John Berlau, quote doctor

Glenn Reynolds endorses a post by John Berlau who accuses environmentalists of making racist comments like Don Imus. Berlau gives five examples and Berlau is deceptive in each and every one of them. Environmentalists must be completely non-racist if Berlau can’t make a case without resorting to quote doctoring.

The most outrageous environmentalist comment Berlau offers is this:

Charles Wurster, co-founder and former chief scientist of Environmental Defense Fund (now Environmental Defense):
When asked about human deaths that would result from the banning of DDT, due to exposure to more acutely toxic DDT subsitutes, Wurster allegedly said, “It doesn’t really make a lot of difference because the organophosphate acts locally and only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.” Wurster was accused of saying this by EDF co-founder Victor Yannacone, and the accusation was reported at a Congressional hearing. Wurster denied making the statement, but Yannacone — a prominent environmental attorney — has never taken back his accusation against Wurster.

Does that quote sound like Dr Wurster or Dr Evil? How gullible do you have to be to find that quote plausible? Jim Norton has tracked down the source of the quote. It seems that after Yannacone was fired by the EDF, he came up with the claim that Wurster made the statement above at a press conference. At a press conference. You would think that an outrageous statement like that would have been reported by at least one reporter, but no, there is no contemporary record of him saying it, just the unsupported statement of a man with an axe to grind. Berlau knows all this but keeps it from his readers.

Berlau also charges John Muir with racism:

Muir said American Indians are “mostly ugly, and some of them altogether hideous.” They “seemed to have no right place in the landscape,” he continued.

Berlau is being deceitful again. Look at the full quote from Muir. Muir is walking in the California mountains and encounters a group of Mono Indians:

Occasionally a good countenance may be seen among the Mono Indians, but these, the first specimens I had seen, were mostly ugly, and some of them altogether hideous. The dirt on their faces was fairly stratified, and seemed so ancient and so undisturbed it might almost possess a geological significance. The older faces were, moreover, strangely blurred and divided into sections by furrows that looked like the cleavage-joints of rocks, suggesting exposure on the mountains in a cast-away condition for ages. Somehow they seemed to have no right place in the landscape, and I was glad to see them fading out of sight down the pass.

Muir is not making a racist statement about American Indians, but saying that particular group were mostly ugly. And when he writes that they “seemed to have no right place in the landscape” he is not, as Berlau wants you to think, arguing for the extermination of Indians, but expressing a preference for wilderness without people in it.

Berlau’s next target is Paul Ehrlich:

In his best-selling book, The Population Bomb, Ehrlich called for all men in India who had three or more children to be forcibly sterilized.

But what Ehrlich actually wrote was:

A few years ago, there was talk in India of compulsory sterilization for all males who were fathers of three or more children.

And then he went on to say why he felt that such a plan was not a good idea. Are you starting to see a pattern in Berlau’s work?

Correction: I was wrong on this point. Seventy pages later Ehrlich writes:

When he suggested sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children, we should have applied pressure on the Indian government to go ahead with the plan. We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments. We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centers for training para-medical personnel to do vasectomies. Coercion? Perhaps, but coercion in a good cause.

So Berlau was correct when he wrote that Ehrlich called for sterilization. (But this does not support a charge of racism.)

Berlau on Alexander King:

In an essay in a book called The Discipline of Curiosity, King wrote that DDT’s main problem was that it worked too well at saving Third World lives. “In Guyana, within almost 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.”

Berlau deliberately left out King’s next sentence:

“Of course I can’t play god on that one.”

Berlau made it look like King was arguing that Guyanese should have been left to die from malaria by leaving out the sentence where King made it clear that he didn’t want that.

Berlau’s last example:

Jeff Hoffman, poster on popular environmental news site Grist.org:
Arguing against efforts to resume DDT use to combat malaria in Africa, Hoffman explained, “Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria.”

Hoffman wasn’t writing posts at Grist as Berlau implies, but was just a random commenter. And in the same comment he wrote:

I think a good environmental ethic woould be that it is immoral to kill anything one doesn’t eat, meaning that all pesticides should be banned immediately.

and

I don’t see any respect for the mosquitos in these posts

I think Hoffman was a troll parodying environmentalists. In any event, nobody agreed with him, so it is wrong for Berlau to present him as being somehow representative of environmentalists.

Berlau has done this sort of thing before.

Comments

  1. #1 Thom
    April 14, 2007

    Berlau is a transparent b#llsh#tter. He’ll do anything to sell books and get his name in the press. He’s just looking for any excuse to start up another run of nonsense like his last fabled story that environmentalist caused the flooding of New Orleans.

    What’s even more deceitful is this piece of rubbish by Roger Pielke Jr. He’s over on his blog announcing to the world of journalism that he’s just published a “peer-reviewed” paper.

    http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/disasters/001170new_peerreviewed_pu.html

    Nice to see that Pielke Jr. has decided to reenter the arena of academia. It’s been over a year and hundreds of interviews with journalists since he’s managed to get *anything* in the peer-reviewed literature.

    But when you examine the citations, you find typical Pielkeism at work. The most frequently cited author in the paper is….none other than Roger Pielke Jr.! Who would have ever guessed?

    What’s most interesting is that many of his citations are not peer-reviewed themselves, but consist of letters to the editor and other grey literature.

    The most damning was an article Pielke published with Chris Landsea in that phony skeptic journal “Energy & Environment.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_and_Environment

    “Energy & Environment” has long been a venue for contrarians to launder their half-baked opinions about climate change. It is not peer-reviewed, is run by Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, and is the favored venue of Stephen McIntyre.

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    April 14, 2007

    Thanks for the pointer to Jim Norton — leading to quite a resource, I didn’t know his pages at all. I’ll check there whenever I see someone attributing some outrageous claim to their opponents. Great documentation of how people lie by misquoting and misattributing bits and pieces along with their own spin.

  3. #3 papertiger
    April 15, 2007

    How is “In Guyana, within almost 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.”, make the quote any better?
    Since we have had a DDT ban it follows that someone, who at least agreed in substance with King, and wealded the power to play God, took Kings suggestion.

  4. #4 david tiley
    April 15, 2007

    I particularly like the way all these references are so contemporary.

    Does this now mean that some malevolent sockpuppet can turn up on the interwebnets, use my name in a post, and the entire environmental movement can be smeared with the contents?

  5. #5 Tim Lambert
    April 15, 2007

    papertiger, we don’t have a DDT ban. [See here](http://timlambert.org/2005/12/ddt-ban-myth-bingo/).

  6. #6 Thom
    April 15, 2007

    Lambert, you really need to consider deploying the pinata with Berlau’s face. Here’s a pic of the guy.

    http://www.cei.org/dyn/view_Expert.cfm?Expert=259

    Notice that crooked, turd gobbling grin. He looks like he’s two martinis into a long Friday evening. And notice that de’s donned a classic navy blazer that screams, “I’m a corporate tool.”

  7. #7 Kevin
    April 15, 2007

    Why am I seeing Paul Ehrlich being defended?

    Even if he didn’t explicitly endorse sterilization in India, [I don't have a copy on hand and would like to see his exact quote on that] he explicitly endorses compulsory birth control elsewhere in the intro. to the book.

    “Our position requires that we take immediate action at home and promote effective action
    worldwide. We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and
    penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail. We must use our political power to push
    other countries into programs which combine agricultural development and population control. And
    while this is being done we must take action to reverse the deterioration of our environment before
    population pressure permanently ruins our planet. The birth rate must be brought into balance with
    the death rate or mankind will breed itself into oblivion. We can no longer afford merely to treat
    the symptoms of the cancer of population growth; the cancer itself must be cut out. Population
    control is the only answer.”

    Ehrlich likening human reproductive liberty to a cancer:

    ” A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled
    multiplication of people. Treating only the symptoms of cancer may make the victim more comfortable
    at first, but eventually he dies — often horribly. A similar fate awaits a world with a population
    explosion if only the symptoms are treated. We must shift our efforts from treatment of the symptoms
    to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless
    decisions. The pain may be intense. But the disease is so far advanced that only with radical surgery
    does the patient have a chance of survival”

    In case you might think the spectacular failure of his predictions would modify his ethical stance in later years:

    “[T]he price of personal freedom in making childbearing decisions may be the destruction of the world” (Ehrlich, in Banderage, 1999: 37).

    So what exactly is your beef with the point made by Berlau? Ehrlich would at best have been opposed to sterilizing Indians for a practical reason. His principled support for it was made public in 1968.

  8. #8 Kevin
    April 15, 2007

    Why does Alexander King saying, ‘I can’t play god’ indicate his beef with DDT stopping malarial deaths is moot? He says specifically that in hindsight DDT combined with a growing population is bad. It must be because he’s not a Malthusian and is acutally glad that the population grew thanks to DDT eradicating malaria? Oh wait, he co-founded the Club of Rome.

    Perhaps he was just lamenting his inability to travel in time and force malaria to run its course there? On the other hand, it requires little textual dissection to plainly infer from that quote and his connection to the Club of Rome that he feared population growth and complains about DDT’s effectiveness in saving lives.

    And John Muir had many more complaints about the Indians than the one in that quote. In fact, even the quote for which you are apologizing, he says there was an *ocassional* Mono who was attractive but most in his first encounter were ugly. In other words Muir is saying the Mono Indians are a largely ugly people; now who could consider that racist? Unbelievable. Imus gets fired for racially insulting a single sports team but Muir gets a pass for racially indicting a whole tribe.

    Here’s an American Indian who considers Muir a racist:

    http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/frameindex.html?http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/john_muir_newsletter/wakefield_indian_views.html

  9. #9 Ian Gould
    April 16, 2007

    Kevin, the point in this context isn’t that Ehrlich was right to advocate forced sterilisiation, the point is that his motives for advocating it weren’t racist.

    In fact, the text you quote, where Ehrlich says all countries should adopt mandatory sterilisation as a last resort if other approaches fail, proves that.

    So while he was wrong, his comments weren’t racist and its simply false to use them as purported evidence for widespread racism amongst environmentalists.

  10. #10 Thom
    April 16, 2007

    Lambert, your name has now been turned into a verb.

    http://rwdb.blogspot.com/2007/04/john-berlau-and-glenn-reynolds.html

    Of course, J.F. Beck gets most of what he writes wrong, but that’s the joy of blogs. Any idiot with an internet connection gets to be a “journalist.”

  11. #11 Tim Lambert
    April 16, 2007

    Kevin, that is the exact quote from “The Population Bomb”. Berlau misrepresented Ehrlich to make him appear racist.

    As for King, it is well beyond silly for you to claim that “Of course, I can’t play God.” means “I wish I could play God” He added that sentence to make it clear that he didn’t want Guyanese to die from malaria. If he did want this he could have said something like “I wish it hadn’tbeen introduced.” If you want to retain any credibility, you’ll withdraw your claim.

    And as for Muir, the linked piece makes it clear that Muir shared some of the racist attitudes of other whites in the 19th century — that he was ahead of his time in showing respect for the environment, but this wasn’t the case in showing respect for Indians. If you want to charge Muir with racism, I hope you don’t forget to charge pretty well everyone else in 19th century America s well.

  12. #12 Kevin
    April 18, 2007

    Ian:

    >In fact, the text you quote, where Ehrlich says all countries should adopt mandatory sterilisation as a last resort if other approaches fail, proves that.

    >So while he was wrong, his comments weren’t racist and its simply false to use them as purported evidence for widespread racism amongst environmentalists.

    I would like to see why Ehrlich rejected sterilization in India given his position on compulsory birth control. Not enough context has been presented to make a rational judgement on whether or not he was overly harsh to third world nations relative to his views to first world nations in a manner that constitutes racism.

    Further, I don’t really care about the semantics. If all you are truly concerned with is proving Berlau wrong, okay. What I wondered aloud was why was Tim defending Ehrlich who has made a number of indefensible comments. The defense “at least they aren’t racist” is pretty weak.

    In fact, if the problem with racism is the irrationality of it, if the legitimate objection is not to hatred of race per se but to making unreasonable judgements based on non-essential characteristics of heredity, then Ehrlich is worse than your average racist for being even less discriminating. He roundly overgeneralizes regarding all humanity likening it generally to a cancer and reproductive freedom to metastasis. I can’t find his prejudical misanthropy less reprehensible for being more widely targeted.

  13. #13 Kevin
    April 18, 2007

    Tim:

    The exact quote you’ve chosen to offer is simply Ehrlich noting a plan exists followed by your assertion he rejects it with no explanation of the reason. I need more context to draw a solid conclusion than that.

    As for King, I have no clear idea what he meant by noting his incapability of playing God, and you haven’t presented enough context for anyone to draw a rational conclusion on that. Further, I did not imply I was certain of his meaning, and if your own strawman is sufficient to destroy my credibility in your eyes, then I don’t know what would be sufficient to secure it.

    I will note that non-contextual quotation is exactly the thing for which you’re indicting Berlau. King *could* have said almost anything here; not being in touch with his consciousness, nor a scholar of his life, I have no clue why he wrote this in particular, and I doubt you do either.

    I do note that King explicitly laments, and no textual inference is required to grasp it, that the elimination of malaria prevented a lot of people from dying. I don’t think a rational person would have a quarrel with DDT saving a lot of lives but King declares it outright. Whether the source of his lament is racism or just general misanthropy is irrelevant to me and should be to you as well. The fact that he explicitly states he has a quarrel with the saving of human lives is prima facie evidence of an irrational hostility to humans.

    Last, you grant that Muir was a racist but just apologize for the reason why. Well, Berlau was just claiming he was a racist and environmental icon, so the semantic quibble goes to him.

    Still, your defense of Muir’s racism is apparently the tu quoque fallacy? Many thinkers world-wide were racists in the 18th and 19th centuries, and some were not. Ulysses Grant called the prejudice against skin color senseless. Plenty of non-racists were to be found among US abolitionists and the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution are clearly anti-racist. It was certainly not an unprecedented position. That Muir happened to be a racist is not excused by the popularity of the position.

  14. #14 Ian Gould
    April 18, 2007

    “Further, I don’t really care about the semantics. If all you are truly concerned with is proving Berlau wrong, okay. What I wondered aloud was why was Tim defending Ehrlich who has made a number of indefensible comments. The defense “at least they aren’t racist” is pretty weak.”

    Actually as a defence to the charge of being a racist, not being a racist is a pretty strong defence.

    If someone claims Hitler was a pedophile, and I respond by pointing out that there’s no evidence that this is true, I’m not defending any other aspect of Hitler’s life.

  15. #15 Kevin
    April 19, 2007

    Ian:

    >Actually as a defence to the charge of being a racist, not being a racist is a pretty strong defence.

    As I pointed out in the post to which you replied, semantics is of less concern to me than substance of Berlau’s claim. The contxt of Berlau’s post is Imus’ firing for uttering some racist remarks for humorous effect. Berlau accuses the left of excoriating him and excusing their environmental icons of their own hateful rhetoric, i.e. of hypocrisy.

    Ehrlich has made some ludicrous claims for the intended effect of getting people to sign on to his program of coercion, infringement of personal liberty and human sterilization. Of the two, Ehrlich is by far the worse. Ehrlich’s remarks are progammatically evil; Imus is just a thoughtless jackass.

    Ehrlich should have been marginalized, if not ostracized, before I was born; but many on the left defend him to this day. Jeff Harvey apparently still thinks he’s swell. Stanford hasn’t canned him despite his call for government control of your genitals; I don’t see the left screaming for his head on a pike. Why?

    Calling a basketball team “nappy hoes” is worse than calling for a police state to strip you of liberty? Expressing the notion that humanity is a cancer to be dealt with through whatver means necessary is more acceptable than a racist attempt at levity? Of course not, which is why Berlau is correct about the left’s hypocrisy. I still don’t know if Ehrlich’s a racist, and given what he’s on record saying and writing, I don’t care. Uttering a few racial slurs would actually be benign compared to the things he’s seen fit to claim.

  16. #16 David
    April 22, 2007

    Tim, thank you for providing those links to Berlau and Instapundit.

    Until reading them, I was generally concerned about the harm mankind is doing to the environment and in favour of action to reduce it. But now I’ve seen what racists those people I’ve never heard of were, I realise how wrong I was, and I’m totally going to buy an SUV and drive it everywhere.

  17. #17 DWPittelli
    May 5, 2007

    From Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.” On pages 165-166 of 1968 edition of his book (and 151-52 of the 1971 edition):

    When he suggested sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children, we should have applied pressure on the Indian government to go ahead with the plan. We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments. We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centers for training para-medical personnel to do vasectomies. Coercion? Perhaps, but coercion in a good cause.

  18. #18 Combie_Dave
    May 6, 2007

    David,

    Sounds like you were being sarcastic.

    Just in case you were, you shold know that I about to buy an SUV and drive it everywhere on your behalf ;-)

    Combine_Dave

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