DDT, tobacco and the parallel universe

by John Q on May 30, 2007

The piles of documents released as a result of litigation against Phillip Morris and Exxon are gifts that keep on giving for those of us interested in the process by which the Republican parallel universe has been constructed. Previous research has shown that the core proponents of global warming delusionism including Stephen Milloy, Fred Singer and Fred Seitz got their start as shills for PM, denying the risks of passive smoking. A string of rightwing thinktanks including Cato, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute helped to promote these hacks and the lies they were paid to peddle.

Now it’s turned out that one of the hardiest of parallel universe beliefs, the claim that Rachel Carson and the US ban on DDT were responsible for millions of deaths in the third world, arises from the same source.

One of the great puzzles of the DDT myth has been that it appeared to arise from pure ideological animus against Carson and the environmental movement – DDT is not patented so there were no profits to be obtained from pushing it. It turns out that the DDT campaign was pitched to the tobacco industry as a diversionary attack on the World Health Organization which was playing a leading role in campaigns against smoking. The leading figure in the exercise was Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute and its front organization, Africans Fighting Malaria.

So, far from helping to save lives, the bloggers and commentators who’ve pushed the myth of the DDT ban have been the (presumably unwitting) dupes of an industry even deadlier than malaria (CDC estimates that tobacco kills 5 million people a year compared to 1 to 3 million for malaria.

The AFM pitch to the tobacco industry ends with a classic paragraph bringing together many of the main themes in the parallel universe

At UNEP, the desire to push through treaties on Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change, Hazardous Waste, to name but a few draw heavily on the Montreal Protocol as well . However, the Montreal Protocol is highly flawed (like the tobacco control document) . It contains inaccuracies, cost underestimation and dubious ethics . To influence the direction of future UN legislation we must criticise the Montreal Protocol. A paper is proposed to accurately apply the lessons learned from the Montreal Protocol to new or developing conventions (especially POPs, tobacco and climate change).

As Eli Rabett concludes,

Roger Bate’s existence is a strong argument against the existence of a just God.

{ 2 trackbacks }

DDT and malaria « Later On
05.30.07 at 5:06 pm
Boîte noire » Archive du blog » Les petites choses utiles du mardi, vol. 56
06.05.07 at 4:44 pm



Tony 05.30.07 at 12:15 pm

Parallel universe is exactly the phrase I’ve been looking for. My interest is in global warming deniers, and one of my favourite sites is by an Ayn Rand libertarian. I think he’s become so used to rationalising Rand’s marginalisation by academe as a conspiracy that GW denial is just a different cart going down the same well-worn mental rut.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that, after a couple of years being appalled to my bones about the parallel universe climate sceptics have built up for themselves, I’m now officially impressed. In awe, really. This kind of self-denial takes an awful lot of work. The work of a lifetime, really.

If it didn’t have such depressing real-world consequences, I’d give them a round of applause.


baga 05.30.07 at 12:19 pm

wow, your skill at ad-hominem attack is certainly impressive. Is Richard lindzen also a right-wing hack liar evil satan %$$@!##^%!#?


Rich B. 05.30.07 at 1:16 pm

This one has always interested me.

I mean, with global warming or second hand smoke, etc., there is always the outlier scientist to hang one’s hat on to create the illusion of doubt.

The malaria/DDT thing is just bizarre because its not even based on muddying science or the fog of opinion. It is simply stating a re-stating an obviously incorrect fact.

It is beginning to rank up there with “[Rotating feminist] claimed that all sex is rape!” Or “Saddam Hussein masterminded 9/11!”

I don’t think parallel universe-ism goes far enough here. Is “perpendicular universe” a phrase?


justin 05.30.07 at 1:43 pm

Ah, but it’s possible for a perpendicular universe to intersect our own.


abb1 05.30.07 at 1:56 pm



conchis 05.30.07 at 2:00 pm

Yes, and that’s precisely the problem. If they had their own separate universe to f%$# up, we could happily ignore them.


Joshua W. Burton 05.30.07 at 2:06 pm

The problem comes when they find a conveniently located parallel universe, and try to park in it diagonally.


dsquared 05.30.07 at 2:08 pm

Richard lindzen also a right-wing hack liar evil satan %$$@#?

taking these in order:

Right wing: yes
Hack: yes
Liar: he certainly appeared to have reneged on a public offer to make a bet; probably not enough evidence to dismiss him as “a liar” tout court
Evil: don’t know
Satan: No
%$$@#: don’t know


Barry 05.30.07 at 2:14 pm

Rich B., I’m sure that one can find *a* scientist to say just about anything. Many will even do it without payment, just because they’re believers, or perverse sh*ts (the latter like to call themselves ‘contrarians’).

With a bit of digging, one can probably find a scientist from an actual relevant field of study to say what’s desired, although it’s not necessary.

Given fat packets of cash, the job becomes easier. According to Wikipedia, Milloy has been a professional at this game since at least the early 1990’s. It’s a career.

The biggest advantage of doing this is that being proven wrong is virtually irrelevant. There’s always another client, another propaganda mill calling itself a ‘think tank’.
The media seems to regard having appeared in print as validation in and of itself; I don’t think that they even ask themselves about credibility, even if there’s a considerable track record.


eudoxis 05.30.07 at 2:17 pm

Parallel universe, no doubt. But where is the harm done? Promoting DDT is done by legimate organizations as well, and for good reason, DDT is still an effective tool against malaria. Are these international health organizations also detracting from the focus on the tobacco industry?


Alex 05.30.07 at 2:19 pm

It’s a Grand Unified Theory of Bullshit!


Eli Rabett 05.30.07 at 3:09 pm

Eudoxis, the harm is done by blanket promotion of DDT. When DDT is used for agricultural pest control, or sprayed everywhere (see Sri Lanka in the 70s) mosquitos rapidly develop resistance. DDT impregnated bed nets, on the other hand and borrowing a description, really rock, because they are both effective and do not allow the development of resistence. Spraying the insides of houses is also a good way of controlling the insect vectors of malaria (there are some secondary issues).

So what you have is a situation where malaria can be controlled, even wiped out by careful planning and execution and a bunch of clowns wildly running around throwing rocks at anyone who tries. There is the harm.


bill 05.30.07 at 4:43 pm


Neil B. 05.30.07 at 4:48 pm

I wonder, how many of the spinned-science crowd were dupes, and which knew what they were fronting for?

PS, are there any legal grounds for a class like scientists to sue for libel/slander against dextro-hacks who accuse them of being “frauds” etc. regarding climate change etc? I wish someone would try to find out…


Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 05.30.07 at 5:47 pm

“The piles of documents released as a result of litigation against Phillip Morris and Exxon are gifts that keep on giving for those of us interested in the process by which the Republican parallel universe has been constructed.”

Wonder if Spock’s got a beard in GoP-prime?


eudoxis 05.30.07 at 6:34 pm

Much-maligned pesticide returns to the front line.

After decades of being shunned as an environmentally damaging chemical, the pesticide DDT is once again being touted as the most effective way to fight malaria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on 15 September [2006] that it will support the indoor spraying of pesticides generally, and DDT specifically, to control mosquitoes in countries with high rates of malaria. The US Agency for International Development signalled a similar shift in policy back in May.

Although these agencies never formally opposed DDT, they did not fund countries to purchase it, and instead actively promoted the use of insecticide-treated bednets. Malaria rates have
continued to rise in the meantime, claiming more than a million lives a year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. The agencies now advocate combining the two approaches.

“I have to pinch myself a little to believe that they’ve done this, but I’m really, really happy they have,” says Amir Attaran, professor of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa, Canada, who has long criticized the agencies for their malaria policies.

In sharp contrast to its previous stance, the WHO also admitted for the first time that it stopped supporting DDT despite evidence of its effectiveness. “There are lots of data there, but people are so emotional about the issues,” says Arata Kochi, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. “Science comes first and we must take a position based on the science and the data.”

From Nature.


bwhancock 05.30.07 at 7:01 pm

I’m missing a couple of pieces of info….

So why did the WHO drop the anti-smoking thing in 1998?

Wasn’t it just two years ago the US allowed DDT to be used again?

Does DDT kill mosquitoes?

Do mosquitoes carry disease?

In small amounts is DDT safe for both humans and animals?

The fact that tobacco companies funded think tanks , such as CATO, and told them to ‘lie’ about DDT so they can discredit the WHO and then in turn no one will believe smoking is bad for you?

Not seeing how you are getting from point A to point B on this one.

I hate smoking – but ultimately smokers choose their fate, malaria victims not so much.


Ugh 05.30.07 at 7:11 pm

I prefer Republican “Bizarro World” myself.


Tim Lambert 05.30.07 at 7:37 pm

eudoxis, the WHO statement is result of Bate’s campaign. The DDT fetish is interfering with the fight against malaria.


John Quiggin 05.30.07 at 8:42 pm

bwhancock, the information you require can be found in the Wikipedia article on DDT and following links. Inform yourself, reread the post and I’m sure things will be clearer to you.


Quo Vadis 05.30.07 at 11:02 pm

I question the origins of this parallel universe. To take a crackpot religious ideology, a justifiably reviled but increasingly marginalized industry and a few scientists with the temerity to question the status quo and weave from these few spare threads a conspiracy with the power to undermine the environmental movement and our world health and environmental institutions takes an author with a first hand familiarity with parallel universes.


John Quiggin 05.30.07 at 11:47 pm

qv, I think you missed “and a major political party, until recently controlling all arms of government in the United States, backed up by a well-organised and vocal political movement”


Quo Vadis 05.31.07 at 1:35 am

“and a major political party, until recently controlling all arms of government in the United States, backed up by a well-organised and vocal political movement”

…reduced to mere tools in the devious hands of cigarette salesmen and the proponents of crackpot religious theories.


theo 05.31.07 at 1:57 am

…reduced to mere tools in the devious hands of cigarette salesmen and the proponents of crackpot religious theories.

which is where they get all their information, as conservative Americans have entirely dismissed science and the fact-based media for an edifice of their own delusions.

Senator Tom Coburn (Republican-Oklahoma!), who blocked the resolution honoring Carson, believes that lesbianism is so rampant in schools in his state that girls are only allowed to visit the toilets singly. I have no idea where he came to this belief, but presumably he heard it from another crackpot.

Senator James Inhofe believes equally insane things about climate, because he only talks to power industry lobbyists. Rep. Joe Barton as well.

They’re the most egregious cases, but based on surveys of views of climate change, half the Republicans in Congress and the Senate are misinformed to a degree which would be shocking in any European democracy. Except for maybe Poland.


Randy Owens 05.31.07 at 3:48 am

qv, I think you should maybe actually read the documents. Whether or not you believe they actually could have that effect, they were certainly trying. Unless their own lawyers just made up some documents to introduce that would turn public opinion against them. And if you’d believe that, why not the conspiracy theory??


Harald K 05.31.07 at 5:39 am

Tim Lambert has another article up on the subject. But I wonder about this “evidence against a just God” stuff – shouldn’t Bate answer for himself, God or no God?


John Quiggin 05.31.07 at 7:19 am

“shouldn’t Bate answer for himself”

That’s asking a bit much, isn’t it? He is a Republican, after all.


bi 05.31.07 at 8:07 am

Forget the Old Scientific Method(tm); the New Scientific Method(tm) is upon us now. Here’s the method:

(1) Ignore all facts (a la bwhancock).

(2) Make up your own facts, erm I mean opinions, erm I mean facts (a la whichever crank told Coburn that lesbianism is so rampant in schools and especially school toilets).

(3) Try to pull a crypto-Galileo (a la Quo Vadis).

(4) Why do you hate freedom so much? Free speech, free thought, free facts!

(4) ???

(5) Profit!


Stuart 05.31.07 at 10:36 am

Making up your own facts seems a popular pastime recently.


George W 05.31.07 at 2:36 pm

Seems to me that, despite the efforts of toads like this Bates to yoke them together, DDT doesn’t belong in the same class as tobacco and global warming. The latter two are major and well-documented “bads”, and if they have any redeeming qualities, such are overwhelmed by their negative consequences. But the toxin DDT has enough important benefits that an organization like the WHO can promote its (regulated) use. On the other hand, whenever I see some cause I think makes some sense (like, for instance, the Iraq invasion) being championed by a known practitioner of the dark arts, I always have to wonder whether I’m being manipulated in some cynical, all-emcompassing Cancer Man type web.

What does all this have to do with Creationism, by the way? Aside from maybe a high correlation of believers, there seems even less reason to lump that one in too.


eudoxis 05.31.07 at 4:21 pm

Tim Lambert: “The DDT fetish is interfering with the fight against malaria.

To the contrary, the increased focus on DDT has heightened political awareness of malaria. Any increase in public information about malaria, whether from the pro- or anti-DDT camp, is effective in putting malaria back on the western attention map where it has languished for so long.

“Global Malaria Control in the 21st Century
A Historic but Fleeting Opportunity

Richard G. A. Feachem, DScMed; Oliver J. Sabot, BA

JAMA. 2007;297:2281-2284.

There is today more attention to and financing for malaria control than at least the past 4 decades. Following the collapse of the global eradication campaign in the early 1970s, malaria control programs around the world dwindled as funding dried up, technical guidance became confused and at times contradictory, and much of the global community seemed ready to accept that malaria was an unavoidable fact of life in tropical regions.1 Gains that had been made in reducing the burden of the disease in Asia and Latin America eroded, while in sub-Saharan Africa, the already intolerable number of deaths began to increase as the primary means of defense, chloroquine, increasingly failed.2

Since the turn of the 21st century, however, there has been resurgence of focus on the burden of malaria and opportunities for its control. New tools such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets3 and artemisinin-based combination therapies4 have proven highly effective in reducing morbidity and mortality, and there has been substantial investment in further innovation, from the discovery of a long-sought vaccine to the development of new treatments. Financing for malaria endemic countries to purchase and deploy these and other critical tools has increased dramatically with the advent of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and the US President’s Malaria Initiative, increasing 10-fold between 1998 and 2006.5-7 Unprecedented political attention has been devoted to the disease in both the global north and south.” More at JAMA.


bi 05.31.07 at 5:55 pm

Stuart: Wow. Just wow.

eudoxis: So when “[n]ew tools such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and artemisinin-based combination therapies” managed to be found by real scientists doing real work, it’s all thanks to the help of people who write books with made-up facts?


Quo Vadis 05.31.07 at 6:27 pm


One of the hazards of navigating parallel universes is that sarcasm is often lost.


james 05.31.07 at 10:25 pm

bi – The new tools are not as effective as DDT and they cost significantly more.

The DDT issue is an example of emotion moving past the reality of the known science. Unfortunatly for the author of the post, the issue is a point for the other side. Before the DDT ban there was a real chance to erradicate malaria. Someone wrote a book that turned out to be not factual (silent spring) and convinced alot of people to push for a ban. This is not to say DDT is a good chemical. It just happens to be better than the alternatives.

As for why “consevatives” ignore scientist. Once the Institutions of Higher Learning started lumping political and scocial science with the hard sciences, all of them became suspect. When some wackjob with a PHd. starts spouting nonsense it has the same tarring effect as when Pat Robison spouts about killing Chaves. Develop some higher standards and maybe you can get their respect back.


Heraldblog 06.01.07 at 2:12 am

How did a DDT ban in the US affect DDT use in the rest of the world, James? And who is Pat Robison?

Silent Spring was largely factual – the only serious error was something Carson wrote about cancer. But the rest of the book has stood up very well over the last 45 years. I wrote my master’s thesis on Silent Spring, and I can tell you that Carson never advocated banning all pesticides. Her critique centered on how they were used, or rather abused. It would help your case if you actually read the book before offering your comment.


John Quiggin 06.01.07 at 6:02 am

I’ll give a half-point to eudoxis. Having launched into an entirely hypocritical campaign against greenies and Rachel Carson, the rightwing establishment found it hard to resist when campaigners against malaria came back and said OK, if you’ll give us more money we’ll spend it the way you want, and say nice things about DDT.

Of course, it was exactly this kind of thing that formed the basis of legitimate complaints about the earlier bias against DDT (which never came close to a ban, but undoubtedly influenced policy choices on occasion).


james 06.01.07 at 6:31 am

The ban in the US lead to a push for a world wide ban on DDT.

Perhaps we have a different understanding of factual errors. The base premis of Silent Spring was that the use of Chemicals would doom us all. 45 years later that premis has been proven (in the kindest possible terms) inaccurate. For specifics: Incorrect information relating to cancer & DDT, unsubstantiated relation of normal use to human liver and kidney failure, complete failure to account for the decline in bird population prior to the use of DDT, failure to account for additional contributing factors (calcium deficiency) to weak bird egg shells, questionable application of Audobon Society bird census findings, partial retraction of findings that DDT was the source of the thinning of eggshells*.

*Anderson DW, Hickey JJ, Risebrough RW, Hughes DF, Christensen RE. Significance of chlorinated hydrocarbon residues to breeding pelicans and cormorants. The Canadian Field-Naturalist


John Quiggin 06.01.07 at 8:12 am

james, you might want to check on the term “resistance”, a concept that appears unlikely to have appeared in your parallel universe sources. It explains why the attempt to eradicate malaria using DDT was recognised as a failure in 1969, even before the US ban on agricultural use (note that even in the US, the 1972 ban did not apply to emergency health uses).


bi 06.01.07 at 8:19 am


“The new tools are not as effective as DDT and they cost significantly more.”

Oh, that gets even better. When scientists manage to develop _expensive_ and _ineffective_ tools against malaria, it’s all thanks to the great work of people who write books with made-up facts?

“Once the Institutions of Higher Learning started lumping political and scocial science with the hard sciences…”

No. This whole thing has _zilch_ to do with “Institutions of Higher Learning”. I don’t need a PhD in Rocket Science to see that neoconservatives hate not only “Institutions of Higher Learning”, but also the _whole_ _idea_ of the scientific method, the _whole_ _idea_ of rational, skeptical, empirical inquiry, and the _whole_ _idea_ of logical discourse. When people construct an entire “scientific” methodology based on ignore facts, make up facts, and make veiled references to Galileo, it’s clear that they simply have _no_ _interest_ in facts or logic.


bi 06.01.07 at 9:14 am

s/ ignore / ignoring /
s/ make / making /g


Mike 06.01.07 at 11:42 am

the bloggers and commentators who’ve pushed the myth of the DDT ban have been the (presumably unwitting) dupes of an industry

That presumption is just far too charitable.


Heraldblog 06.01.07 at 4:35 pm

No, James, the premise of Silent Spring wasn’t that “the use of chemicals would doom us all”. Carson wrote that there were smarter, more effective ways to protect ourselves from insect pests that the indiscrimate use of pesticides. That’s probably a little too nuanced for an admitted follower of Pat Robison to understand.


james 06.02.07 at 12:03 am

john – Malaria was erradicated in the US prior to 1972 (officially 1951). The question on the table was DDT use for third world nations, namely Africa. Since DDT is currently being brought forward for use in combating malaria, my ‘parrellel universe’ more closely matches reality than one you advocate.

heraldblog – In the case of Silent Spring you are aruging the possitive from the book (alternative methods of pest control) while I am arguing the negative (dangers of chemical pest control). The book prominently presents both ideas. Given that the book was advocation for the ban of certain chemicals and the inclusion of fable highlighting the negative, my interpertation is an accurate one.

bi – Social science, political science, etc key weakness is the inability to consistently reproduce real world results with anything close to the labratory accuracy demanded by the physical sciences (ie fail the scientific method). Think of it as the rotten apple princple. The physicial sciences, technical fields, etc. had developed a certain level of cache from being able to prove results. The other fields attempted to leverage this by requesting / demanding the consideration granted those in the provable fields. While this worked for a limited time, in general the result has been to consider all proclimations suspect. This represents a generic answer not a complete answer.


bi 06.02.07 at 5:25 am


You know, if you had any respect for facts or logic or actual debate, you’d have addressed my point instead of regurgitating your “Institutions of Higher Learning” trope ad nauseam.

Neoconservatives have constructed an entire New Scientific Method based on ignoring facts, making facts up, and pulling crypto-Galileos. And I see you’re into the business of ignoring facts too.

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