weird ‘science’ letter of the week

By Alison Campbell 28/04/2011

Some of my colleagues over at Sciblogs (NZ) publish the occasional ‘crazy science’ letter. I thought I would join them, having just read the following in one of our local free papers.

Fluoride and Viagra – what do they have in common? As it turns out, a lot.


Well, no, only to those armed with little biological knowledge & a tendency to conspiracy theories.

Water fluoridation was sold to us as the ‘magic pill’ to prevent tooth decay. The sugar producers were thrilled. Now we could eat as much sugar as we liked and not worry about our teeth.

Nice straw man there. I doubt the sugar producers were ‘thrilled’, & to my knowledge no-one promoting fluoridation has also advocated eating a poor diet.

But whoops – what happened next? Diabetes. But don’t worry, there is a ‘magic pill’ for diabetes. The more insulin we take, the more sugar we can eat.

No evidence here of cause-&-effect. We’re not provided with data that might show any putative relationship between the uptake of fluoridation and an upswing in diabetes. There is a link between ‘westernised’ diets (not simply sugar intake) & diabetes: Nauru has one of the highest incidences of diabetes in the world, much of it related to diet although there also appears to be a genetic link. But I could find no indication that Nauru’s water supply is fluoridated…

Plus there’s a lack of distinction between the two types of diabetes. While type 2 diabetes is related to – & to a certain extent, can be controlled by – diet, type 1 diabetes is not. The writer also appears unaware that insulin is not a magic bullet: insulin-dependent diabetics have to be very careful indeed regarding their diet & certainly don’t see it as a means to gobbling sugar.

Pharmaceutical companies were thrilled – no need to change our diet and cure ourselves of diabetes. Bring on the sugar.

Again, a straw man argument. Not to mention that changing the diet won’t provide a cure for type 1 diabetes. On the other hand, doctors will actively encourage those at risk of developing type 2 to change their diets (& exercise regimes) as in some cases this can eliminate the need for drug treatments.

But whoops – 10 years on, diabetes drugs have taken their toll and there is something not up in the bedroom. No problems – where’s the Viagra ‘magic pill’? And bring on the sugar while you are at it.

Actually it’s the untreated diabetes that is more likely to have the implied effect… And of course, our writer is ignoring the fact that a multitude of factors – including simply growing old – can impact on bedroom performance. Some may use Viagra to help deal with this, some may not.

Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? How about we do what we are supposed to do – eat properly. Tooth decay is nature’s way of giving us a timely message. Tooth decay is easier to fix than diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure.

Nice attempt there to imply that all the health problems listed are a direct result of fluoridating a water supply.  There is, however, a reasonably strong correlation between at least three of them and aging. I wonder what nature’s message there might be?

How about we nip our health problems in the bud and stop focusing on the wrong things? Water fluoridation is not about tooth decay. Hexaflurosilicic acid is a waste product that is being disposed of in our drinking water. Ask Mr Google and find out for yourself.

Perhaps the writer would care to tell us what water fluoridation is ‘about’?

0 Responses to “weird ‘science’ letter of the week”

  • Saw, this letter this morning. I wonder if the author has anything to do with the public meeting(s?) about fluoride?
    Apparently it’s as bad as asbestos.

  • Nicely rebutted there, Alison. Do you think that your local free paper would publish a scientifically-informed response from you?
    I like the writer’s parting shot to ‘ask Mr Google’. Speaks volumes.

  • Ah yes, Mr Google who I believe is the offspring of Miss Lazy and Mr Ignorant?

    “Hexaflurosilicic acid is a waste product that is being disposed of in our drinking water”
    A weed in one garden is a plant in another.
    Whey protein used to be a waste product before it is determined to be a useful commodity as a protein supplement.

    The arguments in this letter come across as a mad scramble of biased comments to support an idea by twisting the facts. A common approach with pseudoscience

  • Hi Darcy – I would say that the author has a lot to do with the public meetings; she was one of a rather vocal group that turned up when we held a Cafe Scientifique about water fluoridation, a few years back. I’m toying with doing something on the other letter they ran, too, it’s almost as bad in its own strange little way…

    Carol – I will certainly submit this post; don’t know what they’ll do with it but one can only try.

    Michael – at least she didn’t run with the ‘it’s a poison!’ line (which is usually what happens). Then we could have a nice cosy chat about dose 🙂

  • It’s time to check your assumptions, science literates. All that you know about water fluoridation is wrong.

    Indeed, there is a dirty history behind the curtain that most don’t see or know is there. Fluoridation’s political history is revealed by former BBC producer Christopher Bryson. See his 2004 book The Fluoride Deception.

    Last month in Fairbanks, Alaska, a blue-ribbon panel ended a year-long analysis of the safety and effectiveness of fluoridation. Four PhDs in chemistry and biology, one medical doc, and one dentist reached a consensus that the 50-year-long experiment was finished. The Fairbanks Fluoride Task Force recommended to the city council to stop fluoridation because it was harming infants and there is 0.3 ppm calcium fluoride in local water.

    To learn more, visit:

  • Well, dayates, the link you provided has some alarmingly weird stuff on it, but the ‘Report of the Fairbanks Fluoride Task Force’ that you mention is very interesting. Don’t worry, us science literates are quite capable of modifying our views if we are presented with compelling evidence.

    My reading of the report is that the situation in Fairbanks is somewhat more ambiguous than you are implying. Essentially the review team recommended that fluoridation to 0.7 mg/L be stopped as there is already a reasonable baseline of fluoride in the raw water supply. They also acknowledged a risk to bottle fed infants (not infants in general, as you imply), and that the ethical issues associated with mass medication are important to the people of Fairbanks. They did issue a caveat that people would need to be aware that there may be an increased risk of dental caries with a fluoride level of 0.3 mg/L. I skimmed quickly over the review sections, but the picture seemed to be that the evidence for the benefits of fluoridation seemed to be rather weak, but that also the evidence for any harm caused by fluoridation is also weak.

    This doesn’t make most of the objectors (such as the one that Alison refers to in the original post) any less crazy.

  • Indeed. As Carol says – if the case against fluoride is so strong, then there should be no need for all the foolishness that’s spouted about it (& believe me, that original letter is just one small example).

  • In a perfect world, one in which illusions fail to divert people’s attention, there would be no controversy over water fluoridation. However, there’s money to be made avoiding the costs of treating sodium fluorosilicate, and its variations, as hazardous material. It’s all detailed in Bryson’s book. Have a look.

    Then you might look at Elise Bassin’s work when she was a researcher at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Bassin found a strong link between fluoride and osteosarcoma. Her work indicates a statistically strong link between exposure to fluoride between the ages of six and eight (during which the ‘mid-childhood growth spurt’ takes place) and the development of osteosarcoma in young boys.

    An even more illuminating peak behind the curtain is found when you investigate what happened to Bassin after she published her findings.

    Science is full of surprises. Have a look at a site which demonstrates this claim.

  • I’m not quite following your argument there, dayates. Surely fluoridation is a cost to local water treatment authorities?

    I’m quite happy to devote time to reading scientifically well informed reports. Less happy to devote time to agenda driven work such as Bryson’s book.

    You were happy above to cite the ‘Report of the Fairbanks Fluoride Task Force’ as being ‘blue ribbon’. I agree with you here, it’s a really good report and I’d recommend it to anyone following this debate. However, if you take the time to read it, it doesn’t actually support what you are claiming. With respect to Bassin’s work, this is what is says:

    “While the Bassin paper is intriguing, the authors admit that the results are in contrast to several other case control studies (see Bassin et al., 2006) that found no link between fluoride consumption and osteosarcoma. They were careful to outline limitations to their preliminary study, including lack of data on actual consumption of fluoride by their subjects, lack of data on other potential unidentified factors, and selection bias. The authors cautiously referred to their study as “exploratory” and urged that “further research is required to confirm or refute this observation.” Unfortunately, as of 2010 it appears that no more comprehensive studies have been published that might shed light on a possible link between fluoride consumption and osteosarcoma.”

    Hardly a strong link between fluoride exposure and development of osteosarcoma, as you claim. At most it could be said that the jury is still out.

  • Carol,
    Well done reading through the report and pointing some of the relevant details that dayates seem to have missed.

    “However, there’s money to be made avoiding the costs of treating sodium fluorosilicate, and its variations, as hazardous material.”
    I’m not sure I follow your “reasoning” here. Are you implying that fluoridation is just a way of disposing of waste? Fluoridation was initially carried out using NaF, before the use of sodium fluorosilicate, so your implication doesnot stand.
    Furthermore,just because something is a byproduct/waste product of one industry this does not preclude it having a use elsewhere (e.g. whey protein for example).

    Personally I’m not convinced that fluoridation of water supplies is a good idea, however, if one is going to argue against fluoridation it would be better to use science and rational discourse rather than by implying it is being used to dispose of waste.

  • Carol – I had wondered why this effect might (emphasis on ‘might’, from what you’ve said) show up only in boys…

  • The Bassin study was an epidemiological study and as such could not, and does not, prove cause and effect. It was a very small study and the fluoride level designations (low, medium or high exposure) were arbitrary. No mechanism by which the alleged carcinogenic effect would affect boys but not girls has been proposed. There is no plausible hypothesis to explain why the effect would occur in the ‘mid-childhood growth spurt’ but not in the much greater growth spurts of infancy and adolescence.
    Furthermore, high rates of childhood osteosarcoma have not been observed in areas with much higher fluoride levels such as Bartlett, Texas (where everyone has dental fluorosis but dentists have very little work) or certain regions of China.
    Carcinogenicity is a stochastic process and chance clusters happen.