I did not want to address this topic again. I really didn't. When a reader e-mailed me a link to Michael Carl's recent article in WorldNetDaily, however, I knew I would have to march once more unto the breach. Specifically, I must once again address the topic of fluoride conspiracy theories, about which I have written twice previously in Technocracy.
I first debunked popular conspiracies concerning the fluoride in Americans' drinking water in July of last year. In that column I forwarded the apparently bold notion that fluoride is not, in fact, a Nazi-era, brain-softening, mind-control industrial waste toxin poured indiscriminately into our water supplies by New World Order operatives bent on controlling the masses. Mail exhorting me to swallow large quantities of concentrated poison began to pour in (no doubt illustrating the devotion of conspiracy theorists to science, reason and logic). I addressed this and a conspiracy website's "open letter" to me in a follow-up article in August, entitled "Fluoride fear-mongers."
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In that column, I spoke of the mission statement of Technocracy, a column devoted to identifying the many ways in which technology affects your life and especially your liberty. To this end, I frequently advise you of technology whose application or misuse may be cause for concern. For such warnings to have meaning, however, it is my responsibility to tell you when I believe a given technology or technological application is being vilified – being marketed as a consumable product by conspiracy theorists, who package fear in order to profit from its sale. This was my conclusion, again, regarding fluoride fear-mongering. While we may debate whether it is the appropriate role of government to add, remove, or regulate any chemical in public water supplies (my columns have not addressed this), the alarmism peddled over water fluoridation is nothing less than hysteria. This hysteria is groundless, yet it is girded by junk science and heralded falsely as scientific fact.
Michael Carl reported on Monday that "Research shows fluoride is IQ-killer for children." He based this conclusion on a Chinese study, touted as the strongest of a series of studies from "China, India, Iran and Mexico," of 512 children in two Chinese cities. Commentary on the study, as recounted in Carl's piece, came primarily from Paul Connett, Ph.D., director of the Fluoride Action Network (an agitator group devoted to conspiracy theories about fluoride). Carl also quoted Dr. Vyvyan Howard, an environmental activist who sits on the advisory board of the very same organization. Setting aside this biased presentation, there are very serious flaws in the study itself – flaws which should preclude definitive conclusions of causality as Carl has made in his article.
First, the Chinese study's sample size is remarkably small. Cross-cultural studies already pose a difficulty considering the number of different genetic and environmental factors that may invalidate comparisons to other nations' populations, but even if we ignore this, 512 children from a nation of 1.3 billion people is infinitesimal. So small a sample size may be insufficient even to show true correlation, much less the causation of lower IQ by one specific environmental factor (the fluoride in the water).
We also don't know what other environmental factors may have been present. China is notorious for its casual attitude toward industrial pollution; are we to believe that fluoride in the drinking water is the only possible agent? For that matter, why are 72 to 92 percent of the children in both Chinese locations ranked as below normal intelligence? Does that figure not seem staggeringly high, even in the locality with relatively low fluoride levels in its water? What's the control group here? "In the high-fluoride city," reads a press release, "15 percent had scores indicating mental retardation and only 6 percent in the low-fluoride city." That's a remarkable difference, yes – and even in the low-fluoride city, it's twice the rate of "metal retardation" believed to be the baseline in modern society.
For that matter, when did intelligence quotient – itself a relative assessment – become the issue? Weren't we supposed to be worried about fluoride because it is a toxin that causes cancer and other biological ruination? Does low IQ, a subjective measure if ever there was one, constitute science hard enough to condemn water fluoridation in this matter? Even the nature of IQ tests is in dispute; genetics author David Shenk argues that IQ measures developed skills, not native intelligence. He says that it can change dramatically while in no way defining a person's intellectual limits ... yet we're supposed to draw conclusions about chemical-biological causation on its basis?
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Finally, why do the studies "proving" this latest danger of fluoride all come from Third World countries known for anything but their dedication to science and medical advancement? China? Mexico? Iran? Really? I know when I think of product safety and consumer awareness, I think of nations like China – a country that paints our children's cheaply imported toys in lead, laces its milk formula with plastics chemicals, and executed its chief food and drug regulator for allowing exports of toothpaste tainted with diethylene glycol. Forget the fluoride in your toothpaste – I'm more worried about the industrial poison that isn't on the label. Yet according to the conspiracy theorists, all pronouncements of dread are true if they fit the conspirator's templates. Why, even David Icke thinks fluoride is lowering your kids' IQs – and this is a man who believes aliens living at the center of the Earth are secretly controlling our illusory society. Who am I to argue with that – or him?
This study, like those before it, is weak. The correlation found between fluoride and IQ levels is not causation. The study's gross flaws are evident even in the raw data it presents, much less the unwarranted conclusions true believers have made from it. Reporting this study uncritically or, worse, as grounds to sound alarm, is nothing but more fluoride fear-mongering. If water fluoridation truly does have long-term health benefits, no one is served by making the case using "evidence" as poor as this.