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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Holy fluoride, Batman! An open letter to Dublin City Council

 A short open letter to Dublin city council members, ahead of their vote on water fluoridation on September 1st, 2014

Dear Dublin City Councillors,

    I write to you as a scientist and journalist to respectfully request that you allow best evidence to guide your decision on water fluoridation this week - I know you're busy people, and so am I (well technically I'm only a person, singular , but I digress) and it's unlikely you have time to trawl through Pubmed to read study after study on the safety and efficacy of fluoride and that's fair enough. The "too long, didn't read" version of the medical findings on fluoride are pretty clear: it has been hugely beneficial for our collective dental health and one of the few health measures which actually saves much more in dental / medical costs than the relatively puny amount we pay for it, and there's damn few health measures that can be said about. From a social perspective, it provides some modicum of base dental care to every tier in our unequal society.

But what about the terrible things you've heard from campaigners on the issue, insisting it causes everything from depression to cancer to bad haircuts and traffic jams? As politicians you probably try to respect the concerns of your constituents or perhaps more cynically hope they'll reward you with votes in exchange for a quick populist move in their favour.  But the truth is you're giving certain elements way too much credit - the case against fluoride is nothing more than vapid scaremongering, based on a flammable mixture of dubious assertion, spurious correlation, poor reasoning and often a smattering of jaw-dropping dishonesty.

You'll excuse me, I hope, that I'm penning this with a palpable sense of weariness; as a science writer I've covered this topic before and am heartily sick of it - I wrote about it for the Irish Times last September and more recently, the Guardian in April. The title of that piece, "Politicians should stop pandering to anti-fluoridation campaigners" should make my frustration (and indeed, the weariness of many of us in the scientific and health community) clear; In it, I outline the facts and dismiss some of the fictions; as with all Guardian Science pieces it's fully referenced and filled with hyperlinks to medical sources and supporting evidence should you wish to explore further. Similarly, Science journalist Gerry Byrne makes an eloquent case debunking many of these myths you can read here.

The fluoride issue is driven by a vocal minority with an almost religious fervour - many of you have expressed on social media that you've been inundated with emails from anti-fluoride campaigners both in Ireland and abroad and I have sympathy for that - they can be a damn intimidating bunch; I've been verbally abused, threatened and insulted for having the audacity to point out their assertions are simply untrue. I've had a prominent anti-fluoride campaigner and his followers write to my employer and make a series of accusations about me - I've been accused of being in the pocket of big pharma, the Rockefeller foundation and even accused of being a member of the Illuminati (I'm afraid not - a shame, as I hear they have lovely business cards and great child-care facilities) and I agree 100% it's damn unpleasant - I've written about it here if you'd like to see the kind of tactics anti-fluoride fanatics in Ireland use. In fact, I'd urge you to read it, because it gives some background to the facts and fictions you might find useful. It also may give you some insight into the kind of people who've been lobbying you on this topic.

Fluoride conspiracy theories are nothing new - they've been around in their same ludicrous form for decades and even Dr. Strangelove ripped the royal piss out of them back in 1963*. After decades of investigation, their claims are simply without merit. I know they can be an intimidating and loud but it is nothing but sound and fury, and to entertain it would be to allow pure pathetic populism trump good health policy. The anti-fluoride crowd are loud, but it's a safe bet that the vast majority of the county would prefer a health policy based on best evidence rather than ideological scaremongering.. Remember also,  we've been on the anti-fluoride merry-go-round in the past - and in a gesture of appeasement we set up an independent expert body to examine the safety of fluoride; they've continued to find it beneficial for our dental health and have slammed the misinformation from the anti lobby. Similarly, Irish dentists support water fluoridation, and the WHO recommend a level of 1 mg/ L for optimum dental health.

It is scientific bodies like these, and the decades of peer-reviewed science upon which their conclusions are based, that should be underpinning your decision on Monday. Otherwise you're giving a public statement that you're willing to let angel-healing anti-vaccine activists dictate health policy and that cynical populism trumps the health of your electorate. I am personally sick of this topic, and if I'm honest it's not something I feel any great passion about - I almost resent having spent a chunk of my day off having to write about this nonsense again, but there is a principle that matter - if we allow dishonest or misinformed lobbying to displace one of the few positive preventative health measures we have, that is detrimental to everyone and sets a worrying precedent that evidence is simply unimportant in public discussion and policy.

I hope you've found this quick note useful, and  I truly hope tomorrow you'll make the decision to be guided by evidence and not scaremongering.

Best Wishes,

   David Robert Grimes

PS: I will be very interested in your replies, and may publish them here - I think it's important that politics is transparent and I'm sure you agree, though I will be happy to check with you first as a courtesy. 


..pretty much how I feel every time this comes up. Like Batman.

























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