Why it’s important to have accurate history and science on the internet: Don’t lie to kids about DDT

Great accomplishment by this kid from Hudson, Massachusetts — but troubling, too.  He’s winning a persuasive speech competition, persuading people against history, law and science, calling for a return of DDT.

Andrew Brandt of Hudson MA, persuasive speaking champion

Andrew Brandt of Hudson holds his winning certificate at the regional speech and debate tournament in New Hampshire in April. He was one of seven to advance to the national competition. (Photo/submitted)

Hudson – Andrew Barndt, 13, from Hudson will be traveling to Tulsa, Okla., in June to join more than 500 students competing in a National Speech and Debate Tournament.

Andrew has qualified to compete in the Persuasive Speech category with the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). Home-schooled students aged 12 to 18 compete at local and regional tournaments around the country in the winter and spring, culminating in the national tournament in June.

In April, at the regional tournament in Concord, N.H., 27 students competed in the Persuasive Speech category. Andrew’s speech, “DDT: What You Think You Know May Not Be So,” was one of seven chosen to move on the national competition.

According to the NCFCA, “a persuasive speech is an original platform speech that attempts to persuade the audience to adopt a particular point of view or course of action.”

A competitor will give a speech three times in front of different three-judge panels. Judges can be other parents, members of the community or former competitors. The judges rank them on 17 criteria, including: using outside evidence, relating a clear thesis, demonstrating a logical flow of ideas, incorporating proper vocal technique, having good energy level and making eye contact. The top candidates advance to a final round and the winners are decided. Winners receive a trophy and recognition on the NCFCA website.

Andrew will present his winning speech at the national competition held at Oral Roberts University June 18-22. His speech has three parts: debunking the myth of birds’ eggs being harmed due to DDT, disproving the claim that DDT causes cancer in humans, and pointing out that DDT has saved hundred of millions of lives by reducing mosquitoes that carry malaria. He concludes by urging his listeners to repeal the ban on DDT.

“I’m an avid birdwatcher,” Andrew said. “which is how I became familiar with DDT in the first place.”

According to his mother, Ann Barndt, Andrew also competes in debate. “This year he and his brother, Jonathan, 16, partnered together as a team,” she said. “However, their record was not high enough to advance.”

She said the brothers did enjoy preparing for the tournaments, researching various aspects of the this year’s topic, the United Nations. They plan to partner together again next year.

“As for my future, I’m still thinking about how to merge [bird watching] with a sustainable livelihood,” Andrew said.

For more information about the tournament, visit www.ncfca.org.

At the site of the Hudson Community Advocate, I offered what I hope is gentle but persuasive advice to the kid, from one old debater to another:

I commend the young man on his speaking prowess — but he needs a lot of help with his research chops.

1. Birds eggs are harmed by DDT; worse, that’s just one of four ways DDT kills birds. It also poisons chicks outright, in the eggs, poisons the adults (especially migratory birds), and it disrupts the nervous systems of chicks so that, even when they do hatch, they don’t survive.

2. Although it’s a weaker carcinogen, DDT is listed as a “suspected human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society, CDC and WHO. DDT’s carcinogenic qualities were evidenced long after EPA banned its use because it kills wildlife systems.

3. While DDT played a role in defeating malaria in some countries, it was overused, and it ceased to be so effective as it was. However, malaria rates of infection and total deaths from malaria now are much, much lower than they ever were with DDT. Since malaria deaths are reduced by more than 75%, it’s incorrect math to claim millions died without DDT, wholly apart from the history.

3.1 DDT has never been banned for use against malaria, anywhere. The U.S. ban on DDT, in fact, allowed manufacturing to continue in the U.S., with all DDT dedicated to export. So the U.S. ban, which saved the bald eagle, osprey, peregrine falcon and brown pelican, among others, also multiplied the amount of DDT available to fight malaria in Africa and Asia.

Andrew must be very, very persuasive, to persuade people that DDT, a deadly and mostly useless pollutant, should be revived. Good luck to him in his tournament, and good luck finding better sources next year.

Mr. Brandt must be excused, partly, for his error.  There remains a dedicated and well-funded disinformation assault on the reputation of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, on the World Health Organization, on malaria fighters, on scientists and “environmentalists,” and this assault largely succeeds in ruthlessly elbowing aside the facts in internet searches, and elsewhere.  Fox News still employs serial-prevaricator Steven Milloy whose assault hoaxes on Carson and science of DDT should be more legendary than they are.  So-called Christian organizations join the political fray, while Christians like the Methodists actually fight malaria with the Nothing But Nets campaign — the workers are too busy to crow, the crowers are too busy to fight malaria.  (One may wonder about this Christian debate group — it caters to the small band of home schoolers.  Their evidence standards aside — standards which would disqualify most of the claims against Rachel Carson and for DDT — one wonders how a speaker would fare in this competition,  who praised Rachel Carson and the EPA for banning DDT, and for keeping the ban.  Accuracy of information is not among the criteria to be used in judging.)

The problem with lying to kids is they often believe the lies.  This isn’t a case of scientific disputes, or conflicting studies or information.  Not a jot nor tittle of Rachel Carson’s research citations has ever been questioned.  What she wrote about DDT in 1962 remains valid today, supported by more than a thousand follow-up studies and contradicted by none.  The destructive nature of DDT on bird populations is not questioned by scientists nor experienced bird watchers.  Where did this well-intentioned kid get led so far astray?

Science communicators?  What’s the solution to this problem?


8 Responses to Why it’s important to have accurate history and science on the internet: Don’t lie to kids about DDT

  1. […] Why it’s important to have accurate history and science on the internet: Don’t lie to ki… (timpanogos.wordpress.com) […]


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  4. Porlock Junior says:

    Alas, it was several years ago, and you may be getting old enough to know what that means: anything from 2 to 12 years ago, or thereabouts. Seriously, I don’t know how I could track it down. I do have the impression that the recognition he got was from something that sounded legitimate; but after all, this new one would not be transparently phony without the Oral Roberts connection.


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Alarob, the book is published by Regnery, which is little more than a crazy-right wing vanity press. I understand the family press is now headed by Al Regnery, who was appointed head of juvenile justice at the Department of Justice in the Reagan administration.

    He showed up for his confirmation hearing in a car with a bumpersticker that said, “Have you slugged your kid today?”

    It was sticky, but he got approved. He promised the Senate Judiciary Committee it was a joke sticker, and not his views.

    Judging by this book, he lied.


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Porlock, was it a presentation at this group’s event? Do you remember the subject? It’s not ringing bells with me.

    Alarob, thanks for the heads up. I didn’t know such a “text” existed, but it’s likely someone will try to sneak it into the Texas approval process (unlikely to succeed, but vigilance is always helpful).


  7. alarob says:

    You asked how “this well-intentioned kid” came to be “led so far astray.” One likely contributor is Facts not Fear, a textbook on environmental issues, produced for home-school consumption, with uncredited assistance from the Alabama Policy Institute.

    From my review: The authors’ “method mostly consists of amassing anecdotes, omitting unfriendly evidence (while preaching about respect for “science”), and keeping strict silence about topics that cannot be easily spun.[…] [Young readers] are likely to come away thinking that ‘garbage”’consists entirely of household waste, and that industrial plants are just bigger versions of their own households.[…] And the biggest threats to the environment? Government regulation and public ownership of land, of course.”

    DDT is the only toxic substance mentioned in this volume, and then only in the terms you’ve described above. The book first appeared in 1996 and has been translated into Turkish and Spanish, according to Worldcat. (That link can also tell you where copies may be deposited near your ZIP code.)


  8. Porlock Junior says:

    Ummm… Finals held at Oral Roberts University? Right. Next year, a finalist will be presenting a really good persuasive case for the non-historicity of Jesus Christ. Good to know the kid will get a fair hearing.

    BTW, does anyone remember the genuinely very smart kid who got much publicity a few years ago for a great presentation on some right-wing BS? And a couple of years later recanted, because, you know, growth.


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