Friday, June 08, 2007


Bug Girl (Ph D, entomology) visits a fellow scientist's site and experiences an enlightening that has her "mouth hanging open in amazement". Obviously much impressed with her fellow scientist's shared assessment of New York Times columnist John Tierney -- he's an "asshole" who writes "shit" -- Bug Girl concludes a subsequent post, "Thank you math man!".

Bug Girl may be an entomologist but she's obviously none too bright: how else to explain her being amazed by, and appreciative of, the misinformation cranked out by serial misrepresenter Tim Lambert? Well, there is an alternative explanation: belief in Silent Spring is something of a lefty religion. Thus, Silent Spring believers accept Lambert's writing not because it is accurate -- it isn't -- but rather because it affirms what they want to believe. It's simply a matter of faith.

Bug Girl and the rest of Lambert's Silent Spring believers need only do a little outside reading to discover that Math Man's posting crap; they could start by actually reading the links he provides. His attack on John Tierney is a good place to start.

Tierney writes:
"DDT became taboo even though there wasn't evidence that it was carcinogenic (and subsequent studies repeatedly failed to prove harm to humans)".
Lambert responds:
But what Tierny doesn't mention is that after Silent Spring was published a special panel of President Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee was convened to examine Carson's claims. The result? According to Science (the same Science that published Baldwin's review):
"The long-awaited pesticide report of the President's Science Advisory Committee was issued last week, and though it is a temperate document, even in tone, and carefully balanced in its assessment of risks versus benefits, it adds up to a fairly thorough-going vindication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring thesis."
The linked article is not available to the general public, except by purchase, so Lambert's readers have to take it on faith his quoting is accurate. While his quoting is accurate, as far as it goes, the article does not refute Tierney's claim. The article refers to the toxic effects of pesticides but does not even mention cancer. Further, while the PSAC report may be a "fairly thorough-going vindication" of Silent Spring, an obvious shortcoming is noted:
Rachel Carson's stretching of scientific points is not easily excused, but she can be defended on the grounds that she did no more than shout that the whole city was on fire, when, actually, only two-fifths was ablaze.
Lambert also fails to mention that the report only looks at Carson's book in passing and, in any event, amounts to nothing more than opinion:
The report stands as no more than an expression of influential opinion on what should be done, and it should be recognized that there is a big gap to be filled between recommendation and achievement.
Lambert continues:
Tierny also gets basic stuff wrong. For instance:
An important clue emerged in the 1980s when the biochemist Bruce Ames tested thousands of chemicals and found that natural compounds were as likely to be carcinogenic as synthetic ones. Dr. Ames found that 99.99 percent of the carcinogens in our diet were natural, which doesn't mean that we are being poisoned by the natural pesticides in spinach and lettuce.
Ames did not find that 99.99% of dietary carcinogens were natural. When 60 minutes attributed a similar claim to him, he protested that it was a fabrication meant to discredit him:
Bradley: "Dr. Lijinsky disputes Ames' claim that 99.9% of all carcinogens come from natural foods."

This obviously incorrect claim was never made by me. Gelber/Bradley made it up. What I stated was that 99.9% of chemicals we ingest are natural. It is well known that 30% of human cancer is due to smoking and another large percentage of cancer is due to viruses, hormones, sunlight, alcohol, dietary imbalances, radon, and occupational causes. Thus, Lijinsky rebutted a statement made up by Gelber/Bradley, and, as a consequence, publicly discredited me. When I asked Gelber where he got that statement from, he couldn't come up with an answer.
Tierney's 99.99% figure may be wrong but his point that "natural compounds were as likely to be carcinogenic as synthetic ones" is valid nonetheless. Here's Ames from the link provided by Lambert:
Of all chemicals tested at high doses in both rats and mice (about 400 chemicals), about half are carcinogens: thus, carcinogens, as defined by such tests, are extremely common. Synthetic industrial chemicals account for almost all (-85%) of the chemicals tested. However, despite the fact that more than 99.9% of the chemicals humans eat are natural, only a small number (about 70) of natural chemicals have been tested in both rats and mice; again, about half are carcinogens. These results imply that synthetic chemicals, except in the case of high-dose occupational exposure, are unlikely to be responsible for much human cancer. This is in agreement with the conclusion of the epidemiologists who study human cancer: only a minuscule proportion, if any, of cancer is likely to be due to pesticide residues.
Anyway, it's absurd to attempt to undermine Tierney's argument with a "similar" figure that's not similar at all -- scientist Lambert has ongoing problems with the concept "similar", having previously claimed, and later denying claiming it, that sea level rises of 59 and 88 cm are similar.

Lambert hasn't laid a glove on Tierney so far with the swinging and missing continuing:
Back to Tierny:
The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they've had to fight against Ms. Carson's disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome "dirty dozen."

Ms. Carson didn't urge an outright ban on DDT, but she tried to downplay its effectiveness against malaria and refused to acknowledge what it had accomplished.
But look at what Carson wrote about DDT and malaria:
No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story - the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting. ...

What is the measure of this setback? The list of resistant species now includes practically all of the insect groups of medical importance. ... Malaria programmes are threatened by resistance among mosquitoes. ...

Practical advice should be 'Spray as little as you possibly can' rather than 'Spray to the limit of your capacity' ..., Pressure on the pest population should always be as slight as possible.
It is absurd for Lambert to rebut Tierney with hysterical nonsense from Carson. That insects develop resistance to chemical insecticides was known long before Carson wrote Silent Spring. And perhaps Lambert can tell us which insect vector has developed immunity to chemical control and which malaria control program failed due to developed resistance -- effective long-term insect control programs must anticipate the need to rotate insecticides.

Not only has Lambert been misleading his readers, he's allowing commenters carte blanche to post pro-Carson crap. Commenter Chuck asks a seemingly genuine question:
Are Tierney's claims about Carson true? For example, he writes "Ms. Carson used dubious statistics and anecdotes (like the improbable story of a woman who instantly developed cancer after spraying her basement with DDT) to warn of a cancer epidemic that never came to pass."

Is that a correct statement?
Lambert doesn't respond, instead allowing Hank Roberts to misinform:
Mr. Tierney is wrong.
Mr. Tierney could have searched full text in Silent Spring: [here]
I did. You can too. Here's the closest match to his claim, and it's not very close: pages 227-228.
He misread, or he trusted a PR lie instead of checking it.
Tierney is, in fact, correct. Go to the link provided by Hank and search for "basement" and you'll be referred to page 228, where Carson recounts the fantastic tale of an unnamed housewife who, over the course of three months, sprays her basement three times with DDT, develops leukemia and dies within a month. Hank appears to be a Lambert understudy.

Now I would have thought a scientist and academic -- as Lambert prominently proclaims himself at his blog -- would have investigated Chuck's question and set the record straight. No chance, Lambert aims to misinform; if his readers want to join in the points-scoring fun, great, his workload will be reduced.

Lambert, like Carson, unscrupulously manipulates information at every opportunity aiming to score political points, the ends justifying the means. If these two are any guide, science is fucked.

Note: For what it's worth, Lambert originally correctly spells "Tierney" but thereafter misspells it "Tierny". A bit sloppy for a scientist.

Update: Lambert has corrected the spelling of Tierney.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd. I find it pretty easy to assign attribution to the material Beck quotes. And I don't even have a PhD. Unless Beck's changed the format since bug_girl read it, I'm frankly amazed someone could have trouble understanding who's saying what, actually.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous John A said...

Tim Lambert is a classic case of an antiscientist. Congratulations on busting his continued lying.

3:18 PM  

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