Yesterday around dinnertime, there was a knock at my door. It was one of the neighbor ladies, and she was holding a clipboard.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m circulating a petition for a ballot proposition for the City of Healdsburg.”
“OK,” says I. “What’s it about?”
“It would put water fluoridation in the City up for a vote.”
“But isn’t the water here already fluoridated?”
“Yes, it has been since the Sixties.”
[Update, June 17, 2014: according to this article in the Press Democrat, Healdsburg has actually been fluoridating its water since 1952 without incident.]
“So what’s the problem? Fifty years is long enough for bad effects to show up.”
Here’s where she palms her card. “I’m not for fluoridation, or against fluoridation. I just want people to have a choice. I’m sure you do, too. Will you sign the petition?”
“No, I think water fluoridation is a good thing.”
“So you’re against choice?”
“In this case, I guess I am. Bye.” I could tell she was flummoxed, as her line had obviously been working just fine up to then.
Here in Sonoma County, one of the liberal bastions of the US, being “pro-choice” is almost a given. And really, who doesn’t want choices? But at the intersection of science and public policy, I’d say that choice often works against the rational voters. There always seem to be more ignorant, fear-driven voters, especially in off-year elections.
The people who push these public policy propositions are usually working from an unscientific, fear-based position. A ballot campaign about fluoridation is waged by the anti-fluoridation crowd using scare tactics, selective reading of scientific studies, and emotional calls for “clean water,” and “saving the children.” This was borne out by the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland, OR last year, which succeeded in drowning out the science-based message. “They’re going to put chemicals in our water!” howled the anti-fluoridation scaremongers. Ooooo, “chemicals.” Apparently, they’ve never looked into what occurs in a water treatment plant. And in the meantime, people who aren’t driven by fear, who know that fluoridation poses no significant risk, aren’t motivated to get out and vote; voilá, another victory for ignorance over science, all in the name of “choice.”
[Update, June 17, 2014: According to the same PD article cited above, the moronic scaremongers are already ramping up their hysteria campaign; they succeeded in scamming 867 local voters and thereby getting their anti-fluoridation measure on the November ballot, and are now demanding that the City Council add health warnings to the water bills. A local dentist described these folks as “public health terrorists” (for which he has since apologized), but the thing about it is that he was right. These people use the average citizen's lack of knowledge about science to spread terror.]
Locally, wackos who imagine they can feel and are injured by WiFi signals managed a few years ago to prevent the Sebastopol City Council from accepting an offer from an ISP of free WiFi coverage in their downtown. The same clowns think they can feel the radio signals given off by their gas meters. They moan that radio waves are “radiation,” though they wouldn’t know a beam of ionizing radiation if it bit them on the ass. And because they are loud and insistent, they get attention from officials and waste endless amounts of time and energy, even though they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Just south of here, the anti-science, ignorant, hysterical, (and in my view, criminal) anti-vaxxers have made Marin County a hotbed of whooping cough, a disease that had been largely eradicated for half a century.
So no, when “choice” means “turning science-based public policy over to a mob,” you can count me out. The best way to win a vote against a group of anti-science fools is to avoid the vote in the first place.