Reply To Merilyn Haines: Fluoride and How Science Doesn’t Match the Doubt

The following is a reply to a comment I received on the post, A Look at Water Fluoridation Across Different Communities from a Merilyn Haines. Her comment can be found here.

I felt it better to provide my reply as an open letter, as her comments are very typical of enthusiasts with whom  I usually debate with on topics, such as climate change, evolution, vaccination and now, fluoridation of drinking water. Regardless of the topic, the approach is the same and on the face of it, convincing. With a little probing one can see how much it mirrors even that of Monckton.

My hope is to help others recognise the trends and how to respond to them; simply, return again and again to the science. We are not making a point because it is what we “know” is right, but rather because that is what the evidence states is most likely. Doubt must also be reined in to the realms of logic.



Thank you for going to the effort of copying and pasting a clump of favoured information, without adequate referencing, but appeals to authority written in such a way that it is clear that you skimmed, at best, the post itself. I would also note a mildly threatening hint in your comment, from my previous experiences. All of which ring alarm bells, but I will at least reply.

I hope that, unlike the post, you will read the following thoroughly.

Firstly, the only reference you provide is to an interest group. I could provide a plethora (but for time sake, I’ll provide one) from climate sceptics (eg.  Watts up with that), creationists (eg. Answers in genesis), and anti-vaccination advocates (eg. Vactruth) all of which take a very similar approach, claim to be supporting the “underdog” – the truth that scientists are trying to suppress – complete with a list of links and fringing studies that may, or may not, hold much weight within the relevant research community.

I’d prefer links to the actual peer reviewed literature so that I can see the actual report myself, review the actual conclusions and research the follow up papers citing these papers to see what the experts make of them and if the idea is repeatable and thus worth growing confidence. However, you provided one interest group page, with a list of references therein before simply making statements of your own.

I, on the other hand, did provide direct links to a few papers I found on the subject. The two most noteworthy are the first, McDonagh et al. (2000) and the last Parnell et al. (2009). Both of which reviewed a wide range of previous studies and compiled the evidence based on the quality of the studies themselves. The former paper looked at 214 previous studies and the latter 59 studies since 2000. Neither could find merit in the argument of lost IQ.

Also, can I please have a link to the Harvard study? As it stands, it is nothing more than an appeal to authority.

“If you are not aware of this Infant formula when mixed with fluoridated water delivers 100-200 times more fluoride than breast-milk.”

Link to the science paper please? I could only find this as a myth floating around on interest sites and a refuted myth on other sites, such as the Queensland Dept of Health.

“…trade off that fluoridated water might lower tooth decay (by possibly a fraction of a tooth at best)…”

From McDonagh et al. (2000); “In the fluoridated areas there was a significant increase in the proportion of children without caries in 19 of 30 analyses. Only one analysis found a significant decrease in the proportion of children without caries in the fluoridated area.”

From Dini et al. (2011) “Differences between the districts are obvious whichever method was used to define pattern, confirming the benefits of water fluoridation reported in many other investigations.  However, in considering findings, the effect of social factors, evident in the difference in parental education between the areas, cannot be wholly ruled out and because the most recently fluoridated area was the one least advantaged, this may have contributed  to differences seen.”

From Parnell et al. (2009) “The best available evidence suggests that water fluoridation is an effective and safe community-based intervention for preventing caries.”

Again, the papers I’ve provided demonstrate that the difference in tooth decay is statistically significant, although complicated by environmental influences.

“After reviewing fluoride toxicological data, the USA National Research Council (NRC ) reported in 2006, “It’s apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain.”

I actually went to the effort of finding this report myself (downloadable from; here) and found the quote (page 222);

“On the basis of information largely derived from histological, chemical, and molecular studies, it is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain and the body by direct and indirect means. To determine the possible adverse effects of fluoride, additional data from both the experimental and the clinical sciences are needed.”

In essence, they are not saying that fluorides have the ability to adversely interfere with the function of the brain, but rather that they did not know enough in 2006 to rule it out – that it seems to on the very limited information available at the time.

Taken a snippet of a quote to make it out to be something it was never intended to be is called quote mining.

“…if there is any doubt, keep fluoride out.”

Thank you for this – it reminded me of a book I would advise reading; Oreskes and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt. The book shows how the best way to undermine rigorous scientific investigation is not to prove the opposite is true (which, of course it isn’t or else science would be forced to acknowledge it before interest groups had even heard of it), but rather work on and inflate gaps in scientific certainty. As our knowledge is only as strong as our weakest assumptions, nothing can be known absolutely; look into the fundamental assumptions of science. It is applied for the god of gaps.

It is potentially the thinking employed to create the largest publicity for Séralini et al. (2012), where experts were not allowed to critique the paper on its launch (a standard in science journalism), so the paper’s weaknesses went unreported until the damage was done and the two books and movie that accompanied the paper could get the most favourable airing (more on that here).

Like fluoride, this unreasonable inflation of concern – where our children are at stake – provided a platform for increased interest.

This is why I direct you back to the source peer reviewed literature. Dr Eugenie Scott puts it wonderfully;

“Now let’s just say that I find all of this research and peer review to be burdensome and let’s say that it’s so much easier for me to go to a state legislator and convince him to pass a law that determines that [my idea] goes directly to the class room without having to go through all that tedious research and review. You can imagine that my colleagues would be rather annoyed at me and I would be strongly criticised by my colleagues for the unfairness of my cutting to the head of the line. They had to go through a very laborious process… I took a short cut.”

Anyone can say anything. Scientific confidence comes at a cost and is worth so much more.

“When you say chinese fluoride paranoia expressed by Jason Woodforth – are you saying that the fluoride chemicals used in Qld are not imported from China ???? ( as waste products of chinese industry ) You should know the silicofluoride chemicals do not exist in nature.”

No, I suggested that it was odd that he was concerned because it came from China. I linked to SA’s Dept of Health’s fact sheet, which links to NATA testing on the fluoride that is used in SA water supplies. This testing showed that his fears are unfounded. I suspect Queensland would get their fluoride from the same providers.

Here is the link to Queensland’s Dept of Health’s information regarding fluoride. Under chapter five and especially subchapter 5.4, it looks like Queensland applies a similar testing methodology as that to SA.



For all the articles I have on water fluoridation, click here.

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