DDT poisoning spreads: Critics Kling to their favorite untruths

No, I’m not talking about actual poisoning by the chemical, an organochloride insecticide. I’m talking again about people driven to madness by false claims that DDT will cure malaria, that DDT is banned for use against malaria, and that some few super powerful people, all of them evil environmentalists, are forcing governments, all health workers, and the world’s tobacco companies to stop the use of DDT — ergo, they say, everyone who has died from malaria since [some point in the past that is surely the fault of environmentalists] died due to lack of DDT.

Which makes those people worse murderers than Stalin at least, so the crazies claim.

Here’s the latest fuse that set me off. I’ll analyze it below the fold, after the lecture.

Is it a virus that spreads in late summer? I’ve noted here earlier the tendency of the pro-DDT wackoes to surge out of the woodwork in summer to claim, against the facts, that West Nile virus would be no problem if there were DDT. Mosquitoes that carry West Nile are best killed in as larva, living in water; DDT is not as efficient as other larvacides, particularly when weighed against DDT’s tendency to kill everything that comes in contact with the water and the plants and animals living in and around it.

But watch: Any mention of malaria in the news, and they drop letters to the editors of every weekly newspaper in America, blaming unnamed environmentalists for killing millions in Africa, or Asia, or both. In the Bizarro™ World of DDT advocates, all insect-borne diseases were on the run until Rachel Carson personally padlocked every DDT manufacturer in the world. I have news browsers set to pick up mentions of DDT, and except for the recent surge in news about the band DDT from Russia, every day brings another internet mention of how DDT could have saved the world, if only.

Dear Reader, Dear God, there are several inaccuracies there. It’s curious that some people can get ideas so exactly contrary to the facts, contrary to reality, so often.

Arnold Kling, economist blogging at the Freedom Fund's Library of Economics and Liberty -- in this case, misblogging against science and medicine.

Arnold Kling, economist blogging at the Freedom Fund’s Library of Economics and Liberty — in this case, misblogging against science and medicine.

Wait. What’s this? There’s a trail of misinformation and disinformation we can follow. This livejournal poster links to this Wikipedia article on “seasteading,” and from there to this blog on the value of seasteading, which bases the pie-in-the-sea philosophy on the common, occasionally-but-randomly correct rant against government, based on Arnold Kling’s rant at EconLog.

Have we seen this before? Yes, Dear Reader, we have — and if you look in the comments to Kling’s rant, you’ll see Tim Lambert fiercely shoveling facts to try to put out the fires of ignorance. I even posted there — back in April. The facts, the links, the arguments, are all there, for anyone with half a brain and half a desire to do the right thing and get the facts right.

April to August (misdated September). The nutty DDT advocates are working on a four month cycle. Repeat the falsehoods every four months, three times a year (intentionally or not; some viral marketing works better if it’s not intentional, like the innocent carriers of typhoid who are unaffected by it, don’t mean to spread it around, but breath the pathogen out with every breath).

Blather, don’t bother to rinse, repeat.

It’s time someone wrote a new book on propaganda, warning of its evils.

The post I just found:

I read this post by [info]crasch which got me thinking about seasteading which landed me on this page which contains the following:

A lot of bad things happen in the world, which means there are a lot of options for those who wish to make the world a better place. And there are some consistent patterns to the badness which make some areas more fruitful than others for the advancement of humanity. Arnold Kling writes:

My co-blogger cites the number of people murdered by Stalin as an example of government-caused harm that is very difficult for the private sector to top.

Here are some more comparisons to consider:

Now, I am not an expert on any of these topics, but each of them is something I have read a bit about. And while I’m not going to claim that any of these has been definitively proven, I agree with Arnold that there is a strong case to be made that:

1. Far more people were killed in the 20th century by their own governments than by individuals.

2. More death and illness were caused by the ban on DDT than by pollution from corporations during the same time period.

3. More GDP is lost due to the drug war (particularly the labor lost from the huge prison population it creates) than by drug addiction and other negative effects of drugs.

4. Biofuel policies are causing enormous, worldwide harm (although so did subprime mortgage shenanigans – I’m not willing to make a direct comparison here).

In other words, there is a very practical, non-ideological argument that if you look at the empirical evidence, the largest concentration of badness occurs due to government action. Which is why seasteading is so enormously important. For whatever reason (and we have our ideas), the political arena turns out to be the area that is most holding us back from having a healthier, richer, happier world.

1. The total death and illness caused by all of the chemical pollution ever created vs. the death and illness caused by the ban on DDT.

2. The GDP lost due to consumption of illegal drugs vs. the GDP lost due to the drug war.

3. The deprivation and suffering caused by predatory lending and other subprime mortgage shenanigans vs. that caused by biofuel mandates.

Ranted up enough, Dear Reader? Let me note a few objections.

On the first numbered set:

  • Yes, a lot of people were killed by Stalin’s government and Mao’s government, and Pol Pot’s misgovernment. Millions more died in World War II, and I think it’s unfair to call the Nazis the government of peoples the Nazis refused to govern, or peoples from occupied nations. Same with the Japanese in China. Same with the Armenians in Turkey, and same of the Rwanda, Uganda and Congo massacres, and Bosnia and the Balkan Wars (Darfur fits). Of course, even with those caveats, the totals from Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot are way too big. I repeat the question I’ve asked here several times before: When does “never again” start?
  • We can’t know the total deaths from pollution from corporations; we do know it’s inaccurate to claim that any death was caused by malaria due to a cessation of DDT spraying. DDT spraying was stopped as a world-wide eradication campaign, in the mid-1960s, because DDT had stopped working against mosquitoes. The Scandinavian and American bans on agricultural, broadcast use of DDT followed the abandoning of DDT spraying by five to seven years. However, we need to be careful here: Among the chief reasons DDT spraying became ineffective was due to corporate overuse of the stuff on agricultural crops. I would argue, that misuse was pollution, and since it was among the principal causes of the failure of the eradication campaign, it would be more accurate to argue that corporate pollution caused any death we might ascribe to a lack of effective DDT. In short, to be accurate, we’d have to turn the tables on this claim. Corporate actions caused many millions more deaths than any move to clean up the environment.
  • Point 3 may be correct, but is out of place here. I’d wager that most of the people who support decriminalizing drug crimes tend to fall on the environmental protection side of the equation rather than the exploit-the-environment side.
  • Biofuel policies have been opposed by many environmentalists for years. In the U.S., corn-as-biofuel is pushed by the large agricultural companies, including ADM and Cargill, and by politicians from corn-growing states, few of whom would ever be mistaken for environmentalists.

If we get the premises and facts straight on the first four points, the final three “comparisons” become rather mooted.

When a rant starts out blaming malaria deaths on a lack of DDT, we know the author doesn’t know much about malaria, has not followed the history of the disease, doesn’t know much about the science behind environmental protection, and probably can’t be swayed by the facts. I have a difficult time putting credence in anything else they say. If they’re that sloppy with facts that are well-known and easy to find, could they be more accurate on more complex or obscure issues?

2 Responses to DDT poisoning spreads: Critics Kling to their favorite untruths

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Typo, Beck. As usual, you don’t note the difference between the facts and a typographical error, or between the facts and malicious fiction. Notice, for example, that the minor error affects no argument of the post, to which you have no reply.

    But, thanks for the catch!


  2. J F Beck says:

    Mr Darrell,

    You castigate those who are “sloppy with facts that are well-known”. Yet you inaccurately describe DDT as an “organo-phosphate” when it is actually an organochlorine. Really, your DDT posts are rubbish.


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