Public votes on thorny issues

A couple of weeks ago, a public vote was conducted in Portland in the state of Oregon on whether fluoride should be added to the cities water supply, thereby raising the natural occurring level of it with the ultimate goal of increasing dental health in the population, something that fluoride in the drinking water has been shown to do. However, it was voted down, meaning that Portland will not add any fluoride to its water.

Whether this was the right decision or not is something that I really can’t say anything about, although, if I could, I’d probably say that Portland let in to irrational fears of “unnatural” “chemicals”, and that the possible real concerns of fluoride in the drinking water wasn’t what deterred people from voting “yes”. See for example this blog post where the author states:

What bothers me about this decision is not so much that it was made but how it was made. I didn’t call this vote a victory for antiscience and quackery just because Portland voted against fluoridation. I called it a victory for antiscience and quackery because classic antiscience arguments appear to have won.

If you, for example, take a look at this blog post about this issue with the following discussion in the comments section, you can see that it really is a debate that requires not only a good understanding of the scientific method, but probably also hours upon hours of reading, as well as quite comprehensive background knowledge on such things as biology, chemistry, and ecology.

Now, one could pose the question whether the average Portlander who voted in this election even has the most rudimentary necessary background knowledge to make an informed decision about the matter at hand. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and answer “no” to that question. Heck, Ethan Siegel, the astrophysicist and Portegon resident who wrote the blog post I linked to above, seem to have taken a lot of time investigating this issue, but I wouldn’t say even he has taken the question under enough consideration to really be qualified to have a say about it.

And I guess what I’m really rambling on about here just is an iteration of the old, trite critique of democracy; how are we going to form a good society, with citizens deciding over their own fate, when most citizens even don’t know what’s best for them? I might touch upon this question in upcoming blog posts, but don’t expect my groundless speculations to actually constitute any real solutions.