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The Fluoride Wars: How a Modest Public Health Measure Became America's Longest Running Political Melodrama Hardcover – 29 Apr 2009

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"The authors have put an enormous effort into acquiring the data in this book and... it is a very interesting and stimulating read." ( Chromatographia, June 2010)

The authors should be commended for providing all of the facts of the controversy in one place. Their call for both sides to get together to study the health issues with reason and respect is also a worthwhile goal because, as they point out; perhaps then this long–standing and somewhat silly dispute could finally he laid to rest. (Chemical and Engineering News, September 2009)

From the Back Cover

A lively account of fluoridation and its discontents

Since its first implementation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945, public drinking water fluoridation and its attendant conflicts, controversies, and conspiracy theories serve as an object lesson in American science, public health, and policymaking. In addition to the arguments on the issue still raging today, the tale of fluoridation and its discontents also resonates with such present concerns as genetically modified foods, global warming response, nuclear power, and environmental regulation.

Offering the best current thinking on the issue, The Fluoride Wars presents a witty and detailed social history of the fluoridation debate in America, illuminating the intersection of science and politics in our recent past. This reader–friendly assessment explores the pro– and anti–fluoridation movements, key players, and important events. Full of amusing and vivid anecdotes and examples, this accessible recounting includes:

  • A careful and non–condescending look at the hard science, popular science, pseudo–science, and junk science involved

  • A look at fluoride issues including dosage, cost, financial and funding interests, fluorosis, and problems of risk–cost–benefit analysis

  • The back–and–forth drama between pro– and anti–fluoridation factions, with all its claims, counterclaims, insults, acrimony, and lawsuits

  • Case studies of various cities and their experiences with municipal water fluoridation initiatives

  • Fluorophobia and popular conspiracy theories involving fluoride

  • The colorful characters in the debate including activists, scientists, magicians, and politicians

A richly and considerately told tale of American science and public life, The Fluoride Wars offers an engrossing history to both interested general readers and specialists in public health, dentistry, policymaking, and related fields.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.5 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only objective view of the fluoride controversy I've found 19 April 2013
By Merilee D. Karr - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, by a couple of investigative reporters, covers all the claims of both sides. It awards points and demerits to both sides. And it's well written and accessible. Too bad it's hard to find, because it's published by Wiley, an academic and textbook publisher. It should be more widely available. It should be in the pocket and on the kitchen table of everyone who cares about the water they drink.
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fluoridation: the battles continue 29 Jan. 2011
By Brian Martin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The proposition seems straightforward: should fluoride be put in public water supplies in order to prevent tooth decay? Fluoridation was tested in the 1940s, endorsed by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1950, and implemented in the United States and many other countries in the following decades. But from the beginning, there was vociferous opposition.

The fluoridation debate was in full swing in the 1950s and continues today in much the same form, with the same sorts of claims and counter-claims. Scientifically, the debate has always been one-sided, with an overwhelming majority of dentists and doctors supporting fluoridation but with a significant minority of critics.

The remarkable persistence of the debate has attracted the attention of social analysts. Attempting to take a middle ground is a perilous enterprise, because the partisans on either side are likely to either adopt a contributor as an ally or attack him or her as an enemy.

Scientists R. Allan Freeze and Jay H. Lehr have boldly entered the fluoridation arena with The Fluoride Wars. Their ambitious aim is to provide a balanced social history of the U.S. controversy. They tackle the major issues in the debate, including arguments over benefits of fluoridation and alleged adverse health impacts such as allergies, cancer, and skeletal fluorosis. They give special attention to dental fluorosis, the staining of teeth due to excess fluoride, typically said by proponents to be of only cosmetic significance but seen by opponents as a sign of fluoride toxicity.

A major contribution of the book is its covering of key developments in recent decades, including the antifluoride position of scientists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the debate among proponents about whether there is too much fluoride in people's diets, the switch by a few proponents to become opponents, the discrediting of some antifluoride claims, and the support for fluoridation by U.S. courts.

Freeze and Lehr also address the social dynamics of the debate, looking at referenda and statewide implementation measures and commenting on explanations of forces driving the proponents and the opponents. All in all, this is the most comprehensive treatment of the debate available in the literature. It draws on key sources, scientific, sociological, and historical.

Several episodes are given detailed treatment, for example, the first trials in which fluoride was added to town water supplies in the 1940s. The historical detail is not a sustained narrative but more like an occasional highlight, with some irrelevant digressions, such as a lengthy account of the Jonestown massacre, included because it had a deep effect on a key legislative promoter of fluoridation in California.

Freeze and Lehr are sufficiently even-handed that their treatment will please neither side in the debate. The book, though, is not a purely dispassionate account because, as well as discussing the scientific and political issues, the authors want to pass judgment and, in doing so, they often shift from nonpartisan social description to summary judgment that can seem to sweep aside disagreement. In particular, they sum up the debate as if it were a matter only of science and of benefits versus costs. The book is more an assessment of arguments than a social history.

The Fluoride Wars is almost entirely about fluoridation in the United States. The authors mention the situation in other countries but do not pursue the implications of fluoridation outcomes elsewhere. They conclude that popular opposition to fluoridation in the United States is due to risk aversion in referenda, but this does not explain the near absence of fluoridation in Europe, where governments make the decisions.

Freeze and Lehr sometimes make sweeping references to proponents or opponents, attributing the views of a few to an entire movement. Their language is frequently flamboyant and occasionally dismissive, for example in referring to scientist opponents as "zealously committed" (p. 362)--and less commonly labeling proponent scientists in a similar way.

The Fluoride Wars concludes with an appeal for the two warring sides to sit down and talk. Although this suggestion almost certainly will be ignored, Freeze and Lehr have set an admirable example of measured analysis and stimulating writing.

Brian Martin
University of Wollongong, Australia
(This review appeared in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 84, 2010, pp. 314-315)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A healthy dose of actual science 8 May 2015
By Douglas A. Greenberg - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It is clear from the plethora of one-star reviews from denizens of Tin Foil Hat Land that the authors of this book did an effective job of assessing the actual health risks and benefits from fluoridation. The book carefully traces the history of this never ending debate over the alleged conspiracy to "sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids" through the addition of small amounts of fluoride to our drinking water. Contrary to the sometimes hysterical criticisms emanating from the one star crowd, the authors actually take the various anti-fluoridarion arguments seriously, subjecting them to careful scrutiny by reviewing the voluminous scientific literature devoted to the question of health risks from fluoridation. In the end, they actually conclude that there is danger, however small, that some people are ingesting larger amounts of fluoride than what is considered safe. Consequently, they recommend that the quantities of fluoride added to drinking water be reduced somewhat.

The book is clearly written and for the most part, entertainingly presented. It does an impressive job of reviewing the history of the politics of fluoridation, as well as the health science associated with the issue. It is by no means a screed against the anti-fluoridation movement. In fact, the authors bend over backwards to give the "anti" arguments their due. But in the end, an assessment of the fluoride controversy has to center on science, not on conspiracy theories or paranoid claims based on just enough knowledge to get it all wrong. Highly recommended.
20 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes It A Fair Fight 11 Jun. 2009
By Karen Bond - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Definitely an interesting read - a unique mix of social history and popular science. I learned more about fluoride than I thought there was to know! It's filled with lots of anecdotal stories and interesting historical tidbits, vignettes of the principal players on both sides for the fluoride discussion.

I didn't think that the book chose one side or another - and then I read the first reviews. Interestingly, some of the people who gave the book unfavorable reviews are all strong opposers of fluoride who's organizations and arguments are covered in the book.

It's an interesting conflict - covering the controversy of fluoridation (which I didn't realize was a controversy until I read this) - including the almost universal support from the medical-dental establishment, as well as the effective and street-smart strategies of a well-organized opposition.

Fluoride is a double-edged sword. The authors conclude that public water fluoridation, together with the advent of fluoridated toothpaste, are undoubtedly responsible for the precipitous drop in the incidence of childhood dental cavities. But they also join the call for reduced fluoride dosages in public supplies to protect against the threat of negative bone health impacts.

"The Flouride Wars" discusses the heated conflict between the pro-fluoride and anti-fluoride camps. Nothing makes this case more clearly than the first reviews posted on by some of the leaders of the antiflouridation movement in America.

It's definitely a "war" that makes for an interesting read. I don't want a book to make decisions for me, I want it to present both sides honestly. Open-minded readers will find balanced coverage of this long-standing controversy so they can make their own decisions.
5.0 out of 5 stars A candid presentation of opposition to a public health policy. 19 Oct. 2015
By Sri Ahimsa - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is an accurate and comprehensive presentation of the issues surrounding fluoridation of public drinking water in cities and towns. The authors, Freeze and Lehr, also discuss the misleading claims made by opponents of fluoridation and provide references for those who want to enhance their understanding or read the source material.

Known members of the pro tooth decay faction have given this book one star ratings. However, what the authors discovered in their research, especially the tactics, also apply to those to oppose vaccinations, global warming/climate change or any other science based issue.

I think it would be great reading for High School or College level science class students.
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