Who Do You Trust When It Comes to Your Precious Bodily Fluids?
For many topics of interest to the average person, there seem to be two utterly different and diametrically opposed worlds of information. These worlds are so different that one might be called “Normal World” and the other might be called “Bizarro World.” It is possible, in fact likely, that each of these worlds works the way it does in large part because the other world exists. Not just good and evil, right and wrong, obverse and reverse, but in true yin and yang fashion, one world is shaped by the shape of the other, and this can be said of both.
I’ll describe these two worlds by informally looking at the example of fluoride in the diet of infants and children. Fluoride is added to drinking water in many American communities. Therefore, a baby that is fed on formula that is made with tap water gets a dose of Fluoride that is larger than otherwise likely. If the formula is mixed at home using special extra-fluoridated water (which is advertised as having a health benefit for the little ones) then an even larger amount of fluoride is added to the infant’s diet.
There is some evidence that too much fluoride cases a condition that affects primary teeth in a negative way. So some research has been done on this.
The conclusion of the scientific research is probably best described in a document provided by the American Dental Association, which indicates that you would not do harm to avoid giving fluoride to your infants prior to six months of age to avoid this condition, unless you are in an area where the water is not fluoridated. The current medical literature seems to indicate that other effects of fluoride are probably not anything to be concerned about.
But, there is another point of view. This other point of view claims that fluoridosis (the tooth condition of concern) is a very very bad thing to happen, that is occurs widely in children with fluoride in their diets, and, that fluoride in diets also causes brain damage, food intolerance, depression, other gut problems and autism. And more. In short, fluoride is a poison.
If you Google the right terms you will find mostly this second view. If you put the same search terms in Google Scholar, you get the other view, that fluoride may be a little bad in quantity for infants, but otherwise, it is not the end of the world and is mostly good.
The “fluoride is deadly” point of view emerges over time in a very straightforward process, which I’ll call the denialistic method. I call it that not because it necessarily leads to denailist conclusions, but because it is a method that was perfected by denialists (and conspiracy theorists).
Step 1: A winged monkey flies out of someone’s back side and screeches an idea. The idea may be plausible, it maybe insane. Doesn’t matter. It’s an unformed idea about something. So far, this is similar to (and sometimes identical to) the scientific methods, and in the scientific method it is called “observation.”
Step 2: Someone identifies a positive relationship that relates in some way to the winged-monkey idea. It does not have to be a valid or logical relationship. For instance, if the winged-monkey idea is that “Crohn’s disease causes autism,” then the positive relationship might simply be a study that finds that both Crohn’s disease and autism are increasing in incidence or reporting over recent decades. This would be instead of formulating and testing hypothesis, as in the scientific method.
Step 3: The winged-monkey idea is now formed into an accretive model, or glommed onto an existing accretive model, where it joins other winged-monkey ideas to be used as part of a Gish Gallop to convince anyone who is unsure of the the verity of the model, or to drown out and hopefully shut up anyone who has serious arguments against it.
It is interesting to see the same exact form of argument in denialist movements, race-based science, among creationists, and Kennedy conspiracy theorists. I used to get annoyed at the Kennedy conspiracy theorists. But they were all about 20 years older than me and are now mostly dead, so we don’t hear from them as much any more. But I now realize that if Kennedy conspiracies were still viable and vibrant, a lot of people who are otherwise involved in the modern white supremacist movements or antivax movements or other Bizarro World activities would instead be busy working on who shot the President in 1963, and maybe they would leave the rest of us alone.
Scientists, science communicators and skeptics need to understand where the Bizarro World ideas come from and how they develop. They really are not that different from science ideas. There are only a few real differences between the accumulation of information and development of theories in the rational world of science and in Bizarro World.
One difference is the accumulation of evidence. Both accumulate evidence, but in the real, scientific world, much of the evidence eventually gets thrown out, while in the Bizarro world it is never thrown out. Another difference is in what evidence is taken in to begin with. Another is in the placement of an immutable descriptive model or theory at the beginning of the process in Bizzaro World, as opposed to attempting to arrive at a descriptive theory at the end of a process as is done in science.
That there are races and that the “black” race is inferior, in a way that is genetic with virtually no environmental effects, is the immutable theory that starts the “research” process about race among the racist scientists in Bizarro World. That any given compound or chemical pushed on us by the government, such as fluoride placed in our water supply in order to contaminate our precious bodily fluids, causes any problem one may think of (or that may be suggested by the constant screeching of the winged monkeys) is part of the fluoride denialist theme song. Many of the science denialists put a literal interpretation of the Bible in front of any subsequent scientific investigation, such as related to evolution, or modern medicine.
These different Bizzaro World groups have historical links even if the modern practitioners do not necessarily always realize it. Race-based science and fluoride-panicked science deniers have common ancestry with each other, and with the Bible thumpers, and may even share some connections today. Look no further than the John Birch Society to find many of these links. I’ll bet there are white supremacists living in cabins in the Rockies (or for that matter, the Catskills) who refuse to drink municipal water when they roll into town for supplies. Which is okay. The problem is when they leave their cabins and get real, important jobs …
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 at 7:44 am and is filed under Greg Laden. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.