Coffs Harbour City Councillors: tilling the soil for northern anti-science propaganda

Cr Nan Cowling

Reviewing the recent fluoride media in Australia, I’ve found that Coffs Harbour city councillors, noted in the article, Nan Cowling, have decided to raise the question of whether to continue water fluoridation to be discussed at the 2013 Local Government Association annual conference in October.

The three noted justifications for this were; cost; “Well, Queensland are doing it”; and a large population of elderly people.


It’s $65,000 a year, or $1.43 per person per year (with a population of 45,580 according to the 2011 Census for Coffes Harbour, Code UCL112004). Councillor Nan Cowling believes that tooth decay had more to do with access to dentistry, but can we access dentistry for less than $2 a year?

Even if you looked at Code SSC10553 (SSC) instead, the population is only 24,581 and yet the cost is still only $2.64 per person a year.

As I don’t know how much of the Coffs Harbour community is provided the water in question, we have a cost somewhere between $1.43 and and $2.64… Hardly bank busting.

Good in Queensland

In the words of mothers everywhere; “now, if Queensland were to jump of a cliff, would you jump as well?”

Firstly, Queensland has a problem of a very invasive memebase, more commonly known as “The Queenslanders for Safe Water, Air and Food” (QAWF), which has enjoyed success largely because Queenslanders have not had much exposure to fluoride – something new in their waters is scary… especially for their hydrangeas.

Most people in capital cities outside of Queensland don’t give fluoride much thought. They’ve lived with it for decades – including Sydney and Coffs Harbour – without concern.

QAWF is an anti-science movement that repeats debunked claims with complete disregard for counter-arguments and strong scientific evidence to the contrary. You really don’t want to encourage such thinking to propagate or else, before you know it, the Earth is 6000 years old and flat.

How Old is the Coffs Harbour Community?

The point that Coffs Harbour community is mainly elderly is utterly untrue. Again turning to the same 2011 Census data we find the following (very similar regardless of which of the two codes used);

coffs harbour pop

You get a fairly even distribution across the ages, admittedly, but would you expect a far higher group for what is only the first quarter of an expected life span? Nan Cowling herself is on the aging end of the spectrum, which may do better to explain why she disregards more than 25% of the Coffs Harbour community (0-19 yo).

Moreover, fluoride assists with the remineralisation of teeth – a process which is not age discriminant. The entire Coffs Harbour community benefit from drinking water fluoridation – a process that costs them less than $3 each a year!

In essence, the Coffs Harbour city councillors have fallen prey to fear mongering propaganda, with no cost benefits and complete disregard not only for their younger community, but everyone within their region.


Mt Isa to vote on fluoridation: unfortunately the media is doing a poor job

The North West Star gives us an example of poor reporting, although this isn’t their shame alone; looking at the reporting on serious science-policy topics over the past four years, I’ve seen it in most media time and time again.

But while Mt Isa discusses whether or not to fluoridate their water supply, it is interesting to note that Jasmine Barber twice mentions fluoridation as “medication of the city’s water supply” in her article – once on her own and the other as a quote from the infamous Merilyn Haines. It simply doesn’t stand up to a thorough investigation.

For instance, we have many natural sources of fluoride exposure and it is also common in some foods and especially tea. Would Merilyn or Jasmine attempt to say that the Earth itself or tea manufactures are “medicating” us? Why is it different when added to our drinking water when no-one calls it “medication” to add chloride to render drinking water safe?

The term “medication” used by the anti-fluoridation movement is too slippery, requiring many if’s and but’s, for any dictionary definition.

More importantly, fluoridation has long been proven safe and effective.

Looking at an Aussie example, the NSW Child Dental Health Survey, 2007, found that 13% more children were completely free from dental caries in fluoridated areas than in non-fluoridated areas (page 27), where there was only an additional 3% increase of discernible signs of fluorosis (page 39). Fluorosis is of cosmetic concern only, where poor dental health is not only cosmetic, but also can lead to serious health issues.

I hope when Mt Isa votes, the local community look beyond the unreasonable fear and doubt mongering of Ms Haines and  QAWF and to the capital cities of the other states – all with several decades of water fluoridation. In these cities, the population isn’t riddled with bladder/lung or bone cancers or stupidity/lower IQ or a waste land devoid of hydrangeas. These cities are doing well and the children have an additional measure of dental health protection that is proven to be effective and costs the communities next to nothing. These cities enjoy what is considered one of the top ten public health achievements of the twentieth century.

In short, this is what the vote is for in Mt Isa; No = standing up for debunked alarmist anti-fluoridation propaganda. Yes = enjoying the benefits of public health improvements with a wealth of scientific evidence to back it up. No = high dental health expense and eroded smiles. Yes = helping to protect the teeth of Mt Isa’s children.

Conspiracy theories conspiracy

So far my favourite video from Peter Hadfield. I liked that he categorised a whole range of unfounded conspiracies – including fluoridation. It’s enough, as he notes, to simply ask questions (typically ignorant of the topic at hand) to then jump to the conclusion that something is wrong and give birth to a conspiracy theory.

Merilyn Haines in her interview on “Fire Water” provides an excellent example of this: “What is it doing in the rest of the body?”

Merilyn would have the viewer believe this hasn’t been tested, when in fact, it has, but until such testing confirms a conclusion she feels is right, then all scientific literature to the contrary can be ignored (as Hadfield notes, if evidence doesn’t back up the conspiracy claim, it’s “in on the conspiracy”).

Unlike the bulk of conspiracy theories, fluoridation intrigues me because it is the only one that the true believers cannot provide a hard hitting motivator. They call it “marketing”, however, compared to industries known to deliberately undermined science, fossil fuels and tobacco, fluoridation is barely even loose change. WHO take its cheapness, alongside its effectiveness, as a benefit.

At one time, a naive audience may have gone as far as taken fluoridation as mind control, as appeared in sci-fi literature of the Cold War era… at least that would be interesting if it was the claim, if not completely bonkers. Yet it remains; fluoridation occurs and the anti-fluoride movement cannot give a coherent motivator for the root of this “conspiracy”. And so, even for a conspiracy theory, it is one of the weirder ones.

Is there anything wrong with dismissing a previously dismissed and dismissed again idea?

Politics is a funny arena, to say the least. From the madness we have been witness to over the past decade, I’m seriously starting to worry about the negative impacts this career path might have on the sanity of public figures. Perhaps that’s the cost of doublespeak.

Which brings me to Greens MP John Kaye. While he has “unequivocal” support for drinking water fluoridation, he fuels the fires of unreasonable doubt by pandering to the anti-science movement against fluoridation. Dr Kaye has suggested that there is a need for review over the safety of the practice.

Surely, that is the type activity that led, say, the World Health Organisation to its strong support for fluoridation or the US National Institutes of Health to the same position.

When we looks at the scientific literature, we find no compelling evidence that fluoridation of water of less than 1ppm will do harm. But it will assist dental health. Only in anecdotal evidence and in books that avoid the peer-review scrutiny do we find the contrary argument. What review is needed apart from caving in to an obvious anti-science movement?

Dr Kaye states, “I am afraid of public health consequences of dismissing concerns without responding.”

John, I have a list here of many claimed ailments that have been linked to wind farms across Australia. They range from advanced aging, decreased libido, cataracts and, most concerning; herpes. The list also includes the typical list of livestock mutilations and deformities more often left to the UFO truthers.

Should we seriously look into the potential risk of contracting herpes from a wind turbine?

There is nothing wrong with being dismissive if the idea has been tried and rejected previously time and time again. We can be dismissive of flat Earth claims as we can creationism. Likewise we can be dismissive of concerns regarding lost IQ, withered hydrangeas, wide spread fluorosis, place of origin, osteosarcoma or cancers in relation to fluoridation.

Simply, they have been tested and shown to be wrong. Fluoridation has been proven safe when applied within WHO guidelines.

Rather than calling for a review, Dr Kaye should refer concerned members of the public to such resources as WHO for further quality information. Of course, he shouldn’t be surprised if they still reject reality in favour of their desired belief.

Fluoridation of drinking water to WHO recommended levels DOES NOT reduce IQ: New rebuttal

Too much of anything will do you harm, yet this does not automatically suggest that beneath a certain level, exposure cannot be beneficial. Any medicine, mineral or vitamin can go from beneficial to toxic if you have enough of it.

Fluoride is no different.

Anti-fluoridation advocates list favoured papers that find links between fluoride exposure and reduced IQ, such as FAN. However, in the case of 37 papers listed by FAN, only 2 look at populations with fluoridation concentrations within the range recommended by the WHO. The rest are more than 2 to 3 times this level!

The first of these 2 papers, Lin 1991, only finds a link with children with an iodine deficiency. The second, Ding 2011 is deceptive at face value. Yet from the paper;

“Many cross-sectional studies showed that fluoride concentration in drinking water in this area [Hulunbuir City, Inner Mongolia, China] had been higher than the upper limit of 1 mg/L prescribed in Chinese Standards for Drinking Water Quality for a long period. Meanwhile, studies related to fluoride exposure in drinking water have found large number of children accompanied by dental fluorosis in this region.”

So, while the fluoride levels were lower around the study period, this has not always been the case, which is also evident in the high rates of dental fluorosis which couples with high fluoride exposure to tooth development prior to eruption.

Li et al 2009 also notes the variety of water sources in the region, including brick tea, which accounts for a wide range of fluoride exposure.

FAN themselves acknowledge the weaknesses of the various studies that they reference… only to go onto emphasise that, because they have references, all of which find some relationship and others have also suggested a relationship, there must be one!

Yes; at much higher levels of fluoride exposure!

Note what is done here; they correctly illustrate a relationship at very high levels of fluoride exposure, include a couple lower levels, which in truth DO NOT find a relationship to low level fluoride and reduced IQ, then make a small accommodation to the weakness of the approach, followed by appeals of authority of reputable scientific bodies – which are not, in themselves making the claim that fluoridation at recommended levels is a risk to intelligence.

In short, the claim of fluoridation at WHO recommended levels adversely affecting IQ IS NOT being made, but merely alluded to through overreaching and doubt-mongering. “If in doubt, leave fluoride out” or so the anti-fluoridation advocate will say, but obviously it is NOT made on reasonable doubt.

Finally, it’s worth noting that all the studies come from developing nations, which will not have the same health controls and safety practices as is the case carried out in countries such as Australia, the US or the UK. Places like China, India, Iran and Mexico are very likely to have compounding factors.

If there is a risk to IQ from WHO recommended fluoridation levels, an analysis in places like Australia would show it. My simple look at publicly available data failed to find children struggling in fluoridated areas.


The anti-fluoridation rebuttal page now has 14 replies to different debunked anti-fluoridation claims! Each of these has a hotlink to twitter and facebook so that you can quickly post a reply, with a link to further details, in defence of evidence and sound logic.

Pointing to association with commercial dental hygiene products is a STRAWMAN argument: New rebuttal argument

Another favoured strawman argument is that genuine experts that support drinking water fluoridation can be ignored if they have associations with various brands of commercial dental hygiene products. However, how much relevance does this actually have to fluoridation of drinking water?

Clearly, none.

The anti-fluoridation advocate are only too happy to point out that the fluoridation chemicals used for fluoridation of drinking water are by-products from unrelated industries, such as the manufacture of fertilisers. They also criticise fluoridation chemicals for not be the same product as the pharmaceutical grade fluorides used in toothpastes. Both these arguments prove to be real, but irrelevant.

They cannot make such claims and at the same time assume that association with commercial dental hygiene producers is a conflict of interest because the arguments are in contraction to one another. Dental hygiene products are not tied to fluoride and certainly not sourced from the same supplies as that used for drinking water fluoridation.

Moreover, commercial dental hygiene producers, if seeking profits, would prefer that drinking water fluoridation did not occur. If this were the case, it would mean that their product is the prime source for good dental health.

The unrelated process for drinking water fluoridation is actually in competition with commercial dental hygiene products, strictly speaking.

That the leading dental health expert bodies support drinking water fluoridation and even individuals associated with competition dental health products should further ones confidence in its effectiveness, NOT reduce it!

Fluoridation is NOTHING like “tobacco science”: New rebuttal entry

Often, when an individual is aware of no valid arguments to support a position they would prefer to be true, they instead demonise the position, attempting to render it immoral, removing the need for evidence. This demonization isn’t based on valid criticism and is referred to a strawman argument.

Climate “sceptics” will call the UN evil – attempting to kill the majority of people via Agenda 21 – thereby demonising the IPCC… which they then use to jump clear of all climate science. The same comes from the so-called “Climategate” whereby the private conversations of a few scientists are misconstrued to the ridiculous conclusion that all climate science is junk (regardless of the genuine context of the emails – which tends to get in the way of a good story).

With fluoride, the strawman argument assumes fluoridation related science is equivalent to what they call “tobacco science”.

The term “tobacco science” refers to industry endeavours that aimed to counter growing scientific consensus proving that tobacco is the cause of otherwise avoidable illness and death. There are three elements to “tobacco science”:

    • Massive industrial profits at risk, due to the mounting evidence against a product
    • “Tobacco science” does not even try to provide evidence against the growing scientific evidence. Instead they develop a countermovement. They prop up “experts” who may publish the odd paper published in some lesser journals or, more often, by-pass the peer review process entirely to write op-ed pieces for general reading. All of this, they then use to suggest that scientists do not agree; “there is no consensus” or “the science must not be conclusive” etc. They trumpet such claims on sympathetic media. Rather than providing evidence to support the use of the product, the aim of “tobacco science” is to create unreasonable doubt in the growing scientific evidence
    • Rather than being supported by experts within relevant fields of research, “tobacco science” is supported by individuals without relevant scientific expertise.

NONE of these are shared with fluoridation of drinking water:

    • One of primary reasons for suggesting drinking fluoridation, alongside its proven safety and effectiveness, by the World Health Organisation is its cheapness.The tobacco industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and thus it is profitable to invest in countermeasures against scientific evidence to maintain high returns. Fluoridation on the other hand does not have anywhere near the same profit returns – it is but a by-product of other processes.There isn’t the industry pressure to preserve profits.
    • Rather than doubt, supportive evidence for drinking water fluoridation comes from scientific methodology, building up a clear image of its effectiveness and safe use, which is illustrated by;
    • the supporting bodies are experts in the field of dental health, this includes; The World Heath OrganisationAust Dental Association, American Dental Association, The National Institute of Health…etc

“Tobacco science” is a fringe movement outside the relevant fields of research designed to promote unreasonable doubt in the science through undermining scientific methodology and informative science communication. The science supporting fluoridation of drinking water comes from the very centre of dental health research and is supported by the expert bodies.

On the other hand, the anti-fluoride movement is:

    • Fringe; anti-fluoridation advocates tend to be restricted to areas yet to be fluoridated (the same hysteria isn’t present to the same level in other states of Australia as it is in Queensland, as the other states have a long history of fluoridation)
    • Rather than providing strong scientific evidence to support their claims, they largely reject the standing body of scientific evidence and substitute it with many easily debunked arguments – in other words, unreasonable doubt – which they follow with, “if in doubt, leave fluoride out!”
    • Based almost entirely on interest groups and, headed by non-experts, most of which retirees without work history in dental health.

While I would not call the anti-fluoridation movement the true “tobacco science” here – for it is largely devoid of scientific evidence and entirely removed from the scientific method – I would call it junk all the same.

Simplifying the counter-measures to the anti-fluoridation mob

Pondering on what I could do to further assist science and other whom also challenge the anti-fluoridation advocates, I’ve decided to adopt a layout of the anti-fluoridation rebuttal page to something similar to the SkS Myths rebuttal page.

Now, the anti-fluoridation page contains a simple reply to the debunked anti-fluoridation arguments, which is linked to a sub-page with additional details. Further, alongside this, is an icon which allows readers to quickly tweet the simple reply with a link to that additional detail, for example:

Simple replies

(click for details)

Tweet the Detail

Fluoridation chemicals are NOT industrial waste


With this, I hope to make it easier for my readers to target their replies to save effort and time, while also providing the arguments in “bite-size” sections rather than one huge page of text.


Fluoridation of drinking water IS effective: New Rebuttal Entry

Below is the newest rebuttal added to my growing Anti-fluoridation Arguments page:

Many anti-fluoridation advocates will wrongly attempt to demonstrate that fluoridation of drinking water is ineffective, by comparing a cherry picked group of affluent first world communities to show that tooth decay is on the decrease regardless of the measure, as FAN do in the following graph.


However this is as sensible as stating that a decrease in road mortality is solely due to seat belts or education or roadside safety infrastructure (ie. stop signs, round-abouts, traffic lights etc) or non-tolerance to substance abuse and not because of all these factors collectively. Yet, clearly, it is a range of factors that are mutually supportive to maximise road safety.

The same is true of dental health and water fluoridation.

As anti-fluoridation advocates rely upon the NSW 2007 dental health survey, we can safely assume they support its findings and even within this report, on page 27, we find that an additional 13% of children in fluoridated areas were free from dental caries compared to children from non-fluoridated areas.

Looking at data from Ireland (collected from CAPP), the same downward trend in prevalence of dental caries can been seen in fluoridated and non-fluoridated areas, however, in fluoridated areas, this rate is persistently lower than in non-fluoridated areas (something FAN’s graph above happily overlooks):

DMFT for 12-year-olds in Ireland both where fluoridated drinking water is used or excluded
DMFT for 12-year-olds in Ireland both where fluoridated drinking water is used or excluded

Seat beats, education, safety infrastructure, non-tolerance to substance abuse and other factors work hand-in-hand, all assisting to reduce road mortality. Likewise, accessibility to dental health services, education / personal dental hygiene, food and drink choice and fluoridated drinking water together collectively reduce the prevalence of dental caries. It is not one, but all measures, including fluoridation of drinking water, that are effective and mutually supportive.

The war on water fluoridation in Queensland is relentless

It has spilled into two competing petitions that can be found on on water fluoridation in the Rockhampton Regional council area.

One, created by Lissetta Grant, simply asks for consulting the community prior to removing water fluoridation and the other, created by none other than Merilyn Haines, President of QAWF, continues the same thoroughly debunked anti-fluoridation arguments.

Personally, I hope many of my readers will sign Ms Grant’s petition and, if successful, the actual science can be regarded with correct weight within the public discourse, including, one would hope, information, such as that compiled here in response to the typical anti-fluoridation claims that simply do not stand up to cross examination.

Communities have the right to choose whatever healthcare practices they wish, by all means. But such choices must be informed by the highest quality data available which of course, comes from the body of scientific research. It should also be the choice of the community and not some fringe interest group based some 640 km away.


Please look over my replies to common anti-fluoridation arguments that simple do not stand up to examination and also my articles in relation to water fluoridation.