Especially on his birthday, don’t call Darwin racist — he wasn’t

February 12, 2013

Creationists, Intelligent Design proponents, and several other anti-science and historical revisionist groups come unglued every February about this time — February 12 is Charles Darwin’s birthday.  He was born in 1809, on the exact same day as Abraham Lincoln.

Part of creationists’ coming unglued revolves around that fact that the science behind evolution grows stronger year by year, and at this point no argument exists that creationists can make against evolution that has not been soundly, roundly and thoroughly.  This makes creationists nervous in a discussion, because even they recognize when they lose arguments.   Creationists don’t like to lose arguments about how well Darwin’s theories work, because they erroneously believe that if Darwin is right, God and Jesus are wrong.

God and Jesus cannot be wrong, in their view, but intellectually they see they are losing the argument, and they grow desperate.  In their desperation they grasp for claims that shock uneducated or unfamiliar viewers.  Since about 1970, among the more shocking arguments one can make is to claim one’s opponent is racist.

Claiming Darwin, and hence evolution, boost racism, slaps history with irony.  Creationism’s roots were in denying that Europeans and Africans are evolutionarily equal, a claim necessary to allow slave holders to enslave Africans and go to church on Sundays.  The Civil War is 150 years away, the Emancipation Proclamation 148 years old, and even die-hard creationists generally have forgotten their own history.

Creationists accuse Darwin of being a racist, they claim evolution theory is racist, and they claim, therefore, it cannot be scientifically accurate.  There are a lot of holes in that chain of logic.

This is Darwin’s birthday.  Let me deal with major wrong premise, and give creationists room to correct their views with accurate history, so we don’t have a shouting match.

Way back in 2008, nominally-liberal evangelical preacher Tony Campolo got suckered in by a conservative evangelicals claim to him that evolution and Darwin are racist.  Below is my answer to him then — I think Campolo learned his lesson — but this builds on the claims Campolo made which are really copied from creationists.

In short, Darwin is not racist, and here are some explanations why, with a few updated links and minor edits for Darwin’s birthday, and Lincoln’s birthday, in 2013:

Tony Campolo is an evangelical Christian, a sociology professor and preacher who for the past 15 years or so has been a thorn in the side of political conservatives and other evangelicals, for taking generally more liberal stands, against poverty, for tolerance in culture and politics, and so on. His trademark sermon is an upbeat call to action and one of the more plagiarized works in Christendom, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming” (listen to it here).

Tony Campolo, from his website

Tony Campolo, in a publicity still from his website. He should be more gray by now (this photo is no later than 2008, and probably earlier).

Since he’s so close to the mainstream of American political thought, Campolo is marginalized by many of the more conservative evangelists in the U.S. Campolo is not a frequent guest on the Trinity Broadcast Network, on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” nor on the white, nominally-Christian, low-budget knock-off of “Sabado Gigante!,” “Praise the Lord” (with purple hair and everything).

Campolo came closest to real national fame when he counseled President Bill Clinton on moral and spiritual issues during the Lewinsky scandal.

His opposite-editorial piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 2008, “The real danger in Darwin is not evolution, but racism,” is out of character for Campolo as a non-conservative evangelistic thinker — far from what most Christians expect from Campolo either from the pulpit or in the college classroom. The piece looks as though it was lifted wholesale from Jerry Falwell or D. James Kennedy, showing little familiarity with the science or history of evolution, and repeating canards that careful Christians shouldn’t repeat.

Campolo’s piece is inaccurate in several places, and grossly misleading where it’s not just wrong. He pulls out several old creationist hoaxes, cites junk science as if it were golden, and generally gets the issue exactly wrong.

Evolution science is a block to racism. It has always stood against racism, in the science that undergirds the theory and in its applications by those scientists and policy makers who were not racists prior to their discovery of evolution theory. Darwin himself was anti-racist. One of the chief reasons the theory has been so despised throughout the American south is its scientific basis for saying whites and blacks are so closely related. This history should not be ignored, or distorted.

Shame on you, Tony Campolo.

Read the rest of this entry »


Junk science in education: Testing doesn’t work, can’t evaluate teachers

July 29, 2012

Diane Ravitch, who once had the ear of education officials in Washington and would again, if they have a heart, brains, and a love for the U.S. defended teachers and teaching in a way that is guaranteed to make conservatives and education critics squirm

Cordial relations with Randi Weingarten may not rest well with our teacher friends in New York — but listen to what Dr. Diane Ravitch said at this meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.

  • “Teachers are under attack.”
  • “The public schools are under attack.”
  • “Teachers unions are under attack.”
  • “Public schools are not shoe stores.  They don’t open and close on a dime.”
  • “‘Value-added assessment,’ used as it is today, is junk science.”

If you care about education, if you care about your children and grandchildren, if you care about the future of our nation, you need to listen to this.


458

AFT HQ description:

Diane Ravitch, education activist and historian, rallied an enthusiastic audience at the AFT 2012 Convention with her sharp criticism of education “reform” that threatens public schools.

It’s all true.

More Resources and News:


One more time: Recognizing bogus history

May 14, 2012

2012 is an election year, a time when we make history together as a nation.  Potential turning points in history often get tarred with false interpretations of history to sway an election, or worse, a completely false recounting of history.  Especially in campaigns, we need to beware false claims of history, lest we be like the ignorants George Santayana warned about, doomed to repeat errors of history they do not know or understand.  How to tell that a purported piece of history is bogus?  This is mostly a repeat of a post that first appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub six years ago.

Recognizing bogus history, 1

Robert Park provides a short e-mail newsletter every Friday, covering news in the world of physics. It’s called “What’s New.” Park makes an art of smoking out bogus science and frauds people try to perpetrate in the name of science, or for money. He wrote an opinion column for the Chronicle of Higher Education [now from Quack Watch; CHE put it behind a paywall] published January 31, 2003, in which he listed the “7 warning signs of bogus science.”

Please go read Park’s entire essay, it’s good.

And it got me thinking about whether there are similar warning signs for bogus history? Are there clues that a biography of Howard Hughes is false that should pop out at any disinterested observer? Are there clues that the claimed quote from James Madison saying the U.S. government is founded on the Ten Commandments is pure buncombe? Should Oliver Stone have been able to to more readily separate fact from fantasy about the Kennedy assassination (assuming he wasn’t just going for the dramatic elements)? Can we generalize for such hoaxes, to inoculate ourselves and our history texts against error?

Bogus science section of Thinkquest logo

Perhaps some of the detection methods Park suggests would work for history. He wrote his opinion piece after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court laid out some rules lower courts should use to smoke out and eliminate false science. As Park described it, “The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.” The Court said lower courts must act as gatekeepers against science buncombe — a difficult task for some judges who, in their training as attorneys, often spent little time studying science.

Some of the Daubert reasoning surfaced in another case recently, the opinion in Pennsylvania district federal court in which Federal District Judge John Jones struck down a school board’s order that intelligent design be introduced to high school biology students, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Can we generalize to history, too? I’m going to try, below the fold.

Here are Park’s seven warning signs, boiled down:

Park wrote:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate. [I have cut out the explanations. — E.D.]

  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

Voodoo history

Here, with thanks to Robert Park, is what I propose for the warning signs for bogus history, for voodoo history:

  1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
  2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.  Bogus history relies more on invective than investigation; anyone with an opposing view is an “idiot,” or evil.
  3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure, or unavailable; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.
  4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
  5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
  6. The author has worked in isolation, and fails to incorporate or explain other, mainstream versions of the history of the incident, and especially the author fails to explain why they are in error.
  7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.

Any history account that shows one or more of those warning signs should be viewed skeptically.

In another post, I’ll flesh out the reasoning behind why they are warning signs.


DDT fanatic a former Monsanto lobbyist?

August 4, 2011

Sometimes in unexpected places you stumble across a factoid that makes sense out of a lot of other factoids, turning them into enlightening, and perhaps useful, information.

Steven Milloy used to be a Monsanto lobbyist?  Is that accurate?

Among the allegations, that Monsanto aggressively protects its patents on seeds and other products sold to farmers, and that the company may not be above a bit of skullduggery to push farmers and, in this case, milk processors, to use Monsanto products.  Watch for Steven Milloy’s name to pop up in the last paragraph.  The site quotes a Vanity Fair  article on Monsanto from 2008.

Even if Monsanto’s efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there’s nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don’t use Monsanto’s artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.

He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to “help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels.” There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn’t use Monsanto’s product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk.

There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. “They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do,” says Kleinpeter. “We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected.”

As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the “junk science” commentator for FoxNews.com and operator of junkscience.com, which claims to debunk “faulty scientific data and analysis.” It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the “junkman,” was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.

If accurate, it’s a sort of “origins” story — I don’t think it explains Milloy’s current advocacy of DDT and almost all other things anti-environmentally-wise.  Nor does it explain Milloy’s penchant for making things up whole cloth.  Does Fox News disclose this anywhere?

It does suggest his dirty tricks chops against environmentalists and scientists get exercised more than I had imagined.

The story is an interesting and odd footnote in the debunking of the unholy War on Science that claims Rachel Carson was wrong, and DDT is harmless and right.

More: 


Heritage Foundation urges that Africa be poisoned

May 7, 2011

Oh, not outwardly anti-Africa, but stupidly so.

The extreme right-wing Heritage Foundation lashed out at health care workers and scientists fighting malaria in Africa and Asia for World Malaria Day, April 25 (HF’s post showed up on May 5).  If these malaria fighters really were smart, HF’s Jane Abel wrote, they’d just poison Africa with DDT instead of protecting children with bednets and working to improve medical care.  According to Abel, DDT is safe for everyone but mosquitoes, and more effective than anything else malaria fighters use — so they are stupid and venal, she asserts, for not using DDT.

Here’s her post:

Environmentalists celebrated World Malaria Day last week (and Earth Day the week prior). Meanwhile, thousands of African children died of malaria.

While these activists may make themselves feel like they’re saving the world, they are ignoring the best possible solution to Africa’s malaria problem: the use of DDT to wipe out the Anopheles mosquito.

Even though the World Health Organization resumed promotion of DDT in September 2006—realizing it had the best track record for saving the lives of 500 million African children—environmentalists are still emphasizing the use of bed nets instead. DDT treatments almost completely eradicated the disease in Europe and North America 50 years ago, but today an African child dies every 45 seconds of malaria.

Providing sub-Saharan Africans with bed nets has had far from acceptable success in delivering the amount of protection needed from mosquitoes. The World Bank touts the fact that 50 percent of children in Zambia are now sleeping under nets as a good thing, but what about the other half who are left defenseless against a killer disease? The Democratic Republic of the Congo had only 38 percent of children under nets in 2010.

One would question why, in the 21st century, people should have to live inside of a net in order to be safe from malaria. The world has a better solution, and it’s not the quarantine of African infants. Dr. John Rwakimari, as head of Uganda’s national malaria program, described DDT, which is nontoxic to humans, as “the answer to our problems.”

World Malaria Day 2011 had the theme of “Achieving Progress and Impact” and aims to have zero malaria deaths by 2015. If the world really wants to make progress and increase the number of lives saved from malaria, it needs to embrace for Africans the best possible technologies available today, and that means DDT.

Here’s my response, which I predict will not show up at HF’s blog in any form*:

DDT is toxic to humans — just not greatly and acutely so.  Ms. Abel should be aware of recent studies that indicate even limited, indoor use of DDT in the end produces a death toll similar to malaria.  But we digress on just one of the errors assumed by Ms. Abel.

If DDT could wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes, WHO would not have slowed or stopped its use in 1965, years before anyone thought about banning the stuff.  By 1965 it was clear that overuse of DDT in agriculture had bred mosquitoes that are resistant and even immune to DDTJonathan Weiner noted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Beak of the Finch, that today every mosquito on Earth carries at least a few copies of the alleles that allow mosquitoes to digest DDT as if it were a nutrient.

DDT cannot be a panacea for malaria.

Please do not forget that malaria is a parasite disease, and that mosquitoes are only the carriers of it.  To truly eradicate malaria, we need to cure the humans — and if we do that, the mosquitoes do not matter.  With no infected humans, mosquitoes have no well of disease to draw from.  Without infected humans, mosquitoes cannot spread malaria.

Only 38 percent of children in Congo sleep under bednets?  I’ll wager that’s twice the percentage of kids that were ever protected from malaria in Congo by DDT.  In actual tests in Africa over the past decade, bednets have proven to reduce malaria by 50 to 85 percent; DDT, on the other hand, reduces malaria only 25 to 50 percent under the best conditions.  If we have to go with one and not the other, bednets would be the better choice.  Nets are much, much cheaper than DDT, too.  DDT applications must be repeated every 6 months, at a cost of about $12 per application per house.  Nets cost about $10, and they last five years.  Nets protect kids for $2 a year, better than DDT; DDT protects kids for $24 a year (that’s 12 times the cost), but not as effectively as nets.

Also, it’s important to remember that DDT has never been banned in Africa.  DDT non-use is much more a result of the ineffectiveness of DDT in many applications — why should we expect Africans to throw away hard-earned money on a pesticide that doesn’t work?

Finally, it’s also good to understand that, largely without DDT, malaria deaths are, today, at the lowest point in human history.  Fewer than 900,000 people a year die from malaria today.  That’s 25% of the death toll in 1960, when DDT use was at its peak.

Ms. Abel assumes that all Africans are too stupid to use DDT, though it might save their children.  He states no reason for this assumption, but we should question it.  If Africans do not use DDT, it may well be because the local populations of mosquitoes are not susceptible; or it could be because other solutions, like bednets, are more effective, and cheaper.

Ms. Abel has not made a case that DDT is the best solution to use against malaria.  DDT cannot improve a nation’s medical care delivery systems, to quickly diagnose and appropriately treat malaria in humans.  DDT cannot make mosquitoes extinct, we know from 66 year of DDT use that mosquitoes always come roaring back.  DDT cannot prevent mosquitoes from spreading malaria as effectively as bednets.

Maybe, just maybe, as evidenced by the dramatic reductions in malaria deaths, we might assume that modern Africans and health care workers know what they’re doing fighting malaria — and they do not need, want, or call for, a lot more DDT than is currently in use.

It’s too bad Heritage Foundation fell victim to so much junk science, and that the otherwise august press release operation pushes the grand DDT hoaxes.  Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if these conservative echo chambers would, instead of recycling the old, wrong press releases of other conservatives, would do a little research on their own, and get the facts right?

_______________

*  It’ll be fun to watch.  I sent my response early, early in the morning while rushing to get a presentation ready, and I made a couple of egregious typos, including identifying Jonathan Weiner as “Stephen Weiner.”  If HF wished to embarrass me, they’d publish that one out of their moderation queue — but I’ll bet that even with my typos, they can’t allow the facts through.  Also, for reasons I can’t figure, some guy named Thurman showed as the author of HF’s piece on May 5.  So I had referred to Mr. Thurman instead of Ms. Abel.  Interesting technical glitch, or story, there.

_______________

Update, May 8:  As we should have expected, Steven Milloy’s Junk Science Side Bar also went on record as favoring the poisoning of Africa rather than the fighting of malaria.  Milloy makes claims that DDT will beat malaria (ostensibly before it kills all life in Africa), but his sources don’t support the claim.  Milloy is always very careful to never mention that, largely without DDT, the death toll from malaria is at the lowest point in human history.  Instead he notes that while malaria fighters promoted World Malaria Day, lots of African kids died of malaria.  That’s true, but misleading.  Because of the malaria-fighting efforts of those Milloy tries to impugn, far fewer African kids die.  Contrary to Milloy’s insane and offensive claims, it’s not alright that “only people” die.  Milloy asserts implicitly that, but for environmentalists, thousands or millions of children would survive that do not know.  That’s not true:  Because of the work that Milloy denigrates, millions fewer die.  It wasn’t environmentalists who overused DDT and rendered it ineffective in the fight against malaria, it was Milloy’s funders.  Follow the money.


What sort of crazy is the warming denialist?

April 21, 2011

I’ve got to stop looking over there.

Goddard’s got a post up showing the great disregard he has for the facts, and the law, and history, etc., etc., etc.  It may be an unintentional showing, but there it sits, “like a mackerel in the moonlight, both shining and stinking.”

Jerome Corsi, that serial fictionalizer of vital issues, has a book out promoting his slimy schemes besmirch President Obama.  Goddard urges people to buy it.

But they really pile on in the comments.  It’s almost as if Casey Luskin had a whole family just like himself, and they got together to whine about Judge Roberts again.

Warming denialism, creationism and birthers — is it all just three minor variations on the same brain-sucking virus?  Or could three different diseases produce the same sort of crazy on so many different issues?

I’m reminded of the old saw that you cannot reason a person out of a position he didn’t reach by reason.  These guys will never see the light.  Heaven knows, it ain’t evidence that gets ‘em where they are now.

Previous posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Special kind of birther crazy:


Debunking Junk Science’s hoax “100 Things You Should Know About DDT”: #14, William Ruckelshaus’s bias

February 17, 2011

Another in a continuing series, showing the errors in JunkScience.com’s list of “100 things you should know about DDT.” (No, these are not in order.) In the summer of 2009, the denialists have trotted this error out again.

At the astonishingly truthfully-named site “Junk Science,” Steven Milloy creates a series of hoaxes with a page titled “100 things you should know about DDT.”  It is loaded with hoaxes about DDT, urging its use, and about Rachel Carson, and about EPA and the federal regulation of DDT, and about malaria and DDT’s role in the ambitious but ill-fated campaign to eradicate malaria operated by the World Health Organization (WHO) from 1955, officially until 1969.  Milloy knows junk science, and he dishes it out with large ladles.

Among what must be 100 errors, Milloy makes this claim, I suppose to suggest that William Ruckelshaus was biased when Rickelshaus headed the Environmental Protection Agency:

14.  William Ruckelshaus, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972, was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read “EDF’s scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won.”

This is a false statement on Milloy’s site.  After finding no credible source for the claim that Ruckelshaus was ever affiliated with EDF in any way, I contacted Ruckelshaus’s office, and got confirmation that Ruckelshaus was not and never has been affiliated with EDF.  It should be a clue that this claim appears only at sites who impugn Ruckelshaus for his action in banning DDT use in U.S. agriculture.

 

Junk Science's oddly apt logo and slogan

Hiding the truth in plain view: Junk Science is a site that promotes junk science, an unintended flash of honesty at a site that otherwise promotes hoaxes about science. Note the slogan. Does this site cover its hoaxes by stating plainly that it promotes "all the junk science that's fit to debunk?"

It is also highly unlikely that he ever wrote a fund-raising letter for the group, certainly not while he was a public official.  The implicit claim of Junk Science.com, that William Ruckelshaus was not a fair referee in the DDT case, is a false claim.

I asked Milloy to correct errors at his site, and he has steadfastly refused.

Here is what Milloy’s point #14 would say, with the falsehoods removed:

14.  William Ruckelshaus [was] the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who made the ultimate decision to ban DDT in 1972[.], was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ruckelshaus solicited donations for EDF on his personal stationery that read “EDF’s scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won.”

Below the fold:  William D. Ruckelshaus’s “official” biography, if you call him today, February 17, 2011.  You should note, there is no mention of any work with EDF.

Read the rest of this entry »


Called this one right: DDT advocates think poison is always the answer

October 25, 2010

This is a story about the persistence of bad information, and about the flow of news and other new information.

At about the same time I was writing about the Lancet study on potential undercounting of malaria deaths in India, Debora McKenzie at New Scientist pored over the same article (maybe the same Bloomberg News piece), and reported it in greater detail than I did here.  McKenzie’s piece is worthy of a read.

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit picked up on McKenzie’s piece – but reflecting his pro-poison and anti-humanitarianism bias, he tacked on a gratuitous slap at health workers, scientists and governments who tried to eradicate malaria in the 20th century:

MALARIA KILLING MORE PEOPLE THAN WE THOUGHT?

Malaria has always been one of humanity’s biggest killers, but it may be far bigger than we realised. An unprecedented survey of the disease suggests that it kills between 125,000 and 277,000 people per year in India alone. In contrast, the World Health Organization puts India’s toll at just 16,000.

Other countries using similar accounting methods, such as Indonesia, may also be underestimating deaths from malaria. That means it could be killing many more than the WHO’s official estimate of nearly 1 million people a year worldwide, suggesting more money should be spent to fight it.

It’s too bad the malaria eradication efforts were allowed to fail.

“Allowed” to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone wanted the program to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone could have stopped the failure, other than the pro-DDT forces who overused the stuff and drove mosquitoes to evolve resistance, or other than the governments of Subsaharan Africa who could not mount massive health care campaigns due to the instability of their governments?  It’s too bad the program failed — it was mighty ambitious.  “Allowed to fail” is an undeserved slap at malaria fighters like Fred Soper.

This slip to finger-pointing is what I warned about in my post:  Though India is the world’s greatest manufacturer of DDT, and though more DDT is used in India today than the rest of the world combined, someone will look at the undercount story, blame the imaginary ban on DDT, blame Rachel Carson (who never advocated a ban on DDT), and make some smug political snark.

Reynolds was pulled away from the snark, fortunately.  Reader Kevin O’Brien wrote to Reynolds about  the difficulties of beating any disease, using smallpox as his launching point.  Beating smallpox was a massive effort, made easier by the fact that the pox resided only in humans, as opposed to the malaria parasite’s two-species life cycle.  O’Brien’s missive to Reynolds, a few errors included, is the best commentary Reynolds has had on DDT and disease in some time.

One frequently-obnoxious blogger pulled back from the brink is not enough, though.

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt jumped the shark at his blog for the Melbourne (Australia) Daily Sun.  The headline for his post is inflammatory and wrong, and warns us that most of what Bolt writes will be wrong:

How many children did Carson’s green lies kill?

Foolish hope that DDT could be a magic bullet against malaria, like Bolt’s,  helps frustrate workable plans to fight the disease.  Policy makers being convinced that some political conspiracy keeps DDT from working to beat malaria, in effect kills children.  Fighting malaria requires long, hard work, to bolster health care systems in entire nations, to accurately and quickly diagnose malaria, and to provide complete treatment to cure human victims.  That work is hampered by policy makers and popular opinion who hold that DDT would be cheaper and quicker, and effective.  Bolt takes any source, no matter how scurrilous, in his unholy condemnation of conservationists and scientists, especially Rachel Carson.  His sole source to condemn Carson is a publication from the far, far-fringe.

How many children will Bolt’s brown lies kill? one could ask.

I warned earlier:

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

Andrew Bolt, you’ve made me a prophet — a saddened and disappointed prophet.  It’s good to see Glenn Reynolds step back from the brink of hysteria.  It’s too bad Bolt took the plunge.  Others will probably follow Bolt.

How far will the bad claims spread?


“3 billion and counting” — the errors one makes when using Howard Stern as a science advisor

October 7, 2010

“3 Billion and Counting” premiered at a tiny New York venue a couple of weeks ago, the latest skirmish in the War on Science. Physician-to-the-stars Dr. Rutledge Taylor claims that malaria could be eradicated if only DDT had not been banned from Africa.

What?  No, no, you’re right: DDT has never been banned from Africa, not even under the 2001 Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty.  The film comes out of Hollywood, starring a Hollywood physician.  Perhaps that should clue us in that it is not a serious documentary, and not to be taken at face value.

Nor at any value.

Taylor engaged a publicist and conducted a national campaign to launch the movie.  In that campaign he someone appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show.  [There's a guy in comments who claims it wasn't Taylor, though Taylor wrote it in the first person.  Odd as hell.]

How silly are the claims in the movie?

A post at the movie’s blog revealed that Ronnie, Stern’s limousine driver, had a fight with bedbugs, and that Stern thinks DDT should be brought back.  That’s how bad this movie is:  Howard Stern is the science advisor.

Yes, yes, you’re right:  DDT stopped working against bedbugs in the 1950s (see Bug Girl’s recent post).  That doesn’t stop the publicists from defending the movie at the movie’s blog.  “Royce” [who claims not to be a publicist for the movie] said:

The problem with DDT is that it worked too well in stomping out malaria. The science proves that it minimally impacted the environment. But this information was suppressed. Wonder why and by whom? This movies addresses and uncovers the answers to these questions..Questions that many of us had about this issue.

I tried, without success I’m sure, to set him straight:

Royce,

First, DDT was not the weapon that eradicated malaria in the U.S.  We worked for 30 years to improve medical care, beef up the Public Health Service and county public health officers, educate people on how to drain mosquito breeding areas near their homes, be certain people with malari were fully treated to a cure, and to raise incomes to improve housing so that people could live in a home where mosquitoes could not enter at night (the times malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite).  By 1939, malaria was essentially eliminated from the U.S.  DDT was not available for use for another seven years.

Earlier we had defeated malaria and yellow fever in Panama, during the construction of the Panama Canal — long before any insecticide existed.  Beating malaria is possible with discipline, accurate information, and sustained effort.  No pesticide is necessary.

Second, DDT has never been out of use in Africa since 1946, nor in Asia.  DDT is in use right now by the World Health Organization (WHO) and at least five nations in Africa who have malaria problems.  If someone told you DDT is not being used, they erred.

Unfortunately, overuse of DDT by agricultural interests, in the early 1960s, bred mosquitoes that are resitant and immune to DDT.  DDT simply is not the effective pesticide it once was, and for the WHO project to eradicate malaria, this problem was the death knell.  WHO had to fall back to a malaria control position, because pro-DDT groups sprayed far too much of the stuff, in far to many places, mostly outside.

Third, all serious studies indicate that DDT greatly affects environment, with doses of the stuff multiplying from application through the top of the trophic levels in the ecosystem.  A minimal dose of DDT to kill mosquito larva in an estuary, for example, multiples many times as zooplankton and the mosquito larva soak it up.  The next level of consumers get about a ten-times dose from what was sprayed, and that multiplies exponentially as other creatures consume the lower-level consumers.  By the time an insect or crustacean-eating bird gets the critter, the dose is millions of times stronger, often to fatal levels for the bird.

If the dose is sub-lethal, it screws up the reproduction of the bird.  DDT in the egg kills the chick before it can fledge from the nest, often before it can hatch.  If by some miracle the chick does not die from acute DDT poisoning, the eggshells produced by a DDT-tainted female bird are often too thin to survive the growth of the embryo — either way the chicks die.  (There are a couple of studies done on plant-eating birds which showed that the chicks did not die before hatching — they died shortly after hatching.)

DDT is astoundingly effective at screwing up the reproduction of birds.

Fourth, studies show that humans exposed to DDT rarely get an acutely toxic dose, but that their children get screwed up reproductive systems, and there is a definite link from DDT exposure to the children of the mother — the cancer goes to the next generation.  DDT is not harmless to people at all — it is just not acutely toxic, generally.

Fifth, as I note above, DDT is no longer highly effective in controlling mosquitoes.  Where once it killed them dead, they have developed immunity, and now digest the stuff as if it were food.  There are studies that show DDT is also weakly repellent, but there are better, less-toxic repellents, and there is no reason to use something so deadly to all other creatures in the ecosystem to get a weak repellent effect.

Because of the biomagnification, DDT kills the predators of mosquitoes much more effectively, and for a much longer period, than it kills mosquitoes.  This sets the stage for mosquitoes to come roaring back, with all the natural checks on mosquito population out of commission.

Why use a poison that is not very effective, but very deadly, when there are better alternatives available?

Malaria death rates are the lowest they have been in human history.  There is no good case to be made that more DDT could provide any benefit.

DDT is still manufactured in astonishing quantity in North Korea, for one.  DDT is used in Africa and Asia, but no one with any sense uses it to eradicate malaria — DDT screwed up that chance 50 years ago.

Rutledge’s movie appears to be sinking from release (it’s played two theaters that I can find, for less than a week at each).  It may be far underwater already.  It would be to DDT whatExpelled” was to creationism, but it lacks the cloying, gullible religious fanatics to push it.

Thank God.

Malaria-fighting pesticide sprayers in Africa - publicity still from "3 Billion and Counting"

Mystery photo: If spraying pesticides to fight malaria isn't allowed in Africa as Rutledge Taylor argues, why are these pesticide sprayers pictured in this photo? Publicity still from "3 Billion and Counting" via Rotten Tomatoes website

Also see, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


Warming deniers surprised by winter

July 27, 2010

Were you writing fiction, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Another bastion of people misled by the lack of a Hemingway-brand Solid Gold Sh*t Detector™.

Another person proud as heck of her denial of global warming, points to cattle freezing in South America in July as proof that the Earth’s atmosphere is not warming.

At a blog called Frugal Café Blog Zone, “Where it’s chic to be cheap… Conservative social & political commentary, with frugality mixed in,” blogger Vicki McClure Davidson headlined the piece:

“Remember Al Gore’s “Global Warming” Hoax? People & Cattle in South America Are Dying from Extreme Cold in July”

Gee, how to break this news to her?

Vickie, sit down.  This is something you should have learned in geography in junior high:  In the Southern Hemisphere, winter starts on June 21It’s cold in South America in July, because it’s winter in South America in July.

Cold in winter.  They don’t expect it.  These warming denialists provide the evidence those crabs need, who wonder whether there shouldn’t be some sort of “common sense test” required to pass before allowing people to vote, or drive, or have children.

Oh, it gets worse:

Another site picked up the post.  No, seriously.  (Has Anthony Watts seen this yet?)

  • Voting Female [I am convinced that is a sock puppet site designed to insult women; no woman could be that stupid, could she?]
Earth at northern solstice

Earth at northern solstice - Wikimedia image


Another study on human health and DDT: ADHD linked to DDT and other pesticides

July 7, 2010

Extravagant and way-too-enthusiastic claims that DDT is “harmless” to human health keep getting marginalized by new studies on the topic.

This week the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported another study that links DDT to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, “Increased Risk of ADHD Associated With Early Exposure to Pesticides, PCBs.”

I don’t have a full copy of the report yet.  Here is what is publicly available for free:

Individuals who are exposed early in life to organophosphates or organochlorine compounds, widely used as pesticides or for industrial applications, are at greater risk of developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to recent studies. Previous studies had linked ADHD with very high levels of childhood exposure to organophosphate pesticides, such as levels experienced by children living in farming communities that used these chemicals. But a recent study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that even children who experience more typical levels of pesticide exposure, such as from eating pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables, have a higher risk of developing the disorder.

JAMA. 2010;304(1):27-28.

Many of the chief junk science promoters will ignore this study, as they ignore almost all others — Steven Milloy, Roger Bate, Richard Tren, CEI, etc., etc.  How often does the junk science apple have to hit people before they figure out these people are malificent actors, when they claim DDT is harmless and we need more?

See also:


Washington Times felled by DDT poisoning

June 9, 2010

Washington Times‘ owner, the Unification Church, put the paper up for sale earlier this year — tired of losing north of $30 million a year on the thing.  It appears that, in a cost-cutting move, the paper has laid off all its fact checkers and most of its editors.

And anyone with a brain.

How do we know?

Our old friend Stephen Milloy complains about Time Magazine’s “50 Worst Inventions” list, including, especially the listing of DDT, as discussed earlier.  It’s wrong, and silly.  Good fact checkers, and good editors, wouldn’t let such claptrap make it into print.

Milloy packed an astounding number of whoppers in a short paragraph about DDT:

From 1943 through its banning by the EPA in 1972, DDT saved hundreds of millions of lives all over the world from a variety of vector-borne diseases. Even when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (and closeted environmental activist) William D. Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1972, he did so despite a finding from an EPA administrative law judge who, after seven months and 9,000 pages of testimony, ruled that DDT presented no threat of harm to humans or wildlife. Today, a million children die every year from malaria. DDT could safely make a tremendous dent in that toll.

Let us count the errors and falsehoods:

1.  DDT was used against typhus from 1943 through about 1946, and against bedbugs; it saved millions, but not hundreds of millions. Death tolls from typhus rarely rose over a million a year, if it ever did.  Bedbugs don’t kill, they just itch.  If we add in malaria after 1946, in a few years we push to four million deaths total from insect-borne diseases — but of course, that’s with DDT being used.  If we charitably claim DDT saved four million lives a year between 1943 and 1972, we get a total of 117 million lives saved.  But we know that figure is inflated a lot.

Sure, DDT helped stop some disease epidemics.  But it didn’t save “hundreds of millions of lives” in 29 years of use.  The National Academy of Sciences, in a book noting that DDT should be banned because its dangers far outweigh its long-term benefits, goofed and said DDT had saved 500 million lives from malaria, and said DDT is one of the most beneficial chemicals ever devised by humans.  500 million is the annual infection rate from malaria, with a high of nearly four million deaths, but in most years under a million deaths.  Malaria kills about one of every 500 people infected in a year.  That’s far too many deaths, but it’s not as many lives saved as Milloy claims.

NAS grossly overstated the benefits of DDT, and still called for it to be banned.

The question is, why is Milloy grossly inflating his figures?  Isn’t it good enough for DDT to be recognized as one of the most beneficial substances ever devised?

My father always warned that when advertisers start inflating their claims, they are trying to hide something nasty.

2.  Ruckelshaus didn’t ban DDT on his own — nor was he a “closeted” environmentalist. He got the job at EPA because he was an outstanding lawyer and administrator, with deep understanding of environmental issues — his environmentalism was one of his chief qualifications for the job.  (Maybe Milloy spent the ’70s in a closet, and assumes everyone else did, too?)  But EPA acted only when ordered to act by two different federal courts (Judge David Bazelon ordered an end to all use of DDT at one of the trials).  At trial, DDT had been found to be inherently dangerous and uncontrollable.  Both courts were ready to order DDT banned completely, but stayed those orders pending EPA’s regulatory hearings and action.

In fact, regulatory actions against DDT began in the 1950s; by 1970, scientific evidence was overwhelming (and it has not be contradicted:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency with responsibility of regulating pesticides before the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, began regulatory actions in the late 1950s and 1960s to prohibit many of DDT’s uses because of mounting evidence of the pesticide’s declining benefits and environmental and toxicological effects. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962 stimulated widespread public concern over the dangers of improper pesticide use and the need for better pesticide controls.

In 1972, EPA issued a cancellation order for DDT based on adverse environmental effects of its use, such as those to wildlife, as well as DDT’s potential human health risks. Since then, studies have continued, and a causal relationship between DDT exposure and reproductive effects is suspected. Today, DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities. This classification is based on animal studies in which some animals developed liver tumors.

DDT is known to be very persistent in the environment, will accumulate in fatty tissues, and can travel long distances in the upper atmosphere. Since the use of DDT was discontinued in the United States, its concentration in the environment and animals has decreased, but because of its persistence, residues of concern from historical use still remain.

3.  Judge Sweeney ruled that DDT is dangerous to humans and especially wildlife, but that DDT’s new, Rachel-Carson-friendly label would probably protect human health and the environment. EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney presided at the hearings in 1971.  As in the two previous federal court trials, DDT advocates had ample opportunity to make their case.  32 companies and agencies defended the use of DDT in the proceeding.  Just prior to the hearings, DDT manufacturers announced plans to relabel DDT for use only in small amounts, against disease, or in emergencies, and not in broadcast spraying ever.  This proved significant later.

Judge Sweeney did not find that DDT is harmless.  Quite to the contrary, Sweeney wrote in the findings of the hearing:

20.  DDT can have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish and estuarine organisms when directly applied to the water.

21.  DDT is used as a rodenticide. [DDT was used to kill bats in homes and office buildings; this was so effective that, coupled with accidental dosing of bats from their eating insects carrying DDT,  it actually threatened to wipe out some species of bat in the southwest U.S.]

22.  DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.

23.  DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.

DDT use in the U.S. had dropped from a 1959 high of 79 million pounds, to just 12 million pounds by 1972.  Hazards from DDT use prompted federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to severely restrict or stop use of the stuff prior to 1963.  Seeing the writing on the wall, manufacturers tried to keep DDT on the market by labeling it very restrictively.  That would allow people to buy it legally,  and then use it illegally, but such misuse can almost never be prosecuted.

Sweeney wrote that, under the new, very restrictive label, DDT could be kept on the market.  Ruckelshaus ruled that EPA had a duty to protect the environment even from abusive, off-label use, and issued a ban on all agricultural use.

4.  More DDT today won’t significantly reduce malaria’s death toll. Milloy fails to mention that DDT use against malaria was slowed dramatically in the mid-1960s — seven years before the U.S. banned spraying cotton with it — because mosquitoes had become resistant and immune to DDT.  DDT use was not stopped because of the U.S. ban on spraying crops; DDT use was reduced because it didn’t work.

Milloy also ignores the fact that DDT is being used today.  Not all populations of mosquitoes developed immunity, yet.  DDT has a place in a carefully-managed program of “integrated vector management,” involving rotating several pesticides to ensure mosquitoes don’t evolve immunity, and spraying small amounts of the pesticide on the walls of houses where it is most effective, and ensuring that DDT especially does not get outdoors.

To the extent DDT can be used effectively, it is being used.  More DDT can only cause environmental harm, and perhaps harm to human health.

Most significantly, Milloy grossly overstates the effectiveness of DDT.  Deaths from malaria numbered nearly 3 million a year in the late 1950s; by the middle 1960s, the death rate hovered near 2 million per year.  Today, annual death rates are under a million — less than half the death rate when DDT use was at its peak.  Were DDT the panacea Milloy claims, shouldn’t the death numbers go the other way?

Milloy gets away making wild, misleading and inaccurate claims when editors don’t bother to read his stuff, and they don’t bother to ask “does this make sense?”  Nothing Milloy claims could be confirmed with a search of PubMed, the most easily accessible, authoritative data base of serious science journals dealing with health.

Obviously, Washington Times didn’t bother to check.  Were all the fact checkers let go?

Even more lunatic

Milloy also attacked the decision to get lead out of gasoline.  Ignoring all the facts and the astoundingly long history of severe health effects from lead pollution, Milloy dropped this stinking mental turd:

As to leaded gasoline, we can safely say that leaded gasoline helped provide America and the world with unprecedented freedom and fueled tremendous prosperity. We don’t use leaded gasoline in the United States anymore, but more because people simply don’t like the idea of leaded gasoline as opposed to any body of science showing that it caused anybody any harm. It’s the dose that makes the poison, and there never was enough lead in the ambient environment to threaten health.

The U.S. found that getting lead out of gasoline actually improved our national IQ.  Lead’s health effects were so pervasive, there was an almost-immediate improvement in health for the entire nation, especially children, when lead was removed.  Denying the harms of tetraethyl lead in gasoline goes past junk science, to outright falsehood.

What is Milloy’s fascination with presenting deadly poisons as “harmless?”  Why does he hate children so?

Why do publications not catch these hallucination-like errors and junk science promotions when he writes them?

Antidote to DDT poisoning in humans:  Spread the facts:

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False claims on DDT

June 6, 2010

One wishes Rachel Carson were still alive, to sue for slander.

One of the more interesting ways claims like those of Rich Kozlovich can continue to circulate, they are not based on any scientific studies.  Had Kozlovich made such claims in a scientific journal, they would have to be retracted. The claims in favor of DDT made at that site are pure hoax, junk science, bogus science, voodoo science (pick your favorite term).

Kids aren’t dying for a lack of pesticides — DDT is still available and cheap in India, China and across Africa.  Malaria is a disease, and it can’t be cured in humans by poisoning the environment.  Malaria’s spread can’t be stopped until we cure in humans so mosquitoes have no pool of disease to draw from, to spread to the next victim.

More:


Climate change: We’ll see you in court

May 21, 2010

Contemplation of Justice, statue by James Earle Fraser at the U.S. Supreme Court (exterior) - photo by Steve Petteway

Contemplation of Justice, statue by James Earle Fraser at the U.S. Supreme Court (exterior) - photo by Steve Petteway

From a press release from Gardere and Wynn:

Gardere’s Faulk And Gray Tapped To Represent Business, Industry In Climate Change Amicus Briefs

Gardere Wynne Sewell attorneys Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray have been retained to write amicus curiae briefs to federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to public nuisance lawsuits regarding global climate change.

(I-Newswire) May 13, 2010 – HOUSTON – Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray, co-chairs of Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP’s Climate Change Task Force, have been retained to write amicus curiae briefs to federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court in relation to public nuisance lawsuits regarding global climate change.

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray, partners in Gardere’s Houston office, will represent a group of organizations that include the American Chemistry Council, The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, The American Coatings Association, and the Public Nuisance Fairness Coalition.

The first brief was filed in the 5th Circuit on Friday, May 7, in the case of Comer v. Murphy Oil. In that case, a group of property owners sued utility, mining, oil and chemical companies claiming their CO2 emissions ultimately caused the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Comer had originally been dismissed at the trial level because the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue particular defendants for the effects of global warming, among other reasons.

A panel of the 5th Circuit reversed the dismissal, but on February 26 the court granted an en banc rehearing. The court is now weighing a number of procedural concerns caused by a number of judicial recusals, and has not set a final date for oral arguments.

“Despite the current procedural wrangling, the 5th circuit’s initial decision to reconsider the panel’s ruling remains a major blow to climate change and public nuisance litigation,” Faulk said. “Although the final decision, the panel’s original decision now has no value. Clearly, a significant number of the court’s judges believe the case deserves a closer look, and plaintiffs are surely not comforted by that development. Indeed, since no judge on the original panel dissented, the en banc court’s decision to reconsider suggests a serious interest in changing the result.”

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray also plan to file amicus briefs in Native Village of Kivalina, Alaska v. ExxonMobil Corp., et al., which is pending in the 9th Circuit, and Connecticut v. American Electric Power, a 2nd Circuit decision in which a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court is expected to be filed. Both of those cases also involve the propriety of using public nuisance litigation to redress global climate change.

Mr. Faulk and Mr. Gray have authored many scholarly articles regarding public nuisance and climate change. One of their major papers, “Stormy Weather Ahead: The Legal Environment of Global Climate Change,” has been presented at conferences of the United States Chamber of Commerce, in media events at the Washington Legal Foundation, at various Professional Development seminars for lawyers, engineers, and businessmen. A complete collection of their articles is available at http://works.bepress.com/richard_faulk/subject_areas.html#Climate%20Change.

In addition, Mr. Faulk recently spoke on climate change lawsuits at the Judicial Symposium on The Expansion of Liability Under Public Nuisance on April 26 at the Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth, Northwestern University School of Law.

Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, an AmLaw 200 firm founded in 1909 and one of the Southwest’s largest full-service law firms, has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Mexico City. Gardere provides legal services to private and public companies and individuals in areas of energy, hospitality, litigation, corporate, tax, government affairs, environmental, labor and employment, intellectual property and financial services.

Familiar with any of those cases?

Were denialists to have the facts, some of those legal cases would be the places that the facts emerge in useful-to-stop-climate-change-legislation fashion.

Want to make bets on whether those who desperately want (and maybe need) climate change denialists to be right, actually use the climate denialists’ studies?

Watch those cases.


Wall Street Journal’s DDT-fueled war on science

May 12, 2010

I don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal — their discounts to educators are lousy.

So I missed this editorial when it ran on April 24, 2010 (page A12), “DDT and population control – malaria still kills one million every year.”

Nominally, that should be good news.  At the peak of DDT use in the early 1960s, malaria killed about 3 million people annually.  By the time we banned DDT use on cotton crops in the U.S., the death toll was still about 2 million people annually.  From the heyday of DDT, we’ve decreased malaria’s death toll, to less than half what it was.

Editorial writers at the Journal don’t let facts get in their way when they go off on a misdirected political jihad or crusade.  Gross error Number 1:  They mislead readers about the facts.

They are claiming that a million is too many (it is), but they claim that the total would be significantly less if only Americans would attack Africa with poison.  We have trouble enough with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems to me.  There is no indication that we could reduce malaria rates with a lot of extra poison.  Malaria is a parasite in human blood.  To defeat the disease we have to defeat the infections in humans.  Mosquitoes just spread the disease from one human to another.  DDT does not cure malaria in humans; it is one preventive device of limited effectiveness.

What are they on about?

The Journal’s editorial writers said:

Environmental activists this week marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which happened to fall three days before World Malaria Day. Insofar as Earth Day politics have contributed to today’s malaria epidemic, the two events are related.

You could see this one coming.  The reactionaries at the editorial seek out opportunities to criticize environmentalists, whose cause they see as anti-business.   The Journal’s editorial page usually carries an op-ed piece by Hoover Institute maven Henry I. Miller about once a year (see here, for example), claiming we need DDT to fight West Nile virus.  We don’t, of course.  West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes are best fought with other pesticides, when pesticides are used.  They need to be hit before adulthood, while they are still larva, in the water.  DDT is exactly wrong for such applications.  But Miller’s piece comes around almost every year, as soon as the first West Nile virus infections in humans are noted.

So, since they so soundly disregard science on that diatribe, why not here, too?  DDT offers a great target for Tea Baggers, Know-Nothings, and truth bashers.  Most of the history of DDT was written before the internet, so it’s easier to spread falsehoods without contradiction.

Disinformation.  Propaganda.  Shame on the Wall Street Journal.

Earth Day and World Malaria Day are related in this way:  Environmentalists warned us that doing the wrong stuff in the environment would make it harder to fight malaria, and they were right.  People who resist clean air and clean water legislation also resist legislation to stop poisoning our planet.  Those people rarely do anything to fight malaria, either.  Human comfort, human health, human survival, is not what they are concerned about.

Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, was a leading opponent of the insecticide DDT, which remains the cheapest and most effective way to combat malarial mosquitoes.

Gaylord Nelson, the father of Earth Day, was governor of Wisconsin when the University of Wisconsin did the first studies showing that songbirds and raptors in Wisconsin were being wiped out by DDT. We should expect him to be an opponent of indiscriminate use of the stuff.  His state was on the road to ruin, and long before the federal government acted against DDT, Wisconsin had laws and regulations to limit its use.  Wisconsin’s wild populations recovered a bit more quickly because Wisconsin had acted.

Gaylord Nelson at the Apostle Islands, Photograph by Frank Wallick, 1967.

Gaylord Nelson at the Apostle Islands, Photograph by Frank Wallick, 1967.

Nelson also knew that, in the U.S., malaria was conquered by 1939 (according to the Centers for Disease Control).  DDT came along in 1946, seven years later.  While DDT was used to control mosquitoes in the U.S., it was for no disease control reasons — that was why so many people opposed the rather pointless use of the stuff.  And I suspect Nelson was savvy enough to know that DDT has not been the cheapest means of controlling mosquitoes for several years.  One application of DDT in Africa costs about $12.00, for the professional who must apply it, and the testing to determine whether DDT will even work.  One application lasts about six months.  So, for a year’s protection, DDT costs about $24.00 per house, per year.

Bednets cost about $10.00, and last about five years.  That works out to $2.00 year.  For $24.00, you could provide a dozen different nets in a home, though most homes would use them only to protect children.

Moreover, recent test runs in Africa show DDT about 25% to 50% effective in reducing malaria incidence, while bednets are about 50% to 85% effective.  Nets are cheaper and more effective.

Doesn’t the Wall Street Journal have fact checkers?  Or do they just not care about the facts?

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” misleadingly linked pesticides to cancer and is generally credited with popularizing environmental awareness.

Wrong on three fronts.  Carson noted that the family of chemicals from which DDT comes might have links to cancer, but she did not make the claim that DDT is carcinogenic.  DDT was banned because it’s a long-term, deadly poison that destroys ecosystems.  Cancer in humans was not a part of the equation.

However, DDT is now known to be a weak human carcinogen.  Every cancer-fighting agency on Earth lists it as a “probable human carcinogen” (it is confirmed to cause cancer in other mammals).  Can’t the Wall Street Journal find the phone number of the American Cancer Society?

DDT earned its ban because of 20 years of research data by 1972, showing that DDT kills virtually everything it comes in contact with that is smaller than a large man, and it destroys ecosystems.  Talking about DDT’s carcinogenicity is a red herring.  Carson didn’t claim DDT was a significant cause of cancer, nor was DDT banned from agricultural use because anyone thought it was a significant cause of cancer.  Yes, DDT is a weak human carcinogen, contrary to the Journal’s implication; but no, that’s not why it was banned.

Carson’s book certainly ignited concerns about human activities affecting environment other than land development.  But “environmental awareness” is as old as our nation, at least.  A hundred years prior to Rachel Carson’s book, the U.S. set aside the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone.  60 years earlier, Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot led the drive to conserve the nation’s forests.  The Soil Conservation Service, a New Deal program, worked to save soil on farms and unimproved areas, a good 30 years before Carson’s book.  Environmental awareness is an almost-congenital trait in Americans.  Rachel Carson sounded alarms about new reactive chemical combinations.  Americans were already alert to the need to save soil, water, air and wild spaces.

We banned DDT to save our crops and to save our wildlife.  Those are good reasons to keep the ban today.

But other leading greens of the period, including Nelson, biologist Paul Ehrlich and ecologist Garrett Hardin, were also animated by a belief that growth in human populations was harming the environment.

Nelson thought the U.S. needed to slow immigration (see more below).  Ehrlich feared a massive round of starvation, which was staved off only with the Green Revolution and billions of dollars of foreign aid money, the good luck of our having Norman Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation, and major economic change in nation’s like India and China.  Hardin pointed out that even the best intentioned people needed a structure to encourage them to conserve, else conservation would not take place.

They all recognized that while any human could minimize her impact on the natural world, no one person could ameliorate all the effects of billions of people.

“The same powerful forces which create the crisis of air pollution also are threatening our freshwater resources, our woods, our wildlife,” said Nelson. “These forces are the rapid increase in population, industrialization, urbanization and scientific technology.”

Notice, please, that Sen. Nelson did not suggest humans should do anything to cause or encourage massive human death (nor did the Journal do the courtesy of noting where they quoted him from).  He merely notes that air pollution and water pollution, and a lack of freshwater, are created by human populations, industry, urban sprawl and technology.  All of these things threaten human health.  Nelson is concerned that we not add to human illness and misery.  That’s not what the Journal’s editorial wants you to think, however.  It will suggest instead that Nelson urged more human suffering and death.

How craven must an editorial board be to accuse good people, falsely, of such sins?

In his book “The Population Bomb,” Mr. Ehrlich criticized DDT for being too effective in reducing death rates and thus contributing to “overpopulation.”

I doubt it.  I can’t find anything quite to that description in my copy of the book.  It’s a common internet legend (one level dumber than urban legend) — but shouldn’t the Wall Street Journal have higher standards than to use for documentation, “my cousin Clem heard a story about a person his aunt once knew?”

Hardin opposed spraying pesticides in the Third World because “every life saved this year in a poor country diminishes the quality of life for subsequent generations.”

Now the Journal is making things up.  In the essay from which the Journal quotes him, Hardin wrote about the dangers of uncontrolled immigration and population growth — almost sounding like an angry Arizona Tea Partier at times — but never did he get close to suggesting that we should not suppress malaria, for any reason.  (Wise readers may wish to see what Hardin actually said, where he really went awry if he did, and how his words resonate today, at his essay, “Living on a Lifeboat.”  Writers at the Journal should be ashamed of savaging the reputation of a guy who is so much in tune with what they usually write.  Notice Hardin does not mention DDT, use of pesticides in foreign nations, malaria, nor any other disease.  He rails at starvation, however.)  When the Wall Street Journal engages in fiction, shouldn’t they let us know?

For these activists, malaria was nature’s way of controlling population growth, and DDT got in the way.

Gee, in context, that’s all fiction. Never did Sen. Gaylord Nelson claim malaria was a good population control tactic, nor that we should stop using DDT to allow more people to die. Those are whole cloth lies. Never did Garrett Hardin say either of those things. Never did Paul Ehrlich say those things.

Cover of 2003 Science Magazine special on Garrett Hardin's essay

Cover of 2003 Science Magazine special on Garrett Hardin's essay, "Tragedyof the Commons"

For anti-science activists, like the writers at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, falsehoods have become coin of the realm, and DDT is just one more sciency thing to try to use as whip against political opponents. The serious question is, why is the Wall Street Journal opposed to clean air and clean water?  Why are they trying to politicize things at all?

The writers at the Journal continue:

Today, malaria still claims about one million lives every year—mostly women and children in sub-Saharan Africa. There’s no evidence that spraying the chemical inside homes in the amounts needed to combat the disease harms humans, animals or the environment. Yet DDT remains severely underutilized in the fight against malaria because the intellectual descendants of Senator Nelson continue to hold sway at the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies.

Full disclosure would be good here.  Malaria death rates are at the lowest point in history, at least since 1900.  Yes, too many die — but it’s not the fault of “not enough DDT.”  No nation that uses DDT has ever succeeded in eradicating malaria with pesticides alone.  Only those nations that assaulted malaria from the  human side, treating malaria in human victims, have been successful in eradicating the disease.  DDT use was essentially suspended in Africa by the World Health Organization in about 1965, because overuse of DDT in agriculture had bred mosquitoes that are resistant and immune to the stuff.  No amount of DDT spraying, anywhere, can reverse that.  Spraying DDT where mosquitoes are unaffected by it, is stupid.

Plus, studies indicate a correlation between DDT use, even in those small amounts, and premature deaths to children in the households sprayed.  DDT is not harmless.  DDT is not benign.

DDT has never been banned in Africa, and even under the 2001 Persistent Organic Pesticides Treaty (POPs) DDT has a special carve out to keep it available to fight malaria, despite its being a destroyer of worlds.  So implicit in the Journal’s screed here is that Africans are too stupid or lazy to use a substance that would save their children and themselves from malaria, though it’s available relatively cheaply.

Is DDT “underutilized?”  Again we should ask, why would anyone use DDT where it is not effective? Then we should ask, who would use DDT in fighting disease in Africa, and do they use it?  It turns out that DDT is not completely superfluous to all mosquito populations.  But testing is required to be sure DDT will work — were an organization to use ineffective pesticides, thousands could die, and the testing is therefore a preservation of human life.  And, because of past incidents in Africa, for example when DDT killed off the fish local populations depend on for their food, DDT use is extremely limited, to indoor applications only, and only by trained professionals who limit its spread.

WHO has been using DDT in Africa for indoor residual spraying (IRS) since the 1950s.  Use was slowed when DDT’s effectiveness was compromised.  In recent years WHO held a press conference on DDT to encourage locals who fear DDT poisoning to go along, and since 2005 DDT’s effectiveness appears to be dropping.  But DDT is available for use wherever it is needed to fight malaria in Africa.

Is the Wall Street Journal calling for mass poisoning of Africa?  What else could they be talking about?  Why would they call for such a thing?

The Journal claims WHO and other UN agencies are “under the sway” of Sen. Nelson, and that’s bad?  Let’s be clear:  Nelson didn’t oppose use of DDT in Africa to fight malaria.  UN’s WHO is the leading continent-wide advocate of proper use of DDT to fight malaria.  If the Journal claims that current, appropriate use of DDT is too little, what is the Journal advocating?

The good news is that the Obama Administration has continued the Bush policy of supporting DDT spraying in Zambia, Mozambique and other countries where the locals want it used. “Groups like the Pesticide Action Network have lobbied the U.S. Agency for International Development to stop spraying DDT, and Obama is ignoring them so far,” says Richard Tren of Africa Fighting Malaria, an advocacy group. “They’re prioritizing what makes sense from a science and public health point of view.”

Let’s be clear:  The Bush administration refused to allow U.S. money to be used to purchase DDT, or to use DDT, until about 2005.  Environmental Defense, the organization that first sued to stop DDT use in the U.S., argued for years that DDT should be allowed in the limited use WHO proposed, but Bush’s people stood firmly opposed, though never explaining why.  In any African nation where local people want DDT, it’s freely available with other money, of course.  So U.S. opposition, bizarre as it was, was not and is not a barrier to DDT use.

Most environmental groups favor beating malaria, and if a bit of DDT carefully controlled will help do the trick, so much the better.  While business lobbyists have falsely impugned environmentalists for years on this point, actual opposition to DDT use has come, in Uganda for example, from business groups.  Tobacco growers claim they fear some DDT will somehow get on tobacco leaves, and that will make the stuff unsaleable in the European Union.  Cotton growers fear any faint traces of DDT will ruin sales of organic cotton to the EU.  These business groups sued to stop DDT use against malaria in Uganda.

But environmental organizations, like ED, the Sierra Club, and others, have been fighting malaria for 40 years.

Which is more than we can say for Richard Tren.  Tren is one of two or three of the leading false propagandists for poisoning Africa in the world.  He tells false tales about Rachel Carson, false tales about DDT’s harms and effectiveness, and as best I can tell he has never lifted one finger or written one check to fight malaria himself, while taking tens of thousands of dollars to spread his false tales.

There are dozens of noble malaria fighters out there whose opinions we should seek — Socrates Litsios, the late Fred Soper, to mention two.  Why does the formerly august Wall Street Journal use Richard Tren as a source, when there are authoritative people handy to talk?

DDT helped to eradicate malaria in the U.S. and Europe after World War II, and the U.S. is right to take the lead in reforming public health insecticide policy and putting the lives of the world’s poor above green ideology.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A12

According to the history of malaria at the CDC, malaria was essentially wiped out in the U.S. by 1939.  DDT was not available for use for another seven years.  Malaria was gone from northern Europe by World War II.  DDT was a tool in the final eradication of the disease in Italy and Greece.  But the main campaign against malaria was in curing the disease in humans, before the mosquito populations could rise up.

Among the nasty facts of science the Journal either does not know, or refuses to say, DDT can’t eradicate mosquitoes.  In anti-malaria campaigns, DDT is used to knock down the mosquito populations temporarily, so that the disease can be cured in humans.  Mosquito populations will quickly rise again, and in even greater numbers — but if there is no human reservoir of malaria parasites for mosquitoes to draw from, they cannot spread the disease.  Malaria parasites must spend part of their life cycle in humans, and part in mosquitoes.

Curing malaria in humans is the tough part.  It requires money to improve medical care, for accurate and speedy diagnoses, and for prompt and complete treatment of the disease in each patient.  Preventing malaria is aided greatly by better-built homes with screens on windows, the sort of stuff that requires people to have more than subsistence incomes.  So beating malaria generally requires economic development, too.

How much easier is it to bash environmentalists than to confront the real causes of malaria.  Bashing environmentalists won’t do anything to relieve human suffering nor eliminate the disease, so we can bash environmentalists again next World Malaria Day, and next Earth Day — all at no cost to us, safe in our Wall Street Journal offices in Manhattan, New York, U.S.A.  The Journal has fallen victim to bold purveyors of junk and voodoo science, and bogus and voodoo history.  Shame on the Journal.

Curing the disease in humans means the mosquitoes are mere nuisances, and no longer vectors of disease.  Killing the mosquitoes with poison means the disease will be back with a vengeance in a few weeks or months.  Curing humans is more difficult, and more costly — but it saves lives and can save Africa.  We cannot poison Africa to health.

It’s curious, though:  How did they get so poisoned by DDT, up in that office building?

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