“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:


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:

Debunking creationist claims of human and dinosaur footprints together . . .

September 26, 2010

. . . from 1983!

Steve Schafersman, now president of Texas Citizens for Science, played the yeoman then:

Description of the program:

Did humans coexist with dinosaurs? The tracks tell the tale. Dr. John R. Cole, Dr. Steven Schafersman, Dr. Laurie Godfrey, Dr. Ronnie Hastings, Lee Mansfield, and other scientists examine the claims and the evidence. Air date: 1983.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the National Center for Science Education.

Still evil and wrong: McIlhinney still leads a cover up of malaria facts

September 20, 2010

U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) Project found this warehouse with 119 tons of leftover, surplus and expired DDT in Ethiopia. In total, PMI AIRS Progect found 930 tons of unused DDT in Ethiopia, in 1,600 tons of expired pesticides total. Other nations have other surplus DDT stocks. Africa never suffered a shortage of DDT.

U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) Project found this warehouse with 119 tons of leftover, surplus and expired DDT in Ethiopia. In total, PMI AIRS Progect found 930 tons of unused DDT in Ethiopia, in 1,600 tons of expired pesticides total. Other nations have other surplus DDT stocks. Africa never suffered a shortage of DDT.

Watch the video, and you can see God trying to stop her from talking, putting that frog in her throat.

Ann McIlhinney was wrong when she made the movie “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” and she’s still spreading false tales.  I found her diatribe, interestingly enough at a site called 2012 Doomsday Predictions.

I only respond to the first six minutes or so — you get the idea.  McIlhinney leaves no falsehood untold, no crazy charge not leveled at Rachel Carson and “environmentalists.”

Here’s the film clip of McIlhinney misleading the masses:

Here is my quick and dirty response:

1. Environmentalists are not calling for a ban on coal, oil or gas. Fear talk. Why would anyone tell such a whopping lie? How do we know the film lies? Who is this “environmentalist” they fear to name?

2. Rachel Carson was right — DDT kills ecosystems. Carson said we needed to restrict the use of DDT in order to keep it viable as a pesticide. But few listened (not McIlhinney, that’s for sure). Consequently, DDT became ineffective against mosquitoes that carry malaria, scuttling the World Health Organization’s ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria. Had that not happened, and had we eradicated malaria by 1975 as planned, millions of lives could have been saved. McIlhinney is the one with blood on her hands.

3. DDT has never been banned worldwide, was never banned in Africa, and is still used in those places it still works, under a special treaty signed in 2001. McIlhinney hopes you won’t know about that treaty, and fails to mention it herself. What’s she trying to hide?

4. Carson did not say DDT was the sole culprit for the decline of birds — but by 1962, it was the sole culprit preventing their recovery. Bald eagles and brown pelicans have come off the endangered species list, populations recovering in almost lock-step with the decline of DDT in the birds’ flesh — proof that Carson was right.

5. Under U.S. law, no agency could ban a useful pesticide without mountains of evidence that the pesticide was dangerous. Four separate court proceedings looked at DDT, two before the EPA acted, and two appeals after EPA banned DDT use on crops. All four courts found DDT to be dangerous and uncontrollable in the wild. The two appeals of EPA’s labeling change were both decided on summary judgment — the science was so powerfully on Carson’s side. In May 1963 the President’s Science Advisory Council reported on their fact checking of Carson’s book — they said Carson was dead right in everything but one: Carson was too easy on DDT. That panel, with its significant population of Nobel winners, called for quick action against DDT. Why doesn’t McIlhinney give the facts here?

6. The claim that EPA’s ban influenced WHO is pure bullfeathers. WHO had to end its malaria eradication campaign, using DDT, in 1965 — the mosquitoes were immune to the stuff. EPA didn’t act until seven years later, and EPA’s jurisdiction extends only to the borders of the U.S. In fact, EPA’s “ban” left DDT to be manufactured in the U.S. for export to Africa. Can’t McIlhinney read a calendar? The “ban” in 1972 did not travel back through time to stop WHO from using DDT. (For that matter, WHO never completely stopped DDT — wherever it could work, they used it, and still do.)

7. DDT has always been available for any government in Africa to use. What that guy in the film is really saying is racist: He’s claiming Africans were too stupid to use DDT, though it was cheap and available, and though it would save their lives. Don’t listen to him. Africans are not stupid: They’d use DDT were it effective and safe. Shame on McIlhinney for entertaining such a claim.

8. Malaria did not skyrocket after DDT was banned in the U.S. Mosquitoes don’t migrate that far. There was an uptick in malaria 20 years later, when the pharmaceuticals that cure malaria in humans, ceased to be effective.

But today, malaria rates are the lowest they’ve been in recorded history, and malaria death rates are the lowest they’ve been in human history. When the U.S. banned DDT spraying on cotton in 1972, about 2 million people a year died from malaria. Today, the death toll is under 900,000. Don’t be frightened or stampeded by erroneous, large figures.

In the end, we can’t poison Africa to health, and if we could, it would be immoral to do that instead of building health care to fight diseases.

Children die because hard-hearted politicos like Ann McIlhinney frustrate the work of malaria fighters, and mislead policy makers away from solutions that would save children’s lives.

Shame on her.

Anthony Watts targets Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, ends up getting scrubbed

September 14, 2010

Continuing comedy/tragedy at Watts Up With That, Anthony Watts’ staunchly anti-global-warming-science blog.

Funny in the denial of the obvious, funny in the dance to get around the science, tragic in that anyone grants much credence to the denials of the obvious and science — Watts steams on.

Watts and his moderators haven’t completely blocked my comments, and I can sneak one in on occasion just slipping under their radar.  We are all plagued by a recent spate of pro-DDT publicity, prompted by what I am not sure but encompassing a full-court press from anti-science moguls like Paul Driessen, pro-poison advocates, and a film by a crank (quack?) physician-to-the-stars who appears fearful of revealing his full name, Rutledge Taylor and “3 Billion and Counting.”  (Taylor’s film is sort of the “Expelled!” of the Chronically Obsessed with Rachel Carson (COWRC) set, but without the charm and science of Ben Stein’s film, since the scientists refused to sit for an interview with Taylor.)  (Taylor’s publicity refers to him as “Dr. Rutledge.”  Perhaps he aspires to the heights of academic and science credence granted Dr. Phil.)

Watts gave his pedestal over to an engineer, Indur Goklany, for a diatribe against Bill Gates. In comments, I tried to insert some data into an increasingly shrill and increasingly error-prone howl against Gates.  Of Gates I am no great fan (unfairly; I use Windows), but sometimes one needs to stand up for accuracy and fairness, just for the sake of accuracy and fairness.

Watts gave Goklany a platform to go after my two comments.  I’m Watts’ target for the day.

Dancing on the edge of science is treacherous, as Watts and Goklany may have discovered.  Goklany claims I make many errors in my comments, but he cites no evidence suggesting I err at all.  I merely pointed to the decline in death totals from malaria, and to the real work of the Gates Foundation.  Nothing in those comments has been tagged as incorrect.

In comments, however, truth breaks out.  Franklin’s adage about truth winning in a fair fight holds true, especially on a topic like malaria and DDT, where Watts and Goklany together, even were they the acme of broadcast meteorology and dissident engineering, can’t snuff out factual comments fast enough to keep up the tirade.  [You fellows there on the side:  Stop your betting about whether Goklany is a creationist!  Gambling is not allowed here, especially when the fix is in.  He confesses he is “an engineer,” after all.]

I may err; but take a look, Dear Reader, and see if the contrived case against Rachel Carson and for poisoning Africa with DDT doesn’t take a few hits, especially in comments.

Sometime, perhaps this week, I hope to get a substantial comment about the flurry of crank science on DDT, and Rutledge Taylor’s contemptible falsehoods.  But I am without time, and without computer most of the day.

Now, if only being Watts’ target would persuade his readers to actually come here to find the facts about DDT, it would be worth it.


Tim Lambert at Deltoid explains where Goklany runs off the rails of accurate information, and as usual, has more comments than we get in the Bathtub.

Penn and Teller decimate anti-vaccination arguments

September 2, 2010

Should you allow your kids to be vaccinated, or are you worried about autism?

Penn and Teller lay out the facts.  Warning:  Profanity (well deserved, but profane, all the same):

Tip of the old scrub brush to DrJohnSea.

Yet another blow against warming “skeptics”: Virginia judge quashed Cuccinelli’s witch hunt

September 2, 2010

Vivian Paige pulled together early reports and the actual court documents:  A judge in Virginia quashed the subpeona issued by Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia, in a rather blatant attempt to silence a famous scientist working on global warming, Michael Mann.

Rosalind Helderman explained in the Virginia Politics blog of the Washington Post:

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

“The Court has read with care those pages and understands the controversy regarding Dr. Mann’s work on the issue of global warming. However, it is not clear what he did was misleading, false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Peatross wrote.

Also, as suggested earlier here, the judge noted that Cuccinelli’s authority did not extend to four of the five grants questioned, because they were federal grants, not state grants.  (See here, too.)

Comments at Helderman’s article show the fault lines of division on global warming — purely political faultlines.

Since opponents of action against warming so frantically publicized stolen e-mails from researchers late last year, in official proceedings scientists have smacked down skeptics on almost every issue.

Which only means that scientists now sit in the position of Cassandra after Apollo’s curse.

Lies, damned lies, statistics, and Steve Goddard’s computer animation

August 5, 2010

Add this to the Heights of Hoaxiness files:  Steve Goddard (go here if you need to catch up) has made an astounding discovery, which he reveals with a .gif and YouTube animation of the Earth at Anthony Watts’s blog, Watts Up With That? (WUWT).

Goddard discovered that, if one ignores warming of small amounts, and counts it as not warming at all, the colors on a color-coded map change a lot, and look a lot cooler.

Shorter Goddard:  Hide the increase in temperatures, and it looks like temperatures don’t increase nearly as much.

Steve Goddard's map of a warming Pacific Ocean, hiding the small increases

Steve Goddard's map of a warming Pacific Ocean, hiding the small increases in temperature. (This should be a .gif that changes as you watch; if you see no animation, click on the image)

Goddard's cooler Pacific 3

Steve Goddard's map of a warming Pacific Ocean, hiding the small increases in temperature. (Another version, trying to get the .gif to display.) This should be a .gif that changes as you watch; if you see no animation, click on the image

You couldn’t make up such denialism if you tried.  If you submitted this stuff as fiction, it couldn’t get published.

Here’s an object warning about turning angry monkeys loose with graphics software:  Goddard’s YouTube:

Key unanswered question:  If we ignore rising temperatures, do they stop rising?  If we ignore rising temperatures, can glaciers, oceans, plants and animals be convinced to do the same?

How many polar bears read Steve Goddard’s posts at WUWT?  Can they be persuaded?

Somebody exhume Benjamin Disraeli.  He needs to update his stuff.

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