Saturday, May 17, 2008


Blogger tends to be a bit temperamental when posts are long with lots of links, so rather than try to update the Hackademics post it's continued here.

Roger Bate, damned by Quiggin and Lambert as a paid operative of evil tobacco companies, has responded to their Prospect article terming it "a half-baked conspiracy theory". Read the whole thing here.

Bate is correct in terming Quiggin and Lambert's article "a half-baked conspiracy theory" but that description doesn't do the article justice; really, it's a fringe-left attempt to rewrite history.

As already noted, Quiggin and Lambert's Prospect opinion article on Rachel Carson is lightweight hackery masquerading as a quasi-authoritative academic work. To understand what these two lefty academics really think it's necessary to look at the article before Prospect editorial staff sanitized it.

The first three paragraphs of the Prospect article read:
Rachel Carson launched the modern environmental movement. She was posthumously awarded the US presidential medal of freedom, and has conservation areas, prizes and associations named in her honour.

Yet Carson has also been accused of killing more people than Hitler. Her detractors hold her responsible for a “ban” on the use of the insecticide DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), which, they claim, halted a campaign that was on the verge of eradicating malaria in the 1960s.

Some mainstream journalists have accepted this story, which in turn has led to pressure on the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other bodies to change policies and personnel. Yet perhaps the most striking feature of the claim against Carson is the ease with which it can be refuted. It takes only a few minutes with Google to discover that DDT has never been banned for anti-malarial uses, and that it is in use in at least 11 countries.
Compare the above to the original:
Rachel Carson launched the modern environmental movement. She was posthumously awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom, and has conservation areas, prizes and associations named in her honor.

Yet Carson is also regularly accused of killing more people than Hitler. Her accusers hold her responsible for a ban on the use of the insecticide DDT (Dichloro- Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) which allegedly halted a campaign that was about to eradicate malaria, and blame her for millions of deaths from malaria in the Third World.

This claim has been made repeatedly, and in strident terms, on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News and other outlets associated with the political right. The basic premise of the story, that pressure from environmentalists has hindered the fight against malaria, has been accepted by writers in the New York Times, Washington Post and so on. This has led to pressure on the World Health Organization (WHO) and other bodies to reverse the putative ban, pressure which has led WHO to replace the head of its antimalaria division and announce changes in policies.
As far as I can tell, not a single WSJ article comes even close to meeting Quiggin and Lambert's "worse than Hitler" criteria. Quiggin suggests this article and Lambert offers this but neither fits the bill.

Regardless, there are plenty of reputable sources to confirm the notion that Carson inspired environmentalists are hindering anti-malaria efforts:

Fred Pearce, New Scientist:
It seems millions of lives have been lost because health experts threw away their best weapon. Are environmentalists to blame? There is no doubt that DDT was misused as an agricultural pesticide and seriously damaged wildlife. In that sense Carson was right. But regulators did not recognise that spraying indoors was different. And an environmental outcry against DDT helped to ensure that the early fears about its effect on human health became entrenched dogma long after they had been proved unfounded.
Apoorva Mandavilli, Nature Medicine:
In theory, any country is free to use DDT. The Stockholm Convention of 2001 sought a global ban on DDT, but many countries and scientists argued against the ban, citing its value in malaria control. The final treaty made an exemption for DDT's use in public health, but called for countries to gradually phase out the pesticide.

Still, in places where malaria was still endemic, the treaty spelled disaster.

Most African nations are heavily dependent on foreign aid and can ill afford to cross a line drawn by donor agencies.

USAID never banned DDT outright, for instance, but nor did it fund DDT's purchase - which amounts to the same thing.
Michael Finkel, National Geographic:
Soon after the program collapsed, mosquito control lost access to its crucial tool, DDT. The problem was overuse--not by malaria fighters but by farmers, especially cotton growers, trying to protect their crops. The spray was so cheap that many times the necessary doses were sometimes applied. The insecticide accumulated in the soil and tainted watercourses. Though nontoxic to humans, DDT harmed peregrine falcons, sea lions, and salmon. In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, documenting this abuse and painting so damning a picture that the chemical was eventually outlawed by most of the world for agricultural use. Exceptions were made for malaria control, but DDT became nearly impossible to procure. "The ban on DDT,' says Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health, 'may have killed 20 million children."
John Balbus, Environmental Defense (in a letter to a USAID official):
As the organization that led the successful campaign to ban use of DDT in the United States in the early 1970’s, we have read with concern recent reports that US AID is unwilling to consider even limited use of DDT in anti-malaria programs in developing countries. According to the New York Times Magazine, you recently stated that part of the reason US AID doesn't finance DDT is that doing so would require a battle for public opinion. 'You'd have to explain to everybody why this is really O.K. and safe every time you do it.’
Quiggin and Lambert consider anyone who has looked at the DDT situation and doesn't regard Rachel Carson as a saint to be either ignorant or malicious. In fact it is Quiggin and Lambert who are ignorant and malicious.


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