Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Lambert's latest DDT related post is an attack on an Alicia Colon article in the New York Sun. For the sake of clarity here's the whole thing:
Alicia Colon has written the usual rubbish about how Rachel Carson killed millions of people (see DDT ban myth bingo for corrections to the stuff she gets wrong). After claiming that DDT is banned she writes:
Within two years of starting DDT programs, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, and Swaziland slashed their malaria rates by 75% or more.
Apart from contradicting her claim that DDT is banned, this passage contains an interesting mistake. Mozambique has indeed slashed its malaria rate, but it hasn't used DDT. It seems that what is killing people in Africa is not restrictions on DDT, but lack of money for spraying and bed nets.
Rather than tell us what's wrong with the article Lambert engages in a bit of self-promotion in directing readers to his bullshit bingo – he obviously thinks his little game is really neato because just about every DDT post links to it. Lambert then accuses Colon of wrongly claiming that DDT is banned: Colon clearly has this right because she specifically refers to the United States, where the non-emergency use of DDT is in fact banned. Even if Colon isn't talking about the U.S. she's right because there is an effective, general DDT ban.

The DDT ban is similar to the ban on visiting certain websites on the computer network at my workplace. The system employs some sort of filtering that blocks access to sites deemed to have "inappropriate" content. Each blockage is accompanied by a notice that the user should see the system administrator if the blockage is felt to be unnecessary. Realistically, no one is willing to rock the boat, attract undue attention to himself or jump through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to have inappropriate blockages removed so even though access to certain sites isn't banned, it is. Of course, as with all bans, this ban on inappropriate sites isn't airtight; lots of inappropriate sites can still be accessed via the network.

Developing countries are naturally reluctant to use DDT when the US and EU ban it. This is complicated by the anti-DDT attitude of the World Health Organization, USAID, Roll Back Malaria and other international organizations. Even if a country does decide to use DDT as part of an anti-malaria campaign, there is a fearsome bureaucratic maze of notifications, registries and reporting to be navigated. These obstacles effectively prevent the use of DDT except in in a few cases: India and China, with their own DDT production facilities, being notable examples.

Right, back to Lambert and Colon. Colon does make a number of factual errors in her article. Referring to "The Silent Spring" instead of "Silent Spring" makes her look a bit silly but none of her errors negate the overall thrust of the article, that is, preventing African nations using DDT amounts to racism. Lambert somehow misses this, focussing instead on Colon's incorrect claim that Mozambique uses DDT.

Mozambique actually uses bendiocarb in its indoor residual spraying (IRS) program. Lambert fails to note, however, that bendiocarb is a poor substitute for DDT: it costs over 2 1/2 times as much as DDT; it must be applied much more often; and it's so toxic to animals and humans it was withdrawn from sale in the US – when used on interior walls it poses a particular hazard to children.

Lambert also fails to note that bendiocarb isn't the preferred IRS insecticide, DDT is. Why isn't DDT used? Simple, it's banned by the Mozambique Ministry of Health:
From the outset, pyrethroids were identified as the insecticide to be used in the spraying component of the LSDI. However, with the discovery of high levels of pyrethroid resistance in An. funestus, meetings were held with the RMCC, national and international experts to recommend an alternative to the use of this family of insecticides. Based on scientific data, it was unanimously agreed the best course of action would be to use DDT. In the light of Mozambique not agreeing to the use of DDT, an alternative recommendation was that a carbamate such as Bendiocarb be used. Ongoing research indicates levels of carbamate resistance outside the Zone 1 area and collections within the study area have been completed towards evaluating selection in this regard following spraying with a carbamate.

Increasing levels of insecticide resistance and the limited number of available insecticides, restricts what can be used in the residual house spraying programme in southern Mozambique. Given the discovery of pyrethroid and possibly carbamate resistance in the LSDI area the only remaining group of insecticides are the organophosphates which have a high mammalian toxicity. Since the use of DDT alone has not been approved by Ministry of Health in Mozambique, a rotational method of spraying is proposed, using different insecticides, as the way forward. DDT would need to be one of the insecticides used during such a rotational insecticide spraying programme.

Gee, maybe there's a shortage of anti-malaria money because the pressure's on to use expensive alternatives to cheap, reliable and nearly non-toxic to humans DDT.

Lambert's mission is scoring political points, not disseminating accurate information. Odd for a science blog, no?

Update: In a post at his old site – copy and paste http://timlambert.org/2005/11/kmmn/ – Lambert notes the following in regard to Africa Fighting Malaria's petition for more effective expenditure of US anti-malaria funds:
This is an absolutely dreadful way to run an anti-malaria program. The goal should be to reduce malaria and you should let the experts figure out the best way to do this. It should not be to spray DDT.
Well, experts decided that DDT is the best possible insecticide for Mozambique but can't use it because it's banned. DDT is banned because people like Lambert continually spread misinformation about its use. This is bound to have a negative impact on Africans.

Update II: A Google blog search shows this as the latest and most relevant DDT-malaria blog post. The post, titled "DDT Myths", sounded familiar because it is:
Tim Lambert has been covering this beat for a while, and most of my info on the subject comes by way of him. Anyone curious should read his full archives on the subject here.
The incestuous nature of this post can be accounted for at least in part by the fact that it was written by one of Lambert's fellow Science Blog bloggers. Thus is misinformation spread.

Update III: As pointed out in comments, I didn't "read the fine print" and incorrectly attributed the link in Update II to a Science Blog blogger. Apparently this mistake means my credibility is questionable. (I'll leave the error in Update II intact so readers can decide if my point about spreading misinformation is valid or not.)

Update IV: The Wall Street Journal reports on a new anti-malaria initiative:
George Ayittey of the Free Africa Foundation recently joined with hedge fund manager Lance Laifer and other investors to create "malaria-free zones" in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania. "We held a fund raiser last September and by December -- two and a half months -- we had one village [Yawkoko, Ghana] up and running" with insecticide-treated bed nets and antimalarial drugs, says Mr. Ayittey. "We've been able to avoid the bureaucracy and move very, very quickly." By December, a second malaria-free zone was established in Nigeria, and a third village in Kenya followed last month. "We now have other private citizens in America interested in adopting villages," says Mr. Ayittey.
Anyone wanting to contribute to the Laifer organized anti-malaria bed-net drive can do so here.

Note: The second of the three posts in this series is at the "bullshit bingo" link above. The first is here.

Editing note: "maze of permissions" changed to "maze of notifications".


Anonymous Razib said...

speaking of misinformation...the post you link to wasn't written by me, but another co-blogger who isn't affiliated with science blogs. your credibility would be increased if you actually read the fine print to see who posts what on group blogs, as i assume you can agree that the notice "posted by Matt McIntosh" differs from "posted by Razib."

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Jorgen said...

More to the point, razib, which side do you agree with?

9:08 PM  

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