Why Anti-Fluoride Activists In Perth Should Find Something Better To Do With Their Time

culture centre festival busI was handed a flyer while walking through the Cultural Centre (the whole area is currently chocked-full with circus-style tents; a double-decker bus parked on the esplanade advertising ticket sales; men pushing huge steam-punk styled machinery about) – and discovered that there’s a certain sub-section of the Perth population who really should be doing something better with their time.

Such as attending events at the Fringe World festival. Just a thought.

This particular group were handing out flyers about a forthcoming meeting this month, all about being fearful of fluoride in the water. Very earnest, very young activists – mostly targeting any single folk walking across the esplanade. I fell into that category and was approached by a young woman.

I briefly glanced at the flyer (let’s face it – it’s Fringe Festival time: I can’t go five meters across the CBD without collecting half a dozen comedy gig advertisements, two brochures about dramatic performances presented in a box conducted entirely in Ukrainian and a French burlesque show where it’s BYO raincoat… don’t ask) and asked one question:

“Who exactly are the people behind the conspiracy to put fluoride in the water and why are they doing it?”

And essentially I got a fervent response about The System and The Man. Telling them that I had some scientific schooling and doubted the authenticity of their claims only made them more fervent, and I had to brush them off by walking quickly away with a “No, thank you”.fringe festival steampunk machine

Ah, The System and The Man. I hear they’re the ones who fly planes into buildings that belong to their own country, force subliminal messages into our reality TV and… well, put nasty, nasty fluoride into our drinking water.

Yes, that’s a stereotypical summation of the conspiratorial thinker and terribly dismissive – but when responding to the question “who exactly is doing this and why?” …it’s something that conspiracy theorists get wobbly about explaining coherently.

The claim that there’s huge concerns about fluoride in the West Australian water is exactly that – a conspiracy and should be treated as such.

They even recently got onto the Perth Skeptics meetup group and started promoting their meetup, without any peer-reviewed evidence that I could see to back up their claims as to how nasty fluoride is. I consider this to be spam that promotes a pseudoscientific approach to a matter regarding health, which isn’t really what a skeptics group should be doing.
Additional information as to why fluoride in water is not something to be particularly concerned about:

Cancer Council of Western Australia: Cancer myth - Fluoride and cancer

In 2007, Australian National Health and Medical Research (NHMRC) published a report explaining the systematic research review conducted of 5,418 citations. After reviewing each study individually 77 citations were deemed to be of good quality. From these articles the NHMRC were able to recommend the continuation of fluoridating the water supply.

Health Department of Western Australia:

In Western Australia, the addition of fluoride to a public drinking water supply is not permitted unless the water supply authority is directed by the Minister for Health and done in accordance with the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1966 (External link) (Act).

The Advisory Committee for the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies is a committee established under the Act to provide advice and recommendation to the Minister for Health in regards to the fluoridation of public water supplies in the state. For more information about the committee and the process a water supply is fluoridated, go to theAdvisory Committee for the Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies webpage.

Health Department of Queensland: (pdf):

Every person of every age benefits from drinking fluoridated water throughout their life. Children benefit as soon as their teeth are formed and elderly people keep their teeth for longer – fluoride reduces their chances of developing tooth decay.

Australian Dental Association: http://www.ada.org.au…
The facts: Water fluoridation has been one of the most widely studied and endorsed public health measures of all time. World Health Organisation : “Fluoridation of water supplies significantly improves dental health…” and “…fluoridation of water supplies, where possible, is the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention : “Fluoridation of community drinking water is a major factor responsible for the decline in dental caries (tooth decay) during the second half of the 20th century…” They also describe the fluoridation of drinking water as one of the “10 Greatest Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century.”

 

Orac (Dr David Gorski) of Science Blogs presents information one of the presenters, Dr. Paul Connett, who is promoted by the Perth anti-fluoride group - Anti-fluoridation crankery? How quaintly 1960s! I only wish it weren’t on ScienceBlogs:

Well, yes, water fluoridation would be unethical if it were indeed ineffective and dangerous, but it is not. It would also cost a hell of a lot of money for no benefit. As for the argument that, even if fluoridation were effective, it would still violate informed consent, well, that’s actually a political and ethical argument about acceptable and desirable public health measures, not a scientific argument. It’s perfectly fine to make that argument, if that’s what you believe, but it never ceases to irritate me how, like “health freedom” supporters of alternative medicine, anti-fluoridation activists seem to feel compelled to make their resistance to policy sound like a scientific argument.

Mike Morgan on The Conversation Website: How fluoride in water helps prevent tooth decay:

Although widely accepted and applauded as a crucial public health policy, fluoridation has attracted some vocal critics. Fluoridation opponents over the years have claimed that putting fluoride in water causes health problems, is too expensive and is a form of mass medication. Some go as far as to suggest that fluoridation is a communist plot and affects children’s IQ.

Despite these claims, fluoridation is supported by many national and international organisations including the World Health OrganizationWorld Health AssemblyWorld Dental Federation,Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)Australian Dental Association and the Public Health Association of Australia.

In 2006, the WHO and the International Dental Federation and theInternational Association for Dental Research, released astatement endorsing community water fluoridation.

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States includes water fluoridation in its list of the top ten health initiatives of the twentieth century, alongside immunisation, compulsory seat belt wearing and smoking bans.

A good way to approach conspiracies (9/11, truthers, fluoride, etc) is to politely ask – “Who do you think is the system / the bad guys and why do they do this?” – evidence as to who “THEY” are never comes across as particularly convincing.

In addition, I highly recommend checking out every flyer and review the information about events that you’re handed during the Fringe Festival – just in case you’re really trying being sold on something that just isn’t worth attending.

You’d be doing the same for any show being advertised after all, right?

About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • rq

    A community in Canada recently banned fluoride in water, based on studies about eating toothpaste. Because, you know, science. Or something. What made it worse? The fact that my best friend (who has a science education and has worked in water treatment!!!!) agreed with them. I sent her a few links for the reading of. I’m going to send her this, too. Thank you for providing me with this information.

  • Kylie Sturgess

    PLEASE NOTE – comments are not coming through for some reason; I got an email about one that never appeared. It didn’t even appear in spam, which is a concern.

    If there’s issues, the email webmaster@freethoughtblogs.com may be of help in figuring out what the #*&^$#*(&^(#$*&^#$(*&^# is going on, because this isn’t an isolated incident.

    Yours, unhappy,

    K.

  • Martin S

    Conspiracy cat

  • Gina

    Looks like it’s become an even bigger political issue: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-15/minister-backs-cho-on-flouride-advice/4465762

    Minister backs CHO on fluoride advice — Updated Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:26pm AEDT

    Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has defended his department’s decision to write to councils touting the benefits of water fluoridation.
    The State Government has recently given councils the power to stop putting fluoride in the water.
    However, the state’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young has implored councils not to be swayed by the anti-fluoride lobby.

    Have you considered doing an interview for your podcast about it?

  • Derek Rucki

    By Mike Morgan, Professor, Colgate Chair of Population Oral Health, Melbourne Dental School & Program Leader, Oral Health CRC at University of Melbourne.
    http://theconversation.edu.au/how-fluoride-in-water-helps-prevent-tooth-decay-6933

  • Andy

    I’m generally intrigued by the argument that fluoride was added to the water as a means of disposing of an industrial waste product. Which leads to two questions…

    1: What government would add industrial waste to the town water supply in order to help industry “get rid of it”?

    2: What have anti-fluoride nutters got against recycling?

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Meh, since I’ve had no further comments on it, I guess they’ll have to take it to politicians and hope they’ll pay attention to them.

      Since this was recently in the news, I noticed that the Skeptics’ Dictionary had a 7th Feb 2013 update and leave it at that:
      http://www.skepdic.com/fluoridation


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