“Why have you stopped internalising a complex situation in your head™ and started writing it down?” I hear you ask.
I shouldn’t read newspapers. The perennial anti-fluoride debate is doing the rounds again. The anti-fluoride crowd probably comprises the same people who believe vaccination is harmful and that the government sedates us with chemicals dispersed from high-flying aircraft. People who deliberately misinterpret scientific literature and bully politicians into submission. People who doggedly place the dental health of thousands of New Zealanders at risk, one small centre at a time, with an occasional bigger win when a city like New Plymouth buckles.
Why are they taken seriously? Unbalanced media reporting and lack of analysis is a major contributor. A sad reality is that people who get upset or ‘offended’ are able to command more media space, and therefore respect, than those who actually understand what’s going on. ‘Balance’ in this context isn’t achieved by the comments of a medical officer of health being offset by those of somebody who is concerned but uninformed. Reporters don’t have time to actually examine what they’re being told, just as members of the public don’t have time to peruse scientific journals. Scientists and medics have been coached to be polite when making public comments, and never make disparaging comments about the mental prowess of those on the other side. This plays very nicely into the hands of dedicated activists hell-bent on reform.
Based on science and medical evidence, the anti-fluoride factions in our community should get no traction whatsoever, as one example of successful although misinformed activism. The same statement could be levelled at the anti-vaccination brigade and those who believe in homoeopathic remedies.
Misrepresentation of facts is, at best, disingenuous. At worst it’s dishonest and should be exposed and the offenders dealt with.
Yet we tolerate this nonsense daily. I believe that ignoring it actually makes it stronger, rather than making it go away, as my mother told me it would when I was much younger.
As activists do, product marketers also like to play on our fears.
‘GE free’ statements, for example, create an impression that others’ products – not making such claims – may contain GE, when they probably don’t. Not that there is any credible science that suggests there is any harm associated with consuming GE foods. Companies that make ‘GE free’ claims probably aren’t testing their products for GE anyway. And, as chemistry students should be able to attest, it’s impossible to conclusively prove that something may be ‘free’ of something else by testing it.
A friend of my niece would not believe that beef produced in New Zealand was ‘free range’ because if it was, she believed that there would have been a statement to that effect on the label. Sigh. It’s hard to argue with that.
Freedom of belief is OK as long as it does no harm? Discuss.