Lomborg spreads DDT ban myth

Bjorn Lomborg interviewed by TCS Daily says:

The use of DDT is probably the best example of this and its use in the third world was badly mismanaged. DDT is not dangerous to humans, but it is dangerous to some animals. So if you’re in a rich country where you have malaria under control, clearly you should ban DDT or severely restrict its use.

But our concern about DDT in the early 70s basically meant that most of the developing world restricted their use as well. That was probably an immensely bad judgement because yes, it harms animals like birds, but it also saves human lives. These actions undoubtedly led to many millions of lives lost. So that is one example of where we need to be very careful about what we do.

Banning the agricultural use of DDT and restricting it to be used only against malaria did not cost millions of lives. It saved lives by slowing the development of resistance.

Lomborg does not know what he is talking about.


  1. #1 Meyrick Kirby
    November 30, 2006

    But our concern about DDT in the early 70s basically meant that most of the developing world restricted their use as well.

    Well, as long as he’s not making any sweeping statements without evidence!

  2. #2 Dano
    November 30, 2006



    The brill-yunt Lomborg knows way more than you do because his bestselling polemic book had almost 4 thou-ssssand references. When will you learn? If he says it, it must be so.

    How dare you besmirch the good name of the Galileo of the Right.



  3. #3 mark
    November 30, 2006

    What, no footnotes? Were there no comic books or Crichton novels he could cite as evidence?

  4. #4 Steve Bloom
    November 30, 2006

    Yeah, Tim, don’t you know he’s got permanent credibility because his publisher cooked up a PR campaign based on him formerly having been an environmentalist and being forced by the shining light of scientific honesty to change his views, the proof for which former condition was… was… having once given at the door to a Greenpeace canvasser, despite there being no record of this. Oh, plus he’s the perfect expert on scientific matters ’cause of his background doing political science statistics. So there!

  5. #5 Lee
    November 30, 2006

    Did y’all notice where the TCS editor introduces him as “Danish statistician and author”

  6. #6 Jeff Harvey
    December 1, 2006

    As I am one of Lomborg’s biggest critics, that he is spewing more baseless crap does not surprise me. He has no formal qualifications in science, and yet he constantly dives headfirst into complex scientific fields where his basic understanding of the processes is very poor (and this is being kind). Debating him on biodiversity loss, as I did in 2002, was like debating a poorly informed mediocre high school student. The only reason he has made such inroads and is constantly appearing on television and as an op-ed writer is that his message resonates with those who monopolize power and wealth. They have given him a veritable megaphone to proclaim his nonsense for strictly PR reasons: following on from the advice of PR guru Edward Bernays many years ago, the powerful elites have always realized that their propoganda is best served when the words are ‘put in someone else’s mouth’. Lomborg, being fairly young, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt when appearing in interviews, and claiming to be a ‘left wing kind of guy’, is the perfect front for the men in suits. I am not saying that Lomborg, in his own deluded way, doesn’t believe the crap he constantly propounds, but without the immense publicity he receives from the state-corporate media apparatus he would be nothing. Because the elites fear public opinion and despise democracy, anyone who can spread the message that ‘The world is in fine hands if you leave it to those with power and priviledge’ will be endlessly promoted. Last month, in his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Lomborg claimed that ‘We all want a better world’ ignoring encyclopedic volumes of evidence to the contrary. He also berated the Stern report for ‘cherry-picking data’, with few apparently picking up on his utter hypocrisy in saying this.

  7. #7 Hans Erren
    December 1, 2006


    what do you mean by “DDT ban myth”, there was a blanket DDT ban in place in Tanzania.

  8. #8 Tim Lambert
    December 1, 2006

    Hans, Tanzania [requested an exemption from the POPS treaty for public helath use of DDT](www.pops.int/documents/meetings/dipcon/25june2001/inf1rev3/k0122169.pdf).

  9. #9 Jeff Harvey
    December 1, 2006

    Trevor, I have been the recipient of ad hominem attacks from groups and individuals ever since I started challenging the anti-environmental lobby on a lot of the unscientific garbage they are spewing out to promote their political agenda. In our debate and elsewhere I challenged Lomborg on the ‘science’ behind some of his work, and he demonstrated a singluar inability to register much of what I said. If you want me to give examples of his mangling of science, misunderstanding basic concepts, cherry-picking of data, and attempts to smear scientists by linking them with imaginary programs, I would be more than happy to oblige. But it will take up many pages. Kaare Fog has made a good effort on his web site (linked by TL above).

    If you want one basic piece of ignorance from the interview with TCS it is this. Lomborg says “DDT is not dangerous to humans, but it is dangerous to some animals”. Based on wha empirical evidence can he draw such a simple conclusion? Organo-chlorines ae bioacumulative toxins. In other words they accumulate at the terminal end of the food chain. This puts humans and top-level predators at most risk from prolonged exposure to them, and in North Amerca the effects of DDT could be seen in organisms that occupy higher trophic levels such as raptors, predatory fish and piscivorous birds such as pelicans. To suggest that DDT is not dangerous to humans is utter nonsense.

  10. #10 guthrie
    December 1, 2006

    Trevor, I understand where your coming from. The problem is largely to do with the previous posters having been in the trenches so long, that they know the issues well, and merely pop up to make hear hear! kind of comments. For example, I recall reading some old stuff from a couple of years ago, and Dano was making substantive points with evidence then. I think hes just got bored of fielding the same nonsense every day. (And it is the same nonsense every day. Tim Lambert has an entire section of posts devoted to people saying “Environmentalists have killed millions by banning DDT!”, even although it is not true.

  11. #11 mark
    December 1, 2006

    Jeff Harvey said:…mangling of science, misunderstanding basic concepts, cherry-picking of data, and attempts to smear scientists…Now doesn’t that sound just like a Creationist? Not merely a coincidence, I’m sure.

  12. #12 Ian Gould
    December 1, 2006

    Hans Erren: “there was a blanket DDT ban in place in Tanzania.”

    And there was a total ban on consumption of alcohol in the US in the 1920’s, on this basis would one be justified in claiming there was a world-wide ban on alcohol at that time?

  13. #13 Jeff Harvey
    December 1, 2006

    Mark, creationists use exactly the same strategy as the anti-environmentalists to promote their narrow, insular views. The strategy is actually quite simple: start off with a pre-determined worldview and then manipulate science to support it. By necessity, this means being selective, thus highlighting a few studies that support your views and dismissing dozens of others that don’t. On biodiversity, Lomborg is even more selective than in the other fields he covers in his book. He does not cite a single empirical study to estimate the link between habitat loss and extinction rates; instead, he bases his arguments on a chapter in the book ‘The State of Humanity’ by Julian Simon and Aaron Wildavsky (two business economists) that in turn cites two book chapters written several years earlier downplaying the applicability of area-extinction models. One of these is on avian extinctions in Puerto Rico, the other on avian extinctions in the eastern United States and predicted extinctions in the Mata Atlantica forests of eastern Brazil. All had been corrected in major journals by the time the first edition of ‘The Sceptical Environmentalist’ was published in Denmark (1998). One of the correctives was published in Nature (1997) and the other in the Prceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (1995), and both refute the Simon/Wildavsky piece. Yet Lomborg cites neither of these studies, instead relying on the information cited in the Simon/Wildavsky chapter. In the English edition of Lomborg’s book nothing was changed: both the Nature and PNAS studies were omitted, in spite of the fact that Danish scientists had told Lomborg of them (and others) soon after the Danish edition was published.

    Moreover, by 2001, there were many published studies showing that not only do area-extinction models accurately predict local extinction rates, in some cases they underestimate them. None of them were cited by Lomborg in the English edition, who relied on the discredited Simon/Wildavsky chapter and continued to downplay area-extinction analyses. The general public who were lapping up Lomborg’s ‘facts’ had no idea of the state of the field. They weren’t reading the primary literature, so how could they know? These are the kinds of people who have attacked me for the most part: not scientists at all, at least not in my field of research. When I raised these and other facts I was accused of ‘ad hominem attacks’ on Lomborg, and the scientific facts were quickly ignored.

  14. #14 Dano
    December 1, 2006


    the…’literatureinformation texts you read maluse ‘ad hominem‘ to try to have a hope of scoring debating points. Here is the definition.

    Ad hom: “your argument is false because you are an idiot”.

    Not ad hom: “your argument is false because of x, y, z. And, BTW, you are an idiot”.

    Lomborg, long ago, was shown the door wrt his arguments in his polemic (that is: x, y, z is well known with Lomborg). There is no need to discuss the veracity of the details of his argument. Anyone with a natural science education or those who follow the issue and have critical thinking skills know it is wrong.

    Thank you guthrie for outlining the issue so well. It is indeed tiring to have to address recycled arguments and one occasionally gets grumpy when doing so.



  15. #15 Hans Erren
    December 1, 2006

    Now if there wasn’t a ban, why would countries need exemptions?


    So there was a world wide ban, but countries could apply for exemptions. Marihuana is forbidden, but hospitals can apply for exemptions.

    Malaria surged back in the wake of the introduction in 1992 of a total ban on the use of DDT in Tanzania, according to local available statistics. The UNEP exemption was granted in 2001, but the ban was not lifted until 2006.

  16. #16 Tim Lambert
    December 1, 2006

    Hans, it was banned **except for public health use**. Countries do not have to apply for an exemption — they just have to notify the UN if they plan to use it against malaria.

    And again, banning the agricultural use of DDT saves lives.

  17. #17 Lee
    December 1, 2006

    Hans, that pdf you cite lists ‘specific exemption **or acceptable use** Emphasis added.

  18. #18 Joel Shore
    December 1, 2006


    As this link explains, http://www.malaria.org/DDTpage.html , while there was some move to “ban DDT” worldwide (although it was actually to set a definite date in the future by which to phase out its use entirely), that is not in fact what happened. [In fact, the World Wildlife Fund, which was pushing for the phase-out date because they argued that setting a date was the only way there would ever be sufficient incentives to find alternatives, actually decided during the course of negotiations on the POP treaty not to continue to propose a phase-out date.]

    The link also notes, “The outcome of the treaty is arguably better than the status quo going into the negotiations over two years ago. For the first time, there is now an insecticide which is restricted to vector control only, meaning that the selection of resistant mosquitoes will be slower than before.” This supports the basic points of Tim. And, this is from an organization committed to fighting malaria that actually worked hard to prevent a ban on DDT.

  19. #19 Joseph O'Sullivan
    December 2, 2006

    I first heard of lomborg when I saw book “the skeptical Environmentalist” in a bookstore. I had a gift certificate and I bought the book because it seemed interesting.

    I was a recent graduate with a BS in marine biology and I turned to the section about fisheries. I read it and the things he wrote weren’t even wrong. I then read the introduction of the book and he wrote that the book started with the freshman assignment he had given to his class.

    His his sweeping generalizations were based on the opinions of people who did not know anything about what they were writing about. People who had preconceived ideas about environmental regulation seized his poorly researched book proclaimed it as the literal truth.

  20. #20 z
    December 2, 2006

    “Now if there wasn’t a ban, why would countries need exemptions?”

    The question is an example of selective reading:


    Perhaps if the interested parties would read the POPS and annex B such questions could be eliminated once and for all, so please excuse the bandwidth consumption:


    Each Party shall take measures to ensure:

    (a) That a chemical listed in Annex A or Annex B is imported only:

    (ii) For a use or purpose which is permitted for that Party under Annex A or Annex B;

    Annex B


    DDT (1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl)ethane)
    CAS No: 50-29-3

    Acceptable purpose:
    Disease vector control use in accordance with Part II of this Annex

    DDT (1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-bis(4-chlorophenyl)ethane)

    1. The production and use of DDT shall be eliminated except for Parties that have notified the Secretariat of their intention to produce and/or use it. A DDT Register is hereby established and shall be available to the public. The Secretariat shall maintain the DDT Register.

    2. Each Party that produces and/or uses DDT shall restrict such production and/or use for disease vector control in accordance with the World Health Organization recommendations and guidelines on the use of DDT and when locally safe, effective and affordable alternatives are not available to the Party in question.

    3. In the event that a Party not listed in the DDT Register determines that it requires DDT for disease vector control, it shall notify the Secretariat as soon as possible in order to have its name added forthwith to the DDT Register. It shall at the same time notify the World Health Organization.

    4. Every three years, each Party that uses DDT shall provide to the Secretariat and the World Health Organization information on the amount used, the conditions of such use and its relevance to that Party’s disease management strategy, in a format to be decided by the Conference of the Parties in consultation with the World Health Organization.

    5. With the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of DDT, the Conference of the Parties shall encourage:

    (a) Each Party using DDT to develop and implement an action plan as part of the implementation plan specified in Article 7. That action plan shall include:

    (i) Development of regulatory and other mechanisms to ensure that DDT use is restricted to disease vector control;

    (ii) Implementation of suitable alternative products, methods and strategies, including resistance management strategies to ensure the continuing effectiveness of these

    (iii) Measures to strengthen health care and to reduce the incidence of the disease.

    (b) The Parties, within their capabilities, to promote chemical and non-chemical products, methods and strategies for Parties using DDT, relevant to the conditions of those countries and with the goal of decreasing the human and economic burden of disease.

    Factors to be promoted when considering alternatives or combinations of alternatives shall include the human health risks and environmental implications of such alternatives. Viable alternatives to DDT shall pose less risk to human health and the environment, be suitable for disease control based on conditions in the Parties in question and be supported with monitoring data.

    6. Commencing at its first meeting, and at least every three years thereafter, the Conference of the Parties shall, in consultation with the World Health Organization, evaluate the continued need for DDT for disease vector control on the basis of available scientific, technical, environmental and economic information, including:

    (a) The production and use of DDT and the conditions set out in paragraph 2;

    (b) The availability, suitability and implementation of the alternatives to DDT; and

    (c) Progress in strengthening the capacity of countries to transfer safely to reliance on such alternatives.

    7. A Party may, at any time, withdraw its name from the DDT Registry upon written notification to the Secretariat. The withdrawal shall take effect on the date specified in the notification.

  21. #21 z
    December 2, 2006

    “DDT is not dangerous to humans, but it is dangerous to some animals”.

    Translation: based on the known toxicity of DDT, it has been determined to be dangerous enough that testing of higher dosages on humans will in all probability cause significant harm to them and thus be an ethical violation.

  22. #22 z
    December 2, 2006

    Continuing my fulminations:

    The EPA, in 1987, classified DDT as a proved animal carcinogen and class B2, a probable human carcinogen, based on “Observation of tumors (generally of the liver) in seven studies in various mouse strains and three studies in rats. DDT is structurally similar to other probable carcinogens, such as DDD and DDE.”

    Regarding human carcinogenicity, “The existing epidemiological data are inadequate. Autopsy studies relating tissue levels of DDT to cancer incidence have yielded conflicting results. … Studies of occupationally exposed workers and volunteers have been of insufficient duration to be useful in assessment of the carcinogenicity of DDT to humans.”

  23. #23 Hans Erren
    December 3, 2006

    Eating a kg coffee per day probably causes cancer, but who eats a kg coffee per day?

    The Stockholm convention has lead to de facto DDT blanket bans in countries, and no UN institution raised objections to it.

  24. #24 z
    December 3, 2006

    “Eating a kg coffee per day probably causes cancer, but who eats a kg coffee per day?

    The Stockholm convention has lead to de facto DDT blanket bans in countries, and no UN institution raised objections to it.”

    So, when you say “DDT is not harmful to humans”, you mean “if they don’t ingest much of it”.

    And when you say “de facto DDT blanket bans in countries”, you mean “where I think they should use more of it.”

    Have you thought of footnoting your blanket assertions?

  25. #25 Hans Erren
    December 3, 2006

    A sixteenth-century Swiss chemist named Paracelsus gave us the most basic rule of toxicology: “The dose makes the poison”

    How much is too much z?

  26. #26 Meyrick Kirby
    December 3, 2006

    de facto DDT blanket bans

    equals …

    I have little or no evidence of this, but I just know it has to be true, so there!

  27. #27 Hans Erren
    December 3, 2006

    Dear Meyrick Kirby,

    I lived in Tanzania from 1998-2000. There was a blanket DDT ban in place. I assisted the FAO obsolete pesticides programme with making maps for the final report. I know what I am talking about from first hand sources. So do shut up.

  28. #28 Anon
    December 4, 2006

    According to folks upthread, there was a blanket ban for agricultural purposes while it was allowed for public health purposes (i.e. preventing malaria). Are you sure that in your work for the Food and Agricultural Organization, you didn’t only learn about the first half of that?

  29. #29 z
    December 4, 2006

    “The dose makes the poison”

    So, when Lomborg said “”DDT is not dangerous to humans, but it is dangerous to some animals” was he being ignorant, or just lying by oversimplification?

    Of course, the thing about carcinogens is that according to modern theory, there really is no “safe” dosage per se; it’s just that your chances of getting cancer go down more or less linearly with dosage. Like getting hit with bullets, but on a molecular level. Not the same as other compounds, where you can deal with amounts below the toxic level with no risk, period. Water, for example, or oxygen. Or strychnine. Or cyanide.

  30. #30 JB
    December 4, 2006

    “DDT is not dangerous to humans” — Lomborg

    Isn’t it interesting how some people (like Lomborg) can be so sure about everything, even when the data do not back up their blanket statements.

    “Some of the medical conditions that have been tentatively linked to DDT exposure by some studies include breast cancer, reproductive difficulties,and changes to the nervous system.”

    “DDT has been shown, like many other synthetic organochlorine chemicals, to act as an endocrine disruptor in numerous studies. (20), (21), (22). An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that can interfere with, or take the place of, naturally occurring hormones in the human body. Many of these compounds have been associated with developmental, reproductive, and other health problems in wildlife and laboratory animals at some concentrations. Some experts suggest that these compounds may also affect humans in a similar way (22). A major difficulty in interpreting these studies is that humans are exposed to a significant and varying background of naturally occurring endocrine disruptors known as phytoestrogens in their normal diet.”

    From DDT and DDE:Sources of Exposure and How to Avoid Them

    The fact is, the data on toxicity of DDT (and bnreakdown product DDE) to humans is mixed — some studies indicate possible links to breast cancer, for example while other studies indicate no such link — but one thing is perfectly clear: there is no certainty that “DDT is not dangerous to humans” as Lomborg claims.

    Based on that statement alone it is clear that Lomborg indeed has no idea what he is talking about.

  31. #31 Meyrick Kirby
    December 5, 2006


    So do shut up.

    Hey, dipstick, this isn’t your blog!!!

    I know what I am talking about from first hand sources.


    No, I still can’t produce any evidence!

  32. #32 Meyrick Kirby
    December 5, 2006


    I lived in Tanzania from 1998-2000. There was a blanket DDT ban in place.

    Even if we accept this as true, how do you know the Stockholm convention was responsible? Governments pass laws for all sorts of reasons.

  33. #33 Meyrick Kirby
    December 5, 2006


    The Stockholm convention has lead to de facto DDT blanket bans in countries

    I lived in Tanzania from 1998-2000. There was a blanket DDT ban in place.

    I know what I am talking about

    No you don’t, not unless you know something about time that everybody else doesn’t. The Stockholm Convention was adopted in 2001, therefore it would be rather odd for it to be responsible for a de facto ban in Tanzania from 1998 to 2000.

  34. #34 Tailen
    December 6, 2006

    Lomborg shames us all.
    He was reported to the Danish scientific review board for fudging his numbers and misrepresenting scientific facts. After a long and heated debate the board let him off with a warning on the grounds that he was a statistician and had no actual expertise in the stuff he was writing about.

    So basically he was allowed to misrepresent science because he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

  35. #35 Coin
    December 6, 2006

    If you want one basic piece of ignorance from the interview with TCS it is this. Lomborg says “DDT is not dangerous to humans, but it is dangerous to some animals”. Based on wha empirical evidence can he draw such a simple conclusion?

    Maybe we should see if he’d be willing to drink some, show us himself? ^_^

  36. #36 JB
    December 8, 2006

    Maybe we should see if he’d be willing to drink some, show us himself?”

    The “Put your DDT where your mouth is” rule.

    Sounds reasonable to me.

    I think we should have a similar requirement regarding other things as well:

    If you are the leader of a country and send young men and women into war, you should go to the front lines along with them and/or have your children or grandchildren in your stead (with the same body armor they have — or have not, as the case may be).

    If you insist on using depleted uranium munitions, you should be required to snort DU dust.

    If you enact laws that increase air pollution from power plants, you should be required to live downwind from such a plant.

    If you re-start nuclear testing, you and your family should be required to live downwind from the test site.

  37. #37 Rich
    June 2, 2008

    I’ve read and re-read that quote from Lomborg and cannot find where he claims and thereby “spreads” the “DDT ban myth”. Either I’m missing something or you have accused Lomborg of something the quote does not support.

    “But our concern about DDT in the early 70s basically meant that most of the developing world restricted their use as well.”

    If this is the part of the quote that supposedly “spreads” the “DDT ban myth” than I do believe the quote does not support the title of the post. Restrict does not mean ban. I’m sure you know that.

  38. #38 Rich
    June 2, 2008

    “Maybe we should see if he’d be willing to drink some, show us himself?”

    The “Put your DDT where your mouth is” rule.

    Sounds reasonable to me.”

    I would agree as soon as all of you move to a country with a malaria problem.

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