September 26, 2013


Rachel Carson's Deadly Fantasies (Henry I. Miller, 9/26/13, Forbes)

Carson's proselytizing and advocacy raised substantial anxiety about DDT and led to bans in most of the world and to restrictions on other chemical pesticides.  But the fears she raised were based on gross misrepresentations and scholarship so atrocious that, if Carson were an academic, she would be guilty of egregious academic misconduct.  Her observations about DDT have been condemned by many scientists.  In the words of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."

In 1992, San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards, a long-time member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, offered a persuasive and comprehensive rebuttal of "Silent Spring." As he explained in "The Lies of Rachel Carson," a stunning, point by point refutation, "it simply dawned on me that that Rachel Carson was not interested in the truth about [pesticides] and that I was being duped along with millions of other Americans."  He demolished Carson's arguments and assertions, calling attention to critical omissions, faulty assumptions, and outright fabrications.

Consider, for example, this passage from Edwards' article: "This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false.  Human volunteers have ingested as much as 35 milligrams of it a day for nearly two years and suffered no adverse effects.  Millions of people have lived with DDT intimately during the mosquito spray programs and nobody even got sick as a result.  The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1965 that 'in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.' The World Health Organization stated that DDT had 'killed more insects and saved more people than any other substance.'"

In addition, DDT was used with dramatic effect to shorten and prevent typhus epidemics during and after WWII when people were dusted with large amounts of it but suffered no ill effects, which is perhaps the most persuasive evidence that the chemical is harmless to humans.  The product was such a boon to public health that in 1948 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Paul Müller for his discovery of the "contact insecticidal action" of DDT.
Posted by at September 26, 2013 8:32 PM
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