Norfolk and Haldimand’s acting medical officer of health has come under fire for a report he recently prepared on the subject of fluoridated water.
Dr. Malcolm Lock, who also serves as medical officer of health in Brant County, relied heavily on a nine-page report prepared two years ago by Toronto Public Health. The reports are so similar that Lock has been accused of plagiarism.
In an interview this week, Lock admitted he “cut and pasted” from the Toronto document for the report that appeared under his name this week at Norfolk council. Lock did so without footnotes or attribution, even though the sections in question are cited and referenced in a bibliography in the Toronto report.
“This was not intended as an original piece of work from me,” Lock said. “It was a report based on the best evidence we have. Certainly, a lot of that was cut and pasted.”
Patti Moore, Norfolk and Haldimand’s general manager of health and social services, reviewed Lock’s report before submitting it to Norfolk council. Moore said this week that health units in Ontario have a history of treating each other’s reports in this manner.
Moore said Ontario health units do not have the time or resources to produce original, in-depth reports on complicated scientific and medical issues every time a municipal council asks for one. The way around this, she said, is by maintaining a pool of common information.
“This is normal practice for health units,” Moore said. “We’re a very sharing group. It’s all the same body of research that we’re looking at.”
Simcoe Coun. Charlie Luke, however, isn’t so forgiving. If Norfolk staff is going to lift entire paragraphs from reports prepared by others, Luke wants to see them attributed.
“He obviously hasn’t presented it in the proper format,” Luke said. “This is something staff should be aware of. When they put these comments and facts in a report under their name, I expect them to be the source of this information. It’s unfortunate when something like this happens. When you have a controversy like this, it just muddies the water.”
Diane Sprules of Oakville, an opponent of fluoridated water, said Lock’s report is a case study in plagiarism. She is especially disturbed that Lock relied heavily on a report that is two years old. The information in the Toronto report, she says, has been overtaken by new research.
“I don’t know what his profession thinks of this,” Sprules said. “But it appears very unprofessional. It’s shocking that he thought he could get away with it. I’m sure he’s busy, but he should’ve attributed this. He should have said where he got his information from. That report is two years old. It is not up to date. It just seems unacceptable to me.”
Lock said he would have handled the report differently had he known it would prompt this sort of reaction. Lock said he did not consider the report an original “learned piece” based on primary research. Rather, he saw himself gathering and reviewing the best facts available for council’s consideration.
Toronto Public Health declined to comment on Lock’s treatment of its report.
“We often share our board reports with other medical officers of health,” spokeperson Mary-Margaret Crapper said this week. “And we often work together on issues we’re all facing. Fluoridation is one of them. I’m not going to comment on your question. That is for the other medical officer of health to answer.”
Dr. Lock’s report recommended that Norfolk continue fluoridating municipal water in Simcoe and Delhi. Norfolk’s public works department wants the county to abandon fluoridation because the chemical involved — hydrofluosilicic acid — is highly corrosive and has been identified as a hazard to employees of the county’s water division. Following a three-hour discussion Tuesday night, Norfolk council left open the possibility of putting the fluoride issue to a public vote in the next municipal election.