One way to make an article look impressive is to use citations – the more you use, the more impressive. Well, so some people think.
Again and again I find anti-fluoridation campaigners refer to the number of references in an article or book as a sign of scientific credibility. Paul Connett often promotes his anti-fluoride book by referring to its 80 pages of references. And in a recent on-line discussion where I criticised an article by the anti-fluoride campaigner Geoff Pain I was told that it contained over 140 references, as if that was the end of the story – his article must be valid!
Pain’s article is “Fluoride causes heart disease, stroke and sudden death.” It’s one of series of propagandist articles which he has placed on the Researchgate we site. That website also impresses the anti-fluoride people as they think it gives the articles the scientific credibility of publication in a scientific journal. But anyone can belong to Researchgate and upload their articles. There is no peer review or any other form of quality control.
Geoff Pain has uploaded a screed of anti-fluoride propagandist articles with titles like :
- Fluoridation Causes Cancer, so does the Fluoride content of Tea
- Fluoride causes Death and Disease
- Toxicity of Fluoride
- What do you know about Fluoride?/
- Impact of Fluoride on Women, the Unborn and Your Children
- Fluoride is a bio-accumulative, endocrine disrupting, neurotoxic carcinogen – not a nutrient
- Plumbosolvency exacerbated by Water Fluoridation
- Fluoride Causes Diabetes
- NHMRC = Politics, Not Science. Australians – Victims of Tragic Fluoridation Experiments
- Fluoride doped hydroxyapatite in soft tissues and cancer. A literature review.
So you get the idea. With titles like this you will not be surprised to find his Twitter tag is @. Although he describes some of these articles as “conference papers” they are, of course, talks given to anti-fluoride meetings. He describes the other articles as “technical reports.”
He is a consultant with a science degree and claims to specialise in analytical chemistry. But there is no credible science in his “technical reports” and “conference papers” on fluoride.
Pain uses the technique of literature trawling that Declan Waugh has made famous in his anti-fluoride articles. This involves searching the scientific literature for any reference to fluoride and possible toxic effects. A technique which produces mostly irrelevant articles – but so what. They just bung the citations into their articles and make unjustified claims. They rely on their readers never to check the references anyway The committed anti-fluoridation person is only impressed by the number of references – not their relevance.
No-one has the time or interest to completely debunk such articles by going through every single claim and checking every single citation. Nor are such articles worthy of such attention.
So let’s settle for a “partial debunking.” Here I will just take a single central claim in Pain’s article linked to above and check the relevance of his supporting citations. This should be sufficient to show how he misuses citations and misrepresents the science. Readers can draw their own conclusions about the rest of this article and about his other articles.
He claims a literature search shows “numerous examples of evidence relevant to cardiovascular damage by Fluoride” and cites “[Houtman 1996, Tyagi 1996, Artru 1997, Johnson 1998, Maheswaran 1999, Jehle 2000, Kousa 2004, Bogatchera 2006 and references therein].” So let’s see how relevant those citations are and if they actually support his claim.
Let’s see how relevant those citations are and if they actually support his claim.
Houtman 1996 reported:
” In general, the elements selenium, copper, zinc, chromium, and manganese seem to counteract the development of cardiovascular diseases, whereas cadmium and may be lead seem to stimulate it. Effects of arsenic, silicon and fluorine are unclear and for cobalt absent.”
So no evidence of fluoride causing cardiovascular damage there.
Tyagi et al., 1996 (“Post-transcriptional Regulation of Extracellular Matrix Metalloproteinase in Human Heart End-stage Failure Secondary to Ischemic Cardiomyopathy“) used the metal chelators phenanthroline and phenyl methyl sulfonyl fluoride in laboratory identification of bands identified in immunoblot analysis of proteinases extracted from heart tissue. This has absolutely nothing to do with fluoridation or the fluoride anion. Phenyl methyl sulfonyl fluoride is an organic compound and does not contain the fluoride anion.
Artru et al 1997 investigated use of anaesthetics sevoflurane and isoflurane and their effect on intracranial pressure, middle cerebral artery flow velocity, and plasma inorganic fluoride concentrations in neurosurgical patients. There was no investigation of cardiovascular damage. The plasma fluoride was derived from breakdown of the anaesthetics – there was no fluoridation involved.
Johnson et al., 1998 does deal with heart-related matters – atherosclerosis, infarction and stroke. But there is no mention of fluoride or fluoridation. Pain has picked up this article in his literature trawling purely because the study used the protease inhibitor 4-amidinophenylmethanesulfonyl fluoride as a reagent. Again, this is an organic chemical – it does not contain the inorganic fluoride species. The study has no relevance to fluoridation.
Maheswaran 1999 (“Magnesium in drinking water supplies and mortality from acute myocardial infarction in north west England“) investigated the relationship between magnesium and cardiovascular problems and found none. Yes, fluoride and other ions were considered as possible confounders but the paper specifically states:
“Calcium and fluoride appeared to have no significant association with mortality from acute myocardial infarction.”
So Pain’s literature trawling has found a paper mentioning fluoride and cardiovascular problems but it does not support his claim they are related.
Jehle 2000 did research the human coronary artery but again it was produced by Pain’;s literature trawling simply because the investigation used the protease inhibitor reagent phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride (see comments on Tyagi 1996). Nothing here to do with fluoridation or the inorganic fluoride species used in community water fluoridation.
Kousa 2004 (“Geochemistry of ground water and the incidence of acute myocardial infarction in Finland“) obviously is related to cardiovascular problems and, yes, fluoride was one of the chemical species in water considered. But what do the authors say:
“Fluoride concentrations of around one mg/l in household water may be beneficial . . . In this study one mg/l increment in the fluoride concentration in the drinking water was associated with a 3% decrease in the risk of AMI [acute myocardial infarction ]. “
And they concluded that their findings suggested fluoride played a protective role.
So a success for Pain’s literature trawling – a reported relation between fluoride and cardiovascular problems – but the opposite to what Pain claim. And he didn’t bother mentioning this, did he? How honest is that?
Bogatchera 2006 does not seem to relate at all to cardiovascular issues, but sodium fluoride was used to stimulate bovine cells. The concentration of sodium fluoride used was 20mM – equivalent to 380 ppm fluoride. Well above concentrations found in drinking water and the recommended optimum level of 0.7 ppm. Not at all relevant to community water fluoridation and it simply does not support Pain’s claim.
Well, that’s enough. I am not going to search Pain’s “references therin.” Nor will I bother with any of his other claims or cited references. I think you get the picture.
People like Geoff Pain promote themselves as “renowned” experts on community water fluoridation – but they simply aren’t. Surely the dishonest way Pain has used citations in the article considered here illustrates this. And we can be sure that he has approached his other fluoride articles in the same way.
So there is a warning. Just don’t be impressed by large numbers of references. Check them out – or at least check some of them out. If you find the references you check do not support the claims being made, or are maybe even completely unrelated to the claims, then draw the obvious conclusions.
NOTE: I am contacting Geoff pain to offer him the right of reply here and a chance to enter into any discussion.
Featured image: Flickr / Lisa Nottingham.