Jay Ambrose: Still wrong about DDT and malaria

February 27, 2011

Propagandists against Rachel Carson and — inexplicably — for DDT awoke a few weeks ago.  We’re seeing a flurry of op-eds, opinion pieces and other editorial placements making false claims for DDT, and against Rachel Carson, one of the science heroes of the 20th century.

The campaign of hoaxes, urging more and heavier use of DDT, and falsely impugning environmentalists, continues.  Alas.

Jay Ambrose of Scripps Howard News Service, still wrong about DDT

Jay Ambrose of Scripps Howard News Service, still wrong about DDT

Jay Ambrose used to be a full-time editor for the Scripps Howard newspapers.  Since he retired he writes occasional opinion pieces.  In the past three years or so he’s mentioned his desire to bring back the poison DDT, to poison Africa in the hope it might also get malaria, for example.

A few weeks ago he went after global warming with the same alacrity and lack of accurate information.

Let’s review a few facts about the history of DDT:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) carried on a super-ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria from the world starting in 1955.  It was a race against time — super malaria-fighter Fred Soper, who spearheaded early campaigns for the Rockefeller Foundation , understood that overuse of DDT in agriculture or any other venue could push malaria-carrying mosquitoes to develop resistance to DDT.  WHO’s campaign involved Indoor Residual Spraying of DDT, coating the walls of homes with the stuff; then with biting mosquitoes reduced, a careful campaign of medical care would cure human victims of the disease.  When the mosquitoes came roaring back at the end of the campaign, there would be no infected humans from whom the insects could get the parasite that causes the disease — voila! — no more malaria.  WHO lost the race; by 1965 Soper’s group already found resistant and immune mosquitoes in central Africa, and most of the nations in the Subsaharan Africa had not  been able to mount an anti-malaria campaign. DDT use in Africa was scaled back, therefore, and by 1969, WHO’s international board voted to abandon the campaign, made impossible to complete by abuse of DDT.
  • Seven years after WHO was forced to stop using DDT by DDT abuse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT from use outdoors on agricultural crops, under the watchful eye of two federal courts who had previously determined DDT to be dangerous and uncontrollable in the wild. EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus short-circuited a total ban on DDT, however; his order specifically allowed U.S. manufacturers to continue making DDT, greatly increasing the amount of DDT available to any nation who wanted to use it to fight malaria or any other disease.
  • Even though DDT was cheap and plentiful, however, many African nations found it simply did not work anymore. Work continued to fight DDT through all other means including especially treating the disease in humans, and malaria incidence and deaths continued to decline.
  • At the end of the 1970s, the malaria parasites began to develop resistance to chloroquine and other traditional drugs used to cure humans of the stuff.  It was a shortage of drugs to treat humans that caused the uptick in malaria over a decade ago, not a lack of DDT.  Progress against malaria slowed for a few years, until artemisinin-based drugs were discovered to work against the disease, and means could be found to speed up production of the drug (originally from a Chinese plant, a member of the wormwood family).
  • By the turn of the century, it became clear that a miracle, one-punch solution to beat malaria is unlikely to be found.  Many nations turned to a method of malaria control including “integrated vector management,” which includes the use of pesticides (including DDT) in careful rotation to prevent mosquitoes from developing resistance or immunity to any one poison. This is the method championed by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book, Silent Spring.
  • At the time of the U.S. ban on DDT use on crops, annual malaria deaths ran about 2 million.  By 2000, that rate had been cut in half, to about 1 million annually.  Today, and since 2005, the annual death toll to malaria has been estimated by WHO to be under 900,000 — less than half the death rate in 1972 when the U.S. banned DDT use on crops, and a 75% reduction in deaths in 1960, when DDT use was at its peak.  Malaria deaths today are the lowest in human history.
  • DDT Malaria continues to be a priority disease, with added emphasis in the past decade with massive interventions funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the President’s Initiative on Malaria.   Bill Gates is regarded as a great optimist, but he says he is working to eradicate malaria from the world.   Key tools of the eradication campaign are bednets, which are cheaper and more effective than DDT, and integrated vector management.  The Gates Foundation campaign strikes continuing blows of great magnitude against the disease in those nations where it can work.

Few of these facts are acknowledged by Jay Ambrose, who wrongly claims that DDT had alone been the great vanquisher of malaria, and who claims that Africans, unduly swayed by a long-dead Rachel Carson, had failed to use DDT though they knew in their hearts it would save their children.

About once a year Ambrose trots out his misunderstandings of history, law and science, and slams Rachel Carson and those who banned DDT from cotton crops in Texas, falsely blaming them for malaria deaths in Africa.  His article of the past few weeks was picked up by the Detroit News.  Warning that our fight against global warming is as wrong-headed as saving the bald eagle from DDT, he wrote:

The main thing is to avoid what happened with DDT. Because of a ban to protect wildlife from the pesticide in this country, it became more scarce, and a consequence was its being employed sparingly if at all in wildlife-safe, indoor spraying to combat malaria in Africa. Though not always, DDT can be enormously effective in stopping the disease while posing minimal threats.

The estimate is that millions of African children died because of misplaced values and overreactions.

That’s worse than heartbreaking.
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110221/OPINION01/102210305/Don’t-overreact-to-possible-global-warming#ixzz1FDv1ZhkY

When I chided Ambrose for getting the facts wrong many months ago, he angrily promised to come back to this blog and provide evidence to make his case.  Of course, he never did.  There is no such evidence.

Then why does he continue to falsely indict Rachel Carson, William Ruckelshaus and EPA, and “environmentalists,” and wrongly urge the poisoning of Africa with DDT?

I do not know.

Are his views on global warming similarly in error?  If history shows a trend, yes.

Education reforms working? Poverty, poor test results correlate in national study. What could it mean?

February 27, 2011

More from Greg Laden’s blog that deserves your attention, and a much wider audience.

The Science component of “The Nation’s Report Card” was released today and clearly indicates that we have moved one step closer as a nation in two of our most important goals: Building a large and complacent poorly educated low-pay labor class, and increasing the size of our science-illiterate populace in order to allow the advance of medieval morality and Iron Age Christian values.

The plan to sabotage the middle class, kill teachers unions and keep most Americans stupid, is working.

That was the plan, right?

Pay no attention to that teapot tempest in Wisconsin.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  You are getting sleepy, very, very sleepy . . .

Get the facts:

Teachers, compare your class results:

Mapping Australia’s history, in a .gif

February 27, 2011

Interesting .gif from Wikipedia:

History of Australia, in a map on a .gif

Political boundaries in Australia, and their changes

I like using such .gifs in PowerPoints, just one more way to add some interest and a lot more information to a session of “direct instruction.”  Do you know of other .gifs that could be used for U.S. history, or other history courses?  Please list them in comments.

Especially let us know if you find errors in this one.

Or errors in this one, which covers deeper time:

History of Autralian political boundaries, from discovery by Europeans

History of Autralian political boundaries, from discovery by Europeans

Laden’s late; but, is Yellowstone gonna blow AND TAKE US WITH IT?

February 26, 2011

The veteran reader of this blog — can there be more than one? — may recall the kerfuffle a couple of years ago when there was a “swarm” of earthquakes in the Yellowstone.  Alas for those prone to panic attacks, the swarm ran through the Hanukkah/Ramadan/Christmas/KWANZAA/New Year’s holidays, when other news is slack.

Yellowstone Caldera, Smith and Siegel 2000

What the Yellowstone Caldera might look like from space, by moonlight, on a clear night, if you can imagine the borders of Yellowstone National Park very vividly – Smith and Siegel, 2000

You might understand, then, why I say Greg Laden turns his considerable story-telling prowess to the issue late.  Still, his prowess towers over the rest of us, and he tells a great story.

Is the Yellowstone safe? he asks, rhetorically.

The answer is complex:

1) Wear a seat belt when driving around in the region;

2) Don’t feed the bears and make sure you understand bear safety; and

3) Somebody is going to get blasted by some kind of volcano in the area some day, but even if you live there the chances are it won’t be you.

The joy is in the journey — go read Laden’s explanation of the rising lava.  Heck, even those of us who think we know that stuff understand it better when he explains it.

Earlier in the Bathtub:

Also see:

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Who said that?

February 25, 2011

When I wrote about George Santayana’s observation that, “Only the dead have seen the end of war,” I didn’t realize it was a quote with controversy over the attribution.

English: Spanish-American philosopher and writ...

He said it: Spanish-American philosopher and writer George Santayana, early in his career (Photo: Wikipedia)

Ridley Scott‘s outstanding 2001 movie, “Blackhawk Down,” opened with the quote, but attributing it to Plato, according to Plato expert Bernard Suzanne in Paris.  One philosopher is as good as another, you might say, so it’s understandable that a good line from a modern philosopher like Santayana might be attributed to one of the most famous philosophers of all time (“they all look alike,” I hear someone saying).  Or, the cynics might say, perhaps Santayana lifted it from Plato — after all, who but another philosopher would actually read the stuff?  Who would know?

Suzanne’s sleuthing is impressive if only because it shows the murkiness of the issue.  According to Suzanne:

  • The quote is popular among American soldiers (ask one — report back in comments).
  • Michael Takiff found it attributed to Plato by a U.S. soldier in Vietnam, writing home, in a book published in 2003.
  • No one has found it in any of Plato’s dialogues — at least, no one Suzanne can find.
  • Gen. Douglas MacArthur used the quote in a farewell address to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in 1962, attributing it to Plato.  That would be a likely source of its popularity among U.S. soldiers.
  • The Imperial War Museum, in London, has the quote engraved on its walls, attributed to Plato.  The museum opened in 1936.  Santayana’s version was published in 1922.
  • Reminder: Santayana said it here: Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies, number 25 (1922)

Who put it on the wall of the Imperial War Museum, and why did they misattribute it, just a dozen years after Santayana wrote it?


Quote from George Santayana misattributed to Plato

Quote from George Santayana misattributed to Plato, on a coffee mug from Zazzle


What trains? An insult to fascists . . .

February 25, 2011

XKCD cartoon on difficulty of dealing with fascists in jurisdictions where Godwin's Law applies

XKCD cartoon on difficulty of dealing with fascists in jurisdictions where Godwin's Law applies

Earlier today I stumbled on this claim that Godwin’s Law has been suspended:

3. Godwin’s Law

Made obsolete by the Neocons.
Thanks to the Neocons, Godwin’s law is now obsolete.

And then Jim made me smile with this one, in comments down below that really need to be lifted up a bit to higher visibility:

The Anarcho-Libertarianism advocated by the Tea Party and much of the modern GOP is far, far more dangerous. You see, say what you will about the Fascists…but they make the trains run on time. Under the Anarcho-Libertarians, there either ARE no trains…or they operate when and where the privatized rail companies please…and without such pesky intrusions or encumbrances like safety checks. Who needs safe tracks anyway? Let the buyer beware, right? Sure…the market will solve everything. If one trainload of passengers (or toxic waste) derails…not to worry! The free market fairies will sprinkle their magic free market dust all over the wreckage and next time…it won’t happen. Probably. Maybe. Well…what do you expect? We can’t have gub’mint involved, can we?

And of course, the screaming irony here behind trains and fascism and anarcho-conservatism and Scott Walker is that he queered the deal on high speed rail to begin with. Who needs thousands of new jobs in this humming economy?

Yeah, I know. I am all over the place on this one. But I really do agree with you. Equating Governor Walker with a stupid and evil form of governance like fascism is just plain wrong.

And an insult to fascists.

Of course, Leo Strauss’s reductio ad hitlerum does not mean that, anyone’s noting that an idea’s having been shared by Hitler does not make it bad, also does not make the idea good.

Yeah, I tracked the cartoon down — it is, indeed, from XKCD.

A fungus to fight malaria?

February 24, 2011

From a report in The Scientist Daily today:

Researchers have engineered transgenic fungi that drill into mosquitoes and kill the malaria parasite inside — the first tool of its kind — a February 25, 2011 study in Science reported.

Used in conjunction with traditional insecticide methods against mosquitoes, experts say this bioinsecticide has the potential to greatly improve malaria eradication efforts.

Mosquito infected with pathogenic fungus Metarhizium
Image: Courtesy of Raymond St. Leger

“This is a great example of trying to be innovative and use novel ways to look at this problem,” said Matt Thomas, a disease ecologist at Penn State who was not involved in the research. “It’s a move outside the existing insecticide paradigm, which has dominated parasite and vector control for 40-50 years.”

Read more: Fungus fights malaria? – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/58028/#ixzz1EuapNz8Z
Difficulties in developing this solution for use in the field promise no quick results.  Testing remains to be done on the process — and then there is the issue of how to infect the proper species of mosquito in the field.  Additionally, since this process involves genetic modification, there will be a raft of government approvals to contend with before deploying it, if it ever is deployed.

Unfortunately, putting the new technique into action may not be an easy task. “There are already difficult challenges in taking forward biopesticide technology,” said Thomas. “Now we’re adding in the additional regulatory and ethical issues around genetically modified organisms. It’s not a hurdle we should just dismiss as unimportant.”

Researchers at several different places pursue very different routes to help ease malaria — not one of them involving an increase in DDT use.
  • Original article in Science:
    W. Fang et al., “Development of Transgenic Fungi That Kill Human Malaria Parasites in Mosquitoes,” Science 311: 1074-77 

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