Among the flurry of persuasive campaigns this election season, the debate on water fluoridation has been intense and polarised; both sides are remarkably adamant about the merits of their respective positions and dismissive of their opponents.
A new collaborative research project will look at the relationship between knowledge about community water fluoridation, polarisation of opinion, and where people get their information from.
The joint project is led by Dr Carrie Cornsweet Barber of the School of Psychology at the University of Waikato and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, David Menkes of the University of Auckland, two researchers from different disciplines who do not have a public position on the merits of community water fluoridation.
“We started to wonder why people are so polarised about this issue in particular, amongst all the information that comes with political campaigning,” says Dr Barber. “With contradictory claims about what is fact and what is fiction, how does the public decide what to believe?”
Dr Barber and Associate Professor Menkes decided to conduct a survey, investigating attitudes toward community water fluoridation, what information people have about fluoride, and what has shaped their opinions on the subject.
“We are hoping that this research will help us to understand a bit more about how people form their opinions about this kind of controversial health and community issue,” says Dr Barber. “Since getting myself into the study, I’ve realised just how controversial and polarising the issue is.”
Designing the survey itself turned out to be a more difficult task than they first thought. “In the end we had to come up with factual questions that both sides could agree on the answers to, but even with consultation from proponents of both positions, it wasn’t easy,” says Dr Barber.
The survey response will be collected over the next few weeks, both from paper-and-pencil surveys in public places, and in an online survey open until mid-October, which the public can take by visiting this link:
Dr Barber knows that there will still be questions and controversy surrounding the water fluoridation issue after this research, but this study aims to shed some light on how people make decisions about a divisive but important issue.