Sequestration, like so many other “solutions,” no silver bullet

Following my post, Carbon Sequestration; what no-one tells you, I received a couple comments from a reader, pointing out the potential of chemical sequestration, commonly referred to as enhanced weathering.

Of course, none of this was provided with case studies or research into it’s viability and the individual quickly left the conversation, having made their point.

But it’s worth reviewing, because I’m becoming increasingly aware of two camps, both very distinct, but sharing an absolutism approach to their favoured climate change mitigation strategy; the pro-nukes and the sequestration mob. Both are sure that their answer is the one and only true reply, but neither stack up.

I won’t bother here with the pro-nukes, because I’ve discussed them various times in the past.

Yes, biological sequestration is only one possibility. Even the modest targets set by the current Australian government within “direct action” represent massive effort, as my analysis showed. However, there is another, apparently low energy, form of sequestration which relies on rock chemically reacting with atmospheric CO2 to capture it.

This is know as “enhanced weathering” as it is a natural process in itself and what the fans of this want to do is speed it up. It’s euphemism for enhanced erosion. I’ll get to the numbers in just a moment, but we’re talking about billions of tonnes of material needed, to match the CO2. Who honestly believes that mining to this degree is viable, let alone desirable when we factor in the necessary impact to landscapes and aquatic environments both through the direct mining activities and resulting compounds as residue from this process, which will hit environments (unless we go to even greater effort and expense to again bury it) in far great amounts than the background levels?

As for numbers, looking at the Azimuth Project, two minerals that could be used for this process are Olivine and Serpentine.

The ratios for these;

Olivine  Olivine (forsterite) Serpentine Serpentine
CO2 Fe2SiO4 Mg2SiO4 Fe3Si2O5(OH)4 Mg3Si2O5(OH)4
Molar Mass (g/mol) 44.01 203.77 140.69 371.73 277.11
Weight ratio to CO2 1 4.63 3.2 8.45 6.3
Molecules requires for every CO2 0.25 to 1 0.25 to 1 0.25 0.25
1 unit weight of CO2 requires how many units?  – 1.6 to 4.63 0.8 to 3.2 2.11 1.57

Annual emissions of CO2 reached 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. Therefore, for Olivine or Serpentine to capture all of this, we would need between 27.6 and 159.74 billion tonnes of these rocks annually.

From the Azimuth Project page;

Supposedly all the CO2 that is produced by burning 1 liter of oil can be sequestered by less than 1 liter of olivine. The market value of olivine is US $50 to US $100 per ton depending on quality. Plugging in the larger number then 5 trillion dollars a year of this material would absorb all the CO2 currently produced. But of course this calculation is oversimplified, since the spike in demand would send the price much higher.

None of this begins to address the billions of tonnes of residue materials as well.

Some might say that I’m being unfair – most targets aim at around 5% below, say 2000 or 1990 levels. To be generous, let’s say the emissions value was 25 billion tonnes, meaning that we want to reach emissions targets below 23.75 billion tonnes. This means that we want to capture 10.75 billion tonnes of CO2 based on 2012 levels.

This amounts to between 8.6 and 49.77 billion tonnes of Olivine and Serpentine annually for enhanced weathering. This is still a massive industry devoted entirely to scrubbing the atmosphere of our CO2 emissions.

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, may call emissions trading a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one,” but how can sequestration be anything but a non-delivery market, as much a sink of money as it is carbon?

It doesn’t matter whether you rely on trees, soil, weathering or any other mechanism, sequestration is not the cheap and easy solution that it has been sold as. In every case you are also left with a bank that is useless unless it keeps carbon locked and what then of this material?

There is no such thing as a silver bullet. Reducing our emissions will require a lot of effort, behavioural change and a diversity of solutions, each contributing their own small part. Thus far, very little of this is being addressed or adopted above the barest effort.


A government standing out, for all the wrong reasons

After the Obama speech whereby he referred to climate deniers as the “Flat Earth Society”, I expressed concerns over how the Abbott led government would be judged by other states.

How easy can one step away from calling anthropogenic climate change “crap” and an emissions trading scheme as, well, basically fiction, when the leader of one of the largest economies publicly states that we no longer have time to entertain such absurdity?

However, this new government is about to surprise us by taking it up a notch with our Environment minister declining to attend the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Warsaw.

In his own words, Greg Hunt says, “We accept the targets,” he said. “We want to be part of an international agreement and we have a very different view, however, on a better way to deal with the mechanism.”

So, not only is this a record breaker (the first no-show for Australian Minister in over 16yrs), but to add further  insult to snubbing off global negotiations, Mr. Hunt frankly tells the world that his government knows better than the rest so doesn’t need to attend global negotiations.

And what is more important that attendance? Staying in Canberra to see that the current price on carbon (the first step in joining the EU ETS market) is removed.

Of course, not only do scientist disagree with Hunt on “Direct Action”, but also the majority of economists.

So we have the NLP standing by themselves, more or less devoid of scientific endorsement and now also from economists but also all members of the UN actively working together to find a solution to growth coupled with greenhouse gas emissions.

Is Australia, under an Abbott government, is effectively “Out of Order” on the subject of climate change? The position held by this government is not only increasingly isolated, but actively isolating itself further.

Fans of this government will say otherwise publicly, regardless what they might say privately to like-minded “sceptics”, but all I can say is lets’s see what this term of “direct” action yields come next next election.

Laugh test sees the Ministry of Fluoride Silliness to the door

In my previous post, I commented on the new anti-science tactic on NewAnthro; take the guise of an interested, impartial fan of the blog, only to then go on to ask silly questions, digging for a dirt… Never to reply to my response.

One chap however did reply, and again and again. Overall, his questions were muddled, confusing fluoride in food and water and it took me some time to work out that his complaint was a fairly basic one without a great deal of understanding of the actual science.

My guess; he, Ian, is a fan of Merilyn Haines.

Why? He continually made the claim that safety tests on fluoride have never been done – the same point Merilyn harps on about… Only to then go on and hypocritically point out studies which she claims in fact question the safety of fluoridation.

For many reasons, she is wrong where it matters; Australian fluoridation practices are safe and effective.

Ian went on to suggest that a good way to test fluoridation safety is to test impact at 100x concentration values. Of course it would fail. The only papers the anti-fluoride movement would have you know about are those where high fluoride exposure negatively impacts health.

Thus, if I fell for it, Ian would win the argument. But is there any sense this “test”?

I couldn’t imagine much would be safe if an individual was exposed to 100x the standard recommended levels.

It is suggested that we should have around 1.5-2L of water a day. How safe would it be to consumer 150-200L a day?

Having two paracetamol tablets can effectively manage pain, but would consuming 200 be healthy?

In short, this is not a measure of fluoridation safety and the are really trying their best to insult my intelligence. The anti-fluoridation camp are no longer being entertained here (because each one of them has illustrated trolling behaviour, completely avoiding an informed discussion) and now are longer going to be entertained via email.

Theirs is truly conspiracy ideation akin to the moon landing and Roswell “truth” hopelessly fixated on a position so far from reality that they would prefer to overdose the world than accept reality.

The newest technique by anti-science to waste my time

Sorry for the recent quietness. Between my new role and private life, I’m finding it very difficult to work on my articles.

For instance, previously I would quickly write out posts at home or in transit on public transport to work, proof read them in my lunch break and then set a date and time for them to go live. I just haven’t been able to find a new rhythm yet. I have two articles that have been waiting to be checked, but instead little snippet like this is just easier to get out quickly.

I’ve noticed a new trend lately.

I’ve had a number of private emails using the post submission option that, strangely, take a very similar approach.

In essence, the writer seems very enthusiastic about my work on fluoride… Except that I don’t seem to answer [insert favoured anti-f comment here]. Then, placed as the writer’s personal dilemma, I receive the challenge.

Of course, like every single infuriated anti-science advocate, from fluoride to climate change, I never receive a reply to my detailed, science rich reply… No, best to take the same rubbish elsewhere and find a more gullible audience.

Since starting to write on fluoride I’ve noticed this wave approach (and a lot of email directed traffic). I never receive one, but a series of individuals doing the same thing. Eventually it ebbs away and then the next wave taking a different approach.

With this newest one, reading the comments makes it clear that they haven’t read my work, or else they would know the answer I’m going to give. Being in private, I can’t help but wonder what they hope to achieve.

I had one ask me if my work was only a personal hypothesis or based upon an independent scientific conclusion. This makes me think they hope to catch me being candid in my private reply and say something to undermine my efforts.

On NewAnthro, I am a science and policy communicator. Occasionally, I’ll do a piece that is obviously a personal analysis and I make that very clear as well as provide all the data and methods I used.

My personal conclusions are meaningless to my audience. I might include my motivations, but I stipulate that. The reason I take this approach is because I’m frustrated with personal opinions being passed off as credible information.

Donna Laframboise’s “climate scepticism is free speech” is a good example. Merilyn Haines talking about fluoride “touching” organs or about her sister’s skin condition in Townsville are further examples.

This space is the rebuttal and I will not stoop to such factually inept levels, basically because they’ll beat me with experience at every turn and we have already experienced way too many centuries of the blind leading the blind to otherwise avoidable pain and suffering.

Quality information is our greatest weapon.

Honest Reply to anti-science

It was a windy, dry day this last Thursday in central NSW. Winds in the region were recorded at 100km per hour. Much of the state was under fire restrictions. The dust, the pollen… Hay-fever had gripped me as well.

The group was large for our standard field trip, which in its own way worked against my natural rhythm, leaving me frustrated with my personal pace.

At one point, the WordPress app on my phone informed me of pending comment which I later reviewed while finally getting to my sun baked lunch.

What I found was another ambiguous comment, with nothing more than a link and a title. It was from an anti-fluoridation individual which was not, in itself directly related to the actual post under which the comment was made. I had to spam it.

But I didn’t do so straight away. I simply sat on it, thinking over my choices.

To dance the Rain Dance or not?

Did I really want to approve the comment, follow the link and reply? In short, no. My time is very limited at the moment and not well spent on each and every bundle of garbage that someone dreamed up as a rebuttal to the standing position within the scientific literature and then posted online in a forum completely devoid of that methodical, expert critical review process.

In essence, this is entirely the realm of the blogosphere discussion, whether it’s fluoridation, climate change, vaccination, evolution or any other topic that sparks an anti-science reaction.

Each communicator whom supports the most accurate conclusion as understood via scientific methodology is only responding to media that happily avoids such scrutiny. In a lot of ways, part of my chosen role has been in this arena. In retrospect, I did this because it way easy and generated traffic.

It was easy because there is no limit to the rubbish that can be generated, pretending to have some leverage in an informed debate; it’s fuel for the lazy writer. As for the traffic it generated, this is not as valuable as the raw statistics would have you believe.

Feeding the Beast of Attention

I remember a few years ago, one environmental senior academic writer thanked his audience, showing a graphic of his traffic. From my experiences with that blog, it was a sizable audience true enough, by the posts themselves were not really the focus. It was an echo chamber where a few individuals, the host included, would incite a reaction with strong comments and then berate, at length, anyone who disagreed or simply questioned this position.

My traffic is some what less, but am I actually being read a great deal less by an engaged audience? Certainly a little, but I think I largely lack the antagonist audience. It’s quality, not quantity.

Such a style is cheap and ineffective. It’s more about the fight than the case. Yes, I’ve been there myself, but why waste my time stirring up a reaction from conspiracy theory proponents unless the basic traffic information feeds my ego.

Honestly, it’s spam

Mulling over all this, I had to admit to myself that the newest comment was indeed spam. The creator didn’t question or even relate to the post, which referred to osteosarcoma and fluoridation except that it linked to the creators personal space in which they “prove” that fluoride is generally bad.

The comment would have better suited other posts I’ve made on the subject, which leaves me with the impression that the creator made this generic comment, did an online search and just posted it on whatever the search returned.

That’s spam.

Further, this individual obviously didn’t read the post and, like all anti-science proponents, simply knows the science is wrong and is waiting for the evidence to support this faith-based position.

It might generate traffic, but this is deaf traffic to information accuracy.

The knock-on effect

The only element of that harsh day was that at least the winds were so fast that they kept the flies at bay.

By the time I sat down to dinner, I had decided to spam the comment, but more than that, I had decided that such an approach wouldn’t work for me anymore.

While my readership may remain lower, at least I can feel confident that it’s engaged and interested in scientific accuracy.

I’ll turn my attention more so on the analysis of policies in the public domain and on the science where suitable. I will no longer chase the creationists, the climate deniers, the anti-vax or anti-fluoridation fan. I won’t remove any of this material, only focus on an audience interested in genuine reality as best our species understands it.

Australia’s mini-Dark Age, greeted with celebration

I noticed an excellent interview this morning on ABC news regarding how the new government’s choice to shut down the Climate Commission is seen globally. I wanted to find it and post it… No luck as yet.

What I did notice in my search was that the subject returns posts from the usual suspects on the first page; Watts, Nova and Delingpole, the intellectually vulnerable. All three are over the moon about the NLP’s decision.

My only thought is, if these “sceptics” really hold the weight on reality, why is this a win? Why do they need this?

I mean, the so-called climate “sceptics” have long lamented in their marginalization (apart from commercial media, but that’s only a small medium, isn’t it?), ignoring of course their relative void of higher education and scientific contribution to climate science. Yet, it’s okay when this is turned on reliable independent science.

(I can hear the obvious rebuttal here; this commission held a ‘Left agenda’, without the need to demonstrate the commission’s position at odds with the science.. the ol’ strawman)

Should the ill-informed and scientifically inept really hold the public discourse on highly complex scientific subjects? The NLP doesn’t say so, however the only avenues of informed evidence on the topic will be reduced to institutes subject to certain political pressures. On the other hand, the “sceptical” communicators are rejoicing in this action which will clear suppress expert potency in the public and political discussion.

Another concern is how quickly this new government has become tight-lipped on asylum seekers arriving by boat, after years of counting and complaining over the previous government’s record.

With evidence reduced to dependent bodies and a new level of hush regarding policy that helped to win this party the 2013 election, Australia is making a concerning shift towards a term-long Dark Age, where ideology is more important than fact.

Australia, 2013: The flat earth society… Good for international relations?

“Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.  And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.”

– Obama, Remarks by the President on Climate Change, June 2013

Australia disagrees.

We have actually elected the new Prime Minister of the Flat Earth Society, for a meeting to run its course of the next three years.

Am I being harsh?

The individual in mind is notorious for his dismissal of anthropogenic climate change and global strategies to decarbonise economies. His direct action approach is akin to quadrupling the annual Australian forestry industry with the most optimistic assumptions, but worse in that it relies upon methodology that is highly uncertain and difficult to measure; soil sequestration. This, as a voluntary contribution from farmers with modest returns for the efforts seems far from a compelling strategy.

Australians voted in such a person, arguably not in favour of him personally, but rather against the frayed ALP. That, and the nice ideas of scrapping tax and persistent xenophobia regarding desperate refugees.

So yes, I’m drawn to such a conclusion and haunted by fear summed up but the last sentence of the quote above.

What will future Australian’s think of us who, when the world actually started building up some momentum on action on climate change, now including China and the US, both of which are showing genuine progress, we ducked out of the procession and down the nearest ally to hide out and have a few cigarettes?

The current Australian government does not speak for me. It is one that promotes unreasonable levels of individualism that stands in direct contrast to the evidence that shows increased equality and social mobility are positively correlated with happier, safer and healthier societies. It is one that promotes ideas such as the great northern development and direct action with total disregard for the empirical environmental evidence to the contrary. It is one that points to surplus in its most recent period as example of fiscal management, while ignoring that this came as a quick cash grab on what would have otherwise remained sources of revenue into the indefinite future, that is, privatisation.

It will be a government that provides much fuel for writers like myself, but will I be able to or will I simply balk?

Anti-science arguments: How do we respond?

I’ve been very interesting with the problem of responding to anti-science. This is mostly due to the frustration that arises from taking them seriously only to be subjected to a cheap magic show rich with fallacious arguments. Diethelm and McKee (2009) provide excellent examples, including;

“The normal academic response to an opposing argument is to engage with it, testing the strengths and weaknesses of the differing views, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties obey certain ground rules, such as a willingness to look at the evidence as a whole, to reject deliberate distortions and to accept principles of logic. A meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects these rules.”

In seeking out certainty in reality, this objection to the best developed tools for obtaining high quality empirical data remains baffling. Moreover, anti-science provides no serious alternative, but instead dynamite to the dam walled placed up against the baseless ideation popular prior to the enlightenment.

Of course ignoring anti-science outright is not the answer as the anti-fluoridation campaign illustrates; while in essence it is fringe and largely based upon “Nazi chemical mind control” fears, packaged right, it has the power to infiltrate communities, leading to a decrease in dental health with no additional benefits, as has been witnessed in various towns in Queensland, Portland, Oregon and elsewhere.

We need to respond.

However, as Christopher Monckton illustrated with climate change, taking them seriously comes with the inherent risk of lending undue credit; he is now regarded as an “expert” in some quarters due solely to the fact that he has publicly debated with scientists and seemed to have won. That his waves failed to reach the shores of scientific endeavour is telling nonetheless.

What to do?

Recently, I analysed the components of an anti-science speech to show how it does not aligned within the same arena of critical thought to scientific methodology and thus presents a sideshow distraction rather than a rebuttal. Yet, what to do with a wordplay debate?

I provided the following basic questions to use to assess the quality of someone’s argument;

  1. Does the article in question refer solely to genuine scientific material?
  2. Does this material genuinely bring into question the validity of given conclusions held in the highest certainty within the scientific community?
  3. What have other genuine scientific material made of this conclusion?

Here, I will look at the comments of “Dan” who is an individual I’ve spotted haunting both NewAnthro and Watching the Deniers of late to give some suggestions.

Dan’s Stand

Dan takes an anti-science approach to climate science. This is not to poison the well, but a factual stances he must admit to simply because his position rejects the standing position held with high confidence within the scientific community, namely, he rejects the conclusion that CO2 can impact on the global climate.

His argument hinges on looking at the global temperature anomaly and atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1800 to today. He claims that no warming in the global temperature anomaly exists beyond 2001 while concentrations of CO2 continue to increase, which he uses to base his position.

His argument against the standing position within the expert community of climate science hinges on a quote he found on Wikipedia by, Richard Horten, editor of the Lancet, which is critical of the peer review process.

The Analysis

To answer the three questions above;

  1. No; Dan refers to Wikipedia and his own blog posts.

It fails on step one. Furthermore, rather than illustrating how the conclusions drawn within climate science are wrong, he instead attacks the review process. Yet, if the science is wrong and he knows it is, he should be able to illustrate as much, for the validity of a conclusion does not sit on the opinions of people, but on the merit of the finding. His argument does not challenge the the scientific conclusion itself.

Mainly, he relies on three fallacies; the single cause, composition and authority.

Eddy Covariance: one way to obtain data on latent energy. My old site at Calperum, SA
Eddy Covariance: one way to obtain data on latent heat. My old site at Calperum, SA

Just as you wouldn’t attempt to measure the volume of a pool by a sole measurement of the depth of the shallow end, it is a failure of understanding to assume that climate change is restricted to the temperature anomaly.

Add energy to a pot of water and the temperature will increase. Eventually, around 100°C, the rate of temperature will reduce, even if the energy input continues. This is because the energy is now going into a physical process not measured by a thermometer; the conversion of liquid to gas.

Climate change is dynamic, with energy going into the atmosphere, but also the oceans and ice, leading to latent heat; ice melt and water vapour, both ignored by thermometers, but measured by other methodologies, such as physical measuring and eddy covariance measurements respectively.

His quote also assumes that, as one person in a health journal is critical of peer review, we have evidence enough that the entire process is flawed. The quote itself is somewhat fallacious – ad populum – and how it is applied is fallacious through authority and composition.

As previously noted, rather than fault the conclusions, he attempts to fault the entire scientific process with this one small quote.

How to respond?

I know first-hand that pointing out these faults do nothing to the argument being presented – shifting goalposts may be applied or semantics may come into the debate, alongside repetition of the same fallacious claims. Eventually, the moral high ground will come up and your efforts will have been a waste as the individual goes on to continue the same debunked claims elsewhere unmoved by your exchange.

It may be useful to respond concisely;

Do the following claims by Dan seriously challenge climate science?

“No warming over the past decade while CO2 levels increase…” – No; warming is only one part of climate change, with energy also being taken up in processes not measured by thermometers, eg. latent heat.

“Richard Horten says peer review doesn’t work…” – No; in no way does this even critique the empirical evidence base for anthropogenic climate change, but is a fallacy of composition based upon appeals to authority, serving no purpose but to subvert critical reflection of the evidence base at hand.

Otherwise, praise the commentator on their prowess and let them know how much you’re looking forward to their radical findings overturning modern science as we know it – surely they will receive their much owed Nobel Prize once their ground breaking research is published in a respected science journal. After that, walk on.

You can waste your life replying to nonsense – fiction is limited only by imagination and our species is capable of many generations worth of imagination. Or less eloquently put;


Climate discussions flat-line where they should be thriving

The climate science news, in reality, has waned in recent months, perhaps over the bulk of 2013.

Sure, the science is still trickling in but within the general media it’s really pretty much flat lined. Monckton’s last Aussie tour was a flop; a hopeful sign that his crackpot star is burning out. The “final nails” are rusted and forgotten…

Climate change is more or less left to the enthusiasts. The tone on the anti-science climate media is increasingly batty and fringe and arguably as drama soaked as any other conspiracy theory one may stumble upon for a chuckle. The lines in the sand have washed away and far fewer are selecting supposed “sides”.

Most people admit that anthropogenic climate change is real, but for the most part, the threat is trivialized by how intangible and far off it seems to the individual right here and now in a given city. The only real fight that seems to persist within the public eye is the rather extraordinary lengths we are going to, to find fossil fuels, be it fracking, offshore drilling or tar pits.

At the same time, the US president has finally joined the true dialogue of climate response policies, China is ever ramping up its activities in response to climate change and little Australia, with its massive per capita climate debt, seriously contemplates over two potential candidates for leadership; one of which goes from calling climate change “crap” to carbon trading “a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one”.

As an observer, I can’t help but sit back perplexed.

Does being the lucky country also mean the wilfully ignorant country as well? Are we so scared that changing our behaviour must mean degrading our quality of life? Of course, the longer we take to begin meaningful change the more dramatic and thus uncomfortable change will be. Being honest, this is what motivates me more than anything – I simply do not wish to impose avoidable hardship on those I care about.

Small steps earlier rather than big steps later to catch up.

Globally, financial concerns have only increased over the past five years, leaving many policy makers focused entirely on growth, with the long term impacts of climate change placed on the back-burner for future discussions. Hope and Hope (2013) have illustrated that this may be short sighted as this low growth is likely to lead to a poorer future population, thus less able to match the social costs due to additional CO2 emissions. Under the current global economic pressures, there is even more reason to attempt to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, not less, than if economies were healthier.

There  really is no justifiable reason for the lull. While anti-science groups may be giving communicators less material to respond to (I’ve argued before that this should be done sparingly in any case), we still need strong discussions on what we do now to curtail future emissions to ensure we provide our grandchildren and theirs a climate akin to that we have prospered within. There are many concerns that need to be addressed, to be sure, but climate change is still a high priority.

Furthermore, it presents opportunity for new markets and community-based behaviours that in turn could lead to financial benefits. If we simply get on with the task and demonstrate positives in changing behaviour, we will also erode the platform on which many anti-science communicators stand upon; it will be increasingly untenable to insist anthropogenic climate change is not real, uncertain or exaggerated when communities are progressing and thriving in low-carbon economies.

We never needed the momentum we drew from rebuking anti-science propaganda, but we have been doing it for so long that we have convinced ourselves otherwise. The dialogue belongs to science communicators now and we are not doing our part to assist with the necessary behavioural changes.

Ignoratio elenchi: when anti-science argues that 2+2=5

It’s a trick that works wonderfully on an uncritical mind. In the analysis of anti-science communication, we saw how much of the case brought against fluoride was irrelevant to its safe or ability to reduce tooth decay.

Over the past few days of silence, I’ve noticed a lot of traffic towards fluoride and so searched the news for the latest activity in the anti-fluoridation world only to spot a few new cases ignoratio elenchi; that is, making one case and insisting another conclusion.

A faceless sleight of hand

One article in the North West Star, Water board worker’s fluoride fears, paints the entire discussion in Mt Isa regarding water fluoridation inappropriately… “safety concerns surrounding the substance continue to grow.”

In essence the article is bias. It is not an argument against the safety of fluoride in water (it dissolved completely, with fluoride becoming free ionic fluoride), nor is it anything related to how well fluoride works to prevent tooth decay. The main argument against fluoridation is about safe handling!

There are numerous industries where workers face hazards – in fact most jobs have need for Operational Health and Safety policies (OH&S) and risk assessments. I’ve have to create a number myself for my roles. This doesn’t automatically deem to job better left undone – imagine what would happen if we deems sewerage plants too unsafe – but rather that safe measures need to be in place to ensure safe working environments for all involved.

This unnamed employee at best argues that more rigorous OH&S and risk assessments need to be undertaken if current practices are not good enough. Take a leaf out of the book of any given water authority in the capitals cities of the other states, which have all safely administered fluoride to water supplies for decades!

Interestingly, the vote in Mt Isa drew less than 10% of the locals out, most of which chose “no”. While the anti-fluoride campaign would consider this a success, I see it differently. I think the only people who voted are those who have strong opinions on the subject. The rest reflect disinterest or simply being unaware of the subject. With such bad reporting and the high level of public engagement by anti-fluoride groups in Qld, sprout bogus claims to incite fear, it’s not surprising that “no” was the majority call from such a small group.

White with… sugar?

I also noticed a spike in articles, with a tabloid “shock” flair to them, reporting on fluoride levels in tea – as those this was something new.

I can refer to a paper that’s 17yrs old that illustrates these reporters are pretty slow to catch on.

Furthermore, this does not question the safety or efficacy of water fluoridation. It raises valid concerns about the quality of a product that in turn may lead to a consumer having higher than recommended intakes of fluoride. The cheap product may not be living up to desired consumer safety guidelines in Australia and so merits further discussions, but not water fluoridation itself.


Just as with climate change denial, the argument is never really challenging the science that these anti-science communicators pretend to challenge, but rather confuse, distort and attempt to win an argument on ignorance and typical fallacies.

Three simple questions are useful when presented with such arguments;

      1. Does the article in question refer solely to genuine scientific material? (if so – check the source).
      2. Does this material genuinely bring into question the validity of given conclusions held in the highest certainty within the scientific community? (this is not, as seen above, to take the report’s “word of it” but to look at the source in relation to the key points – eg, fluoride; safe and effective in current practices in affluent communities / climate change; happening and due to human activity etc)*
      3. What have other genuine scientific material made of this conclusion? (ie. check where the paper has been cited and how it was cited)

Quality information is only sourced through scientific investigation, just as much as you learn mechanics from engineers, not in a pastry kitchen. If the report fails to cite scientific literature, ignore it. If the literature doesn’t back up the claims, ignore the claims. If the paper is old and/or brought into question on its methodologies / results and/or in a little known paper and not cited elsewhere, ignore it.

Quick and simple steps to avoid the woolly blindfold.

Read more: Anti-Science Communication: It does not deserve to be placed with non-fiction

* Two examples of checking what the actual scientific literature says can be provided in reply to the osteosarcoma claim and IQ claim which I have previously debunked.