Hamilton City Council recently made the ill-informed decision to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water. Now the ill-informed people who blindly pushed for that outcome are saying Wellington is their next target. This worries me.
It worries me a lot.
It worries me because water fluoridation has a lot of research and evidence to show that it is a Good Thing.
There is scientific consensus that fluoridation is, as the NZ Dental Society’s vice-president Sathananthan Kanagaratnam said: “the single most effective, practical and safe means of reducing and controlling the amount and severity of dental decay in a community.”
But why can we assume it is the single most effective, practical and safe means of reducing and controlling the amount and severity of dental decay in a community? Well that is easy: Science.
Science is a methodology, a way of doing things.
The scientific method allows us to test ideas and record results, compare those results and come to logical conclusions based on our observations. We can then repeat the experiment and see if we get the same results.
We can show the results to other scientists and they can critique it to make sure the entire process is robust. Eventually a paper is written about whatever it is they were looking at and then more papers come in, and more.
Eventually you get to a point where papers are written about the papers, these are called meta-studies, and they look at all the literature in the field and draw conclusions as to whether there are any trends.
For example, the case for anthropogenic climate change is strong because over the entire body of climate science the vast majority of research points towards climate change being real and being caused by humans.
It does not mean there is unanimity in the field. There will be the occasional outlier — a stand alone data point among an overwhelming majority. A single paper or even a handful do not make a scientific consensus. Given enough evidence, on the balance of things it becomes incredibly likely that [insert theory here] is the case.
We test things. We retest them. We critique the methods. We write about it. We build up knowledge. We assess the knowledge and then we make logical assumptions about how the world works. We’ve done this for centuries. It has allowed us to build a clear picture of how life evolved, how the universe was formed, how to stop viruses with vaccines, and to understand that humans are changing the climate.
So it worries me when otherwise sane people start to politicise science and try and decide fact by committee.
Yes you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.
You may well think fluoride doesn’t work, just as you might think climate change is not real or that humans and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time. But that is not what hundreds of papers, thousands of hours of work, or what rational observation point to.
It worries me that small groups of people are hijacking community decision making processes and, under the guise of democracy, forcing councils to ensure their ratepayers will experience negative dental health outcomes.
There is even a peer reviewed article about how “the implementation of water fluoridation is still regularly interrupted by a relatively small group of individuals who use misinformation and rhetoric to induce doubts in the minds of the public and government officials.”
Seriously: read the paper.
It worries me that these same anti-science tactics are already being rolled out in Wellington.
It worries me that five out of our 12 Regional Councillors voted to remove fluoridation.
It worries me that public health is being degraded on the basis of… well… nothing.
So please Wellingtonians, stop me from worrying. Question the “facts” that you see alongside public health messages. Think critically about how those “facts” were obtained. This isn’t so much about what you know, it is about how you think. This is about making decisions based on evidence and the all round general notion that science helps us by informing our actions and improving the world.