Archive for July, 2012

Science by Press Release: Fluoride & IQ

July 27, 2012

A press release has been making the rounds online and is even being picked up in print raising false fears about water fluoridation and brain development. The press release from NYS Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation (NYSCOF), a misinformation laden anti-fluoridation organization, cites not a study about water fluoridation relevant to their western audience but rather a systematic review of 27 epidemiological studies relating to endemic fluoride exposure, in China and Iran, and cognitive function. I’ve written about this dishonest propaganda tactic by anti-fluoridation activists before, but activists know that the public has a short memory and the issue continues to periodically be brought up to whip up more fear and more donations for anti-fluoridation organizations. As I thoroughly demonstrated in a previous post, Fluoride & the Brain: The China Studies, levels of fluoride to which people are exposed in places such as China and India are much higher than approved fluoride levels used in community fluoridation programs in places such as the US. Injecting such studies on endemic fluoride into the public discussion on water fluoridation without proper context is simply irresponsible and misleading.

In an attempt to rescue their conclusion from anyone noticing this obvious deception, the authors cite a study, Ding 2011, in which it appears that a dose response between relatively low fluoride levels in the urine and low IQ is established. The dose response in this one study however is contradicted by other research that found that children with the lowest fluoride intake in the study had lower IQs than children who lived in areas with fluoride levels closer to our national standard in the US. It also should be noted that in the Ding 2011 study other water contaminates and iodine intake do not appear to be taken into account, these important variables have been show to have an large impact in other studies and could easily account for inaccuracy in this study. With water fluoridation programs in the US averaging around 1 mg/L fluoride (or less), the claim in the study that an “increase in 1 mg/L of urine fluoride [was] associated with [a] 0.59-point decrease in IQ” is just not significant. Perhaps most important, the claim that fluoride negativity impacts cognitive function is simply not supported by any studies on water fluoridation programs in developed nations.

So once again, while the focus of anti-fluoridation activists is on stopping community fluoridation programs in places such as the US, not a single study presented was actually about community fluoridation in developed nations. Rather, the studies presented in the press release are about the threat of endemic fluorosis among those exposed to high levels naturally occurring in the groundwater in developing nations, an issue on which they are not active. This is a disingenuous use of scientific research to advance a fear-based agenda. I urge my readers to join me in supporting real, meaningful efforts to protect communities from the harms of endemic fluorosis. If you enjoyed this post please donate what you can to Frank Water and their efforts to provide sustainable water filtration to some of the worlds poorest communities, including those hit hardest by endemic fluoride.

Further Reading:
Fluoride & Heart Disease?
Fluoride & Brain Damage
Fluoride & the Brain: Déjà Vu
Fluoride & the Brain: Strike 3, You’re Out!
Fluoride & the Brain: The China Studies
Fluoride & Cancer Quackery
Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (Full Text & Supplemental Material)
Anatomy of a propaganda press release: Fluoride and IQ by idoubtit
Fluoride Lowers Your IQ: B.S. Headline of the Week by David Wong
Anti-Fluoride Propaganda as News by Steven Novella

Fluoride & Cancer Quackery

July 11, 2012

One of the many arguments offered in the never-ending manufactroversy surrounding water fluoridation is that it causes cancer. This unsupported claim is nothing new and while it has been addressed many times it continues to periodically pop up and make the rounds again and again. In the age of the internet misinformation spreads quickly and myths die hard. The “natural health” blogosphere often capitalizes on this cycle of misinformation, dredging up outdated scare stories and spinning them as accepted fact. One such article from Natural Society reads,

In 1977, it was shown that fluoridation caused about 10,000 cancer deaths in epidemiological studies by Dr. Dean Burk, former head of the Cytochemistry Section at the National Cancer Institute and Yiamouyiannis.

This extraordinary claim originated with a paper on the subject of fluoride and cancer, titled “Fluoridation and cancer, age-dependence of cancer mortality related to artificial fluoridation”, which was originally put forward in 1975 and then again in 1977 by Dr. Dean Burk and fellow fluoridation opponent John Yiamouyiannis¹. However, the paper was not well received by the majority of scientists at the time and the paper’s methodology was criticized, such as for failure to adjust for important variables. Numerous subsequent scientific studies from the US, Ireland, Taiwan, Wales, Australia,  and New Zealand, including a  review of over 50 published studies contradicted Burk’s conclusion and found no evidence to support such an outrageous claim. The CDC has since been quoted saying,

at this time, the weight of the scientific evidence, as assessed by independent committees of experts, comprehensive systematic reviews, and review of the findings of individual studies does not support an association between water fluoridated at levels optimal for oral health and the risk for cancer, including osteosarcoma.

The American Cancer Society has also gone on record stating, “Scientific studies show no connection between cancer rates in humans and adding fluoride to drinking water.”  But rather than listen to the scientific community, fluoridation opponents prefer to stay in their echo-chamber with select fringe “experts” where they can build their conspiratorial narratives.

Anti-fluoridation activists love to cite Dr. Burk, who has gone so far as to say that “fluoridation is a form of public mass murder.” As the past head of the National Cancer Institute’s Cytochemistry Sector² from 1938 to 1974, Burk is often cited as an unquestionable expert. However, Dr. Burk is an outlier on this issue in the scientific community. While Dr. Burk had a long scientific career and was notable as a co-discoverer of both biotin and a MRI prototype, a closer look at his career raises serious questions about his credibility. Burk’s approach to fluoridation was one of an activist more than a scientist. The self-correcting model of science advances on the basis of new evidence, yet Burk was never able to accept the mounting evidence against his favored hypothesis.

Burk’s quackery did not end at his anti-fluoridation activities however, he was also known for his support of the now disproven and potentially dangerous cancer “cure” laetrile. While in initial in vitro experiments Burk claimed to see “cancer cells dying off like flies“, these results are now understood to be very misleading and subsequent in vivo experimentation did not support the claims made for laetrile. A 2011 Cochrane Review of over 63 papers found “no reliable evidence for the alleged effects of laetrile or amygdalin for curative effects in cancer patients.” A common theme of Burk’s career was an over-confidence in preliminary data, while having a lack of respect for peer review and scientific criticism³.

Unfortunately even distinguished scientists are not above quackery. This can happen when a researcher strays outside their field of expertise, as is common among those cited by promoters of pseudoscience, though it can even occur with respected researchers within fields related to their expertise. Linus Pauling was a Nobel Laureate and admired chemist, yet in his later life he became a major proponent of high-dose vitamin C as a cancer cure, a worthless “treatment”. Peter Duesberg, a professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths for his promotion of HIV/AIDs denial. Luc Montagnier, who was awarded the Nobel prize for co-discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has gone down the rabbit hole with his own crank theory of the true cause of autism. Unfortunately there is no shortage of once respectable-researchers-turned-cranks. This is why it is important to consider the scientific consensus formed by relevant experts, rather than the statements of outspoken advocates on the fringe, even though they may have a degree and the air of authority.

Notes:
1. Yiamouyiannis was a dedicated anti-fluoridation advocate and author and his work is held in high regard among fluoridation opponents. Like Burk, Yiamouyiannis was not content to be a single issue crank, he also denied a link between HIV and AIDs as well as opposing vaccination. In 2000 he died of colorectal cancer, he had chosen to forgo science-based medicine and instead sought “treatment” in Mexico in the form of vitamins and laetrile.

2. NOT head of all NCI research as is sometimes touted.

3. Burk also developed of what he considered a “safer” cigarette filter that incorporated charcoal. Evidence of its effectiveness was lacking however.

Further Reading:
Fluoride & Heart Disease?
Fluoride & Brain Damage
Fluoride & the Brain: Déjà Vu
Fluoride & the Brain: Strike 3, You’re Out!
Fluoride & the Brain: The China Studies
Science by Press Release: Fluoride & IQ
How do scientists become cranks and doctors quacks? by David Gorski

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2012

July 10, 2012

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) will be hosting The Amaz!ng Meeting once again at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada this July 12th-15th. For those that are unfamiliar with the event, TAM “is an annual celebration of science, skepticism and critical thinking.” Consisting of four days of skeptical speakers, panels, workshops, and entertainment, TAM is a fun learning experience and also a great chance to connect with like minded individuals. In fact, as great as the presentations are, many attendees report that their favorite part of TAM is the socializing. Whether it’s a large group dinner or a 2 am drink* in the Del Mar Lounge, there are always great conversations to be had. Last year was my first TAM and I had a blast! I’m hoping this year will be just as good. I can’t wait to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

Look for me sporting this nifty button (courtesy of Pythagorean Crank)

Last year I helped organize a meet-up among the vegetarian and vegan attendees that was dubbed The Pythagorean Posse. This year’s meet-up is tentatively planned for the 6-9 pm dinner slot on Saturday the 14th and my vote on location is for Yayo Taco, though I’m open to other suggestions. Meet up at the Del Mar at 6:15 and we will head out shortly afterwards. I’m also looking to go out to dinner on the other nights if anyone would like to join.

I’ve learned a few things since last year. While the food situation isn’t the best, it could be much worse. Ronald’s Donuts are probably one of the best things about Vegas, definitely the best donuts I’ve ever had.  The continental breakfast usually has some decent vegan pickings such as fruit and cereal as well. If you are willing to pay hotel prices Don Vito’s Italian in the lobby area serves the “Vegan Vito’s“, a pasta and veggies dish. If you just need a quick lunch there is also a Subway Sandwich shop just down the street from the hotel that can be a real lifesaver. My favorite meal last year was the taco platter at Yayo Taco, I highly recommend it. For more ideas on where to get grub in Vegas check out the listing of vegan & veg friendly restaurants on Happy Cow.

Facebook event page is here.
Lanyrd page is here.
Twitter hashtag is #vegtam (the main TAM hashtag is #tam2012)
You can tweet me here.

Further Reading:
Pythagorean Posse at TAM9
Viva Las Vegan
Why I’m Going To TAM
What To Do In Vegas If You Don’t Gamble and Aren’t at TAM
rbutr at The Amazing Meeting 2012

*Not sure if that beer is vegan? Check it out on Barnivore.


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