Tag Archives: conspiracy theory

Pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners

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Twitter time-line from an anti-fluoride propagandist – Click to enlarge

Social media can be bloody frustrating at times.

I do find Twitter useful for identifying interesting newspaper reports, scientific articles and videos – often long before I would see them myself on other sources. But, boy, there is loads of rubbish – especially when following a search term rather than people you trust.

Take search terms like #fluoride and #fluoridation – most of the time these are a complete waste because they are dominated by crazies who are using Twitter as a political propaganda tool. Click on the image to the left to see just a small part of the timeline from one of these propagandists.

But there are exceptions. Over the weekend these search terms went crazy with links to a great article in the Guardian by David Robert Grimes –  Politicians should stop pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners. I recommend you read this if you haven’t already.

Sound and fury of opposing ideology

Grimes

David Robert Grimes

Grimes is commenting on the irrational backlash against fluoridation in the Republic of Ireland – and expecting a similar backlash to last week’s report from Public Health England urging more councils to consider fluoridating their water supplies. He said “as with so many public health interventions, the sound and fury of opposing ideology often trumps rational analysis.”

“Fluoride has been added to water in Ireland since the 1960s and has substantially improved the nation’s dental health, even in the era of fluoridated toothpaste. Despite this, a small but highly vocal opposition repeatedly pops up to claim fluoridation is harmful to health. These claims have been debunked time and time again.

The current incarnation of the opposition relies heavily on a report by self-proclaimed “fluoridation scientist” Declan Waugh, who blames fluoride for a range of illnesses. The report has been roundly dismissed by the Irish Expert Board on Fluoridation and Health, its chairman Dr Seamus O’Hickey concluding that … in spite of its presentation, its content is decidedly unscientific … the allegations of ill-health effects are based on a misreading of laboratory experiments and human health studies, and also on an unfounded personal theory of the author’s.”

Despite this, clever use of social media and strong lobbying has gained fluoridation naysayers considerable political traction, prompting the Irish government to promise yet another full review of the practice.”

Appeasing politicians

And this is his concern –  appeasement by politicians:

“perhaps the ugliest facet of the Irish debate is how elected representatives have given such outlandish fringe assertions a sense of legitimacy. One Irish politician has claimed that fluoridation causes cancer and Down’s syndrome; others have demanded an end to the practice, parroting claims that would have taken all of three minutes on Wikipedia to expose as utter nonsense.

The Irish government’s response is appeasement, and a waste of time and public money. Not only is there already an Irish body that routinely reviews the safety of fluoridation, this is a Sisyphean task because anti-fluoride groups have already reached their conclusion, and will trust no expert body unless it agrees with their assertions. Almost certainly fluoride will get yet another clean bill of health, campaigners will reject the findings and the same tedious cycle will repeat again, in much the same way parents who oppose vaccination are impervious to the scientific literature undermining their position.

It is irresponsible for politicians to show such contempt for science that they’re willing to take the lead from pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists rather than experts. Leadership should be about making the best decisions based on the data available, even on emotive issues such as fluoridation and vaccination.”

Hear, hear – that is exactly how I felt about the Hamilton City Council politicians who gave far more weight to “pseudoscientists and conspiracy theorists rather than experts” in their deliberations on fluoridation last year.

A quirk of human psychology?

Grimes makes an interesting observation that the sort of irrationality, conformation bias, motivated reasoning and conspiracy theories we see in the anti-fluoridation and similar movements is really just part of human nature.

“That such beliefs persist in the face of strong evidence may be a quirk of human psychology. Campaigners may see themselves as enlightened crusaders, so when their assertions are questioned or contradicted by the data, this is viewed not as a useful correction of error but rather an attack on their identity and narrative. Conspiratorial thinking is endemic in such groups with critics being regarded as agents of some ominous interest group – big pharma is a common bogeyman – that wants to conceal the truth. This becomes a defence mechanism to protect beliefs that are incompatible with the evidence.

If all else fails, attacking the messenger may be easier than accepting that your whole raison d’être is misguided.

Motivated rejection of evidence is often a symptom of cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals are challenged by information inconsistent with their beliefs. They may reject unwelcome information, seek confirmation from those who already share their beleaguered viewpoint, and try to convince others of the veracity of their world view. This may explain why some people proselytise even more vigorously after their beliefs have been debunked.”

So, perhaps we can understand the psychological motivations of people promoting pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. But, as Grimes says,” this does note excuse the fact that “elected representatives have given such outlandish fringe assertions a sense of legitimacy.” That goes for Hamilton as well as Ireland.

Grimes finishes with a message to the politicians:

“what is crucial is that decisions are based on scientific research, not misinformation and fear. The cost of such folly is clear to anyone who remembers the human suffering in the wake of the misinformed panic over the MMR vaccine just a decade ago.”

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Fluoride and the 5 easy steps of a conspiracy theory

flouridationjohn

This brief article by Emily Willingham in Forbes shows how  the internet has been a real blessing to conspiracy theorists – especially those who are attacking scientific consensus. In Hyping Your Conspiracy Theory In 5 Easy Steps. She  is using the anti-vaccination movement as an example. But it is just as applicable to the anti-fluoride movement.


“1. Find something online that is related to your subject. Like this Senate committee report on an investigation of government agencies regarding safety claims of thimerosal in vaccines.”


And there is no short of internet material on fluoride – Activists just have to do a bit of googling If you are too lazy for that others have done it for you. Just go to Fluoride Alert, Mercola and hosts af “natural” health web sites).


“2. Cherry-pick partial quotes that seem to support your position (here, that vaccines cause harm) and assert conclusions that support your claims. Be sure the conclusions are sufficiently scary and conspiracy worthy. Mention of children and/or pregnant women is always good.”


Again, other activists sites have done that for you. Most anti-fluoride activists may have never read any of the scientific papers they “quote.” At most they seem only to have glanced at an abstract.


“3. Ignore the full context that specifically presents the reverse conclusion from the one you want to claim. Full context like this, from the actual Senate committee report (italics mine):”


This is rife in the anti-fluoride community. Take this paper they are currently quoting as “evidence” that fluoridation is not effective:

Majorana et al. BMC Pediatrics 2014. “Feeding and smoking habits as cumulative risk factors for early childhood caries in toddlers, after adjustment for several behavioral determinants: a retrospective study.”  BMC Pediatrics

The study did not even consider fluoridation and their notes on the apparent ineffectiveness of  prenatal fluoride supplementation using fluoride drops have been misrepresented. (See this outline by Andrew Sparrow for further details). 


“4. Use quotable sound bites so that the misleading information spreads to those eager to take it up and use it in similar ways. Like this. And this. And this.”


Be very wary when the word “Havard” is used – misleading information coming up! For example – claims like Harvard study shows “exposing youngsters to fluoride could lead to brain damage and reduced IQ.”  Or a Havard paper “looked at 27 studies on children exposed to fluoride in drinking water in China, which on average resulted in a loss of seven IQ points.”

For the story behind these “Harvard studies” have a look at  Quality and selection counts in fluoride research and Repeating bad science on fluoride.


“5. Periodically resurrect dead debates that you lostshined up to look new and scary for a new cohort of anxious folk and make claims of a coverup, despite the fact that the allegations you’re resurrecting have been addressed and debunked again and again.”


Rubber_DuckyBoy does that happen on the fluoride issue. Sceptics call these stories “rubber ducks” It doesn’t matter haw often these fallacious claims get knocked over they continue to resurface – very often used by the same people.

So much for integrity.


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Fluoridation and conspiracy theories

I am not one to stereotype people and in my blog posts on the fluoridation controversy I have so far steered clear of the more whacky arguments that come up. After all, some of my friends oppose fluoridation and I would not want to attribute these whacky reasons to them. (Mind you – I have some suspicions).

But it seems that even in little old New Zealand some of the leaders and foremost spokespersons for the anti-fluoridation activists are presenting these whacky ideas. So we can’t really avoid them.

Hamilton oncologist Dr Anna Goodwin appeared for the anti-fluoridationists at the recent hearings held by the Hamilton City Council. She spoke for them at a recent Auckland meeting as one of the 3 “expert” dentists and doctors (although she claims only to have had her road to Damascus moment in the last few months). These people just love titles, don’t they.

This first quote from her is a blatant example of Godwin’s law (rather appropriately in this case Go(o)dwin’s law refers to the  inappropriate use of Nazi analogies in articles or speeches – common on the internet and usually claimed as a sign of desperation). In her submission to the Hamilton City Council hearings she claimed

“Perhaps most disturbing is that the first efforts to fluoridate drinking water were put forth by the Nazis in concentration camps. They observed a mental “numbing” effect on the prisoners that made them easier to control.”

And in a Waikato Times opinion piece welcoming the Council decision to stop fluoridation (see Council’s bold water decision welcomed) she followed this with:

“America’s obsession with fluoridation (and their fluoridation induced brain damage) might explain the US’s dubious political choices over the past 25 years and reckless spending.”

She is promoting the conspiracy theory that fluoride is purposely added to public water supplies to ensure a docile population! (And perhaps giving us a wee peak at her political or ideological stance).

Her conspiracy theories stretches to collusion of the NZ government with fertiliser companies to dispose of a dangerous waste by putting it in our water supplies. (See Cheese is chalk if fluoride is fluoride, press release by  fluoride Free Hamilton):

“I was shocked to learn that, in the absence of any human studies to prove its safety or efficacy, the fertilizer industry held hands with government agencies (in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand) and fluorosilicic acid was deemed an “acceptable and equivalent” fluoride source, decades ago, completely without any real evidence for this assertion.”

I don’t know how widespread these ideas are among the anti-fluoridation activists in New Zealand, but clearly they are not far from the surface with some of the leaders. Conspiracy theories seem to be alive and well in the anti-fluoridation campaign

But here’s an example of an extreme form of these anti-fluoridation conspiracy theories in the US – an interview by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. He discusses addition of  lithium and fluoride to water supplies. The dangers of immunizations are also discussed along with how these poisons are used by design to chemically lobotomize people.

via Neurosurgeon Uncovers Fluoride & Lithium Conspiracies Part 2 of 4 – YouTube.

And there is more rubbish where that came from.

See also:

Fluoridation
Fluoridation – the violation of rights argument.
Poisoning the well with a caricature of science
Fluoridation petition – for Hamilton citizens

Getting a grip on the science behind claims about fluoridation
Is fluoride an essential dietary mineral?
Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?
Tactics and common arguments of the anti-fluoridationists
Hamilton City Council reverses referendum fluoridation decision
Scientists, political activism and the scientific ethos

Your computer is the enemy!

I know many of us feel this instinctively. But think about it. Have a look at your computer’s motherboard.

Another problem to obsess the conspiracy theorists?

From Pundit Kitchen.

via So That’s How Computers Work! – Pundit Kitchen.

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Lynch mob mentality

We have seen a wave of anti-climate change hysteria in the last few months – coinciding with the stealing of emails from the East Anglia Climate Centre  and the UN Copenhagen Conference. Posts and comments on internet blogs and forums have been particularly extreme. And for many scientists, who usually don’t have to involve themselves in such irrational debates, the hostility, even hatred, towards scientists and scientific finding has been somewhat of a shock.

We are so used to debating, even emotionally debating, evidence – not personalities. But in this global debate personalities have been demonised and defamed. Mud is being thrown – and of course mud has the problem that it sometimes sticks. While most of this hysteria has been coming from the usual conspiracy theorists and conservative political activists many of the non-aligned public may be left with the feeling that there is something wrong in the scientific community. Or that scientific findings should not be easily accepted, perhaps they should even be rejected because they are scientific. Science itself is being demonised.

It’s an ongoing battle, I guess. These sorts of conflicts are inevitable and just have to be fought out.

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Beware the retired scientist?

The Lippard Blog has an interesting analysis of Who are the climate change skeptics? In this he identifies links of many of the sceptics with several right wing think tanks like The Heartland Institute and George C. Marshal Institute. One could do a similar analysis of our local climate sceptics and deniers. Some of them seem to be linked with the right wing NZ Centre for Politcal Research, the ACT Party and Conservative Christian organisations and blogs. Have a look at the discussion New Zealand’s “CLIMATEGATE”! on the Centre for Political Research forum. Obviously conspiracy theorists tend to congregate in these areas.

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“A plot to rule the world”

We should differentiate between those who are sceptical of current assessment in climate science and those who outright deny the science. There are sceptics and there are deniers.

It seems to me that a feature more or less common to deniers is conspiracy theory. This is probably inevitable. After all, if one is going to reject all the science and make charges of dishonesty against scientists, politicians and activists concerned about global warming you do need some sort of explanatory framework. It seems simpler to just put the whole thing down to a giant conspiracy, rather than bother dealing with the intricacies of the science, commerce and politics involved.

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The global warming conspiracy?

The hacked emails from the East Anglia Climate Centre in the UK have not been a big issue in New Zealand. At least for most people and for most news media. There are, of course, ideological motivated people who wish to promote the issue as a scandal. Who wish to attack our current understanding of climate science and climate change. Or who just have an anti-science attitude in general and attack the integrity of scientists as part of their nature.

A few bloggers have tried to mobilise on this issue (see for example  NIWA, Climategate and Evasive Fallacious Answers, The scientific community and self-criticism, Climate scientists caught lying, Climategate – How the scientific community is responding, WarmingGate, New Zealand not warming? and I confess I now believe in manmade Global Warming). And, as Peter Griffin pointed out recently, “The comment sections of some blogs have become particularly grubby places to congregate” (see Climategate brought out the worst in us).

Even the ACT party is trying to get in on the act (Auckland Public Meeting: Climategate, NIWA and the ETS).

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“Climategate” – the smoking gun?

Some of the more extreme climate change deniers, and others who have an anti-science agenda, continue to dredge through the domestic debris of the emails stolen by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia. Their conclusions are, of course, predictable.  Meanwhile, the balanced media summary oif this fiasco is probably well represented by George Monbiot in the Guardian: “The leaked exchanges are disturbing, but it would take a conspiracy of a very different order to justify sceptics’ claims.” (see Global warming rigged? Here’s the email I’d need to see ).

I particularly liked his depiction of the email that the climate change deniers and their allies would dearly love to find. It’s a great satire and portrays some of the silliest conspiracy theories promulgated by deniers. Continue reading

The immorality of conspiracy theories

Undeception has an interesting article (Why the debate over creationism matters) on the creationism controversy – pointing our why the debate is important for Christians. The article makes three points about the damage done to Christianity when Christians support creationism/intelligent design (ID).

“1) A faith that demands the rejection of mainstream science in order to legitimize its teachings is automatically, unavoidably suspected to be out of touch and irrelevant.

Just think if Christians were identified as those who deny a spherical earth or a heliocentric solar system — ridiculous, huh? Verily I say unto you, despite what you’ve heard, these beliefs are no more ridiculous than a belief in creationism, and even share the same source: namely, reading the Bible as though God had revealed the intricacies of the cosmos to the authors of Scripture without due recognition of genre and cultural contextualization.  . . . .”

“2) Maintaining creationism entails at least the implication of conspiracy and/or bad motives on the part of both unbelieving and believing scientists.

Just as distasteful as kowtowing to the crowd is suspecting every fringe conspiracy theory scenario to be true. The victim mentality is another dreadful byproduct of dispensational apocalypticism. This is the ultimate source of the idea that Christians and Christian beliefs are the outcasts of society; that we are forced into the catacombs of science like ICR, AiG, or the Discovery Institute, where, by the grace of God, the real work is being done underground, shielded from the persecutions of peer review.

If I may hazard my own conspiracy theory, it’s sometimes hard not to believe that the bigwigs in those creationist organizations know better, but I’d say that the minions generally just trust their non-scientist pastors, who themselves generally trust the blather of non-scientific organizations like those I just listed. I tend to believe that if most Christians really thought about what they were saying about the thousands of believers who work day to day within the sciences going about their jobs from an old earth or evolutionary perspective, they would realize how unjustly they’re treating their fellow believers. Creationists/ID advocates are telling the vast majority of believing scientists working within the relevant fields that either they’re idiots (”Uh, hello! A creationist geologist I heard said that the speed of light has slowed over time. Get a clue!”) or they’re pawns of peer pressure, their own ambition, or (and?) Satan.

Many creationists and ID advocates would have you believe there are thousands of Christians keeping the faith and not bowing the knee to “Darwinism”. But there’s no data to support this claim; in fact, a Newsweek article in 1987 cited a study that claimed only 700 out of the 480,000 American scientists working in the earth or life sciences — those who deal directly with the data touching evolutionary theory — were still fighting the mound of evidence in favor of creationism. That’s 0.0014%, an amazing minority of scientists that makes up a small percentage of even believing scientists. This doesn’t make evolution correct, but it does suggest that creationism hasn’t done a good job convincing scientists who spend their lives researching this stuff. It also makes for a grand conspiracy indeed, probably requiring more than a few backroom deals brokered through cigar smoke by a cadre of mustache-twirling villains. The specific numbers I quoted, of course, are also easily dismissed as a conspiracy to suppress the truth. How convenient.

3) Crucial for a faithful, accurate interpretation of Scripture is learning to read it as it was intended rather than holding it captive to one’s own presuppositions about it.”

I think the second point is extremely important. It seems to me that creationsists and intleligent design (ID) proponents catch themselves in their own moral trap when they are forced to advance a conspirancy theory to “explain” why these ideas have no scientific traction or support. They end up attributing dishonest motives to honest scientists and educator – hardly what we normally consider as a  Christian attitude.

Undeception finishes his post with the following comment:

“In short, I don’t want Christianity’s credibility to be tied to the mast of any sinking ship. Trust me when I say that creationism is a sinking ship, and everyone outside the evangelical/fundamentalist bubble knows it. Don’t worry: you’ve still got time to board a lifeboat! But first, do help me untie our faith’s credibility from the mast.”

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