April 2, 2013

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT SCIENCE, WHAT ABOUT ME?:

Rachel Carson's Environmental Religion : Review of Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson. Edited by Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers, and Andrew Morriss (Bruce Edward Walker, Religion & Liberty)

In "The Lady Who Started All This," environmentalist William Kaufman presents an admiring portrait of Carson as a scientist who unfortunately took a left-turn from her previous works--based on objective, empirical research--when she endeavored to write Silent Spring shortly after her cancer diagnosis. For this illconceived approach, Kaufman blames Wallace Shawn, the New Yorker editor who prompted Carson to abandon her "disinterested scientist" voice in favor of a more "adversarial" tone. Since the famous editor signed Carson's check, the author readily complied.

Kaufman--an admitted admirer of Carson's eventual conclusions and penchant for prose-poetry--acknowledges the approach as a misstep: "[Shawn's] words demonstrate a serious flaw in logic and why Silent Spring is so different from Carson's earlier books: 'After all, there are some things one doesn't have to be objective and unbiased about--one doesn't condone murder!' This is classic polarization-- if you're not for us, you're against us. Clearly, objectivity and the open mind of scientific inquiry do not condone or condemn."

Kaufman correctly notes that Carson never advocated for a complete ban on chemical insecticides, but upbraids her for employing inflammatory language exemplified in her chapter titles: "Elixers of Death," "Needless Havoc," "Rivers of Death" and "Indiscriminately From the Skies." He further notes that she resorts to unnecessary demonization of chemical companies and government agents who spray insecticides as well as infantilization of the American public at large when she wrote: "As matters stand now, we are in little better position than the guests of the Borgias."

Perhaps most damning of all, Kaufman points out that Carson's book includes "sentimentalized line drawings of animals where even the bugs are cute. In fact, she wrote to Dorothy Freeman, 'I consider my contributions to scientific fact far less important than my attempts to awaken an emotional response to the world of nature.'" As Kaufman points out, this is where Carson set the stage for environmentalists to embrace Silent Spring as dogma. For her followers, he notes disapprovingly, "her contribution to the environmental movement was not a respect for science, but nourishment of a faith."

Posted by at April 2, 2013 9:05 PM
  

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