Sunday, June 03, 2007


Computer scientist Tim Lambert has established himself as the go-to guy for lefties looking to confirm their anti-DDT prejudices. Here are some examples of recent favourable links:

Obsidian wings: "If you want to read a more detailed example of things the anti-Rachel Carson folks say, check out this post by Tim Lambert."

A DC Birding Blog: "Tim Lambert writes that recent Rachel Carson smears and pro-DDT rhetoric have their origin in a tobacco lobby astroturf group."

Natural Patriot: "You can read the whole sorry story in Dave Roberts’ account at Grist and in the series of posts by Tim Lambert at Deltoid."

Backseat driving: "Tim Lambert continues to fight the endless war against right-wing lies about Rachel Carson that argue the "ban" of DDT has killed and is killing millions of children infected by malaria."

Sierra Club: "Well, that's bogus, and, over at the excellent science blog, Deltoid, Tim Lambert sets the record straight..."

Grist: "...via Tim Lambert, who owns the DDT issue..."

His posts are so good, publishing is suggested:
Tim needs to write a book on these topics (DDT, Globl Warming, Lancet, Lott, etc). It would be published, easy.
Melbourne University Publishing would almost certainly be interested. MUP, you see, has something of a history of publishing supposedly factual lefty junk, and junk is what Lambert writes -- actually, to call his writing junk is to pay it an undeserved compliment.

Taking aim at Rachel Carson is a Lambert junk classic brimming with misinformation -- a Lamberting, if you will. But before looking at Lambert's junk it's appropriate for me to outline my take on DDT's use in the fight against malaria.

In the '50s a massive anti-malaria program was undertaken. Scientists attached to the program realized from the start that DDT, the main weapon for attacking malaria-carrying mosquitoes, would quickly (less than a decade) become ineffective owing to targeted mosquitoes developing DDT resistance. Such a massive program was hugely expensive, and difficult to manage and implement. The effectiveness of the program was undermined by corner-cutting and mismanagement (as in Sri Lanka) and ultimately by funds shortages.

Silent Spring was released in 1962. The book induced near anti-DDT hysteria and contributed to the formation of the organized environmental movement. It heavily influenced U.S. EPA Administrator Ruckelshaus's unilateral decision to ban the non-public health use of DDT.

The U.S. banning of DDT (it is banned for agricultural use and has not been used for public health measures) saw DDT fall out of favour -- it is unreasonable to expect developing countries to use a chemical banned in the U.S. and unethical for organization such as the WHO and USAID to promote its use. DDT continued to be produced and used but the two biggest players in the anti-malaria effort made a determined effort to move to other insecticides and gradually shifted to non-spray strategies (bed nets, for example). Thus the de facto DDT ban was born.

DDT is not a magic anti-malaria bullet. It is but one of the weapons in the fight against malaria. Did the de facto DDT ban cause millions of deaths? Possibly. Is Rachel Carson to blame for these deaths? No, the environmental movement, inspired by Silent Spring, is to blame. That said, the anti-malaria efforts mounted by the WHO and USAID are not the best managed public health programs. But here again, some of this apparent managerial confusion might result from perceived pressure to employ environmentally friendly anti-malaria measures.

Some of Silent Spring's negatives were recognized almost immediately, as seen in a 1964 Time article:
To its author, it was more than a book; it became a crusade. And, despite her scientific training, she rejected facts that weakened her case, while using almost any material, regardless of authenticity, that seemed to support her thesis. Her critics, who included many eminent scientists, objected that the book's exaggerations and emotional tone played on the vague fears of city dwellers, the bulk of the U.S. population, who have little contact with uncontrolled nature and do not know how unpleasantly hostile it generally is. Many passages mentioned cancer, whose cause is still mysterious. Who knows? suggested the book. Could one cause of the disease be pesticides?
On Carson's passing, the predominantly city-dwelling environmentalists organized and expanded the anti-chemical (DDT in particular) crusade. Supporters of this crusade refuse to acknowledge that the resultant move away from Indoor Residual Spraying in general, and the decline in use of DDT in particular, has caused many deaths. Tim Lambert is one of these denialists.

Lambert reckons DDT use declined as decisions were taken to move away from it as mosquitoes became resistant. Those who say otherwise are either ignorant or corporate shills, or both. Amongst which: the Global Malaria Programme's Dr Arata Kochi; Nature Medicine's senior news editor Apoorva Mandavilli; malaria expert Dr Donald R Roberts; and organizer of the DDT POPS exemption Dr Amir Attaran.

To prove that DDT use has declined due to emerging resistance Lambert frequently refers to the Sri Lanka experience. He bases his take on events in Sri Lanka on Gordon Harrison's Mosquitoes, malaria, and man: A history of hostilities since 1880, quoting:
Despite these rumblings of trouble the epidemic that hit the island in 1968-69 was shocking, unexpected and deeply discouraging The few score cases suddenly multiplied into more than half a million. In a single season parasites reestablished themselves almost throughout the areas from which they had been so expensively driven in the course of twenty years. Sri Lanka went back to the spray guns, reducing malaria once more to 150,000 cases in 1972; but there the attack stalled. Anopheles culicifacies, completely susceptible to DDT when the spray stopped in 1964, was now found resistant presumably because of the use of DDT for crop protection in the interim. Within a couple of years, so many culicifacies survived that despite the spraying malaria spread in 1975 to more than 400,000 people.
Lambert has cherry-picked from Harrison to debunk corporate "shills" Richard Tren and Roger Bate, who write (only the bolded bit is cited by Lambert):
Most developed countries followed the US lead and imposed bans on the chemical for all uses. Some developing countries also imposed a ban on the pesticide for agricultural use and some for all uses. For example, South Africa banned it for agricultural use in 1974. Sri Lankan officials had stopped using DDT in 1964, believing the malaria problem was solved, but by 1969 the number of malaria cases had risen from the low of 17 (achieved when DDT was used) to over 500,000 (Silva, 1997).

It is alleged that DDT was not widely re-introduced because of mosquito resistance to it, and DDT use was finally abandoned in favour of Malathion in 1977 (Spielman, 1980). But a series of deleterious positive feedbacks was established. ‘It is likely that the reduction in support of spraying activities leading to inconsistent application of pesticides also played a role in the development of vector resistance’ (Packard, 1997: 287). Furthermore, pressure not to use DDT may have been applied by western donors using resistance as a convenient argument. Recent evidence shows that even where resistance to DDT has emerged, the ‘excito-repellancy’ of DDT causes mosquitoes not to enter buildings that have been sprayed (Roberts et al., 2000). Under test conditions (see Grieco et al., 2000), for at least one type of malarial mosquito in Belize (the only country in which these tests have so far been conducted),DDTis far more successful than the most favoured vector control pesticide – Deltamethrin. Hence it is unlikely that malaria rates would have increased (significantly) even if resistance were found. Recognising its continuing efficacy, many countries, such as those in Southern Africa, continue to allow DDT to be used for malaria control.
Tren and Bate may not be totally correct in all particulars but they do not downplay the resistance problem, which is mentioned throughout their paper. Here, for example, they discuss the dangers of an eradication program based solely on DDT:
The unilateral vector eradication approach to malaria control that constituted the Global Eradication Campaign could have led to its ultimate failure. Whether eradicating the disease is or is not technically feasible, the approach followed by the USAID under the guise of the WHO imposed unrealistic control strategies that could not be sustained in most poor countries. DDT was remarkably successful in almost all the countries in which it was used, but it was never likely to work as a magic bullet.
Here they discuss implementation and resistance:
One of the reasons that the WHO pushed for rapid implementation of DDT spraying for an intensive and limited time period was because of fears of resistance to the pesticide. The problems of resistance to DDT first emerged in Greece in the early 1950s where it was observed that the main Greek vector, Anopheles sacharovi, showed physiological resistance to the pesticide. Resistance to DDT was later observed in the Middle East, parts of Indonesia and also in northern Nigeria in 1956.

Fears about the increase in resistance to DDT (and dieldrin, another organochlorine pesticide) led the WHO expert committee in 1956 to call for the swift and overwhelming vector control programmes that would eliminate the pool of parasites before resistance could develop. Many countries did not have the infrastructure or organisational capacity to implement the WHO plans.
To put this in perspective, here's some of what Harrison wrote that Lambert leaves out:
The original idea had been by massive and intensive spraying to end transmission simultaneously throughout areas large enough to hold thereafter, without DDT, against both lingering small foci within the region and incursions from outside. But in practice the massive nationwide campaign was but a statistical generality of many small battles, fought with uneven skills in conditions of disparate difficulty. As victory was not to be had all at once, and as everyone was in a hurry to cut off the spray and show results, the battles began to be called off one at a time—often in relatively small districts wholly surrounded by others where the fight went on. Many of these could not be held and the attack had to be resumed. Both India and Sri Lanka, models for the feasibility of eradication, slipped back a little between 1960 and 1965. It was not much. But in the circumstances even the slightest regression was ominous. The goal of eradication had to be postponed and, by definition, time was on the other side.

WHO was of course concerned but, it would appear, not gravely so. As in the 1950s the campaign leaders had been rushed into a program of eradication by fears of insect resistance, now ten years later they were beguiled into accepting more distant goals by seeing that their fears had been somewhat exaggerated. To be sure, resistance had spread rapidly: From the five species of anophelines proved resistant in 1956, the number had risen to thirty-eight in 1968. But in many places the declining vulnerability was not yet sufficient to interfere with control. In India, for instance, Anopheles culicifacies, a major vector widespread in the country as a whole, was shown to be resistant but only in a few isolated localities—not enough to make any real difference. From Sri Lanka when spraying stopped in 1964, reports that culicifacies there remained wholly susceptible were encouraging. Most of the thirty-eight resistant species tolerated DDT or dieldrin but not both and so could be controlled by switching insecticides. WHO’s pesticide experts concluded that around the Persian Gulf and in several countries in Central America “resistance challenges the outcome of the campaign,” but that elsewhere it was still more of an inconvenience than a major obstacle. So there was still time—time, the experts thought, “for a more thorough study and analysis” of the program the better to adapt it to the capacities of those countries still struggling.
The error came in part from the genuine difficulty of deciding just how large a defensible consolidation zone had to be, but in greater part from the manifold political and economic pressures to get off the DDT wherever it seemed even marginally possible. The result was a gerrymandered patchwork of defense zones whose frontiers were certain to be regularly and even massively reinvaded.
This supports Bate and Tren's contention there was pressure to "get off the DDT".

According to Malaria: Principles and Practice of Malariology edited by Wernsdorfer and McGregor, a number of factors contributed to Sri Lanka's malaria resurgence:
The reasons for the upsurge were many. It was certainly facilitated by the backlog of slides accumulated in the laboratories and the comparatively low numbers of blood smears taken by health institutions that permitted a gradual build up of undetected, untreated cases. Intradomiciliary residual spraying with DDT had been withdrawn in the early 1960s because of the low number of cases (in accordance with the criteria for passing from attack to consolidation). After the resurgence was recognized, administrative and financial difficulties prevented the purchase of insecticides of which there was no residual stock, and the employment of temporary squads for spraying them when insecticides were donated. In 1968, the programme reverted from consolidation to attack phase, but by that time malaria had already taken root again in all previously endemic areas. DDT residual spraying was again applied on a total coverage basis, accompanied in some areas by mass radical treatment. These measures met with limited success, but the malaria situation deteriorated once more between 1972 and 1975. Apart from operational and administrative shortcomings, the main reason for this second increase was the development of vector resistance to DDT, to such an extent that it was necessary to change to the more expensive malathion in 1977.
So, Sri Lanka's malaria resurgence cannot be put down solely to resistance as Lambert leads his readers to believe; there were many contributing factors. The Sri Lanka anti-malaria program was conducted in fits and starts (due to pressure to get off the DDT) and extended over too long a period. It's almost as if the program was designed to breed up a population of resistant mosquitoes.

In Taking aim at Rachel Carson Lambert asserts that the "Rachel-killed-millions hoax" first surfaced in 1994, at which time it was believed only by the "lunatic fringe". The notion actually dates from at least 1992, when well-regarded entomologist J. Gordon Edwards published The Lies of Rachel Carson in 21st Century Science & Technology Magazine, a LaRouche publication.

Anything promoted by a LaRouche affiliate must be considered highly suspect but Edwards was an entomologist of some standing. He also wrote, with Steven Milloy, 100 things you should know about DDT. The fact that this document is found at could cause some to regard it as "junk" but on casual reading it appears to be generally correct.

Anyway, Lambert's main point is that the Rachel-killed-millions-hoax was transferred to the mainstream through funding provide by evil tobacco companies. Lambert reckons the tobacco companies did this to derail the UN's anti-tobacco initiative:
So Philip Morris hired Roger Bate to set up a new astroturf group Africa Fighting Malaria and criticize the WHO for not doing enough to fight malaria. ... And the upshot of all this hasn't just been that Philip Morris has weakened the World Health Organization's ability to act against tobacco. If you think that DDT was poised to eliminate malaria, then the obvious thing that we should be doing now is spraying more DDT and if folks are distributing insecticide treated bed nets instead it must be because the all-powerful environmentalists won't let them use DDT.
Thus has big tobacco induced the weak-minded Arata Kochi to decree the more widespread use of DDT. This is a bad thing, apparently.

Lambert has a problem, however: the only big-tobacco-funded DDT "lie" he reveals is Bate and Tren's take on DDT resistance in Sri Lanka, which is, no matter how you look at it, not a lie at all. Now it may be an exaggeration to claim that Rachel Carson killed millions but she did inspire the environmental movement which pressured the WHO and USAID into shunning DDT, which in turn caused the deaths of lots of people.

Take another look at the 1964 Time article excerpt and consider if it is reasonable to conclude that Rachel Carson bears some responsibility for the de facto DDT ban and the subsequent malaria toll:
To its author, it was more than a book; it became a crusade. And, despite her scientific training, she rejected facts that weakened her case, while using almost any material, regardless of authenticity, that seemed to support her thesis. Her critics, who included many eminent scientists, objected that the book's exaggerations and emotional tone played on the vague fears of city dwellers, the bulk of the U.S. population, who have little contact with uncontrolled nature and do not know how unpleasantly hostile it generally is. Many passages mentioned cancer, whose cause is still mysterious. Who knows? suggested the book. Could one cause of the disease be pesticides?
If you want to see something "unpleasantly hostile", go to Dulltard and tell Lambert and his gullible readers that Rachel Carson did kill millions. They'll hand you your head.

One last point, malaria is not a matter of choice, tobacco smoking is.


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