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Byron Shire
May 13, 2021

Accepting the science that suits us

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mungopiece-1200Mungo MacCallum

One of the bonuses about living in Byron Shire is that most people accept the science.

At least where the big picture is concerned. You will almost never get into one of those silly arguments about whether climate change is real, or a conspiracy cooked up by the United Nations/New World Order/Mad Climatologists Collective aimed at destroying our way of life and sending us back to the caves.

In an area where green politics are the dominant paradigm there is obviously a tendency to accept the research which inevitably leads to sustainability and a cleaner, greener outcome; nonetheless, the defence of the accumulated wisdom of the vast majority of scientists is impressive and welcome. But that’s the good news.

One of the more depressing things about living in Byron Shire is that so many people reject the science – at least where their personal lives are concerned. A few weeks ago Byron became the only local government area in the northern rivers to maintain the rage against fluoride. Its neighbours finally accepted the science: the evidence was, after all, overwhelming: huge improvements in children’s teeth at a minimal cost with negligible, if not non-existent, side effects.

But the Byron consensus was that even if fluoridation is not a devilish government plot to poison the population, it is compulsory medication, and therefore unacceptable. And yes, it is compulsory medication – a preventive health measure like wearing a bicycle helmet or a seat belt. These are laws introduced not only to protect the reckless and stupid, but to make the best use of scarce public resources.

Bad teeth, like road accidents, are obviously a cost to productivity, but they also demand medical attention which is urgently needed elsewhere. In the end fluoridation not only saves teeth and the angst of visiting the dentist: it saves taxpayers money.

But the rejection of fluoride pales into insignificance when set against the murderous movement against vaccination, which is also centred in the Byron Shire. For many years Meryl Dorey and her fellow fanatics in what used to be called the Australian Vaccination Network (the court has now ordered it to adopt a marginally less dishonest name) have run a campaign of falsehood and fear designed to dissuade the more ignorant and gullible from inoculating their children against potential fatal diseases.

The pseudoscience on which Dorey relies was comprehensively discredited many years ago; in particular the alleged association between vaccination and autism has been disproved by a great many rigorous studies, as have Dorey’s other furphies. But, trusting to the dictum of her fellow American P T Barnum that there is a sucker born every minute, she goes on trotting them out, and worried and fearful parents still fall for them.

Once again, the evidence for the benefits of vaccination to individuals and communities is incontestable; the science is in. But as Friedrich Schiller pointed out, against ignorance, the gods themselves contend in vain.

Indeed, it seems to be a given that science is of little account when it comes to personal medication. I know Byronians who are seriously suspicious of conventional medicine; they would never dream of taking so much as an aspirin tablet. Yet they go to doof parties and gulp down handfuls of anonymous pills purchased from the first passing stranger. No wonder there is a market for colonic irrigation.

So when it comes to science Byron is frankly bipolar. Perhaps after all it is not so different from the rest of the country, or indeed, the rest of the world: we believe what suits us, when it suits us. And when it doesn’t, we just say it isn’t science.


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21 COMMENTS

  1. I’m appalled by the number of people who, like Mungo in the above, claim that those who oppose fluoridation are ‘rejecting the science’, and I would like to ask them if they have, in fact, studied the science – including that not cited by pro-fluoride authorities.

    The fact is that there are literally hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing that fluoridation presents or potentially presents significant health risks to some people. Even the 2006 report of the USA’s National Research Council, a conservative scientific body which has reviewed the bulk of the available research, concluded that various groups within the population may be vulnerable to ill-effects from fluoridation, including dental fluorosis, musculoskeletal effects, reproductive and developmental impacts, neurotoxicity, and endocrine and immunological effects. Again and again this comprehensive review points to the lack of certainty around the safety of fluoridation with statements such as: “More research is needed on bone concentrations of fluoride in people with altered renal function, as well as other potentially sensitive populations (e.g., the elderly, postmenopausal women, people with altered acid balance), to better understand the risks of musculoskeletal effects in these populations.” It also says: “Several of the effects are associated with average or typical fluoride intakes of 0.05-0.1 mg/kg/day (0.03 with iodine deficiency), others with intakes of 0.15 mg/kg/day or higher……the 0.03-0.1 mg/kg/day range will be reached by persons with average exposures at fluoride concentrations of 1-4 mg/L in drinking water, especially the children. The highest intakes (>0.1 mg/kg/d) will be reached by some individuals with high water intakes at 1 mg/L and by many or most individuals with high water intakes at 4 mg/L, as well as by young children with average exposures at 2 or 4 mg/L.”

    Surely, in the light of such findings, made by such a respected scientific body, it is sheer folly to accept only the evidence cited by the government and some dental authorities showing that fluoridation has beneficial effects on teeth – evidence which, I might add, is carefully selected, and disputed by the evidence of many other studies. There is a lot more to the bigger picture than just our dental health.

    It may well be that the effect of fluoridation on the health of most of us would hardly be measurable, but there is little doubt that for some people it presents a health hazard. Surely, in this light, it is indeed a denial of our basic human right of choice over what we ingest to insist on providing fluoride via our water supply rather than via foodstuffs which are optional, or via tablets.

    Byron Council is the only one of our local councils which has shown any sense and any respect for its people in its decision. Sadly, it is still possible that the state government may order it to comply with the alternative and ethically wrong choice of the other councils served by Rous Water.

    I would have expected a better-researched response to this issue from Mungo.

  2. Jill,

    I am certainly not an expert in the flurodie debate but I can see that you are certainly not either by the inaccuracies in your comment.

    An maximum level of fluoride in water in Australia is about 1.2 mg/L and there are moves to make 0.7 mg/L the standard

    You quote “the 0.03-0.1 mg/kg/day range will be reached by persons with average exposures at fluoride concentrations of 1-4 mg/L in drinking water, especially the children.The highest intakes (>0.1 mg/kg/d) will be reached by some individuals with high water intakes at 1 mg/L and by many or most individuals with high water intakes at 4 mg/L, as well as by young children with average exposures at 2 or 4 mg/L.”

    So the fluoride level at which the somewhat vague “Several of the effects are associated with” might possibly be achieved by someone who has “high water intakes” in an area with the highest level of fluoride (1.2mg/L). This seems to indicate that a normal person drinking a normal amount with 0.7 mg/L fluoride wouldn’t have too much to worry about.
    However It may also be worth noting that the very study that you cite presents the linked table http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11571&page=262#p200111b79960262001

    The studies that are cited in this table that show the lowest concentrations need to cause effects (in otherwsie healthy people) either use rats, people from areas with endemic fluoride (so areas of very high naturally occuring fluoride) or people given extremely high doses (60 mg NaF).

    Rather than searching for information to support your belief please try and use reproducible science. Or at least read your own references.

  3. Ms Garsden’s comment only serves to illustrate the point: public health specialists and dentists world-wide accept the effectiveness and safety of controlled fluoridation, but Jill Garsden doesn’t>

    The fact is, high levels of fluoride, as seen in areas of high endemic soil fluoride, do not occur with controlled town water. The literature on Fluoride toxicity is almost all from China or India – areas of high natural ground water fluoride. Some fluorosis (tooth discolouration) has also been caused by supplementary fluoride (tablets).

    I have looked at the literature in detail and have been unable to find cases of fluoride toxicity caused by controlled fluoridation of town water.

  4. How very convenient you misrepresent the NRC’s study. The study includes this in the summary of its findings:

    “Fluoride is one of the drinking-water contaminants regulated by EPA. In 1986, EPA established an MCLG and MCL for fluoride at a concentration of 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L) and an SMCL of 2 mg/L. These guidelines are restrictions on the total amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water. Because fluoride is well known for its use in the prevention of dental caries, it is important to make the distinction here that EPA’s drinking-water guidelines are not recommendations about adding fluoride to drinking water to protect the public from dental caries. Guidelines for that purpose (0.7 to 1.2 mg/L) were established by the U.S. Public Health Service more than 40 years ago. Instead, EPA’s guidelines are maximum allowable concentrations in drinking water intended to prevent toxic or other adverse effects that could result from exposure to fluoride.”

    What you say in your post misrepresents what that study was actually about, as well as its findings. It was about additional fluoride in drinking water at levels above that added to public water supplies. I see Mungo hit the nail on the head with his title…

  5. We have explosive rates of cancer and other disabling diseases in our modern societies. We should be cautious. If you haven’t read the studies that Jill refers to, read them. Remember there was a time that people lined up to be sprayed with DDT.

  6. There are currently over 6000 studies on watre fluoridation on pubmed. I haven’t read them all, but a quick skim seems to indicate that fluoridation is beneficial.

    Some quotes from the abstracts of the first 20 hits, where abstracts are available

    ‘Water fluoridation is an effective safe means of preventing dental caries, reaching all populations, irrespective of the presence of other dental services.’

    ‘Caries experience was associated with better socioeconomic indicators of a city and exposure to fluoridated water, which may affect the impact of sugars on the disease.’

    ‘The results showed that the drinking-water fluoridation program produced substantial savings’

    ‘Major variations in caries experience reported occurred by remoteness, water fluoridation status, socio-economic status and household income levels’

    ‘Fluoride rubbed in the enamel, did not affect the amount of Lactobacillus spp. in the dental plaque growing on this material’

    ‘Fluorides are commonly added to drinking water in the United States to decrease the incidence of dental caries. Silicofluorides, such as sodium hexafluorosilicate (Na2 SiF6 ) and fluorosilicic acid (H2 SiF6 ), are mainly used for fluoridation, although fluoride salts such as sodium fluoride (NaF) are also used. Interestingly, only the toxicity of NaF has been examined and not the more often used silicofluorides. […] This suggests that silicofluorides have similar toxicity to NaF.’

    ‘Estimated individual drinking water fluoride exposure was stratified into 4 categories: very low, < 0.3 mg/L; low, 0.3 to 0.69 mg/L; medium, 0.7 to 1.49 mg/L; and high, ≥ 1.5 mg/L. Overall, we found no association between chronic fluoride exposure and the occurrence of hip fracture. The risk estimates did not change in analyses restricted to only low-trauma osteoporotic hip fractures. Chronic fluoride exposure from drinking water does not seem to have any important effects on the risk of hip fracture, in the investigated exposure range'

    'Community water fluoridation reduced dental caries in Australian adults born before its widespread implementation at least as much as after its widespread adoption'

    'The results showed that the drinking-water fluoridation program produced substantial savings. Public health decision-makers could develop economic arguments to support wide deployment of this population-based intervention whose efficacy and safety have been demonstrated and acknowledged.'

  7. Thank you for your great article (as usual). With all the money the anti fluoridation lobby have spent they could have bought enough rainwater tanks to drink unmediated water.

  8. “In an area where green politics are the dominant paradigm there is obviously a tendency to accept the research which inevitably leads to sustainability and a cleaner, greener outcome; nonetheless, the defence of the accumulated wisdom of the vast majority of scientists is impressive and welcome. But that’s the good news.”

    I’d be surprised if that’s really true, if you mention the importance of nuclear power for scalable, reliable, practical coal replacement.

    • @Luke Weston, anyone who continues to endorse Nuclear in the wake of Chernobyl and more recently Fukushima is completely unaware of the heavily documented effects of these disasters, and must be incapable of any semblance of rationality. Or, has conflicts of interest that should ban them from commenting without disclosure of such.

  9. It’s always difficult citing complex studies, because people take from them the points which tend to support their own argument. I freely admit that I did this with the evidence I quoted from the NRC study (just as Dr Dave Hawkes did above to argue the opposite case). This study, at the broadest level, favours fluoridation – however, my point was that even the conservative pro-fluoridation scientists have admitted that much more research into the impact of fluoride on overall health, particularly that of vulnerable sections of the population (which include many more than those which were listed in the single quote I gave above, and particularly includes people who have immune dysfunctions) is needed, and this point is made repeatedly. It is for this reason, together with the evidence from many other studies (and I’ve just provided the link to one such other along with the link to the NRC study in a reply to a comment above) that I believe that we should be entitled to choose whether or not we wish to ingest fluoride.

    By the way, one point that is made in the study is that it is important to take into account the total amount of fluoride ingested from all sources, as well as that from drinking fluoridated water. Two cups of tea per day, according to my own dentist (one of the nation’s leading figures in preventative dentistry) provides sufficient fluoride for most people, and it is also found in fresh whole milk and many other food products.

    Sue, it is not true that “public health specialists and dentists world-wide accept the effectiveness and safety of controlled fluoridation”. Most EU countries have discontinued the practice of fluoridation, and although the reasons they have done so vary, one of them is because the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation is questionable. The Israeli Supreme Court recently concluded that fluoride is, indeed, a public health threat and provides minimal, if any, health benefit to society. In his ruling, Justice D. Barak-Erez ordered the cessation of all water fluoridation programs throughout Israel by 2014, emphasizing the fact that water fluoridation is dangerous, and the science defending it is outdated and “no longer widely accepted.” The USA, Australia and NZ are the last remaining strongholds of the practice of fluoridation.

    I would add that it is worth noting that although most of the Australian proponents of fluoride dismiss the dental fluorosis which often results from fluoridation as a mere cosmetic issue, the NRC scientific panel came to the conclusion that it is “a toxic effect……judged to be consistent with prevailing risk assessment definitions of adverse health effects.” This is because the tooth enamel serves to protect the underlying dentin and pulp from decay and infection; and this protective ability is compromised by fluorosis. The underlying dentin thus becomes more vulnerable to decay in the presence of fluorosis. There is also some evidence that excessive amounts of fluoride can accumulate in the dentin itself and alter its structure. Concern over fluorosis, even at low fluoridation levels, is supported by many other studies, including McDonagh, M.S, et al (2000) in their Systematic Review of Water Fluoridation, published in BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) Vol.321, http://www.bmj.com/content/321/7265/855.pdf%2Bhtml) and Heller, K. E., et al (1997), in Dental Caries and Dental Fluorosis at Varying Water Fluoride Concentrations. (Journal of Public Health Dentistry, Vol. 57, Issue 3).

    It is also worth reading the article ‘Why I Changed My Mind About Water Fluoridation’, written by a former leading pro-fluoride campaigner, Dr John Colquhoun, D.D.S., Ph.D., which was published in: Perspectives in Biology and Medicine Volume 41, page 29-44. 1997. This can be accessed at http://uncensored.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/WHY_I_CHANGED_MY_MIND_ABOUT_WATER_FLUORIDATION_John_Colquhoun.pdf

    All the above notwithstanding, I want to conclude with the thing that matters to me most, as I accept and respect that those who believe in the benefits of fluoride are likely to continue to do so. The most important thing to me is that we have freedom of choice. I respect the right of those who want extra fluoride to ingest it. I demand my own right to refuse it. For that reason, I believe that it simply should not be in the water supply which supports us all.

    • Thank you Jill, your last comment is particularly poignant. No matter how much the proponents of fluoride in drinking water want to skew the data and reality of fluoride toxicity, we should have the choice to make our own judgements and act according to our conclusions.

      If one is stupid enough to believe in such establishment mythologies, then consume all the fluoride you want: but don’t force me into the same. It’s the stuff of pseudoskeptical scientism and the Darwin awards to believe in the eugenicists and their Bernaysian PR, and to put your health on the line because of it.

  10. We have “exploding rates of cancer” for a couple of very simple reasons; first, we’re living a lot longer than a few generations ago. Second, there are a lot more people around , so of course statistics will say there is “more” cancer. Third, better diagnoses and discovery of cancer. People used to die if “lung disease”, they’d die of “liver failure”, they’d die of “stroke” (which was often an I diagnosed tumor) and would be buried quickly without lots if investigations into detailed causes. Times were simpler then.

  11. The public water supply is community property. As an individual, you have the choice to find an alternative source of water to satisfy your right to refusal. Those who administer public health have a responsibility and an obligation to follow the bulk of quality evidence, in order to care for the majority of the population.

    Statistically, 5% of studies will necessarily show an effect due to chance. I have read few studies which find issue with low level fluoridation that meet basic criteria for ‘scientific evidence’. I have also read a few which have been clearly misunderstood, misquoted or mistranslated. And yes, I’ve looked for evidence to both sides of the story.

    It is absolutely true that some countries in Europe have ceased fluoridating their water supply due to varied reasons. In the case of France, this was because it was determined that fluoridating salt would actually provide greater, not lesser, penetration in the population. In Switzerland, both water and salt fluoridation co-existed, hence water fluoridation was ceased to reduce over-exposure, not to halt supplementation.
    The Israeli court is just that, not ‘public health specialists and dentists’. Courtroom decisions are not evidence of scientific consensus. Following the example of other countries while ignoring the body evidence is not a basis for public health decisions either.

    By all means, exercise your right to choose. Buy a rainwater tank or invest in a reverse osmosis filtration system.

  12. “Findings from our meta-analyses of 27 studies published over 22 years suggest an inverse association between high fluoride exposure and children’s intelligence… The results suggest that fluoride may be a developmental neurotoxicant that affects brain development at exposures much below those that can cause toxicity in adults…”

    Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Anna L. Choi, Guifan Sun, Ying Zhang, Philippe Grandjean Environ Health Perspect. 2012 October; 120(10): 1362–1368.

    Whatever truth exists regarding fluoride toxicity, there is undoubtedly the existence of a scientific controversy. Why should the individual who wants a different path nevertheless have to endure the enforcement of a potentially incorrect thesis upon them and their families, just because of the consensus of the day? Consensus changes, science moves on, and sometimes it rejoins with old wisdom, directly opposing what was yesterday’s consensus. Paradigms alter and scientific revolution sometimes occurs–but generally, only when the anomalies in the failing paradigm build up enough momentum to conquer the political and economic inertia of the times. So I extrapolate upon the science as I see it and make a decision for myself. If you are a real scientist you should appreciate and even defend that, even if you don’t agree with it. The existence of robust science relies on adversarial challenges and opposition, enshrined in fundamental criteria of the operation of science such as skepticism, testability, repeatability. But if you study their rhetoric, this is actually disliked by the establishment and the pseudoskeptic alike (if there need be any differentiation), who cherish their own perspective on the science and push it forth as unquestionable dogma.

    And politically speaking, only tyrants wish to impose their own potentially dangerous (if not profitable) treatments over the bodies of others. Well, if you don’t like my freedom, it is you that should move to North Korea, where you are free to happily accept whatever “consensus” the government wishes to force upon you. Founding fathers of common law, bills of rights and even the Australian Constitution didn’t promote such choices as up to the individual without reason. And it took millennia of conflict and lives lost to establish the West’s inalienable rights that many self professed “skeptics” (that are anything but) are ever too willing to blow away in their homage to big business, for either cognitive, professional or economic vested interests. It’s also known as selling your soul.

    Plenty of that conflict occurred in Scotland, Mac–your forebears would likely be turning in their graves at your misplaced ‘tude’.

    MacCallum loses any truly skeptical person in the first paragraph by reverting to the extremely tired and intellectually disingenuous, lazy, ad-hominem labelling that goes along with the phrase “conspiracy theory”. It is a rhetorical structure loaded with emotive content and mass meme ‘group-think’ value but entirely devoid of analysis or any empirical weight. And all of you pseudoskeptics predictably just bleat along, defending your orthodox party line with jingoistic fervor. Oh, so much courage you must have to fight against the unruly & unwashed masses that don’t see science with the ‘clarity’ that you do, in your defense of big money and power. Well cheers, and here’s to you drinking of your own kool aid (we all know where that one leads). Leave those who value freedom alone.

    It is typical that the title itself of this MacCallum piece spells out the very offence most frequently committed by the pseudoskeptic, who cherry picks the science to suit their perspective whilst accusing the opposing party of the same fallacies of thought. “Know thyself” is altogether missed by these egoistic priests of scientism.

    And MacCallum, since you brought up vaccination: in this arena, the medical establishment, pharmacos and pseudoskeptics alike are all equally as phobic to the necessary scientific adversarial challenge that makes for good science, as they are in the fluoride controversy. This is witnessed by the incredibly authoritarian grab for power that the HCCC wants, in order to stifle free speech so that we cannot talk about the volumes of science that points to vaccines being unsafe and lacking in efficacy, or the terribly shaky ground upon which vaccine science claims a foundation, e.g., without so much as one double blind randomised clinically controlled study to indicate safety with a proper (i.e., entirely sans vaccine) control group. So what do they do? Of course, they try to shut down free speech.

    Read more about the draconian power grab at the link provided via my name (or below), please vote in the petition, and please submit to the NSW Parliament if you can, to help stop this corporate fascist bit of legislation from seeing the light of day. Or your health freedom in NSW may be lost to these control freak tyrants. Anyone anywhere please vote/submit, as nasty precedents have a way of spreading.

    Obviously, these actions to shut down scientific dialogue are not those of partisans that are confident in their “science”. And we all know what that really means.

    Site discussing HCCC latest power grab:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/11/petition-to-halt-new-south-wales-hccc-powers-of-censorship.html

    Direct link to Avaaz petition against the power grab:

    https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Do_not_give_the_NSW_HCCC_powers_of_cencorship_over_public_and_individuals/

  13. You don’t appear to understand the publication you are relying on. It was not examining the effects of fluoride deliberately added to drinking water at all – “The committee’s conclusions regarding the potential for adverse effects from fluoride at 2 to 4 mg/L in drinking water do not address the lower exposures commonly experienced by most U.S. citizens.” It was concerned with the recommended safe level of naturally occurring fluoride as a pollutant, at levels far above those in domestic water supplies.

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