Friday, May 16, 2008


Australian academics John Quiggin (magnificently billed as an Australian Research Council Federation fellow – sounds important and knowledgeable, don't it?) and computer scientist Tim Lambert have an opinion piece on Rachel Carson in the latest issue of Prospect. Anyone familiar with these two won't be surprised that the article is long on supposition and misrepresentation but short on facts.

Really, the article is nothing more than a puff piece written by lefties determined to beatify Carson. As bad as the Prospect article is the really atrocious bullshit is to be found in the much longer article on which the Prospect article is based – a Prospect editor (or other lefty experiencing a rare lucid moment) had the sense to heavily edit it before unleashing it on the public. Anyway, let's have a look.

There are no real problems in the first paragraph which does nothing more than praise Carson. Major problems appear in the second paragraph, continuing into the third, however:
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.
I asked Quiggin and Lambert to link to and quote from some of the many "strident" Fox and WSJ articles. Lambert links to but doesn't quote from a 2002 Fox article and a 2000 WSJ article neither of which supports their claims. Quiggin links to but also doesn't quote from a WSJ article which offers nothing to support their original assertion that Fox and the WSJ allege Carson to be Hitler's love-child, or whatever.

Quiggin and Lambert both ignore my requests for proof that political pressure from the right, supposedly picked up and run with by the MSM, caused the World Health Organization to "replace the head of its antimalaria division and announce changes in policies". I mean, it would be significant if it could be shown that the right was influencing the WHO's personnel and policy choices, right? Despite these supposedly right-induced changes featuring prominently in their article, Quiggin terms my query a "quibble". He refuses to comment on my suggestion that the WHO changed personnel and policies in attempting to revive its faltering anti-malaria program.

But I've gotten a bit ahead of myself. To maximize reader numbers Quiggin and Lambert promoted and linked to their Prospect article here, here and here. I felt it only fair that my critical comment be posted at the same three locations. Quiggin refused to post my "silly comment" at his site, however. Lambert posted my comment but responded with diversions:
JFB: An example from Fox and one from the WSJ.

We did not say that DDT is used on bednets. Other insecticides are.

Finding examples of people who have fallen for the myth does not make the myth true.

Carson did not say that DDT was the cause of the cancer in the case you cited. In fact she specifically said that it might have been the solvents used. (We now know that benzene can cause leukemia.)

Carson did not imply that DDT was a product of chemical weapons development.
From our article, a quote from Silent Spring:

Malaria programs 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' ...,
As already noted, the Fox and WSJ links do not support Quiggin and Lambert's claims.

Despite Lambert's denial, he and Quiggin did indeed say that DDT is used to impregnate bednets: "Although outdoor spraying has been abandoned, DDT and other insecticides are used in countries with malaria either to spray interior house walls or to impregnate bednets." (See paragraph four here.)

The bit about myth believers refers to non-right-wingers who don't toe the lefty line on DDT – New Scientist's Fred Pearce, Nature Medicine's Apoorva Mandavilli, National Geographic's Michael Finkle and Envirnonmental Defense's John Balbus.

Carson did indeed say DDT caused cancer in a user who contracted and died of leukemia over a period of months after using DDT three times. This episode is described on pager 228 of Silent Spring, referenced in the index under Leukemia, DDT case histories.

Carson did indeed hint that DDT was a product of chemical weapons programs. At the start of chapter three of Silent Spring, Elixers of Death, Carson emphasizes the build up in nature of unnamed insecticides. There is no doubt she is referring to DDT. In paragraph two of the chapter she says:
All of this has come about because of the sudden rise and prodigious growth of an industry for the production of man-made or synthetic chemicals with insecticidal properties. [Another reference to DDT.] This industry is a child of the Second World War. In the course of developing agents of chemical warfare, some of the chemicals created in the laboratory were found to be lethal to insects.
Only seven paragraphs later Carson names DDT but says nothing about any other insecticides until mentioning chlordane 13 paragraphs later.There can be no doubt Carson encouraged readers to think DDT derived from sinister military programs.

Lambert includes the "spray as little as possible" quote from Silent Spring in attempting to prove that Carson did not oppose the judicious use of DDT. Bullshit, that's the best he can come up with in response to my request that he or Quiggin provide even a single example of Carson advocating DDT use in any circumstance. Carson opposed all use of DDT.

So here we have two Australian academics doing political left hackwork that's picked up and promoted as authoritative. When challenged about the quality of their work Lambert posts evasive, self-referencing nonsense; even better, Quiggin runs and hides. If these two are any indication, our universities are in deep, deep trouble.

This little effort covers only those errors and misrepresentations on the first couple of pages; if I get the time I'll see what else lurks in the remaining 14 pages. The article's gotta be the super-pit of crap mines.

Update: Blogger gets a bit temperamental when posts get long so rather than get all frustrated trying to post a long update, the update is here.


Anonymous Ed Darrell said...

Sour grapes won't help against malaria,either.

8:26 PM  

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