Silent Evidence
June 27, 2002 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Silent Evidence - Ronald Bailey insists that Rachel Carson's campaign against DDT in "Silent Spring" is filled with bad science and has resulted in millions of unnecessary deaths due to increased malaria rates. The US Government has also considered removing the ban on DDT, as has Roger Bate in the Wall Street Journal.
posted by Kevs (5 comments total)
I suspect removing a ban on DDT is like opening national forests to salvage logging. It’s a good idea and should be done, but it’s well-nigh impossible to control the profit barons who have no respect for the environment. That is, they respect it only for the profits they can reap from it.

The Mosquito Killer

Not all of Carson's concerns about the health effects of DDT have stood the test of time--it has yet to be conclusively linked to human illness--but her larger point was justified: DDT was being used without concern for its environmental consequences.
posted by raaka at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2002

Excellent post, raaka. This line is really telling about DDT

At the same time, in certain areas DDT began to lose its potency. DDT kills by attacking a mosquito's nervous system, affecting the nerve cells so that they keep firing and the insect goes into a spasm, lurching, shuddering, and twitching before it dies. But in every population of mosquitoes there are a handful with a random genetic mutation that renders DDT nontoxic--that prevents it from binding to nerve endings. When mass spraying starts, those genetic outliers are too rare to matter. But, as time goes on, they are the only mosquitoes still breeding, and entire new generations of insects become resistant.

People ten to forget the whole food chain idea. When you excessively kill any part of it the whole chain will fail.
posted by MaddCutty at 10:58 PM on June 27, 2002

Wow, Silent Spring is one of the most important books of this century as the article acknowledges. I don't think any single book could have the same impact these days. It would be huge if Rachel Carson can be shown to have pulled a Mendel by making shit up.

But that isn't the case and the article is a weak hack job. It's a great example of using selective evidence to make a shaky argument. DDT is indeed nasty stuff as the CDC web site describes:

How can DDT, DDE, and DDD affect my health?

DDT affects the nervous system. People who accidentally swallowed large amounts of DDT became excitable and had tremors and seizures. These effects went away after the exposure stopped. No effects were seen in people who took small daily doses of DDT by capsule for 18 months.

People who worked with DDT for a long time had some reversible changes in the levels of liver enzymes.

In animals, short-term exposure to large amounts of DDT in food affected the nervous system. In animals, long-term exposure to DDT affected the liver. Animal studies suggest that short-term exposure to DDT in food may have a harmful effect on reproduction.

How likely are DDT, DDE, and DDD to cause cancer?

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that DDT may reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen. DHHS has not classified DDE and DDD, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that they are probable human carcinogens.

Liver cancer has been seen in animals that were fed DDT. Studies in DDT-exposed workers did not show increases in cancer.
posted by euphorb at 11:08 AM on June 28, 2002

It's evident that Roger Bates is a corporate shill, but which chemical corporation paid for this Ronald Bailey guy to publish such crap? Can anyone tell me?
posted by nofundy at 12:55 PM on June 28, 2002

Well, its intresting how he glides over the 'shell softening' effect, which we know for a fact is true.

Although it is kind of sad that nofundy here immediatly assumes that some chemical company paid him off, lots of people become indignant when they think people are spreading innacuracies. Just look at the I/P threads...
posted by delmoi at 2:24 PM on June 28, 2002

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