In the run-up to our local Council elections and the associated (non-binding) referendum on water fluoridation, I’ve spent a bit of time on a couple of science-based Facebook pages, discussing the various issues associated with fluoridation. My main interest in doing this is because, frankly, I’m appalled by the misrepresentation and distortion of science coming from some of those on the anti-fluoride side of the debate. (As I’ve said before, I think it would be excellent to have the discussion around whether individuals should be free to add fluoride to their diet/water on an individual basis – which then leads us to issues such as the question of supporting those who would want to so but cannot afford to. But so far this isn’t really happening.)
And what’s really amazed (& saddened me) is the huge amount of negativity – &, I must say it, downright aggression – from almost all the anti-fluoridation individuals who also comment there. Apparently those of us discussing the scientific evidence and debunking the misquoting and mispresentation of the same, are variously bosom-dwelling vipers; bought scientists; very ugly people; evil; the worst kind of scientist; and presenting the worst kind of propaganda. One can only sigh & think fondly of the late Margaret Thatcher’s take on such behaviour (substitute ‘scientific’ for ‘political’):
I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.
Now, I recognise this is an issue where feelings run high, and where everyone is going to have an opinion. But in instances where much of the ‘argument’ consists of statements often based on misreadings of the science, combined with that outright rudeness & aggression, then it is a real concern. And yes, I am bothered when opinions unsubstantiated by current scientific understanding are nonetheless presented as fact. For example, on-line and in letters to the editor you’ll regularly hear that if we live in a fluoridated area we’re drinking highly toxic, acidic industrial waste every time we fill a glass from the tap. And it doesn’t seem to matter how often we attempt to put this one right.
In some ways this is characteristic of what I’ve seen characterised as ‘science denialism’, and it would be really, really good to understand what leads people to take such positions. And what scientists and science communicators could do about it. The chap in the office next door says I should write a book on it – for some reason he seems to think I have time on my hands! – but first I would need to understand the whys & wherefores. So please feel free to give your opinions here!