President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Council (PSAC) studied Rachel Carson’s best-selling book, Silent Spring, checking it for scientific accuracy. Kennedy read the book himself, but sought expert advice before doing anything. Meanwhile, DDT manufacturers bankrolled an extensive public relations campaign claiming DDT was safe, and suggesting Carson was less than a careful writer and scientist.
On May 15, 1963, PSAC reported: Carson was right. Pesticides were being misused, even abused, and some pesticides like DDT presented significant threats to the environment. “The Use of Pesticides” recommended increased government scrutiny of the safety and efficacy of pesticides, and vindicated Carson’s reporting of science findings.
Some radicals argue that Rachel Carson’s legacy is tarnished, that she was in error about DDT, and that somehow that translates into many deaths as a result of malaria, as if DDT worked against malaria parasites themselves. With such a strong propaganda campaign of disinformation plagueing us today, we do well to pause and remember that Carson’s work was subjected to intense, careful scrutiny by scientists from the start. Carson’s reporting was accurate, and her legacy of environmental protection and saving lives should be celebrated.
Teaching Resource: Role play simulation, “Advisory Committee on Pesticides 1963,” (see especially the list of historic and scientific resources available for study and for the simulation, from Douglas Allchin).
Updates, January 2013:
More, from 2013:
- New Rachel Carson Biography (Book Acquired, 11.13.2012) (biblioklept.org)
- Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring at 50: Catalog of tributes (timpanogos.wordpress.com)
- Rachel Carson biography, On a Farther Shore, one of best books of 2012 (timpanogos.wordpress.com)
- Margaret Atwood: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 50 years on (guardian.co.uk)
- Scientists hate the GOP for a reason (salon.com)
- Still no ban on DDT: Treaty monitors allow DDT use to continue (timpanogos.wordpress.com)