Quote of the moment: Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer-winning explanation of mosquitoes developing immunity to DDT

April 30, 2010

When evolutionists study these worldwide resistance movements, they see four classes of adaptations arising, because an insect under attack has four possible routes to survival.

Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch

Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time

First, it can simply dodge. Strains of malarial mosquitoes in Africa used to fly into a hut, sting someone, and then land on the hut wall to digest their meals. In the 1950s and 1960s health workers began spraying hut walls with DDT. Unfortunately in every village there were always a few mosquitoes that would fly in through the window, bite, and fly right back out. Millions of mosquitoes died, but these few survived and multiplied. Within a short time almost all of the mosquitoes in the villages were hit-and-run mosquitoes.

Second, if an insect cannot dodge, it can evolve a way to keep the poison from getting under its cuticle. Some diamondback moths, if they land on a leaf that is tainted with pyrethroids, will fly off and leave their poisoned legs behind, an adaptive trick known as “legdrop.”

Third, if the insect can’t keep the poison out, it may evolve an antidote. A mosquito species called Culex pipiens can now survive massive doses of organophosphate insecticides. The mosquitoes actually digest the poison, using a suite of enzymes known as esterases. The genes that make these esterases are known as alleles B1 and B2. Many strains of Culex pipiens now carry as many as 250 copies of the B1 allele and 60 copies of the B2.

Because these genes are virtually identical, letter by letter, from continent to continent, it seems likely that they came from a single lucky mosquito. The mutant, the founder of this particular resistance movement, is thought to have lived in the 1960s, somewhere in Africa or Asia. The genes first appeared in Californian mosquitoes in 1984, in Italian mosquitoes in 1985, and in French mosquitoes in 1986.

Cover of Jonathan Weiner's book, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time

Finally, if the insect can’t evolve an antidote,it can sometimes find an internal dodge. The poison has a target somewhere inside the insect’s body. The insect can shrink this target, or move it, or lose it. Of the four types of adaptations, the four survival strategies, this is the hardest for evolution to bring off — but [entomologist Martin] Taylor thinks this is how Heliothis [virescens, a cotton boll-eating moth] is evolving now.

“It always seems amazing to me that evolutionists pay so little attention to this kind of thing,” says Taylor. “And that cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is evolution itself they are struggling against in their fields each season. These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution. How can you be a creationist farmer any more?”

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time, Alfred A. Knopf 1994, pp. 254-255. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1995.


I get political e-mail, from Bill White on Texas social studies standards

April 29, 2010

Good information, oddly enough for a political note:

Dear Ed,

Click here to watch video
Watch my brief comments
and join the conversation.

We need your help to keep divisive politics out of Texas’ classrooms.

From now until May 14th, the State Board of Education is accepting public comments on its proposed curriculum changes.

The SBOE has proposed removing Thomas Jefferson from a part of the curriculum. They are also planning to exclude references to Hispanics who fought Santa Anna and died at the Alamo.

Watch the YouTube video with my brief comments by clicking here.

During the primaries, Texans voted against the most extreme and hyper-political SBOE candidates, sending a clear message about their approach of injecting politics into our classrooms.

Last month, I called on Rick Perry to ask his appointed chair of the SBOE to either send changes back to expert review teams or delay the vote until new board members are seated.

Perry’s response has been to say that he’s not going to “try to outsmart” the SBOE. He declined to show leadership, refusing to ask his appointed chair of SBOE to rein in the hyper-political curriculum amendment process.

Join the conversation and spread the word about this opportunity to be heard.

Our next governor should be a leader who ensures our schools prepare young Texans for college and their careers. I am committed to improving education and working for our future.

Thank you for taking the time to weigh in.

Sincerely,

Bill White

P.S. If you would like to send your comments directly to the SBOE, click here.


Teaching Now, new blog

April 29, 2010

It’s from the folks at Education Week and Teacher magazine:  Teaching Now.

You may want to see the entry a couple of days ago about a school who issued cell phones to fifth grade students, and why.

Or note this story that Broward County, Florida, is hacking away at salaries for librarians and teachers of art, music and physical education.


Diane Ravitch in Dallas: NCLB isn’t working

April 28, 2010

Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the principal education theorists behind the No Child Left Behind Act, will speak twice in Dallas over the next two days — telling how NCLB is not working

Both public events, tonight at 7:00 p.m., and Thursday at the Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, are sponsored by the Dallas Institute.

Note that registration is required for tonight’s session:

To All Staff RE: The Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities presents: Education Forum: What Makes a Good Education?

Two Public Events: Wednesday, April 28, at 7 p.m., and Thursday, April 29, at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 7 p.m. Evening Forum and Book Signing at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Montgomery Arts Theater, 2501 Flora Street, Dallas, 75201

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Diane Ravitch, Education Historian

In this age of productivity models and minimum standards, the topic of a good education often
gets lost, but it evokes the century-long quarrel between the practical and the academic
curricula in our public discourse. Today, if we want to build a school system that will serve our
youth not only in their schooling but throughout life, we need to place what makes a good education
at the center of our discussion.

Beginning this conversation during our inaugural Education Forum are two noted authorities in the teaching profession: Dr. Diane Ravitch and Dr. Louise Cowan

Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the nations leading education historians and author of the
#1 bestselling book on education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

In it, Dr. Ravitch explains why she is recanting many of the views she held as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Based on the data, she claimed in a recent interview on The Diane Rehm show, the remedies are not working and will not give us the educated citizens that we all want. Dr. Ravitch will explore what makes a good education and how to fulfill our commitment to a democratic future.

Dr. Louise Cowan, a Founding Fellow of the Dallas Institute and former dean at the University of Dallas, created the Institutes nationally recognized Teachers Academy programs from her vision of what makes a good education. For 27 years, these programs have challenged area school teachers to assume their full authority and responsibility as teaching professionals.

SEATING FOR THE EVENING FORUM IS LIMITED – ADMISSION BY RESERVATION ONLY

Teachers Admission – $15 / General Admission – $25

Deadline to register is noon, Wednesday, April 28.

For more information or to register, call 214-871-2440, or go to http://www.dallasinstitute.org/programs_events_eduforum.html

Thursday, April 29, 2010, 7 p.m. Evening Book Discussion at the Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, 2719 Routh Street, Dallas, Texas 75201

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

Discussion of Dr. Ravitchs new book will be led by Institute Fellows and Teachers Academy alumni.

General Admission – $10

For more information or to register, call 214-871-2440, or go to http://www.dallasinstitute.org/programs_events_eduforum.html

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
2719 Routh Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
www.dallasinstitute.org


Decline and fall of the Wall Street Journal — DDT poisoning to blame?

April 27, 2010

Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal provoked groans in 2007, but especially among those of us who had dealt with the news teams of the paper over the previous couple of decades.

For good reason, we now know.  An opposite-editorial page article in the European edition shows why.

Wall Street Journal images - Gothamite New York image

Richard Tren and Donald Roberts, two anti-environmentalist, anti-science lobbyists, wrote a slam at scientists, environmentalists, malaria fighters and the UN, making false claims that these people somehow botched the handling of DDT and allowed a lot of children to die.  Tren, Roberts and the Wall Street Journal should be happy to know that their targeting essentially public figures, probably protects them from libel suits.

Most seriously, the article just gets the facts wrong.  Facts of science and history — easily checked — are simply stated erroneously.  Sometimes the statements are so greatly at odds with the facts, one might wonder if there was malignant intent to skew history and science.

This is journalistic and newspaper malpractice.  Any national journal, like the WSJ, should have fact checkers to check out at least the basic claims of op-ed writers.  Did Murdock fire them all?  How can anyone trust any opinion expressed at the Journal when these guys get away with a yahoo-worthy, fact-challenged piece like this one?

Tren and Roberts make astounding errors of time and place, attributing to DDT magical powers to cross space and time.  What are they thinking?  Here are some of the errors the Journals fact checkers should have caught — did Murdoch fire all the fact checkers?

  1. Beating malaria is not a question of having scientific know howCuring a disease in humans requires medical delivery systems that can diagnose and treat the disease.  DDT does nothing on those scores.  Beating malaria is a question of will and consistency, political will to create the human institutions to do the job.  DDT can’t help there.
  2. DDT wasn’t the tool used to eradicate malaria from the U.S.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control — an agency set up specifically to fight diseases like malaria — says malaria was effectively eradicated from the U.S. in 1939.  DDT’s pesticide capabilities were discovered in mid-1939, but DDT was not available to fight malaria, for civilians, for another seven years.  DDT does not time travel.
  3. DDT doesn’t have a great track record beating malaria, anywhere. Among nations that have beaten malaria, including the U.S., the chief tools used were other than pesticides.  Among nations where DDT is still used, malaria is endemic.  DDT helped, but there is no place on Earth that beat malaria solely by spraying to kill mosquitoes.  Any malaria fighter will tell you that more must be done, especially in improving medical care, and in creating barriers to keep mosquitoes from biting.
  4. Beating malaria in the U.S. involved draining breeding areas, screening windows to stop mosquitoes from entering homes, and boosting medical care and public health efforts. These methods are the only methods that have worked, over time, to defeat malaria.  Pesticides can help in a well-managed malaria eradication campaign, but no campaign based on spraying pesticides has ever done more than provide a temporary respite against malaria.
  5. DDT is not a magic bullet against malaria. Nations that have used DDT continuously and constantly since 1946, like Mexico, and almost like South Africa, have the same malaria problems other nations have.  Nations that have banned DDT have no malaria.
  6. DDT has never been banned across most of the planet.  Even under the pesticide treaty that specifically targets DDT-classes of pesticides for phase out, there is a special exception for DDT.  DDT was manufactured in the U.S. long after it was banned for agricultural use, and it is manufactured today in India and China.  It is freely available to any government who wishes to use it.
  7. People in malaria-prone areas are not stupid. Tren and Roberts expect you to believe that people in malaria-prone nations are too stupid to buy cheap DDT and use it to save their children, but instead require people like Tren and Roberts to tell them what to do.  That’s a pretty foul argument on its face.
  8. DDT is a dangerous poison, uncontrollable in the wild. Tren and Roberts suggest that DDT is relatively harmless, and that people were foolish to be concerned about it.  They ignore the two federal trials that established DDT was harmful, and the court orders under which EPA (dragging its feet) compiled a record of DDT’s destructive potential thousands of pages long.  They ignore the massive fishkills in Texas and Oklahoma, they ignore the astounding damage to reproduction of birds, and the bioaccumulation quality of the stuff, which means that all living things accumulate larger doses as DDT rises through the trophic levels of the food chain.  Predatory birds in American estuaries got doses of DDT multiplied millions of times over what was applied to be toxic to the smallest organisms.
    DDT was banned in the U.S. because it destroys entire ecosystems.  The U.S. ban prohibited its use on agriculture crops, but allowed use to fight malaria or other diseases, or for other emergencies.  Under these emergency rules, DDT was used to fight the tussock moth infestation in western U.S. forests in the 1970s.
  9. Again, DDT’s ban in the U.S. was not based on a threat to human health. DDT was banned because it destroys natural ecosystems. So any claim that human health effects are not large, misses the point.  However, we should not forget that DDT is a known carcinogen to mammals (humans are mammals).  DDT is listed as a “probable human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society and every other cancer-fighting agency on Earth.  Why didn’t the Journal’s fact checkers bother to call their local cancer society?  DDT is implicated as a threat to human health, as a poison, as a carcinogen, and as an endocrine disruptor.  Continued research since 1972 has only confirmed that DDT poses unknown, but most likely significant threats to human health.  No study has ever been done that found DDT to be safe to humans.
  10. Use of DDT — or rather, overuse of DDT — frequently has led to more malaria. DDT forces rapid evolution of mosquitoes.  They evolve defenses to the stuff, so that future generations are resistant or even totally immune to DDT.  Increasing DDT use often leads to an increase in malaria.
  11. Slandering the World Health Organization (WHO), Rachel Carson, the thousands of physicians in Africa and Asia who fight malaria, or environmentalists who have exposed the dangers of DDT, does nothing to help save anyone from malaria.

Tren and Roberts have a new book out, a history of DDT.  I suspect that much of the good they have to say about DDT is true and accurate.  Their distortions of history, and their refusal to look at the mountain of science evidence that warns of DDT’s dangers is all the more puzzling.

No world class journal should allow such an ill-researched piece to appear, even as an opinion.  Somebody should have done some fact checking, and made those corrections before the piece hit publication.

Full text of the WSJ piece below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Colleague’s Fulbright-Hays trip to Senegal

April 26, 2010

One of my colleagues — an art teacher; you know, the adventurous type — heads off to Senegal this summer on a Fulbright-Hays program.

I’m sorta jealous, of course.  I need time to push our history course to championship level, though — I didn’t apply for anything this summer.

You can track Mr. Adkins’ trip and progress at a blog he’s set up, appropriately called Mr. Adkins’ Great Adventure in Senegal.

If you’re teaching world history, or art, or government, or environmental science, or geography, this might be a great blog to track.

Senegal is a very interesting place.  Note on the map how it completely surrounds its neighbor nation of The Gambia.

FAA map of Senegal

Senegal, map courtesy of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

France held the nation as a colony once upon a time, from 1850 to independence of the Mali Federation in 1960 — one of the national languages is French, but regional languages are numerous, Wolof, Soninke, Seereer-Siin, Fula, Maninka, and Diola.  The Mali Federation was short-lived, and Senegal broke off in August of 1960.

If you listen to NPR, you’ve probably heard their reporter signing off in that distinct way she does, “Tthis is Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, for NPR, in Dah-KAHHH!”  (Not to be confused with Dacca, Pakistan).

According to the CIA Factbook (online version):

The French colonies of Senegal and the French Sudan were merged in 1959 and granted their independence as the Mali Federation in 1960. The union broke up after only a few months. Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia in 1982, but the envisaged integration of the two countries was never carried out, and the union was dissolved in 1989. The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) has led a low-level separatist insurgency in southern Senegal since the 1980s, and several peace deals have failed to resolve the conflict. Nevertheless, Senegal remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Senegal was ruled by a Socialist Party for 40 years until current President Abdoulaye WADE was elected in 2000. He was reelected in February 2007, but has amended Senegal’s constitution over a dozen times to increase executive power and weaken the opposition, part of the President’s increasingly autocratic governing style. Senegal has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation.

The country is tropical, hot and humid.  Geographically, it is low, rolling plains.

Dakar is about as far west as one can go on the African continent.   (See the map inset — Senegal is in dark green).

Senegal has iron ores, and phosphorus (ancient bird droppings?).  It’s not a rich nation, but it’s better off than many developing countries.

Adkins is in for a great adventure, no?

Africa, showing Senegal - CIA Factbook

Africa, showing Senegal - CIA Factbook


Strike a blow against malaria, for World Malaria Day, April 25, 2010

April 25, 2010

Today is World Malaria Day.

Not a day to celebrate malaria, but to encourage the fight against it.

What can you do?  One good thing would be to give $10 to Nothing But Nets, the campaign to get bednets for every kid in an African area affected by malaria.

Bednets save lives of kids like this 4-year old - Photo by Paul Bettings/World Vision

Bednets save lives of kids like this 4-year old - Photo by Paul Bettings/World Vision

Another thing to do would be to remember that fighting malaria does not require DDT, and in fact fighting malaria might be hampered by DDT.

Go donate.  We’ll worry about the charlatans later.


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