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.)
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.]
“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.