Joseph Farah's Jan. 7 WorldNetDaily column carries the headline, "Whatever happened to real reporting?" He's asking that as he's nitpicking about coverage of him and his fellow birthers, but he would be better off asking that question of his own employees. WND's reporting is so bad, its own columnists have to try and clean up the mess.
On Jan. 3, WND published a "news" article by Michael Carl touting a Chinese study purporting to claim that city where water is fluoridated "had children with IQ scores 5-10 points lower" than a nearby town where water is not fluoridated. Carl quotes an "environmental activist" endorsing the survey results and insisting that "the Chinese methodology was sound," as well as asserting that ""This is the 24th study which has found a relationship between fluoride exposure and lowered IQ. They come from China, India, Iran and Mexico." At nopoint does Carl attempt to contact anyone for a contrary opinion on the study.
That job fell to WND columnist Phil Elmore, who dedicated his Dec. 6 column to rebutting it:
First, the Chinese study's sample size is remarkably small. Cross-cultural studies already pose a difficulty considering the number of different genetic and environmental factors that may invalidate comparisons to other nations' populations, but even if we ignore this, 512 children from a nation of 1.3 billion people is infinitesimal. So small a sample size may be insufficient even to show true correlation, much less the causation of lower IQ by one specific environmental factor (the fluoride in the water).
We also don't know what other environmental factors may have been present. China is notorious for its casual attitude toward industrial pollution; are we to believe that fluoride in the drinking water is the only possible agent? For that matter, why are 72 to 92 percent of the children in both Chinese locations ranked as below normal intelligence? Does that figure not seem staggeringly high, even in the locality with relatively low fluoride levels in its water? What's the control group here? "In the high-fluoride city," reads a press release, "15 percent had scores indicating mental retardation and only 6 percent in the low-fluoride city." That's a remarkable difference, yes – and even in the low-fluoride city, it's twice the rate of "metal retardation" believed to be the baseline in modern society.
For that matter, when did intelligence quotient – itself a relative assessment – become the issue? Weren't we supposed to be worried about fluoride because it is a toxin that causes cancer and other biological ruination? Does low IQ, a subjective measure if ever there was one, constitute science hard enough to condemn water fluoridation in this matter? Even the nature of IQ tests is in dispute; genetics author David Shenk argues that IQ measures developed skills, not native intelligence. He says that it can change dramatically while in no way defining a person's intellectual limits ... yet we're supposed to draw conclusions about chemical-biological causation on its basis?
Finally, why do the studies "proving" this latest danger of fluoride all come from Third World countries known for anything but their dedication to science and medical advancement? China? Mexico? Iran? Really? I know when I think of product safety and consumer awareness, I think of nations like China – a country that paints our children's cheaply imported toys in lead, laces its milk formula with plastics chemicals, and executed its chief food and drug regulator for allowing exports of toothpaste tainted with diethylene glycol. Forget the fluoride in your toothpaste – I'm more worried about the industrial poison that isn't on the label. Yet according to the conspiracy theorists, all pronouncements of dread are true if they fit the conspirator's templates. Why, even David Icke thinks fluoride is lowering your kids' IQs – and this is a man who believes aliens living at the center of the Earth are secretly controlling our illusory society. Who am I to argue with that – or him?
This study, like those before it, is weak. The correlation found between fluoride and IQ levels is not causation. The study's gross flaws are evident even in the raw data it presents, much less the unwarranted conclusions true believers have made from it. Reporting this study uncritically or, worse, as grounds to sound alarm, is nothing but more fluoride fear-mongering. If water fluoridation truly does have long-term health benefits, no one is served by making the case using "evidence" as poor as this.
Ouch. This strikes us as a situation that can't last. It seems that eventually Farah will make a choice between improving his website's reporting or getting rid of people like Elmore in order to silence internal criticism of the crappy reporting. Problem is, Farah has demonstrated he's not interested in doing the former -- after all, this isn't the only faulty article WND published on health issues this week -- which makes the latter a surprisingly plausible option.
This isn't the first time Elmore has had to do this. We previously noted how, as the purported link between vaccines and autism -- something WND has long promoted -- became increasingly discredited, WND couldn't be bothered to do any original reporting on the withdrawal of a study claiming such a link that had been published by the medical journal Lancet. The first appearance of the withdrawal in a original WND item was in Elmore's column. (Similarly, WND has reported nothing at all about the recent finding that the retracted Lancet study was an "elaborate fraud" because of doctored data.)
Farah's call for "real reporting" might be taken a little more seriously if his own stable of reporters actually capable of it.