Roger Bate’s false history

This is the long-awaited part 2 of my response to Roger Bate’s reply to the article on DDT in Prospect by John Quiggin and me. (Part 1 is here.) In this part I look at Bate’s false history of DDT and malaria.

Here’s Bate’s history:

But while there were serious concerns about the bioaccumulation of DDT up the food chain, and it was rightly phased out for use in agriculture, it still had a valid role in combating public health menaces, notably disease-bearing mosquitos. Not satisfied with having DDT outlawed for agriculture, environmentalists increased pressure for a total ban in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

By 1997, the World Health Assembly had bowed to this pressure, passing a resolution to restrict the use of insecticides in public health, and the United Nations Environment Programme was beginning negotiations towards what would become the Stockholm convention to phase out global use of DDT and 11 other chemicals. Several major environmental organisations were demanding a total ban on DDT by 2007.

But look at what the 1997 World Health Assembly resolution actually said about DDT:

to ensure that the use of DDT is authorized by governments for public health purposes only, and that, in those instances, such use is limited to government-authorized programmes that take an integrated approach and that strong steps are taken to ensure that there is no diversion of DDT to entities in the private sector;

Do you think that it is accurate to for Bate to claim that this is bowing to environmentalist pressure for a total ban on DDT?

And in Bate’s history he did not mention that it was insect resistance, not environmentalist pressure that was the big factor in reducing DDT use in public health, as this 28 July 1997 Wall Street Journal Europe article relates:

It’s widely acknowledged that DDT spraying rid large areas of Asia and Africa of insect-borne diseases such as typhus and malaria, saving millions of lives. Moreover, DDT replaced older extremely toxic arsenic-based pesticides and increased agricultural productivity in the process.

But DDT was so effective and resilient as a pesticide that it accumulated in the tissue of living organisms. Studies showed that the higher the animal was on the food chain, the more DDT remained in its system, affecting reproduction and killing off predators, especially eagles. After a decade or so, other effects emerged. DDT led to serious pest infestation, as it was often more effective at killing off the larger insects that fed on the pests themselves. Pests also developed resistance to DDT’s effects, and it was being phased out for this reason when the international outcry against it began.

And guess who wrote this article? Roger Bate, that’s who. So what changed his mind between 1997 and today? Well, in 1998 he came up with his plan to drive a wedge between environmentalists and public health people by blaming environmentalists for banning DDT and causing malaria. You can read his pitch to Philip Morris. So he rewrote the history of malaria and DDT to eliminate the fact that:

Pests also developed resistance to DDT’s effects, and it was being phased out for this reason when the international outcry against it began.

Bate’s rewritten (with Richard Tren) history is When Politics Kills: Malaria and the DDT Story. They rely heavily on Gordon Harrison’s Mosquitoes, malaria, and man: A history of the hostilities since 1880, (read an extract here), citing him over twenty times, but when they write about the Sri Lankan experience, they conspicuously fail to mention that DDT spraying in Sri Lanka failed because of resistance, instead claiming that

pressure not to use DDT may have been applied by western donors using resistance as a convenient argument. Recent evidence shows that even where resistance to DDT has emerged, the excito-repellancy of DDT causes mosquitoes not to enter buildings that have been sprayed (Roberts et al., 2000). Under test conditions (see Grieco et al., 2000), for at least one type of malarial mosquito in Belize (the only country in which these tests have so far been conducted),DDT is far more successful than the most favoured vector control pesticide Deltamethrin. Hence it is unlikely that malaria rates would have increased (significantly) even if resistance were found.

But malaria rates did increase because of resistance even though DDT was extensively used. Harrison has an entire chapter on this, which Bate could not possibly have missed. Bate’s history is false.


  1. #1 z
    October 7, 2008

    unfortunately, the WHO report on post-tsunami efforts in Sri Lanka is no longer on the web; they state quite explicitly that DDT was not sprayed because the Anopheles there are resistant.

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    October 7, 2008

    googled …

    Malaria Journal Maps of the Sri Lanka malaria …
    After the tsunami hit Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004, news reports and public health ….. resistance mechanisms of Sri Lankan anopheline vectors of malaria. …
    by OJT Briët – 2005 – Cited by 14

    Maps of the Sri Lanka malaria situation preceding the tsunami and …
    Insecticide cross-resistance spectra and underlying resistance mechanisms of Sri Lankan anopheline vectors of malaria. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public …
    by OJT Briët – 2005 – Cited by 14

  3. #3 Ed Darrell
    October 8, 2008

    Thanks, Tim. Great to have these sources pulled together in one post like this.

    Looks like there’s some action on DDT and health internationally, according to my news catchers. It may be a busy couple of months with regard to DDT.

  4. #4 z
    October 9, 2008

    Well if we’re setting up some sources:

    “Endemic sporadic malaria close to the affected areas transm­itted by An.culicifacies, which has been considered DDT-resistant for­ many years” – from the aforementioned WHO monthly bulletin on combating malaria in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, but you’ll have to trust that I copied it off the web correctly.

  5. #5 Marion Delgado
    October 9, 2008

    This is old news, you socialist second-hander secularist. All the real skeptics are now fighting the junk science of so-called gravity theory.

    The enviros shut down perpetual motion, cold fusion, zero-point energy and cars that run on water. Think how many people could have lived long and productive lives with that technology.

    If the so-called Second Law was valid, it would be in the US Constitution, as the 2nd Amendment is. Furthermore, the theory of gravity is only that … A THEORY!

  6. #6 Hank Roberts
    October 9, 2008

    z –plenty of sites on the web still have that report. Paste the string you quoted into Google.

  7. #7 Melaleuca
    October 10, 2008

    I hope there is a Part 3 in the pipeline. Good work.

  8. #8 Ed Darrell
    October 11, 2008

    I keep hoping we’ve reached bottom on the bizarre, junk claims in favor of DDT and against solid science and rational restrictions on environmental damaging stuff.

    But, not yet. Roger Tren’s group recently put out a press release complaining that Africa doesn’t have enough poison, and complaining about EU rules restricting dangerous pesticides.


  9. #9 eddie
    October 11, 2008

    Didn’t this start as a discussion of the merits of Obama’s plan? As I recall, the plan recognises the resistance issue calls for R&D into new drugs, etc.

    Tara covered it in [this post](

    but got distracted by another DDT denialist – PGS.