The next big bogus health scare


BURNABY, B.C. (CUP) — There is a fantastic scene in the classic 1964 film Dr. Strangelove where General Jack D. Ripper outlines his belief that the communists intend to pollute the “precious bodily fluids” of the citizens of the United States.

Ripper’s paranoia was born out of the Cold War, but continues today in many forms.

Earlier this month, a local B.C. politician hosted a public forum on “the effects of wi-fi and cell phone towers." Meanwhile, in Calgary, councillors have voted to remove fluoride from their water after 20 years.

Fear of the unknown is understandably strong, and when the health of your immediate family is potentially at risk, emotions can get understandably heated. But after thousands of years of progress from our stone-age roots, we no longer have to fear the darkness.

Astronomer and skeptic Carl Sagan said that science is akin to a candle in the dark, and so it behooves us to approach these discussions rationally and calmly, balancing the evidence and weighing the risks.

The fight over water fluoridation has been going on for a long time, and was a part of the fear that Ripper had in Dr. Strangelove, believing the chemical was used as a form of mind control.

The truth is far less exciting, however, as fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in all municipal water supplies, to varying strength.

More is often added to achieve optimum levels to prevent tooth decay, which as a child who grew up on un-fluoridated well water and did not brush enough, I can only wish I had access to. The evidence is very strong for the benefits of fluoridation, with Health Canada, the World Health Organization and most dental associations supporting controlled fluoridation.

European countries that eschew water fluoridation are often used as an argument against the additive; however, many of those countries add fluoride to milk, bread, or other staples, to ensure the strength of their nation’s teeth.

Meanwhile, as newer technologies begin to permeate our increasingly connected world, technophobia or neo-Luddism is spreading. Many people have begun to believe they have electro-hyper-sensitivity, and suffer from migraines and other generic ill health effects when in the presence of strong electromagnetic sources.

Unfortunately for them, no reputable study has yet confirmed the existence of this condition, and a growing body of well-researched literature continues to support the safety of current wi-fi and cellular telephone technologies. The few studies that show the smallest of effects mostly suffer from irreproducibility or lack of blinding, where either the researcher or, in some cases, the subjects, know the conditions of the experiment.

Many dangerous substances do exist in the modern world, including carcinogenic plastics, terminator crops and chlorofluorocarbons, yet there is little reason to suspect vast conspiracies of government and industry.

Ian Bushfield
The Peak (Simon Fraser University)

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