Why it’s important to have accurate history and science on the internet: Don’t lie to kids about DDT

June 6, 2013

Great accomplishment by this kid from Hudson, Massachusetts — but troubling, too.  He’s winning a persuasive speech competition, persuading people against history, law and science, calling for a return of DDT.

Andrew Brandt of Hudson MA, persuasive speaking champion

Andrew Brandt of Hudson holds his winning certificate at the regional speech and debate tournament in New Hampshire in April. He was one of seven to advance to the national competition. (Photo/submitted)

Hudson – Andrew Barndt, 13, from Hudson will be traveling to Tulsa, Okla., in June to join more than 500 students competing in a National Speech and Debate Tournament.

Andrew has qualified to compete in the Persuasive Speech category with the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). Home-schooled students aged 12 to 18 compete at local and regional tournaments around the country in the winter and spring, culminating in the national tournament in June.

In April, at the regional tournament in Concord, N.H., 27 students competed in the Persuasive Speech category. Andrew’s speech, “DDT: What You Think You Know May Not Be So,” was one of seven chosen to move on the national competition.

According to the NCFCA, “a persuasive speech is an original platform speech that attempts to persuade the audience to adopt a particular point of view or course of action.”

A competitor will give a speech three times in front of different three-judge panels. Judges can be other parents, members of the community or former competitors. The judges rank them on 17 criteria, including: using outside evidence, relating a clear thesis, demonstrating a logical flow of ideas, incorporating proper vocal technique, having good energy level and making eye contact. The top candidates advance to a final round and the winners are decided. Winners receive a trophy and recognition on the NCFCA website.

Andrew will present his winning speech at the national competition held at Oral Roberts University June 18-22. His speech has three parts: debunking the myth of birds’ eggs being harmed due to DDT, disproving the claim that DDT causes cancer in humans, and pointing out that DDT has saved hundred of millions of lives by reducing mosquitoes that carry malaria. He concludes by urging his listeners to repeal the ban on DDT.

“I’m an avid birdwatcher,” Andrew said. “which is how I became familiar with DDT in the first place.”

According to his mother, Ann Barndt, Andrew also competes in debate. “This year he and his brother, Jonathan, 16, partnered together as a team,” she said. “However, their record was not high enough to advance.”

She said the brothers did enjoy preparing for the tournaments, researching various aspects of the this year’s topic, the United Nations. They plan to partner together again next year.

“As for my future, I’m still thinking about how to merge [bird watching] with a sustainable livelihood,” Andrew said.

For more information about the tournament, visit www.ncfca.org.

At the site of the Hudson Community Advocate, I offered what I hope is gentle but persuasive advice to the kid, from one old debater to another:

I commend the young man on his speaking prowess — but he needs a lot of help with his research chops.

1. Birds eggs are harmed by DDT; worse, that’s just one of four ways DDT kills birds. It also poisons chicks outright, in the eggs, poisons the adults (especially migratory birds), and it disrupts the nervous systems of chicks so that, even when they do hatch, they don’t survive.

2. Although it’s a weaker carcinogen, DDT is listed as a “suspected human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society, CDC and WHO. DDT’s carcinogenic qualities were evidenced long after EPA banned its use because it kills wildlife systems.

3. While DDT played a role in defeating malaria in some countries, it was overused, and it ceased to be so effective as it was. However, malaria rates of infection and total deaths from malaria now are much, much lower than they ever were with DDT. Since malaria deaths are reduced by more than 75%, it’s incorrect math to claim millions died without DDT, wholly apart from the history.

3.1 DDT has never been banned for use against malaria, anywhere. The U.S. ban on DDT, in fact, allowed manufacturing to continue in the U.S., with all DDT dedicated to export. So the U.S. ban, which saved the bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican, among others, also multiplied the amount of DDT available to fight malaria in Africa and Asia.

Andrew must be very, very persuasive, to persuade people that DDT, a deadly and mostly useless pollutant, should be revived. Good luck to him in his tournament, and good luck finding better sources next year.

Mr. Brandt must be excused, partly, for his error.  There remains a dedicated and well-funded disinformation assault on the reputation of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, on the World Health Organization, on malaria fighters, on scientists and “environmentalists,” and this assault largely succeeds in ruthlessly elbowing aside the facts in internet searches, and elsewhere.  Fox News still employs serial-prevaricator Steven Milloy whose assault hoaxes on Carson and science of DDT should be more legendary than they are.  So-called Christian organizations join the political fray, while Christians like the Methodists actually fight malaria with the Nothing But Nets campaign — the workers are too busy to crow, the crowers are too busy to fight malaria.  (One may wonder about this Christian debate group — it caters to the small band of home schoolers.  Their evidence standards aside — standards which would disqualify most of the claims against Rachel Carson and for DDT — one wonders how a speaker would fare in this competition,  who praised Rachel Carson and the EPA for banning DDT, and for keeping the ban.  Accuracy of information is not among the criteria to be used in judging.)

The problem with lying to kids is they often believe the lies.  This isn’t a case of scientific disputes, or conflicting studies or information.  Not a jot nor tittle of Rachel Carson’s research citations has ever been questioned.  What she wrote about DDT in 1962 remains valid today, supported by more than a thousand follow-up studies and contradicted by none.  The destructive nature of DDT on bird populations is not questioned by scientists nor experienced bird watchers.  Where did this well-intentioned kid get led so far astray?

Science communicators?  What’s the solution to this problem?

More:


Real discussion if ruled by philosophers?

August 17, 2012

Is this too much to hope for these days, especially within 100 miles of the U.S. Capitol:

(3) One of the things I like most about teaching philosophy is that in a philosophy class people with hugely different viewpoints are expected to sit in a room together and discuss matters politely and reasonably.  In my animal rights class, vegans talk to hunters–without anyone going berserk. In my course on the meaning of life, religious students talk about life with atheists–all in a mode of mutual respect.  In a contemporary moral problems class, if you’re skilled, you can get pro-life and pro-choice students to talk to each other calmly, and even see eye-to-eye on some issues.  This is great preparation for being part of an inclusive “community of reason,” one in which nobody’s sent into exile just for the “crime” of accommodationism, thinking one way or another about sexual harassment policies, etc.

“Why philosophy helps,” at In Living Color.  More, there.


Transplanting the futile arguments of the old AOL boards

November 2, 2011

Two strings of correspondents in my e-mail date back more than a decade.  We met on the old AOL discussion boards, on evolution, and on religious freedom.  Occasionally someone in one of those groups will lament the passing of the innocence of those days, and the heated discussions with trolls and reality deniers, and the grand, irreplaceable characters who made last stands denying science to the end, or claiming that Dwight Eisenhower really was Satan in disguise and that America was ruined when he failed to insist Congress open every meeting with prayers, or some other silly folderol.

Amazon.com has opened discussion boards.  Excuse me, but I believe all of those nuts from the past have rolled out from their various closets, couches and corners, to join or frustrate discussion.  It makes one nostalgic, and it makes one reach for the “delete” key.

Black holes sucking in intelligence and time on evolution, global warming, and other silly questions that bring out the hard-core denialists and contrary marys.

Were I you, I wouldn’t go there.  Surely those “discussions” are part of Amazon’s plan to take over the world.


Airing the place out

March 22, 2010

Here’s a sign that that conservatives are — finally, but not quickly enough, if they are producing so much — drowning in their own bile.

Dr. Don Boudreaux at the Heritage Foundation

Dr. Don Boudreaux at the Heritage Foundation. Image copyright by Chas Geer

Over at Cafe Hayek (“Where orders emerge,” an economist’s joke), Don Boudreaux normally masquerades as a rational sort of guy.

But Sunday night?  He vents:

Watching tonight on television the charlatans who infest Pennsylvania Avenue gaudily pronounce their saintly motives and their deity-like powers to “guarantee world-class health care for every American” (as one creep put it to a NewsChannel 8 reporter here in DC) makes me want to vomit.

These people look like serious adults; the timber of their voices make them sound like serious adults; and their titles are ones that are assumed to be reserved for serious adults.  But, in fact, these people – from Obama to Pelosi to Hoyer to Reid – are nothing of the sort.

If they really believe even a quarter of the things they say, they’re imbeciles.  If they aren’t imbeciles, they’re scoundrels.  No third alternative is conceivable.

Either way, they’re an utterly detestable bunch.

He’s talking about elected officials.  He’s talking about the president of the United States.  He calls them “utterly detestable.”

Dialogue and thought lie broken down this much?  This is a rant one expects of certified lunatics like Orly Taitz.

Boudreaux, of course, comes from that class of the bourgeois where intellect is so congenital that it’s not even necessary to make a case for why one finds honorable people on the other side of an issue to be in error.  To Boudreaux, they’ve gone beyond error.  They are “detestable” people.  You know, abominable.  They are people worthy of hatred.

So, we might imagine, Boudreaux is untroubled by protesters calling Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) a “n—-r,” and spitting at him and on his colleague, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri).  Such racist actions are justified, if Lewis and Cleaver are truly worthy of hatred, no?  Boudreaux probably also finds victims of Parkinson’s disease “detestable,” and so would be untroubled by the mob in Columbus, Ohio, sharing Boudreaux’s views on health care, who mocked and tormented the Parkinson’s victim who expressed a different opinion and sat down.  “Communist!” they called him.

Demonization.  Dehumanization.  Objects worthy of hatred (a definition of “detestable) are not people who deserve respect.  We don’t need to offer them health care, we don’t need to listen to their views, we don’t need to honor their civil rights.

It’s conduct unbecoming.  Is Boudreaux so full of hubris that he cannot even entertain the idea that the bill is a good idea, the idea that Boudreaux may be a little bit in error?

We might also imagine that Don Boudreaux might get a good night’s sleep, wake up on Monday morning and rethink.

Somebody throw them a lifeline.  Maybe they can figure it out.  Churchill maybe put it best:  Democracy is the worst form of government conceived by the mind of man, except for all the others.  Sometimes you lose.  Sometimes you should lose.  Sometimes the people’s wisdom is greater than our own.


James Whitcomb Riley, Jr.

September 6, 2009

Just learned of the passing of an old friend last December, Jim Riley.  Jim was a Ph.D. student and one of the assistant debate coaches of the great University of Utah debate teams of the middle 1970s.

He was also the guy who taught me how to properly light and smoke a cigar after we nearly won the Western Speech Association Debate Tournament at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (1974?).  Lighting a cigar properly is a skill every gentleman should have, even those who do not smoke.  He was a great friend, a wonderful life advisor, and a normal guy in a time and place when normalcy was a rare virtue.

Riley invented the famous Riley Extension as a debater for Washburn University.  The Riley Extension is an argument towards significance of an affirmative case, usually, and is boiled down to two simple questions:  “So what?  Who cares?”

The Riley Extension is now a featured piece of analysis in many Advanced Placement courses in social studies, especially history where the answering of the two questions tends to make for much better essay answers.

Here’s the memoriam note from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.  Jim retired from Northwest in 2005, and held the position Emeritus Professor:

Jim Riley

August 18, 1943 — December 26, 2008

James Whitcomb Riley Jr., 65,  died Friday, Dec. 26, in Wellington, Kans.

Services were held Friday, Jan. 2, 2009, at 10:30 a.m. in the Nelson Performing Arts Auditorium at Northwest College.

Jim Riley, 1943-2008

Jim Riley, 1943-2008

James W.  Riley Jr. was born Aug. 18, 1943, the son of Dr. James Whitcomb Riley Sr. and Carolyn Crenshaw Riley in Oklahoma City, Okla. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washburn University in Topeka, Kans. He attended three years of Law School at Washburn before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a military policeman in Germany and Vietnam.

Jim returned to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, to earn his Master’s degree in Speech Communication where he also taught and coached forensics. Jim furthered his education at the University of Utah while continuing to coach. Jim later taught and coached forensics and debate at the University of Nevada Reno and Boise State University. In 1977, Jim began teaching at Northwest College in Powell.

On May 4, 1991, he was united in marriage with Laura (Barker) Hagerman. Jim retired from teaching at Northwest College in 2005 and later received the status of Professor Emeritus in the spring of 2008.

Jim was an avid outdoorsman. He had a passion for hunting, camping, cutting firewood and river rafting. His fondest outdoor adventure took him down the Grand Canyon with friends, family, and colleagues. Jim also enjoyed teaching, reading and spending time with family, friends and the family’s two dogs.

Surviving to honor his memory are his father, Dr. James W. Riley Sr. of Wellington, Kans.; wife, Laura Riley of Powell; daughter, Mallory Riley of Powell; sons Daniel Hagerman and his wife Abbey Hagerman of Laramie, Jeremy Hagerman and his wife Kelly Shriver of Olympia, Wash., Nathan Hagerman and his wife Melissa Hagerman of Anchorage, Alaska, and Taylor Riley of Powell; and three grandchildren, Mikayla Hagerman, Natalie Hagerman and Collin Poe.

Preceding him in death was his mother, Carolyn Crenshaw Riley, on Jan. 2, 2006.

In Jim’s honor, the James W. Riley Communications Scholarship fund was established to help provide quality, affordable education for students majoring in Communications at Northwest College. Applicants must have a minimum 3.5 high school GPA and must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA while attending NWC. Donations to the James W. Riley Scholarship can be made here .


Evolution and state science standards in Florida

April 22, 2009

WJCT TV and FM in Jacksonville, Florida, has a televised discussion on evolution in the state science standards set for April 23.  It’s set for 8 p.m. — Eastern Time, I’m guessing.

From the station’s blog (quoted entirely):

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First Coast Forum – Schools, Science, and the State  – Thursday, April 23rd at 8pm on 89.9 FM and WJCT TV

The Florida Board of Education recently revised its science standards to require the teaching of evolution. The state legislature has met twice since then, and both times lawmakers have proposed bills requiring a “critical analysis” of this scientific theory. The latest bill— sponsored by Jacksonville Senator Steven Wise—didn’t get far in this year’s session, but this controversial debate is likely to continue. Senator Wise says it’s important to expose students to other ideas such as intelligent design. Critics argue that challenging evolution could open a door for religious doctrine in science classes.

What should our students learn and who should decide? We’ll discuss these issues with local lawmakers, religious experts, teachers, and parents on our next First Coast Forum Schools, Science, and the State, April 23rd at 8pm only on WJCT.

Panelists:

  • Steve Goyer – pastor representing OneJax
  • Dr. Marianne Barnes, UNF Education Professor
  • Stan Jordan, Duval County School Board, former state legislator
  • Rachel Raneri, Duval County District School Advisory Council Chair
  • David Campbell, Orange Park Ridgeview H.S. teacher
  • Quinton White, JU
  • Paul Hooker of the Presbytery of St. Augustine

Viewers can participate in First Coast Forum
Email questions and comments to firstcoastforum@wjct.org or by calling (904) 358-6347 during the program.


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