Go read, “The Enduring Relevance of Rachel Carson”

September 3, 2014

Seriously, go read this whole essay — especially if you’re looking for some snarky way to complain about the ban on DDT.

It is tough for a single publication or its author to have an impact across nations, cultures, genres, and disciplines. It is tougher still for their appearance on the world stage to spark a social movement, rekindle human values and awareness, and create new mandates for action. And toughest of all is when the author is a woman, a scientist, who must overcome the prejudices of her time−of gender, of notions of progress, of the omnipotence of untrammelled industry−to articulate a clear-eyed, renewed vision of a better world, a cleaner environment, where people do not merely live, but flourish.

If I had to pick one exemplary work from the environmental canon that does this and does it well, it would be the one that burst on the scene on this day, 16 June, all of 52 years ago, in the United States of America and then swiftly encompassed, in its scope and sweep, the rest of the world. The book, Silent Spring, and its author, marine biologist Rachel Carson, are widely credited to be the sparks that lit the fire of the global environmental movement. Carson, whose 107th birth anniversary came and passed quietly on May 27, with little fanfare other than a commemorative Google Doodle, died fifty years ago after a battle with breast cancer. Why should we bother to remember Rachel Carson and Silent Spring? What could a woman, a book, from over five decades ago have to do with the enormously changed world we live in today? Yet, over the last few weeks, during fieldwork and travels in India’s northeast and the Western Ghats mountains, I thought frequently of Rachel Carson and her prescient words in Silent Spring.

Google Doodle on Rachel Carson's birthday, 27 May 2014 (Courtesy: Google)


Why no one believes in evolution, why faith in creationism isn’t Christian doctrine, and why we know Noah’s flood is false

September 2, 2014

I keep forgetting.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub was born in 2006.  That was three years after my first great forays into education policy in Texas, working to make sure science stayed in the science books — and probably about a decade after I started explaining evolution to creationists, patiently at first, and then with a great deal of snark, on the internet.  A lot of that discussion, and some good posts, died when AOL pulled the plug on archiving discussion threads (the schmucks!).

Another sign of AOL’s doom, perhaps.

From time to time I run into an earnest creationist, and rather than re-explain, I start looking for my old explanations here at this blog . . . and then I remember.  The explanations largely do not exist here.

Heck, 2006 was even after the decision in the Dover, Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. (Read the decision in the case here, key documents and a chronology, here at the venerable TalkOrigins.)

We saw an uptick in creationist activity recently, in 2012, continuing into 2013.  We’ve seen eruptions of ignorance, blind faith and malice, sometimes, that warrant having explanations of evolution around.  So, even though it’s repeating stuff from elsewhere, even though this discussion should have been over by 50 years ago, here we are trying to establish a trail of information explaining why evolution is hard science, and needs to be taught in public schools (and all other schools, too), and why creationism and its mutant clone “intelligent design” are not science, but are instead religious beliefs that have no place in school science classes (nor any classes, IMHO).

There are good sites living in the tubes of the ‘net these days that didn’t exist even nine years ago — but creationists won’t find them quickly or willingly, and they will dismiss them if they do find them at all.   You can find good stuff there, and I highly recommend writings on evolution at these sites:

Recently I provided a brief correction to a post I fell across in some search or other, at a blog by a guy named Daniel Lovett.  He urged that we reject science with regard to evolution.  I responded, and he responded at a greater length.  I had hoped to point him quickly so something I’d written here, and found I hadn’t written it here.

These issues are simmering even in Texas again; I want to create a record.  Here’s a step.

Three points need to be made to the neo-creationists:

  • Evolution is not a faith, it’s based in science and observations of nature.  Consequently, one does not “believe” in evolution; one follows the evidenceThe old creationist snark that “it takes more faith to believe evolution than to be a Christian” is only a statement that one refuses to look at or acknowledge evidence, how evidence works.  It is a confession that one is biased against evidence in reality.
  • Creationism cannot be found in scripture, nor in most Christian tradition.  Creationism is a mostly-American invention falling out of a rather new form of scriptural interpretation called “literalism” which refuses to recognize scripture as documents written by humans about human history.  Creationism starts with an assumption, contrary to tradition and scripture, that God dictated much of the Bible.  In this way it confuses Moslem and Mormon doctrine with traditional Christian doctrine.  This is a long discussion that will only be touched on here even if it seems long.  Creationism claims incorrect authorship of scripture, inaccurately claims only one creation story is told, and assumes as Christian doctrine that the age of the Earth is of importance to the faith, and that contrary to scripture’s claims, one can determine how old the Earth is by following one family tree in the Bible.  Or maybe another family tree.  Serious students of the Bible know that at no place is there anything close to a statement that says, “God created in the Earth in a rush, in six days of slap-dash whim, and one must ignore science in order to be Christian.”
  • Noah’s flood, if it occurred at all, was regional, and not worldwide; assuming a greater cataclysm should not be a point of faith, when it requires one to deny physical reality.

With those preliminaries out of the way, I can answer Mr. Lovett’s arguments specifically, I think.  I stumbled into his blog, and I provided a very brief response to a post of his that makes several erroneous claims about science, about evolution and Christianity, and concludes that creationism is superior to evolution, scientifically.  Mr. Lovett responded, and called me “friend.”

Dear Friend Daniel, you wrote:

I am of the opinion that the Bible is true and accurate in every respect, scientific and otherwise. It can be trusted because Jesus can be trusted. Though I don’t pretend to know “how” God accomplished the creation in 6 days, I know that he did because he revealed that to us (see my other blog post: http://daniellovett.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/creation-science-oxymoron/).

Let’s be clear that the credibility of Jesus is not on the line here.  Jesus didn’t write any of the books we know as “the Bible” today.  So far as we know, Jesus wrote nothing that survives, no text at all.  Could Jesus write?  We don’t know.

So, for all of those reasons which tell us Jesus had nothing to do with the authoring of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, but also the New Testament, putting trust in Jesus has nothing to do with scientific accuracy in the Bible.  If you’re trusting the Bible because you trust Jesus, you’re projecting where projection is not logically required, and where the faith doesn’t ask it.

Evolution is not faith - Global Secular Humanist Movement on Facebook

If the evidence is there, no faith is required. Faith is what we use to substitute for evidence, for things we cannot prove in any rational fashion.

While you say “I don’t pretend to know ‘how’ God accomplished the creation in 6 days,” you assume God worked in a fast slap-dash fashion, and your entire post is dedicated to denying that God could have used natural processes of chemistry, physics and biology.  So you do pretend to know how God did it; and you make pretense to knowing that all of science is in error, for theological reasons that escape me.  For Jesus to be right about philosophy, or sin, or any other topic expounded on in Christian scripture, it is not necessary that science be in error.

As with Jesus not being the author of scripture, so we know — in Christian tradition — that God is not the author of scripture, either.  The earliest books we know were written by Jews; the first five books of the modern canon, in both Judaism and most sects of Christianity, we attribute to Moses by tradition, but by the words of the books themselves not to God.  In those books we find the clear command from God to Moses and the Jews to ‘write it down’ with regard to their history and laws.  Nowhere, according to scripture, does God say, “This is what to write down.”  Nowhere does God say, “Here is what I have written.”  The Old Testament was not written by God, was not dictated by God, nor is it the biography of God.

In a few places in those texts is there a claim that God revealed the when and why of creation.  In no place is there a claim God revealed the how of creation.   There are several places where various, different and frequently conflicting creation stories are told, however.  We get the history of creation, though, perhaps like Billy Pilgrim it is “unstuck in time.”  Creation occurred sometime before each story is told — but how long before is never a topic of scripture.  Depending on the version of the Bible one chooses, especially Catholic versus Protestant, there are four to eight different creation stories in scripture.  In Genesis 1 and 2, we find two different, often contradictory creation stories.  In Job, we find a story that is wholly different from both of the Genesis stories — and this is the one that is said by the author to be from God’s lips, explaining to Job what happened at the beginning when God wrestled a dragon to see who would have control of the Earth — no six day creation at all, no day of rest, no Eden, no Adam and Eve.

How can you “know” God revealed something when scripture doesn’t support that claim?  Do you claim to be a prophet?

Wholly apart from what you don’t know about science, I fear you’re unfamiliar with scripture, or you’re hiding those parts that simply do not support your own beliefs.  If the Bible is “true in every respect,” one should respect it; I don’t think you do.  How can you be said to respect scripture, when you ignore all the other creation stories, and the actual instructions of scripture as you do?

Daniel Lovett wrote:

So why do we believe Jesus or the word of God? Short answer: Because Jesus has been proven to be the Son of God and the Messiah, having fulfilled over 300 prophecies, lived a sinless life, worked miracles (all of which went unquestioned – people could have verified the facts by interviewing eyewitnesses), and finally the clincher – he rose from the dead.

I see.  You believe that you are correct, not for any rational reason, but because you believe what you believe.  Faith is a powerful quality; its exercise can be a bold act of tenacity, or a foolish act of stubbornness.  We need to take care when resting on faith, that which can be fact checked, lest we become the poster child of the Dunning Kruger Effect.

We don’t need to contradict your claim that the Bible is correct, but instead we might observe that at no place does the Bible claim to provide a literal and scientifically accurate story of creation.  Your trust in the Bible may be well placed.  Your claim that it presents a creation story in scientific accuracy, however, is not correct on the Bible’s own terms.

You have stretched the Bible to cover material it does not claim to cover, to make claims it does not claim to make.  At no point does the Bible, read as a complete collection, deny evolution, nor an old Earth, nor physics, nor chemistry.

Title page of James Ussher's Annales veteris t...

Title page of James Ussher’s Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine — the text upon which 6-day creationism is based. No, it’s not in scripture. (Photo: Wikipedia)

For example, at no place does the Bible claim that the Earth is young.  That conclusion was misapprehended through a misreading of the work of an Irish bishop, in the 17th century.  Bishop James Ussher, who passed for a geologist in his day. Studying nature was believed to be a rather divine calling for people who claimed faith in God in that time. Learning about nature was learning about God’s creation from a testament unsullied by mistranslation, church politics, or language difficulties.  Nature provided a solid, irrefutably correct second testament of God, and direct from God with God’s fingerprints on it.  In short, Ussher, and Darwin 200 years later, studied nature because of their belief that God was the creating force behind it.

Isn’t it ironic that, today, you reject the traditional Christian view of nature and its study, and instead adopt a more Pharisaic stance, that scripture written by men trumps God’s own creation?

Lovett wrote:

Jesus believed in creation:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” Matthew 19:4

Now I grow concerned.  You say you put your faith in the Bible, but then you cite this passage as somehow evidence that Jesus disputed Darwin and geology and cosmology and biology.

Jesus was talking about divorce.  How in the world could you have missed the plain meaning of that passage, and how could you have confused it to say anything about science, and the science of creation of the planet?  In context, it’s clear Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for their clinging too strongly to scripture and not paying attention to reality; but at no point does Jesus pause and say, “By the way, the Earth was created in 6 days just a few thousand years ago.”  Jesus mentions a shorthand version of biological observation (I say shorthand because he ignores species with no gender, species with gender other that male and female, transgender, misgender, and species with more than two genders — if he’s relying on biology being accurate here, this passage would nullify all Abramic faith-based questioning of homosexual rights, since God also made them Adam and Steve, and Alice and Eve; but by now I’m digressing).  Jesus says mating is from God, and men shouldn’t create laws to undo it.

Jesus talks about divorce, and how it’s not part of the plan.  He says nothing against Darwin, and in fact appears to be relying on Darwin-style science, what we actually see in nature, to ground his argument against divorce.

I find it interesting that Jesus does not appeal solely to scripture here, but instead to nature.  If we stick to the words recorded, and the events, we get Jesus denying the religious laws of the day and saying, ‘Hey, Pharisees, haven’t you noticed that in nature things pair off; in humans, people naturally pair off in opposite-gender couples most of the time?  That’s an indication of God’s plan.  Divorce isn’t a key value of God’s scheme of marriage.  Don’t muck it up with a misinterpretation of scripture.’  You appeal to scripture, as the Pharisees did, to deny nature, where Jesus based his argument.  Plus, you do that on a topic that was nowhere mentioned in those 12 verses.

Let’s check the text.

In the King James version (so the fundies won’t squawk about mistranslations from Jesus’s English):

Matthew 19

King James Version (KJV)

19 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Indirectly, Jesus bases his argument on creation; you stretch that to say He was putting his faith in creation, something that Jesus does not say there.  Then you stretch that farther to suggest it means He also believed in creationism.  We can fairly deduce a belief in the existence of creation and some natural order; but it’s adding much to the text, to claim that passage contradicts science.  I find that an unfair and unholy twisting of scripture.

At no place is there anything close to “Darwin goofed.”  At no place is there a testament from Jesus to the short slap-dash creation you insist.

Lovett said:

He also believed in the flood:
‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the Ark. Then the Flood came and destroyed them all.’ Luke 17:26–27

Again, I think you ignore what Jesus intended, and instead try to stretch a small part to say something else.

During the time Christians believe that Jesus lived and ministered, one of the divisions in Judaism broke over the issue of whether there is an afterlife, and what will be the signs of the Messiah’s coming, and later, of the end of the Earth.  Again, Pharisees try to hold Jesus to scripture, and again Jesus suggests different interpretations.  Notice that, again, neither side is talking about how the Earth as we know it was created.  That’s your add-on.

Again, from the King James Version, much of that chapter of Luke:

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.

23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.

25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.

26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

32 Remember Lot’s wife.

33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

Jesus is reported to have referred to a flood here, the flood of Noah.  As we noted earlier, Jesus is not the author of scripture, particularly not the author of the scriptures of the Pentateuch, in which the story of Noah is found.

But he’s not talking about whether a flood actually occurred.  Jesus uses literary allusion here.  Jews had their scriptures (not yet bound into the Torah), and observant and non-observant Jews, including especially the Pharisees, would have been familiar with the story of the flood of Noah.  When challenged about which side of the dispute he was on with regard to afterlife, Jesus didn’t fall into the trap.  He said, just like in the story of Noah when most people had no clue about the pending disaster, no one can know when “the Kingdom of God” will come (let alone exactly what that means).

So Jesus wasn’t saying, “By the way, the whole world was covered by a flood that can be pinpointed in time.”  Jesus was saying, “You Pharisees know the story of Noah; here’s an analogy:  The Kingdom of God will come when people don’t expect it, and they will be caught by surprise, as in the story of Noah people were caught by surprise by the flood.”

Critically, Jesus nowhere claims that the story is wholly, scientifically accurate.

Which is good, because that would make Jesus out to be a liar — and in your schema, where your faith seems to rest on whether Jesus is trustworthy in all things, that would destroy the basis of your faith, right?

I think perhaps you don’t understand what Christians mean by “faith.”  That colors your reasoning, and it clouds your understanding of scripture, and it completely fogs your view of science.  We call it faith because we don’t have the evidence to back it up.

If we did have the evidence, none of us could be anything more than agnostics — the agnostic position is that belief will come when the evidence is sufficient.  Christians believe, despite that lack of evidence.  We call the process a “leap of faith.”  We call it “stepping out on the word of God.”  It’s risky.  It takes faith, which is why we call it that.  (Jews and Muslims also make such leaps.)

It must be faith, because the evidence is not there — as the Bible occasionally acknowledges (see 2 Corinthians 4.18, or Hebrews 11.1; faith is in the things “unseen,” as they are eternal).

Built around the story of the flood of Noah, there is a trap a lot of people of faith fall into, a false dichotomy that, if divinely inspired, surely was intended by evil forces to turn otherwise faithful people away from knowledge and science.  I fear you’ve fallen into it.

Daniel said:

So to cling to a belief that Creation or the Flood is not true is to say that Jesus was a liar.

Quite to the contrary, to claim that Jesus said creationism is true, or that Jesus vouched for the historicity of Noah’s flood, is false.  Jesus didn’t intend that, as we can see from the context, and stretching his meaning to topics way beyond what Jesus was discussing puts us in the uncomfortable and unholy position of adding words to scripture that are not there.

[Hmmm. There's supposed to be a brief explanation of the science that disproves the idea of a worldwide flood as many creationists believe the Bible describes . . . pending. Maybe later.]

Sorry if I offended you by saying your religion has blinded you, but my position is that a Godless scientific world view is a religion. An unbiased look at science will always reveal the Designer. The scandal of the Gospel is that this Designer then became the man Jesus who died for your sin and rebellion and to restore you to your loving heavenly Father. I pray you find him.

your friend Daniel

Then what is a godful scientific position?  As creationists are too often wrongly happy to remind us, many scientists of the past were faithful, often good Christians.  Darwin, for example, studied for the clergy, and stuck with the church to his death.

Claiming that science is godless, or Godless, is a biased and inaccurate view of science, and as we have seen here, a biased and inaccurate view of  Christian religion, too.

Scripture tells us that regardless how the universe, matter, stars, galaxies, planets and life were created, God is behind it.  The scandal of creationism is the denying that God can be behind what the universe shows us to be true and accurate.  Jesus died for your sin and rebellion, too, Daniel — even your rebellion against God’s creation and the science that explains how and why it works.  You can’t find God if you refuse to look.

More:

Darwin's grave in Westminster Abbey

The grave of Charles Darwin, in the Nave of the Collegiate Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Darwin is interred near Sir Isaac Newton. Bishop James Ussher is interred in the St. Paul’s Chapel, a few dozen yards away. Photo via Graveyard Database.

(Yeah, this one’s kicked around in the draft file for a long, long time.)


If great scientists had logos . . .

August 11, 2014

These are quite creative.  I wonder who invented them?

Other possibilities?

Maybe:

Edison's logo?

Edison’s logo?


Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison (U.S. State Department bio)

August 4, 2014

Especially for international audiences, often distributed by U.S. Embassies in foreign nations, the U.S. State Department offers a wealth of information about the United States, our businesses and heritage, and our history and national heroes.

For several years State has made available a 20 page booklet on Rachel Carson, one of the great drivers of the modern conservation movement after 1960. It was created in 2007, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Carson’s birth.

Cover of the 20-page pamphlet, Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison

Cover of the 20-page pamphlet, Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison

It keeps moving.  Today I’m unable to find it at the site of the U.S. State Department, except through our Embassy to South Korea.  I fear the document may go away, and I frequently refer people to it.

I’m making it available here, as insurance against its going away from State Department sites.

If you haven’t read it, take a look.  If you’re a teacher of literature, or biology or science, or history, consider this as a resource for your students.

Three extended essays make up the substance of the book.  Phyllis McIntosh wrote, “A Quiet Woman Whose Book Spoke Loudly.”  Michael Jay Friedman discussed the effects of Carson’s work and writings, “A Book That Changed a Nation.”  And distinguished entomologist May Berenbaum contributed an essay on the actual controversies about the hard choices involved in dealing with pesticide safety, “A Persistent Controversy, A Still Valid Warning.”  There is a photo essay covering 50 years, and a series of links and other sources, good for students.

If you find those links no longer work, please comment below — and maybe send me an e-mail.

 

 


Annals of DDT: Study implicates DDT in human obesity and diabetes

August 2, 2014

Press report from the University of California at Davis (unedited here):

Exposure of pregnant mice to the pesticide DDT is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and related conditions in female offspring later in life, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis.

White mouse looking at camera

Caption from UC-Davis: The study is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

The study, published online July 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s but continues to be used for malaria control in countries including India and South Africa.

Scientists gave mice doses of DDT comparable to exposures of people living in malaria-infested regions where it is regularly sprayed, as well as of pregnant mothers of U.S. adults who are now in their 50s.

“The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” said lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The scientists found that exposure to DDT before birth slowed the metabolism of female mice and lowered their tolerance of cold temperature. This increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and its host of related conditions.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.”

The study found stark gender differences in the mice’s response to DDT. Females were at higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol, but in males, DDT exposure did not affect obesity or cholesterol levels and caused only a minor increase in glucose levels.

A high fat diet also caused female mice to have more problems with glucose, insulin and cholesterol but was not a risk factor for males. The sex differences require further research, the authors said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Co-authors include Emma Karey and Michael La Frano of UC Davis; John Newman of UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Erin Moshier, Claudia Lindtner, and Christoph Buettner of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

Additional information:

In the past five decades, the case that DDT and its daughter metabolites damage human health in subtle but extremely destructive ways constantly mounted. Perhaps Rachel Carson was right to urge much more study of the stuff, in Silent Spring.  Perhaps the National Academy of Sciences was right when it called for a rapid phasing out of DDT use in 1970, after noting it had been one of the greatest lifesaving pesticides ever known.

In 1972 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibited use of DDT in agriculture.  Use in day-to-day indoor extermination had ended earlier; bedbugs had become almost wholly immune to DDT by 1960.  The U.S. ban was predicated on damage to wildlife, not human health.  The order allowed U.S. DDT manufacturers to continue to make the stuff for export to other nations.  Exports continued from 1972 to 1984, when the Superfund required manufacturers to clean up any pollution they may have caused.


Quiggin: DDT hoax, a zombie myth

July 16, 2014

John Quiggin, co-author of the one of the best and biggest take downs of the DDT hoaxers, caught wind of that nasty piece at the misnomered “Greener Ideals,” and has taken on Mischa Popoff in a post at Crooked Timber.

Masthead at Crooked Timber

Masthead at Crooked Timber

John’s audience likes to leave comments; the discussion is robust in places (and off the rails in others, though that’s not Quiggin’s fault).


No, DDT was not ‘erroneously’ banned from the world

July 13, 2014

Fights over genetically-modified organism (GMO) foods take some odd turns.  Some anti-GMO people point to the dangers of DDT in the past as a warning to be super cautious; and some pro-GMO people claim DDT wasn’t all that bad.

Before we hold up the history and science and law of DDT as an example, can we at least get the facts right?  That generally is a failing of the pro-DDT people.

Logo for

Logo for “greener ideal.” An astroturf group?

Like Mischa Popoff at Greener Ideal.

He wrote:

In its first major action in 1972, the United States Environmental Protection Agency made history by banning dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT). It led to a worldwide ban, all based on the public outcry elicited by marine biologist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring.

This marks the beginning of the organic movement in America, and remains a badge of honor for organic activists, in spite of the fact that this ban resulted in the deaths of over 41 million people – roughly the same number of people Chairman Mao murdered in his Great Leap Forward – as public-health authorities lost their only effective means of controlling mosquitos that act as a vector for tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

[There's more, dealing with making the case for GMO foods; feel free to click over and read his opinion.]

I wrote:  There has never been a worldwide ban on DDT. DDT has never been banned in Africa, nor Asia, nor South America.

The U.S. ban on DDT applied only to the U.S. EPA has no jurisdiction outside the U.S. EPA’s order specifically granted DDT manufacturers the right and duty to keep making the stuff in the U.S., for export.

Malaria deaths have fallen most years since the U.S. ban on DDT — there was no malaria in the U.S. of any consequence, then. But malaria deaths have fallen from 4 million annually at peak-DDT-use years of 1958-1963, to fewer than 700,000 annual deaths, today.

Popoff responded.

You are so completely out of touch Ed.

The United States and the World Trade Organization banned DDT, and then threatened to withhold financial aid from any nation that continued to use it. This resulted in an effective world-wide ban on DDT.

It doesn’t matter whether Africa, Asia or South America actually went through the trouble of writing up legislation and passing it into law to ban DDT. After the big boys in Europe and the U.S. of A. banned it, it was banned for all.

And so it came to pass that tens-of-millions of people would die from preventable diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

You should be ashamed of yourself for getting this so wrong, and for misleading people.

Should I have been stung?  His errors of history blunted any sting.  I responded again (but it’s being held; too many links, I suspect):

The US banned DDT for use on crops, out of doors. Indoor Residual Spraying (as for malaria) is legal in the U.S.

The World Trade Organization has no authority to ban any substance, anywhere. Anyone who told you otherwise was pulling your leg.

EPA tried to save the chemical companies who made DDT. The order banning it for use on crops, specifically allowed manufacture in the U.S. to continue, for export. ALL that DDT, several millions of pounds, was exported to Africa and Asia, for use against mosqutoes or any other pest people there wanted to use it against.

There has never been a shortage of DDT in Africa or Asia.

The World Health Organization started using DDT in 1955, and though they had to end their ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria in 1965 (seven years before the U.S. ban) due to DDT abuse by farmers and other businesses, WHO has used DDT constantly since 1955. Mexico used DDT since 1948 — and still does.

When DDT was banned in the U.S., it became cheaper and much more available everywhere else in the world. In fact, one problem now is what to do with all the surplus DDT that was left over. (See the photos, especially — and click through for the full FAO report: http://timpanogos.wordpress.co… ) DDT manufacture in the U.S. continued at least through 1984; today it is made in massive quantities in India; it’s easy to make, and anyone who wants to manufacture it, may.

Though WHO ended the malaria eradication campaign, people kept fighting it. Many fail to understand that DDT was just one leg of the platform used to beat malaria. The idea was to knock down the local mosquito population TEMPORARILY, and then treat and cure all the humans — so when the mosquitoes came roaring back as they always do, there would be no well of malaria disease for the mosquitoes to draw from, to spread it (mosquitoes must get infected with malaria before they can pass it on, and then they have to incubate the parasite for another two weeks). Efforts to treat and cure malaria continued, and from the DDT-peak-use high of 4 million dying each year of malaria, the death toll was reduced to about a million a year by 1999. With the assistance of NGOs like the Gates Foundation, WHO and several nations re-energized the anti-malaria fight in 1999, using Integrated Vector Management, the methods Rachel Carson urged in 1962. Since 1999, malaria deaths have been cut by 45% more, WHO calculates — about 600,000/year. That’s a dramatic difference from 4 million a year. Still too many, but much, much improvement.

And so it came to pass that, mostly without DDT, malaria deaths did NOT INCREASE, but instead DECREASED, year over year, after the U.S. banned DDT use on cotton in Arkansas.

By the way, the head of the U.S. Public Health Service testified to the EPA in 1971 that there was not need to keep DDT around in the U.S. for malaria or any other disease — “no legitimate use” of the stuff for 20 years prior, he said. Norman Borlaug, fresh from his Nobel Prize, testified DDT was important to third-world nations — which was one more factor in EPA’s odd order, against U.S. law, leaving the manufacturing going, for export.

Mischa, there is a lot written on DDT history, at EPA’s site (though much of it was taken down prior to 2008), and at many other sites. You can catch up by starting here, at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub: http://timpanogos.wordpress.co…

Other good sources include the blog Deltoid, and look for John Quiggin’s book on Zombie Economics.

DDT has never been banned worldwide. The Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty names it one of the “dirty dozen” chemicals, but there is a special addendum to the treaty that keeps it available to fight malaria, for any nation.

I also recommend WHO’s annual “World Malaria Report.”

And if you’re interested in actually helping fight malaria, go to Nothing But Nets, and buy a bednet for a kid. Nets are about double the effectiveness of DDT or other pesticide spraying to prevent malaria.

Get in touch with what’s really going on in the malaria fight, and join in.

He responded again, with more tartness (this comment has since been cast into “moderation,” so it’s not visible; are they thinking of deleting it, or what?):

Ed, Ed, Ed… you’re wallowing in details my friend. And, again, you should be ashamed of yourself.

It’s one thing to clarify, or provide background. But you’re actually implying that people in the Third World never suffered or died in the MILLIONS after authorities lost the ability to control disease-carrying mosquitoes with DDT. You’re lying, plain and simple.

You’re right to point out that DDT is only one part of how to control malaria, but it is the MOST IMPORTANT part because DDT persists on surfaces inside people’s homes, and thereby prevents children from being bitten by mosquitoes in their sleep.

And on that note, you’re wrong (dead wrong) to suggest that mosquito nets are more effective than DDT. “Nothing But Nets” is nothing but a feel-good attempt by Hollywood elites to assuage their guilt for being part of the world-wide campaign to ban DDT.

What’s simpler? Sending tens-of-millions of mosquito nets to people in the Third World? Or simply spraying the inside of a hut with a few ounces of DDT?

DDT was most-certainly and quite effectively banned by organic activists in spite of the fact that the hero of the organic movement, Rachel Carson, never called for a ban on ANY synthetic pesticides. Here: https://www.fcpp.org/files/1/R…
See for yourself.

To which I responded:

Mischa, I provided corrections. You call me a liar?

Your history is wrong.  You’re wrong on the law, wrong on history, wrong on the chemistry, wrong on the medicine.

Are you lying?  I assumed you had made an error.  I offer you links to sources you can check.

Before you falsely malign those who offer you correction, I urge you to get the facts.

With such a rabid attack on a those who correct your history, can we trust what you claim about GMOs, either?  Unlikely.

It’s one thing to imply that people in the Third World have a tough time with malaria.  Quite another to falsely malign scientists, science, and history to claim, falsely, that environmentalists made malaria worse than it was.

Malcolm Gladwell makes it clear in his history of Fred Soper, the super mosquito fighter who created the malaria eradication campaign, that it was DDT advocates who killed the malaria eradication campaign, by overusing DDT where it wasn’t necessary.  In doing that, they forced the bugs to evolve resistance and immunity to DDT.  By the time the malaria fighters got to Central Africa with DDT as their champion tool to knock down mosquitoes, DDT didn’t work as well as they needed to buy time to cure the humans.  (See Gladwell’s piece here, especially sections 5 and 6, remembering Soper was no great fan of Carson: http://gladwell.com/the-mosquito-killer/ .)

So it was DDT advocates who created the trouble, and environmentalists who warned us it would happen — though Rachel Carson didn’t think it would happen until much later (Soper had hoped he’d have until about 1975).  The DDT advocates were wrong, and reckless.

You’re right, Rachel Carson did NOT call for a ban in DDT. She did warn that abuse of DDT would ruin it for fighting disease.

That came to pass. Seven years after her death, the case to ban DDT in the U.S. was firm (nor was there any malaria there to fight).

The ban in the U.S. covered ONLY the U.S.  DDT was NEVER banned in Africa nor Asia.  DDT has been in constant use outside of North America and western  Europe — but also in constantly diminishing effectiveness.

Your criticism of environmentalists is misplaced and wrong.

You falsely malign the critics who were right.  I must assume that you, too, are wrong, and reckless about GMOs.  What else explains your unfair and inaccurate criticism of me and my post?

What are the odds he’s right about GMOs, but just sadly and badly informed on DDT?

You know, I wonder if this guy is related to Roger Bate and Richard Tren.  Is Greener Ideal part of the greenwash movement?

If you’re looking for opposition to genetically-modified organisms in our food supply, I’m not the guy to see.  I started out in biology, remember, and I’ve seen and come to understand that humans have been altering the genomes of creatures for at least 5,000 years.  Otherwise, we’d not be able to plant wheat, we’d not have maize corn, we’d not have beef or chicken, or pork.  The question is whether the modifications are dangerous.  We’ve had some disastrous genetic modification with simple hybridization.  Obviously, the idea of crossing African bees with European honeybees turned out to be a bad idea — but that was not done in a laboratory, but by simple hybridization.  Hip dysplasia in domesticated canines is one more indication of the evils of “natural” genetic modification.

I’m not the guy to look to for evidence that science always screws things up.  Those who argue on the razor’s edge, that scientists screwed up their warnings about things in the past and therefore should not be trusted now if they happen to warn against science modifying genes in foods we eat, won’t find safe haven with me.  They’d get a sympathetic ear for their presentation of facts, though, if they could avoid patently false claims, like the repetition of the various forms of the Rachel-Carson-was-evil-DDT-is-manna-from-heaven hoaxes.  It’s difficult to argue that all scientists are bad when they warn us of dangers, but those scientists who create the dangers are always right and do things only for our benefit.  The story is much more complex than that, and broad-brush, landscape views often cover over the facts, and obscure wise policy paths.  When they claim the poison DDT is “harmless,” one must wonder what else they have completely wrong, and wonder whether they erred with bad research, or have ulterior motives for making false claims.

Popoff didn’t avoid that trap this time.

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