Sowell wrong about DDT and Rachel Carson


Thomas Sowell bolloxed it up at National Review Online:

Who blames Rachel Carson, an environmentalist icon, because her crusading writings against DDT led to the ban of this insecticide in countries around the world — followed by a resurgence of malaria that killed, and continues to kill, millions of people in tropical Third World countries?

To which I responded:

Who blames Rachel Carson?

Only someone ignorant of malaria and DDT, or someone with a real political axe to grind.

Malaria did not “resurge” when DDT was banned on cotton crops in the U.S.  The U.S. ban did not extend to Africa, and DDT has never been banned in Africa nor most of Asia.

Malaria deaths have declined steadily over the past 50 years, generally as DDT use was reduced.  In 1959 and 1960, the peak years of DDT use, 4 million people died from malaria, worldwide.  WHO cut back on DDT use in 1965 when mosquitoes began showing serious resistance and immunity to the stuff, but by 1972, when the U.S. banned agricultural use of DDT (but continued exports), about 2 million people died annually from malaria.

Today, largely without DDT, malaria deaths are down to under 900,000 — a 75% reduction in deaths from peak DDT use.

Instead, since 2000 we’ve been using integrated vector management (IVM) to hold mosquito populations down, and we’ve been using improved medical care to treat humans who have malaria.  IVM and beefed up medical care was what Rachel Carson recommended in her book, <i>Silent Spring</i>, in 1962.

So, there is no cause-effect relationship between Ms. Carson and the U.S. ban on DDT, nor between that ban and malaria deaths.  In fact, there are fewer malaria deaths now than when DDT was used irresponsibly.

Carson was right.  It’s a good thing wise people listened to her.

More information?  See Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:
http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ddt-chronicles-at-millard-fillmores-bathtub/

Who knows what comments see the light of day over there?

How many times will conservative commentators of all stripes abuse the DDT/Rachel Carson story before they start getting it right?  How much does that skew their views from the accurate and wise view?

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10 Responses to Sowell wrong about DDT and Rachel Carson

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    It would be difficult to locate a more biased article than yours.., and no not a fan of either malaria or DDT.

    How is my article biased? Please offer evidence to back allegations.

    An example, you focus solely on deaths, neglecting the MILLIONS of infected EACH YEAR.
    From the WHO:
    “in 2008, there were 247 million cases of malaria and nearly one million deaths – mostly among children living in Africa. In Africa a child dies every 45 seconds of Malaria, the disease accounts for 20% of all childhood deaths.”

    So, since DDT was banned for use on cotton in the U.S., malaria infections have fallen from about a billion a year to 247 million — another 75% reduction (the other 75% reduction was in death totals). You’re saying that malaria infections have been reduced by 75%, and you think that’s bad?

    I would caution that there is no cause-effect relationship, but you understand that the number of malaria deaths, and the number of malaria infections, have plunged since massive DDT use was stopped? There is a direct correlation between DDT use and malaria rates and malaria deaths. It’s pure coincidence, as I said not causal — but as we reduce DDT use, malaria infections and deaths drop. Consequently, it is completely false to claim that stopping DDT use anywhere has led to greater malaria infection, or to greater malaria deaths. Site by site studies verify that DDT is not a panacea against malaria, and in those places where malaria increased after DDT use was slowed or stopped, it was not due to an absence of DDT.

    As a pragmatic matter, DDT has never been banned in Africa or Asia. As a troubling fact for DDT, India is one of the few places in the world with a modest increase in malaria right now — and India is the world’s greatest manufacturer of DDT and greatest user. India today uses more DDT than all the other nations combined. Clearly, DDT cannot be said to be a miracle powder with such a colossal failure as India.

    I think a million deaths from malaria is way, way too high (actually, it’s under 900,000/year now — also good news; the lowest death rate and totals in human history, and as you indicated above, probably the lowest infection rate in human history, too). Malaria fighters tell us that the way to bring that death toll down is to improve health care in many nations where malaria remains endemic, because beating malaria requires first, quick and accurate diagnoses of the disease, and second, delivery of a successful round of therapeutic medicines to treat the disease in humans. DDT is expensive, and its use tends to cut into fighting malaria effectively.

    The third big thing required to beat malaria is simple prevention of bites from malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Those species tend to bite humans between late dusk and just after midnight, generally close to those people’s homes or in their homes. Prevention works best if it includes draining breeding areas close to those homes (rain gutters, potholes, old tires — not swamps and rivers), and putting screens on windows, or using netting.

    In actual tests and use over the past ten years, bednets have proven about 25% as expensive as DDT (I exaggerate a bit in DDT’s favor), and twice as effective in preventing mosquito bites from malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

    You have a choice, we have a choice: You may join us in fighting malaria, or you can continue to rail against malaria fighters and call for an ineffective and dangerous application of DDT. You should understand that advocacy of DDT generally is exclusive of fighting malaria. Malaria fighters have all the DDT they need right now, and it is increasingly ineffective.

    DDT, or less malaria? That should not be a difficult choice for a rational, compassionate person.

    Apparently, all is well in your little world if a disease is treatable, and one counts only deaths from malaria, again neglecting to note that a malaria weakened body is far more susceptible to death from other causes. So in your opinion, a treatable disease is nothin’ to bitch about? But hey, you’re feelin’ good, so what’s the problem?

    No, all is not well in my world at all. I keep getting affronted by blockheads who don’t know much about malaria, and who know less, or “know” false things about malaria. What’s the old saying? “Been fighting ignorance since 1974 — it’s taking longer than we thought.” What would be your solution to that problem? I’ve written about 100 articles on the issue over the past four years, with about a million readers, and I’ve raised money for Nothing But Nets. What are you doing?

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  2. itor says:

    It would be difficult to locate a more biased article than yours.., and no not a fan of either malaria or DDT.

    An example, you focus solely on deaths, neglecting the MILLIONS of infected EACH YEAR.
    From the WHO:
    “in 2008, there were 247 million cases of malaria and nearly one million deaths – mostly among children living in Africa. In Africa a child dies every 45 seconds of Malaria, the disease accounts for 20% of all childhood deaths.”

    Apparently, all is well in your little world if a disease is treatable, and one counts only deaths from malaria, again neglecting to note that a malaria weakened body is far more susceptible to death from other causes. So in your opinion, a treatable disease is nothin’ to bitch about? But hey, you’re feelin’ good, so what’s the problem?

    Like this

  3. Jim says:

    Someone too ashamed to publish his name says, “This all goes back to “overpopulation” and the thought that we have to control the number of black Africans”.

    Ah yes, the wonderful old urban legend that the eugenics movement was a creation of the left wing. What utter and abject nonsense.

    There certainly were advocates for eugenics and population control on the left. And just as many or more on the right. Sometimes, for altruistic — if misguided reasons. And sometimes for purely racist reasons. Way to take a miniscule kernal of truth and pretend it’s the whole story, anon.

    Charles B. Davenport’s views domestic policy are unknown to me, but he was an enthusiast supporter of both Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. I’ve not seen any evidence linking H.H. Laughlin to the liberal left or the radical right, assigned from the fact that Nazi organizations and universities gave him honorary degrees and other accolades. He didn’t refuse them. Wickliffe P. Draper, another noted eugenecist, aligned himself with conservatives against Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Social Security and later, against the SCOTUS Brown decision of 1954. Odd that such a “liberal” always ended up on the conservative side of the argument.

    It could be argued, I suppose, that Henry Goddard was a liberal and a eugenecist. Of course, Goddard publicly admitted his early 20th Century study of retardation was tremendously flawed.

    You might also care to note that the awful 1924 Immigration Act was enthusiastically supported by and signed into law by…Calvin Coolidge. It was almost entirely “informed” by the work of eugenecists like those mentioned above.

    The carnival act is getting old. No informed person believes Eugenics to be a movement primarly fueled by the Left. A decent share of eugenics advocates were lefties. But not all of them and I daresay, not even a majority.

    Yeah, I’m with Ed. I get why you want to be “anon”.

    Jim

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    anon said:

    DDT eradicates malaria, as opposed to half measures that slightly reduce it.

    If were to make such a patently racist claim, I’d want to be anonymous, too. Even those who say stupid things like that know it’s wrong.

    If DDT is so effective, why don’t more nations in Africa use it? It’s freely available, and it’s still rather cheap.

    DDT could be at best a small part of a more serious strategy to fight malaria.

    Killing mosquitoes buys a few weeks to make everything else work, but it hurts malaria fighting in the long run.

    Malaria plays no role in working against overpopulation. Our research shows that eradicating malaria has the salutary effect of allowing people to choose to have fewer children, and they do.

    Anon, your views are disgusting and your thinking cap is a few sizes too small.

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  5. anon says:

    DDT eradicates malaria, as opposed to half measures that slightly reduce it.

    This all goes back to “overpopulation” and the thought that we have to control the number of black Africans, because if we don’t kill them now they are going to die later. lol…

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  6. mark says:

    Conservatives and science: Oil and water.

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Morgan complains that environmentalists don’t understand or appreciate how things work, and make bad decisions as a result.

    In this case, however, it is his hero, Thomas Sowell, who doesn’t understand malaria, entomology, or DDT, and so makes a crass assumption which has continued the plague of malaria, killing millions unnecessarily.

    Sowell, and Morgan, assume that DDT is not a deadly toxin, and that environmentalists were wrong to indict it. They fail to understand that DDT is worse than environmentalists feared in 1962 (when Rachel Carson wrote her book), and that the continued, unwarranted belief that all we need to do is poison the hell out of Africa to end malaria has hampered the real fight against malaria, which requires instead that we build medical care capabilities in third-world conditions, and that we not seek push-button or quickie solutions that temporarily make things look better, but harm people in the long run.

    Sowell assumes, erroneously, that he cares for people, while he advocates the people-killing solutions. It is the environmentalists, like Rachel Carson, who promote the solutions that allow industrialization, and also take care of more people.

    And, by the way, science doesn’t have a bias. That Sowell is wrong doesn’t make me left wing. It makes him wrong. At least that’s the way it should be. Is Morgan arguing that one has to be wrong to be right wing?

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  8. vanderleun says:

    I won’t. Nothing to see here. Moving along.

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  9. [...] tip a certain left-wing gadfly, whose own pen has been agitated into motion, busily correcting the Sowell over quibbling, [...]

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  10. Ellie says:

    I’ll be getting out the popcorn for this post.

    Like this

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