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My turn: Engineering consent for fluoridation in Juneau

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007

What influences a town to poison its own drinking water? Money? "Authority"? Or just the sheer momentum of an outdated con-job by a skilled public relations specialist?

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According to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the American Dental Association has contributed $34,000 to influence Juneau to fluoridate its water. The money is paying for a public relations campaign designed to make doctors and dentists appear authoritative on the safety and effectiveness of a practice that is becoming increasingly indefensible.

Last summer, pro-fluoride money bought signatures at a dollar apiece to put fluoridation on the ballot. Why? Local organizers claimed that they wanted the citizens to have a chance to vote - as if the Juneau Assembly, the mayor's Fluoride Study Commission and all those who testified against it publicly were not citizens.

This is really about something else. It's about the unfortunate investment that dentists, doctors and the public health establishment have in an idea that is no longer credible. It's about the scary liability of admitting that there is no real evidence to prove the effectiveness and safety of adding fluoride to public water. And, it is about the distasteful idea of actually having to address the more complex issues of poor children's dental health. One simply has to look at the real content of the ADA ads to see there is nothing behind them but money, repetition and a "because I said so" attitude.

Edward L. Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew, had little respect for the intelligence of the average citizen. Known as the "Father of Spin", he was hired to help the US Public Health Service "engineer consent" (his words) for water fluoridation in New York during the 1950s and 60s. He is the same guy who, while working for the American Tobacco Company, passed out cigarettes to the suffragettes marching in the 1916 New York City Easter Day Parade, calling them "torches of freedom."

In his excellent book, The Fluoride Deception, Christopher Bryson uses a conversation with the PR specialist to convey what Bernays regarded as our unconscious trust in medical authority:

"'You can get practically any idea accepted,' Bernays told me (Bryson), chuckling. 'If doctors are in favor, the public is willing to accept it, because a doctor is an authority to most people, regardless of how much he knows, or doesn't know."

If water fluoridation were truly about medical science, more Juneau dentists and doctors would have attended the lectures by Hardy Limeback last week. As a member of a focused panel on the toxicity of EPA standards for fluoridated drinking water (for the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences) Limeback recently completed a two-year review of almost 1,000 qualified scientific studies on the subject. This panel represents the U.S. gold standard of contemporary scientific research.

Where were the "medical professionals" who believe so strongly in Science during those lectures? Maybe a dozen attended, total. Compare this to the 42 local hospital physicians who signed a resolution last fall stating that they supported fluoridation. How are these local physicians going to factor this information into their diagnoses? How will they know how to help patients if they are blind to a toxic substance flowing into our homes through our taps? Where is the control here and how can doctors monitor a remedy for mass medication?

The American Dental Association and The American Medical Association are not scientific research establishments. They are glorified trade unions. Why are the "health professionals" touting them as scientific authorities in the first place?

Given the money and the use of authority in an effort to "engineer our consent," one has to wonder why the vast majority of outspoken public opinion on this subject is still anti-fluoride? Maybe Edward Bernays was wrong. Maybe we are capable of sorting out a complex issue on our own and coming to a reasoned conclusion that protects our well being. Maybe we've actually read the reports, listened to the experts and observed other communities.

Many of us are going to vote no on Tuesday to adding a toxic chemical to our pure Juneau water. It's an idea whose time has come.

• Marilyn Holmes is a Juneau parent and concerned citizen.



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