Ducking the quacks on DDT

Howard Stern may not re-up with Sirius, I hear.  That would make it easier to avoid the quackings of one of the latest and greatest cranks on DDT and malaria.

Rutledge Taylor, the erstwhile (still?) beauty-cream peddler to the stars, spoke with Stern on the telephone the day after the Pearl Harbor anniversary, apparently on the air, and demonstrated greater lunacy about DDT and malaria than in the past; the conversation was posted to YouTube.  Among other things Taylor gets dead wrong he claims:

  • Bedbugs did not develop resistance to DDT as reported in the 1950s and confirmed by recent detailed studies
  • No one studied bedbugs in the past three decades or so
  • DDT was banned to kill people, not due to any danger
  • Mosquito nets are “antiquated”
  • DDT doesn’t harm birds, doesn’t thin eggshells
  • Linus Pauling’s vitamin C studies show that DDT works
  • William Ruckelshaus completely banned DDT use everywhere, by himself, with no science to back the action

Taylor claims to have five file cabinets full of the studies on DDT, but it becomes clear that he hasn’t read any of them.  For example, he cites the erroneous claim that DDT saved 500 million lives, from a 1970 study by the National Academy of Sciences — but he’s not got the honor to tell his listeners that NAS then concluded that despite its value, DDT is too dangerous to keep using.

Stern’s newsletter said, for the December 8, 2010 program:


Howard got Dr. Rutledge Taylor on the line to discuss his DDT advocacy: “This is the guy who believes in DDT.” Robin remembered Dr. Rutledge’s infamous YouTube video: “He drank it!” Dr. Rutledge said anti-DDT activists cited faulty–or just plain old–research: “There’s not been a study on DDT and bedbugs in 30 years…it’s the safest pesticide on the planet.” Howard asked about the common claim that DDT thins bird eggs, so Dr. Rutledge said he’d never seen proof: “Total bullshit. I’ve got every study going back to 1940.”
Howard asked if Dr. Rutledge was really dating 80s pop star Debbie Gibson, and the doc confirmed it: “She’s right here. Right now.” Debbie grabbed the phone: “I’m the crazy-supportive girlfriend up in the middle of the night making this phone call with him. Look, he’s saving the world and I wrote ‘Shake Your Love.’ It’s a match made in heaven.” Howard joked: “Does Dr. Rutledge ever bring DDT into the bedroom? Rub it on you?” The doc laughed: “It’s better than chocolate.”

Back in the olden days, broadcasters had to demonstrate that they broadcast in the public interest.  Sirius needs to make no such demonstration.  Otherwise, Stern’s Know-Nothing rants on DDT, alone, would put their license into question.

Instead of urging people to donate $10 to Nothing But Nets to save a kid from malaria, Taylor insists that people should go see his movie, “3 Billion and Counting,” instead.

Fortunately, the movie is no longer in release.  So, Dear Reader, make Howard Stern apoplectic, and save a kid’s life, by sending $10 to Nothing But Nets, and ignore Stern completely.

The facts?  You can’t get them from Stern or Taylor:

6 Responses to Ducking the quacks on DDT

  1. […] Yeah, it’s a jab at Rutledge Taylor’s ill-tempered mockumentary, “3 Billion and Counting.”  No one can say what the 3 billion things are, and the movie is wildly error-prone, even […]


  2. Bug Girl says:

    OMG. What a load of hooey.

    Also, there will be a lot of entomologists quite startled to find out their last 20 years or so of research on bedbugs doesn’t exist ;p


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    I just read your post “Beating malaria without DDT” but I don’t see where you point to anything resembling peer-reviewed, replicated research that shows bed nets are more effective than IRS, which is your claim. Please post a link in your reply, for clarity.

    Is it a virus y’all have, or is it learned obnoxiousness?

    The information you ask for is contained in or linked from that post.

    Start here, at “Beating malaria without DDT.”

    You’ll notice that this post is based on two news stories about peer-reviewed research published in Lancet, one of the top two or three medical and science journals on Earth. The news stories were from Agence France Presse, and Reuters.

    The AFP story said:

    Incidence of malaria in Gambia has plunged thanks to an array of low-cost strategies, offering the tempting vision of eliminating this disease in parts of Africa, a study published Friday by The Lancet said.

    At four key monitoring sites in the small West African state, the number of malarial cases fell by between 50 percent and 82 percent between 2003 and 2007, its authors found.

    The tally of deaths from malaria, recorded at two hospitals where there had been a total of 29 fatalities out of 232 admissions in 2003, fell by nine-tenths and 100 percent in 2007. A fall of 100 percent means that no deaths attributed to malaria occurred that year.

    “A large proportion of the malaria burden has been alleviated in Africa,” the study concludes.

    The authors also found a substantial shift in the age of Gambian children being admitted for care — from an average of 3.9 years in 2003 to 5.6 years in 2007.

    This is important because young children and infants bear the brunt of malaria mortality.

    According to figures released on September 18 by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), around 247 million cases of malaria occurred in 2006, causing nearly a million deaths, mostly of children aged under five.

    Gambia’s success is due to a combination of several factors that have especially benefited pregnant women and children, says the paper.

    These include distributing insecticide-treated bed nets; programmes to spray homes; and the use of the more powerful drugs to replace treatments to which the malaria parasite has become resistant.

    The Reuters report was similar:

    In their study, Conway and his team analyzed health records covering nine years from five hospitals and health clinics in the western part of the country to track people who died of or were treated for malaria.

    Since 2003 cases of malaria and deaths dropped dramatically after funding was provided for insecticide-treated bed nets from private and public donors, Conway said.

    Hospital admissions representing thousands of cases fell by as much as 74 percent in the four years while the number of deaths at the two hospitals with the most complete records went from 29 in 2003 to just one in 2007, Conway said in a telephone interview.

    While far fewer children are dying from the disease, he cautioned that officials had not yet eradicated the condition and probably never will.

    But the case of Gambia shows that governments and charitable organizations can make a difference attacking the problem with solutions as simple as bed nets, he added.

    “The incidence of malaria, whether it is mild or severe, has gone down by a very large relative percentage,” he said. “The gains are good but there is still malaria and children are still dying of it.”

    Here’s the abstract with access to the full story, at Lancet.

    You’ll notice in reading the news reports that this research was done under the aegis of the groups who ended the DDT advocates’ policies of charging for the bed nets. Free distribution seems to work better, according to the research. Your contributions to Nothing But Nets go to free net distribution. USAID is no longer insisting on charging for the nets, as it did early in the Bush administration.


  4. karl says:


    Peer reviewed research on the effectiveness of IRS vs ITNs:

    -Pluess (2010): – “Some limited data suggest that ITN give better protection than IRS in unstable areas, but more trials are needed to compare the effects of ITNs with IRS, as well as to quantify their combined effects.”

    -Yukich (2008): – “Both ITNs and IRS are highly cost-effective vector control strategies … ITNs are more cost-effective than IRS for highly endemic settings, especially if high ITN coverage can be achieved with some demographic targeting.”

    The above two studies are about IRS generally (not necessarily with with DDT). With regard to DDT itself:

    -van den Berg (2009): – “No published data exist on cost-effectiveness in terms of cost per disability-adjusted life-year averted by IRS using DDT … Both the effectiveness and costs of DDT are dependent on local settings and merit careful consideration in relation to alternative products or methods … In 1990, the insecticide costs per house per 6 months of control were substantially lower for DDT (US$1.60) than for other insecticides (> US$3.40), but in 1998 the cost range for DDT (US$1.50–3.00) overlapped with that of alternative insecticides (> US$2.20), pyrethroids in particular. This comparison will further change with the availability of new formulations of pyrethroids that have increased residual activity.”

    The bottom is line is that there’s not a lot research directly comparing IRS with ITNs or IRS with DDT vs IRS with other chemicals, but what little research there is suggests that ITNs are slightly better and that DDT isn’t dramatically cheaper than other pesticides.

    With regard to NGOs changing donors $10/net and then selling the nets to Africans: do you have any evidence for this allegation?

    And IRS is by no means free. That’s a preposterous statement.

    Finally, have a look at this, sir: . Brand new research suggests that not only is DDT ineffective in many situations (or at least less effective than alternatives), but spraying it can actually make malaria worse in certain circumstances.


  5. xmfclick says:

    I just read your post “Beating malaria without DDT” but I don’t see where you point to anything resembling peer-reviewed, replicated research that shows bed nets are more effective than IRS, which is your claim. Please post a link in your reply, for clarity.

    Also, what is your position on the aid agencies’ policy of taking ten dollars from well-meaning Westerners on the pretext that they will be providing a bed net for someone in Africa or wherever, and then SELLING said net to said person for around five dollars, when said person probably has an income not far north of 20 dollars a month? How many poor Americans would be able to afford a quarter of a month’s income to buy a bed net, if the situation were transferred to the States? (Typically, poor people spend half their income on food and the rest on shelter.) Yes, the aid agencies say that if they have to buy a net people will treat it with more respect — which may or may not be true; the adults may but what about the kids? — but they effectively exclude the poorest and most at-risk people from using nets at all. On the other hand, AFAIK, IRS is free.


  6. karl says:

    I don’t listen to Stern anymore (not that I ever listened to him very much to being with) but doesn’t it sound a little like Stern is toying with Rutledge? Like, egging him on to sound as crazy as possible? I think maybe Stern is taking a piss at Rutledge’s expense.


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