Bated breath, bated brains, bated sense and DDT

July 11, 2009

At the root of all the false tales about Rachel Carson and DDT there are a handful of sources, all of them with an axe to grind.  In any discussion where someone tries to make a claim that DDT is good but misunderstood, or that Rachel Carson was evil tantamount to Pol Pot, Mao ze Dong and Lex Luther combined, the sources will turn out to be Gordon Edwards, Steven Milloy parroting Gordon Edwards, Elizabeth Whelan, Roger Bate, or Richard Tren.

Oh, there’s that Driessen guy, but he just quotes these other guys, appearing not to bother to check the accuracy of their statements.

Not one of these sources is an expert on DDT or its class of chemicals.  None of them is an entomologist, other than Gordon Edwards, whose productive work in entomology ended well before he fell in with Lyndon LaRouche and other America-hating groups.

It’s a tight-knit bunch, largely out of the sight of reporters and fact-checkers — and definitely out of the sight of scientists who work in either malaria reduction, wildlife management, or toxics control

If you care about science, about the War on Science (you out there, Mooney?), if you care about health care in Africa, Africa, Asia or generally about fighting malaria and saving kids’ lives; if you have any dog in the wise management of natural resources and especially wildlife; if you care about environmental protection, and wise government policies that will protect your children’s and grandchildren’s health and heritage, you need to read this article on Roger Bate.

Now operating out of the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Bate’s signature coup to date has been to spread the myth that environmentalists, by preventing the use of the pesticide DDT (Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) to kill mosquitoes in developing countries, have heartlessly caused millions of malaria deaths worldwide. It needs to be said at the outset that this argument is untrue. While some groups have pressed hard to find alternatives, there is little evidence that a concerted effort to abolish anti-malaria DDT spraying ever occurred. Of the few environmental organizations that even pay attention to pesticide use overseas, the ones with any clout all support a clause in the Stockholm Convention that allows DDT use for public health reasons.

The fact that this knowledge has not stopped Roger Bate is not surprising. The wider the untrue story spreads, the worse environmentalists look, and that’s always been his bottom line. For all his personal likeability, he is a man on a mission, and because he doesn’t let anything slow down the pace and scope of his argument, he is very good at what he does.

The story is titled “Bate and Switch: How a free-market magician manipulated two decades of environmental science.”

Adam Sarvana wrote the story for the Public Education Center (PEC), a non-profit center with an investigative journalism experiment based in Washington, D.C.  (Note to newspapers:  You can probably get rights to print this story.)

Quick!  Warn the others:

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