Politics, Science and Our (Not-So) Liberal Minds

Carla Hanson

In the early 1600s Galileo was put on trial by the Catholic Church for his work in astronomy that essentially proved Copernicus' theory of Heliocentrism (the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around). Time eventually proved Galileo and Copernicus correct, but not before each met ridicule, threats, torture and for Galileo, the Inquisition.

While these days we may not shuffle modern scientists out to be burned at the stake, we don’t tend to be particularly happy with those who challenge our norms.

We are arrogant enough to assume that our particular time in society is that of irrevocable and best knowledge. We approve of progress as long as it ascends along an expected trajectory. But when an accepted convention is challenged, society and the powers-that-be sometimes put forth shrieks of denial.

When that stubborn dynamic intersects with the politics of a modern-day ballot measure, the concoction can become explosive.

Turns out, even us liberals ain't so liberal if OUR way of understanding the world is challenged.

Ergo Fluoride. Portland. May 2013.

By May 21, Portlanders will be asked to decide for most Metro-area citizens whether or not to put fluorosilicic acid in our Bull Run water supply. While this doesn't come close to Galileo proportions, the emerging science that supports the No side of the campaign is making Portlanders uncomfortable. We need to take a deep breath, check the math and act more like our liberal selves.

Despite what I know to be the best intentions of very good and caring people, there is far more to consider than what the messaging of the Yes campaign wants you to hear.

Campaigning is all about messaging, you see, and the message that the pro-fluoride side wants you to hear and hold is that theirs is the only science. The “No” side is labeled as quacks, conspiracy theorists and tin hat crazies. Message: "Don't even listen to 'em; they're nuts."

Pro-fluoride messaging experts know that if Portlanders open the door ever so slightly to the reality that there are esteemed scientists and academic study supporting the anti-fluoridation position, the truths therein will not only cast reasonable doubt on their panacea, but expose it as potentially harmful to many of our neighbors, as well as the environment.

ANY compound that is powerful enough to have a desired effect on a part of the body may well have corresponding negative effects which must be weighed and considered. Usually this is assessed by a doctor and pharmacist. This May, the pro-fluoride forces are asking Portland voters to make that medical decision for our neighbors.

A significant percentage of our population suffers from ailments ranging from thyroid conditions to chemical sensitivities. Mounting science reveals these folks are adversely affected by the introduction of fluoridation chemicals into their water. Exposure to fluoridated water through both ingestion and absorption can compromise their health and result in a variety of symptoms.

Many of our neighbors in Portland WILL suffer; they're part of this population too. They are very real people who've been told by their very real doctors to avoid various chemicals, including fluoridated water.

Further, The Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Organic Consumers Association and Columbia Riverkeeper are opposing fluoridation because of the additional chemical exposure burden that fluorosilicic acid will place on our bodies and ecosystem.

This vote is not about some perfunctory rubber-stamp of a no-brainer position. The pro-fluoride campaign is asking Portland voters to make an extremely serious commitment to sacrifice a portion of our population and potentially damage the environment for intended benefits that could instead be achieved through better alternatives targeted at those most in need.

Do yourself a liberal favor; expose yourself to the Fluoridation Debate on April 10.

The debate, sponsored by the Multnomah County Democratic Party, will be at the Dishman Center, 77 NE Knott at 7pm.

The yard signs will be left outside. The derisive snarks of the comment section will be set aside, at least for the evening, and you can hear honest debate from honorable folks on both sides of the issue.

Be there, and then cast an informed vote.

Full disclosures:

My opinions are my own and do not represent the Multnomah County Democratic Party. (I also recently stepped down after 5 years as Party Chair). The Multnomah County Democratic Party voted to not endorse either side of this question. I am working with the Clean Water Portland Campaign.

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