Dealing with ‘true believers’

Musing on the fluoridation fun and games over the w/end on Twitter. It’s disturbing that people focus on a paper or tiny bit of data that they believe supports their view as conclusive proof that their pet theory is correct – a case in point being this morning’s ‘conversation’ with someone who was trying to claim a conclusion that at complete odds with the ACTUAL RESULTS OF THE PAPER. Likewise the lady at the weekend – who got a bit upset when I pointed out the flaws with the interpretation and usage of stats that she was making her point with.

I’m not a dental health professional, and thus not an expert in the field. But as a scientist, I do know how to look at data critically and dispassionately. And if the data is good, the methodology is sound, then it goes without saying that people who actually know what they’re talking about should be given their dues and have their conclusions accepted. It’s all about the data – that’s how hypotheses live or die by. Proof. And not just over one paper or review – but a mountain of evidence to support these conclusions.

That’s how science *works*.

From my own (non-expert) POV – water fluoridation, based on the data I’ve seen, is highly effective in reducing dental cavities, and is the best way of doing large-scale dental care. And in the concentrations used, there are no public health issues – fluorosis, cancer etc. The data is there to support these findings, and that’s good enough for me. After all, why would I support a practice that would badly affect my own health and that of my children?

One unfortunate by-product of the Internet Age is the ability of people to cherry-pick info that they believe will support their view point, without subjecting it to proper critical analysis. Even more so the phenomenon of attacking someone like myself who tries to rebut them with data and analysis – especially if they hide behind internet anonymity. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing – especially if it leads to bad public health policy (or indeed, policy in any walk of life). I’m not an expert on a whole range of topics (apart from star formation in low metallicity galaxies, the Dutch football sides of the last 40 years and of course QPR) – so I rely on knowledge from people who *are* experts in their field. And the benefit of being a scientist is that I’m trained to look at data dispassionately – so at least I can critically review what’s been presented to me, and ask questions when I do not understand conclusions. It’s a better way of approaching topics than dogmatically approaching a topic, and cherrypicking/interpreting the data to support a viewpoint. That is bad, bad science – and a disaster in the making.

It also helps if you’re polite, and not an anonymous sock puppet.

So, said my peace on this. I have nothing further to add on the topic, and will let those who actually deal with this professionally to do their job!