Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Note To Professor Tom Flanagan

The good professor has taken time off from issuing death threats to lament Calgary City Council's decision to discontinue the fluoridation of city water:

Our politicians’ performance was topped by the usually judicious Calgary Herald editorial board, which attacked our medical school and scientific research in general: “Calgary city council wisely decided not to refer the issue to University of Calgary medical experts who offered to educate them on the benefits of fluoridation. Judging from the public comments by some of those experts, the U of C review likely would have been a predictable reaffirmation of the benefits of fluoridation from the scientific establishment. Calgary aldermen showed they are quite capable, thank you very much, of reviewing the literature already widely available.”

Indeed, medical experts would offer a “predictable reaffirmation” of fluoridation’s benefits, because that’s the almost universal conclusion of more than half a century of scientific research. Yes, too much fluoride can be a bad thing, causing occasional mottling of the teeth, but that undesirable side effect can be controlled by proper dosage. Other than that, the evidence is overwhelming that fluoridation reduces the incidence of cavities.

And I doubt very much that Calgary aldermen, or any other group of politicians, are capable of “reviewing the literature.” It takes years of specialized study to master the scientific basis of modern medicine, to say nothing of research methodologies. How many politicians understand the difference between epidemiology and random clinical trials, or between analysis of variance and multiple regression as statistical ways of controlling for the influence of multiple causal factors?

Well, good on Tom. The discounting of expert opinion by "science-rejecting Simpletons" is something I've complained about endlessly over the years. My only problem? Here's Dr. Flanagan on the Tar Sands:

Economically, this was a huge success story for Canada, Alberta, and the oil industry, but environmental issues loomed ever larger as development proceeded. Traditional concerns over water quality and boreal habitat were joined by worry over anthropogenic global warming, allegedly caused by carbon-rich greenhouse gas emissions. The oil sands produce large amounts of these because so much energy is required to extract bitumen from the earth and convert it into usable fuel. Ever-rising levels of concern over global warming led to many
political attacks on the oil industry in general,2 the Albert oil industry in particular,3 and above all on so-called “dirty oil” produced in the Alberta “tar sands.”4

Allegedly caused? I doubt this statement was made after "reviewing the literature", and I suspect Dr. Flanagan, a student of the political sciences, is himself capable of such a review. Nevertheless, there you have it. Hey Presto! The science is rejected!

And so a word to the professor:

It is entirely unsurprising that the move towards defluoridation should start in Calgary, which is also the epicenter of Canada's climate change denial industry. Because you can't open the floodgates just a little ways. You can't set teh crazy just a little bit free. When you start smearing a particular scientific field, you get mud over the whole edifice. And if Tom Flanagan wants to lay blame for what's happening in Calgary, he shouldn't bother pointing the finger at "influential celebrities" like Jenny McCarthy. He should look in the mirror.

1 comment:

MgS said...

Hell must have frozen over ... I actually agree with Flanagan on something.

... oh wait - temperatures in Calgary just fell into the -20s - hell has frozen over