Mau-mauing the gullibles: Sirkin on DDT (again)


The hard core uneducables who make of the hard knot at the center of the anti-science and anti-environmental movement just refuses to jettison their adored myths about science, regardless how many times those myths are shown to be false.

It’s a religious exercise with them, and their faith in error and bad applications of science won’t be shaken.

Have you ever read Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers? Claiming Ruckelshaus an enemy of Africans and Rachel Carson a mass murderer is the new Radical Chic, and constant writing about it the new Mau-mauing.

Natalie Sirkin writes screeds for newspapers in Connecticut, I understand from an odd blog that collects these misdeeds, Don Pesci’s Connecticut Commentary:  Red Notes from a Blue State.

(Pesci has a particular fetish for DDT myths, and Sirkin’s been there, too.  He’s hard-core — no amount of information can sway him.)

Sirkin’s latest screed is “Myths for Fun and Profit,” and includes as one of the myths DDT’s ban in the U.S.  Her complaint is badly worded, but from the brief and grossly wrong explanation, we can see she thinks that DDT shouldn’t have been banned, and that map and calendar challenged, she thinks the ban on using DDT on cotton in the U.S. in 1972 somehow led to a rise in malaria in Africa in the 1980s. (Mosquitoes don’t travel that far, generally, either across the ocean from the U.S. to Africa, nor in time, from 1972 to 1980, nor the other way around.)

Sirkin wrote:

8….DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. “It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,” concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it. Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.

Why, these irrational policy errors?

So I responded:

Banning DDT from agricultural use was an extremely rational act, as vouched for by the summary judgment against the DDT manufacturers in both of the cases brought against EPA for the ban, and as vouched for by the removal of the bald eagle and brown pelican from the Endangered Species List.

Sirkin wrote:  “DDT, the most wonderful chemical ever. ‘It is estimated that in little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable,’ concluded the National Academy of Sciences in 1971, the year before EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned it.”

EPA relabeled DDT in 1972, not 1971, effectively banning the use of DDT on cotton.  Under that rule, DDT could be available to fight malaria in the U.S., and DDT was manufactured in the U.S. for export to anyone who wished to use it.  There has never been a ban on using DDT to fight malaria.

But DDT ceased to work well against malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the 1960s.  Africans are not stupid.  Had DDT been a panacea, I’m sure they would have used it.

But while I worry about your implicit denigration of Africans and Asians in suggesting they are somehow incapable of deciding for themselves to use an effective weapon against disease, I am more concerned at your erroneous characterization of DDT’s value.  The National Academy of Sciences made an editing error, so part of your error is understandable.  DDT was never credited with saving 500 million lives.  During the entire time DDT has been available to fight malaria, from 1946 to today, the death rate worldwide from malaria has never exceeded 4 million a year, and since the 1960s the death rate has been about a million year.  At 4 million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 125 years prior to now.  Insecticidal properties of the stuff were discovered only in 1939, 70 years ago.

At about a million deaths per year, to save 500 million lives, DDT would have had to have been used for 500 years.

Clearly there was an error in math, or confusion in citations.  About 500 million people are afflicted with malaria annually, noted earlier in that NAS book, which is where I think the 500 million figure came from.

But let’s leave that aside for a moment.  That 1970 publication by the National Academy of Sciences was an evaluation of chemicals in the environment.  That sentence crediting DDT with saving so many lives, erroneous as it was, was in a call to ban DDT as quickly as possible, and to increase research to find alternatives to DDT in order to get DDT use completely stopped.

NAS recognized the value of DDT, but said it was too dangerous to keep using.

Don’t cite NAS’s credit to DDT without noting they said we must stop using it, because its dangers outweigh the benefits.

You can find a more thorough discussion of the NAS report at this blog. [You should go see, Dear Reader — neither Sirkin nor Pesci will likely ever bother.]

Sirkin wrote:
“Thanks to Ruckelshaus, Rachel Carson, environmentalist extremists, and the WHO, millions of Africans including children are dying or disabled today.”

With the great assistance of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and continued efforts of the World Health Organization, several African nations have cut malaria rates by 50% to 85% with the use of bednets and “integrated vector management” (IVM), usually known as integrated pest management (IPM) in the U.S.

Anyone who reads Carson’s astoundingly accurate book knows that she did not call for a ban on DDT, but instead called for the use of an integrated program of pest management.  Had we listened to Rachel Carson in 1962, we could have saved several million children from death, in Africa, from malaria alone.  It is scurrilous, calumnous, and inaccurate to the point of sin to blame Rachel Carson for deaths caused by failure to listen to her and heed her words.

Ruckelshaus acted with full knowledge of the National Academy of Science’s calling for an end to DDT use due to its harms, known and then unknown.  It is foolish to blame people for acting with hard evidence and careful, rational thought.  It’s particularly ungraceful to then accuse them of acting irrationally.

I doubt that either Pesci or Sirkin will ever change their tune.  They’d have to concede that science works, that scientists are not all evil, and that sometimes environmentalists, and even liberals, get things right.  More importantly, they’d have to concede they erred — and that would be like Baum’s Wicked Witch of the West taking a shower.

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4 Responses to Mau-mauing the gullibles: Sirkin on DDT (again)

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Your snide and condensing dismal of those who disagree with you is wholly unsupported by your argument, your capacities and your accomplishments.

    I offer hard science, the mathematical calculations, and accuracy. You’re welcome, even if you can’t read it, or don’t read it. The man who can read and does not, is no better off than the man who can’t read, Twain said. Just more belligerent and less humble.

    Which category should we put you in?

    If you can defend Sirkin’s endorsement of an obvious mathematical error, please do so. If you can contradict the National Academy of Science’s book-length call for caution in dealing with chemicals like DDT, do so. If you want someone to actually read what you write, you may want to work harder to say something.

    Like

  2. Ed Darrell says:

    You really present no evidence at all, but merely resort to the twin logical fallacies of ad hominen attacks and appeals to authority.

    Sirkin offers nothing, not even a good reference. I offer a piece that goes to the original source, with more than 4,500 words in explanation. Let me invite you read it again, as slowly as you have to not to miss this link.

    Like

  3. hattip says:

    Yet again you wallow in your left-wing, self-congratulatory narcissim and confound your truly risible notions of intellectual and moral superiority with the real and actual world and your position in it.

    You really present no evidence at all, but merely resort to the twin logical fallacies of ad hominen attacks and appeals to authority. Moreover, to label those who disagree with you “anti-science” or “anti-environmental” is, at least in the non-political senses of the terms, just the purest of slander and are in fact outright lies. You well know that that is not the case. Had you a tenth of the moral authority you imagine that you have, you would apologize. The simple fact that you cannot do so speaks so very much more of your capacity for self-deception and misplaced high self-regard than it does of any capacity for morality, honor and reason.

    How Liberal of you.

    Res ipsa loquitur, it is truly a preposterous position to assert. This greatly harms your “argument”, such as it is, and profoundly undermines your moral standing and credibility, especially in any discussion about science.

    Witness: We have had two major scandles out of the ADW crowd, the crowd you no doubt hold as being quite the opposite of “anti-science” and “anti-environmental”, in about as many weeks, with more sure to follow. These brazen deceptions were out of so-called “government scientific authorities”. The Left’s co-option of science for poltical ends is a well know aspect of modern history and all we need do to see this is look at the abuses of Psychiatry and Genetics that took place in the late USSR (or the Fourth Reich, for that matter). A more cynical soul then myself would think that you are trying to deflect the sting of these new scandals by diversionary tactics. But if this is the case, let me assure you that this will not work. The “official, government sanctioned,
    scientific’ Left” has been caught out.

    By indulging in baseless personal attacks and by making your fallacious appeals to authority, you are merely showing your complete lack uf understand of exactly what science is and hw it works. You also as show a complete lack of responsible, adult probity. You most certainly make no valid arguments here whatsoever.

    This is all polemic and slander that you offer, that and the left’s childish faith in government and “official” institutions.

    In fact, it is the Left’s attempt at the co-option of science that is “anti-scince”, “anti-intelelctual”, and in the end, against our civlization itself and therefore barbaric: It cynically manipulates method,emperical or otherwise, in order to advance its aganda.

    Our society can little endure this sort of fraudulaent and rapcious behavior out of those who it would trust to respect rational truth and scientific empiricism. This sort of assault on the reasonable world by the “institutional scientists” allied with the environmental movement in fact a sort of cultural and intellecutal form of rape. It reduces science to merely another special interest group rattling the cup at the taxpayer’s gate.

    If scientists cannot not be trusted with the truth then the modern world will surely fall away. That the Left so recklessly and heedlessly corrupts the institutions, methods and processes of science for the sake of their ideology betrays just how irresponsible they are in character and just how monstrously evil are their intents and actions.

    But you, being a liberal, in your willful obtuseness and vanity, refuse to see what you are cheering on.

    Your snide and condensing dismal of those who disagree with you is wholly unsupported by your argument, your capacities and your accomplishments.

    Shame on you.

    Like

  4. geogen says:

    Quite brilliant.

    Like

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