DDT propaganda machine

Media Check carries edited excerpts from a book by Daniel Gutstein from last year, Not A Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy (Key Porter, 2009) by Donald Gutstein, Key Porter (2009).

In the excerpted chapter Gutstein details how nefarious interest groups conspired to ruin the reputation of Rachel Carson and environmental protection activists with false claims about DDT and environmentalist aims.

The problem with the coverage of the DDT issue and with the eco-imperialism charge is that they are based on falsehoods that the media did not investigate. Former CBC-TV National News anchor Knowlton Nash once said that “…our job in the media… is to… provide a searchlight probing for truth through the confusing, complicated, cascading avalanche of fact and fiction.” In this case, the media let their audiences down; fiction prevailed over fact.

Despite what the pro-DDT organizations alleged, DDT was not banned for use in mosquito control and could continue to be used in 25 countries in malarial regions. In these countries, limited amounts of DDT can be sprayed on the inside walls of houses to combat malaria-carrying mosquitoes. “The environmental community is collaborating with the World Health Organization to ensure that the phase-out of the remaining uses of DDT does not undermine the battle against malaria and the well-being of people living in malarial zones,” the United Nations Environmental Programme reported when the treaty came into force.

Has anyone read the book?  Has anyone seen it?  (So what if it’s aimed at Canada?)

More thoughts:  Years ago, when Jan Brunvand first achieved some fame cataloging urban myths, it occurred to me that his books should be required reading in the very first survey classes in journalism school.   Maybe they should be required reading in political science, rhetoric, and philosophy, too.

Gutstein’s book would be a good reader for a class on reporting, or investigative reporting, or science reporting, or political reporting.  I’m not sure where it would fit in to a science curriculum, but I wish more scientists came out of undergraduate years aware that they can get hammered by these hoax-selling, axe-grinding disinformation machines.  All those reports about how Rachel Carson is the “murderer of millions?”  They coarsen dialog, they misinform, disinform and malinform the public.  They do great disservice to citizenship and voters, and ultimately, to our democratic institutions.

It’s not enough to have a counter, good-information plan.  These people must be convinced to stop.


4 Responses to DDT propaganda machine

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    By the by, the comments feature for the global warming discussion has been turned off. I’ll assume (based on no data whatsoever) that it was unintentional, since you asked me a question in your last post.

    I didn’t intend to turn off comments, and according to everything on this side, they are still accepted.

    Odd. Maybe a momentary system burp.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Unfortunately, DDT bans in the U.S. dried up the availability of DDT worldwide, temporarily (?) increasing the incidence of malaria. Boo science!

    Not so. Banning DDT in the U.S. made a surplus of DDT worldwide, and dropped the price. Ruckelshaus’s ruling explicitly left the license for manufacturing DDT alone, so U.S. chemical companies continued making DDT, and increased their output, for export. They kept it up until the day before the Superfund became law. It would have made them liable for their wastes had they continued operation for one more day, so most of them declared bankruptcy, took their profits and ran overseas. Today, DDT is manufactured in gross quantities in India and China (it was formerly manufactured in Africa). We have several former manufacturing sites in the U.S. where the government has been cleaning up since 1984.

    DDT has never been banned in Africa, nor has there ever been a shortage of the chemical at cheap prices.

    By the way, WHO essentially stopped using DDT in Africa by 1966. DDT had ceased being effective in malaria fighting. That was six years before we banned DDT for use on cotton in Texas.

    What bugs me about these discussions is the absolute whopping stupidity put out by pro-DDT, pro-pollution pundits, that innocents then pick up as truths.

    When we stopped using DDT in the U.S., most use in Africa had been stopped for a half decade. Clearly the U.S. ban could not have worked retroactively over time. When we banned DDT, we stopped spraying in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Mosquitoes have never migrated from Texas, Louisiana or Arkansas, to Africa.

    So, it’s just wrong to say that the U.S. ban on DDT affected Africans at all.


  3. Geoman says:

    By the by, the comments feature for the global warming discussion has been turned off. I’ll assume (based on no data whatsoever) that it was unintentional, since you asked me a question in your last post.

    I am very much old enough to remember the ozone hole. In fact that is a very apt analogy.

    First of all, as you are aware, banning CFCs was many orders of magnitude easier than banning carbon dioxide. I don’t recall anyone thinking that “cheating” would be a big problem, and there seems to have been limited cheating anyway. The Montreal protocol was negotiated in just two years, with most nations signing on. Really, more similar to the DDT ban than what is being proposed for carbon dioxide.

    Secondly, how’s that old ozone hole doing? Unfortunately, it is still there. In fact, it seems to be getting worse. So the banning of CFCs appears to have little, if any, impact in the first 10 years. Maybe we will see it start to diminish in the next 100 years. Yep – that’s how long CFCs are likely to persist. Sorry it wasn’t in the news – it seems an ozone hole is the new normal.

    The same will be true for carbon dioxide, but expect about a 250 year lag between a reduction in emissions and a lowering of atmospheric concentrations. So goes the math as we know it.

    This seems to be a pattern here – you tend to post remarks without understanding much (if anything) about the actual history and science of what you are saying.

    Look at the amount of carbon dioxide we are emitting. Estimate how many years and at what rate, under the most aggressive scenario imaginable, we could ramp that down, then ask yourself, will carbon dioxide concentrations rise during that period of time from 380 ppm to 450 ppm, with 450 being the well established cut off before global catastrophe?

    The answer is incandescently obvious. At best we will reach 600 ppm. At worst 800 ppm. If global warming is being caused by carbon dioxide, we are already doomed – even if we stop as fast as we can, a feedback loop will prevent any reversal. Or so says gobal warming advocates. This was true way back when Kyoto was negotiated.

    So…smoke em if you got em.


  4. Geoman says:

    DDT was banned to save birds in the U.S., and it worked. Bird populations recovered. Yeah science!

    Unfortunately, DDT bans in the U.S. dried up the availability of DDT worldwide, temporarily (?) increasing the incidence of malaria. Boo science!

    Did the banning of DDT inadvertently lead to the death of millions? Maybe. Maybe not millions. maybe just hundreds. Maybe just one person. Does that make you feel any better about it? Why does the absolute number matter at all?

    Certainly it was unintentional. No one should hold Carson responsible. She did a good thing.

    What bugs me about these discussions is the absolutism on both sides. Carson pointed out a huge problem with DDT usage. We stopped usage, and because of that decision, many, mostly poor brown people, died. Was curtailing DDT usage worth it? Maybe, maybe not. Depends how you slice and dice the facts.

    I come down in favor of the ban. Hey, it may have been a bit tough on the third world poor, but persistent organic pollutants are ultimately a bad thing, and should be controlled. But let’s get away from the she killed millions/she as an sanctified angel arguments.


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