Anti Science brigade, why you so anti science?

by Jackson James Wood
Your teeth on fluoride

Your teeth on fluoride

Hamilton City Council recently made the ill-informed decision to remove fluoride from the city’s drinking water. Now the ill-informed people who blindly pushed for that outcome are saying Wellington is their next target. This worries me.

It worries me a lot.

It worries me because water fluoridation has a lot of research and evidence to show that it is a Good Thing.

There is scientific consensus that fluoridation is, as the NZ Dental Society’s vice-president Sathananthan Kanagaratnam said: “the single most effective, practical and safe means of reducing and controlling the amount and severity of dental decay in a community.”

Your teeth not on fluoride

Your teeth not on fluoride

But why can we assume it is the single most effective, practical and safe means of reducing and controlling the amount and severity of dental decay in a community? Well that is easy: Science.

Science is a methodology, a way of doing things.

The scientific method allows us to test ideas and record results, compare those results and come to logical conclusions based on our observations. We can then repeat the experiment and see if we get the same results.

We can show the results to other scientists and they can critique it to make sure the entire process is robust. Eventually a paper is written about whatever it is they were looking at and then more papers come in, and more.

Eventually you get to a point where papers are written about the papers, these are called meta-studies, and they look at all the literature in the field and draw conclusions as to whether there are any trends.

For example, the case for anthropogenic climate change is strong because over the entire body of climate science the vast majority of research points towards climate change being real and being caused by humans.

It does not mean there is unanimity in the field. There will be the occasional outlier — a stand alone data point among an overwhelming majority. A single paper or even a handful do not make a scientific consensus. Given enough evidence, on the balance of things it becomes incredibly likely that [insert theory here] is the case.

We test things. We retest them. We critique the methods. We write about it. We build up knowledge. We assess the knowledge and then we make logical assumptions about how the world works. We’ve done this for centuries. It has allowed us to build a clear picture of how life evolved, how the universe was formed, how to stop viruses with vaccines, and to understand that humans are changing the climate.

So it worries me when otherwise sane people start to politicise science and try and decide fact by committee.

Yes you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

You may well think fluoride doesn’t work, just as you might think climate change is not real or that humans and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time. But that is not what hundreds of papers, thousands of hours of work, or what rational observation point to.

It worries me that small groups of people are hijacking community decision making processes and, under the guise of democracy, forcing councils to ensure their ratepayers will experience negative dental health outcomes.

There is even a peer reviewed article about how “the implementation of water fluoridation is still regularly interrupted by a relatively small group of individuals who use misinformation and rhetoric to induce doubts in the minds of the public and government officials.”

Seriously: read the paper.

Read it.

It worries me that these same anti-science tactics are already being rolled out in Wellington.

It worries me that five out of our 12 Regional Councillors voted to remove fluoridation.

It worries me that public health is being degraded on the basis of… well… nothing.

So please Wellingtonians, stop me from worrying. Question the “facts” that you see alongside public health messages. Think critically about how those “facts” were obtained. This isn’t so much about what you know, it is about how you think. This is about making decisions based on evidence and the all round general notion that science helps us by informing our actions and improving the world.


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Anna Wilson June 12, 2013 - 9:46 am

I’m really pro-education. Fluoridation isn’t going to teach kids how to brush their teeth. Or provide poor families with toothpaste. Or dental floss. Or stop them eating sugar or living off white bread (which is essentially sugar as far as your body reacts). So yeah, I’m still one of the few Chemistry graduates I know who are against fluoridation, but not because I think the science is wrong. Just because I think our government is lazy.

Tui June 12, 2013 - 10:15 am

So there’s a cheap, effective action that governments can take which will help (although not completely solve) a problem (poor dental hygiene) in an extremely equitable way (it helps everyone equally), but governments shouldn’t take that action because … cheap, easy, effective actions are lazy? Cheap, easy, effective, equitable, widely scientifically supported actions are exactly the kind of actions I want my government to take, frankly. There are more things I would like them to do – like making dentistry part of public health – but to say “Oh they’re not doing enough, so let’s encourage them to do even little” seems like the most transparent tossing of the baby out with the bathwater possible.

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 11:29 am

No. You’re 100% right. It doesn’t teach anyone anything. But it is proven to improve dental health. So for the small cost we get an effective public health intervention that reduces the pain and cost of bad dental hygiene.

But being pro-education doesn’t mean you have to throw out one tool. Multi-pronged approaches to health issues are needed. We don’t have to do just one, and in fact, dental health would be better if we did more of them. I’m not arguing for fluoride at the expense of education, I’m arguing that fluoride is part of a tool box.

Public health interventions are all about being lazy!

Anna Wilson June 12, 2013 - 9:48 am

In saying that, I don’t remove fluoride from my drinking water, and I just leave water in a glass bottle on a windowsill if I want the “chlorine” flavour to evaporate.

I just think there’s more to our dental debate than just water fluoridation.

Gwynn Compton June 12, 2013 - 10:39 am

Of course there’s more to the dental health debate than just water fluoridation, which is why fluoridation is just one part of an overall approach to dental health, which includes free dental care to under 18s that comes with a regular dose of “brush twice a day, floss regularly, use mouthwash”.

Fluoridation effectively acts as a damage reduction mechanism in that there is only so much you can do to encourage people to make healthy choices. Fluoridation provides a safety net that attempts to mitigate the poor choices that people will inevitably make.

For instance, the Government can teach kids how to brush their teeth, issue toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss, but there’s very little they can do to force people to actually use them. Fluoridation, however, offers a passive solution where, despite an individual’s poor dental health choices, we can still provide some damage limitation.

So unless you want the Government to be penalising people for making poor dental hygiene choices (and good luck enforcing that in a way that’s cheaper and more effective than fluoridation), your position on fluoridation is deeply flawed.

Gwynn Compton June 12, 2013 - 9:49 am

The issue for me is that Council’s tend to forget that while we’re all equally entitled to hold an opinion, that doesn’t mean that all opinions are actually equal. As you clearly point out, the opinion of pro-fluoridation is supported by an overwhelming of peer-reviewed evidence that demonstrates it is both effective and safe.

The anti-fluoridation opinion is supported by a handful of experts using dubious “facts” and cherry picked anecdotes.

That Hamilton couldn’t make this distinction is rather disturbing. Should the anti-fluoridation lobby start trying to effect that change here, I will fight them tooth and nail and expose them for the science deniers that they are.

Matthew Robinson June 17, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Hi Glynn,

If fluoridation is as you say “supported by an overwhelming of peer-reviewed evidence” why is that most countries in the world do not fluoridate their water? Please see for more details.
The favorite catch-phrase of the pro-fluoridation camp of late seems to be “the argument on fluoride has been settled” and everyone seems to just regurgitate this without supplying evidence to support it. This sort of mindless support is extremely irresponsible, you need to take the time to look at the chemicals which are being used in fluoridation and especially the difference (which is vast) between naturally occurring fluoride and the fluorides used in fluoridation before you make such broad and unsubstantiated claims. As I have mentioned, the one report which you did bring to my attention is deeply flawed from the outset as it does not distinguish between the different fluorides. This report gives more details of the differences between naturally occurring fluoride and the industrial fluorides and their effects on the human body , peer reviewed and all.

From the evidence I have seen the issue of fluoridation is far from settled, I really wish that people would stop saying it is and instead have a look at a more broad range of evidence and delve a little into the history of this questionable practice to find out for themselves.

Adam Simpson June 12, 2013 - 10:12 am

pithy comment about how it’s not surprising because Hamilton is a shithole.

ObjectiveReality June 12, 2013 - 10:44 am

Aside from being (possibly) unnecessarily mean to the ‘Tron, that glibly ignores the fact that a *lot* of people in Hamilton actually objected to the change. The council really seems to have been captured by a noisy minority here – which is almost as worrying as the anti-science stuff in its way.

David June 12, 2013 - 11:30 am

What an ignorant article! Anti-science! How absurd is that?

I was actually present at the fluoride tribunal in Hamilton and I would argue that the science presented by the fluoride-free side was far more convincing than that presented by the Ministry of Health.

That is precisely the argument that the fluoride-free people asked the city council to consider: to weigh the actual scientific evidence, which is both ample and compelling.

The author writes, “Question the “facts” that you see alongside public health messages. Think critically about how those “facts” were obtained. This isn’t so much about what you know, it is about how you think. This is about making decisions based on evidence and the all round general notion that science helps us by informing our actions and improving the world.”

I suggest the author actually follow-up on that charge. Please read the science, look at the data, talk to both the Ministry of Health and the Fluoride Action Network, and practice the “methodology of science” with which you denounce the fluoride-free side for not engaging.

Please do all these things before making accusations that any group or individual is anti-science.

Sam June 12, 2013 - 1:18 pm

Yes, please do talk to the Ministry of Health AND the World Health Organization AND the New Zealand Dental Association AND the Australian Dental Assocation AND the American Cancer Society AND the American Asthma Foundation AND every other science-based institution in the world who support fluoridation for the time-and-time-again proven efficiency of water-fluoridation.

Or you can ignore all these institutions and come up with your own ideas as the Fluoride Action Network does. Here’s some proof. This is from their website: and this is what I had to say about it
#1 False. Fluoride occurs naturally in all water sources in varying levels. We modify the levels to get them to the zone were we get proven benefits, and no harm.
#2 False. Areas with fluoridated water see reductions in tooth decay even after controlling for diet, habits such as smoking etc.
#3 Misleadingly true. Doesn’t occur at the levels used.
#4 This point doesn’t even make sense. Fluoride naturally occurs in water. How can adding fluoride to water sources not be considered natural? It’s already there!
#5 Misleadingly true. Has next to nothing to do with fluoride from water sources. That number is from this study It states the ingestion of many fluoride sources is the cause. Mainly it’s kids eating toothpaste which is very rich in it (about 1000pppm to 1100ppm). Fluoridated water isn’t (0.7-1.0ppm).
#6 False. It’s useful to have (some) fluoride in the growing tooth structure, but the leading cause of fluorosis in kids is ingesting toothpaste.
#7 False, and also irrelevant.
#8 Misleadingly true. They also add folate to bread, iodine to salt, vitamin D to milk. It’s an effective, and cost-saving method of improving public health.
#9 Misleadingly true. The main benefit is topical, but there is still some benefit from systemic ingestion, and as teeth continue to grow (from the inside of the pulp chamber) throughout life that benefit is still there.
#10 Misleadingly true. But it’s not the fluoride causing this, it’s diet and genetic predisposition amongst other things.

I work as a dentist. I see the effects of poor hygiene, poor diet, poor attitude to looking after yourself every day. I use products that have fluoride in them to fix tooth problems every day. I see people who can’t afford root canal treatments and need teeth taken out. Without fluoride in the water I’d be seeing even more of this. It’s really sad to see well-meaning people have to put up with pain because some wackos who don’t know what they’re talking about have used their anti-science to scare well-meaning councillors who are trying to be informed to make the right decisions for the populations they are elected to look after.

I understand the mechanisms of what is happening in this environment and how it happens. And while I don’t know everything, I’m well aware of that, I know that there is no evidence yet to make me question the usefulness of water fluoridation.

And that’s why I agree with everything the author has said in this article.

Rant over.

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 1:31 pm

Beautiful reply, Sam!

Rachel June 13, 2013 - 11:02 am

The moment I saw Mercola was being quoted as a source for the anti-fluoridation brigade I laughed. That guy is a discredited quack who profits from the paranoia he feeds, yet every time some dubious anti-science is brought out there he is!

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 1:19 pm

“I would argue that the science presented by the fluoride-free side was far more convincing than that presented by the Ministry of Health.”

That’s the thing. It’s not about convincing. It is about what the data, evidence, and research as a whole shows. I could make a very convincing argument for man never having set foot on the moon. I could wow you for 16 hours of submissions from a select group of misinformed people. I could convince you that man never set foot on the moon. But That doesn’t actually mean it never happened. It just means I have convinced you. As I said in the article: you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

“That is precisely the argument that the fluoride-free people asked the city council to consider: to weigh the actual scientific evidence, which is both ample and compelling.”

If they were actually asking for that, they would have failed because, as has been pointed out else where, the consensus is that the “science” presented by the anti-fluoride camp is neither ample or compelling.

“actually follow-up on that charge”
I don’t need to David. I am a science communicator. I communicate science all day long. I know how to read scientific papers, I have a logical and rational brain, and the evidence is clear.

I have also talked to many anti-fluoridation people, their tactics always always come down to the tactics outlined in the paper linked to above. Oh and now you’re doing them! WOO.

But let me reiterate: the “methodology of science” is not about peoples’ opinions. It is about data, facts, and evidence over the entire area of research.

Gwynn Compton June 12, 2013 - 1:44 pm

David, as I mentioned in my comment and as both Sam and Jackson have both beautifully articulated, the arguments that the Fluoride Action Network are putting forward simply do not measure up against the facts of fluoridation, their opinions are simply not worth the paper they’re printed on (or the pixels they’re displayed on).

If you don’t believe me, I suggest you go investigate the Flat Earth Society Their methodology is much the same as the Fluoride Action Network’s, making arguments that are either completely unsubstantiated by the facts, or simply misrepresenting information to suit their viewpoint.

Matthew Robinson June 13, 2013 - 3:56 pm

Hi Gwynn,

Do you feel that the statistics presented on the Fluoride Action Network are also to be ignored? On the one hand I hear that the evidence is overwhelming but when I compare this claim with statistics such as it paints a very confusing picture. The data seems to be from the WHO, do you think it has it been tampered with or misrepresented in some way?
I was originally under the impression that fluoride was quite effective at preventing tooth decay, my misgivings were initially in regard to the side effects. Can you or anyone else shed light on this for me?


Gwynn Compton June 14, 2013 - 11:26 am

I refer you to where they point at that, after adjustment for confounding variables, water fluoridation is an effective method of improving dental health.

No one is doubting for a minute that improved dental practices, diet and other factors (such as fluoride in toothpastes) have also proven beneficial to dental health, yet studies (including the massive systematic review above) still strongly support that fluoridation is effective in achieving this.

As I have pointed out previous, fluoridation is effectively a safety net measure, to mitigate some of the damage from those who practice poor dental hygiene.

alison June 12, 2013 - 4:48 pm

“The science presented by the fluoride-free side was more convincing…”

Would that be the ‘science’ that included bald-faced distortions of what scientific papers actually said? (There’s an example of this here:

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 4:51 pm

Hear hear, Alison!

Matthew Robinson June 14, 2013 - 6:40 pm

Thanks for the link Gwynn.

There is a common assumption that calcium fluoride (which is found naturally in small amounts in water) and the industrial fluorides used in fluoridation (toxic waste byproducts of the fertilizer and aluminium industries) are of similar toxicity. Unfortunately they are not. The toxic fluorides such as sodium fluoride, sodium fluorosilicate and hydrofluorosilicic acid do not contain calcium and are listed as toxic substances. Calcium fluoride on the other hand is listed as non-toxic and will at least supply calcium for your teeth.

From the report:
“Fluorides are released into the environment through a combination of natural and anthropogenic processes. Natural processes include the weathering of fluoride containing minerals and emissions from volcanoes. Additionally, a number of industrial processes such as coal combustion, steel production, and other manufacturing processes (aluminium, copper and nickel production,
phosphate ore processing, phosphate fertilizer production, glass, brick and ceramic manufacturing) further contribute to fluoride levels.”

All true. However I was surprised to see that neither this passage or the rest of the report attempts to address the difference in toxicity between the naturally occurring fluoride and the industrial byproduct fluorides which we have introduced to our water.

This omission to me suggests that their methodology deserves closer inspection.

The long term trends also indicate that teeth decay worldwide is on the decline, however this has been the case well before fluoridation was introduced. Increased intake of the essential nutrients (which fluoride is not one of) via fresh vegetables and cheese has been suggested as a contributing factor. Possibly it would be more prudent to give attention to increasing access to high nutrient foods for poor populations instead of introducing hazardous waste (at any level) to our water supply.

Chelsea June 12, 2013 - 11:33 am

Let’s pray away the decay!

Jarrod Baker June 12, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Just because people use the trappings and language of science, it doesn’t mean they’re actually being scientific in approach. And calls to look at ‘both sides’ of an argument miss the point when by far the overall weight of evidence favours one side.

In this case, water fluoridation is supported by the vast majority of people whose profession it is to study and improve human health, and particularly the subset of those people who are primarily concerned with dental health. I’m sadly inexpert in this field – I made the horrible mistake of doing an arts degree – which is why I prefer to rely as much as possible on the assessments of such experts.

It’s unclear to me what the anti-fluoridation movement thinks the public health profession has to gain from water fluoridation, other than improved dental health. No-one is making a great deal of money from it – not enough to further such a broad-reaching conspiracy, anyway, and certainly not enough to silence so many.

Is it supposed to be a plot by dentists to actually ruin teeth, sending more business their way? If so, I’m pretty positive it would have leaked out by now. They’re literally training new dentists all the time, surely one of them must be a potential whistleblower. Unless dental school are also brainwashing factories, that is.

Gwynn Compton June 12, 2013 - 1:36 pm

The only conspiracy going on here is the conspiracy of ignorance from the anti-science brigade.

Will Moore June 12, 2013 - 1:34 pm

Ok MoH withs it’s $2million dollar team. Can not present enough information to clearly show that fluoride is safe and effective. The majority of submissions by 85% of people were opposed to fluoride. All they have to show is that it works. And that it’s safe. Whoops can’t show that. All the fluoride free people have to show is science showing that its a toxic waste by-product. Which the MoH agrees with. That fluoride works topically, not by ingestion which the MOh agrees with and that it’s against peoples right to be medicated without a clear dosage. The MOh has to show its safe for everyone who ingests it. They cannot show that because they cannot be clear how much is ingested and is excreted from the human body and they cannot determine how much fluoride is also ingested from the environment through pesticides and herbicides and how this fluoride will react with other chemicals in the environment. I could go on for days. All you have to do is act with respect and follow the general protocol, which is no, to mass medication. It’s not ur choice and it should never have been put in,

Jarrod Baker June 12, 2013 - 1:50 pm

A two million dollar team? Sounds like a bargain when you remember that in the 70s the Americans spent six million dollars on just one guy. Although to be fair he probably solved more crimes than the MoH people.

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 4:30 pm

” MoH withs it’s $2million dollar team.”
Citation needed.

“[MoH] Can not present enough information to clearly show that fluoride is safe and effective.”
No. It can. It does. It’s just you close your eyes and jam your fingers in your ears and start yelling “NANANANANANANANANAA” every time someone with an evidence-base comes along.

“The majority of submissions by 85% of people were opposed to fluoride.”
If everyone were jumping off a cliff would you too?

Going back to what the entire article was about: you can have opinions, you can’t have facts. If 85 percent of a select group of people say something is true, that does not make it true.

The rest of your comment:
Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong. You could go on for days. And you’d still be wrong.

Editor June 12, 2013 - 1:40 pm

I just want to say I’m really disappointed I didn’t call this article: “The tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth”.

Sorry about that.

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 4:31 pm

I am sorry also.

Matthew Robinson June 12, 2013 - 1:46 pm

My personal belief is that the government should not be adding fluoride to drinking water. If people feel that they need it in their system there is certainly no shortage of ways to get it. Leave it in the toothpaste if you feel the science proves it is effective but don’t medicate the population without consent or control over dosage size when there are still valid questions regarding it’s safety and effectiveness.

Branding people as being anti-science and deniers is not very helpful. I think we can agree that most people have the same positive goals when it comes to expressing their views on fluoridation even if they are on opposite sides of the fence in approach. I would love to see an honest and open discourse which examines the facts and their sources without the obligatory pouring of scorn on individuals on either side.

Please have a read of below sites, would appreciate any critical feedback. Unlike Jackson James Wood’s experience above, the evidence and research that I have seen so far suggests to me that fluoridation is not a particularly safe method of preventing tooth decay nor a particularly effective one. I would certainly prefer to believe that the water we drink is completely safe…convince me!

Former Principal Dental Officer for Auckland has joined the side opposed to fluoridation. His story here:

Also see comparisons re tooth decay trends in countries with fluoridation and those without:

Jackson James Wood June 12, 2013 - 4:42 pm

“the evidence and research that I have seen”
Going back to the entire point of the article: this is not about what *you* as an individual have seen or about what you believe. This is about what the evidence, data, and such show over the entire area of research. And regardless of whether you are convinced or not, fluoridation works as a public health intervention to reduce negative dental health outcomes. That’s what the science shows us.

You’ve missed the entire point of the article.

Matthew Robinson June 13, 2013 - 3:22 pm

Hi Jackson,

I don’t have access to the entire area of research, if you could link me to it that would be very helpful.


David Jackson June 12, 2013 - 5:17 pm

Hi Matthew. Just out of curiosity, why did you choose those examples to cite?

Matthew Robinson June 13, 2013 - 3:30 pm

Hi David,

Just a couple of articles that made me think twice about jumping on the fluoridation bus I suppose. Is there some flaw/issue with the article or the stats that I should be aware of?

Marie June 13, 2013 - 6:03 am

Yes. This. I am absolutely not anti-science, but I don’t want to be medicated without my consent. Fluoride might be proven to be great for teeth – applied topically, not ingested – but its safety and connection to conditions such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s is still in doubt.

Gwynn Compton June 13, 2013 - 8:36 am

Marie, the safety of fluoride at the levels recommended by the WHO are completely safe. Furthermore, there is no doubt about any connection between fluoride and ADHD or Alzheimer’s, simply because there is no demonstrated connection between them.

Likewise, the addition of fluoride to water has been shown beyond any shade of doubt to be beneficial to dental health.

You say you’re “absolutely not anti-science”, so why then do you patently reject the comprehensive findings of science that fluoride in drinking water, being ingested at the levels recommended by the WHO is completely safe and effective? Your claim of not being anti-science, then your subsequent statements simply do not add up.

As to being medicated without your consent, you’ll find the Council also treats your water supply to make it safe for you to drink, effectively a form of preemptive medication to prevent large scale illness in the community. Fluoridation is, in effect, no different, in that it is a preemptive method to reduce the incidence of tooth decay.

Marie June 13, 2013 - 4:05 pm

I’m uneasy with this becoming a pro/anti science thing.
Because leaving the science aside, I still don’t want fluoride in my water.
I object to the “we know what’s best for you” mass medication of the populace.

Leaving aside also the lack of logic of putting fluoride into drinking water for the benefit of those who consume great quantities of soft drink, I think I should have a choice about what unnecessary chemicals I consume.

Gwynn Compton June 14, 2013 - 11:43 am

Well Marie that’s fundamentally what it is. The science unequivocally states that fluoridation is safe, achieves results and is cost effective relative to non-fluoridation.

You may object to the “we know what’s best for you” mass medication all you like, but Governments make those decisions because in an unregulated environment, we’re unable to make those decisions due to not having access to all the resources or knowledge to do so. For instance, the prevalence of cholera in water supplies was a contributing factor in Governments around the world taking ownership of maintaining the quality of town water supplies and sewage disposal. Of particular relevance here is the fact that the water you drink now days has been treated to ensure that it is safe for you to do so. That is a form of preventative medication which we gladly accept.

We also accept it through the iodisation of salt (though for a small number of us, myself included, can choose to buy non-iodised salt due to a medically diagnosed thyroid condition, a decision I only made based on qualified medical advice, but the vast majority of salt in food is iodised) and additives to other foods.

Anti Science brigade, why you so anti science? | JJW June 12, 2013 - 5:22 pm

[…] more over on The Ruminator where this post was originally […]

Lobby Lud
Lobby Lud June 12, 2013 - 8:39 pm

Gluckman helpfully chimes in with an important clarification.

According to the scientists, the science is settled – values questions about medicating the water supply should be treated separately.

Niv June 12, 2013 - 9:36 pm

Interesing that you bring up meta-analysis. What do you think of the meta-analysis showing fluoride has a negative impact on neurological development in children?

David Jackson June 12, 2013 - 11:15 pm

That they mostly concern times where people are being exposed to crazy high levels of Fluoride- the Chinese IQ studies for example.

Niv June 12, 2013 - 11:46 pm

I think a lot of parents would quite rightly be worried when a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies shows fluoride lowering children’s intelligence. Yes, included in the review were higher fluoride levels than we have ever put in water in New Zealand, but happen naturally in China, but some are comparable.

At least, as far as I can tell, it’s legitimate science that has raised a legitimate concern about harm of low levels of fluoride.

Can you point to any meta-studies (important things as this article says), showing that low levels of fluoride are safe with regards to neurological development in children?

David Jackson June 13, 2013 - 12:52 am

I can’t point to any because that’s trying to prove a negative. The best I can do would be showing you studies where it’s talking about fluoride being “non-harmful”

Just out of curiosity, when you say “as far as you can tell”, what’s the criteria for that? How do you judge a bad piece of science from a good one?

Niv June 13, 2013 - 2:36 am

Oh come on David, I thought you were good on science stuff!

You aren’t being asked to “prove a negative”, and you know it. You can try to show that something isn’t harmful without having to “prove a negative”. I was inviting you to maybe direct me/people to something that would alleviate their fears about fluoride harming neurological development in children. According to scientific testing etc, there seem to be reasonable grounds for fears. Maybe you know of other better research though, that doesn’t point towards a inverse association between high fluoride exposure and children’s intelligence.

To clarify, I do realise fluoride is good for teeth, I’m just uncertain about mass medicating it through the water supply while there are fears that science still needs to assure us on. I also think taking fluoride out of water supply without alternative methods for fluoride provided is a dumb move.

David, just out of curiosity, why do you keep asking people not on side with fluoride “just out of curiosity”, followed by a simplistic question that you know will be long and drawn out to answer in a proper way? Might be those sorts of tactics and arguments that are losing you the fluoride debate everywhere !

Well, you were trying to be picky with my language or something, I dunno, guess you were trying to just be a nuisance or try to catch people out. Well, how do you judge science? I recommed you read the orginal blog again. The paragraph “Science is a methodology, a way of doing things.”, and the three paragraphs below that are I think decent on this sort of general question you ask. As far as I can tell.

I do realise that there are a lot of beliefs people are throwing against fluoride that are of no substance. I also see that “in the name of science” a lot of people on the pro-fluoride debate don’t actually look at the science, and just shout “OMG SCIENCE!”. The argument that fluoride in the water supply in low levels is non-harmful, is nowhere near as certain as arguments about climate change.

David Jackson June 13, 2013 - 1:00 am

Also there’s no difference between the fluoride occurring naturally in water and when it’s added to water. It’s the same ion, and in fluoridated water is often found in lower concentrations than it can occur naturally (up to about 4 ppm naturally, 1 ppm in untreated Waikato river water, and 0.8 ppm in the Hamilton treated supply.)

Also in the Chinese study the fluoride wasn’t from a natural source anyway; it was mostly from ground pollution and found in concentrations about 10 times what you’d find in fluoridated water supplies

Niv June 13, 2013 - 2:46 am

Yip, fluoride is fluoride. Obviously.

Ah, sorry, was wrong when I said “happen naturally in China”, I was referring to the water supply not having fluoride intentionally added to it. Obviously that was an extremely incidental part to the point, but well done on the hole picking! Bet you spot the mitsake here too!

Matthew Robinson June 14, 2013 - 9:14 am

Hi David,

Fluoride may be fluoride but the fluoridation chemical sodium silicofluoride (a toxic waste product which comes from the phosphate mining industry) and Calcium Fluoride (harmless compound found naturally in water) are not the same at all. Please look them up.

Matthew Robinson June 14, 2013 - 2:19 pm

Sorry, I should say calcium fluoride is relatively harmless :-/

“Synthetic industrial fluoride compounds lack calcium and are listed toxic substances (Buck [1], Gleason [2], Blakiston [3], The Merck Index [4]). Calcium fluoride is found in natural minerals and is not labeled a toxic compound because of the comparatively high lethal oral acute dose of the purified compound when tested in mammals (LD50 ~ 3,750 mg/kg). The fluoride compounds, sodium fluoride NaF and fluorosilicic acid H2SiF6, added into municipal water for human ingestion purposes are synthesized artificially by industrial reaction and have been used as rodenticides, insecticides, and pediculicides, with acute oral lethal doses in experimental animals comparable to arsenic and lead (LD50 ~ 125 mg/kg) (The Merck Index [4]) due to the fluoride at ~60–90 mg/kg.”
Sauerheber, R. (2013) Physiologic Conditions Affect Toxicity of Ingested Industrial Fluoride. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Article 439490.

David Jackson June 13, 2013 - 2:32 pm

I’m mostly curious why you’re selecting those papers? What makes them a *good* reference. I’m after peer reviewed, published in a reputable academic journal papers which publishes the data and methods of their experimentation. Too often I find people from the anti-fluoride side sending me a link through to a webpage which starts referencing other websites, or something like the journal “Fluoride”.

And I’m not debating that fluoride is harmful in high concentrations- the cure and the poison (you know the quote) according to this paper;jsessionid=WudYOq6EBk8ToCKQY2YO.6 it has a toxicity level of about 5 mg/kg. A 10 kg child needs about 50 mg to reach that limit, which is about 62 litres of water (assuming a Fluoride concentration of 0.8 ppm, which converts to 0.8 mg/L)

And sorry, I thought you were mixing up the Natural/Artificial sources. But like the paper says
“The exposed groups had access to drinking water with fluoride concentrations up to 11.5 mg/L (Wang SX et al. 2007); thus, in many cases concentrations were above the levels recommended (0.7–1.2 mg/L; DHHS) or allowed in public drinking water (4.0 mg/L; U.S. EPA) in the United States ”

the water there has much, much more fluoride in there than would be allowed in the supply here.

Niv June 13, 2013 - 4:45 pm

I selected the Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis study, because this blog talked meta-studies and their worthiness for showing us facts.

The first study you link to there notes that “Attention is drawn to the fact that, while the metabolic characteristics and effects of fluoride in young and middle-aged adults have received considerable research attention, there is a paucity of such information for young children and the elderly. ”

That seems important.

The Meta-Analysis which I linked to and you referred to, concludes that:

“The results support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment. Future research should include detailed individual-level information on prenatal exposure, neurobehavioral performance, and covariates for adjustment.”

While this Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)/China Medical University research doesn’t lead us to conclude that fluoride in water at levels added in NZ does cause harm cognitive development in children, it does show it in higher levels, which you do basically seem to agree with as being correct (correct me if I’m wrong there). From there though, the question has to be asked whether there is a harm in lower levels. There may be less of a harm, or there may be no harm, but that needs to be shown in “peer reviewed, published in a reputable academic journal papers which publishes the data and methods of their experimentation” for us to feel confident that there is no harm in this area. Show me the science !

Can you in ‘good scientific judgement’, say to people that there is no harm to neurological development in children from adding fluoride to water supplies?

It seems to me, that contrary to this blog that claims science is conclusive on fluoride, that this issue needs science to look at it more for us to conclude properly.

I’d also say, that *if* there is only a small negative affect to a childs neurological development from fluoride, that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. Maybe it’s only a very small negative effect, and worth accepting it for the dental health benefits.

David Jackson June 13, 2013 - 7:04 pm

Christ the formatting on comments is awful here.

Right. No, I can’t see anything that rules it out completely. But I also don’t see anything that rules it causing Crohn’s out completely. Nor have I seen anything that says it causes any of these things after 60 years of comparative studies. Personally if I had a kid under one or so I’d be feeding it breast milk or formula mixed up with purified water, like it’s recommended, even though I think there’s more of a danger of them drowning while they try swim in the harbour (or wherever else Wellington gets its water from) than suffer any harm from drinking the water with the fluoridated water.

Fortunately I’m rich enough to be able to afford the water/formula, and the fact I can do that and a poor family out there couldn’t is something that government needs to deal with, but that’s a *whole* different rant.

Editor June 13, 2013 - 8:53 pm

Yeah sorry about that. We’re just infants in this blogging world, so we’re going to work on the formatting and try and find a solution that works well – sorry about that.

fluoridation: those pesky facts | BioBlog June 13, 2013 - 8:49 am

[…] need to resort to distortion & downright misrepresentation of facts in order to bolster it. As this excellent blog post on The Ruminator says, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. (Go […]

Scott Common June 13, 2013 - 10:29 am

I was trying to resist posting, really I was, but there was something which was bugging me about this “debate” which wouldn’t go away. So first off I’ll be up front and state I am for the use of fluoride in drinking water based on the scientific information available about its benefits and risks.

There are, however, a couple of aspects of the original post which I think need addressing – this should not be seen as an attack on science, but a gentle critique designed to widen the view of the field of science outside of its own rhetoric’s. I am quite pro-science, I studied it for a while before realising that my aptitude lay elsewhere, but I have always enjoyed reading about science, talking about it and seeing it in action.

“So it worries me when otherwise sane people start to politicise science…”

This worries me as well! It worries me that someone who is obviously scientifically trained can’t recognise that the field of science, just like all other cultural fields, is political in its nature. The field of science is in the business (and I use that term very deliberately) of making knowledge claims – as was said it’s about “facts”. The problem with knowledge claims, particularly when coming from a cultural field, is that not only do they try to establish some form of “truth” (which is a slippery enough slope as it is) but in doing so they also make power moves of a very political nature.

This doesn’t mean that scientists are out there lobbying politicians on policy (though some indeed do – and an awful lot of policy gets written based on the output of science) – but it does mean that the field of science is in the business of elevating it’s own position within society through a promoting a particular methodology and frame of thinking. This isn’t a bad thing – the scientific method has spawned some terribly wonderful and wonderfully terrible objects within our world – we would not be the world that we are now without it. However we also wouldn’t be the world we are now if science was not political in its nature – if, as a field, it hadn’t flexed it’s mental muscles and exerted a great degree of power on societies and cultures.

“Science is a methodology, a way of doing things.”

This also makes it an ideological construction – which is very much political in its nature.

In cases like we have in Hamilton of course scientists are going to be upset – both about the misuse of scientific information but also due to the choice (by politicians) not to follow what is seen to be the most rational route. That’s a direct challenge to the power that the cultural field of science wields! That’s a political challenge which has to be answered – and hence this (and many other) blog post!

“This is about making decisions based on evidence and the all round general notion that science helps us by informing our actions and improving the world.”

And here is the crux of it all – a straight out political call to action, a direct evoking of the power of the field of science. Don’t bemoan the politicisation of science, it’s always been a field which wields political power – if it hadn’t been it never would have gained any traction and the world would have never been changed in the multitude of ways that it has. Embrace the political nature of science, utilise it and revel in it, wear it like a set of ideological armour with pride. Please, though, please – don’t make claims of objectivity, of being divorced from the field of politics (or any other political field) just for the sake of advancing society, you’re (scientists) better than that.

[Okay firstly this polemic draws directly on Haraway before anyone goes to call me out on it – I’m proud of my influences. Secondly I really do like the original post – don’t take this as trying to undermine it, I’d prefer it to be thought of as a complimentary companion.]

Jackson James Wood June 13, 2013 - 12:17 pm

Thanks for that thoughtful comment, Scott.

SSmith June 18, 2013 - 5:02 pm

Oh, I’m glad someone else said that about the political side of science (and way better than I could have, coz I don’t get a lot of time on the interwebs so don’t have the luxury of drafting and crafting good comments).

On the topic at hand though, I had a giggle at the author’s exhortion to look at “facts”. In my very unscientific sample of 5 (me and my 4 brothers) the facts are that we did not drink fluoridated water as children and our dental health is excellent, we were poor so couldn’t afford sugary “treats” and ate lots of home-grown fruit and vege which probably helped, but we certainly didn’t need fluoride in our water.

David Winter June 13, 2013 - 4:15 pm

Nice piece Jackson,

The big question these sorts of debates throw up for me is: how can we, as Team Science, encourage folks to engage with a body of evidence rather than dipping into it in the hope of finding something that confirms their biases (a tendency that cuts across political boundaries, of course).

I’m not sure how we get there, but the goal of science communication ought to be heloing to create a society that values science, and sees it as a human endeavor. Just as you say, science is a method, one we had to invent in order to gather reliably information about the natural world. You can get on-board with that without having to remember ideal gas laws or was MsGren stands for (I have no idea on the last, by the way).

Posts like yours, that actually describe how scientists gather information and draw conclusions about the world, will hopefully go someway toward that goal. So well done, and thanks from another member of Team Science 🙂

Will Moore June 14, 2013 - 7:26 pm

Its an absolutely rubbish article.


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