Any discussion around water fluoridation will bring up quite a number of concerns, but increasingly – on-line anyway – conspiracy theories also come to the fore. I think the latter need to be addressed, but not at the risk of ignoring or failing to address the former. Worrying about the nature of what's in our water supply, & its possible health impacts, is both natural and understandable – especially given that there's so much information (of varying quality) out there, & sometimes the people you hear are the ones who shout the loudest. Which is not necessarily the same as those who have the strongest case. As I've said before, that's what drew me into this debate in the first place: the way science has been misrepresented by those wishing to bolster a case against water fluoridation.
My own personal opinion is that the issue should really be addressed in terms of ethics and societal responsibilities, and it's sad to see that attempts to have this discussion (on-line, anyway) are so often diverted yet again to a you-said-we-said about the science. I do wonder what this does for those 'lurkers' who may be following the to-&-fro – & I see I'm in good company in that respect.
Actually, it must get really confusing, for reading some of the on-line comments about fluoridation, I'm still surprised at how often conspiracy theories crop up. (I shouldn't be, I suppose, but I am.) The pharma shill gambit is quite common: the idea that people holding views that differ from the speaker's, must be being paid to hold them. In the case of fluoridation, I think people need to do their sums. In Hamilton, the cost of buying HFA to add to municipal water supplies was around $48,000 each year. That's not a lot to go around all the local scientists, dentists, healthcare workers, and humble bloggers accused of being bought by big business by anti-fluoride activists… (This is something also addressed in Harriet Hall's excellent post over at Science-Based Medicine. Bob Park's 'seven signs of bogus science' is also relevant.)
One might well ask why our opinions need to be bought. I've asked this more than once. One commenter told me darkly that all would be revealed in due course. (I'm still waiting.) The usual reason is some unspecified conspiracy by big business and government agencies, although again, it's not at all clear what they're getting out of it.
Unless, of course, the population is being dumbed down to blindly accept all sorts of attacks on our liberties. This seems to be linked to the fact that the tranquiliser prozac contains fluoride, & to the 'Hitler/the Nazis used it' meme – a claim, Ken Perrott notes, that was trotted out in the Hamilton City Council's 'tribunal' on water fluoridation.. Unfortunately for this one, Hitler didn't, & prozac contains much higher amounts of fluoride than town supply water would. (There have also been attempts to link fluoride with the nerve gas sarin; a sort of slur by association. Yes, there's a fluorine atom in there. There's also carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, & phosphorus: the formula for sarin is C4H10FO2P.)
Or perhaps it's all a plot to reduce the world's population! This one seems to be based on the observation that at high concentrations fluoride does affect the endocrine system: levels much higher than those found in town supply water. This means that fluoride's hardly an effective tool for population control if no-one's adding it at the requisite concentration. (China, with its one-child policy, doesn't fluoridate at all, at least in part because in some regions water fluoride concentrations are already elevated.) This 'theory' is further based on major misunderstandings of work by John Holdren, who with Paul & Anne Erlich discussed the burgeoning human population & various actions that might curb its growth in the book Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. At one point they noted that a population of around 1 billion might be optimal in ecological terms (we're already at 7 billion & counting). This has been (mis)interpreted as advocacy for deliberately reducing the population to this level and, because of the known impact of high levels of fluoride on endocrine functioning, then gasp! fluoride must be part of the plot.
Ultimately, all these conspiracy theories require that an awful lot of people should be corrupt. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of scientists, falsifying their research, hiding the bits that don't fit the story, suborning new researchers as they come along. They'd have to be in every research institution in the world. It would cost ridiculously large amounts of money (money, in the case of fluoridation of water, that simply isn't there.) Governments and the media would have to be in on it as well. And that's not possible. Someone, somewhere, would provide evidence of what was going on.
And indeed, the various conspiracies can't be all that good, if various brave mavericks are able to a) recognise what's going on and b) spread their findings (on the internet & elsewhere) without the men in black turning up & carrying them away.