Tag Archives: Whakatane

Hiding behind “experts”

I am not for one minute suggesting we not put any trust in “experts.” But how often do public figures use experts like a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than illumination!

This is surely the case with Sen. Marco Rubio, a contender for the Republican nominee in the upcoming presidential elections when he referred to “experts” as the source of his claim that climate change  is natural, and not caused by carbon emissions. On being pressed all he could cite were unnamed “economists and scientists.” (See Marco Rubio Refuses To Name Any Of His Advisers On Climate Change).

Most of us know by now that the overwhelming number of experts on climate change would not agree with Rubio’s claim. He is simply hiding behind the word “experts” – trying to give unwarranted credibility to his claim. A false credibility considering he either cannot name those “experts” or refuses to name them because he realises they are not representative.

I have seen a similar situation in New Zealand where councillors and mayors have justified their decisions on community water fluoridation (CWF) by claiming they are informed by experts. For example, a Hamilton councillor who discounted any information I provided him on the scientific understanding of CWF by claiming that the “experts” disagreed and this had been obvious from submissions to his council. The old trick of pretending there are “two sides” or that there is a 50:50 disagreement. A convenient way of ignoring the real evidence and going with one’s own bias.

A particularly egregious example of this “hiding behind experts” was the way  Whakatane District Council mayor Tony Bonne justified the council’s decision to ignore a recent referendum which had supported CWF. He claimed:

“We listened to the experts. The referendum was a guide from the feeling of people who did vote, so we’ve made a decision.”

I wrote about this in my article Fluoridation: Whakatane District Council makes the Hamilton mistake.” But since then I decided I would get the word from the horse’s mouth. Who were these experts that mayor Bonne claimed to have informed the council. My Official Information request asking for the names, qualifications and institutional connections of the “experts” Bonne referred to elicited the following answer”

“The names of those who spoke to the Council are:”

In support of CWF:

  • Dr Neil de Wet, Toi Te Ora Public Health;
  • John Twaddle, East Bay Dentists;

Opposing CWF:

  • Mary Byrne, Fluoride Free New Zealand
  • Jon Burness

“The qualifications and occupations are known for two of the presenters Dr Neil de Wet and John Twaddle who advised the meeting and these were recorded in the minutes.”

So – the only real “experts” the council heard from were the two supporting CWF – yet the mayor gave the impression that the two opposing CWF were also
“experts.”

Wouldn’t he have been more honest to state that he was voting according to his own convictions or bias (he was the councillor who moved the resolution to remove fluoride). And that he actually ignored the advice of the real experts on this issue – because it didn’t conform to his bias?

There is an argument for trusting real experts

None of us are expert on all issues. this means that we often must rely on real experts when deciding on an action like voting, medical treatment, car repairs, etc. I say “often” because in fact there may be issues in which we have individual expertise and we can in all conscience make up our own minds according to the evidence and act accordingly.

But there is nothing wrong with acknowledging our lack of knowledge or understanding on issues where we are required to make decisions. The wisest thing in such situations is to take counsel, seek and follow expert advice. It is surely hubris not to do this – to stick with an ill-informed prejudice and ignore expert advice.

However, we should do this responsibly. We can check that the people who are advising us are true experts. Check out their training, qualifications and institutional accreditation. We should do this sensibly – recognising that there are qualifications and “qualifications,” institutions and “institutions.” The internet abounds with PhDs who are spouting rubbish – even if the PhDs have been honestly earned -(and many haven’t). And there are plenty of internet or shopfront “institutions” who are integral parts of this rubbish spouting.

Remember a fool and their money are soon parted.

We should rely on experts but should not be fooled by false “experts.”

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Fluoridation: Whakatane teaches us something we should already know

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Parliamentary Committee – proper place to discuss attitudes towards community water fluoridation?

So, the Whakatane District Council today reversed its decision to stop fluoridation (see Whakatane fluoride flip-flop). A decision made only a few weeks ago (see Fluoridation: Whakatane District Council makes the Hamilton mistake).  The new vote effectively acknowledges they had made a mistake – a mistake they would not have made if they had paid attention to what happened in Hamilton 2 – 3 years ago.

Well, really two mistakes:

1: Councils should not ignore the democratic will of the electorate without very good reasons. Sure, the referenda in Hamilton and Whakatane were non-binding. But they did represent the will of the people. And the council did not have adequate reasons for ignoring that will.

One difference in Whakatane is that only Ohope and Whakatane itself are fluoridated. The new resolution requests the council to decide whether to fluoridate other areas where the voters supported it – noticeably it effectively accepts the will of those voters opposed to fluoridation where they are a majority in a specific water treatment area.

2: Councils should not be so foolish as to think they can decide the science, or decide health matters. It amazes me that the mayor of Whakatane could acknowledge his council does not have scientific skills – yet he went ahead and got the council to make decisions about the science and health issues involved with community water fluoridation!

Perhaps he would not have done this if there had not been an ideologically and commercially motivated activist group pressuring the council. But that is no excuse.

Would this Mayor have succumbed to pressure from an activist group who disagreed with accepted science and technology of road and bridge building? Of house construction? Or any other matter the council considers. Just imagine what havoc a flat earth society or anti-gravity pressure group could play.

I would hope not. We cannot have such important issues endangered because a group with no skills in the matter takes it upon itself to think it can make decisions about the science, technology and health recommendations. Whatever pressure is coming from activist groups.

It is not the job of councils to decide such matters.

What should councils decide

Yes, they must decide on financial and operational matters involved with these issues. But they don’t get to decide the science and technology. It is hubris on their part to think they can.

Councils do have a role. As operators of water treatment plants they must decide on the financial and working matters. They must decide on the feasibility of specific water treatments.

Under current legislation, they must also take into account the attitudes of their electorate. The government and central health bodies recognise that community water fluoridation can be controversial for some people. Therefore, they encourage local communities to make the final decisions. It is noticeable that where Health Boards seek to extend community water fluoridation they use community consultation and education, including referenda, and do not impose a central demand.

In the end, no matter what the science says or what central health authorities recommend, it is up to communities to make up their minds on a controversial social policy – even if that results in a decision contrary to skilled recommendations.

But councils should not have any role in deciding the science or health policies. The appropriate bodies already do that and they make their recommendations. It is arrogant for councils to think they can, or should, rewrite those recommendations and conclusions about community water fluoridation.

Councils really have nothing to complain about

Councils complain they are being asked to make decisions they are not skilled to make – but that is up to them. If they accepted the conclusions and recommendation of the appropriate central bodies and limited their consideration to financial and working matters which are correctly within their skill set they would have nothing to complain about. Similarly, they should accept the democratic will of their voters on this issue (unless there are good financial or operational matters suggesting otherwise).

Perhaps there is need to remove councils from that assessment of community attitudes towards fluoridation. Let it be done by health boards.

As for the demand that so-called “independent”  or “alternative” groups have an input into decisions – surely the most appropriate place for that is at a central level – the parliamentary health committee or reviews by the Ministry of Health. Such considerations would be less influenced by the childish politics we often see at the local level – especially in election year (which is the case for Whakatane and was also for Hamilton).

Councils should stop sticking their noses into areas they have no authority or skills to make decisions on.

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Fluoridation: Whakatane District Council makes the Hamilton mistake

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Here we go again.

The Whakatane District Council has ignored the results of their own referendum and decided to stop community water fluoridation (CWF). (see Council votes to stop fluoridationand Whakatane mayor stands by fluoride decision).  This mirrors almost exactly the behaviour of the Hamilton City Council three years ago.

But are the Whakatane councillors (or, at least, the 6 who voted to stop CWF) so short of memory that they did not learn from the Hamilton experience? There the decision resulted in protests and petitions, eventually forcing the council to hold yet another referendum at the end of 2013. That showed, once again, clear support (about 70%) for CWF and the council later reversed their decision.

A thoroughly bad experience for that council and a humiliating one for the city. We had the picture of council politicians pretending to know better than the health and scientific experts and attempting to impose their own ideologically motivated position on the voters. It got so silly the council even issued their own leaflet providing oral health advice – advice which was out of step with that issued by health authorities!

Councils ignore voters wishes at their own peril. The Whakatane District Council anti-fluoridationist Mayor, Tony Bonne, justified his move by referring to the low voter turnout in the referendum. Are we to take it that if he loses the next election he will ignore that result and refuse to step down because of the low voter turnout?

Referendum results

The 2013 referendum in the Whakatane District showed that 60.5 per cent of those who voted were in favour of fluoridation, with 39.5 per cent against. However, in the only areas currently fluoridated – Whakatane City and Ohope – support for CWF was even greater – 65.8 per cent and 70.5 per cent respectively. The council is surely silly to ignore that vote without a good reason.

“We listened to the experts.”

Mayor Bonne declared “we listened to the experts” before making the decision. But who the hell were these experts?:

Supporting CWF –  Dr Neil de Wet of Toi Te Ora Public Health and local dental practitioner John Twaddle. OK, these people seem to have some qualifications to be described as “expert.”

Opposing CWF – Mary Byrne and Jon Burness of Fluoride-Free New Zealand. What expertise do these people have? – why should their word be accepted?

Well, they are both activists, belonging to the local activist group which is a chapter of the US Fluoride Action Network. That body is financed by the “natural”/alternative health industry – particularly by the Mercola on-line business.  (Local anti-fluoride actions, such as those in the High Court, have similarly been financed by the NZ health Trust – the lobby group for the local “natural”/alternative health industry. See Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action? and Corporate backers of anti-fluoride movement lose in NZ High Court).

Mary has no expertise I know of except her activism. Jon is an alternative health practitioner and business person. He specialises in kinesiology and is a member of the  Society of Natural Therapists and Researchers, NZ. As part of his business he runs the Whakatane Natural Health Centre.

Whakatane Natural Health Centre …… bringing together a comprehensive range of therapies for mind, body and soul. Kinesiology, Massage Therapy, Bowen Tech, Hypnotherapy, Lymphatic Drainage, Herb and Allergies, Acupuncture. – See more at:

OK, everyone has to make a living and I do not want to question the sincerity of either Mary or Jon.

But experts!! Tony Bonne is disingenuous to use that word. He should be representing his voters, not the alternative woo merchants, whatever his own personal ideological beliefs. It is a sad day when we elect councillors (or at least the six who voted for Bonne’s resolution) who cannot differentiate between acceptable scientific and health experts  on the one hand and ideologically driven activists and alternative “practitioners” using very questionable techniques on a gullible public on the other.

Councils not appropriate for fluoridation decisions

Mayor Bonne did, however, make sense with his statement that it should not be left to local bodies to make public health decisions and he would welcome stronger direction from central government. In that he actually agrees with Daniel Ryan, President of the Making sense of Fluoride group who said:

“There is just no excuse any more for John Key’s government to keep making councils juggle the expensive and diversionary hot potato. They want councils to focus on core business and be fiscally responsible – and they say they care about children’s health. With one simple measure on fluoridation they could have a really meaningful impact on all of that.”

The ball is in the government’s court on this issue – and has been for several years since local bodies formally asked central government and the Ministry of Health to take responsibility for decisions on CWF. There is really no excuse to leave this with councils whose decisions are so easily clouded by ideology and personal ambitions that they, or at least some of the council members, will happily ignore the advice of the real science and health experts and the wishes of their voters.

See also: Government considers fluoridation law change

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