John Berlau has responded to my post on his accusations that environmentalists were racists. Berlau starts by describing me as:
a computer science professor who fancies himself an expert on everything from DDT to climate change.
Berlau, I should note, is a journalist with (to my knowledge) no scientific training who fancies himself as an expert on everything from DDT to hurricanes. Berlau also thinks he knows more about biology than Rachel Carson, who was an actual biologist:
Lambert is one of the “DDT deniers” I reference in my book Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health. Following the lead of his idol, Silent Spring author Rachel Carson, Lambert continues to promote the untruth that third-world countries ceased using DDT because the insecticide became ineffective due to mosquito resistance.
But here’s what a standard malaria text book (Malaria: Principles and Practice of Malariology) says:
[In Sri Lanka] the malaria situation deteriorated once more between 1972 and 1975. Apart from operational and administrative shortcomings, the main reason for this second increase was the development of vector resistance to DDT, to such an extent that it was necessary to change to the more expensive malathion in 1977.
Nor did Rachel Carson, writing in 1962, say that any country has stopped using DDT because of resistance. What she did do was warn that overuse of pesticides would lead to the development of resistance and to avoid this:
It is more sensible in some cases to take a small amount of damage in preference to having none for a time but paying for it in the long run by losing the very means of fighting [is the advice given in Holland by Dr Briejer in his capacity as director of the Plant Protection Service]. Practical advice should be ‘Spray as little as you possibly can’ rather than Spray to the limit of your capacity’ …, Pressure on the pest population should always be as slight as possible.
Berlau continues with:
Eco-Freaks explains the concept of resistance and details Carson and Lambert’s misunderstanding and/or misrepresentations of these facts. (Tim, to use an analogy from your field of computer science, you wouldn’t forgo the best antivirus software simply because a hacker could develop a new super-virus that could get around it.)
Berlau has simply misunderstood Carson. She did not say that you should not use pesticides because insects could develop resistance, but that the more pesticide you use, the more selection pressure you put on insects to evolve resistance, and that consequently you should use insecticides sparingly. The fact that Berlau made this error suggest that he doesn’t really understand the concept of natural selection.
Now to Berlau’s defence of his claims that environmentalists were racists. Berlau:
In my post, I included the allegation of EDF’s original attorney Victor Yannacone that EDF’s chief scientist Charles Wurster said that the side effects of the DDT ban were nothing to worry about because a more acutely toxic DDT substitute “only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.” I also noted that Wurster denied making this statement.
Lambert asserts that “after Yannacone was fired by the EDF, he came up with the claim” and calls it “the unsupported statement of a man with an axe to grind.” …
I see no reason why I should assume automatically that Yannacone has any less credibility than Wurster. After he left EDF, Yannacone went on to become one of the most prominent environmental attorneys. He successfully argued the case for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange in their lawsuit against Dow Chemical.
Actually, Yannacone didn’t win the case but was ousted from it:
Victor Yannacone Jr., the Patchogue lawyer who filed the first case in 1979 and represented Ryan and others around the country, said he looks back with great disappointment.
“The attorneys who settled this case, sold out the children,” said Yannacone, who was ousted in a dispute with other attorneys before the deal.
Hey, same pattern as with EDF: Yannacone does not work well with others and after he gets the boot, he bad mouths them.
And as for his being “fired” by EDF, as Lambert confidently asserts, Yannacone maintains that he resigned — and did so precisely because of what he saw as the callousness of Wurster and others at EDF toward the disadvantaged. When I interviewed Yannacone last year for Eco-Freaks, he told me, “It was one of the things that led to my parting from the Environmental Defense Fund: their total insensitivity to people who were poorer and less well educated.”
At the time though, he said something different. Science (Dec 26 1969, p 1603):
Earlier, EDF had rejected as unpromising
Yannacone’s proposal to bring a $30-billion damage
suit against DDT manufacturers as a “class action” on
behalf of all citizens of the United States; Yannacone
finally filed this action with his wife as plaintiff.
The Long Island Press recently quoted Yannacone as
attributing his problems with EDF partly to this suit,
which he said some trustees regarded as an embarrassment
to EDF in its efforts to obtain a grant from the
Ford Foundation. However, according to Reginald C.
Smith, an attorney EDF hired several months ago to
represent it in its dealings with its general counsel, the
suit had nothing to do with the “strained relations” between
EDF and Yannacone. The trouble, he said, grew
out of Yannacone’s “evident lack of respect [for] the
EDF trustees” and his failure to take direction.
Roderick A. Cameron of Stony Brook, an attorney
and executive director of EDF, told Science that EDF
was getting a “bad deal” and that Yannacone, who,
besides representing EDF, has carried on a private law
practice of his own, had not been doing enough work
for EDF to earn his $5,000-a-month retainer.
Back to Berlau:
Do I know for certain that Yannacone’s charges against Wurster are accurate? No I don’t. And neither does Lambert know for sure that Wurster’s version is the truth, given that neither one of us were privy to the original exchange.
Berlau seems to have skated over this part of my post, perhaps because he has no answer to it:
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.
It’s not a question of he said/he said as Berlau tires to make it appear. If Wurster had really said what Yannacone claims, then there were witnesses who would have reported the story, and EDF’s enemies would have made sure that the matter was not forgotten.
Next we turn to John Muir. Despite Berlau’s artful quoting, not even his colleague at CEI, Eli Lehrer believed the the charge of racism:
The quotation from Muir that you cite perfectly reflects his romantic mindset: he had strong, personal emotions about the world and wanted to share them. He understood the majesty of nature, talked about it forthrightly, and sought to preserve it for its own sake.
Berlau claims that this article by Klingle and Taylor supports his charge of racism against Muir, but what they criticise him for is elitism and say:
some of the most venerated conservationists and environmentalists demonstrated a decidedly misanthropic streak.
They are certainly not afraid to criticize Muir, and the fact that the don’t criticize him for racism completely undercuts Berlau’s argument.
Next we have Paul Ehrlich. On page 82 of the Population Bomb I found this quote, where he doesn’t call for sterilization, but argues that an Indian proposal for this would not work.
What about vasectomies? A few years ago, there was talk in India of compulsory sterilization for all males who were fathers of three or more children. Ignore for a moment the socio-political problems that would be raised by such a program. Consider just the logistic problems, as A.S. Parkes did. Even if those eligible could be rounded up, it would take 1,000 surgeons or para-surgeons operating eight hours a day, five days a week, a full eight years to sterilize the candidates who exist today. And the stock of candidates is growing very rapidly. Can you picture the probably results of a government attempt to sterilize 40 million American males? What a problem it would be in our country, with its relatively informed populace and efficient transport and communications system! Imagine such an attempt in India, where the difference between castration and sterilization (still not clear to many Westerners) would be almost impossible to explain. As one might expect, the principal Indian official thinking in such tough-minded terms, Dr. S. Chandrasekur, ended up in a less influential position in a government shuffle.
I thought that this was another case where the full quote did not support Berlau’s claims and said so. I was wrong. Berlau quotes from page 151:
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.
I don’t why, after deciding that the plan was unworkable, he said that the US should support it anyway, but he did. I don’t agree with forced sterilization and Ehrlich seems to have backed away from it now.
In any event, the Ehrlich quote does not support Berlau’s charge of racism.
Finally, Alexander King. Berlau comes up with an ridiculously strained interpretation of King’s last sentence:
Lambert takes me to task for leaving out King’s next sentence, which was, “Of course I can’t play God on that one.” Lambert then charges, “Berlau made it look like King was arguing that [the] 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.”
I don’t know, Tim. To me, and to some of your other commenters, it sure sounded like King was saying that if he were God, this result is exactly what he would want.
Yeah, right. If you really believed that you wouldn’t have left the sentence out.
And indeed, this is the result that happened when environmentalists got to play God and pushed through polices that curtailed DDT’s use in the Third World.
Once again Berlau demonstrates that he doesn’t understand natural selection. Ending the agricultural use of DDT saved lives by slowing the development of resistance.
Besides, if King didn’t really desire this result, why did he express this desire in the first place with his complaint about the “population problem” that DDT created.
He didn’t express a desire for such a result. You can be concerned about the “population problem” without wanting to solve it by killing people. Maybe King felt that promoting birth control would help? Maybe Berlau could have found out King’s views by reading more than a paragraph from him?