Tag Archives: Tony Ryall

Welcome counter to scientific and health misinformation

Anti-fluoridation activists work very hard to propogate their misinformation. Letters to the editor, Facebook, Twitter and blog comments. At times their material will dominate google searches. No wonder the layperson can be confused, or even influenced by some of this information.

So I welcome the announcement of a new website dedicated to correcting the misinformation. This will provide New Zealanders a place to go for information on fluoride and fluoridation when they or their communities are faced with questions or even decisions. Interestingly, it is probably fairly unique in New Zealand – on-line action by authorities to counter misinformation about science and health.

Here is the media release about the new website from the Minister of Health Tony Ryall.


CWF

A new website, www.fluoridefacts.govt.nz will help local communities make informed decisions on water fluoridation, Health Minister Tony Ryall says.

The most recent nationwide New Zealand survey into oral health showed 40 percent less tooth decay on average for children living in fluoridated areas compared with non-fluoridated areas, Mr Ryall says.

“Some information circulating about community water fluoridation is either confusing or misleading. This website, which is supported by the Ministry of Health, district health boards and the New Zealand Dental and Medical Associations, contains evidence-based information, backed-up by research.”

New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman is among the several health professionals, scientists and community leaders who feature in a video series on fluoride also on the website. Professor Gluckman says: “It’s absolutely clear that the levels of fluoride that are put into New Zealand’s water supply – and are clearly regulated – are safe. They have real health benefits and there are no health risks.”

Mr Ryall noted that fluoride occurs naturally in water but New Zealand, like several other countries, has low levels. “Many countries in similar situations supplement fluoride to optimum levels for dental health benefit by adding it to the community water supply, or in some cases milk or salt.”

In New Zealand the levels of fluoride used in community water fluoridation are carefully monitored and within the guidelines of the World Health Organization and other public health agencies.

Mr Ryall says tooth decay, which is less likely in individuals when fluoride is added to the water supply, is painful and costly when fillings are needed to treat it. Community water fluoridation is effective, safe and an affordable way to provide the dental health benefits to everyone in a community.”

“People should refer to www.fluoridefacts.govt.nz  and come to their own conclusions when deciding to support community water fluoridation.”

For further information, including videos from Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Don Mackie, Chief Dental Officer Dr Robyn Haisman-Welsh and Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, along with other health experts and community leaders, see: www.fluoridefacts.govt.nz.


Further information also available from www.Health.govt.nz and www.nfis.org.nz the National Fluoride Information Service.
In New Zealand community water fluoridation is endorsed by the following organisations:

Ministry of Health
District Health Boards
New Zealand Dental Association
New Zealand Medical Association
Public Health Association of New Zealand
New Zealand Nurses Organisation
Te Ao Marama – the Māori Dental Association
Toi Te Ora – Public Health Service
Office of the New Zealand Children’s Commissioner
New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine
NZ Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association
NZ Society of Hospital and Community Dentistry
NZ Oral Health Clinical Leadership Network Group
Royal New Zealand Plunket Society
Cancer Society of New Zealand
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page

Fluoridation – an organised campaign to misinform.

misinformation

Credit: World Congress for freedom of scientific research

In my article Poisoning the well with a caricature of science I mentioned the anti-fluoridation activists in the US using a conscious strategy of casting doubt on the science. It strikes me this is also a conscious strategy used by local activists on this subject.

They are dong this by making unjustified claims about the nature of the fluoridation chemicals, the possible toxic effects of fluoride and the efficacy of fluoridation in limiting tooth decay. In the series of articles I have written on this blog there are a number of clear examples where scientific findings have been distorted or completely misrepresent in the anti-fluoridation propaganda. See, for example: Is fluoride an essential dietary mineral?
Fluoridation – are we dumping toxic metals into our water supplies?Fluoridation – topical confusionFluoridation and conspiracy theories.

Internet, newspapers and local bodies

The outright distortions are being disseminated by a very active and organised letter writing campaign on the internet, to newspapers and to local bodies. Because of the responsibility of local bodies for water supply these activist organisations see them as a key target in their misinformation campaign. Soften them up with letters, get a hearing of submissions which they dominate (quantitatively but not qualitatively) and then get a decision to stop fluoridation. Hamilton was just such an example.

A short note on a recent posting at the Fluoride Action Networks Facebook page gives an idea of how this misinformation can work. This is a reply the network got from the Manawatu District Council:

“Thank you for your submission on the fluoridation of the Council’s water supply. Council is interested in your arguments and believe they warrant closer examination. Council also believes that the Ministry of Health’s pro-fluoride position should be reviewed. However, Council does not believe it has the expertise to evaluate the evidence itself.”

I think this is quote revealing for several reasons:

  1. The council recognises they do not have the expertise to check the evidence they are getting from the anti-fluoridation network (or anywhere else, presumably). Seems sensible – call in the experts.
  2. Despite this lack of expertise they have concluded that the Ministry of Health’s “pro-fluoride” position should be reviewed. (I can only imagine this was because of peroieved public pressure as they lack any expertise).
  3. There is an implication that perhaps the Ministry of Health’s expert advice should be discounted because they are “pro-fluoride.” Hence a false balance between the expert’s scientific advice and the activist’s misinformed and distorted “science.”

We saw all these factors in the Hamilton example.

The council and the Mayor admitted they did not have the expertise to judge the evidence. They even passed a resolution asking for these sorts of decisions to be made by central government.

Despite this acknowledgement they went ahead and set themselves up as a tribunal to review and make decisions on the science! Several councillors justified the decision by repeating  some of the pseudoscience they had been dished up as if it were fact. They now consider themselves experts on the subject!

Some councillors also discounted correspondents who took issue with their interpretations, and the very bodies with the expertise – the Ministry of Health and the District Health Board. Some councillors have gone as far as suggesting that limitations should somehow be placed on the ability of these bodies to communicate with Hamiltonians during the buildup to the October fluoridation referendum!

I don’t necessarily blame members of councils for getting into this position. After all, they are given the responsibility to make the decision. And their concepts of community consultation can easily be distorted when activists groups with international backing come in from outside with a highly organised campaign to misinform them

But really the Hamilton experience should make other New Zealand councils suspicious of these campaigns. After all, this council did come out against the views of its citizens demonstrated in the 2006 referendum and in more recent polling. Consequently they came in for a certain amount of ridicule from local media and commenters for their anti-fluoridation decision.

The fight back

I hope councils will also take on board the warning of the Minister of Health about this issue. Tony Ryall warned councils and communities that:

“There will be people who come from out of town and tell all sorts of shock-horror stories around fluoridation.

“Communities need to know that that’s part of the strategy that these groups run, and they should look to their local district health boards, their local dentists and the evidence which shows that fluoridation in NZ is safe and does benefit families.”

This week’s NZ Listener editorial (The fluoride debate) described the anti-fluoridation campaign as “clever and bellicose” and warned “the anti-fluoridation lobby saw the win [in Hamilton] as a stepping stone to the likes of Auckland and Wellington.”

According to this editorial the Minister of Health has ordered officials to marshal the strong scientific case for both the health benefits and safety of fluoridation in strengthening and protecting teeth against decay.” He sees an increased responsibility for the Ministry of Health, and probably district health boards, to counter the anti-fluoridation misinformation campaign.

Personally I think this is an important response – but it still suffers from being seen as a battle between institutions and grass-roots activists. There is a limit to the amount of initiative such institutions can take.  We need more scientific and health experts to also be seen, by name, opposing and exposing this misinformation.

See also:

debunking anti-fluoridation arguments
Fluoridation

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