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Salt Lake Opinion Poll

Salt Lake [2002]

The 'Salt Lake Swindle'

An opinion poll conducted by the Valley Research Group, and on behalf of the Salt Lake Tribune (“Tribune”) newspaper, is a prime example of self-interest and secrecy.

ARTICLE: Survey Finds Fluoridation Proponents Have Most Utahns on Their Side

By Troy Goodman, Salt Lake Tribune. Friday, September 13, 2002.

http://www.Tribunerib.com/09132002/utah/179067.htm

Despite loud opposition from a few anti-fluoride citizen groups, more than half of Utahns are in favor of fluoridating their public water systems, according to a new survey.

A Valley Research poll of 1,358 adults statewide found 60 percent favored municipalities adding fluoride to the drinking water, and 36 percent were against it. Five percent said they were unsure. The numbers were rounded up and contained a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. The survey, taken Sept. 3-5, was paid for by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Even though the question was asked statewide, residents in Salt Lake and Davis counties are the only ones directly affected by existing plans to fluoridate. The survey results found 57 percent of Salt Lake County residents were in favor of fluoridation and 37 percent were opposed, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

In Davis County, where the survey data's margin of error was higher, residents were about split.

Steven Steed, the Utah Department of Health's oral-health director, on Thursday applauded the Tribune poll finding. "The evidence still confirms that fluoridation is important for dental health", he said. "It's the cornerstone of prevention for more than 55 years."

Davis County is in the midst of implementing fluoridation and Salt Lake County is about a year away from its implementation date. Voters in both counties approved the measure in the November 2000 general election; the vote result in Davis County was 52 percent for fluoridation and 48 percent against it; the margin was wider in Salt Lake County, where 58 percent voted for fluoridation and 42 percent against.

"I don't care how the election turned out, I personally don't want fluoridation", said Ruth Stephens, a Salt Lake City mother of three who has been working with anti-fluoridation groups. Stephens and dozens of fluoride foes spoke out Thursday during a public hearing on proposed health regulations for Salt Lake County's 2003 deadline.

Of the fluoride compound itself, Stephens said months of personal research had convinced her the chemical could be harmful to humans and the environment if it is diluted and then added into the water system.

"It's mass medication and it's experimental", Stephens said after the Thursday hearing.

In August of last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta issued an updated report on fluoridation, calling on more communities to adopt fluoride measures so that millions of Americans can be protected from dental disease.

But fluoride opponent Rea Howard, president of the Provo-based advocacy group Health Forum of Utah, has continued to ask lawmakers and health regulators to look into safety concerns of the products regularly used to fluoridate public drinking water systems.

Those same safety concerns have gained momentum in Davis County, where a recent petition drive persuaded county commissioners to hold a revote in November. Some regions in the southern part of the county are already getting fluoridated water, but the revote has halted a countywide expansion of fluoridation.

Recently, the nonprofit group Utahns for Better Dental Health filed a lawsuit against the Davis County Commission and the County Clerk seeking an injunction to stop the revote before November. Second District Judge Glen Dawson has yet to rule on the case. In response to the original injunction request, the Davis County Attorney's Office filed a seven-page response, contending a court order to stop the revote would mean a costly reprinting of the ballot.

Besides, the county attorneys wrote in their response, there is good reason to let the revote go forward since there is "the distinct possibility that the election results of November 2002 will be the same as those of November 2000."

The investigation begins ...

On the 13th September 2002. An attempt to obtain details of the TRIBUNE opinion poll was countered with a request by the newspaper’s representative, Troy Goodman, to apply in writing for details. An e-mail was dispatched immediately.


Email #1

From: [obsolete website]

To: tgoodman@Tribunerib.com

Sent: Friday, September 13, 2002

Subject: Fluoridation Survey, 13-9-2002

Hi again Troy

Re: our brief telephone conversation of today concerning the Tribune-sponsored survey on water fluoridation (Survey Finds Fluoridation Proponents Have Most Utahns on Their Side, Salt Lake Tribune. Friday, September 13, 2002).

I am interested in seeing a copy of the original survey questionnaire to see how questions were structured. Please note that other related materials are of no interest to me - just the original survey questions.

Email #2

… On October 3rd the first response was received:

[name withheld],

I finally got an answer for you on the Sept. 13 survey story: Our editor told me we used the exact same question wording that appears in the results box (a separate component from the print copy) published in that day's newspaper. If you need any further help, let me know.

Thanks, Troy

This is not exactly what had been requested. Another e-mail was sent: 4-10-2002 ...

Email #3

Hi again Troy

I'm afraid the answer you gave me to the 13th Sept fluoridation poll is unclear. Below I have printed the article in full from the web edition of the Tribune and there is no mention of the exact question asked, along with any other questions which may have been asked, and of course the "results box" which has not been provided.

Unless the editor 'comes clean' and provides the full story behind this poll, and copies of all of the literature I have previously requested, then I'm afraid I will have to make my own assumptions.

Regards, [name withheld]

The next reply ...

Email #4

Sorry, Chris I was unsure how much of the full print story appeared online (I use the Web for research but not to read my own stories.) The survey question was as follows: Do you favor municipalities adding fluoride to drinking water? Results: 60% yes, 36% no, 5% unsure.

Figures are rounded up. Survey Sept. 3-5, 2002. Plus or minus 2.7% margin of error Valley Research survey of 1,358 adults statewide.

Perhaps plain English is not enough. The repeated request for full details of the TRIBUNE poll was again ignored. A final attempt was now made to try and make sense of this absurd situation ...

Email #5

4-10-2002

Hi again Troy

Thanks for your latest e-mail. However ...!

Was the question you sent me the only question asked in the survey? Has the editor shown you the original paper which you stated was kept under 'lock and key'.

Whatever you send me now will have to be the final word as I want to write this story up for some interested journals. As it stands at the moment, the poll is still secretive as the information I have received is very sparse. My slant on this story will therefore be that it is another example of an organisation (the Tribune) running a fluoridation poll and not being completely open and honest about it's design.

Hope you can help me resolve this problem.

[name withheld]

NB. I will wait until Monday 7th October for a response.

Eventually, a more revealing reply was given ...

Email #6

Yes, the fluoride question I sent was the only water-quality related question on the survey. The other queries were about local politics and building/zoning issues. And yes I saw the original question . . the editor's tight grip on the results has everything to do with sneaky reporters from our competitor paper (with which we share a Joint Operating Agreement and a city block) and unscrupulous TV reporters.

Best wishes, Troy.


This 'cop-out' was hardly the reply that was sought. Therefore, another local ‘source’ was approached (Rosemay Minervini of Safe Drinking Water. Received 7th October, 2002) ...

Rosemary's reply ...

Hi [name withheld] -

Sorry it's taken so long to send a reply.

You asked about the SL Tribune's "poll" on fluoridation. Below is taken from an email I received from Dave Hansen in Davis County, UT. This may help answer a few of your questions. Note that the margin of error for Davis County is quite high -- perhaps a reason why the actual numbers were not published in the original article. However, no matter what the margin of errors are, Troy Goodman should have reported the figures.

Take care!!!

- Rosemary

From Dave Hansen (13th September 2002)

I read Troy Goodman's Salt Lake Tribune article about how 60% of Utahns support fluoridation and only 32% oppose it. I thought it somewhat odd that he stated the numbers in Davis County were even. So I called him and asked him what the actual numbers were.

Forty-six percent of people in Davis County support fluoridation; and 51 percent are now against! This is a whopping sea-change! This means that since this campaign started almost three years ago, supporters have lost almost 50% of their support. And the profluoride support is, I'm certain, going to continue to plummet.

Goodman has always been very biased on this issue, and he hastened to tell me that the reason he said the numbers were "even" in Davis is that the margin of error for the poll in Davis County was +/-10%, whereas the margin of error statewide was a 2.7%.

When I asked him why the margins were so different, he could not answer. Valley Research did the poll, he told me, but they didn't answer their phone.

Conclusion?

So what do we make of this fiasco? Why has the Tribune really been so secretive about this poll. Is it really due to “sneaky reporters” or “unscrupulous TV reporters”? Is it not more likely that the Tribune has used a lot of imagination in interpreting the results of this poll?

Perhaps the real reason so much is secretive about this poll is because the REAL sponsor (financial or not) does not want their identity revealed? For example, if a company is producing lots of toxic fluoride waste, then they would have a vested interest in trying to persuade the local population (and beyond?) to consume it for them. But if they were discovered to be the vested interest behind the poll, who would vote for fluoridation? We are not saying, or implying that this is what has happened. But there has to be a damn good reason why the poll is shrouded in secrecy!

Conspiracy? Foul play? Espionage? Plagiarism? Make your own mind up!

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