Next month on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, the Town of Rockport is going to vote on whether to retain fluoride in their water system. Because I sound like I know what I am talking about when it comes to science I have been asked by several groups to voice my opinion, debate in public, discuss the finer points of a paper or papers pointing out something good or bad about fluoride.
But I won’t. I am not a biochemist or public health scientist. I can tell you the myriad ways you can analyze the expression level of thousands of genes from one human cell, (my current interest is single-cell genomics), but fluoridation is not something I study in detail.
So what do I do and how am I going to vote? I do what I always do when I have a scientific question that I am fuzzy on. I ask the scientific experts in the relevant field. I look at the consensus of the National Academy of Sciences which is charged with the responsibility of advising the President on scientific matters. (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has some NAS members on faculty so sometimes this is as easy as walking down the hall.) In this case I also check the consensus science from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the American Dental Association, and other experts who have studied the question and written reviews. Since we have been adding fluoride to water for 65 years these reviews are extensive. They study the hundreds and hundreds of peer reviewed papers on the subject; there are old reviews and new reviews, they all say the same thing.
The one thing I will not do is google for the answer. That would lead to the Fluoride Action Network, or Dr Mercola, or Dr Oz, or the Food Babe, or Mike Adams of Natural News, or god forbid Alex Jones of Infowars. All of those sites are anti-science full of pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo that cherry picks when it cites papers, some of them even from Harvard and MIT. The problem is that all those sites have an axe to grind. They want you to fear something so they can sell you the filter or the cure or a book. The worst thing to do is to google for the information you want that supports your preconceived notion. This is called confirmation bias. This is something even the best scientists have to watch out for because it is an easy trap to fall into. That is why scientists double blind their experiments so that their own bias does not invalidate the results.
So if you go with consensus science; fluoride is in the top five for awesome public health achievements in the past century. It saves your teeth, young and old, and there is no downside to one part per million fluoride added to your town water system.
If you go with the websites I mentioned, fluoride is a poisonous toxic waste that is being dumped into the water because Big Chemical does not know where else to put it. Big Government lets them because everyone is making money and why not medicate our citizens to make them more compliant? On most of those websites it is a big conspiracy along with vaccines and chemtrails.
To me it is simple. On the one side is anti-science. Global warming denialists, anti-vaxxers, anti-evolutionists, and anti-fluoride groups. On the other side there is real science.
You can vote to keep the fluoride in the water, or you can vote against all consensus scientific opinion and vote to take it out.
– Paul T Morrison
Principal Scientist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Principal Associate in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School