The precautionary principle

By Ken Perrott 12/02/2014 9


This has become a sort of slogan for activists. We have all probably seen the anti-fluoride political posters – “If in doubt, keep it out.” And we have heard the appeal that we should not be putting fluoride into our drinking water until all researchers are unanimous and it has been absolutely proved it can do no harm.

Well, what do these activists make of this plot.

The data look pretty good and the correlation is excellent. Surely this at least shows the science on organic food is not settled.

Should we stop the sale of organic produce “in the meantime.” Or until rigorous checks have been made and researchers are absolutely unanimous that organic foods are harmless?

In fact, data in that graph are far better, and certainly “seem” more convincing, than the poor data often used by anti-fluoride activists to promote doubt about fluoridation.

To take another ploy used by prominent political activists. Even if this data is shonky doesn’t it at least  suggest we should be careful? That it should “be an urgent spur to higher quality studies” to check it out?

Why is no-one doing this important research – checking the relationship between organic food and incidence of autism? Is that because researchers are biased, “shills” for the organic produce industry or part of a huge conspiracy?

Next thing I will be raving about Agenda 21.

See also: GUEST POST: Ken Perrott – Making sense of the fluoride debate

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9 Responses to “The precautionary principle”

  • I understand there’s an equally good correlation between the wearing of skirts and the later development of breast cancer.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have an equally impressive graph to show this.

  • Thanks for the graph. And Stuartg’s comment made my day!

    Of course, the precautionary principle is a good idea if there is a clear link and evidence of a causal relationship – that is different. As Bill Nye said, evidence, I would change my mind.

    As far as fluoride in public water supplies is concerned; decades of research has failed to established a causal link to any hazard, just a little noise The joke applies.

  • I assume you’ve seen the graph showing the correlation between the decrease in pirates and the rise of global warming? I’m shocked that this is still not being taken seriously by the scientific community.

  • What an excellent misdirect correlating the rate of Autism with the adoption of Organic Food. Unfortunately this article assumes that autism is the resting problem, where it could be argued that with adequate social support autistic individuals would contribute to further developments in science and technology.
    The anti-floridation proponents likewise confuse normative notions of mental health, with good health. But perhaps they do have the beginnings of a point, as perhaps fluoridated New Zealanders are mentally retarded, which could explain why the NZ economy performs in such a lack luster fashion.
    Perhaps a detailed analysis of the effects of fluoridation on the mental acuity of NZ researchers would be enlightening.

    • Not a. Is direct, simply an illustration that correlation is not proof of causation.

      And your blaming fluoride for any problems I n the NZ economy is an even worse mistake.

      You seem to have a problem with good science.

  • “Perhaps a detailed analysis of the effects of fluoridation on the mental acuity of NZ researchers would be enlightening.”

    There have been several, the most recent, by the researchers running the Otago (Dunedin) Longitudinal Study, was reported only a few days ago – they found there was no effect.

  • Ken, it seems that you have a problem with my use of your data to come to the same conclusion regarding the utility of poor quality research when making public policy decisions. I have no difficulty understanding science, I do however have a problem with researchers/analysts/bloggers who jump to conclusions based on expectations of an incorrectly assumed knee jerk reaction. It would seem that you put me on the wrong side of the “debate”.
    To be clear I certainly do understand that the clinical evidence both local and international supports the benefits of drinking water fluoridation at the levels used in NZ. And while extremely high levels of fluoride elsewhere in ground water sources may be implicated in adverse health impacts this is not proven to the exclusion of other perhaps more significant factors.

    Grant: thank you, Though I did putting fluoridation out there as a possible correlate for our poor economic performance, I was unsurprised to discover that current evidence suggests this to be unlikely. Rather, I would expect the opposite: a minor correlation between chronic pain due to untreated tooth decay and malnutrition, which results in clinically demonstrable diminished brain size. I first became aware of this via the Oxford Pain group and Edinburgh University researchers several years ago, and more recently http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080205171755.htm
    Quackery continues as long as gullible folks are prepared to swallow the snake-oil, and arsenic potions. If only the anti-flouradation campaigners would read and consider evidence beyond that sourced from their preferred sources, they might then become avid promoters of fluoridation.

  • fnowjohn –

    Just a loose thought – just my humble opinion and all – to my reading, you’re crossing (conflating) ‘mental acuity’ and ‘economic performance’. I only referred to the former, but your reply to me has me referring to the latter.

    “If only the anti-flouradation campaigners would read and consider”

    I don’t think the core ‘problem’ with those who oppose various things (vaccines, evolution, etc.) is what they might read or not but more having taken an ideological stance to whatever issue is their ‘thing’.

    In my experience very little will move the core promoters of stance like these as they are bound to their ideology.* Those people who are merely uncertain are a more useful group of people to try inform – they’re more likely to consider material because they’re less driven by an ideological stance but more by health concerns or whatever else.

    —-
    * I’m not a social scientist but I like to think of it as that these people have defined themselves in terms of the stance they have taken, so in order to discard that stance they’re stuck with having to discard themselves – very hard to do. (Perhaps that’s the key think cults do – shift people to defining themselves in terms of a position?) By contrast, most of us aren’t invested in stances that way and more able to discard them if in time they prove wrong-headed or unhelpful. The first challenge then would be to get these less invested people to let go of their ideas a little so that they might look at the issue from other viewpoints too. Not that my 2c is worth much.

  • Grant Jacobs –
    Your 2c is worth much. Identity is fluid, and constantly alters throughout ones life even for ideologues. Insightful commentary aides critical thinking.
    Good point regarding ideology and invested stances. Underlying such stances there is often a fear of the unknown and poorly understood “threat”, and and an unwarranted faith in charismatic agents promoting said fear. Decision makers too are sheeople (subject to an individuals fear of the unknown and poorly understood), but their public role, and identity is – at least in theory – invested in correctly evaluating the evidence to make the best decision.