Tag Archives: Republic of Ireland

Declan Waugh claims it’s “clear as day”

Declan Waugh is an anti-fluoride propagandist who specialises in naively distorting scientific and medical information to “prove” community water fluoridation (CWF) is dangerous. A common tactic of his is to select, really cherry-pick, medical data to show the mortality or disease prevalence is greater in the Republic of Ireland – and other countries with CWF, than the rest of the world.

Similarly, he often cherry-picks data to “prove” a sudden increase in disease or deaths in Ireland after the introduction of CWF in the late 1960s. He has recently pulled this trick with Irish data for vascular diseases. It’s a simple (and naive) recipe. He has found data in a report and selected parts of it to fit his message – ignoring everything else and specifically discussion of the trends in the data by the specialists.

So he has produced this graph:


You can see the point he is trying to drive home – but lets look at all the data in that table Waugh used from the cited “50 years of Heart Disease in Ireland“:

Looking at all the data


Perhaps we should consider the death rate – deaths/100,000 to correct for changes in total population


Another factor is changes of coding and diagnostic criteria used for reporting causes of death and details of vascular disease. The report lists a number of changes occurring in the periods 1958-1967, 1968 – 1978 and 1979 – 1999. It also refers to “the lack of specification of diagnoses during the early years covered by this review.” What this means is that some of the changes, especially the apparently sudden changes, may represent nothing more than changes in diagnostic criteria.

Waugh also simplifies the date that fluoridation commenced in Ireland – claiming 1965. The Irish Forum on fluoridation 2002 reported that CWF started in Dublin in 1974, in Cork in 1965 and over the next 5 years in other areas. This suggests another reason to be careful about interpreting sudden changes in data during 1964 – 1970 as due solely to introduction of CWF.

So things are nowhere as simple as Declan Waugh presents it. Of course they never are. The intelligent reader should read the report and not just rely on cherry-picked data and motivated rationalisation resulting from confirmation bias.

A more rational understanding

The report itself  states that Ireland does have a high mortality rate from cardiovascular disease, particularly compared with Europe. The report says:

“One way or another, the data from the 1950’s and 1960’s point to an ongoing epidemic of heart disease in Ireland for at least half a century. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1950, 31% of all deaths were due to vascular diseases.”


“The low rates of IHD mortality in the 1950’s and 1960’s is almost certainly a reflection of difficulties encountered in accurately diagnosing cardiac conditions at that time. Thus, many IHD deaths may have been coded to the ‘catch all’ category of ‘Other Myocardial Degeneration’ (ICD 422).”

And the decline in death rates since 1985:

“is the consequence of a multifaceted approach to the problem. Specifically it has been suggested that a proportion of the decline, ranging from 25% to 50%, may be due to primary prevention. A proportion of the decline (40% to 50%) may be related to early intervention and treatment of acute cardiovascular events and a proportion is due to secondary prevention among those with established disease (13-16). Data from the WHO MONICA project in 37 countries further suggested that a proportion of the decline in mortality may be related to economic
success (17).”

Another complicating factor has been “changes in the demographic structure of the population.”

So there you go. One can understand these fluctuations in death rate from cardiovascular disease using the normal factors related to changes in diagnosis, diet and health care, and treatment of cardiovascular events. No need to drag in the “universal demon” of fluoride.

Only one example

This is only one example of the sort of tricks Declan Waugh uses in his reports. He pretends to be a “scientist and fluoride researcher” and this, together with extensive scientific citation and dogmatic claims does fool some people. It fooled the Hamilton City Council in their consideration of CWF last year (see When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science).

He is dishonest – but his tactics are difficult to counter. It takes far less effort to present a naively “sciency” looking lie than to reasearch and communicate the facts. As they say, a lie can get half way around the world before truth can get its boots on.


And that’s what Declan Waugh relies on. That is why he does not allow peer review of any of his reports. That is why he will not engage in an exchange with critics of his reports.

He knows he has critics. Just the other day on his Facebook page he moaned:

“There are some sick people out there in twitter land who joke about the graphics I produce. . . .they will present any possible excuse to try and discredit the association while point blankly refusing to even consider the biological mechanisms by which fluoride contributes to disease.”

Well, Declan, it is part of the scientific ethos to engage with your critics. Respond to their criticisms – show where and why you think they are wrong – or acknowledge your mistakes. You refuse to do that because you “point blankly” refuse to “even consider” the discussion and evidence of the experts who write the papers and reports you cherry pick from.

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Declan Waugh scaremongers over fluoride – again

Mary Byrne, the convener of the anti-fluoridation activist group Fluoride Action Network of NZ, is promoting “alarming information” about incidence of neural tube developmental defects like spina bifida with the implication they are caused by community water fluoridation. Her authority for this is Declan Waugh!


Declan Waught – promoted as a “leading expert” on fluoride by anti-fluoride movement

Any critical examination of Waugh’s claims on fluoridation (and there are many) would show him to be the last person one should trust on the issue. Unfortunately, though, he does seem to fool some people – using a mixture of extensive, but misleading, citation of scientific papers and claims about the high incidence of many illnesses in the Republic of Ireland. Anti-fluoride activists love to quote him as “scientific proof” for their own extreme claims and, worryingly, the Hamilton City Council was persuaded that he is indeed a reliable “expert” – citing one of his reports in the list of 10 documents which convinced them to stop fluoridation last year (see When politicians and bureaucrats decide the science).

Very often simple checking will show his claims about the incidence of illnesses are actually completely wrong, and the scientific papers he cites don’t actually say what he claims. Completely dishonest but  it seems you can fool some of the people some of the time with fancy sciency-looking reports. Especially if your citations are so intimidatingly extensive few readers have the energy to check them.

Here I will take apart the fear mongering he is currently promoting over spina bifida and similar neural defects.

The incidence of neural defects in Ireland

The “alarming information” on incidence of neural defects in The Republic of Ireland  he relies on is a paper by McDonnell et al (2014), Neural tube defects in the Republic of Ireland in 2009–11.  The authors concluded:

“The incidence of NTDs [neural tube defects] in the Republic of Ireland appears to be increasing. Renewed public health interventions, including mandatory folic acid food fortification, must be considered to reduce the incidence of NTD.”

A press release from the UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science in Dublin put this in context:

“This comprehensive national audit over three years found that the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs) increased slightly during the period studied, reversing the trend of the previous ten years.

NTD incidence had increased from 0.92/1 000 in 2009 to 1.17/1 000 in 2011. And nowhere was fluoride implicated as a cause of this.

So no basis for Waugh’s fear mongering and implication of community water fluoridation as the cause. However, I imagine the average anti-fluoride activist would be aghast at the idea of a social health policy involving mandatory folic acid food fortification and would campaign against it.

Manufacturing a link to fluoride

Declan Waugh manufactures a link of NTDs to fluoride and community water fluoridation in two ways:

1: The old trick of using a brief report from an area of high dietary fluoride intake. In this case the paper of Gupta et al (1994). This brief 2 page report studied children suffering dental and skeletal fluorosis in India. Drinking water concentration was high (4.5 to 8.5 ppm compared with the recommended 0.7 for community water fluoridation). Fourteen of the 30 children studied showed spinal bifida occulta (the mildest form which usually presents no problems) on X-rays but not on clinical examination.

Although the incidence in this small sample is higher than the 20% normally found in average spines the number of subjects is low so no conclusions are possible. In fact, all the authors did was to propose “a randomised controlled study to evaluate a possible correlation between spina bifida and high fluoride intake.” The also pointed out that they could not find any literature reports correlating spina bifida with fluoride.

So all pretty speculative – but enough for a desperate anti-fluoride “authority” like Declan Waugh to do a bit of scaremongering.

2: Waugh goes out of his way to suggest a mechanism for community water fluoridation causing neural tube defects – fluoride reduces folic acid concentration in the body! And he manages to cite a couple of scientific papers to support his ideas. Problem is – they don’t.

He argues in a 2012 report (which he describes as his “main report”) that “Fluoride is known to be an inhibitor of enzymatic activity and research has identified fluoride as an inhibitor of homocysteine hydrolase363 and this causes a decline in folic acid levels.

The cited paper is Mehdi S, Jarvi ET, Koehl JR, McCarthy JR, Bey P. The mechanism of inhibition of S-adenosyl-L-homocysteine hydrolase by fluorine-containing adenosine analogs. J Enzyme Inhib. 1990;4(1):1-13.

Waugh is citing work using “fluoride-containing adenosine analogs” to make the claim about the fluoride anion. Specifically, the compounds (Z)-4,5′-Didehydro-5′-deoxy-5′-fluoroadenosine, 5′-deoxy-5′-difluoroadenosine, and 4′,5′-didehydro-5′-deoxy-5′-fluoroarabinosyl-adenosine  – not fluoride.

Extremely sloppy!

Declan Waugh has just pulled out any old citation referring to fluoride – maybe he hasn’t even read past the title of the paper.

Yet the tame alternative health media make the claim that “amongst the international scientific community, Waugh is now regarded as a leading expert on the subject!”

That reminds me of the local anti-fluoridation activists who continually describe Paul Connett, from the sister activists organisations Fluoride Alert, as a “World expert on fluoridation!”

Actually, Waugh gave the show away in his 2013 report when he said:

“To my knowledge no study has ever been undertaken to examine if fluoride exposure combined with nutritional status may be a contributory factor to the alarming levels of congenital defects in fluoridated compared to non-fluoridated countries.”

But as is often the case with these sorts of admissions, the very lack of evidence appears to be used to infer a cause. He is advancing the fallacy that the lack of evidence really means the evidence is there but just hasn’t been found yet – probably because evil scientists are conspiring to prevent the necessary research.

The old trick of making a wild claims, suggesting something as a possibility and then promoting the idea as some sort of scientifically proven fact in his scaremongering.

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Pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners


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


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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