Rachel Carson’s lethal claptrap 3

Google is celebrating the work of the environmmentalist Rachel Carson, who was born 107 years ago this month.

Yesterday Google disdained offering a special banner for Memorial Day.  Today they compound this insult with a banner marking the birthday of Rachel Carson, author of the deeply wrong Silent SpringFew books since Das Kapital have done more damage to humans than Silent Spring, and yet she —and her dreadful book — continue to be honored by the Left.

Henry I. Miller* and Gregory Conko* severely criticize Rachel Carson at Forbes:

We recently passed the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s best-selling book, Silent Spring. Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement, it was an emotionally charged but deeply flawed denunciation of the widespread spraying of chemical pesticides for the control of insects. Today, the book is still revered by many, but its legacy is anything but positive.

As detailed by Roger Meiners and Andy Morriss in their scholarly yet very readable analysis, Silent Spring at 50: Reflections on an Environmental Classic, Carson … “encourages some of the most destructive strains within environmentalism: alarmism, technophobia, failure to consider the costs and benefits of alternatives, and the discounting of human well-being around the world”. 

Carson’s proselytizing and advocacy raised substantial anxiety about DDT and led to bans in most of the world and to restrictions on other chemical pesticides.  But the fears she raised were based on gross misrepresentations and scholarship so atrocious that, if Carson were an academic, she would be guilty of egregious academic misconduct.  Her observations about DDT have been condemned by many scientists.  In the words of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University, “If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.”

Even fellow environmentalists called her a liar, uninterested in the truth:

In 1992, San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards, a long-time member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, offered a persuasive and comprehensive rebuttal of Silent Spring. As he explained in The Lies of Rachel Carson, a stunning, point by point refutation, “it simply dawned on me that that Rachel Carson was not interested in the truth about [pesticides] and that I was being duped along with millions of other Americans”.  He demolished Carson’s arguments and assertions, calling attention to critical omissions, faulty assumptions, and outright fabrications.  … [He wrote]:

This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false.  Human volunteers have ingested as much as 35 milligrams of it a day for nearly two years and suffered no adverse effects.  Millions of people have lived with DDT intimately during the mosquito spray programs and nobody even got sick as a result.  The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1965 that ‘in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable’.  The World Health Organization stated that DDT had ‘killed more insects and saved more people than any other substance’.

In addition, DDT was used with dramatic effect to shorten and prevent typhus epidemics during and after WWII when people were dusted with large amounts of it but suffered no ill effects, which is perhaps the most persuasive evidence that the chemical is harmless to humans.  The product was such a boon to public health that in 1948 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Paul Müller for his discovery of the “contact insecticidal action” of DDT.

It is extraordinary that anyone in the mainstream scientific community could continue to embrace the sentimental claptrap of Silent Spring, so we were surprised to see the commentary, In Retrospect: Silent Spring, in the scientific journal Nature in May by evolutionary biologist Rob Dunn.  Science is, after all, evidence-based, but Dunn’s puff piece is a flawed and repugnant whitewash of Carson’s failure to present actual evidence to support her assertions, and of the carnage that she caused.  It also demonstrates that Dunn knows little about the history or toxicology of DDT. …

Carson’s disingenuous proselytizing spurred public pressure to ban DDT in many countries, with disastrous consequences: a lack of effective control of mosquitoes that carry malaria and other diseases.  Malaria imposes huge costs on individuals, families and governments.  It inflicts a crushing economic burden on malaria-endemic countries and impedes their economic growth.  A study by the Harvard University Center for International Development estimated that a high incidence of malaria reduces economic growth by 1.3 percentage points each year.  Compounded over the four decades since the first bans of DDT, that lost growth has made some of the world’s poorest countries an astonishing 40 percent poorer than had there been more effective mosquito control. …

The legacy of Rachel Carson is that tens of millions of human lives – mostly children in poor, tropical countries – have been traded for the possibility of slightly improved fertility in raptors. 

This remains one of the monumental human tragedies of the last century.

* Henry I. Miller, a physician, is the Robert Wesson Fellow of Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover institution; he was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. Gregory Conko is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

  • BobC

    I love your blog. I’m atheist, fiscal conservative, environmentalist.

    “This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false.”

    From http://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/recovery/biologue.html

    “Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. Habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of DDT, decimated the eagle population. Habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery.”

    I don’t see anything conservative about wiping out an entire species.

    It would be so nice if America’s Republican politicians focused on the economy instead trying to lose elections with stuff like this.

    • You love our blog and are an atheist. All that I understand and appreciate. But why you should think that saving the bald eagle is worth the sacrifice of millions of people I cannot and will never understand.

      And what has the Republican Party got to do with any of it?

  • liz

    So a fraud that even fellow environmentalists denounced was the one who’s advice was followed, resulting in epic disaster for millions, and they are still following it. Could it be more obvious that they are not really interested in “serving the greater good”? In fact, it’s obvious they are specifically AGAINST the greater good. They are the fatal disease of the human race.