ignorance wins over science? let’s try that another way

On Thursday last week, Hamilton’s city councillors voted 9-1 to return fluoride to the city’s water supply. There was a fair bit of misrepresentation going on ahead of the decision – including the claims that it would cost at least $100,000 and this was unbudgeted (both untrue). And there was the predictable outrage after the event from those opposed to community water fluoridation, including this piece on voxy, entitled ‘Ignorance wins over science”, by Fluoride Free Hamilton spokeswoman Pat McNair.

I see an analogy here – this is like a court finding a criminal guilty, based on damning evidence. Suddenly there is a huge public outcry lead by the media. Misinformation spreads like wildfire. The media publishes an opinion poll. The public is invited to decide – guilty or not. None of the evidence presented at the original trial is divulged to the public. The popular vote is overwhelmingly “not guilty” so the criminal is immediately released.

So she sees the original HCC tribunal as finding fluoride ‘guilty’, based on ‘damning evidence’ against the practice of community water fluoridation.

However, as Ken Perrott’s pointed out, the process was flawed from the point at which submissions were summarised for councillors: “a list of the key research papers referenced during the submission and tribunal process” was not inclusive ie it did “not cover all the reports referred as this was extensive, but focuse[d] on the ones most frequently cited.” (You can find the HCC summary here.) The majority of submissions – many from outside Hamilton – opposed CWF and many of them quoted the ‘Waugh’ report (“Public Health Investigation of Epidemiological Data on Disease and Mortaliy in Ireland related to Water Fluoridation and Fluoride Exposure”), which unsurprisingly came out top of the pops, as it were. There’s a major flaw in this method of determining the significance of references: science isn’t some sort of popularity contest, and as it happens Mr Waugh’s report has been found wanting.

“Misinformation spreads like wildfire”. It certainly did – from those opposed to CWF. (Scan any FF Facebook pages, for example.)

“Israel is banning fluoridation”: no, it’s not. The Israeli government is handing the responsibility for decision-making to municipal authorities.

“95% of the world’s population don’t want it”: not exactly – large swathes of the population lack access to safe drinking water, so fluoridation is a long way down their list of desirables. Many countries don’t use CWF but do have fluoridated salt or milk.

We’ll go back to having “poisonous carcinogenic hazardous industry waste dumped in our drinking water”: no, what we get at the tap is water with 0.7-1ppm fluoride. (The carcinogenic claim relates to arsenic, which is actually at higher concentration in untreated Waikato River water than it is in that leaving the municipal water treatment plant.).

And so on; both Ken & I have previously addressed many of these claims.

“None of the evidence presented at the original trial is divulged to the public.” Anyone with a computer could have accessed the material, had they wished, given that it was all available on the HCC website. And there was plenty of opportunity – made use of by both pro- and anti-fluoridation groups – to get information out to the public (including an information sheet that went out with the referendum papers). Unless she thinks that 2/3 of those voting in the referendum, and the councillors themselves, are ignorant?

Sorry, Pat, but science was the winner the other day.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *