It is well known that stroking a spoon just right will cause it to bend. Well, the Australian Skeptics Inc. are certainly stroking something – and apparently – their eyesight has been adversely effected. It seems they can’t read too well.
In a recent post, we nominated the Skeptics for their very own Bent Spoon Award, due to the scientifically-flawed acceptance of Cr. Glenda Mather’s nomination for this year’s award. Subsequently, we examined their website for any evidence of a background in the water fluoridation issue, since, in their own words, Fluoridation (Adverse Effects of) is one of the “Things We Are Sceptical Of” (or should that be, “of which we are sceptical”?). Surely, if the Aussie Skeptics are so confident in their views, they would have presented a detailed, original case that would justify a Bent Spoon Award for an opponent or opponents of this position?
As it turns out, following an internal search of their website (conducted May 28, 2013), that only a single original article has been produced by this organisation for its official website. This seems rather curious, since they claim to “investigate paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint.” Obviously, their notion of this type of investigation means publishing virtually nothing on the subject (except the lone article, of course). So how well-researched is this one article? Let’s find out.
Article (February 28, 2013): Queensland’s anti-fluoride councils: a health or wealth decision
“Many regions around the world, including parts of Europe, that do not artificially fluoridate water do so because their supplies are naturally fluoridated, or the use of fluoridated toothpaste means that recommended fluoride levels have already been reached.”
How interesting that an organisation ostensibly dedicated to “skeptical inquiry” makes an unreferenced claim on such an important point, hence rendering us unable to verify the source of this claim. But moreover, is this claim true? Actually, no.
According to Cheng et al. (2007), “In some countries [water fluoridation] schemes have been withdrawn. These include Germany, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. Systematic information on the rationale behind these decisions is not available. In the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt, the fluoridation scheme was withdrawn in 2003 after 41 years of operation because other measures were of “comparable effectiveness” to “compulsory medication.””
Although truly systematic information may not be available, a series of official responses from European health, water and environmental authorities has been collated and publicly available for a number of years. These letters clearly demonstrate that ethical as well as medical considerations are behind a number of these decisions, as further explained here.
Taking Sweden as an example, according to Dr. Arvid Carlsson, Nobel Laurette in Medicine/Physiology, “[water fluoridation] was up [for consideration] twice… The second time, there was a proposal that the Swedish Parliament should allow addition of fluorine to the water supplies in Sweden and I became rather active as I had been the first time, and I think I was perhaps the one who more than anyone else convinced the Swedish parliament that this was not a good thing. So, it was voted out, this proposal. And that was around 1980. So you can see it’s a long time ago. And after that addition of fluorine to water supplies in Sweden has not been an issue anymore. These days nobody talks about it anymore.”
As former Chemistry professor, Dr. Paul Connett elaborates, “In terms of western Europe’s approach to fluoride, the key fact is that 97% of its population is not forced to drink fluoride in its water… Although some European countries allow salt fluoridation, most do not. Only five western European countries have any salt fluoridation. (Milk fluoridation is only used in very small pockets in Europe, reaching less than 1% of the European population.) On the Fluoride Action Network website, a complete list of which countries fluoridate their water and salt is provided, along with the latest tooth decay data from the World Health Organization. As this data shows, countries with no water and no salt fluoridation (e.g., Denmark, the Netherlands) have just as low, or lower, tooth decay rates than countries with widespread water and/or salt fluoridation programs (e.g., Germany and Switzerland).”
“In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US listed water fluoridation as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.”
Again, the “skeptical inquirers” have not demonstrated any such quality. If they had, they would be aware of the scientific weaknesses underpinning the statement to which they refer: “Not a day goes by without someone in the world citing the CDC’s statement that fluoridation is “One of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th Century.” Those that cite this probably have no idea how incredibly poor the analysis was that supported this statement. The report was not externally peer reviewed, was six years out of date on health studies and the graphical evidence it offered to support the effectiveness of fluoridation was laughable and easily refuted.” The fact is that the CDC’s Oral Health Division has no independent expert oversight enforced upon it, yet it has a huge stake in promoting water fluoridation.
“Other organisations endorsing fluoridation include the World Health Organisation, the US Surgeon General, the American Public Health Association, the European Academy of Paediatric Dentistry and the national dental associations of Australia, Canada, and the US.”
Substituting endorsements for orignal inquiry is simply poor investigate journalism on the part of any group that claims an acutely skeptical disposition. Connett, Beck & Micklem (2010, p. xi) summarise this point well: “Since 1950, endorsements have been routinely used to promote fluoridation. Citizens have been lured into accepting water fluoridation on the basis of “authority,” not on the basis of any substantial scientific evidence of effectiveness or safety. Because that authority includes the PHS, as well as professional dental and medical bodies, the endorsements have proved very effective in distracting attention from the absence of rigorous, well-designed, and controlled studies. From a scientific point of view, such a superficial approach to a serious issue is unusual. From a public relations point of view, however, endorsements have proved to be a very effective tool in the promotion of fluoridation for over fifty years.”
Summary & verdict
In science, “there is no one whose views are not subject to question” and there “are no scientific authorities,” as outlined by Physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss. Upon closer inspection, it becomes abundantly clear that Australian Skeptics Inc. have made no critical inquiries of their own, to support their case. The one and only relevant article they have published on their website is a mere news report, of which the final two paragraphs contain errors of fact and tame appeals to ‘authority.’
Australian Skeptics Inc. need to stop stroking whatever it is they are stroking and live up to the true ideals of skeptical inquiry. If they did so, they would be able to read that the evidence behind water fluoridation is poor at best, and that a vast array of health concerns have not been properly addressed. Thus, the logical progression, for a rational brain, would be the application of the precautionary principle in the absence of an adequate margin of safety – and in light of the aforementioned uncertainties. By extension, water fluoridation becomes an irrational, illogical practice.