J.R Dunn's Fabrications against Rachel Carson

You know what's coming when a post starts with:

"At times it seems that there are more sites honoring Rachel Carson that Josef Stalin at his peak."

J. R. Dunn has written the usual Rachel-killed-millions post, but has added some fabrications that seem to be original with him:

In 1958 Carson received a letter from her close friend Olga Huckins, which told a strange and alarming story. A short time previously, Huckins' bird sanctuary north of Cape Cod had been sprayed for insects, leading to a mass die-off of birds. The pesticide implicated was DDT. ...

Along with a thirty-week run on The New York Times bestseller list, the book was discussed in the Senate, debated by Congressional committees, analyzed by the presidential Science Advisory Committee and widely covered on television. All of which was a deep pity, because Silent Spring was an extremely dishonest and flawed piece of work.

Carson's book was rife with omissions, misrepresentations, and errors. She neglected to mention that the spraying of Huckin's bird sanctuary was accompanied by fuel oil, which would have harmed the birds in and of itself.

But Carson only mentioned Huckins in the acknowledgments:

In a letter written in January 1958, Olga Owens Huckins told me of her own bitter experience of a small world made lifeless, and so brought my attention sharply back to a problem with which I had long been concerned.

I guess it's true that Carson didn't mention the fuel oil, but she didn't mention the DDT either or base any arguments on it. In the body of the book she does mention that spraying includes solvents as well and that harm may be caused by the solvent rather than the pesticide, but:

From the practical rather than the medical standpoint this distinction is of little importance, however, because these petroleum solvents are in inseparable part of most common spraying practices.

Dunn continues:

The fact that DDT had eliminated malaria in the northern hemisphere went unnoted.

Possibly because DDT had not eliminated malaria in the northern hemisphere. To give just one counter-example, Mexico (see below).

But far worse was the tone of hysteria permeating the entire work. DDT was not simply a chemical compound, to be analyzed dispassionately like any other. No - it was representation of absolute evil, a demonic threat to all forms of life, one that had to be ousted from the environment at all costs.

This is directly contradicted by Carson's actual words:

It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used.

Dunn appears to have looked at my blog and learned nothing:

Many sources, such as this site, claim that there never was any such ban, a contention easily answered by this EPA release.

Of course, what I have explained, over and over again, is that the public health use of DDT was not banned, just the agricultural use. Which is exactly what the EPA release says:

Public health, quarantine, and a few minor crop uses were excepted, as well as export of the material.

Dunn continues with the usual Carson-killed-millions stuff, but I think this one he made up himself

The Clinton administration demanded that Mexico give up DDT as a condition for NAFTA being put into effect. This was done, and malaria rates shot sky-high.

Oh, really?


After Mexico switched to pyrethroids, malaria rates went down. Oh, and:

The Director of Mexico's malaria control program declared that it is 25 percent cheaper for Mexico to spray a house with other chemicals -- synthetic pyrethroids -- than with DDT.


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Would that all our disease rates would shoot "sky-high" like that...

It also makes me wonder if Dunn would be happy to see his salary "shoot" "sky-high" like the Clinton-era Mexican malaria rates. :)

Well, looking at long term trends may obscure some facts. EHP reports that Mexico agreed in min-1997 to phase out DDT. This agreement appears to be related to negotiation of the North AMerican Free Trade Agreement among USA, Mexico, and Canada. See http://www.ehponline.org/qa/105-8forum/forum.html

The graph above is a little hard to read but it appears to indicate that the number of cases of Malaria increased five-fold in the year after that agreement; it appears to have taken about four years for the annual number of cases to fall to that immediately before the agreement.

A closer reading of that graph than CJ may have made would suggest that either mosquitos consider themselves bound by NAFTA agreements or, alternatively, that the execrable Dunn's and also CJ's conclusions cannot be drawn from it. Note that number of houses sprayed continued a long term (not short term) down trend through 98-99 and that pyrethroids didn't replace DDT until roughly 99 when, although fewer houses were sprayed than during the DDT era, malaria rates began to "plummet" shall we say.

Whatever, Rachel Carson ate JR Dunn's brain and made him the moron he/she/it is today. Hate Rachel Carson and worship right wing wackjobs ..... worship the wackos now.

By bring back giblets (not verified) on 26 May 2007 #permalink

There seem to be two reasons for that; one is that malaria rates in Mexico fluctuate and are higher in El Nino years, like 1997-1998. The likely larger reason is budgetary, mentioned in the World Malaria Report 2005:

The unsuccessful eradication campaign, centred on IRS with DDT from 1956 to 1982, was followed by a transition phase during which malaria cases dramatically increased (Fig. 39). In 1989, a Plan of Intensive and Simultaneous Actions was instituted, consisting of massive drug administration and insecticide spraying in high-transmission areas. While this plan initially yielded good results, its activities were costly and malaria transmission resumed when the activities were interrupted or limited by budgetary constraints. This occurred in 1998, generating an epidemic affecting mainly Oaxaca State.

Since then, a new strategy, "focalized treatment", was adopted consisting of:

epidemiological surveillance and identification of "malaria reservoirs" for malaria patients and their families;
repeated drug treatments--chloroquine and primaquine--for patients and their families over a 3-year period;
focal, selective spraying with pyrethroid insecticides.

Apologies up front: I'm just a liberal arts major, tho' a greenie. But I'm having trouble interpreting that graph. There appear to be two early upticks in DDT house spraying (from '63, and then from '70) that seem to drive malaria cases down.

But from '81, the number of cases shoots up drastically while house spraying tails off. From this point, am I right in thinking that different sparying regimes or products were tried?

Can you explain the meaning of the different colours for the spraying bars? What is PAIS?

Finally, wouldn't a DDT supporter look this graph and say, they shoulda kept spraying DDT at '71 levels? That woulda stopped malaria in its tracks!

The people who say keep spraying are people who don't believe in evolution.

Those who don't believe in evolution make it happen faster. The selection pressure of chemical spraying increases the frequency of genes conveying resistance; that's true for any agricultural chemical, including antibiotics. They get sold and used in huge amounts, they select for resistance, they have to be used in larger and larger amounts. To a marketer that's brilliant. To a biologist that's stupid.

First hit from Google searching: ddt pais

The phasing out of DDT in Mexico
Following the commitment of the CCA in 1997, the PAIS strategy was revised: testing and assessment of alternatives to DDT were introduced. ...

See link above for full text
-------excerpt follows-------------

"... alternatives to DDT, different measures for malaria control (including resistance management) as well as development of the Health Service.

In this context, the Mexican experience is very important. Having produced, exported and used DDT since the 50's, Mexico has succeeded in controlling malaria and phasing out DDT at the same time. In 1959 the amount of DDT used for malaria control was 4,395 tons. This amount has decreased over time in an irregular trend to 630 tons in 1996 (see table).
From 1989 to 1997 the so-called Plan de Acciones Intensivas Simultaneas, PAIS (Intensive Simultaneous Action Plan) represented the principal Mexican strategy for the control of malaria in the areas of greater persistence. The PAIS strategy included a national system for epidemiological surveillance based on the selection of certified volunteers in each community: they were responsible for the collection of blood samples from infected subjects and delivery to the health facilities for parasite analysis and detection. Then a medical team will visit the malarial communities as well as report on the number of cases. This allowed adequate medical treatment and spraying of insecticide in order to reduce transmission. Indoor spraying with DDT, together with low doses of malathion (an organophosphate insecticide) and temephos (larvicide) was performed every six months.

In the State of Oaxaca, environmental organizations and organic crop producers opposed the use of DDT, whereas the washing of spraying equipment in watercourses affected fishing activities of the poorer rural community. The DDT and malathion spraying teams (for the control of malaria and other transmissible diseases) were called "cat killers" by the local population, because of the mortality call after the spraying5.

Following the commitment of the CCA in 1997, the PAIS strategy was revised: testing and assessment of alternatives to DDT were introduced. The plasmodios vector's features, together with malaria transmission methods and development areas, were critically revised. At present, surveillance, prevention and control of malaria, include the use of insecticides restricted to the most dangerous periods. When transmission is focalised, the systematic actions usually effected in the past are timed to the most adequate epidemiological time.

The current strategy resumes and enhances investigation as well as epidemiological surveillance through focalised treatment amongst the involved communities and the widening of the population's participation in prevention activities.

The current strategy, or focalised treatment, includes the following four activities: a) identification of the areas of epidemiological stratification of risk, in order to classify communities; b) identification of new and recurring cases according to the different areas, by means of a three-month intensive treatment (with a single monthly dose of chlorine and primachine) to reduce the parasite load in the community; c) application of pyrethroids as complementary means, according to the following method: indoor spraying with deltamethrin (instead of DDT) and in outdoors the spraying of permethrin (instead of malathion) with piperonil butoxide as synergist with back pack motor equipment in nebulization at low dosage. Lastly, the strategy includes the assessment of disease control through positive impact indicators. By these means the health authorities intend to develop a flexible, dynamic and cost-effective method of prevention, which may cause low environmental impact and greater participation by the communities.

This new "focalised treatment" strategy was first carried out in the State of Oaxaca and is now being used in other parts of the country. Currently, the spraying of deltamethrin has not been necessary. This is certainly due to the effectiveness of epidemiological and registration control as well as to watercourse preventive cleansing measures, which by eliminating filamentous seaweed (mosquito grub's food and nursery) has brought about a 98% reduction of mosquito's population. According to official sources of the country's sixteen States, the malaria phenomenon is controlled mainly through epidemiological surveillance6.

The Mexican experience shows that the problem of eliminating DDT as a means of malaria control should not simply be limited to the debate on its replacement with less persistent pesticides, but requires an integral vector management strategy based on investigation of plasmodium, epidemiological surveillance and community participation. The coordination of that strategy with programs for house improvement, basic sanitation, and effective policies to fight poverty, would provide greater sustainability of the malaria strategy and guarantee the people's right for health and a healthy environment.

M en C. Fernando Bejarano González7
Red de Acción sobre Plaguicidas y Alternativas en México, A:C: (RAPAM)

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 26 May 2007 #permalink

Lambert: but has added some fabrications that seem to be original with him

By implying that Dunn's fabrications are bad, you are essentially arguing that creativity is wrong. How short sighted.

Rebuke Dunn as a thinker, but praise him as an artist.

Hank -- Thanks for that. That answers a lot of questions. I'm also trying to download the pdf embedded in the graph. Tim -- there's a typo in that link in the graph. ^^

At times it seems that there are more sites honoring Rachel Carson that Josef Stalin at his peak.

There were web sites when Josef Stalin was at his peak? It does not bode well for an article when the first sentence is not only untrue, but also nonsensical!

By Meyrick Kirby (not verified) on 28 May 2007 #permalink

Guess that's why it feels that way.