Communicating risk for issues that involve ‘uncertainty bias’: what can the Israeli case of water fluoridation teach us?

Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, Yaffa Shir-Raz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water fluoridation is a controversial issue in public health. Despite the uncertainty regarding its efficacy and safety, health officials continue to communicate it as ‘unequivocally’ safe and effective. Our focus is on how health officials and policy-makers in Israel frame the issue of water fluoridation in terms of certainty while promoting a mandatory fluoridation policy. According to van Asselt and Vos, the uncertainty paradox describes situations in which uncertainty is acknowledged, but the role of science is framed as providing certainty. Our study is an analysis of documents and media articles emphasizing the paradoxical language used by official representatives on the controversial topic of fluoridation. A central contribution of this study is that we coin the term ‘uncertainty bias,’ in which policy-makers do exactly what they accuse laypeople of doing, framing uncertainty in biased terms. We found that in order to establish mandatory regulation, health ministry officials expressed information in an unbalanced format, promoting the topic of fluoridation by framing it in exclusively positive terms. This study does not focus on the practice of water fluoridation per se, and is not intended to decide for or against it, but rather, to explore how the debate regarding it is communicated. Understanding this particular case can shed light on how other controversial topics are transformed into health policy that is characterized in equivocal terms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-416
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • framing by policy-makers
  • risk communication
  • uncertainty bias
  • water fluoridation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • General Social Sciences
  • General Engineering
  • Strategy and Management


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