Lens incompetence: Watts Up looks through the wrong end of the telescope


The wags and denialists over at Anthony Watts’ joint are up to their old tricks, accusing others of their own errors.  Today it’s a guest post by Bernie Lewin, in which he claims that climate warming was all psychological, a “scare”:

Yet we can find precedents to this science-base scare in many health scares of recent decades, and also in environmental scares since the DDT cancer scare triggered by Silent Spring, politicised by the EDF and legalized by the newly formed EPA. (See Scared to Death which finds a repeating pattern to these science-based scares.)

Woman looking through the wrong end of a telescope

This woman might be corrected; global warming denialists will staunchly insist she knows what she's doing and doesn't need YOUR advice.

He fails to even think that Rachel Carson was right.  Lewin demonstrates incompetence at history, law and science, and the first point of the Scout Law, all in one sentence.

So much error.  So little time to correct.

  1. Carson didn’t claim DDT caused cancer. She noted that we create thousands of chemicals that may cause cancer, that cancers were rising in frequency, and that there was no testing of the new substances prior to their marketing.   Was there a DDT/cancer scare?  Lewin doesn’t offer any evidence.  (We had to correct Matt Ridley on this a couple of weeks ago – see his post here.)
  2. EDF (Environmental Defense Fund, now known as Environmental Defense) was on DDT without Carson — suing to stop DDT spraying (for no good reason) on Long Island in 1968.  EDF relied on science that was courtroom ready.  (I had misremembered the year of EDF’s suit in an earlier version of this post; my apologies to the two or three who may have read it.)  EDF’s suits established, on the basis of science, that DDT is an uncontrollable poison in the wild.  Lewin ignores science and law in his off-hand indictment of Carson’s book and ED.
  3. EPA didn’t act against DDT until 1972.  EPA banned DDT use on agricultural crops in the U.S. because DDT kills non-target species and, basically, entire ecosystems.  EPA was specific:  The ban had nothing to do with cancer.  Once again, Lewin ignores history, science and law.

So, in Lewin’s guest post, we see the pattern that continues at Watts’s place — unfair and wrong indictments of science, ignorance of history, little understanding of law.

All while trying to mock scientists:  ‘Of course scientists are almost always wrong,’ Watts’s blog argues, once again.

Watts won’t let me correct his errors there, even though he’s still coddling those who misdescribe Rachel Carson as a mass murderer, while denying he does it himself.  Consequently his readers won’t be alerted to this post because Watts or his minions will edit out the automatic ping his blog gets that this post is here.  Propaganda promoting falsehood can’t stand the sunlight of fact and truth.

Just because there’s a scare doesn’t mean there’s not a reason to be scared.  DDT is a deadly toxin, so long-lived that it almost cannot ever be eradicated from the environment.  It kills everything small, quickly, unless so much of it is used that the small things evolve quickly to be resistant and immune to it.

So, if we are to assume, as Lewin wrote, that the anti-warming bunch is to warming what the campaign against Rachel Carson by the DDT manufacturers was to DDT’s harms, we get a hint of what’s really up at Watts Up:  Any anti-warming claim is a hoax.  Why put it so cryptically, if that’s what they meant to say?

When Lewin looks at the history of DDT and Rachel Carson, he’s looking at the false history, and he draws the wrong conclusions.  Should we trust a guy so sloppy with the facts to be right on anything else?

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9 Responses to Lens incompetence: Watts Up looks through the wrong end of the telescope

  1. Millard Fillmore; American Minute…

    trackback >>The Moral Liberal: Defending the Judeo-Christian ethic, limited government, and the American constitution>>…

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  2. mark says:

    Do these people have a formal script they all work from? Kind of like the ID Manifesto that came to light in another case claiming the scientists were all wrong and conspiring against the victimized wackaloons.

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  3. [...] more here: Lens incompetence: Watt's Up looks throught he wrong end of the … This entry was posted in Green Politics and tagged Climate, ddt, global, green, Green [...]

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Kind of like pretending Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house!”

    As Ellie noted, even quoted correctly, that was a stupid response to the question about how her being in Alaska or governor of Alaska gave her foreign policy experience.

    In contrast, Carson got the science right the first time. It’s the critics who keep getting the facts wrong, and the case wrong.

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  5. Nick K says:

    Morgan, if DDT is so harmless to humans then you’re willing to let it be used around you, right?

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  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Morgan, the charge is that DDT was safe, harmless, and completely useful as a pesticide; therefore, EPA’s ban was arbitrary and capricious. You, being of sound mind, know that agencies may not make decisions that are arbitrary and capricious.

    So you already know the complaint isn’t right.

    Morganlogic is to miss the bigger point and pick nits, as if nits mattered. And then to illogically defend nefarious actions as if they were intellectual exercises.

    Ron Baily is not a dummy. He could not fail to know that he misrepresented the science and facts about DDT (eggshell thinning was determined to be one of the main causes of chick casualties, but the research wasn’t done until the 1970s, years after Carson’s death. Surely Bailey knows that the Delaney Clause applies only to food additives, and not to pesticides — but he fuzzes the matter remarkably, in the confusion, the better to make a non-scientific case, I suppose.

    And surely Bailey knows that DDT wasn’t banned for causing cancer. All his angst over DDT’s weakness as a carcinogen is crocodile weeping, really.

    Tolman also incorrectly attributes the carcinogenicity claim to Carson — but his piece is highly ironic, wholly apart from the fact it comes from CEI, the cancer-lobby’s best friend since the demise of the Tobacco Institute. Bailey’s no dummy, so we must assume there is some nefarious reason he so carefully misstates the facts. He rests his case on a National Academy of Sciences study of studies which concluded that, overall, our food supply is very safe. He fails to note the study by that same agency, 16 years earlier, that said DDT was one of the greatest life-saving chemicals ever created, but its harms outweighed those enormous benefits, and so NAS pushed harder than Carson, calling for a complete phase out of DDT as quickly as possible.

    Which NAS does Tolman actually support? The second study doesn’t do anything to restore DDT’s reputation, and doesn’t in any way rebut NAS’s call for an end to DDT.

    J. Gordon Edwards was no dummy, either - so his descent into madness, or something so close to madness as to make him incapable of thinking straight about DDT, is all the more sad. Perhaps Edwards was suffering from acute DDT poisoning — it is said he drank the stuff before lectures on pesticides. In any case, by the time he wrote that screed with its dozens of false citations, he had gone around the bend on the issue of DDT. That’s why the only place he could get it published was in the magazine of Lyndon Larouche, one of the greater political nutters of the 20th and 21st centuries (shame on you for not telling us you’re a Larouche disciple . . . if you are. If you’re not, why are you citing him?).

    Edwards was no dummy when he was younger; Larouche’s taking advantage of an old man who had lost command of his faculties is sad.

    For example, Edwards wrote:

    As I neared the middle of the book, the feeling grew in my mind that Rachel Carson was really playing loose with the facts and was also deliberately wording many sentences in such a way as to make them imply certain things without actually saying them. She was carefully omitting everything that failed to support her thesis that pesticides were bad, that industry was bad, and that any scientists who did not support her views were bad.

    That’s complete crockery. Get the book, look at the citations. They are solid. She cites reputable journals, and reputable scientists. There is no conjecture, there is no junk science. In Edwards most famous case where he accuses Carson of omitting something, in the explanation of the work of DeWitt, Edwards had to edit Carson’s quotes to make them say something Carson did not say in her book, and he had to omit most of DeWitt’s research, and he had to completely misrepresent DeWitt’s work. Then he has the gall to complain about Carson?

    Then Edwards said:

    I then took notice of her bibliography and realized that it was filled with references from very unscientific sources. Also, each reference was cited separately each time it appeared in the book, thus producing an impressive array of “references” even though not many different sources were actually cited. I began to lose confidence in Rachel Carson, even though I thought that as an environmentalist I really should continue to support her.

    I next looked up some of the references that Carson cited and quickly found that they did not support her contentions about the harm caused by pesticides. When leading scientists began to publish harsh criticisms of her methods and her allegations, it slowly dawned on me that Rachel Carson was not interested in the truth about those topics, and that I really was being duped, along with millions of other Americans.

    Contrary to the facts. The President’s Science Advisory Council checked the book for accuracy in early 1963, and they concluded Carson was accurate. Who are we going to believe, the President’s Science Advisory Council whose work was published, or Gordon Edwards, whose work was refused by reputable publishers?

    Just follow the footnotes.

    If the article made a case against Carson, it would be a shabby case. (See here

    All one has to do is follow the footnotes, Morgan.

    I quoted Lewin directly, and I attribute nothing more to him than what I quote. It is you, instead, who is trying to put things in that were not uttered, and defend the indefensible.

    DDT is a poison. Were it not, it wouldn’t be useful as a pesticide. DDT is carcinogenic, though fortunately, probably weakly so in humans. DDT is not the answer to malaria, not since abuse of DDT by pro-DDTers rendered it less effective, and useless.

    Don’t you feel silly making stuff up to try to make a case against me, Morgan? At least Gordon Edwards had age and chemical poisoning as an excuse. You?

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  7. Ellie says:

    Sarah Palin did not say “I can see Russia from my house.” Sarah Palin said, “You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska,” in answer to a question about what insights into Russian policy the proximity gave her. That is a direct quote, and available on video all over the place.

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  8. Matt says:

    By the way, I’ve started blogging again Ed.
    Feel free to drop by. Think you gave me a bit of a wake up call. Heh.

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  9. 1. Can’t find where Lewin accuses Carson of claiming DDT causes cancer. However, I certainly can see how a casual reader of Silent Spring might come away thinking it does, esp. around p. 225.
    2. “Triggered by Silent Spring, politicised by the EDF” does not specifically deny the EDF was “on DDT” before Carson’s book.
    3. “Legalized by the newly formed EPA” does not specifically state EPA acted against DDT before the EDF, or before 1972.

    Darrellogic is a technique by which the competence or lack thereof shown in anybody’s thinking process, is assessed according to whether that person ends up agreeing with Ed Darrell about something. So that this person and this person and this person, are all a bunch of dummies, and Peggy Joseph is some kind of genius for thinking Obama’s gonna put gas in her car.

    It doesn’t work because it presumes certain fortunate smarty-pants of exceptionally high character are always right about everything, and certain dimbulb idiots who are creepy rotten lying jerks anyway, are always wrong. Real life just isn’t that simple. And, anyway, even if he’s wrong about everything else, Lewin does have a good point: The last few decades have seen an explosion in “scare science,” mostly state-funded. If you agree with all of it and like where all of it’s going, you would also have to agree the potential for abuse is off the charts and this is not a good development.

    But it certainly does make Lewin look silly when you pretend he said a bunch of stuff he didn’t actually say, huh? And it’s fun! Kind of like pretending Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house!”

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