Defending Rachel Carson

by John Quiggin on September 22, 2007

One of the stranger efforts of the political right over the last decade has been the effort to paint Rachel Carson as a mass murderer, on the basis of bogus claims conflating the US ban on non-public health uses of DDT with a non-existent ban on the use of DDT for indoor spraying against malarial mosquitoes. Starting from the lunatic fringe of the LaRouche movement and promoted primarily by current and retired hacks for the tobacco industry, this claim has become received wisdom throughout the US Republican party and its offshoots, and has deceived quite a few people, including writers for the NY Times. Although this nonsense has been comprehensively demolished by bloggers, most notably Tim Lambert, article-length refutations are desperately needed. Now Aaron Swartz has a piece published in Extra!. It’s great to see this but, as the global warming debate has shown, one refutation is never enough in resisting the Republican War on Science.

{ 80 comments }

1

bad Jim 09.22.07 at 8:47 am

Bill Moyers ceded his Friday night program tonight to the story of Rachel Carson, as dramatized by the actress Kaiulani Lee.

Carson, single-handedly, effected a sea change in the public perception of the desirability of “better living through chemistry”.

Hey farmer farmer
Put away that DDT now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Please!

Pelican populations were in catastrophic decline soon after her book was published. Would we even have them around now if she hadn’t spoken up? For that matter, how much longer are they, or we, going to be around, given how badly we’re mangling things now?

The show tangentially touched on the concept of the special position of humans – thus, with a puff of chemicals we eradicate insects! – and probably didn’t have to remind its savvy viewers that our wellbeing is closely bound to that of bees.

2

Paul 09.22.07 at 1:05 pm

Um, sorry. This story is more than just a LaRouche fantasy. It was, at least when I took a public health course at the graduate level in the 1990s, pretty much received wisdom.

Of course, not in the form it has mutated into. And Swartz is correct to point out that DDT would be essentially worthless today. But there is (or was) a widespread belief that a concerted eradication campaign (a al smallpox) would have been effective during the window period between DDT’s introduction and the development of immunity to the pesticide in the mosquito population, but that this was not attempted (at the same levels as the smallpox campaign) because of concerns about DDT’s impact on the environment.

3

Zeno 09.22.07 at 1:15 pm

The religious right is in lock-step with the political right in treating Rachel Carson as a mass murderer. That business about bearing false witness apparently does not apply to them. [Link]

4

John Emerson 09.22.07 at 1:38 pm

I will have nothing to say until Slocum and Holsclaw show up.

5

dsquared 09.22.07 at 2:23 pm

Zeno – actually the religious right has at least some reason for being DDT nutters, since in a world without evolution (and therefore without resistant insects) there would be a lot less reason for a ban on agricultural use of DDT. It’s DDT nuttery from people who are not also creationists which is totally incomprehensible.

6

Barry 09.22.07 at 2:51 pm

“I will have nothing to say until Slocum and Holsclaw show up.”
Posted by John Emerson

Now you’ve gone and hurt Brett Bellmore’s feelings.

and what of Tim Worstall?

7

K. Jackson 09.22.07 at 3:03 pm

I have to say this sentence seems a bit peculiar:

“There are numerous other techniques for dealing with malaria: alternative insecticides, bed nets and a combination of drugs called artemisinin-based combination therapy, or ACT. ACT actually kills the malaria parasite fast, allowing the patient a quick recovery, and has a success rate of 95 percent.”

Saying ACT is a substitute for DDT makes no sense. The point of spraying (or of nets) is to keep people from getting malaria in the first place — ACT can only help people after they get sick. It seems a little harsh to tell people, “Well, we don’t need to spray, because if you get malaria, we’ll be able to cure you.”

8

Paul 09.22.07 at 3:14 pm

(patiently awaiting “moderation”)

Look, I’m not arguing that it’s fair to compare Rachel Carson with, say, Pol Pot. And arguments can certainly be made that, in balance, an attempt at species eradication via DDT in the 1950s would have been a net bad thing. See, for example, “this article.”:http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:AVdQrwkUQNEJ:www.bard.edu/bgia/journal/vol5/21-28.pdf+mosquito+eradication&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us

All I am saying is that it is legitimate to question the decision not to attempt world-wide species eradication when we were in a position to try it, and reasonable people think that this was a mistake that has had significant negative consequences in terms of human morbidity and mortality. And by “reasonable people,” I do not mean Micheal Crichton. See, e.g., “here.”:http://www.gladwell.com/2001/2001_07_02_a_ddt.htm

9

Soullite 09.22.07 at 5:05 pm

The most hilarious thing about this is how much it reminds me of the right’s endless attempts to whitewash Nixon and McCarthy.

They just don’t seem to get that the opinion are more or less set in stone. To the general public DDT= Evil. This isn’t going to change. Neither will the similar impression most Americans have of Nixon or McCarthy. It just makes them look crazy to make the attempt.

10

engels 09.22.07 at 5:26 pm

It’s not just the loony right though, is it? The linked article refers to features in the New York Times

11

John Quiggin 09.22.07 at 8:18 pm

Indeed, engels, this idea really has escaped into the wild. As I said, its now entirely orthodox in the Republican party and liable to influence anyone who doesn’t start from the presumption that anything said by a Republican should not be believed. I’ve edited the post a bit to incorporate your point.

Paul, it’s possible that a better strategy in the 1950s could have been more successful. But
(1) Obviously Rachel Carson’s 1962 book couldn’t have had much effect on this – it didn’t affect US policy until the 1970s, by which time the WHO had already abandoned the goal of eradication, mainly because of the resistance problem
(2) Any sensible strategy would have included a ban on agricultural and other general use, since that just promotes resistance. That was what Carson achieved and what the campaign against her complains about

12

Paul 09.22.07 at 9:01 pm

John,

Obviously, the timing indicates that it is a little silly to place all of whatever blame there may be on Rachel Carson’s shoulders. However:

(a) What I have read suggests that the abandonment of eradication as a goal happened beginning in the 1950s and was driven in large part, initially, by concerns about the impact of DDT on the environment. Many people have argued that this was a tragic misstep.

(b) I’m not so sure that a ban on agricultural use in the regions of widespread agricultural use would have been especially important in the regions where eradication efforts would have focused.

(c) I’m also not so sure that eradication was a lost cause as early as 1962 because of resistance.

13

terence 09.22.07 at 10:35 pm

Paul,

The other question you might want to consider is how much was the global malaria eradication programme impacted by the cessation of use in developed countries? DDT was never banned in the developing world and continued to be used in most countries with large-scale malaria problems where resistance wasn’t already an issue.

This would appear to suggest that real the reason why malaria wasn’t eradicated had little to do with Rachel Carson (who you have graciously admitted couldn’t time travel) and more to do with:

a) Resistance
b) Institutional constraints in developing countries which hindered the type of large-scale spraying programmes that would have been required for the illness to be eliminated.
c) Geography: outside of urban environments malaria (as far as I can tell) has only been eliminated in regions that formed the edge of vectors’ range. It is possible that the task of eliminating the illness in the tropics may have been much harder all together*.

__________________________________
* Given the relationship between geography and institutional quality it is, of course, hard to disentangle a) and c)

14

roger 09.23.07 at 3:46 am

Paul, the book Gladwell references (and that you reference by referencing Gladwell) is pretty clear on the reasons that Soper’s project failed. The failure was not only resistance, but the fact that it was impossible to create the kind of phasing in and out of DDT use that might have ameliorated resistance, if that was possible. Even during the golden time of the mosquito eradication program, Soper couldn’t do it – hence the failures in Corsica and Greece. The funny thing about the Carson farce is that Reason, that pseudo-libertarian mag, long ago joined the witchhunt, even though Soper’s entire project was a great example of the failure of central government planning in the face of nature. And, in fact, the original DDT resistance came from property owners sick and tired of the government spraying their property. But in pseudo-libertaria, government is only bad if it operates to countervail corporate power. If corporate power and the government are joined about some project, the pseudo-libs are all for it – especially if it is nastily coercive.

15

SG 09.23.07 at 4:14 am

Paul, where did you do your public health degree? I’ve never encountered support for this critique of Carson in public health faculties or the public health literature.

16

roy belmont 09.23.07 at 5:02 am

Is it really just a “War on Science”?
The nuts and bolts of the specific instances aside it makes strategic sense to place Carson’s advocacy of birds and bees against the saving of human lives, because this is the larger and more fundamental issue. Nice that they’re wrong on the facts, but it isn’t about facts really is it? It’s about attitudes, and survival.
Humble coevolution v. arrogant dominion. Willing submission to the harrow and cull of the natural world v. complete world dominance by super-rational manly men. The touchie-feelie tree-hugger contingent v. the champions of human chauvinism.
Just letting them frame the debate this way means the more vital questions never get asked, let alone answered. Lomborg and Crichton et al’s bizarre yawping about global warming is right out of that same bag.
It’s driven by a hatred of the natural world by creatures who are constantly reminded that they do not fit there, cannot fit there without wrecking everything beautiful and worthwhile about life on earth.
It preys on our inability to admit that saving human lives isn’t always the ultimate good. No one can take that stance, even now, without entering a cesspool of degraded sentimentality and moral confusion.
Arguing about the efficacy of specific tools and solutions, while important, obscures the more essential conflict, which is with the attitude that’s behind them. The nightmarish arrogance that laid waste to so much of the non-human life that Carson defended is still in play.

17

Tim Lambert 09.23.07 at 11:32 am

paul, can you provide cites for books that say that eradication was abandoned because of environmentalist opposition. Nothing that I’ve read from any reputable source says this. I’ve posted some extracts from several sources here, so you can see what malaria text books and history books say.

18

Paul 09.23.07 at 11:36 am

sg,

As previously stated, my point was not to support the critique of Carson, but to point out that the abandonment of malaria eradication is a contentious issue in the public health field, not just some moonbat nonsense dreamed up by Lyndon LaRouche.

I don’t have a public health degree, my degree is in history.

19

Barry 09.23.07 at 12:08 pm

Paul, the points being raise by others are that ‘the abandonment of malaria eradication is a contentious issue in the public health field,’ is a lie. It’s not contentious in the sciences at all. It’s a classical junk science issue largely generated by a deliberate junk science campaign. Tim Lambert has loads of stuff on his blog; just search for ‘DDT’.

Also, no respectable person who knows their *ss from a hole in the ground on this topic believes it. The only ones who do are either stone ignorant and don’t know it, stone ignorant and proud of it, or deliberate liars.

20

Paul 09.23.07 at 1:25 pm

barry,

Thank you for that insightful critique.

You know what? I don’t disagree with Tim Lambert. I don’t even know who the h*ll he is. I don’t disagree that the issue of mosquito eradication has been misused in propagandistic ways by people like Michael Crichton.

However, I do believe, based on things I heard in a class that I took over a decade ago, that there was a period of time when we could have engaged in a concerted world-wide mosquito eradication effort that had a chance of making a significant impact, that the window period may have extended into the 1960s, and that the decision not to pursue eradication was taken in part because of (in some ways very legitimate) environmental concerns. I may be wrong. Maybe my professor was wrong. I may have not been paying close enough attention to what we were talking about in class that day. I may, actually, just be a stupid person. In any event, I don’t pretend to be a public health expert. But calling me and *sshole and a liar is not likely to change my mind, nor does it reflect very well on your character, barry.

You know what? I’m sick of the internet. I’m sick of people acting like you, I’m sick of the echo chamber, and I’m sick of the pointless point scoring that substitutes for debate and discussion in pretty much every forum I visit.

21

Hidari 09.23.07 at 1:28 pm

‘Indeed, engels, this idea really has escaped into the wild’.

This is true. I was happily reading Derren Brown’s latest book ‘Tricks of the Mind’ and thoroughly enjoying his savage attacks on ‘astrologers’, ‘psychics’, ‘mediums’ and so forth, when he suddenly changes tack and assures us that (yes!) Rachel Carson was responsible for millions of deaths, that the ‘environmental lobby’ has a choke hold on the British govt…and so on.

22

Paul 09.23.07 at 1:34 pm

Tim,

No, I can’t. Because (a) I am not here pretending to be an expert on this subject, and (b) I never actually said that eradication was abandoned because of “environmentalist opposition.”

23

Paul 09.23.07 at 1:55 pm

Actually, though, you might take a look at the first article that I link to, above.

24

Paul 09.23.07 at 1:59 pm

Which, BTW, I am not presenting as evidence of “environmentalist opposition,” but rather just to show that there were environmental concerns about spraying tons of pesticide around, even in the 1940s.

25

Tim Lambert 09.23.07 at 3:29 pm

paul, your first link demonstrates why mosquito (as opposed to malaria) eradication was not tried — it didn’t work.

26

Paul 09.23.07 at 3:36 pm

Tim,

I would be happy to talk to you about this in more detail off thread. I sent you an email with my address.

For here, suffice to say that I think your reading of the article is a little off. But if you’re larger point is that a serious case can be made that eradication was never possible, I certainly agree with you.

27

Eli Rabett 09.23.07 at 3:52 pm

#&/k. jackson: ACT wipes out the parasite in an important reservoir species, people, thus it helps break the cycle and is part of a malaria control effort.

28

Eli Rabett 09.23.07 at 4:14 pm

I think Aaron was not precise enough in asking Bate about how AFM was funded.

29

Barry 09.23.07 at 4:28 pm

Paul, I’m surprised; my response was quite mild. I didn’t insult you, just your sources. As for Tim Lambert, go read his blog – there’s a section on DDT. It has links to academic research papers, not ‘something I remember from a class a long time ago’, and not things from CEI/La Rouche, etc.

You claim outrage, but you don’t seem to care enough to refrain from repeating corporate lies.

30

Paul 09.23.07 at 4:59 pm

Barry,

I am outraged because you are unable to have a discussion with someone that disagrees with you on this without accusing them of being a stupid *sshole and a shill for corporate interests. Based solely on the fact that I failed to fall directly and instantaneously in line with a view that you derived from a website that, like, links to actual academic articles. Which you simply direct me to simply read for myself, as if further discussion of the actual subject with someone as stupid as I am is beneath you.

I refuse to discuss this with you further, so feel free to have the last word about how I am hiding my ignorance behind false umbrage. But, for the record, and for the last time, I am not saying what you appear to think I am saying. Goodbye.

31

dsquared 09.23.07 at 5:31 pm

Readers will be glad to know that we have installed one of those spring dampers on the door at Crooked Timber, so there is no longer a health and safety risk posed by the danger of it hitting anyone on the ass on their way out.

32

Paul 09.23.07 at 5:38 pm

Do you guys actually think that I’m a troll or a shill, and that you have achieved some kind of victory by alienating me? Does the top poster think that this is a legitimate way for people to behave on his comment thread?

33

SG 09.23.07 at 5:47 pm

Paul, which public health dept. was your course in? that’s all I want to know?

dsquared, is the door on crooked timber one of those saloon-type doors you can swagger through toting six-shooters, that swings back? Or more of a dungeon-style iron door with braces? Or is it an artful wooden door like you see in the more ivy-league universities? I’m intrigued!

34

Paul 09.23.07 at 6:00 pm

Why is it so important?

Look, I don’t want to make a public representation about what some specific person said in a course that I took over a decade ago. It was a real school, and my professor was not a shill for the tobacco companies.

35

James 09.23.07 at 6:58 pm

Paul,

Its not worth your time. This post is so that people who already see Rachel Carson as something of an icon can feel good about her.

In the past I have posted on this subject on this site. I pointed out the scientific faults in her book, the miss representation of data, the fact that various international orginazations currently want to use DDT, that fact that a ban in donor countries effectively cut use of it in poor countries. The responses where less than polite. It is somewhat to be expected that when you tell someone something they dont want to believe, they will turn to insults if they can not disprove it.

36

Paul 09.23.07 at 7:03 pm

James,

Agreed about the tone of discussion here. I have no idea whether you’re right about the other things that you say.

37

Donald Johnson 09.23.07 at 7:13 pm

Links, James, links. Not that I’m any better at providing them, but when you come into a thread and claim victory over the natives, it adds to the fun if you provide evidence.

Speaking of lack of evidence, I’ve pretty much solved all remaining problems in quantum gravity and successfully created life in my refrigerator (or would, if my wife didn’t keep cleaning the damn thing.)

Paul, I have a little bit of sympathy for you–the internet does suck at times and I’ve been the target of snark at other blogs when I said something that didn’t fit the prevailing wisdom (as when i recently criticized the Democrats from the left, and some people thought I must be a Republican.) But you can’t be overly sensitive if you’re going to do anything more than lurk. Prepare to be misunderstood sometimes.

38

Barry 09.23.07 at 7:23 pm

Not only that, but just in case you didn’t notice, Paul (since you seem to have trouble understanding what I said), the article which started this thread was about a campaing of lies and fraud. When you come in and use an anecdote from some class that you recall taking years ago, well, people don’t start with excessive respect.

39

Paul 09.23.07 at 7:32 pm

Donald,

I appreciate the remark but, respectfully, I disagree. If they have a right to be jerks, I have a right to be overly sensitive about it.

I kid. But seriously, I’m disturbed by the tendency all over the internet to label people as friend or foe and immediately go after them. It’s more than just thin skin on my part. There’s a real problem here.

40

Harald Korneliussen 09.23.07 at 8:28 pm

paul: “I do believe, […] that the decision not to pursue eradication was taken in part because of […] environmental concerns.”

Also paul: “I never actually said that eradication was abandoned because of “environmentalist opposition.””

From a purely literal perspective, your second statement holds. But do you see the tension?
You’re still coming with a very serious accusation against environmentalists, and you can’t back it up as far as I can see. It’s also quite unreasonable, since as has been pointed out “Silent spring” came too late to influence these decisions – and it’s generally recognized as the start of the popular environmental movement.

Is it reasonable to suggest that what little environmental movement existed before Rachel Carson was so powerful that it could stop disease eradication efforts in their tracks? (disease eradication, by the way, had strong popular support)

Also, at least at least one very qualified blogger does not seem to agree that eradication with DDT could ever have worked.

41

Paul 09.23.07 at 9:17 pm

Harold,

I think it’s an important distinction, but I do see the tension you identify. However, my point is that I never intended an accusation against Rachel Carson. All I said in my original post was that I had heard from people that I considered reputable that the decision to stop pursuing eradication was a mistake motivated in part by environmental concerns, and that this made me suspect that there was more grey here than people are crediting.

I did not and do not consider that to be a “serious allegation” that I needed to back up in some sort of twisted court proceeding, so I am not going to engage you with links and evidence and refutations and counter-refutations. I get enough of that in my day job as a lawyer, and again, I’m not an expert in this field.

To be honest, I really am sorry that I can’t identify the authority that said what I think he said, and in retrospect I probably should not have said anything for that reason. If I had known that I would be expected to qualify him as an expert I would have refrained from saying anything.

As far as the “qualified blogger” is concerned, I never argued that eradication with DDT could ever have worked. I personally have no idea. I also have no idea, personally, whether your blogger actually is a PhD in Entomology, nor could I speak with confidence as to her qualification to address the topic at hand as an expert, because that degree does not in itself qualify her as an expert on the issue presented here, and her CV is not on her site.

42

leederick 09.23.07 at 9:47 pm

Paul, don’t take it badly. This thread is an excuse for hatefest against John’s political opponents. It’s not actually meant to be a serious discussion of anything. The modus operandi is to identify the most extreme expression of an particular view, rubbish an easy target and then declare victory. I’m sure there’s some rightwinger somewhere writing a parallel post about how environmentalists are lunatics and hate science because the most extreme claims made about DDT being pure evil in liquid form don’t add up.

There’s a perfectly reasonable case to be made that environmental campaigning has damaged our ability to use DDT for public health purposes, but this thread was never meant to be a discussion of that.

43

George 09.24.07 at 2:13 am

The swiftboating of Rachel Carson, one of the bravest women this country has ever produced, will no doubt continue. Why? Because Carson isn’t going away anytime soon. People are inspired by her example. They name schools and bridges after her. He words will live for generations. Her integrity is a beacon of hope in a cultured depraved by greed. Her words will live on for anyone who is sick and tired of the ever-replenished crowd of sociopaths who are willing to destroy the environment for a buck.

The hate that is directed against her only strengthens those who would follow her example.

44

Russell L. Carter 09.24.07 at 2:44 am

“All I said in my original post was that I had heard from people that I considered reputable…”

You are, in the face of overwhelming evidence holding to this as a truth claim. It is not. As long as you hold to it, you’re a moron, a corporate shill, or worse. You do like sitting in the seat here though, and there are many watching, just to see if the (moron, corporate shill, or worse) monkey will do something new. So far, nope.

45

Georgiana 09.24.07 at 2:50 am

For the less perceptive readers, I will repeat what others have said: DDT usage is permissible in case of a malarial outbreak in the United States. In other words, the ban is not absolute, but contingent. Further, the US ban does not extend beyond its borders, although I do recognize that its policies influence the availability of choices to other regions. Thirdly, mosquitoes are a vector for malaria; they themselves are not the disease, which has several variants.

Fourth, for those still counting, as evolutionary theory predicts, exposure to a remedy (DDT) tends to breed resistance. Oh, and yes, agricultural use of DDT probably was the prime way mosquitoes were exposed to and then evolved resistance to DDT. Had we only used DDT for malarial purposes, perhaps it might have had a longer period of efficacy before mosquitoes developed resistance. But of course, that does ruin the case against Carson.

If people wish to fault Carson for poor science based on critiques of her books, well, have at. Not just fair play but justified.

However, none of the couter arguments have presented that reasonable argument, nor weighed in on the damage caused by DDT versus the benefit. If we’ve eradicated malaria in the states, and we seem to have, what is the benefit to DDT, given its risks?

If one is looking at another continent, the balance may well be different. But Carson wasn’t writing about the Mediterranean, or parts of Asia or Africa, was she?

46

Matt Weiner 09.24.07 at 2:58 am

The modus operandi is to identify the most extreme expression of an particular view, rubbish an easy target and then declare victory.

Check out the links in Aaron Swartz’s piece. Extravagant pro-DDT arguments aren’t restricted to marginal venues. John Tierney in the New York Times: “The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they’ve had to fight against Ms. Carson’s disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome ‘dirty dozen.’”

There’s a perfectly reasonable case to be made that environmental campaigning has damaged our ability to use DDT for public health purposes

Then you should be making the case, or pointing us to somewhere that it’s made. Because the views that John attacks are certainly out there.

47

Sage Ross 09.24.07 at 3:41 am

I heard a lecture last Monday by historian/public health researcher Randall Packard, on the history of malaria programs. Several points he made are relevant to this discussion (to the best of my memory):

The countries that achieved malaria eradication, outside developed nations, were exclusively a) islands and b) socialist-controlled nations.

As Packard told it, the failure to use DDT to its full potential in the 1950s was mainly because of of a lack of political will and/or economic willingness, on the part of the West, to commit the level of aid that would have been necessary to institute full spraying programs. The original UN program was undersupported, and subsequently the UN structure has broken into separate agencies to deal with health and development, so that the biggest problem is simultaneously reducing malaria and creating a strong enough infrastructure to maintain malaria control programs to keep the anti-malaria advances from reversing.

Incidentally, I’ve been working on the Rachel Carson article on Wikipedia for the last few months, and it’s going through a final round of critiques before hopefully becoming a Featured Article (someday to be featured on the Main Page). I invite anyone interested to help polish the prose and point out any problems you find.

48

J F Beck 09.24.07 at 11:07 am

Tim Lambert writes: “paul, can you provide cites for books that say that eradication was abandoned because of environmentalist opposition. Nothing that I’ve read from any reputable source says this.”

Opposition from environmentalists certainly played a part in the failure of the eradication effort. Here’s an excerpt from Gordon Harrison’s Mosquitoes, malaria, and man: A history of the hostilities since 1880:

“No error was more egregious in practice than the premature establishment of islands of surveillance surrounded by areas under attack, or conversely the tolerance within large consolidation areas of considerable enclaves without natural boundaries where transmission persisted. The error came in part from the genuine difficulty of deciding just how large a defensible consolidation zone had to be, but in greater part from the manifold political and economic pressures to get off the DDT wherever it seemed even marginally possible. The result was a gerrymandered patchwork of defense zones whose frontiers were certain to be regularly and even massively reinvaded.”

There’s also this from Robert S. Desowitz’s The Malaria Capers: More Tales of Parasites and People, Research and Reality (page 214):

“Human resistance was also developing. Led by the Silent Springers, there developed a revulsion to all things chemically insecticidal. It was not recognized that DDT used for medical purposes never killed an osprey.”

Lambert is, of course, a denier of the de facto DDT ban, here described by Environmental Defense’s Dr John Balbus:

“As the organization that led the successful campaign to ban use of DDT in the United States in the early 1970’s, we have read with concern recent reports that US AID is unwilling to consider even limited use of DDT in anti-malaria programs in developing countries. According to the New York Times Magazine, you recently stated that part of the reason US AID “doesn’t finance DDT is that doing so would require a battle for public opinion. ‘You’d have to explain to everybody why this is really O.K. and safe every time you do it.’ ”

The wider ban was recently acknowledged by The Global Malaria Programme’s Arata Kochi:

“Nearly one year ago, I was asked to take charge of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Programme. I knew the job would be a challenge. Little progress was being made in controlling malaria, even though WHO had declared – way back in 1998 – that rolling back malaria would be one of its greatest priorities.

“I asked my staff; I asked malaria experts around the world: “Are we using every possible weapon to fight this disease?” It became apparent that we were not. One powerful weapon against malaria was not being deployed. In a battle to save the lives of nearly one million children ever year – most of them in Africa – the world was reluctant to spray the inside of houses and huts with insecticides; especially with a highly effective insecticide known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or ‘DDT’.

“Even though indoor spraying with DDT and other insecticides had been remarkably effective preventing malaria sickness and death where used, this strategy seemed to have been abandoned by most countries nearly 30 years ago. By the early 1980s, WHO was no longer actively promoting it.

“Some people told me that there was a good reason why its wide scale use had been phased out. I was told the practice was unsafe for humans, birds, fish and wildlife; that the use of DDT in the United States in the 1950s had led to the near extinction of the bald eagle. I was told that indoor spraying with DDT was “politically unpopular.”

The linked Aaron Swartz artcile is misleading light-weight crap, with the first significant factual error coming in the second paragraph: Carson quit the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1952, not the 1940s. This is hardly surprising since Swartz’s article looks to have been assembled largely through research in Lambert’s archive of misleading DDT rubbish. Lambert is not a reliable source of information on DDT’s use in the fight against malaria. Neither, for that matter, is Quiggin.

49

Paul 09.24.07 at 12:06 pm

Russell,

I am, in the face of some links to blog posts written by non-experts with transparent ideological agendas, making a simple assertion about my personal experience and why it has led me to believe what I believe. I have repeatedly disavowed any truth claims, because, in addition to not being an expert, I do not wish to be drawn into a battle of authorities in an unmoderated forum populated by people who think that calling me a moron is a legitimate rhetorical move.

Let me put it in the form of a parable. Ever had an argument with a tax protester? It goes like this.

Me: Hi.
TP: Is labor property?
[note: TP intends to argue that wages are the proceeds of a basis-value sale of services that generates no taxable income]
Me: What are you talking about? In what context?
TP: Answer the question.
Me: Um…No? Yes?
TP: The Supreme Court says it is.
[TP take a dog-eared sheaf of photocopies from old reporters out of his back pocket.]
Me: I think I know where this is going…
TP: See, in this case, the Supreme Court said…
Me: That’s not a tax case. If you’re trying to make an argument about the tax code…
TP: I’m talking about whether labor is property. We’ll get to the tax code in a minute.
Me: That’s not how it works.
TP: Who says? You? Show me some cases.
Me: Sigh…
[Me goes to computer and comes back with a neat stack of district court opinions]
Me: Here are 18 opinions rejecting the labor is property argument.
TP: Those are wrong.
Me: Huh?
TP: Besides, they’re district court opinions. Mine are supreme court opinions.
Me: Your argument is based on a misreading of dicta in some opinions that mostly predate the tax code entirely.
TP: But it’s about basic principles. Look…
Me: The ink was literally still dry on the Sixteenth Amendment when that came down. Besides, it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
TP: It means what it says, doesn’t it?
Me: Eighteen district courts staffed by federal marshals with guns disagree with you and agree with me.
TP: That’s the best you can come up with, lawyer boy? Prove to me I’m wrong about these cases.
Me: No.

Note that this is what happens in these kinds of discussion in fields where I am qualified to have an opinion. Why would I want to play this game in a field where I am, as I have repeatedly stated, not qualified to have an authoritative opinion?

50

Marc 09.24.07 at 12:14 pm

J F Beck would, presumably, like to live in world where malaria is completely drug-resistent and we had no living birds of prey. I refer readers to

http://timlambert.org/2005/02/malaria

The full quotes, presented in that link, make it clear that malaria suppression efforts failed for a variety of reasons. And lack of enthusiasm for mass pesticide spraying was not a dispositive factor. These things have been pointed out to Mr. Beck, repeatedly, and yet he continues to post the same stuff across the internet. Perhaps on the theory that repeating things enough times will make them true. This is creationist logic.

There has, historically, been no intrinsic conflict between political conservatism and science. This is no longer true, and I think that conservatives will end up regretting it. Science does have a reasonable track record of describing the world around us.

51

Paul 09.24.07 at 12:19 pm

Georgiana,

Actually, the first article that I linked to above (which I selected based solely on the fact that it was on the first page of the google results for “malaria eradication,” so please don’t think I’m tendering it as a definitive authority) has some interesting things to say about the DDT risks v. benefits.

52

J F Beck 09.24.07 at 1:55 pm

marc,

Lambert asked for citations so I provided two. I did not blame environmentalists for the failure of the eradication effort, noting that their opposition merely “played a part in the failure of the eradication effort”.

Now I’m not surprised that you’re confused about what I wrote because you’re in way over your head in this discussion — drug resistant malaria and DDT resistant mosquitoes are two separate topics. And anyway, whereas I support indoor residual spraying with DDT where appropriate, I do not support the broadcast use of DDT.

Lambert’s DDT posts are mostly propagandistic bullshit while mine are factually correct. Prove me wrong.

53

engels 09.24.07 at 2:02 pm

Shorter Paul: Ladies and Gentlemen of this supposed Jury, this is Chewbacca.

54

Paul 09.24.07 at 2:07 pm

Marc:

“J F Beck would, presumably, like to live in world where malaria is completely drug-resistent and we had no living birds of prey.”

Burn, straw man, burn.

“I refer readers to

http://timlambert.org/2005/02/malaria

…which contains a couple of clippings from books on the subject collected by someone with a computer science degree, and no original research.

“The full quotes, presented in that link, make it clear that malaria suppression efforts failed for a variety of reasons. And lack of enthusiasm for mass pesticide spraying was not a dispositive factor.”

Please show me where, in the quoted material, it says anything like what you are saying. Also, please explain the specific basis for your conclusion that “lack of enthusiasm for mass pesticide spraying was not a dispositive factor. Feel free to use “science.”

55

eudoxis 09.24.07 at 2:31 pm

Swartz needs to be consistent in his argument. It’s inconsistent to claim that the serious consequences of increasing DDT are adverse health and environmental effects, while insisting that decreased use was mainly due to vector resistance.

Swartz states: “DDT use has decreased enormously, but not because of a ban. The real reason is simple, although not one conservatives are particularly fond of: evolution. Mosquito populations rapidly develop resistance to DDT, creating enzymes to detoxify it, modifying their nervous systems to avoid its effects, and avoiding areas where DDT is sprayed — and recent research finds that that resistance continues to spread even after DDT spraying has stopped, lowering the effectiveness not only of DDT but also other pesticides (Current Biology, 8/9/05).”

Swartz is wrong. Severe restrictions led to a massive reduction in DDT use and the original reasons for the controls were because the “characteristics of DDT to persist, especially in temperate climates, and to biomagnify in the food chain, led to significant reproductive effects in birds such as the brown pelican, osprey and eagles, because of egg shell thinning. These features combined with exposure and accumulation of residues in humans, and the potential oncogenicity of DDT also contributed to health concerns.(…)” See the 1991 FAO/UNEP Decision Guidance document on DDT.

Swartz states in the same paragraph that mosquitos develop resistance to DDT “creating enzymes to detoxify it, modifying their nervous systems to avoid its effects, and avoiding areas where DDT is sprayed.” The latter is a benefit and such a deterrent effect is considered an important method of action for many insecticides.

Swartz claims, in the same paragraph, that “recent research finds that that resistance continues to spread even after DDT spraying has stopped” and references a Current Biology issue without article or author. The only reference to DDT in that issue is one regarding resistance in fruit flies. Fruit flies are not vectors for malaria.

Swartz needs to be honest.

DDT was restricted for sound environmental and health concerns. Those concerns are still sound today.

Resistance is a side effect of all insecticides, DDT is not a special case. Resistance of mosquitos to various insectides is patchy accross the globe. There are pockets of high DDT resistance, just as with pyrethroids or any of the other commonly used insecticides. There are also pockets of sensitivity to DDT. Resistance does not, necessarily, spread or persist without selection pressure.

Malaria morbidity and mortality are due to a combination of vector and treatment control shortcomings. Among the reasons for those are resistance to insecticides, resistance to treatments, poor funding and management of eradication and treatment programs, and lack of efficacy of any one chemical.

Restrictions on the use of DDT, and the role Rachel Carson played in that, can’t be directly tied to rising malaria cases because resistance is one of the main reasons vector mosquitoes increased.

DDT and other insecticides have their place in judicious rotational and limited use scenarios.

56

George 09.24.07 at 3:04 pm

Rachel Carson lives every time this kind of story (in today’s N.Y. Times) comes out:

Recently, while working for a developer, I discovered that topsoil on a proposed southeastern Connecticut subdivision, an apple orchard until 1990, contained up to 2,000 parts per billion of dieldrin, more than 50 times the safe level of 38. In a subdivision project in a neighboring town, which had been an ornamental shrub nursery, the topsoil had 270 parts per billion of dieldrin, along with chlordane exceeding its safe level. Topsoil from another orchard subdivision project I tested had as much as 320 parts per million of arsenic, more than 30 times the safe level of 10.

57

Marc 09.24.07 at 8:17 pm

Well Paul, start with the fact that you’re undertaking a discussion with an actual..scientist. The scare quotes around science are rather unneeded. I assumed that folks might actually read the lengthy excerpts at the link in question, which are damning to Beck’s point. Here is a representative quote, taken directly from the same source as Mr Beck:

“The original idea had been by massive and intensive spraying to end transmission simultaneously throughout areas large enough to hold thereafter, without DDT, against both lingering small foci within the region and incursions from outside. But in practice the massive nationwide campaign was but a statistical generality of many small battles, fought with uneven skills in conditions of disparate difficulty. As victory was not to be had all at once, and as everyone was in a hurry to cut off the spray and show results, the battles began to be called off one at a time—often in relatively small districts wholly surrounded by others where the fight went on.”

Or perhaps this section, referring to Sri Lanka:

“Despite these rumblings of trouble the epidemic that hit the island in 1968-69 was shocking, unexpected and deeply discouraging The few score cases suddenly multiplied into more than half a million. In a single season parasites reestablished themselves almost throughout the areas from which they had been so expensively driven in the course of twenty years. Sri Lanka went back to the spray guns, reducing malaria once more to 150,000 cases in 1972; but there the attack stalled. Anopheles culicifacies, completely susceptible to DDT when the spray stopped in 1964, was now found resistant presumably because of the use of DDT for crop protection in the interim.”

Malaria eradication efforts did include insecticides, they were used repeatedly, and they failed for reasons unrelated to environmentalists. I hope that helps.

58

Paul 09.24.07 at 9:12 pm

The scare quotes around the word “science” were not intended as an attack on your qualifications, whatever they are. The point I was making (albeit admittedly in snark – I’ve calmed down a bit now) was that I doubted you would be able to provide me with scientific proof that environmentalists had nothing to do with the abandonment of eradication.

The quotes that you provide seem to me to sort of make my point. First of all, they are not quotations from studies conducted by scientists. They are quotes from a book written by a historian. Presumably they are based on wide familiarity with primary documents, but that process is not science, much as a previous generation of historians would have liked to make it such.

Moreover, while they support your assertions that eradication efforts included insecticides (something I never denied), and that those insecticides were used repeatedly (something I also never denied), they do not really support your assertion that “they failed for reasons unrelated to environmentalists,” unless you mean that only in the narrow sense that widespread resistance eventually emerged making eradication (probably) hopeless, something that I also have never denied.

I spent some time today poking around the internet and looking at abstracts on pubmed and generally playing around, and I came up with this summary of the literature. And no, I won’t give you citations, because the books that you are quoting from actually seem to give pretty much the same picture.

1. Mosquito eradication as a global project began in earnest in the 1940s and 50s.

2. From the outset, there were concerns about resistance, and also competing environmental concerns, ie. concerns about the potential health consequences of dumping tons of DDT in human and animal communities. [In support of this, please take a look at the first article that I link to, above.] Note that I am not arguing that these “environmental concerns,” at least initially, had anything whatsoever to do with “environmentalism” as a movement in this country.

3. It does seem to be fair to say that the WHO was not overly concerned in any formal, institutional way, during the 1950s and 1960s, about the environmental impact of DDT.

4. Historians tend to blame the failure of global eradication in large part on lack of local infrastructure and a “failure of will” on the part of the institutions to attempt more comprehensive and systematic eradication.

5. In the story as told by historians, in other words, the emergence of resistance was the immediate cause of the end of eradication attempts but not necessarily the ultimate cause.

6. People who are not Lyndon LaRouche have looked at this historical set of circumstances and come to the conclusion that environmental concerns played a role in undermining the possibility of more comprehensive and systematic eradication efforts. A historical case can be made either way (there seems to be little support for this in the institutional records), but it is not provable or disprovable in a scientific sense.

7. These environmental concerns existed before Rachel Carson, and at the date of her book there was substantial resistance in some mosquito populations. However, I remain unconvinced that any potential in the eradication effort was exhausted by 1962. That said, I do not blame Rachel Carson personally for the death of millions of people.

8. Taking at face value what is being said here, it sounds like a serious case can be made that a more comprehensive and systematic eradication effort would have been (a) unsuccessful and (b) environmentally disastrous. I don’t really have an opinion on this issue, except to note the argument is counter-factual and that premising the argument on history monographs is…not science.

59

Tim Lambert 09.25.07 at 3:17 am

paul, you go astray on your very first point. Mosquito eradication is not the same as malaria eradication.

60

Paul 09.25.07 at 12:38 pm

Tim,

So what?

61

Paul 09.25.07 at 12:52 pm

I mean, what difference does it make to any of the substantive points that I made, above, that I used the wrong descriptive phrase? I understand the back ground distinction that you’re making (eradication of the disease may not require complete eradication of the mosquito, which was an inspiration for the project in the first place). I just misspoke.

Your use of that mistake to disqualify me from having an opinion is not a sign that you are interested in engaging with other people in a good faith discussion here.

62

Paul 09.25.07 at 1:17 pm

Folks,

For the record, here is a snippet from what a good faith discussion might sound like:

Me: Mosquito eradication blah blah blah.
TL: Um, do you mean malaria eradication?
Me: Right. Thanks. Yes I do. Blah blah…
TL: It looks as if we agree about some things. Let’s try to focus in on our substantive disagreement…

Compare 49, above.

63

Katherine 09.25.07 at 1:34 pm

Wow, reading this conversation from start to finish some days after the original posting, may I just say – you guys have been really unpleasant and rude to Paul. I don’t blame him for being pissed off. Shame on you all.

64

lemuel pitkin 09.25.07 at 1:39 pm

here is a snippet from what a good faith discussion might sound like:

See, there’s the problem. The context here is a massive propaganda campaign to discredit Rachel Carson and the larger environmental movement by vasting exaggerating the value of DDT and flat-out lying about the shift away from its indiscriminate use. (Yes, really.) When that’s what you’re dealing with, it’s stupid and kind of immoral to pretend a good-faith conversation is being had.

You, paul, are no doubt arguing in good faith. But can’t you see why people dealing with a huge, profoundly dishonest smear campaign might not have that much patience for good-faith comments about how there could be a grain of truth in some of the smears?

65

J F Beck 09.25.07 at 2:22 pm

Paul, you have been Lamberted.

66

lemuel pitkin 09.25.07 at 3:25 pm

Or, let’s try one of those dialogues.

DDT Fan: Rachel Carson and environmentalists like her are directly responsible for tens of millions of deaths. if it weren’t for the ban on DDT they pushed through, malaria could have been eradicated.

Sane Person 1: “Tens of millions” sounds high to me, and I wouldn’t blame Carson personally. But DDT probably could have been used more effectively, and maybe environmental concerns were one reason it wasn’t. Let’s work together and see if we can answer these questions.

Sane Person 2: The whole thing is bullshit. The “Carson DDT ban” was invented out of whole cloth by paid propagandists at places like AEI and is spread by dishonest hacks like you.

The first response is more pleasant and courteous. The second, however, is correct.

67

Paul 09.25.07 at 3:43 pm

Try this:

Me: Not sure about your argument, seems flawed to me. Let’s discuss.

You: You are a stupid shill for corporate interests.

Me: No I’m not.

You: Yes you are. And a hack.

Me: Why do you say that?

You: [cut and paste 1000 word quote from a book without even telling me where it came from]

Me: Why don’t you actually talk to me?

You: Because you clearly are part of a vast, international conspiracy to sell pesticides.

Me: ???

68

lemuel pitkin 09.25.07 at 3:52 pm

Paul,

Look, the problem here is that there are actual shills making arguments that are superficially similar to yours. It’s not your fault that AEI has poisoned the well of discourse on this issue, but it’s also not Lambert et al.’s fault that they are more interested in combating really harmful misinformation than giving every blog commenter the benefit of the doubt.

69

Paul 09.25.07 at 4:49 pm

Lemuel:

I do understand the point that you are making, and I sympathize with the frustration that comes from having to argue with people who are paid to make outrageous, truth-defying statements in an effort to distract people from the real issues. I am, after all, a lawyer.

That said, respectfully, I disagree with this as a justification for the things that have been said here.

While you may privately suspect others of acting in bad faith, the posture of assumption of good faith at the outset of a discussion is, I believe, crucial – assuming that your goal is to convince other people that you are right. If you accuse people of bad faith right away, then you end up alienating someone who might have agreed with you. Perhaps more importantly, you may end up alienating people who already agree with you.

Similarly, the fact that people of ill will exist in the world does not justify your taking hardened positions, in which every blog post “demolishes” or “debunks” something, and then refusing meaningfully to discuss the substance of that position for fear that acknowledging any nuance will be used against you. I understand that impulse – again, I’m a lawyer. But I think it’s profoundly counterproductive.

However, I suspect that we need to just agree to disagree on this. Your point of view on this is widely held all around the internet, and I didn’t come here to argue about it. It just saddens me, actually.

70

Tim Lambert 09.25.07 at 6:16 pm

I’m sorry Paul, but your comment 58 only makes sense if you think that mosquito eradication and malaria eradication are the same or only a little different.

If I assume that you are referring only malaria eradication in comment 58 then we have:

1. WHO’s global malaria eradication project started in 1955.

2. Unlike mosquito eradication, malaria eradication does not involve dumping tons of DDT in the environment, so environmental concerns were not an issue.

5. The ultimate reason for the end of the eradication efforts was that the program had been sold and funded as a short term thing.

6. Who? Names and cites, please.

7. In 1962 the eradication program was in full swing. For example, in 1964 Sri Lanka declared victory over malaria and suspended DDT spraying.

Finally, I would have more sympathy for your complaints about folks here being mean to you if you weren’t so fond of ad hominem arguments.

71

Paul 09.25.07 at 6:52 pm

“1. WHO’s global malaria eradication project started in 1955.”

OK, sure.

“2. Unlike mosquito eradication, malaria eradication does not involve dumping tons of DDT in the environment, so environmental concerns were not an issue.”

This is a broad statement, and I’m not sure I agree. But OK.

“5. The ultimate reason for the end of the eradication efforts was that the program had been sold and funded as a short term thing.”

Even the sources that you quote do not fully support this, and it misses my point. As a purely logical matter, saying that something was not funded going forward or expanded while it was in progress just because it had only been funded initially in the short term is not a very compelling argument.

“6. Who? Names and cites, please.”

Tim, part of why I invited you to email me is that I envisioned having a more open discussion about my background. I’ve said a number of times that I do not want to make public representations about the work of people that I studied under. To be honest, though, I no longer believe that I can trust you with personal information.

Also, I think this thing of demanding authorities is pretty much a game. My reading is, to me, supported by the material you quote in the website that you yourself linked to. If I am wrong, please explain.

“7. In 1962 the eradication program was in full swing. For example, in 1964 Sri Lanka declared victory over malaria and suspended DDT spraying.”

I really, seriously, honestly do not see how this refutes what I said in that paragraph. Again, please explain if you like.

“Finally, I would have more sympathy for your complaints about folks here being mean to you if you weren’t so fond of ad hominem arguments.”

I’m not complaining about folks being mean to me, I’m complaining about them calling me a stupid, corporate shill and acting as if this refutes anything that I’m saying.

I’m also questioning people who simply link to your site, as if that in and of itself proves anything. I absolutely am not questioning your right to make an argument, simply because you have a computer science degree. I don’t. My point was that I should hardly be expected to blindly accept your statements as authoritative regarding what is accepted opinion in the field of public health or public health history. However, if you found that offensive, I’m sorry. I honestly did not intend to cause offense or deny your right to make an argument.

While I’m at it, I’ll apologize to bug girl. I was making a point about arguments from authority, not questioning her knowledge of bugs.

Tim, I honestly don’t understand the point of the arguments that you just made. I’m not being socratic, but I also honestly do not think that I am stupid. It looks to me as if you are picking away around the fringes of the framing statement that I made without addressing the substance of it. I honestly have an open mind on this, and I honestly am not convinced.

72

Tim Lambert 09.26.07 at 2:21 am

Paul, you claimed:

“But there is (or was) a widespread belief that a concerted eradication campaign (a al smallpox) would have been effective during the window period between DDT’s introduction and the development of immunity to the pesticide in the mosquito population, but that this was not attempted (at the same levels as the smallpox campaign) because of concerns about DDT’s impact on the environment.

Despite repeated requests you have not offered anything concrete in support of your claim. Your latest excuse is that it’s a secret and I’m not a fit person to share it with.

People have pointed to my posts on the topic because they find my arguments and evidence compelling. Rather than provide your own counter-arguments and evidence you just offer an ad hominem, dismissing it all as “blog posts written by non-experts with transparent ideological agendas”.

It’s possible that there is a mistake in my reasoning or that there is some evidence that I’ve missed. If so, I’d like to know about it. But I’m not going to be persuaded by evidence you keep secret from me and everyone else.

73

John Quiggin 09.26.07 at 3:43 am

Coming back from holidays, it looks like the party is over, so I’ll just do a little cleanup.

Paul, I’m sorry if people were rude, but Lemuel Pitkin has it about right.

And you don’t need to go past this thread for evidence. The support you’re getting from JF Beck (check his site) is evidence that the whole DDT ban myth/Rachel Carson blood libel is a fraud, pushed by rightwingers who have managed to suck in some people of good will. Perhaps if you started by acknowledging that, it would be possible to have a sensible discussion of the best strategy to deal with malaria and what we can do to support it.

74

Paul 09.26.07 at 1:04 pm

John,

That sure sounds nice, but Lemuel actually called me a dishonest hack (see # 66). Now, you are suggesting that I somehow needed to earn the assumption of good faith from him by making some kind of loyalty oath at the outset of the discussion to the common goal of opposing bad people. I sort of think I did, but I also think that it is wrong to demand that of me as a condition of my being treated with basic respect.

And people weren’t just rude – I got plenty rude myself, when it came to it. My point is that they’re arguments were maddeningly devoid of substance and directed at insulting me as opposed to addressing anything that I actually said. If you want to encourage that, fine. Don’t expect much else but that.

I looked at JF Beck’s site. He seems like sort of a jerk. The fact that he “supports” me is, however, irrelevant.

Paul

75

Paul 09.26.07 at 1:23 pm

Re substance:

“One of the stranger efforts of the political right over the last decade has been the effort to paint Rachel Carson as a mass murderer, on the basis of bogus claims conflating the US ban on non-public health uses of DDT with a non-existent ban on the use of DDT for indoor spraying against malarial mosquitoes. Starting from the lunatic fringe of the LaRouche movement and promoted primarily by current and retired hacks for the tobacco industry, this claim has become received wisdom throughout the US Republican party and its offshoots, and has deceived quite a few people, including writers for the NY Times.”

It sounds from where I am sitting like you are conflating some extreme and false statements made by propagandists (“Carsons book led to world-wide ban on all use of DDT, killing millions”) with any attempt to argue that environmental concerns limited, perhaps regrettably, the use of DDT in public health campaigns. That’s a classic straw man argument and, if you didn’t intend it, you can see it plainly all over this thread. It may be that many people mistakenly believe that there was a world-wide ban, misunderstand the significant role that emerging resistance played in all this, etc. Those are errors worth correcting. But to approach this discussion as if you had somehow “debunked” any attempt to talk about the role that environmental concerns played in health policy as “junk science” (Lambert’s words, admittedly) seems, frankly, disingenuous or, at the very least, misguided.

76

J F Beck 09.26.07 at 2:00 pm

Paul,

The “sort of a jerk” jibe is very disappointing; really, I’m more of an asshole. Be that as it may, I have not supported you here because you seem to be doing just fine coming to grips with a very complicated subject — good on you for not allowing yourself to be seduced by the misleading rubbish cranked out by Lambert.

JQ,

Here’s an overview of my publicly stated position:

“In the ’50s a massive anti-malaria program was undertaken. Scientists attached to the program realized from the start that DDT, the main weapon for attacking malaria-carrying mosquitoes, would quickly (less than a decade) become ineffective owing to targeted mosquitoes developing DDT resistance. Such a massive program was hugely expensive, and difficult to manage and implement. The effectiveness of the program was undermined by corner-cutting and mismanagement (as in Sri Lanka) and ultimately by funds shortages.

“Silent Spring was released in 1962. The book induced near anti-DDT hysteria and contributed to the formation of the organized environmental movement. It heavily influenced U.S. EPA Administrator Ruckelshaus’s unilateral decision to ban the non-public health use of DDT.

“The U.S. banning of DDT (it is banned for agricultural use and has not been used for public health measures) saw DDT fall out of favour — it is unreasonable to expect developing countries to use a chemical banned in the U.S. and unethical for organization such as the WHO and USAID to promote its use. DDT continued to be produced and used but the two biggest players in the anti-malaria effort made a determined effort to move to other insecticides and gradually shifted to non-spray strategies (bed nets, for example). Thus the de facto DDT ban was born.

“DDT is not a magic anti-malaria bullet. It is but one of the weapons in the fight against malaria. Did the de facto DDT ban cause millions of deaths? Possibly. Is Rachel Carson to blame for these deaths? No, the environmental movement, inspired by Silent Spring, is to blame. That said, the anti-malaria efforts mounted by the WHO and USAID are not the best managed public health programs. But here again, some of this apparent managerial confusion might result from perceived pressure to employ environmentally friendly anti-malaria measures.”

Where exactly — either above or in my numerous DDT posts — do I get it wrong?

77

lemuel pitkin 09.26.07 at 2:54 pm

Lemuel actually called me a dishonest hack (see # 66).

No I didn’t, paul. I thought it was clear that you were playing the role of “sane person 1” — your problem is just that you think the normal rules of civil discourse still apply in an environment where dishonest hackery is widespread.

78

Paul 09.26.07 at 3:51 pm

Lemuel,

Sorry, I misunderstood. Thanks for clearing that up. I think my confusion comes from the fact that I was not responding to “DDT Fan” but, rather, to Sane Person 2. That said, I re-read your post and it is clear that you are not talking about me.

79

Paul 09.26.07 at 3:52 pm

Um, that said, I still disagree with your actual point.

80

Tim Lambert 09.26.07 at 6:16 pm

Paul, the trouble is that your account of the discussion is pretty much the exact opposite of what happened. In your very first comment you made a bold claim and despite repeated requests you have provided nothing of substance to support. On the other hand, others have provided solid evidence but you just dismissed it, offering specious justifications — including the assertion that a PhD in entomology was an irrelevant qualification in a discussion of insect vector control.

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