Rising at Buffalo News: Carson was right

December 14, 2007

Gerry Rising writes a column for the great newspaper, The Buffalo News (which is part of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire/Hathaway holdings).

Rising wrote a column praising Rachel Carson near her birthday last spring, and got a lot of comment. On November 25 his column dealt with the criticisms of Carson, drawn from comments to his earlier column. Rising’s view is quite middle of the road, and points the way to why the critics of Carson seem so shrill to me.

A single quote (interestingly it was repeated in two of the communications I received) will indicate the response that bothers me: “Rachel Carson is responsible for more deaths than Pol Pot.” Sadly, that statement represents the carefully mounted and continuing attack on Carson.

DDT played an extremely important disease-controlling role in World War II, but consider the following:

• Its supporters credit DDT with eliminating malaria in this country but that disease was already largely gone here by 1939 when Hermann Mueller discovered that the chemical was lethal to insects.

• An international campaign led by Fred Soper to eliminate malaria through use of DDT that indeed saved thousands of lives had largely run out of steam by the early 1960s when “Silent Spring” was published. Mosquitoes were building up resistance and geographical factors particularly in African countries, made spraying extremely difficult. Between 1960 and 1989 deaths from malaria actually decreased when treatment shifted from insecticides to medicine.

• Carson never did call for banning DDT and other pesticides in “Silent Spring.” She wrote, “It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I contend that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife and man himself.”

• The 1972 Environmental Protection Agency ban of DDT in America was instituted 10 years after “Silent Spring” was published and eight years after the author’s death from cancer. Although Carson’s influence was evident, the act cites substantial scientific evidence of DDT’s adverse effects on wildlife and increased insect resistance.

• The focus of “Silent Spring” was on the indiscriminative use of insecticides for agricultural purposes, not on its use as a public health measure. Carson critics have made much of the World Health Organization’s 2006 approval of DDT, but that approval is “under strict control and only for indoor residual spraying,” thus exactly the kind of use Carson supported.

Quote of the moment: Wolfgang Pauli, “not even wrong.”

December 14, 2007

Wolfgang Pauli, before 1945 - Nobel Foundation photo
Photograph of Wolfgang Pauli, circa 1929; photo from Nobel Foundation.

That’s not right. It’s not even wrong.

From Wikipedia:

Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), as quoted by R. Peierls

Peierls (1960) writes of Pauli, “… a friend showed him the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly ‘That’s not right. It’s not even wrong'”.  (Peierls  R  (1960). “Wolfgang Ernst Pauli, 1900-1958”. Biographical memoirs of fellows of the Royal Society 5: 174-92. Royal Society (Great Britain))

Pauli won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945:  “At this stage of the development of atomic theory, Wolfgang Pauli made a decisive contribution through his discovery in 1925 of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or Pauli principle. The 1945 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Pauli for this discovery.”

Bill of Rights Day, December 15

December 14, 2007

Courtesy the Bill of Rights Institute, a few “did you knows” about the Bill of Rights:

Did You Know?

The Bill of Rights was ratified December 15, 1791.

Congress adopted twelve amendments, of which only ten were ratified by the states by 1791.

Over 200 years later, one more of the original twelve, concerning compensation for Congress was ratified on May 7, 1992, becoming the Twenty-Seventh Amendment.

James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights and was inspired, in part, by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason.

The Bill of Rights initially applied only to the federal government; however, the Supreme Court, through the Fourteenth Amendment, has incorporated some portions to apply to the states.

Only 17 amendments have been ratified since the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Religion as science in Texas: Graduate degrees in creationism?

December 14, 2007

The venerable missionary group known as the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) moved its headquarters from California to Dallas a few months ago. Anyone who follows science education in America is familiar with this group, who deny that the Earth can be more than a few thousands of years old, who argue that geology, astronomy, chemistry and biology are all based on faulty premises.

Dallas is a good location for a missionary agency that flies to churches around the U.S. to make pitches for money and preach the gospel of their cult. DFW Airport provides same-day flights to most of the U.S. Airlines are glad to have their business.

Years ago ICR tried to get approval from the State of California to grant graduate degrees in science, because their brand of creationism is not taught in any research university, or any other institution with an ethics code that strives for good information and well-educated graduates. ICR got permission only after setting up their own accrediting organization which winks, blinks and turns a blind eye to what actually goes on in science courses taught there. It is unclear if anyone has kept count, but there appear to be a few people with advanced degrees in science from this group, perhaps teaching in the public schools, or in charter schools, or in odd parochial settings.

With a new home in Texas, ICR needs permission of Texas authorities to grant graduate degrees. Texas Observer reported that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board put off consideration of the issue until their meeting of January 24 (no action was planned for this meeting, so failure to grant this authority to ICR should not be taken as any sign that the board is opposed to granting it).

Humor aside, this is a major assault on the integrity of education in Texas. For example, here is a statement on college quality from the Higher Education Coordinating Board; do you think ICR’s program contributes in any way, or detracts from these goals?

Enrolling and graduating hundreds of thousands more students is a step in the right direction. But getting a degree in a poor quality program will not give people the competitive edge they need in today’s world economy. Academic rigor and excellence are essential – both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We also need to attract and support more research in the state for the academic and economic benefits it provides.

Check out the Texas Observer‘s longer post on the issue, and since comments are not enabled there, how about stating here your views on the issue? Comment away.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Texas Citizens for Science.

No, this is not a joke.  Here is the agenda for the meeting this week, in .pdf form.

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