[ExI] Let's stop lowering our IQs.

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Tue Feb 5 09:44:37 UTC 2013

On 03/02/2013 19:07, BillK wrote:
> On Sun, Feb 3, 2013 at 5:46 AM, spike  wrote:
>> JR, don’t forget your assignment bud.  You brought it on yourself with the
>> original question.  Now enquiring minds want to know: have you been able to
>> find any references that look reliable or plausible that show fluoride in
>> the water is harmful?
> That is actually quite a difficult task if you don't already have a
> reasonable science / engineering education.
> What search terms do you use?

This is in my view the best response in this whole sorry thread. This 
points at a real and big problem: how do we get information "the last 
mile" to people who need it?

If I were to start on it, I would immediately go to PubMed, search for 
"fluoridation metareview", "fluorine water review" or "fluoridation 
epidemiology review", start checking the most recent papers, ignoring 
the ones from minor journals, deliberately looking at a few dissenting 
papers, maybe checking their references and so on. Of course I would 
google for Cochrane reviews. Eventually I would form an opinion.

However, this is totally non-obvious! PubMed is not well known, that you 
should look for reviews and metareviews is not obvious if you are not a 
practicing academic, and Cochrane - who's that? And reading these papers 
takes plenty of statistical and domain skills, besides normal critical 
thinking. I am fairly certain I could get the relevant stuff out these 
studies, but I know food epidemology studies just make my head spin.

No wonder people are fumbling around so much. Back in the fictional good 
old days there were respected authorities you could trust, but 1) we no 
longer trust them much, and 2) empirically most of the past respected 
authorities were unreliable. Not always bad, but clearly wrong in a lot 
of non-obvious ways. Snopes is partially a modern counterpart, 
stabilized by the presence of multiple minds. But there should be a 
better way of finding who the experts are within a domain. Imagine a 
search engine that told you to look at Cochrane reviews if you wanted 
medical info.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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