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 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 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 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:
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.
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?