According to John Timmer’s Bio, “John is Ars Technica’s science editor. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley. John has done over a decade’s worth of research in genetics and developmental biology at places like Cornell Medical College and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center” (1). This alone fails to impress, since John’s views on fluoridation are grossly simplistic and misleading (2). In light of this, we shall draw some inspiration from the words of Dr. Lawrence Krauss (3) and challenge John’s assertions on fluoridation, no matter how smart he may wish his readers to believe he is.
Rebuttal of Timmer’s Claims
“The treatment of drinking water with trace amounts of fluorine has a clear, positive effect in preventing tooth decay… The campaign against fluoridation put up a website that said (contrary to evidence) that fluoridation doesn’t actually work.”
Rebuttal of Claim #1
When the University of York, for instance, examined the evidence on water fluoridation, the research team were surprised by its general weakness. In their own words, “Given the level of interest surrounding the issue of public water fluoridation, it is surprising to find that little high quality research has been undertaken” (4). Three years later they reiterated, “We were unable to discover any reliable good-quality evidence in the fluoridation literature world-wide” (5). In 2007, an article appeared in the British Medical Journal, noting that “the [York] reviewers were surprised by the poor quality of the evidence and the uncertainty surrounding the beneficial and adverse effects of fluoridation” (6). Building on this acknowledgement, in 2012, a leading public health researcher from the University of Western Australia wrote in the journal Public Health Ethics, “It would appear that the effectiveness of artiﬁcial water ﬂuoridation in the 21st century is at best questionable” (7). Even the leading opponents of fluoridation have expressed surprise at the poor quality of the supposed “evidence” for the “benefits” of water fluoridation, and have accordingly offered public critiques to draw attention to this fact (8-9).
“It [the anti-FL campaign] also plays a bit on chemophobia, calling the treatment an “industrial byproduct” and focusing on the tiny amounts of trace contaminants that come with fluorine.”
Rebuttal of Claim #2
To cite the aforementioned Public Health Ethics paper, “The fluosilicic acid brands used in artificially fluoridating Australian water supplies are known to be contaminated with lead, arsenic and mercury—major public health hazards for which no safe level exists.” On these and other grounds the author concludes, “there is insufﬁcient ethical justiﬁcation for artiﬁcial water ﬂuoridation in Australia” (7). The Journal of Hazardous Materials confirms that this chemical is indeed a “waste material” of the phosphate fertiliser industry (10). In 2006, the National Research Council called for studies to determine “which fluoride chemicals can cause hypersensitivity” in certain individuals (11). Therefore, it is a scientifically-valid position that certain fluoridation chemicals may pose unique risks to human health.
“The evidence in favor of fluoridation’s benefits is so strong that the CDC has named it one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the past century.”
Rebuttal of Claim #3
“Not a day goes by without someone in the world citing the CDC’s statement that fluoridation is “One of the top ten public health achievements of the 20th Century” (CDC, 1999). Those that cite this probably have no idea how incredibly poor the analysis was that supported this statement. The report was not externally peer reviewed, was six years out of date on health studies and the graphical evidence it offered to support the effectiveness of fluoridation was laughable and easily refuted” (12). The fact is that the CDC’s Oral Health Division has no independent expert oversight enforced upon it, yet it has a huge stake in promoting water fluoridation (13).
Summary & Verdict
John Timmer proudly flaunts his scientific credentials, yet he withholds key information from his readers in an attempt to undermine the concerns expressed by opponents of fluoridation. He obviously requires a biochemistry lesson in fluoride toxicity (14).
Timmer should be vigorously challenged on his claims, and his tactics should be thoroughly exposed. His qualifications provide no legitimate defence for poor journalism.
(1) John Timmer Bio
(2) John Timmer Article, May 23, 2013
(3) “There is no one whose views are not subject to question”: a), b)
(4) York Review (2000), Executive Summary
(5) Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (2003)
(6) Cheng et al. (2007)
(7) Awofeso (2012)
(8) Connett (2012)
(9) Connett, Beck & Micklem (2010)
(10) Sarawade et al. (2010)
(11) NRC (2006)
(12) Clarifications on the CDC’s Oral Health Division
(13) OHD’s promotion of fluoridation
(14) Mullenix (2009)