As Dick Clapp wrote earlier this month, Rachel Carson’s critics have used the 100th anniversary of her birth as an occasion to attack the influential environmental author. In the New York Times, columnist John Tierney (sub only) called Carson’s classic work Silent Spring “a hodgepodge of science and junk science.” Barry Commoner, himself an author of landmark books on ecology, wrote a response to the Times, and has given us permission to post it here. -Liz Borkowski
To the Editor:
John Tierney’s rehash (Science Times, June 5, 2007) of the long discredited arguments against the 1972 law banning the use of DDT in the U.S. is a malicious attack on Rachel Carson’s classic work, “Silent Spring,” where she concluded that cancer incidence is largely due to synthetic organic chemicals rather than to naturally occurring ones. Tierney’s evidence that natural compounds are “as likely to be carcinogenic as synthetic ones” is directly contradicted by a comprehensive review of data from five international cancer agencies recently reported in the American Cancer Society’s journal CANCER. By checking this study’s list of chemicals that cause breast cancer in laboratory animals against the Combined Chemical Dictionary (a database distinguishing synthetic and natural organic chemicals), I find that of the total 212 organic chemicals, 203 are synthetic and only 9 are produced by living things. In calling “Silent Spring” a “hodgepodge of science and junk science,” Mr. Tierney has produced a shameful display of junk journalism.
Barry Commoner, Senior Scientist
CBNS, Queens College, CUNY