Tim Lambert over at Deltoid links to this article, by Aaron Swartz, about the relentless right-wing smear campaign against Rachel Carson. Carson was the author of the 1962 book Silent Spring, where she argued, among other things, that pervasive use of pesticides such as DDT was leading to long-term, harmful effects on the environment. DDT was eventually banned in the US in 1972, in part because of the influence of Carson’s book.
More recently, DDT spraying has been adopted as a cause celebre among many politicians and journalists. Swartz writes:
“What the World Needs Now Is DDT” asserted the headline of a lengthy feature in the New York Times Magazine (4/11/04). “No one concerned about the environmental damage of DDT set out to kill African children,” reporter Tina Rosenberg generously allowed. Nonethe-less, “Silent Spring is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind.”
It’s a common theme–echoed by two more articles in the Times by the same author (3/29/06, 10/5/06), and by Times columnists Nicholas Kristof (3/12/05) and John Tierney (6/05/07). The same refrain appears in a Washington Post op-ed by columnist Sebastian Mallaby, gleefully headlined “Look Who’s Ignoring Science Now” (10/09/05). And again in the Baltimore Sun (“Ms. Carson’s views [came] at a cost of many thousands of lives worldwide”–5/27/07), New York Sun (“millions of Africans died . . . thanks to Rachel Carson’s junk science classic”–4/21/06), the Hill (“millions die on the altar of politically correct ideologies”–11/02/05), San Francisco Examiner (“Carson was wrong, and millions of people continue to pay the price”–5/28/07) and Wall Street Journal (“environmental controls were more important than the lives of human beings”–2/21/07).
Swartz goes on to explain in some detail why this is all terribly oversimplified, to put things mildly. It will be familiar and depressing reading to anyone who has been following how the right-wing propaganda mill in America has managed to corrupt public debate on key issue after key issue. I recommend reading the whole thing.
For obvious reasons, this was the part that caught my eye:
DDT use has decreased enormously, but not because of a ban. The real reason is simple, although not one conservatives are particularly fond of: evolution. Mosquito populations rapidly develop resistance to DDT, creating enzymes to detoxify it, modifying their nervous systems to avoid its effects, and avoiding areas where DDT is sprayed — and recent research finds that that resistance continues to spread even after DDT spraying has stopped, lowering the effectiveness not only of DDT but also other pesticides (Current Biology, 8/9/05).
“No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring. “The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. . . . Resistance to insecticides by mosquitoes . . . has surged upwards at an astounding rate.”
Small wonder the right-wingers are so passionate about this issue!