One of the more egregious claims I’ve recently seen made by the anti-fluoridation crusaders is that “fluoride science is ‘DDT science’ and ‘tobacco science’.” It might as well say “fluoride science is geocentric science” or “fluoride science is phlogiston science.” The fact that science was wrong before does not mean any science you disagree with is likely to be wrong now. This flexibility is an asset. Science is not just a body of knowledge but a way of thinking. There are no rigid dogmas or pronouncements from prophets in lab coats. All theories are provisional. The theory of evolution would be thrown out if someone found a Precambrian rabbit fossil.
Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, was first synthesized in 1874 but was not understood to be an insecticide until 1939, after which it was used to combat malaria during World War II. Following the war, DDT was widely used in agriculture as a way to kill pests. DDT was shown to be harmful to the environment through the efforts of marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring in 1962. Her work spawned the environmental movement and led to the creation of the EPA in 1970. DDT was banned in the US in 1972 but is still used, controversially, in some areas of the world in the fight against malaria and other diseases.
Many who oppose fluoride and conventional medicine do not seem to understand the idea of risk-benefit analysis. Nothing is 100% safe at all times in every circumstance; that’s just how the world is. DDT is very risky to the environment, particularly bird populations, with a benefit in fighting disease-carrying mosquito populations. This benefit is higher in area stricken by malaria where 1.2 million die every year. Safer, more effective mosquito-fighting measures should be developed as the use of DDT is phased out.
The era of “tobacco science” is a stain on medical history. For decades the tobacco lobby manufactured science supporting cigarette smoking and covered up contradictory evidence. It’s common knowledge now that smoking is demonstrably unhealthy and a major cause of cancer and other illnesses. Tobacco science was championed by big business and bought-off researchers. How did that knowledge become common? Through the tireless work of scientists who mounted evidence from the 1950s that smoking is linked to lung disease and that smoking leads to excessive mortality among doctors. Litigation aimed at the tobacco industry by individuals started in the 1950s but the ball really got rolling in the 1980s as the industry claimed “contributory negligence“. In the following decade, over 40 U.S. states began to sue tobacco companies; the lawsuits culminated in the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 which, “In addition to requiring the tobacco industry to pay the settling states approximately $10 billion annually for the indefinite future, the MSA also set standards for, and imposed restrictions on, the sale and marketing of cigarettes by participating cigarette manufacturers.”
The science supporting fluoride is over 100 years old and firmly supported by evidence that community water fluoridation is safe and effective. If you are against the fluoridation of water, you have to come up with reasons other than attacking the science and claiming that you have the secret truth that the establishment is too myopic to see.