John Stossel’s new book makes a detour to rail against the regulation of DDT and against Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring.
I’ve not read the book, but from what I’ve read about it, he’s got it dead wrong. If the example offered by Grokmedia is their own, and not Stossel’s, shame on them. (Stossel’s complained about DDT before, though, and gotten the facts as wrong as Grokmedia has them.) The claims are unbelievable:
Consider the chemical DDT. I’m sure, if you’ve heard anything at all about DDT, it’s that it’s a horrible, deadly chemical, that must be banned to preserve the public’s safety. The truth is, the only thing DDT affects are mosquitos. Not humans. In fact, I’m old enough to remember trucks pulling through our neighborhood and spraying the stuff into the air, like gigantic clouds, bringing death – to the mosquito population. These clouds of DDT harmed no one. There were no great increases in any kind of cancer or other fatal diseases – and certainly none that could be associated with DDT. Enter the book, Silent Spring.
A woman by the name of Rachel Carson wrote a book that vilified DDT, and blamed our love of chemical solutions for her own cancer. (She died of breast cancer two years after the publication of her book.) Silent Spring is almost single-handedly credited with triggering a worldwide ban on DDT. The result of this ban has been, paradoxically enough, millions of deaths in countries like Ethiopia, where malaria kills due to mosquito infestations. U.S. aid policy bans sending money to any country that chooses to spray with DDT.
How did Silent Spring cause this wave of destruction? Marketing. The book was marketed by it’s publishers. The marketing efforts attracted the attention of a mainstream media hungry for stories that scare the populace to death. The unwashed masses Demanded That Something Be Done. Politicians, eager to grandstand (and free of conciences that might give them pause to think about the Law of Unintended Consequences) passed laws, and that was that.
Here’s what I wrote in comments to the post at Grokmedia, which appears to have gone into their own hell for any post that disagrees with their views:
Stossel said that about DDT? Once again, he’s gone off the rails.
Do you seriously think that a book publisher with its meager PR budget could derail a multi-billion-dollar pesticide manufacturing industry that was led by several of America’s top 100 corporations? Do you think corporations are really that incompetent at the public relations game?
The truth is that DDT was banned because of its harm to the environment, not due to its dangers to human health (though, to be perfectly accurate we should note that every cancer-fighting agency on Earth says DDT is a probably human carcinogen, and recent research has strengthened the links between cancer in people exposed to DDT in their mother’s breast milk and in utero, and that DDT is now known to be a rather nasty endocrine disruptor in all animals). More than a thousand studies confirmed the dangers of DDT to birds and other predators higher up in food chains, especially in estuarine waters.
No one passed a law banning DDT. If the action was popular, that was beside the point. In 1962, in response to the half-million-dollar slander campaign against Carson by the pesticide manufacturers (don’t take my word for it — look it up), President Kennedy asked his Science Advisory Council to scrutinize the book. In May 1963 they reported back that Carson was correct on all counts but one — they said Carson went too easy on the dangers of DDT, and that action needed to be taken right away to stop its use. Kennedy dallied, however, and did little before he died.
The “ban” on DDT came nearly a decade later, in 1972. It was not due to any “junk science” law (an interesting claim since it is based on junk science itself). Two federal courts had ordered EPA to speed up its analysis of the registration of the pesticide, in lieu of simply ordering the stuff off the market after two entirely different lawsuits. Pesticide manufacturers had been defendants in both lawsuits, and they put up a more than vigorous fight — but they lost on the science.
EPA dragged its feet, but finally acted against DDT in 1972, effectively banning the broadcast spraying of DDT on crops, but leaving it available for things like malaria control. Of course the ruling was challenged in court, since under U.S. law, had the ruling been only popular, and not based on considerable evidence, the courts would have been obligated to nullify the ruling. In two separate challenges, the courts ruled that EPA’s action was solidly based on the scientific evidence, and therefore would stand.
That’s quite a bit different from the picture Stossel paints, I gather. Is this, perhaps, his first foray into fiction?
And, did you catch the contradictions? The author claims mosquito abatement in Ethiopia is hampered by a lack of U.S. aid, as a result of Rachel Carson’s book in 1962. Do they know that George Bush is president? Do they really think Bush and Cheney are tools of Rachel Carson? Do they know that bed nets have cut malaria rates by half where they were used in Ethiopia?
Looks like another example of DDT poisoning to me.