Fox News needs to rein in Steven Milloy

March 10, 2011

The stuff NPR’s money guy said is rather pale by comparison.  Fox News needs to act, and apologize and retract for their commentator Steven Milloy’s errors and rash claims, if their commentator won’t.


Green Hell? Milloy slanders Ruckelshaus as “mass murderer”

March 10, 2011

This week, EPA bashing took front and center on the performance stage that passes as Congress these days.  There is a school of thought that thinks EPA should be eviscerated because EPA is carrying out the mandate an earlier Congress gave it, to clean up the air.  Especially, the recent assailants claim, EPA should not try to reduce carbon emissions, because clean air might cost something.

Steven Milloy, making stuff up and passing it as fact

Steven Milloy, who makes crude and false claims against William Ruckelshaus, a great lawyer and the hero of the Saturday Night Massacre. Why does Milloy carry such a pathetic grudge?

Wholly apart from the merits, or great lack of merits to those arguments, the anti-EPA crowd is just ugly.

78-year-old William Ruckelshaus, the Hero of the Saturday Night Massacre, a distinguished lawyer and businessman, and the founding Director of EPA who was called back to clean it up after the Reagan administration scandals, granted an interview on EPA bashing to Remapping Debate, an ambitious, independent blog from the Columbia School of Journalism designed to provide information essential to policy debates that too-often gets overlooked or buried.  [Remapping Debate sent a note that they are not affiliated with CSJ; my apologies for the error.]

Ruckelshaus, as always, gave gentlemanly answers to questions about playing politics with science, and bashing good, honest and diligent government workers as a method of political discourse.

Steven Milloy, one of the great carbuncles on the face of climate debate or any science issue, assaulted Ruckelshaus at Milloy’s angry, bitter blog, Green Hell.  Milloy calls Ruckelshaus “a mass-murderer,” a clear invitation for someone to attack the man. Milloy wrote, cravenly:

He’s the 20th century’s only mass murderer to survive and thrive (as a venture capitalist) in the 21st century.

Milloy owes Ruckelshaus an apology and a complete retraction.  I rather hope Ruckelshaus sues — while Milloy will claim the standards under New York Times vs. Sullivan as a defense, because Ruckelshaus is a public figure, I think the only question a jury would have to deal with is how much malice aforethought Milloy exhibits.  Malice is obvious.  Heck, there might not even be a question for a jury — Milloy loses on the law (nothing he claims against Ruckelshaus is accurate or true in any way).

This is much more damning than what got two NPR officials to lose their jobs.

Who will stand up for justice here?  Rep. Upton?  Rep. Boehner?  Anthony Watts?

I tried to offer a correction, and since then have written Milloy demanding an apology and retraction — neither comment has surfaced yet on Milloy’s blog.  Here’s the truth Milloy hasn’t printed:

No, Sweeney did not rule that DDT is not a threat to the environment. He said quite the opposite. Sweeney wrote, in his ruling:

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.

On that basis, two federal courts ruled that DDT must be taken off the market completely. Sweeney agreed with the findings of the courts precisely, but he determined that the law did not give him the power to order DDT off the market since the newly-proposed labels of the DDT manufacturers restricted use to emergency health-related tasks. With the benefit of rereading the two federal courts’ decisions, Ruckelshaus noted that the courts said the power was already in the old law, and definitely in the new law. [See, for example, EDF v. Ruckelshaus, 439 F. 2d 584 (1971)]

DDT was banned from use on crops in the U.S. as an ecosystem killer. It still is an ecosystem killer, and it still deserves to be banned.

Ruckelshaus’s order never traveled outside the U.S. DDT has never been banned in most nations of the world, and even though DDT has earned a place on the list of Dirty Dozen most dangerous pollutants, even under the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty of 2001, DDT is available for use to any country who wishes to use it.

Please get your facts straight.

Would you, Dear Reader,  help spread the word on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or any other service you have, that the Brown Lobby has gone too far in it’s error-based propaganda against clean air and those who urge a better environment?  Please?


Hoaxing Congress: Claiming DDT as pixie dust

March 9, 2011

Tuesday morning, March 8,  the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce opened hearings on global warming, staging an assault on science with a series of witnesses, some of whom recently have made a career out of mau-mauing scientists.

Dr. Donald Roberts' testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Power, on March 8, 2011, presented a grand collection of Bogus History, coupled with Bogus Science.

Dr. Donald Roberts’ testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Power, on March 8, 2011, presented a grand collection of Bogus History, coupled with Bogus Science. Roberts has an unfortunate history of presenting doctored data and false claims to Congress.

One witness took after the EPA directly and Rachel Carson by implication, with a specious claim that DDT is harmless.  Donald Roberts is a former member of the uniformed public health service.  Since retiring, and perhaps for a while before, he started running with a bad crowd.  Of late he’s been working with the Merry Hoaxsters of the unrooted Astroturf organization Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), a group dedicated to publishing editorials tearing down the reputation of Rachel Carson, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

(That would all be purple prose, were it not accurate in its description of people, organizations and their actions.)

Here’s a link to Roberts’ written testimony at the committee website.

(Here’s a link to all the other written stuff from the March 8 hearing.) [April 27, 2015: These two cites now link to the Democratic Minority record; GOP site was moved or taken down.]

Why was Roberts testifying at a hearing on global warming?  He’s carrying water for the anti-science, “please-do-nothing” corporate crowd.  It’s a tactic from the old tobacco lobbyist book:  Roberts claims that scientists got everything wrong about DDT, and that the ban on DDT done in error has wreaked havoc in the third world.  Therefore, he says, we should never trust scientists.  If scientists say “duck!” don’t bother, in other words.

Roberts is in error.  Scientists, especially Rachel Carson, were dead right about DDT.  Because corporate interests refused to listen to them, the overuse and abuse of DDT rendered it ineffective in the fight against malaria, and DDT use as part of a very ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria had to be abandoned in 1965.  The entire campaign had to be abandoned as a result, and more than 30 million kids have died since.

So don’t grant credence to Roberts now.  He’s covering up one of the greatest industrial screw-ups in history, a screw up that, by Roberts’ own count, has killed 30 million kids.  What in the world would motivate Roberts to get the story so wrong, to the detriment of so many kids?

Roberts said:

Putting issues of EPA budget aside, I want to introduce my technical comments with a quote from a recent Associated Press article with a lead statement “none of EPA’s actions is as controversial as its rules on global warming.”  In my opinion, this is wrong.

Dr. Donald Roberts testifying to the House Energy Committee, March 8, 2011. Screen capture from Committee video.

Dr. Donald Roberts testifying to the House Energy Committee, March 8, 2011. Screen capture from Committee video.

Roberts is correct here in his opinion.  It is simply wrong that EPA’s rules on global warming and controls of the pollutants that cause it should be controversial.  Among air pollution scientists the rules are not controversial.  Among climate scientists the rules are not controversial.  Roberts and his colleagues at the so-called Competitive Enterprise Institute, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) work hard to manufacture controversy where the science does not support their case.

It is wrong.  Roberts should be ashamed.

Roberts said:

Almost forty years ago EPA banned DDT in the United States. Its action against DDT was extraordinarily controversial, and still is. As activists advanced fearful claims against DDT, the EPA was warned, over and over again, a ban would destroy critically important disease control programs and millions upon millions of poor people in developing countries would die as consequence. Leaders of the World Health and Pan American Health Organizations, and even the U.S. Surgeon General warned against the ban. The EPA banned DDT anyway, and the doomsday predictions of those public health leaders proved prescient.

Hmmm.  Roberts signed a “truth in testimony” statement — but that’s not the truth, even if no one paid him to fib.

EPA’s ban on DDT in the U.S. was limited to the United States.  Roberts doesn’t say it flat out, but he implies that the U.S. ban on spraying DDT on cotton fields in Texas and Arkansas — and cotton was about the only crop where DDT was still used — somehow caused a ban on DDT in Africa, or Asia, or South America, or other places where malaria still occurs.

Not so.

In fact, EPA Director William Ruckelshaus defied two federal courts who had ordered a complete ban on DDT use and manufacturing — and left U.S. manufacturing to continue for export markets.  This met all objections to the U.S. ban from all health officials.  DDT use could be allowed in the U.S. for health reasons, or for other emergencies (DDT was used in the Pacific Northwest against the tussock moth in 1974, after the “ban”).  Because U.S. DDT manufacturing was dedicated to export, the ban on domestic use of DDT effectively multiplied the stocks of DDT available to fight malaria, or river blindness, or any other insect vector disease.

I’m also not sure that health officials “pleaded” to stop the U.S. ban on any grounds, but certainly they did not plead with Ruckelshaus to keep spraying DDT on cotton.  Roberts is making stuff up in effect, if not in intent.

Probably more to the point, health officials had stopped significant use of DDT in Africa in 1965, seven years before EPA acted in the U.S., because overuse of DDT on crops in Africa had bred mosquitoes that were resistant and immune to the stuff. Since 1955, in close cooperation with the malaria-fighting experts from the Rockefeller Foundation including the great Fred Soper, WHO carried on a methodical, militant campaign to wipe out malaria.  The program required that public health care be beefed up to provide accurate malaria diagnoses, and complete treatment of human victims of the parasitic disease.  Then an army of house sprayers would move in, dosing the walls of houses and huts with insecticide.  Most malaria-carrying mosquitoes at the time would land on the walls of a home or hut after biting a human and getting a blood meal, pausing to squeeze out heavy, excess water to make flight easier.  If the wall were coated with an insecticide, the mosquito would die before being able to bite many more people, maybe before becoming capable of spreading malaria.

DDT was Soper’s insecticide of choice because it was long-lasting — six months or more — and astonishingly deadly to all small creatures it contacted.

But, as Malcolm Gladwell related in his 2001 paean to Soper in The New Yorker, Soper and his colleagues well understood they were racing against the day that mosquitoes became resistant enough to DDT that their program would not work.  They had hoped the day would not arrive until the late 1970s or so — but DDT is such an effective killer that it greatly speeds evolutionary processes.  In the mid-1960s, before an anti-malaria campaign could even be mounted in most of Subsaharan Africa, resistant and immune mosquitoes began to stultify the campaign.  By 1965, Soper’s crews worked hard to find a substitute, but had to switch from DDT.  By 1972 when the U.S. banned DDT use on cotton in the U.S., it was too late to stop the resistance genes from killing WHO’s anti-malaria program.  In 1969 WHO formally abandoned the goal of malaria eradication.  The fight against malaria switched to control.

Roberts claims, implicitly, that people like those who worked with Soper told EPA in 1971 that DDT was absolutely essential to their malaria-fighting efforts.  That could not be accurate.  In 1969 the committee that oversaw the work of the UN voted formally to end the malaria eradication project.  In effect, then, Roberts claims UN and other health officials lied to EPA in 1971.  It is notable that Soper is credited with eradicating malaria from Brazil by 1942, completely without DDT, since DDT was not then available.  Soper’s methods depended on discipline in medical care and pest control, and careful thought as to how to beat the disease — DDT was a help, but not necessary.

Interestingly, the only citation Roberts offers is to his own, nearly-self-published book, in which he indicts almost all serious malaria fighters as liars about DDT.

Can Roberts’ testimony be trusted on this point?  I don’t think we should trust him.

In fact, DDT and the eradication campaign had many good effects.  In 1959 and 1960, when DDT use was at its peak in the world, malaria deaths numbered about 4 million annually.  The eradication campaign ultimately was ended, but it and other malaria-fighting efforts, and general improvements in housing and sanitation, helped cut the annual death toll to 2 million a year by 1972.

After the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton, mosquitoes did not migrate from Texas and Arkansas to Africa.  As noted earlier, the EPA order stopping agricultural use, left manufacturing untouched, to increase U.S. exports.  So the ban on DDT in the U.S. increased the amount of DDT available to fight malaria.

Malaria fighting, under Soper’s standards, required great discipline among the malaria fighters — the sort of discipline that governments in Subsaharan Africa could not provide.  Had WHO not slowed its use of DDT because of mosquito resistance to the stuff, WHO still would not have been able to mount eradication campaigns in nations where 80% of residences could not be sprayed regularly.

Advances in medical care, and better understanding of malaria and the vectors that spread it, helped continue the downward trend of malaria deaths.  There was a modest uptick in the 1980s when the parasites themselves developed resistance to the drugs commonly used to treat the disease.  With the advent of pharmaceuticals based on Chinese wormwood, or artemisinin-based drugs, therapy for humans has become more effective.  Today, the annual death toll to malaria has been cut to under a million, to about 900,000 per year — a 75% drop from DDT’s peak use, a 50% drop from the U.S. ban on farm use of DDT.

With the assistance of WHO, most nations who still suffer from malaria have adopted a strategy known as Integrated Vector Management, or IVM (known as integrated pest management or IPM in the U.S.).  Pesticides are used sparingly, and insect pests are monitored regularly and carefully to be sure they are not developing genetic-based resistance or immunity to the pesticides.  This is the method that Rachel Carson urged in 1962, in her book, Silent Spring.  Unfortunately, much of the malaria-suffering world didn’t come to these methods until after the turn of the century.

Progress against malaria has been good since 2001, using Rachel Carson’s methods.

Don Roberts’ blaming of science, EPA, WHO, and all other malaria fighters is not only misplaced, wrong in its history and wrong in its science, but it is also just nasty.  Is there any way Roberts could not know and understand the facts?

These are the facts Roberts works to hide from Congress:

  1. “Science” and scientists were right about DDT.  DDT is a dangerous substance, uncontrollable in the wild according to federal court findings and 40 years of subsequent research.  If we were to judge the accuracy of scientists about DDT, we would have to conclude that they were deadly accurate in their judgment that use of DDT should be stopped.
  2. If the ban on DDT was controversial in 1972, it should not be now.  All research indicates that the judgment of EPA and its director, William Ruckelshaus, was right.
  3. EPA was not warned that a ban on agricultural use of DDT would harm public health programs, in the U.S., nor anywhere else in the world.  In any case, EPA’s jurisdiction ends at U.S. borders — why would WHO say anything at all?
  4. DDT use to fight malaria had been curtailed in 1965, years before the U.S. ban on farm use, because overuse of DDT on crops had bred DDT-resistant and DDT-immune mosquitoes.  Consequently, there was not a huge nor vociferous lobby who warned that health would be put at risk if DDT were banned.  Claims that these warnings were made are either false or grossly misleading.
  5. Malaria death rates declined to less than 50% of what they were when DDT was banned from farm use in the U.S. — there was no “doomsday” because the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton, and there never has been a serious shortage of DDT for use against malaria, anywhere in the world.

How much of the rest of the testimony against doing something about global warming, was complete hoax?

More:

[Editor’s note:  My apologies.  I put this together on three different machines while conducting other activities.  On proofing, I find several paragraphs simply disappeared, and edits to make up for the time of composing and fix tenses, got lost.  It should be mostly okay, now, and I’ll add in the links that disappeared shortly . . . oh, the sorry work of the part-time blogger.]

Update, 2015: Video of the hearing, from YouTube:


Roger Bate’s simple lie about DDT

January 22, 2011

In the last two weeks we’ve seen a virtual-world assault by Richard Tren, Roger Bate and Don Roberts, alternately telling fantastic tales about how Rachel Carson from beyond the grave organized a mass murder that rivals Joseph Stalin, or saying that environmentalists conspire to keep life-saving chemicals from getting to Africa and Asia.

This morning’s e-mail brought a release from the often-fact-challenged American Enterprise Institute, under the by-line of Roger Bate — “The UN’s Scientific Fraud Against DDT.”

Fraud?  That’s all on Bate.  Here are things Bate will not tell you:

  • No malaria fighting organization claims it needs more DDT.
  • DDT has never been banned in Africa, nor Asia.
  • If any nation wishes to use DDT to fight malaria, that nation need only write a letter to the World Health Organization informing WHO of that fact.
  • If anyone violates the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs) and uses DDT without telling WHO first, there is no penalty.
  • Malaria death rates are, now, at the lowest level in human history.  While there is a threat of a resurgence of malaria, the threat comes because the malaria parasites themselves develop resistant to the pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease in humans — no connection to DDT.
  • DDT use cannot stop malaria.  Consider:  India is one of two or three nations today who still manufacture DDT, and India uses more DDT than all the rest of the world’s nations put together.  Malaria is still a problem for India.
  • Beating malaria requires more than poisoning the hell out of Africa.

Roger Bate:  Walking science, history, law and policy fraud.  His claims are hoaxes.

Update: Tim Lambert at Deltoid looked at the claims of Bate and Roberts, and found that they appear to have made many errors in simple math and statistics.  Read about it here.


DDT: Zombie ideas of the right-winged and ill-informed

November 7, 2010

John Quiggin’s done with his book, Zombie Economics:  How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.

Cover of John Quiggin's Zombie Economics

Cover of John Quiggin's Zombie Economics

Go buy a copy.  You will be happy you did.

Today, at Crooked Timber he’s looking at zombie ideas he was sure would eventually go away — like the bizarre, false idea that a lot more DDT should be used to fight malaria.

Is Quiggin ever wrong?


Quote of the moment: Lewis Carroll on Republican politics, climate skeptics, DDT advocates and creationism

October 26, 2010

Alice and the Red Queen

Alice and the Red Queen - illustration by Sir John Tenniel

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, writing under the name Lewis Carroll,
Alice in Wonderland, 1866

[Yes, the illustration is from Through the Looking Glass, 1871]


“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:


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