinforces that belief – and, true, the International Olympic Committee and WADA certainly provide plenty of information to support it. Bans on Russian athletes have been common lately and there is widespread media coverage any time there is even a suspicion that a Russian athlete may have violated doping rules.

But what are the facts?

Well, we can check as WADA periodically publishes data for athlete doping violations. In my article  Quantifying the problem of international sports doping I discussed the data for 2014 This showed that when the number of tests taken for each country’s athletes is considered,  Russian athlete’s ranked 19th on the list of positive doping tests. The high number of positive tests for that nation can be explained by the much higher number of tests actually taken.

WADA has now published its data for 2016 (see WADA publishes Anti-Doping Rule Violations Report for 2016). Yes, a few years old, but there is quite a time between taking the test samples, declaring a possible violation, considering the factors involved and finally declaring a violation. The WADA report (2016 Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) Report) includes all the data up until the end of 1017.

So what are the facts?

Contrary to public perception, athletes from the Russian Federation do not top the table for the number of doping violations – they actually rank 6th  (together with India) with 69 violations (ADRVs – anti-doping rule violations). After Italy (147 violations), France (86), USA (76), Australia (75) and Belgium (73).

Unfortunately, the current report does not give data for the total number of tests according to the country – only for the national sporting federations. This is not the same thing.

I suspect, given the international furore over doping violations by Russian athletes, and the extra testing imposed by the IOC, Russian athletes may have again undergone a higher frequency of testing. It could be that the Russian Federation actually ranks lower than 6th when considered on a proportional basis.

New Zealand ranks 44th on the WADA list with 7 violations. Good news, I guess. But I wonder what our ranking would be if proven violations were reported as a percentage of tests taken.

Good news also is that the percentage of confirmed violations worldwide is relatively low overall. There were a total 1,326 ADRVs from 229,514 samples taken -0 a rate of only 0.6%. Perhaps sports doping is not as bad as we are led to think. Or perhaps it shows that the huge investment in anti-doping measures has been paying off.

The Russian doping scandal

Finally, I should mention this is not the only current news on the issue of doping by athletes from the Russian Federation. Over the last few years, our media has often covered this issue, apparently exposing a scandal involving the official Russian testing laboratory in Moscow and a state-sponsored scheme to hide doping of athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This scandal has helped keep the problem of doping by Russian athletes in the public mind – and Russian leaders themselves have not denied there was a problem – although they rejected the claims of state-sponsored schemes.

Many people think the Russian athletes have been treated badly. I queried the reliability of the McLaren report which was used for IOC banning of a large number of Russian athletes. (see Ethics and the doping scandal – a response to Guest Work). The banned athletes have also taken legal action to get their names cleared.

A very significant ruling has recently been made public on these bans. The Court of Arbitration for Sport have released their ruling on the case of  Alexander Legkov (see CAS delivers two reasoned awards in the matter of 39 Russian athletes v. the IOC). This ruling found that the case against Legkov had not been proved (see the ARBITRAL AWARD). The evidence of the main witness (“whistleblower”/criminal Grigori Rodchenkov), and hence by implication the McLaren report relying on that evidence, was found unreliable.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and only one of the 39 decisions made public last February 1st which upheld the appeals of 27 Russian athletes and partly upheld the appeals of 12 others.

I guess, better late than never. However, public perception is strongly influenced by first impressions and first allegations (especially when supported by bodies like the IOC). It is going to take some time before the public perception of the problem of sports doping with Russian athletes will become more realistic.

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April ’18 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your blog is unexpectedly missing please check this out. Send me the URL for your site meter and I can correct the information in the database.

Similarly, if your blog data in this list seems out of whack, please check your site meter. Usually, the problem is that for some reason your site meter is no longer working.

Sitemeter is no longer working so the total number of NZ blogs in this list has been drastically reduced. I recommend anyone with Sitemeter consider transferring to one of the other meters. See  NZ Blog Rankings FAQ.

This list is composed automatically from the data in the various site meters used. If you feel the data in this list is wrong could you check to make sure the problem is not with your own site meter? I am of course happy to correct any mistakes that occur in the automatic transfer of data to this list but cannot be responsible for the site meters themselves. They do play up.

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

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for April 2018. 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

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Mainstream media-political alliance gets vindictive

Hala Jaber, highly Respected Middle East correspondent and author of  The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles: A Woman’s Fight to Save Two Orphans.” Image Credit: Goodreads.

Several things have come together in the last few months – centred around news about the war in Syria, chemical weapons, the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and the ongoing geopolitical information war:

  • Government propaganda and claims have become more aggressive – particularly from the UK and USA;
  • Syria and chemical weapons have become central to the Russophobic arguments of these governments;
  • The mainstream media has enthusiastically and unquestioningly promoted these claims;
  • Alternative media, journalists and critics of this propaganda and government policies are being singled out for personal attack, and
  • Readers and viewers are aggressively being directed away from alternative news sources.

OK,  readers here will have picked up on the tone of some of my recent posts so will not be surprised that I think this way. But, let’s be clear, it is not only me.

Journalists also concerned

The highly respected Middle East correspondent, Hala Jaber, who used to work for the London Times wrote in a series of Tweets last week (see @HalaJaber – 18:36 UTC – 19 Apr 2018):

“In my entire career, spanning more than three decades of professional journalism, I have never seen MSM resolve to such ugly smear campaigns & hit pieces against those questioning mainstream narratives, with a different view point, as I have seen on Syria, recently.

This is a dangerous manoeuvre a witch hunt in fact, aimed not only at character assassination, but at attempting to silence those who think differently or even sway from mainstream & state narrative.

It would have been more productive, to actually question the reason why more & more people are indeed turning to alternative voices for information & news, than to dish out ad hominem smears aimed at intimidating by labelling alternative voices as conspirators or apologists.

The journalists, activists, professors & citizens under attack are presenting an alternative view point. Surely, people are entitled to hear those and are intelligent enough to make their own judgments. 

Or is there an assumption, (patronizing, if so), that the tens of thousands of people collectively following these alternative voices are too dumb & unintelligent to reach their own conclusions by sifting through the mass information being dished at them daily from all sides? 

Like it or hate it, agree or disagree with them, the bottom line is that the people under attack do present an alternative view pointLeast we forget, no one has a monopoly on truth. Are all those currently launching this witch hunt suggesting they do?”

Moon of Alabama provides an excellent summary of recent events – far better than what I tried to do with the same material. So I will just quote from their article – The Media War On Truthful Reporting And Legitimate Opinions – A Documentary.

The media smears begin

Remember PropOrNot?

“In fall 2016 a smear campaign was launched against 200 websites which did not conform to NATO propaganda.”

They even provided a browser add-on which would warn you that you were reading material from a website they classified as a “Russian propaganda outlet.” Despite being promoted by some of the mainstream media it was considered a bit of a joke –  independent writers and sources who missed out on the classification were somewhat pissed off.

It still exists as a promoter of extreme Russophobic views on Twitter ().

Government propaganda gets childish and journalists become stenographers

Then came the infamous “dashboard’ which the UK and US governments appear to be using as a source of claims for increased activity of “Russian bots.”

“The neoconservative Alliance For Securing Democracy declared that any doubt of the veracity of U.S. propaganda stories discussed on Twitter was part of a “Russian influence campaign”. Their ‘dashboard‘ shows the most prominent hashtags and themes tweeted and retweeted by some 600 hand-selected but undisclosed accounts. (I have reason to believe that @MoonofA is among them.) The dashboard gave rise to an endless line of main-stream stories faking concern over alleged “Russian influence”. The New York Times published several such stories including this recent one:”

This is from that NYT article  (Trump Declines to Add Sanctions Against Russians, Contradicting Haley) discussing the recent illegal FUKUS missile attack on Syria:

“Russia did not respond militarily to the Friday strike, but American officials noted a sharp spike in Russian online activity around the time it was launched.

A snapshot on Friday night recorded a 2,000 percent increase in citing the hashtag #isupportsyria on Russian troll networks, according to a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security who was not authorized to discuss the issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. Additionally, the official said, the known Russian hashtag #SyriaStrikes had a 4,443 percent increase in activity while another, #Damsucs, saw a 2,800 percent jump.”

The use of such “dashboard” data is, of course, disingenuous. The Times attributed the “bot” claims to Tyler Q. Holton. the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security:

“One suspects that Holton used the bizzare statistic of the infamous ‘Dashboard‘ created by the neoconservative, anti-Russian lobby. The dashboard creators asserted that the use of certain hashtags is a sign of ‘Russian bots’. On December 25 the dashboard showed that Russian trolls and bots made extensive use of the hashtag #MerryChristmas to undermine America’s moral.


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One of the creators of the dashboard, Clint Watts, has since confessed that it is mere bullshit:

“I’m not convinced on this bot thing,” said Watts, the cofounder of a project that is widely cited as the main, if not only, source of information on Russian bots. He also called the narrative “overdone.”

But, worse still – not only do we get governments making such stupid statements, we are now getting journalist reporting them without any questions:

As government spokesperson Holton is supposed to spout propaganda that supports the government’s policies. But propaganda is ineffective when it does not adhere to basic realities. Holton is bad at his job. Baker, the NYT author, did even worse. He repeated the government’s propaganda bullshit without pointing out and explaining that it obviously did not make any sense. He  used it to further his own opinionated, false narrative. It took a day for the Times to issue a partial correction of the fact free tale.”

This as a concern – these days the media is simply repeating government propaganda without any of the questioning we should expect from journalists. Some media critics are now describing these “journalists” as “stenographers.”

Personal attacks

“Last December the Guardian commissioned a hatchet job against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. Beeley and Bartlett extensively reported (vid) from the ground in Syria on the British propaganda racket “White Helmets”. The Guardian piece defended the ‘heros’ of the White Helmets and insinuated that both journalists were Russian paid stooges.”

Both these independent reporters have provided important eye-witness reports from Syria and done much to expose how our mainstream media misrepresents the situation. I referred to Vanessa Beeley’s reports in my articles Anti-Syrian propaganda and the White HelmetsWhite Helmets dupes New Zealand government? and The first casualty . .

“In March the self proclaimed whistle-blower and blowhard Sibel Edmonds of Newsbud launched a lunatic broadside smear attack(vid) against Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett. The Corbett Report debunked (vid) the nonsense. (The debunking received 59,000 views. Edmonds public wanking was seen by less than 23,000 people.)”

Recently government and media apologists have used the “fact-checking” site Polygraph.info. (a project of the CIA propaganda outlets Voice of America and Radio Free Europe):

“On April 4 the Polygraph wrote a smear piece about the Twitter account Ian56 (@Ian56789). Its headline: Disinfo News: Doing the Kremlin’s Work: A Fake Twitter Troll Pushes Many Opinions:
“Ben Nimmo, the Senior Fellow for Information Defense at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, studies the exploits of “Ian56” and similar accounts on Twitter. His recent article in the online publication Medium profiles such fake pro-Kremlin accounts and demonstrates how they operate.”

…Nimmo, and several other dimwits quoted in the piece, came to the conclusion that Ian56 is a Kremlin paid troll, not a real person. Next to Ian56 Nimmo ‘identified’ other ‘Russian troll’ accounts:

“Ben Nimmo @benimmo – 10:50 UTC – 24 Mar 2018 One particularly influential retweeter (judging by the number of accounts which then retweeted it) was @ValLisitsa, which posts in English and Russian. Last year, this account joined the troll-factory #StopMorganLie campaign.”

Nimmo’s employer, the Atlantic Council, is a lobby of companies who profit from war.”

The crude level of these claims is indicated by the fact that @ValLisitsa is the twitter account of  Valentina Lisitsa, a famous American-Ukrainian pianist.

“Yes, she sometimes tweets in Russian language to her many fans in Russia and the Ukraine. Is that now a crime? The videos of her performances on Youtube have more than 170 million views. It is absurd to claim that she is a ‘Russian troll’ and to insinuate that she is taking Kremlin money to push ‘Russian troll’ opinions.”

Polygraph.info wrote:

““Ian56,” it seems, is not a real person. He (or she) does seem to be the creation of a flesh and blood Russian, experts say, not a “bot” but a “troll.””

But  is, in fact, the Twitter account of a very real British Pensioner, Ian Shilling. He was interviewed by Sky News:

I should point out this definition of a bot:

“A Twitter bot is a type of bot software that controls a Twitter account via the Twitter API. The bot software may autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, retweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts.”

Yet these interviewers ask a flesh and blood person if he is a bot! Also, they had the hypocrisy to suggest he may not be carefully checking out the veracity of the stories he retweets – a question they never put to the government spokespersons and media journalists who make these unverified and stupid claims all the time.

Academics in the frame

“On April 14 Murdoch’s London Times took personal aim at the members of a group of British academics who assembled to scientifically investigate dubious claims against Syria. Their first investigation report though, was about the Skripal incident in Salisbury. The London Times also targeted Bartlett and Beeley. The piece was leading on page one with the headline: “Apologists for Assad working in universities”. A page two splash and an editorial complemented the full fledged attack on the livelihood of the scientists.


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Tim Hayward, who initiated the academic group, published a (too) mild response.”

The Guardian channels UK government propaganda

A Guardian article, Russia spread fake news via Twitter bots after Salisbury poisoning – analysis, uncritically repeated UK government claims and in the process smeared Ian Shilling (see video above) and Maram Susil, a Syrian-born Australian scientist, as “Russian bots” claiming:

“Russia used trolls and bots to unleash disinformation on to social media in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, according to fresh Whitehall analysis. Government sources said experts had uncovered an increase of up to 4,000% in the spread of propaganda from Russia-based accounts since the attack,– many of which were identifiable as automated bots.

But civil servants identified a sharp increase in the flow of fake news after the Salisbury poisoning, which continued in the runup to the airstrikes on Syria.

One bot, @Ian56789, was sending 100 posts a day during a 12-day period from 7 April, and reached 23 million users, before the account was suspended. It focused on claims that the chemical weapons attack on Douma had been falsified, using the hashtag #falseflag. Another, @Partisangirl, reached 61 million users with 2,300 posts over the same 12-day period.”

The Guardian journalist who authored this story responded to criticism of her article with the tweet:

“As I make very clear in the story, that’s the analysis of British government cyber experts – with whom you are quite welcome to disagree.”

I think that sums up the complete abandonment of their job by many mainstream media and why the term “stenographer” to describe them is so justified.

The Sky News interview of one of these “Russian Bots” Ian Shilling is shown above. He also published a written response:

“I have been campaigning against the Neocons and the Neocon Wars since January 2002, when I first realised Dick Cheney and the PNAC crowd were going to use 9/11 as the pretext to launch a disastrous invasion of Iraq. This has nothing to do with Russia. It has EVERYTHING to do with the massive lies constantly told by the UK & US governments about their illegal Wars of Aggression. “

The other “Russian bot” in the Guardian story, Maram Susli (@Partisangirl) posted her own video debunking the Guardian:

Partisangirl also showed that the government analysts and the Guardian couldn’t even get their figures right – again illustrating how journalists simply do not do any checking:

Ian Shilling (@Ian56789) posted a similar tweet illustrating how the figures given for his tweets were also highly inflated.

The take-home message

The Moon of Alabama article started with this quote about the Spanish civil war from George Orwell:

“Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.
George Orwell, Looking back on the Spanish War, Chapter 4″

So it is fitting that Moon of Alabama finished this excellent article with the comments:

“The governments and media would like to handle the war on Syria like they handled the war in Spain. They want reports without “any relation to the facts”. The media want to “retail the lies” and eager propagandists want to “build emotional superstructures over events that never happened.”

The new communication networks allow everyone to follow the war on Syria as diligently as George Orwell followed the war in Spain in which he took part. We no longer have to travel to see the differences of what really happens and what gets reported in the main stream press. We can debunk false government claims with freely available knowledge.

The governments, media and their stenographers would love to go back to the old times when they were not plagued by reports and tweets from Eva, Vanessa, Ian, Maram and Sarah or by blogposts like this one. The vicious campaign against any dissenting report or opinion is a sorry attempt to go back in time and to again gain the monopoly on ‘truth’.

It is on us to not let them succeed.”

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Novichock – a marketing ploy?

A new line of sunflower oil on Russian supermarket shelves.
Image credit: 

I came across this on twitter – a new line of sunflower oil launched on the Russian market. The labels claim the product is conducive to a long life and has a special flavour.

Perhaps the events in Salisbury are simply a marketing trick. Perhaps some old hacks from the KGB (prominently displayed on the label) have gone into the (sunflower) oil business.

Given the lack of transparency in the investigation and the confusing information we do have, I simply have not been able to make head nor tail of this whole event. None of the conspiracy theories seem at all credible

At this stage, this is the best explanation for the Salisbury poisoning I can find.

If nothing else it shows the Russian people certainly aren’t panicking and have not lost their sense of humour.

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The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?

There were no chemical weapons in Damascus. The French, UK and US (FUKUS) surely knew that. So, their missile attack in the weekend had nothing to chemical weapons.

We all know the first casualty of war is the truth. However, it seems that the time truth really gets a flogging is after a highly publicised military operation. All the levels of patriotism, nationalism and bravado are used. No faults can be admitted. And the “enemy” always suffers a horrible defeat.

Then, of course, dissident voices get suppressed or vilified. That is until everyone calms down and the truth starts to sink in.

It has happened before, (remember Iraq). It will happen again. And, although it may be too early to completely burst the bubble of self-declared victory, it happened again in the weekend with the missile attack on Syria by the French, UK and US (the FUKUS team).

The Barzah Scientific Research Centre, Damascus, before the weekend attack

But the truth is already coming out. The whole attack was based on a lie. The constant reference to proof from classified evidence is complete nonsense. We can see this clearly in the case of the main target – the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.

This centre was completely destroyed. Most of the missiles launched (76 out of about 105) targeted this centre. But why?

Pentagon Spokesperson U.S. Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie declared “We believe that by hitting Barzah, in particular, we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.”

A Syrian soldier films the damage at the site of the Barzah Scientific Research Center in Damascus on Saturday morning after it was annihilated by 76 missiles. Image source: Daily Mail: Pentagon celebrates airstrikes which ‘crippled’ Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal 

So there you have it. This is maybe the key “fact” that the FUKUS military action centred on. The claim that the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre was the “heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program.” That’s where most of the destruction occurred, where most of the missiles were targeted. And US spokespersons claim they have successfully destroyed the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

What does the OPCW say about this centre?

While the FUKUS team has not supplied a single verifiable fact to support their action the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has supplied plenty of evidence to show the attack was based on a lie. And that evidence was surely known by the intelligence communities in France, UK and USA.

That OPCW evidence is in official reports from their investigators who regularly monitor possible chemical weapons sites in Syria (and other countries). The OPCW regularly monitor the  Barzah Scientific Research Centre. Here is an extract from one of the latest OPCW reports (23 March 2018) which refers specifically to the Barezeh Scientific Research Centre (see OPCW Document EC-88/DG.1 “PROGRESS IN THE ELIMINATION OF THE SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROGRAMME”).

France, the UK and the USA are, together with Syria, signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). They have access to all these documents. In fact, they have members on the OPCW Executive Council who actively peruse these documents. The permanent representatives are Mr Philippe Lalliot for France, Mr Peter Wilson for the UK and Mr Kenneth D. Ward for the USA. FUKUS must have known that regular inspections did not show the presence of any chemical weapons or relevant chemicals at the Barezh Scientific Research Centre.

OK – they may well argue that these weapons had arrived since the last inspection (last November) or are hidden from the inspectors. If they honestly believed that then they should have used the “‘challenge inspection’ provisions” of the Convention:

“A unique feature of the CWC is its incorporation of the ‘challenge inspection’, whereby any State Party in doubt about another State Party’s compliance can request the Director-General to send an inspection team. Under the CWC’s ‘challenge inspection’ procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of ‘any time, anywhere’ inspections with no right of refusal.”

Comments from a worker at the centre

The morning after the attack, France 24 interviewed Said Said, an engineer who is head of the centre’s paint and plastics department (see At destroyed Syria lab, workers deny producing toxic weapons):

“The building had three storeys: a basement, ground floor, and second floor. It had labs and departments that were unfortunately completely destroyed, with all their equipment and furniture. Thank God, no one was here. As we work in civilian pharmaceutical and chemical research, we did not expect that we would be hit.”

According to Said Said only non-lethal research and development occurred at the centre. It had been producing antidotes to scorpion and snake venom while running tests on chemical products used in making food, medicine and children’s toys.

“If there were chemical weapons, we would not be able to stand here. I’ve been here since 5:30 am in full health — I’m not coughing.”

The OPCW had visited the site in Barzah in recent years and had declared it free of any toxic weapons.

“The OPCW used to stay in the two upper rooms, and use the labs, and we would cooperate with them completely. The OPCW has proven in two reports that this building and the centre as a whole are empty and do not produce any chemical weapons.”

Update

Here is a video of the interview referred to by France24:

To summarise

The FUKUS group clearly knew there were no chemical weapons at the Barzah Scientific Research Centre.  They had access to all the OPCW information on that centre. They claim to have relied on classified intelligence to make a different assessment. But that is clearly a lie – not only because “classified’ is the oldest trick in the book to hide the fact there is no evidence. But because any such evidence should have triggered a request by them for a “challenge inspection” – a request which could not have been refused by Syria.

Of course, we are still in the in the propaganda phase of this operation. Patriotism and jingoism are still driving the narrative of officials and politicians. The mainstream media suffers from this too and most real informaiton is coming from alternative media.

But these warmongers have an answer for that. According to Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White:

“The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours therefore we will keep you all abreast of the facts moving forward.”

I expect to be labelled one of “Putin’s useful idiots” (again) or – and this is a new one – one of “Assad’s useful idiots,” any day now for daring to look at the real facts behind this missile attack.

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OPCW on Salisbury poisoning – one step forward, two back?

Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons headquarters in The Hague. Image credit: Prensa Latina Ready Syria to Cooperate with Organization Against Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons are a current hot topic. We are bombarded daily with media reports mentioning them. They seem to be driving an increase in international tensions. And all sorts of conspiracy theories are circulating.

In the midst of the fast-moving narratives and claims, sensible people are asking for evidence. That is where the international watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should come in. So I welcome two bits of news which may help in the search for evidence;

  1. The completion of the OPCW work requested by the UK to provide independent confirmation of the UK findings on the toxic chemical behind the poisoning of three people (Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a father and daughter, and a local police officer Nicholas Bailey) in Salisbury, UK, and
  2. The beginning of the work of an OPCW investigation team, in the Syrian city of Douma where there are claims of a chemical weapons attack.

I will only discuss the OPCW report resulting from the UK request on the Salisbury poisonings – and then only the summary of the report. The UK agreed to declassify the summary but not the full report. We will have to wait until another member state releases the full report – if they ever do. I understand it is “voluminous.”

The summary can be downloaded from the OPCW –  SUMMARY OF THE REPORT ON ACTIVITIES CARRIED OUT IN SUPPORT OF A REQUEST FOR TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE BY THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND (TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE VISIT TAV/02/18)  These bureaucrats love long titles, don’t they?

It’s only two pages long and really only contains two important paragraphs worth discussing.

Confirmation of UK findings on “identity of the toxic chemical”

This was all the UK requested of the OPCW – that they provide an independent confirmation of the UK findings on the toxic chemical used. Unfortunately the OPCW was not given the mandate to make a full investigation of the incident (as they are now doing in Douma, Syria).

So their findings are (apparently) summarised in paragraph 10:

“The results of analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people. “

I have two comments on this paragraph.

1: It has been widely misreported. Ideologically driven news media have widely extended the “confirmation” to the UK narrative – the claim that a specific “novichock-type” chemical was used, that it originated in Russia – or even to claim that the OPCW is confirming the whole UK political story. The politicians have, of course, encouraged these misinterpretations. Boris Johnson, UK Foreign Secretary, has claimed a confirmation that the chemical “was a military grade nerve agent – a Novichok,”  (wrong) and that “there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible – only Russia has the means, motive and record “(see Salisbury incident: Foreign Secretary statement on OPCW report).

Oh well, you know how to detect when politicians are lying, don’t you? Well, we should add “when they give a press release” to “their lips moving.”

An example of media misrepresentation is this from the Wall Stree Journal –  The report puts beyond doubt that it was highly likely Russia carried out the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, using a nerve agent “of high purity”

This is just another example of fake news – especially considering that the UK simply asked for confirmation of their findings on the identity of the chemical used.

2: This paragraph does not actually identify the toxic chemical. It simply confirms the UK findings, without saying what these were. And it goes on to say in paragraph 12:

“The name and structure of the identified toxic chemical are contained in the full classified report of the Secretariat, available to States Parties.”

That is not much use, is it? Apparently they do have specific information about the toxic chemical but they are going to keep it secret. or more specifically the UK is because they could have allowed declassification of the whole report – in the “interests of the transparency” that Boris Johnson claims to support.

Well, let’s look further into this summary to see if we can get an idea of what exactly the OPCW is confirming.

The toxic chemical “identified by the UK”

The most informative section of the summary for this is paragraph 7:

“The team was briefed on the identity of the toxic chemical identified by the United Kingdom and was able to review analytical results and data from chemical analysis of biomedical samples collected by the British authorities from the affected individuals, as well as from environmental samples collected on site.”

Seriously! We are told that the OPCW investigation confirmed the UK expert findings – but we are not told what those findings are – unless we have a security clearance!

I agree – we can vaguely infer what those findings are from the statements of politicians like Theresa May and Boris Johnson. But, as a chemist and not a politician, I would actually like to know what the expert findings of the scientists at Porton Down are.

Findings like these get massaged when they are transferred to politicians and then issued to the media.  Scientists are often put in the position of having their findings misrepresented, exaggerated or downplayed for political interests – and as the misrepresentation is carried out by their political masters they have no comeback. They are effectively silenced.

So, I would love to see the technical findings from the Porton Down scientists, and the technical findings of the OPCW team. Currently, I have no way of reading these unless at some stage another member state (not the UK which classified the report) releases the full document.* I sincerely hope this happens. In this respect, Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, has commented:

“We are currently engaged in a detailed study of this report, there are very interesting moments that arise from reading this document.We will in the very near future try to make them public when experts, both ours and the relevant departments, will deal with this rather voluminous document.”

At the moment all I have is a summary which is strangely very uninformative about the facts. I find its presentation circular – confirmation of the “findings” but the only revelation of the findings is to refer back to the unpublished UK “findings.” Mind you, such circular arguments are commonly used by bureaucrats involved in issues which have political consequences.

So, one step forward. The OPCW has independently confirmed the chemical and structural nature of the toxic chemical used in Salisbury. Good.

But, no specific or scientific information on the very subject the OPCW was asked to confirm – the nature of the toxic chemical used in the Salisbury poisonings.

That, in my view, is two steps back.

*Note: There is already alternative “confidential” information circulating in the media that the Swiss laboratory involved in the “confirmation” of the toxic chemical in the UK samples produced results not mentioned in the OPCW report. These sort of rumours will inevitably continue while the full report remains secret.

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Anti-fluoridationist Paul Connett misrepresents NZ data

Slide 110 from Paul Connett’s presentation prepared for his planned meeting at Parliament Buildings last February

Here is another post in my series critiquing a PowerPoint presentation of Paul Connett – a leading US anti-fluoridation activist.

Paul prepared this for a meeting in New Zealand Parliament buildings last February. Although only three MPs turned up his presentation is important as it summarises almost all the arguments used by anti-fluoridation activists.

Connett claims NZ data shows fluoridation ineffective

Connett argues the evidence community water fluoridation (CWF) is effective in reducing tooth decay is weak. He covers this in slides 96-110 but in this post I will deal only with the New Zealand evidence he uses (slides 108-110).  Paul’s presentation can be downloaded for those wishing to look at it in detail – see Prof Paul Connett Power Point Presentation to Parliament 22nd Feb 2018.

The total New Zealand evidence Connett presents for this is a graphic obtained from his NZ offsiders, Fluoride Free NZ (FFNZ):

We know how unreliable FFNZ is as a source and the data is obviously cherry-picked. But what is the truth? What do the NZ School Dental statistics really say about the oral health of children in NZ?

I have covered this before – FFNZ misrepresentation of the MoH data is an annual event occurring each time the Ministry of Health adds its annual summary of the data to their web pages.

For a change, here is a breakdown and discussion of the 2016 data prepared by Environmental Health Indicators NZ in association with Massey University:

“Children in fluoridated areas generally have better oral health”

“Children living in communities with fluoridated drinking-water generally had better oral health than children living in non-fluoridated communities.

In 2016, around 60 percent of 5-year-olds were caries-free in their primary teeth. Rates were similar in fluoridated communities (60 percent) and non-fluoridated communities (60 percent) (Figure 1).

More Māori and Pacific Island 5-year-olds were caries-free in fluoridated communities than in non-fluoridated communities in 2016. The largest difference can be seen for Māori children.

5-year-olds had on average 1.8 decayed, missing or filled primary teeth in 2016. Children living in fluoridated communities had less decayed, missing or filled teeth than children living in non-fluoridated communities (Figure 2).

This difference is particular large for Māori children. 5-year old Māori children had on average 2.5 decayed, missing or filled teeth in fluoridated communities compared to 3.3 decayed, missing or filled teeth in non-fluoridated communities in 2016.”

I am unable to embed the Environmental Health Indicators NZ graphs, but they are essentially the same I presented in my article Anti-fluoridationists misrepresent New Zealand dental data – an annual event so I reproduce that section of the article below:


What does the new data really say?

Let’s look at a summary of the data – for 5-year-olds and year 8 children – and for the different ethnic groups listed – Māori, Pacific Island and “other”(mainly Pakeha and Asian).  You can download the spreadsheets contain the data from the MoH web page – Age 5 and Year 8 oral health data from the Community Oral Health ServiceWe will look at the % of these children that a free from caries as well as the mean decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft and DMFT) for each group.

5-year-olds

Notice the FFNZ cherry picking? Yes, the “Total” figures show very little difference but if they had dared look at different ethnic groups their argument would not have looked so great. Fluoridation appears to be associated with an improvement of dental health from about 6% (for “Other”) to 23% (for Māori)

Year 8 children

You can see why  FFNZ chose the 5-year-olds instead of year 8 children. Even the misleading data for the “Total” group suggests an almost 20% improvement of dental health in fluoridated areas.  Fluoridation appears to be associated with an improvement of dental health from about 18% (for “Other”) to 30% (for Māori).


What’s the problem with the 2009 Oral Health Survey?

Anti-fluoride activists love to hate this survey because it concluded:

“Overall, children and adults living in fluoridated areas had significantly lower lifetime experience of dental decay (ie, lower dmft/DMFT) than those in non-fluoridated areas. There was a very low overall prevalence of moderate fluorosis (about 2%; no severe fluorosis was found), and no significant difference in the prevalence of moderate fluorosis (or any of the milder.

“These findings support international evidence that water fluoridation has oral health benefits for both adults and children. In addition, these findings should provide reassurance that moderate fluorosis is very rare in New Zealand, and that the prevalence of any level of fluorosis was not significantly different for people living in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas.”

Yes, it covers only the period up to 2008 and it would be good to get more recent high-quality data from a similar study.

But Connett’s accusation of “cherry-picked data” is simply wrong – and dishonest. In fact, scientific principles were used to obtain a representative sample for the survey – recognising that oral health is strongly influenced by ethnic, regional and fluoridation differences.

The methods used are explained in 22 pages of the report –  MoH. (2010). Our Oral Health Key findings of the 2009 New Zealand Oral Health Survey

In contrast, the annual School Dental Data is simply a record of overall findings. There is no attempt to standardise diagnostic and reporting methods to the standard of the Oral Health Survey or scientific studies.

But, of course, it provides a lot of data which can be cherry-picked to support a specific argument or confirm a bias. FFNSZ and Paul Connett have ignored all the known ethnic, social and regional differences in their cherry-picking. Consequently, their reported “findings” do not have credibility.

Conclusion

I think it is somewhat disrespectful of Paul Connett to include such a shonky bit of misrepresentation in a presentation prepared for members of parliament. It is also disrespectful in that he relies on his scientific qualifications, his Ph. D. to give “respectability” to a scientific argument which is so easily shown to be false.

Surely our members of parliament deserve something better than this.

Although, even with members of parliament, I guess the old adage “reader (or listener) beware” applies. Sensible MPs will not accept such assurances at face value and will seek out adive=ce on such matters from their officials and experts.

I guess we should feel pretty confident that most of our MPs are sensible in this repect. The fact they did not turn up to a meeting to hear someone well-known for misrepresenting the science is telling – and this despite the fact that anti-fluoride activists were exerting strong pressure on MPs to attend.

Politicians have experienced, and learned from, excessive lobbying, pressuring and untruthful submissions precisely because of their targeting by anti-science activist groups like FFNZ. They know this is why local councils wanted the central government to take over fluoridation decisions.

I suspect our parliamentary politicians are a little more mature than our local body politicians and now  treat such organised campaigns like water off a duck’s back.

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Anti-fluoridationists rejection of IQ studies in fluoridated area.

US anti-fluoride activist Paul Connett claims studies cannot detect an IQ effect from fluoridated water because total fluoride intake is the real problem – but still campaigns against community water fluoridation. Image credit: MSoF “Activist Spouts Nonsense – The Evidence Supports Fluoridation”

This is another article in my critique of the presentation Paul Connett prepared to present to a meeting at Parliament in February.

I deal with his coverage of the studies of IQ effects where community water fluoridation (CWF) is used. There are now actually three such studies (Broadbent et al. 2015, Barberio et al. 2017  and  Aggeborn & Öhman 2016), but Connett pretends there is only one – the Broadbent et al. (2015) New Zealand study.

Maybe because it was the first one to provide evidence challenging his extrapolation of the fluoride/IQ studies (see The 52 IQ studies used by anti-fluoride campaigners) results in areas of endemic fluorosis to areas where CWF is used. It is also the study which seems to have resulted in the most hostility from anti-fluoride campaigners.

So here I will just be sticking with his criticism of the New Zealand study Broadbent et al (2015):

Slide 76 from Paul Connett’s presentation prepared for his February meeting at  parliament buildings

Broadbent’s findings do not “negate all other human studies”

Paul allows emotion to get the better of him as no one is suggesting this at all. The studies Connett refers to are all from areas of endemic fluorosis (see  The 52 IQ studies used by anti-fluoride campaigners), not from areas of CWF.

Broadbent et al (2015) simply concluded that their “findings do not support the assertion that fluoride in the context of CWF programmes is neurotoxic.”  That is a modest statement and Broadbent et al. (2015) simply do not draw any conclusions about the studies Connett relies on. But, of course, Connett is upset because this and similar studies just do not support his attempt to extrapolate results from areas of endemic fluorosis to areas of CWF.

The health problems suffered by people in areas of endemic fluorosis are real and it is right they should be studied and attempts made to alleviate them. But this has absolutely nothing to do with CWF.

“Fatally flawed” charge is itself fatally flawed

Again, Paul has allowed emotions to get the upper hand. It is possible, and necessary, to critique published papers – but critiques should be evidence-based and realistic. Paul’s “fatally flawed” charge (slides 77 & 78) simply displays how much this paper has put his nose out of joint.

But let’s look at the specific “flaws” Paul (and other critics associated with the Fluoride Action Network) claim.

The two villages mindset: Paul alleges that the Broadbent et al (2015) study “essentially compared two groups.” He is stuck in the mindset of most of his 52  studies from areas of endemic fluorosis (see  Fluoride & IQ: The 52 Studies). The mindset of simply comparing the IQ levels of children in a village suffering endemic fluorosis with the IQ levels of children in a village not suffering endemic fluorosis. This simple approach can identify statistically significant differences between the villages but provides little information on causes. For example, most of these studies used drinking water fluoride as a parameter but there could be a whole range of other causes related to health problems of fluorosis.

Professor Richie Poulton, current Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit

In contrast, Broadbent et al. (2015) used “General Linear models to assess the association between CWF and IQ in childhood and adulthood, after adjusting for potential confounders.” The statistical analysis involved includes accounting for a range of possible risk-modifying factors besides CWF., This was possible because the study was part of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. This is a highly reputable long-running cohort study of 1037 people born in 1972/1973 with information covering many areas.

The fluoride tablets argument: Connett and other critics always raise this issue – the fact that “In New Zealand during the 1970s, when the study children were young, F supplements were often prescribed to those living in unfluoridated areas.” Often they will go further to claim that all the children in the unfluoridated area of this study were receiving fluoride tablets – something they have no way of knowing.

But the fact remains that fluoride tablets were included in the statistical analysis. No statistically significant effect was seen for them.  Overlap of use of fluoride tablets with residence in fluoridated or unfluoridated areas will have occurred and their influence would be reflected in the results found. Presumably, the effect would be to increase the confidence intervals. As the critics, Menkes et al. (2014), say “comparing groups with overlapping exposure thus compromises the study’s statistical power to determine the single effect of CWF.”  I agree. But this does not negate the findings which are reported with the appropriate confidence intervals (see below).

The point is that the simplistic argument that effects of fluoride tablets were ignored is just not correct. Their effect is reflected in the results obtained.

Potential confounders: Many poor quality studies have ignored possible confounders, or considered only a few. This is a general problem with these sort of studies – and even when attempts are made to include all that the researchers consider important a critic can always claim there may be others – especially if they do not like the results. Claims of failing to consider confounders can often be simply the last resort of armchair critics.

In this case, there is no actual reported association to be confounded (unlike my identification of this problem with the Malin & Till 2015 ADHD study – see Perrott 2017). However, Osmunson et al. (2016) specifically raised possibilities of confounding by lead, manganese, mother’s IQ and rural vs urban residence. Mekes et al. (2014) also raised the rural vs urban issue as well as a possible effect from breastfeeding reducing fluoride intake by children in fluoridated areas.  In their response, Broadbent et al (2015b & 2016) reported that a check showed no significant effect of lead or distance from the city centre and pointed out that manganese levels were too low to have an effect. Broadbent et al (2015b) also reported no significant breastfeeding-fluoride interaction occurred.

Numbers involved: Connett claims the study was fatally flawed because “it had very few controls: 991 lived in the fluoridated area, and only 99 in non-fluoridated” (Slide 77). But the numbers are simply given by the longer term Dunedin study themselves – they weren’t chosen by Broadbent and his co-workers. That is the real world and is hardly a “fatal flaw.”

The 95% confidence intervals

Yes, statisticians always love to work with the large numbers but in the real world, we take what we have. Smaller numbers mean less statistical confidence in the result – but given that Broadbent et al (2015) provides the results, together with confidence intervals, it is silly to describe this as fatally flawed. These were the results given in the paper for the parameter estimate of the factors of interest:

Factor Parameter estimate 95% Confidence interval p-value
Area of residence -0.01 -3.22 to 3.20 .996
Fluoride toothpaste use 0.70 -1.03 to 2.43 .428
Fluoride tablets 1.55 -0.38 to 3.49 .116

Connett did not refer to the confidence intervals reported by Broadbent et al (2015). However, Grandjean and Choi (2015) did describe them as “wide” – probably because they were attempting to excuse the extrapolation of “fluoride as a potential neurotoxic hazard” from areas of endemic fluorosis to CWF.

The argument over confidence intervals can amount to straw clutching – a “yes but” argument which says “the effect is still there but is small and your study was not large enough to find it.” That argument can be never ending but it is worth noting that Aggeborn & Öhman (2016) made a similar comment about wide confidence intervals for all fluoride/IQ studies, including that of Broadbent et al. (2015).  Aggeborn & Öhman (2016) had a very large sample (almost 82,000 were involved in the cognitive ability comparisons) and reported confidence intervals of -0.18 to 1.03 IQ points (compared with -3.22 to 3.20 IQ points reported by Broadbent et al 2015). Based on this they commented, “we are confident to claim that we have estimated a zero-effect on cognitive ability.”

The “yes but” argument about confidence intervals may mean one is simply expressing faith in an effect so small as to be meaningless.

Total fluoride exposure should have been used: Connett says (slide 77) “Broadbent et al did not use the proper measure of fluoride exposure. They should have used total F exposure.  Instead, they used only exposure from fluoridated water.” Osmunson et al. (2016) make a similar point, claiming that the study should not have considered drinking water fluoride concentration but total fluoride intake. They go so far as to claim “the question is not whether CWF reduces IQ, but whether or not total fluoride intake reduces IQ.”

This smacks of goalpost moving – especially as the argument has specifically been about drinking water fluoride and most of the studies they rely on from areas of endemic fluorosis specifically used that parameter.

In their response to this criticism Broadbent et al (2016) calculated estimates for total daily fluoride intake and used them in their analysis which “resulted in no meaningful change of significance, effect size, or direction in our original findings.”

It’s interesting to note that Connett and his co-workers appear to miss completely the point about “wide” confidence intervals made by Grandjean and Choi (2015). Instead, they have elevated their argument to the claim that fluoride intake is almost the same in both fluoridated and unfluoridated areas so that any study will not be able to detect a difference in IQ. Essentially they are claiming that we are all going to suffer IQ deficits whether we live in fluoridated or unfluoridated areas.

This is the central argument of their paper – Hirzy et al (2016). However, the whole argument relies on their own estimates of dietary intakes – a clear example where motivated analysts will make the assumptions that fit and support their own arguments. This argument also fails to explain why the Dunedin study found lower tooth decay in fluoridated areas.

Last time I checked the anti-fluoride campaigners, including Connett, were still focusing on CWF – fluoride in drinking water. One would think if they really believed their criticism that they would have given up that campaign and instead devoted their energies to the total fluoride intake alone.

Conclusions

All studies have limitations and of course, Broadbent et al. (2015) is no exception. However, the specific criticisms made by Connett and his fellow critics do not stand up to scrutiny. Most have been responded to and shown wrong – mind you this does not stop these critics from continuing to repeat them and disregard the responses.

I believe the relatively wide confidence intervals could be a valid criticism – although it does suggest a critic who is arguing for very small effects. A critic who may always find the confidence intervals still exclude their very small effect – no matter how large the study is.

In effect, the narrow confidence intervals reported by Aggeborn & Öhman (2016) should put that argument to rest for any rational person.

References

Aggeborn, L., & Öhman, M. (2016). The Effects of Fluoride In The Drinking Water

Barberio, A. M., Quiñonez, C., Hosein, F. S., & McLaren, L. (2017). Fluoride exposure and reported learning disability diagnosis among Canadian children: Implications for community water fluoridation. Can J Public Health, 108(3),

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2015). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 72–76.

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Moffitt, T., Poulton, R., & Poulton, R. (2015b). Health effects of water fluoridation: a response to the letter by Menkes et al. NZMJ, 128(1410), 73–74.

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Moffitt, T. E., & Poulton, R. (2016). BROADBENT ET AL. RESPOND. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2), 213–214. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302918

Grandjean, P., Choi, A. (2015). Letter: Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence. Am J Pub Health, 105(4).

Hirzy, J. W., Connett, P., Xiang, Q., Spittle, B. J., & Kennedy, D. C. (2016). Developmental neurotoxicity of fluoride: a quantitative risk analysis towards establishing a safe daily dose of fluoride for children. Fluoride, 49(December), 379–400.

Malin, A. J., & Till, C. (2015). Exposure to fluoridated water and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prevalence among children and adolescents in the United States: an ecological association. Environmental Health, 14.

Menkes, D. B., Thiessen, K., & Williams, J. (2014). Health effects of water fluoridation — how “ effectively settled ” is the science? NZ Med J, 127(1407), 84–86.

Osmunson, B., Limeback, H., & Neurath, C. (2016). Study incapable of detecting IQ loss from fluoride. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2), 212–2013.

Perrott, K. W. (2017). Fluoridation and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – a critique of Malin and Till ( 2015 ). Br Dent J.

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March ’18 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Image credit: PABLO HELGUERA – Classical Cartoon At Noon: If Wagner Had A Blog

I notice a few regulars no longer allow public access to the site counters. This may happen accidentally when the blog format is altered. If your blog is unexpectedly missing please check this out. Send me the URL for your site meter and I can correct the information in the database.

Similarly, if your blog data in this list seems out of whack, please check your site meter. Usually, the problem is that for some reason your site meter is no longer working.

Sitemeter is no longer working so the total number of NZ blogs in this list has been drastically reduced. I recommend anyone with Sitemeter consider transferring to one of the other meters. See  NZ Blog Rankings FAQ.

This list is composed automatically from the data in the various site meters used. If you feel the data in this list is wrong could you check to make sure the problem is not with your own site meter? I am of course happy to correct any mistakes that occur in the automatic transfer of data to this list but cannot be responsible for the site meters themselves. They do play up.

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

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for March 2018. 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

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A conference paper on the maternal neonatal urinary fluoride/child IQ study has problems

Image credit: Do new mothers doing a Ph.D. get enough support?

The anti-fluoride movement has certainly mobilised over the neonatal maternal urinary fluoride study which reported an association with child IQ. They see it as the best thing since sliced bread and believe it should lead to the end of fluoridation worldwide.

They also seem to be putting all their eggs in this one basket and have started a campaign aimed at stopping pregnant women from drinking fluoridated water (See Warning to Pregnant Women: Do Not Drink Fluoridated Water).

So I was not surprised to see a newsletter this morning from the Fluoride Action Network reporting another output from this study – a conference paper (most likely a poster) presented at the  3rd Early Career Researchers Conference on Environmental Epidemiology. The meeting was in Freising, Germany, on 19-20 March 2018.

I had been aware of the poster for the last week so had expected FAN to gleefully jump on it and start promoting it in their campaigns.

Here is a link to the abstract:

Thomas, D., Sanchez, B., Peterson, K., Basu, N., Angeles Martinez-Mier, E., Mercado-Garcia, A., … Tellez-Rojo, M. M. (2018). Prenatal fluoride exposure and neurobehavior among children 1-3 years of age in Mexico. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 75(Suppl 1), A10–A10.

It’s only an abstract and it may be some time before a formal paper is published, if at all. Posters do not get much in the way of peer review and often not followed by formal papers.  So I can’t say much about the poster at this stage as I never like to make an assessment of studies on the basis of abstracts alone.

But, in this case, I have Deena Thomas’s Ph.D. thesis which was the first place the work was reported. If you are interested you can access it from this link:

Thomas, D. B. (2014). Fluoride exposure during pregnancy and its effects on childhood neurobehavior: a study among mother-child pairs from Mexico City, Mexico. University of Michigan.

I will wait for a formal paper before properly critiquing the poster, but at the moment I find a big discrepancy between the Thesis conclusions and the conclusions presented in the poster abstract.

Thesis conclusions

In her work, Deena Thomas used the Mental Development Index (MDI) which is an appropriate way of determining neurobehavioral effects in young children.

She concluded in her thesis (page 37):

“Neither maternal urinary or plasma fluoride was associated with offspring MDI scores”

And (page 38):

“This analysis suggests that maternal intake of fluoride during pregnancy does not have a strong impact on offspring cognitive development in the first three years of life.”

And further (page 48):

“Maternal intake of fluoride during pregnancy does not have any measurable effects on cognition in early life.”

So – no association found of child MDI score with maternal neonatal urinary F concentrations.

Poster conclusions

But the poster tells a different story.

The abstract concluded:

“Our findings add to our team’s recently published report on prenatal fluoride and cognition at ages 4 and 6–12 years by suggesting that higher in utero exposure to F has an adverse impact on offspring cognitive development that can be detected earlier, in the first three years of life.”

So her conclusions reported in her thesis are exactly the opposite of the conclusions reported in her conference poster!

What the hell is going on?

The data

Obviously, I do not have access to the data and she does not provide it in her thesis. But from her descriptions of the data in her thesis and her poster perhaps we can draw some tentative conclusions.

The table below displays the data description, and a description of the best-fit line determined by statistical analysis, in her thesis and her poster.

Information on data Thomas Ph.D. Thesis Conference abstract
Number of mother/child pairs 431 401
Maternal Urinary F range (mg/L) 0.110 – 3.439 0.195 – 3.673
Mean maternal urinary F (mg/L) 0.896 0.835
Model β* -0.631 -2.40
Model p-value 0.391 – Not significant
95% CI for β -4.38 to -0.40

*β is the coefficient, or slope, of the best-fit line

Conclusions

Apparently at least 30 data pairs have been removed from her thesis data to produce the dataset used for her poster. Perhaps even some data pairs were added (the maximum urinary F value is higher in the smaller data set used for the poster).

This sort of change in the data selected for the statistical analysis could easily swing the conclusion from no effect to a statistically significant effect. So the reasons for the changes to the dataset are of special interest.

Paul Connett claims this poster “strengthens” the findings reported in the Bashash paper.  He adds:

“This finding adds strength to the rapidly accumulating evidence that a pregnant woman’s intake of fluoride similar to that from artificially fluoridated water can cause a large loss of IQ in the offspring.”

But this comes only by apparently removing the conflicting conclusions presented in Deela Thomas’s Ph.D. thesis. We are still left with the need to explain this conflict and why a significant section of the data was removed.

To be clear – I am not accusing Thomas et al. (2018) of fiddling the data to get the result they did. Just that, given the different conclusions in her thesis and the poster,  there is a responsibility to explain the changes made to the dataset.

From the limited information presented in the poster abstract, I would think the scatter in the data could be like that seen in the Bashash et al. (2017) paper. The coefficient of the best fit line (β) is relatively small and while the 95% CI indicates the fit is statistically significant its closeness to zero suggest that it is a close thing.

However, let’s look forward to getting better information on this particular study either through correspondence or formal publication of a research paper.

Other articles on the Mexican study

Fluoride, pregnancy and the IQ of offspring,
Maternal urinary fluoride/IQ study – an update,
Anti-fluoridation campaigners often use statistical significance to confirm bias,
Paul Connett “updates” NZ MPs about fluoride?
Paul Connett’s misrepresentation of maternal F exposure study debunked,
Mary Byrne’s criticism is misplaced and avoids the real issues

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