One of the leading advocates in the anti-fluoride push in Queensland is Brisbane GP Dr John Ryan, from a group called Australian Professionals Against Fluoridation. In an opinion piece in Brisbane's Courier Mail late last year, Dr Ryan said water fluoridation lowered the IQ of children, increased rates of hip fractures and bone cancer, and decreased thyroid functions. Dr Ryan based his claims on an influential review of the science literature on fluoride in water by the National Research Council, the NRC, in the United States. Background Briefing dug up the report to see if it did indeed make these findings.
How does Dr Ryan, a member of a professional organisation, a man who (presumably) understands how to read a scientific report and who, indeed, has summarised that report in the press, respond to criticism? Will he specify the science supporting his beliefs? Or will he simply resort to excuses, fluffs and non sequitars?
Background Briefing put a call in to Dr Ryan's surgery and raised the fact that the report concentrated on research that was looking at much higher levels of fluoride than exists in Australian water.
John Ryan: There was some manipulation, and there was a report on to - there's some trickery involved there, to take the focus on the fluoridated areas, but if you read the report, there is an enormous amount of reference notwithstanding their brief, to any harm done from fluoridation.
Wendy Carlisle: Is it right though, for you to say that, because I've had a good look at that report, and it doesn't actually say what you claim it to be saying. You say that water fluoridation causes hip fractures. But that actual report says that no conclusions could be drawn on fracture risks for levels of 1 milligram per litre; isn't that dishonest of you to present that as unequivocal proof that fluoride in water causes hip fractures?
John Ryan: Well I'll have to agree to disagree until I check what you are saying. But the report I am reading now was prepared with access to that very study. And there was also in that report, if you read it, it was a little bit divided in pro and anti fluoride, and there was this large amount of dissenting. So the consensus that you wish to rely upon, was not agreed to by all parties.
"Agree to disagree"? Doesn't he know what the report stated? Why was he publishing an article in the press about it then? EoR admires the way the interviewer isn't fobbed off by flippant excuses, and sticks to her point.
Wendy Carlisle: But you're making unequivocal statements from that report to support your case against fluoride.
John Ryan: But in terms of hip fracture I can give many other studies, and I'm happy to -
Wendy Carlisle: But you're relying on the NRC report to say that, and it doesn't support what you are saying.
John Ryan: I was quoting that particular report.
Wendy Carlisle: You say also that this National Research Council Report from the States supports your claim that fluoride causes lower IQ in children. The report doesn't actually say that.
John Ryan: It says so even - there's a lot that goes on in that report, I disagree, it says that, and it said even in low doses.
Wendy Carlisle: The report says, and I'm quoting here, that it cannot assess the strength of the studies due to methodological problems.
John Ryan: Yes, well I haven't got the report right in front of me, but colleagues have received the report and lots of summaries, and this is the consensus of what we perceive that the report says. Have you got the report right in front of you this minute, Wendy?
No! Don't ask that Dr Ryan!
Wendy Carlisle: Yes, I do.
Damn! A journalist who's read the report and has a copy right in front of her! It's time for obfuscation again...
John Ryan: It's a very big report and there's a lot said in it other than in the summary.
Is "the consensus of what we perceive" supposed to mean something? If the statements Dr Ryan made, based on the report, are not supportable by the report, why doesn't he simply state where the evidence for his statements was in the report?
EoR admires his closing riposte. Yes, it is a big report. Sadly, some journalists actually take the time to read the whole thing and call him on the misleading statements.