More than a hacktivist

by John Q on January 13, 2013

It’s probably inevitable, as Henry says below, that coverage of Aaron Swartz’ tragic death will focus narrowly on the story of Aaron as persecuted hacker. My main debt to him is almost entirely outside the tech sphere in which he made such big contributions. Early on in my blogging career, I came across the rightwing myth, that bans on DDT, inspired by Rachel Carson cost millions of lives. In fact, this was one of my first encounters with the rightwing parallel universe with which we are all familiar nowadays. At the time, most people hadn’t woken up to this, and the DDT myth was promulgated with great success. Tim Lambert and I spent years fighting the myth, ending up with this piece in Prospect. Along the way, we discovered the surprising fact that the myth was originally pushed by the tobacco industry, as a flank attack on public health bodies like WHO, which were trying to fight tobacco, and had (quite correctly) scaled back use of DDT, after early campaigns were defeated by the growth of resistance.

A crucial piece of the puzzle came from Aaron, who pointed out the central role of Roger Bate, an all-purpose anti-science activist based at the American Enterprise Institute (he’s largely moved on from DDT these days and is now fighting “counterfeit”, that is, unlicensed, versions of patented drugs). The DDT myth lives on in various corners of the blogosphere and still pops up from time to time in the mainstream media, but it’s now at least as easy to find refutations.

I honestly can’t imagine how someone could pack so much achievement into 26 years. Aaron’s loss is a tragedy for all of us, and the vindictive campaign against him by the Massachusetts prosecutors office (whose head, Carmen M. Ortiz, is regularly mentioned as being destined for higher office) was a crime.



Both Sides Do It 01.13.13 at 6:05 am


Atticus Dogsbody 01.13.13 at 6:45 am

Not being a Seppo, I shouldn’t sign the first one. As to the second, no, don’t give them an out.

What has happened is a very sad thing. Getting angry is the appropriate reaction at this time.


sanbikinoraion 01.13.13 at 12:09 pm

I can’t believe, between the multi-million readership of Reddit and BoingBoing and so on that that petition only has 4500 signatures. What gives?


Henry 01.13.13 at 12:47 pm

Neither BoingBoing nor Reddit have made that ask yet (maybe some individual redditors have, but the main post asks people to donate to DemandProgress and GiveWell).


MPAVictoria 01.13.13 at 4:53 pm

“I honestly can’t imagine how someone could pack so much achievement into 26 years.”
So true. A huge loss for the world and for his family.


John Quiggin 01.13.13 at 11:14 pm

Signatures seem to ramping up pretty fast now – have just passed 8000.


Eli Rabett 01.13.13 at 11:44 pm

Rabett Run just put up a similar post. I was unaware of Aaron Swartz’s post before seeing a link at the New Yorker.

The best that could come out of this would be to force a reconsideration of DOJ policy on software and INTERNET issues. Aaron Swartz is not the only person caught in the jaws of Moloch.


Harald Korneliussen 01.14.13 at 9:01 am

Perhaps a good time to praise my other early blogging heroes, in case there are any other of you going through a hard time: Tim Lambert of Deltoid, the early Crooked Timber writers (not that there’s anything wrong with the later of you!), the old Obsidian Wings writers (in particular Hilzoy), Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution, Stever R. Waldman at Interfluidity.

There are no doubt other early blogging heroes, but you are mine – the ones that are left. I love what you share with the world. You are pretty awesome.


Harald Korneliussen 01.14.13 at 9:06 am

Oh, and you too Eli Rabett. Via Deltoid comment sections, long ago. You have cheered me up many times with your lagomorphic commentary on news that by themselves could make me sad.


Joseph H. Sommer 01.14.13 at 4:42 pm

It might be better to get folk to sign up to pledge $100 to anybody who takes on Carmen Ortiz in a primary, when she decides to run for public office. Or better yet: a StopCarmenPAC, which would undertake the same thing, with the advantage of pre-funding.


Eli Rabett 01.14.13 at 5:57 pm

Harald, Tim is having a hard time which accounts for the slow posting. As usual it is not this and that but both together. A cheer of thanks would be welcome.

Comments on this entry are closed.