Julian Simon’s DDT deceit

Last year I posted about The Great DDT Hoax, the fake story of how DDT had all but eliminated malaria in Sri Lanka until evil enviros banned its use. Most of the people repeating this hoax were just part of the disinformation cycle and were merely guilty of lazy and sloppy research. But some of them had certainly read accurate accounts of what happened and were deliberately deceiving their readers.

I can add Julian Simon to the list of dishonest ones. In the Ultimate Resource 2 Page 261 he writes about “environmental scares”:

DDT, sensationalized by Rachel Carson in 1962. Said to cause hepatitis.
Discontinued in U.S. in 1972. Known then to be safe to humans (caused death only if
eaten like pancakes). Some damage to wildlife under special conditions.

With the aid of DDT, “India had brought the number of malaria cases down from the estimated 75 million in 1951 to about 50,000 in 1961. Sri Lanka reduced malaria from about three million cases after World War II to just 29 in 1964.” Then as the use of DDT went down, “Endemic malaria returned to India like the turnaround of a tide.” By 1977 “the number of cases reached at least 30 million and perhaps 50 million.”

And pages 462-463

Also, “Sri Lanka … reduced malaria from about three million cases after World War II to just 29 in 1964.” But then DDT was banned. And due to the evolution of pesticide-resistant strains of carrier insects and the concomitant damage to the insects’ natural predators, pesticides soon lose their effectiveness. The disease has returned in force; by 1970 Sri Lanka may have had a million cases of malaria per year.

Now Simon’s four quotes all come from Gordon Harrison’s Mosquitoes, malaria, and man. Trouble is, if you read Harrison’s account of the resurgence of malaria in Sri Lanka and India (I have a copy here), you find out that DDT was not banned and environmentalists had nothing to do with it. It is true that DDT shortages were partly responsible for the resurgence, but that was because they were trying to increase DDT spraying in response to the malaria epidemic. So Simon must have read Harrison’s account, copied the quotations from it and then decided to blame environmentalist scare tactics for the resurgence, even though he knew it wasn’t their fault.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim
    January 19, 2006

    Mosquito: A Natural History of our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe, by Andrew Spielman, Sc. D., and Michael D’Antonio, Hyperion, 2001 also has a great history of Malaria and DDT, including what happened in Sri Lanka. Spielman shows that DDT was not the miraculous stuff the supporters claim.

  2. #2 Dano
    January 19, 2006

    It’s OK that Simon said this because, you know, his stuff sounds so good.

    Best,

    D

  3. #3 Robert
    January 19, 2006

    Good luck in getting a correction. Simon died in 1998.

  4. #4 Tim Lambert
    January 20, 2006

    I reckon he’s as likely to correct it as Fumento.

  5. #5 guthrie
    January 20, 2006

    With regards to casulalties from not using DDT, and blaming all the deaths on environmentalists, someone wrote into my local newspaper with all the usual talking points. (52 million dead due to DDT ban, etc etc) I replied, pointing out the example of Sri Lanka, information gained from this blog.
    A reply was then printed a few days later, unfortunately I did not keep the paper it was in. Someone else wrote in to say that there was a DDT ban in a south african state and it then suffered tens of thousands of casualties. ALl I could find online at the time was something about malathion resistant mosquitoes invading the South african state in question. Unfortunately I cannot remember which state it was, but I think it was in the 90′s. So can anyone with more information tell me more about malathion resistant mosquitos and their spread in South Africa in the 90′s, or whether DDT was used/ not used as required?

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    January 20, 2006

    guthrie, I did a post on DDT and South Africa.

  7. #7 guthrie
    January 20, 2006

    Thanks, that kind of answers some questions anyway. I suppose I shall have to go and buy one of the books mentioned above at some point. Quite apart from the DDT issue, they would be very interesting reading.

  8. #8 cytochrome_sea
    January 21, 2006

    “Unfortunately I cannot remember which state it was, but I think it was in the 90′s. So can anyone with more information tell me more about malathion resistant mosquitos and their spread in South Africa in the 90′s, or whether DDT was used/ not used as required?”

    I see that I’d posted a few comments in the link that Tim has responded with. Quick answers: malathion/OP resistance wasn’t the integral problem with the major vector, SP/P resistance and conferred cross resistances were, considered most likely due to heavy agricultural SP/P use.
    (note: the term resistance means little without accompanying resistance percentage estimates, at the minimum)

    This might not need to be said, (yet seems to be a frequently alluded to topic here) but the Endangered Wildlife Trust were the local ‘environmentalists’ who initially opposed reintroducing DDT at the time, yet I believe they became reticent, and even encouraged? to reintroduce IRS with DDT in the region when the evidences became overwhelming in favor of it.

    I’m not privy as to why DDT use in the region was initially halted.

  9. #9 John Quiggin
    January 21, 2006

    Simon was one of the early popularisers of the bogus Schneider quote and published version in which, in addition to the usual misleading excisions, fabricated material was added in.

  10. #10 Glen Raphael
    January 24, 2006

    John Quiggin:

    I don’t see how excising “hopefully we can do both” or paraphrasing “So we [scientists] have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.” as “scientists should consider stretching the truth” renders the Schneider quote bogus. Yeah, the paraphrase misses some subtleties, but the basic point is intact and the context is clear from the remaining text.

    There’s a trade-off to be made and when Schneider spells it out and says “each of us has to decide what the right balance is” he is indeed implictly advocating that scientists have the right to decide for themselves in favor of more efficacy and less accuracy. That is, they have the right to consider stretching the truth. And “hopefully we can do both” is useless utopianism – if you could always do both, there wouldn’t /be/ a trade-off.

  11. #11 Tim Curtin
    January 25, 2006

    Anyone for debunking Donald R Roberts et al on “DDT, Global Strategies, and a malaria control crisis in South America in Emerging Infectious Diseases”, vol 3 no. 3 1997, which no doubt falsely documents role of WHO etc in abandonment of vector control by means of cheap house spraying by DDT in favour of much more costly (and profitable to the manufacturers) individual treatments. Offers regression analysis of alternative controls and malarial incidence.

    Tim

  12. #12 Tim Lambert
    January 25, 2006

    Tim Curtin, Roberts is a pro-DDT partisan who cherry picks his statistics. I’ll have a post up on his work one of these days.

  13. #13 Andjam
    January 25, 2006

    Hi Tim,

    There was an article on the ABC 7:30 report tonight about dioxins in Sydney water (and the factories that produced them), and it said (IIRC) that DDT was banned (strongly implying the manufacture thereof).

    The ABC is as fair game as RWDBs, right?

  14. #14 Tim Lambert
    January 25, 2006

    Andjam, DDT is banned in Australia. As for dioxin, I believe the official RWDB line is that the worst you expect from it is a “bad rash”.

  15. #15 Jeff Harvey
    January 25, 2006

    Glen,

    The Schneider quote has been deliberately edited for years to achieve the desired effect. Bjorn Lomborg does exactly the same thing in his monumentally erroneous tome, “The Skeptical Environmentalist”. He misquotes Paul Colinvaux with respect to biodiversity loss (a blatant distortion) and feebly attempts to impugn the reputations of Paul Ehrlich and Ed Wilson by claiming they support a plan that does not exist (The Wildlands Project). As a matter of fact, the WP DOES exist, but Lomborg employs the classic ‘bait and switch’ strategy, by citing an old article by two anti-environmental writers with links to WISE USE, who wrote a completely fictional piece on the WP back in 1992 to discredit it. The aim was simple: to legitimize his own non-existent scientific credentials, Lomborg smears the reputations of two esteemed scientists. Its a classic old ploy – the best defence is a good offense (the paradigm shift). Its too bad that his example was pure bile.

    As for Simon (Lomborg’s hero and redux), what can one say? His scientific acumen was simlarly non-existent, yet he took it upon himself to write articles on the environment with other economists suggesting that humans are exempt from the laws of nature and that our species will exist and persist for the next 7 billion years, even at population growth rates at which human biomass expands faster than the universe. No doubt he also inspired a certain Mr. Fumento, the man who claims “he has not yet begun to write” (and never will, either).

  16. #16 Tim Curtin
    January 25, 2006

    Tim Lambert

    Name the academic who has never “cherry-picked” his/her data! Selectivity is unavoidable, but I am sure we all strive for balance. John Quiggin has done just that with his demolition of the claim that Simon had wrongly accused Schneider of endorsing means justification by ends. Roberts asserts that Bolivia stopped DDT spraying after 1993. It will be interesting to see how long its new President takes to restore spraying, given that his fellow indigenes suffer disproportionately from malaria; his colonialist predecessors showed great sangfroid in that regard. I hope I am not being unfair to Ehrlich and Schneider when I note that Alexander King, co-founder of their Club of Rome, had this to say in his The Discipline of Curiosity, Elsevier, 1990, p.43: “My own doubts came when DDT was introduced for civilian use in Guyana, within two years it had almost eliminated malaria but at the same time the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem.”

  17. #17 Tim Lambert
    January 25, 2006

    If you look at PAHO reports on malaria including actual numbers of cases you get rather a differnt story to the one Roberts tells.

    The King quote, as seems to be the pattern with these things, has been taken out of context. What was his next sentence?

  18. #18 Andjam
    January 26, 2006

    Here’s part of the 7:30 report transcript

    JOE WOODWARD, NSW DEPT OF ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION: You’ve get to remember we’re living with a legacy of 100 years of unregulated industrial activities, with all sorts of nasty chemicals and discharges to the Parramatta River and the harbour.

    JONATHAN HARLEY: Sydney Harbour and its marine life have been poisoned by a group of long-lasting toxic compounds known as dioxins. They’re by-products of now-banned pesticides, such as DDT, produced for decades in Homebush Bay in the upper reaches of the harbour. Today, dioxins’ dangers are all too well known.

    Would it be reasonable to deduce that it’s implying the manufacture of DDT was banned?

    Tim Lambert’s comment: Andjam, DDT is banned in Australia.

    Can you clarify the nature of the ban? Is it just agricultural use that is banned, or is health control use banned as well?

    Is the manufacture of DDT in Australia banned as well? I was under the impression it wouldn’t be, as it’d amount, to an extent, as a partial de facto ban on DDT use world-wide.

    As for dioxin, I believe the official RWDB line is that the worst you expect from it is a “bad rash”.

    Inaccurate statements about whether or not DDT has been “banned” and inaccurate statements about the toxicity of DDT are separate issues.

  19. #19 Tim Lambert
    January 26, 2006

    DDT is banned from agricultural use. The only permitted use is for disease vector control. Australia doesn’t have malaria, so there is no permitted use here. It would be legal to manufacture DDT for export to a malarious country, but it would be uneconomic. Two factories are enough to produce all the DDT that is needed in the entire world, and they are in China and India where most of the DDT is used.

  20. #20 Andjam
    January 26, 2006

    Thanks.

  21. #21 Tim Curtin
    January 27, 2006

    Hi Tim Lambert

    Here’s the full quote from Alexander King (my omission in CAPS):

    “My own doubts came when DDT was introduced for civilian use in Guyana, within two years it had almost eliminated malaria but at the same time the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem. OF COURSE I CAN’T PLAY GOD ON THAT ONE”. Unfortunately all too many are prepared to play God including those responsible for DDT bans in tropical 3rd world countries (including the malarial tropical north-east of Australia, but I guess the people up there are expendable to all true believers in DDT bans like you). It is worth adding that King had had much to do with use of DDT during later stages of WW2 saving hundreds of thousands of lives in Burma etc. but that later his concerns about population growth (aka “too many people”) led him to co-founding the Club of Rome. Curious that late Julian Simon who rightly attacked the Club’s alarmism is now even in his grave falsely accused by you and others of “deceit”, cowardly when he is not around to sue you for defamation as I am sure he could successfully. BTW how much of the rather trivial increase in CO2 since 1750 been due to the 4-5 times increase in the population since then, all breathing out CO2 in massive concentrations? – a good basis for the culling that the Iranians have in mind for us I suppose. Your dismissal of Roberts as “well-known DDT activist” invites dismissal of everything you write as by “well-known climate freak” who believes that the top of the range IPCC temperature increase of 4-5C would be catastrophic across the globe, when there is actually massive net immigration (including an estimated 100,000 climate refugees from Britain) into places like Dubai despite its temperatures being more than 20C above those endured pitiably by 90% of Australians.

    Regards

    Tim Curtin

  22. #22 Ian Gould
    January 27, 2006

    >Unfortunately all too many are prepared to play God including those responsible for DDT bans in tropical 3rd world countries (including the malarial tropical north-east of Australia, but I guess the people up there are expendable to all true believers in DDT bans like you).

    http://globalis.gvu.unu.edu/indicator_detail.cfm?IndicatorID=72&Country=AU

    Quota:

    Malaria-related mortality rate: All ages
    (per 100,000) 0.00

    I guess if you’re going to fabricate fake charges of genocide against people the facts are pretty expendable.

  23. #23 Ian Gould
    January 27, 2006

    Also:

    The last major outbreak of malaria in Australia occurred at the end of World War II, when servicemen infected with malaria returned from Papua New Guinea. But it was not until 1981 that Australia was officially declared malaria-free by the World Health Organization. Even so, there are about a thousand reported cases of malaria in Australia each year, and one death a year. However, the vast majority of these people contracted the disease overseas.

    Fortunately, the isolation of communities in northern Australia and the small population ensure that there is no human reservoir of the disease. If a person does contract malaria, the health services are quickly informed, the infected person is treated and the community is tested for malaria.

    http://www.science.org.au/nova/011/011key.htm

  24. #24 Tim Curtin
    February 22, 2006

    Re Tim Lambert on Julian Simon – reposted as first seems to have gone astray.

    1. The first of your quotes from Simon (p.261) does not mention any DDT ban other than the USA’s in 1972. The quotes from Harrison are exact in regard to the increases he cited in malaria case after India and Ceylon for their own reasons largely discontinued DDT. Harrison describes at length how essential it was to maintain spraying programmes until full eradication had been achieved. Those countries failed to sustain their efforts.

    2. The second quote from Simon (his pp 462-463) introduces his error (p.463) stating “then DDT was banned” (when in fact it had merely been discontinued in Sri Lanka for reasons not wholly clear, but according to Harrison mainly fatigue and fiscal). If one reads the cited pages in full (rather than just Lambert’s truncated extracts) it is clear that Simon’s main concern was that for whatever reason (including mosquito resistance due to over-use of DDT in agriculture), malaria was rebounding around the world, and that in his view it would not be beaten until population growth (and by implication concomitant urbanisation) led to effective public health measures like those pioneered in Bangalore by Ross, as described by Harrison.

    I do not understand why any reasonable person would rubbish Simon or accuse him of deceit on the slender grounds advanced by Lambert, namely one sentence from a book of over 700 pages of intelligent debate and sound evidence.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.