Tag Archives: racism

Fluoridation – a racist conspiracy?

Political activists campaigning on health issues often resort to scaremongering. This can be dangerous – especially when their stories have no real basis but rely on selective and distorted information.

Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network (FAN) often resorts to this sort of scaremongering. Now they are launching a series of stories dressed up as “exposès.”  The first is aimed at African-Americans and claims the US  “federal government has known for five decades that blacks were even more susceptible than whites to serious damage from fluoride added to water supplies, but it urged local governments to fluoridate the population anyway.”

Typically, Connett’s Crowd is promoting this campaign through FAN press releases which get picked up by “natural” health magazines and web pages. The articles are then heavily promoted throughout social media by activists – sometimes even making their way into the mass media (see Gov’t Failed to Warn about Fluoride’s Disproportionate Harm to Black Community and Feds: Blacks Suffer Most From Fluoride, Fluoridate Anyway).

The press release is summed up in the first paragraph:

“Government health authorities knew over 50 years ago that black Americans suffered greater harm from fluoridation, yet failed to warn the black community about their disproportionate risk, according to documents obtained by the Fluoride Action Network (FAN).”

So the evidence, the “document,” on which they hang this story, is a memo.

memo

Now, that is very pathetic to hang a campaign on, isn’t it. And the campaigners are also relying on the false idea that anything obtained via freedom of information inquiry must have been “secret” or “hidden” from the public eyes. (Incidentally they do the same with the Certificates of Analysis for fluoridation chemicals used by water treatment plants – even appearing to think that listing an analytical result for contaminants, however small, is somehow “proof” that the contamination is a problem – see Fluoridation: emotionally misrepresenting contamination and Natural News comes out with a load of heavy metal rubbish on fluoride).

Differences in dental fluorosis prevalence not hidden

But the scientific information comparing prevalence of dental fluorosis among US whites and African-Americans is neither new or hidden. In fact, FAN’s press release does refer to a little of this published data, but again typically they distort it.

In particular it uses data from studies where fluoride in drinking water were often higher than the optimum levels for community water fluoridation (CWF). Consequently the studies include some people exhibiting the medium and severe forms of dental fluorosis never observed with CWF.

One of the papers cited is Martinez-Mier, E. A., & Soto-Rojas, A. E. (2010). Differences in exposure and biological markers of fluoride among White and African American children. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, 70(3), 234–40. It did report higher amounts of dental fluorosis in the African-American children they studied. But it also found that the African-American children in the study reported using larger amounts of toothpaste and had higher urine fluoride concentrations than white children. It concluded:

“Differences in fluoride exposure between two racial groups were observed. These differences are complex and need to be better defined.”

This does not warrant claims of  African-Americans being more susceptible than whites. Nor is the information “explosive” as the FAN press release claims.

Another study cited was Williams, J. E., & Zwemer, J. D. (1990). Community Water Fluoride Levels, Preschool Dietary Patterns, and the Occurrence of Fluoride Enamel Opacities. Journal of Public Health Dentistry, 50(4), 276–281. But the study actually doesn’t back up the FAN claims as these authors found:

“higher TSIF scores [an index of dental fluorosis prevalence] were associated with city children significantly more than with county children. There was no association of TSIF scores either in the city children or the county children with respect to gender, race, preschool dietary patterns, or dentifrice ingestion.”

Another cited paper is Butler, W. J., Segreto, V., & Collins, E. (1985). Prevalence of dental mottling in school-aged lifetime residents of 16 Texas communities.  American Journal of Public Health, 75(12), 1408–1412. These authors found “children who were White or had a Spanish surname had about the same prevalence of mottling while Blacks had a higher prevalence.” This appears to support the FAN claim but air conditioning in the children’s home and total dissolved solids and zinc in the drinking water also influenced prevalence of mottling. Significant mottling only occurred where  drinking water fluoride concentrations were over 2 ppm making the conclusions irrelevant to CWF where concentrations are usually in the range 0.7 to 1 ppm

Finally, they cite Beltrán-Aguilar, E. D. ., & Gooch, B. F. ; (n.d.). Surveillance for Dental Caries, Dental Sealants, Tooth Retention, Edentulism, and Enamel Fluorosis — United States, 1988–1994 and 1999–2002. Yes, this study did show African American had a slightly higher prevalence of very mild and mild dental fluorosis, as the figure below shows.

s403a1f19

They did not advance an explanation for this but note that “different hypotheses have been proposed, including biologic susceptibility or greater fluoride intake.” One could also suggest differences in residential location – especially as some of the people in the study had moderate or severe dental fluorosis indicating they were likely consuming drinking water with a fluoride content above the level recommended for CWF.

But we could make the same comparisons with tooth decay data from this study (see figure below):

s403a1f1

Perhaps we should be jumping up and down about the increased racial sensitivity of African-Americans and Mexican Americans to the disease of tooth decay and claim that this information has been suppressed or nothing done about the problem.

Or perhaps, as is most likely happening, authorities are just getting on with the job of working out how to deal with health inequalities in different ethnic groups.

 Conclusion

This campaign is just another of the scaremongering attempts of Connett’s crowd. Appealing to conspiracy theorists it uses a memo obtained as part of a freedom of information inquiry to imply a cover-up. The campaing cites studies which do show real differences but do not show they result from differences in sensitivity. And they are not large enough to justify the extreme language of the press release and reports.

Of course there may be similarities in the dental health conditions of disadvantaged ethnic groups in the US, and in New Zealand and Australia, but the way some anti-fluoride propagandists have used these press releases to “prove” that NZ Maori and Australian Aborigine are adversely effected by CWF borders on naive racism.

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Is Monckton good value?

On a recent podcast I heard John Abraham, well known for his debunking of claims made by Christopher Monckton, say that Monckton was actually a good asset to climate science. That the man had so discredited himself and his climate denier/contrarian arguments that he was turning people off. The more he spoke the more he discredited climate change denial/scepticism.

Perhaps this explains why Monckton’s recent visit to New Zealand has been such a failure for him. Of course he and his mates are attempting to blame “censorship.” You know – the “censorship” that occurs when others don’t dignify him with a debating partner or don’t bother going to his meetings.

I certainly have noticed far fewer people supporting him recently compared with the height of the “climategate” attacks. At that time many local blogs were posting Monckton’s videos. Those same blogs have been strangely silent during this visit. The only video I saw posted was on the Christian Apologetics.com blog.

What a come down.

And who are his remaining fans? They seem to be a select few at the moment. I did a search for details of his meetings. Couldn’t find any reports (strange and suspicious – suggesting that perhaps the attendance was low). But the blogs and web sites advertising his meetings were interesting.

Of course there was the climate change denier/contrarian climate conversation group and climate realists. After all they organised the visit. But what company did they have?

I mentioned the Christian Apologetics.org. But there were also a couple of conspiracy paranoia sites, Chemtrails Watch, More than 9/11, OpenUReyes , Evolution News NZ and one clearly racist site White News Now.
And then a few way out personal blogs like John Ansell’s blog (remember him – sacked by the ACT Party for being too openly racist) and
The Voice of Reason (which as you would expect is anything but reasonable)

Then there were the Home Education Foundation, Saucy American in NZ and the right wing Fairfacts Media Show.

Crikey Monckton – with friends like this you don’t need any enemies.

But for a bit of humor read Lord Monckton Runs Wild on Wellington Streets.

Human Morality III: Moral intuition

This is the third in a series of four posts on morality. They are aimed at countering the usual religious claims for a god-given morality with current scientific understanding of how the morality of our species arose. Also, they at tempt to justify a non-theist objective basis for much of the moral decisions we make. The first post (I: Religious confusion) discussed some of the problems religion has in its understanding of morality and the second (II: Objective morality) argues for a non-theist objective basis for morality. This third post discusses human moral instincts.

I think it’s clear that we have moral instincts. We take actions without thinking because our unconscious intuitions dictate that we do. Most of us will instinctively react to save a child in danger (eg., about to run out on to a busy road without looking).  And we will sometimes do this even though it threatens our own life.

Our evolution as an intelligent, social species has inevitably left us with intuitions which are unconscious, spontaneous, and usually inaccessible to our conscious minds. These have been necessary for our survival – both in to protect our own lives and those of our kin and in the many interactions we have with other intelligent members of our species.

The fight or flight response, oversensitive agency detection, sexual and hunger responses are obvious. But we also have intuitive feelings for our children, sexual partners and kin. Social intuitions of guilt, judgment, disgust, revulsion, suspicion, trust, fairness and detection of cheating are also present. Attitudes to members of in-groups and out-groups also appear intuitive. Who hasn’t noted how easily human groups develop “them vs us” attitudes.

So, even without applying reason, humans come to spontaneous moral decisions. We are a moral species.

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Middle east conflict in the NZ blogosphere?

oracism_p1Well, it seems that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked a local war in New Zealand’s blogosphere! It all started with his speech at the UN Conference on Racism in Geneva. This attacked Zionism as a form of racism and precipitated a walkout by many delegates.

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Thoughts after watching “Expelled”

I recently watched the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. As expected from most reviews I have seen I found the film profoundly dishonest. It’s very much ideologically driven, using the old “when are you going to stop beating your wife?” approach. We are used to such tactics in political propaganda but it’s a lot worse here because this propaganda film targets science – the source of human knowledge.2007-07-09-wheel_of_misfortune

However, it got me thinking. The film claims that there are many scientists who support creationist/intelligent design (ID) ideas. But I can’t remember personally encountering a single scientist supporting these ideas in my whole scientific career. Religious door-knockers – yes. But no scientists. I came across scientists who believed in astrology, spirits and ghosts. I came across scientists who had racist or sexist beliefs. I even came across one who was a member of the Act party! But never a scientist who believed the creationist/ID story.

I know they are out there – after all three New Zealanders signed the Discovery Institutes’s Dissent from Darwinism petition. But clearly, the number of scientists supporting such ideas is very much smaller than Expelled implies.

US survey of scientists

Perhaps the proportion of US scientists supporting creationism/ID is greater – after all that’s where most of the political controversy occurs on this issue. But, again, I think this proportion is overblown by the propaganda in Expelled.

A recent survey of Texan scientists – specifically biology and anthropology faculty members of Texan public universities and the largest private institutions – provides some interesting figures (Download report – Evolution, Creationism & Public Schools: Surveying What Texas Scientists Think about Educating Our Kids in the 21st Century).

Only about 2% expressed any degree of sympathy for creationism/ID (this included 1.4% who accepted much of evolution but wished to invoke “periodic intervention by an intelligent designer.” No of the scientists teaching at the graduate level supported creationism/ID.

This is particularly relevant because of the current attempts by creationists to introduce changes aimed at weakening the teaching of evolution into the Science Standards of the Texan Education Board . This is clearly a political action with no scientific justification or support.

But that is the nature of the ID controversy – it is a political controversy, not a scientific one.

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