Fisking “Junk Science” and “100 things you should know about DDT”: A new project


Looking at the odd campaign against the reputation of Rachel Carson, conducted largely by a group of corporate-paid, political scalawags, one will eventually come across a site named JunkScience.com, which has as a motto, “All the junk that’s fit to debunk.”

One might be forgiven if one assumes that the site debunks junk science claims. But that does not appear to be it’s aim at all. On this page, for example, “100 things you should know about DDT,” the site perpetrates or perpetuates dozens of junk science claims against Rachel Carson, against public health, against government and against reason. The site promotes junk science, rather than debunking it!

For example, I had just read a chunk of history reminding me that our first Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, William Ruckelshaus, had been ordered by a federal court to review the pesticide certification for DDT, and had acted against DDT only after two different review panels recommended it be phased out, and states had already started bans of their own. At the time, in 1972, Ruckelshaus faced a heap of criticism for moving so slowly on the issue.

How is this action described at JunkScience.com?

You wouldn’t quite recognize the events — and I doubt you could verify other oddities the JunkScience.com site claims:

17. Extensive hearings on DDT before an EPA administrative law judge occurred during 1971-1972. The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man… DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man… The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.”

[Sweeney, EM. 1972. EPA Hearing Examiner's recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings, April 25, 1972 (40 CFR 164.32, 113 pages). Summarized in Barrons (May 1, 1972) and Oregonian (April 26, 1972)]

18. Overruling the EPA hearing examiner, EPA administrator Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1972. Ruckelshaus never attended a single hour of the seven months of EPA hearings on DDT. Ruckelshaus’ aides reported he did not even read the transcript of the EPA hearings on DDT.

[Santa Ana Register, April 25, 1972]

19. After reversing the EPA hearing examiner’s decision, Ruckelshaus refused to release materials upon which his ban was based. Ruckelshaus rebuffed USDA efforts to obtain those materials through the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that they were just “internal memos.” Scientists were therefore prevented from refuting the false allegations in the Ruckelshaus’ “Opinion and Order on DDT.”

I propose to Fisk much of the list of 100 claims against Carson (which is really a list over 100 items now), in a serial, spasmodic fashion. I’ll post my findings here, making them generally available to internet searches for information on Rachel Carson and DDT. Below the fold, I’ll start, with these three specious claims listed above.

Here are some of the errors in that quoted section:

First, there is no mention that Ruckelshaus acted slowly, and no mention at all of the court’s ordering EPA to make the review. The guys at JunkScience.com make it sound as if Ruchkelshaus acted alone, without any justification. (Ruckelshaus was an ethical giant who later refused Richard Nixon’s order to fire prosecutors investigating crimes by the White House, remember — not a guy given to fits of illegal whimsy.) The JunkScience.com ignore the laws on the books at the time, and they completely ignore the evidence presented at the hearings.

Throughout the spring of 1972, Ruckelshaus reviewed the evidence EPA had collected during the agency’s hearings on DDT cancellation and the reports prepared by two DDT study groups, the Hilton and Mrak Commissions. Both studies suggested that DDT be phased out due to the chemical’s persistent presence in ecosystems and noted studies suggesting that DDT posed a carcinogenic risk to humans. In June, he followed the route already taken by several states he banned DDT application in the United States. Though unpopular among certain segments of EPA’s constituency, his decision did serve to enhance the activist image he sought to create for the agency, and without prohibitive political cost.

Second, there is no reference to the history of government action on DDT — federal use had been winding down since at least 1958, because of decreasing effectiveness, and because of suspected damage to wildlife. Here’s a rundown of federal actions to limit DDT use prior to the 1972 cancellation of pesticide registration; I’m cribbing here from the EPA history archives, “DDT Regulatory History: A brief survey (before 1975)”:

Initial Federal Regulatory Actions

The Federal Government has not been oblivious to the hazards of DDT use as is indicated by various Government studies and actions undertaken since the late 50s.

  1. In 1957, as a matter of policy, the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), prohibited the spraying of DDT in specified protective strips around aquatic areas on lands under its jurisdiction.
  2. In 1958, after having applied approximately 9-1/2 million pounds of the chemical in its Federal-State control programs since 1945, USDA began to phase out its use of DDT. They reduced spraying of DDT from 4.9 million acres in 1957 to just over 100,000 acres in 1967 and used persistent pesticides thereafter only in the absence of effective alternatives. The major uses of DDT by the Forest Service have been against the gypsy moth and the spruce budworm. The development of alternative pesticides such as Zectran, which was in operation in 1966, contributed to further reduction in DDT use by the Department.
  3. In 1964, the Secretary of the Interior issued a directive stating that the use of chlorinated hydrocarbons on Interior lands should be avoided unless no other substitutes were available. This regulatory measure, as well as others which followed, was reaffirmed and extended in June 1970, when the Secretary issued an order banning use of 16 types of pesticides, including DDT, on any lands or in any programs managed by the Department’s bureaus and agencies.
  4. Between November 1967 and April 1969, USDA canceled DDT registrations for use against house flies and roaches, on foliage of more than 17 crops, in milk rooms, and on cabbage and lettuce.
  5. In August 1969, DDT usage was sharply reduced in certain areas of USDA’s cooperative Federal-State pest control programs following a review of these programs in relation to environmental contamination.
  6. In November 1969, USDA initiated action to cancel all DDT registrations for use against pests of shade trees, aquatic areas, the house and garden and tobacco. USDA further announced its intention to discontinue all uses nonessential to human health and for which there were safe and effective substitutes.
  7. In August 1970, in another major action, USDA canceled Federal registrations of DDT products used as follows: (1) on 50 food crops, beef cattle, goats, sheep, swine, seasoned lumber, finished wood products and buildings; (2) around commercial, institutional, and industrial establishments including all nonfood areas in food processing plants and restaurants, and (3) on flowers and ornamental turf areas.

EPA Regulatory Actions

On December 2, 1970, major responsibility for Federal regulation of pesticides was transferred to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  1. In January 1971, under a court order following a suit by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), EPA issued notices of intent to cancel all remaining Federal registrations of products containing DDT. The principal crops affected by this action were cotton, citrus, and certain vegetables.
  2. In March 1971, EPA issued cancellation notices for all registrations of products containing TDE, a DDT metabolite. The EPA Administrator further announced that no suspension of the registration of DDT products was warranted because evidence of imminent hazard to the public welfare was lacking. (Suspension, in contrast to cancellation, is the more severe action taken against pesticide products under the law.) Because of the decision not to suspend, companies were able to continue marketing their products in interstate commerce pending the final resolution of the administrative cancellation process. After reconsideration of the March order, in light of a scientific advisory committee report, the Administrator later reaffirmed his refusal to suspend the DDT registrations. The report was requested by Montrose Chemical Corporation, sole remaining manufacturer of the basic DDT chemical.
  3. In August 1971, upon the request of 31 DDT formulators, a hearing began on the cancellation of all remaining Federally registered uses of products containing DDT. When the hearing ended in March 1972, the transcripts of 9,312 pages contained testimony from 125 expert witnesses and over 300 documents. The principal parties to the hearings were various formulators of DDT products, USDA, the EDF, and EPA.
  4. On June 14, 1972, the EPA Administrator announced the final cancellation of all remaining crop uses of DDT in the U.S. effective December 31, 1972. The order did not affect public health and quarantine uses, or exports of DDT. The Administrator based his decision on findings of persistence, transport, biomagnification, toxicological effects and on the absence of benefits of DDT in relation to the availability of effective and less environmentally harmful substitutes. The effective date of the prohibition was delayed for six months in order to permit an orderly transition to substitute pesticides. In conjunction with this transition, EPA and USDA jointly developed “Project Safeguard,” a program of education in the use of highly toxic organophosphate substitutes for DDT.
  5. Immediately following the DDT prohibition by EPA, the pesticides industry and EDF filed appeals contesting the June order with several U.S. courts. Industry filed suit to nullify the EPA ruling while EDF sought to extend the prohibition to those few uses not covered by the order. The appeals were consolidated in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. On December 13, 1973, the Court ruled that there was “substantial evidence” in the record to support the EPA Administrator’s ban on DDT.

[End of quote from EPA history]

So, with this history, how likely do you think it would be that the EPA Administrative Law Judge would recommend continued registration of DDT for indiscriminate use? I have not tracked down anything quoting Judge Sweeney directly, but I wager that his words have been tampered with by the JunkScience.com guys, or someone they cribbed the quote from. Sweeney’s words as cited are perfectly in line with Ruckelshaus’s bans on broad use, reserving the possibility of limited use in certain situations. So it’s likely that Ruckelshaus didn’t override Sweeney, but instead implemented Sweeney’s recommendations.

It’s probably worth noting that one of the citations offered by JunkScience.com doesn’t support their claims in any way. For the EPA hearings conducted by Sweeney, JunkScience.com cites the Code of Federal Regulations: “40 CFR 164.32.” That section of the Code is the rules for administrative law hearings, and has nothing specific to DDT or the 1972 hearings. You can Google it, or go here to see:

Title 40: Protection of Environment
PART 164—RULES OF PRACTICE GOVERNING HEARINGS, UNDER THE FEDERAL INSECTICIDE, FUNGICIDE, AND RODENTICIDE ACT, ARISING FROM REFUSALS TO REGISTER, CANCELLATIONS OF REGISTRATIONS, CHANGES OF CLASSIFICATIONS, SUSPENSIONS OF REGISTRATIONS AND OTHER HEARINGS CALLED PURSUANT TO SECTION 6 OF THE ACT

It’s also worth noting that this exact same, erroneous citation occurs in material from the “American Council on Science and Health,” a pro-industry, anti-environmental political group. In fact, the citation occurs exactly that way, errors and all, in more than two dozen documents I found on the internet. None of the documents offers any citation that gets close to any hearing record from the EPA or any other agency. Such a citation, wrong, and repeated exactly wrong in many documents, is a hallmark of internet hoaxes, voodoo and bogus science, and voodoo and bogus history. The footnotes look authoritative, and to anyone who doesn’t pay close attention to them, they convey “truthiness” with a citation of such specificity. But on close inspection, they go nowhere.

That hoax hallmark, coupled with the contrary information from EPA, suggests strongly that this campaign against Rachel Carson is hoaxed in part. That this same miscitation syndrome affects much of the case against Carson suggests the entire campaign is hoaxed up.

I suspect that Judge Sweeney’s ruling is misrepresented by JunkScience.com. The history books show that EPA’s evaluators recommended against continued DDT use, that its use be phased out. That’s contrary to what JunkScience.com claims.

Why would JunkScience.com misrepresent this episode, suggesting that Sweeney said the opposite of what he probably said? I don’t know.

Third, JunkScience.com suggests that Ruckelshaus did not attend the hearings before the administrative law judge, as if he should have. Under usual procedures, the final agency decision maker should NOT attend such hearings, so as not to skew the decision process. It would be as if Supreme Court justices were invited to attend trials on issues they would later get on appeal. Ruckelshaus did exactly what he should have done, and the suggestion from JunkScience.com is completely bizarre, suggesting a complete absence of familiarity with U.S. administrative law and procedures.

Fourth, Ruckelshaus’s decision was litigated, and the federal courts agreed he did the right thing. I have no idea what these guys are trying to suggest with the bizarre, and probably incorrect claim that the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get information from Ruckelshaus. First, FOIA does not give USDA any right to file such a claim. Second, the decision was in litigation by 1973, so any scientific opposition to the decision would have had ample opportunity for a full hearing (chemical manufacturers sued EPA on the decision; EPA won). Why USDA would want the information not available in the public record is unclear, and probably wrong; since USDA had begun phasing out DDT by 1958, it’s unclear what their interests were; since the EPA decision reserved the use of DDT for emergencies in agricultural cases, several of which waivers for use Ruckelshaus himself granted, just what would be at stake is completely fogged out.

It smacks of more hoax.

My guess is that 80% of the “facts” cited in the JunkScience.com list have material errors in them, are flat out wrong, or wrong in their premises. It’s a misleading list, designed to push people to false conclusions, that DDT is not used today and that DDT is not harmful, that there is a dark conspiracy to prevent DDT from being used to save human lives — each point of which is wrong. DDT is used today to fight insect-borne disease; DDT is toxic and carcinogenic; where necessary for human protection, DDT is licensed and used.

Three out of 108 points. It’s a start.

What motivates such intense hatred of Rachel Carson? She was a nice woman, a smart and poetic writer, and a damned good scientist. What is the real agenda of the campaign against her?

Update: The second post in this series of Fisks is here.

Don’t let the false stories spread; share the facts with your friends and the world:

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17 Responses to Fisking “Junk Science” and “100 things you should know about DDT”: A new project

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Higley, Carson did no cherry picking. The courts litigated that claim, and found it completely without merit.

    In fact, no piece of science Carson cited has ever been challenged by later studies. In contrast, by 2007, more than 1,000 peer review studies supporting Carson’s claims for damage to birds had been completed, some finding entirely new paths for killing them.

    By law, EPA is a scientific entity. Had the ban on DDT been done on lousy science, later science would have required the ban be overturned, on law that existed then and has since been strengthened. At the request of the DDT manufacturers, courts looked at your claims of cherry picking, and found instead that EPA has a broad and deep foundation of scientific information to ban DDT use on crops.

    Do not pretend to talk about what EPA does when you’re spreading smoke screen.

    Does EPA act “worse” than when Ruckelshaus, a great man, headed the agency? They don’t seem to be nearly as political, and they don’t appear to fight death-dealing pollution as much as then . . . is that what you mean?

    Like

  2. higley7 says:

    The EPA we know today behaves the same or worse than Ruckelshaus’s EPA described by JunkScience.com. We also know that Carson cherry-picked her data just as Al Gore does. Do not pretend that the EPA is not a political entity and behaves only in terms of environmental health. Far from it.

    Like

  3. [...] has undertaken the daunting project of examining all the claims point by point made at [...]

    Like

  4. [...] one of those charges that is self-refuting in the hands of DDT advocates and anti-science people.  You don’t have to go far to find claims that EPA acted contrary to an extensive hearing record that took months to compose.  But then they turn around and claim, as Monckton does here, that [...]

    Like

  5. [...] has undertaken the daunting project of examining all the claims point by point made at [...]

    Like

  6. [...] Fisking “Junk Science” and “100 things you should know about DDT”: A new pro… Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)‘Twas DDT nearly killed the beastFisking “Junk Science’s” campaign against DDT: Point #8Gresham’s Law: DDT disinformation crowds out facts [...]

    Like

  7. [...] Ed Darrell has been checking the accuracy of Steve Milloy’s “100 things you should know about DDT”. So far, Milloy’s score is 0 out of 3. [...]

    Like

  8. [...] Ed Darrell has been checking the accuracy of Steve Milloy’s “100 things you should know about DDT”. So far, Milloy’s score is 0 out of 3. [...]

    Like

  9. Barry says:

    Somebody said that CEI and other standard propaganda houses have recently been mobilized to f*ck with the WHO, because it’s looking into working to reduce tobacco consumption internationally.

    Milloy has been a professional junk scientist for 20 years or more (Wikipedia).

    Like

  10. [...] Ed Darrell has been checking the accuracy of Steve Milloy’s “100 things you should know about DDT”. So far, Milloy’s score is 0 out of 3. [...]

    Like

  11. Ed Darrell says:

    But, Mark’s site, denialism, has some good shorthand arguments to point up the errors of hoaxsters like Milloy.

    This really is serious business. We need a shotgun answer to a shotgun style campaign, especially one that is being run by veteran hoaxsters and junk science promoters who have a three- or four-year headstart on us, with their spreading of disinformation.

    Like

  12. Gsnorgathon says:

    Ed’s right on the money. There needs to be good evidence on the web that the denialists are denialists, and to do that you’ve got to say “these people are lying and here’s the evidence.” You go, Ed!

    Like

  13. Ed Darrell says:

    And, Mark, how did I miss that Milloy is the hoaxster behind the “CFL’s will poison you and cost you a fortune” lightbulb hoax? (P.Z. has the goods, here: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/05/compact_fluorescent_lights_are.php)

    I’m wondering now if Milloy was in the employ of the tobacco companies when I was deep in the anti-smoking for health reasons fight. What hoax is this guy NOT behind?

    Your advice on devoting time is good — but I want to be sure there are solid rebuttals available.

    Like

  14. MarkH says:

    Oh, Milloy is an old hand at distributing junk science in the name of opposing it. He even was pushed out of Cato after they figured out he was on a tobacco company payroll while denying the adverse health effects of tobacco.

    He’s a crank, and a liar. I actually wouldn’t bother devoting too much time to individual takedowns. Most of his stuff should be easily dismissed using the denialism standards.

    Like

  15. Ed Darrell says:

    Only 105 more to go!

    Like

  16. Bug Girl says:

    This is awesome, Ed. Thanks!!!!

    Like

  17. mon@rch says:

    I don’t understand what is going on against Rachel Carson? Never heard of this site and will go check it out! I just have that “what?” thought in my head!

    Like

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