Misquoting the founders, still: Jefferson didn’t say banking is the end of America

May 20, 2015

He may have believed something similar, but Jefferson did not say this:

Quote, maybe edited, falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; gathered from Twitter, 2015

Quote, maybe edited, falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; gathered from Twitter, 2015

I’m not sure who originated the poster.  They probably had good intentions.

But turn to the Monticello website, the scholars who track Jefferson’s words most closely, in February 2012.

Quotation: “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Sources consulted:

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Digital Edition
  2. Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in Hathi Trust Digital Library
  3. Retirement Papers

Earliest known appearance in print: 19941

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: see above

Status:  This exact quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.  It may be a mistaken amalgamation of the author’s comments in the above 1994 reference with a real Jefferson quotation.  Jefferson wrote in 1825 to William Branch Giles of “vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”2  Chomsky’s 1994 book quotes Jefferson’s 1825 letter to Giles and then comments that “[Jefferson] warned that that would be the end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution.”

Jefferson didn’t like the idea of the marriage of banks, rich people and control of government policy.  Jefferson scholar Anna Berkes commented at the Monticello site:

Yes, I’ve quoted this letter myself above – I’m seeing that quote a lot lately. The full sentence as it appeared in Jefferson’s letter is, “I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country.” The letter was first published in Ford’s Writings of Thomas Jefferson in 1892 (see http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t3pv6bn68?urlappend=%3Bseq=93 – the edition you link to is a 1904 commemorative edition of Ford), and the polygraph copy is also online: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib022651.

Anna Berkes
February 29, 2012 – 4:24pm

In any case, it’s not the end of our democratic republic yet! Get out there and organize, and vote.

Jefferson always offered good advice.

Jefferson's advice on quotes found on the internet

Jefferson’s advice on quotes found on the internet

Smoking out the bogus: Martin Porter’s “Four Principles of a Quotation”

March 25, 2014

Commenter SBH put me on to this interesting set of principles from a mathematician, on bogus quotes, and how to determine that they are bogus, and most important, how to avoid creating a bogus quote by stripping context or altering the text.

‘After all, a study I once read said something like 86% of all statistics cited in speeches are made up on the spot.’*

I looked up Martin Porter.  What are his principles of quotations?  Who is he, and why should we listen to him?

Mathematician Martin Porter, in the 21st century.

Mathematician Martin Porter, in the 21st century. Self portrait.

Turns out he’s a mathematician who works in algorithms to study language, and a founder of Grapeshot.  Along the way, he grew intrigued with trying to source a very famous quotation attributed to Edmund Burke (confess, you don’t really know enough about Burke to describe who he was, or why that quote might not be his, right? See Porter’s last principle).

Porter wrote an interesting essay about the experience, and about the wide abuse of the real Burke quote and what he’d learned.

At the end of the essay, he posed principles for quotations, two involving how we might hold the necessary skepticism that helps smoke out quotes that are bogus for one reason or another.

The other two, I confess, sometimes are difficult to follow.  One of my favorite statements from George Santayana, in the upper right corner of this blog, stands out of context (he wasn’t writing about history, really), nor have I read the entire book.  Porter proposes very high standards indeed: It’s not enough that the quote be accurately phrased and attributed appropriately to its creator; Porter wants the quote to be used in a similar context.  In his essay on the Burke quote, he notes Burke was talking of factions, but when Ronald Reagan used it, even getting the phrasing right, Reagan used it to talk about arming nations.  Porter suggests such a usage can lead us awry.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. No, not the same Whig Party that produced Millard Fillmore in America.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. No, not the same Whig Party that produced Millard Fillmore in America.

Porter is right, of course.

2014 is a federal election year.  Here in Texas we also have municipal elections in May — a lot of opportunities, to vote, a lot of campaigning, and a in that campaigning a stunning wealth of opportunities for people to misattribute quotes, or to invent whole new inappropriate contexts, twists, and diversions to accurate understanding.

We should heed Martin Porter better, perhaps.

Martin Porter’s four Principles for Quotations:

I therefore formulate and offer to the world the following Principles for Quotations, two for quoters and two for readers, which, if universally followed, would make an immense improvement to the reliability of the information available on the world wide web.

Principle 1 (for readers)
Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.
Principle 2 (for readers)
Whenever you see a quotation given with a full source assume that it is probably being misused, unless you find good evidence that the quoter has read it in the source.
Principle 3 (for quoters)
Whenever you make a quotation, give the exact source.
Principle 4 (for quoters)
Only quote from works that you have read.

* You knew that one was bogus. Right?




December 20, 1620: Mayflower passengers finally disembark at Plymouth, after agreeing to the Mayflower Compact

December 21, 2013

Item from The Associated Press‘s “Today in History” feature, for December 21:  “1620 – Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower went ashore for the first time at present-day Plymouth, Mass.”  Why in December?  The arrived at the place almost a month earlier, but because of delays in getting out of England due to the leaky second boat (which didn’t make the trip), and difficulties encountered en route, when the group anchored, they first had to come to an agreement how to govern the colony, so far out of the territory of the charter they had been granted, as explained below.  Originally, a version of this desultory ran here, on July 26, 2006.

Credit: Sarony & Major.

From the Library of Congress, one of the few illustrations of the event that makes it clear it was near winter: The Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, December 1620 Credit: Sarony & Major. “The landing of the Pilgrims, on Plymouth Rock, Dec. 11th 1620.” c1846. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars features a set of comments on an interview right-right-wing pundit John Lofton did with Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court who lost his job when he illegally tried to force his religion on the court and on Alabama. In 2006 Moore ran for governor of Alabama, losing in the primary election.

One of the grandest canards in current thought about U.S. history is that the Mayflower Compact set up a theocracy in Massachusetts. Lofton and Moore banter about it as if it were well-established fact — or as if, as I suspect, neither of them has looked at the thing in a long time, and that neither of them has ever diagrammed the operative sentence in the thing.

The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between the people in two religiously disparate groups, that among them they would fairly establish a governing body to fairly make laws, and that they would abide by those laws. Quite the opposite of a theocracy, this was the first time Europeans set up in the New World a government by consent of the governed.

That is something quite different from a theocracy.

I think people get confused by the run-on sentences, and the flattering, intended-to-be-flowery language in the clauses prefacing the meat of the document.

First, a very brief history: There were two groups aboard the ship in 1620, about 70 artisans and craftsman along to provide the real work to make sure the colony made money, and about 30 religious refugees. The London Company (accurately) thought the religious refugees lacking in key skills, like trapping, hunting and hide tanning, and barrel-making (barrels were needed to ship goods to England). So the London Company had insisted the craftsman go along, to make sure somebody knew how to harvest stuff and ship it back.

The London Company had a charter to establish a colony in Virginia. Because of delays with leaky ships and uncooperative winds, the Mayflower got to America late, and much farther north. The Mayflower landed well outside the territory the company was chartered to colonize, and the 70 craftsmen announced they were striking out on their own. Bradford realized his group would freeze, or starve, or both, and at gunpoint he kept both groups aboard ship to work out a compromise.

Here is the full text, from the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law site:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.

See what I mean? It’s loaded with clauses that tend to obscure what is going on. Starting out with the standard contract language of the day, “In the name of God, Amen,” it loses modern readers. We tend to think that with so many mentions of God without a “damn” following, it must be a religious document. But it’s not.

Here’s the meat the the document, the money quote:

We, whose names are underwritten . . . do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

Got that? They promised to form a government, enact fair laws, and obey those laws — government by consent of the governed, by mutual compact, not by divine right.

Just because God is mentioned in the document doesn’t change its nature. It’s a secular compact, an agreement between men, outside the stricture of any church, outside any particular belief.

As we noted over at Ed Brayton’s site, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, many New England settlements and towns became little theocracies. But it wasn’t the Mayflower Compact which set that up, or encouraged it.



Millard Fillmore: Still dead, still misquoted, 139 years later

March 8, 2013

Millard Fillmore wax head

A wax likeness of Millard Fillmore’s head, appearing to be for sale for $950.00 back in 2007. Did anyone ever buy it? Yes, it does bear an unusual resemblance to Tom Peters.

March 8, 2013, is the 139th anniversary of Millard Fillmore’s death.  Famous lore claims Fillmore’s last words were, “The nourishment is palatable.”

What a crock!

Manus reprints the text from the New York Times obituary that appeared on March 9:

Buffalo, N.Y., March 8 — 12 o’clock, midnight. — Ex-President Millard Fillmore died at his residence in this city at 11:10 to-night. He was conscious up to the time. At 8 o’clock, in reply to a question by his physician, he said the nourishment was palatable; these were his last words. His death was painless.

First, I wonder how the devil the writer could possibly know whether Fillmore’s death was painless?

And second, accuracy obsessed as I am, I wonder whether this is the source of the often-attributed to Fillmore quote, “The nourishment is palatable.” Several sources that one might hope would be more careful attribute the quote to Fillmore as accurate — none with any citation that I can find. Thinkexist charges ahead full speed; Brainyquote removed the quote after I complained in 2007. Wikipedia lists it. Snopes.com says the quote is “alleged,” in a discussion thread.

I’ll wager no one can offer a citation for the quote. I’ll wager Fillmore didn’t say it.

Let’s be more stolid:  The quote alleged to be Fillmore’s last words, isn’t.  No one says “palatable” when they’re dying, not even the man about whom it is claimed that Queen Victoria pronounced him the hansomest man she ever met (just try tracking that one down), and whose strongest legacy is a hoax about a bathtub, started 43 years after he died.  No one calls soup “sustenance.”

The alleged quote, the misquote, the distortion of history, was stolen from the obituary in the New York Times.  Millard Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

What were Millard Fillmore’s last words?  They may be buried in the notebook of one of his doctors.  They may be recorded in some odd notebook held in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, or in the Library of SUNY Buffalo, or in the New York State Library‘s dusty archives.

But the dying President Fillmore did not say, “The sustenance is palatable.”

Millard Fillmore: We’d protect his legacy, if only anyone could figure out what it is.

This is partly an encore post, based on a post from 2007.


One more time: Recognizing bogus history

May 14, 2012

2012 is an election year, a time when we make history together as a nation.  Potential turning points in history often get tarred with false interpretations of history to sway an election, or worse, a completely false recounting of history.  Especially in campaigns, we need to beware false claims of history, lest we be like the ignorants George Santayana warned about, doomed to repeat errors of history they do not know or understand.  How to tell that a purported piece of history is bogus?  This is mostly a repeat of a post that first appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub six years ago.

Recognizing bogus history, 1

Robert Park provides a short e-mail newsletter every Friday, covering news in the world of physics. It’s called “What’s New.” Park makes an art of smoking out bogus science and frauds people try to perpetrate in the name of science, or for money. He wrote an opinion column for the Chronicle of Higher Education [now from Quack Watch; CHE put it behind a paywall] published January 31, 2003, in which he listed the “7 warning signs of bogus science.”

Please go read Park’s entire essay, it’s good.

And it got me thinking about whether there are similar warning signs for bogus history? Are there clues that a biography of Howard Hughes is false that should pop out at any disinterested observer? Are there clues that the claimed quote from James Madison saying the U.S. government is founded on the Ten Commandments is pure buncombe? Should Oliver Stone have been able to to more readily separate fact from fantasy about the Kennedy assassination (assuming he wasn’t just going for the dramatic elements)? Can we generalize for such hoaxes, to inoculate ourselves and our history texts against error?

Bogus science section of Thinkquest logo

Perhaps some of the detection methods Park suggests would work for history. He wrote his opinion piece after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court laid out some rules lower courts should use to smoke out and eliminate false science. As Park described it, “The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.” The Court said lower courts must act as gatekeepers against science buncombe — a difficult task for some judges who, in their training as attorneys, often spent little time studying science.

Some of the Daubert reasoning surfaced in another case recently, the opinion in Pennsylvania district federal court in which Federal District Judge John Jones struck down a school board’s order that intelligent design be introduced to high school biology students, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Can we generalize to history, too? I’m going to try, below the fold.

Here are Park’s seven warning signs, boiled down:

Park wrote:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate. [I have cut out the explanations. — E.D.]

  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

Voodoo history

Here, with thanks to Robert Park, is what I propose for the warning signs for bogus history, for voodoo history:

  1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
  2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.  Bogus history relies more on invective than investigation; anyone with an opposing view is an “idiot,” or evil.
  3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure, or unavailable; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.
  4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
  5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
  6. The author has worked in isolation, and fails to incorporate or explain other, mainstream versions of the history of the incident, and especially the author fails to explain why they are in error.
  7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.

Any history account that shows one or more of those warning signs should be viewed skeptically.

In another post, I’ll flesh out the reasoning behind why they are warning signs.


If Stalin said America is “a healthy body,” why can’t anyone find the source?

March 14, 2012

Joseph Stalin, via Chicago Boyz

Joseph Stalin would have to have been drunk to call the U.S. “healthy,” and to have complimented America’s patriotism, morality and spiritual life. Even then, it would be unlikely. Why does this quote keep circulating?

This has been floating around Tea Party and other shallow venues for a while, but I’ll wager Stalin did not say it:

“America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold:  Its patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life.  If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.”

I can’t find any source for it; it’s mostly quoted on right-wing sites where people marvel over what a prophet Stalin was.  All requests for a citation in five or six different forums I’ve checked, are unanswered.  Nothing like it appears at the often-checked Wikiquote.  The Stalin Archive holds nothing close to the claimed quote.

Perhaps more telling:  Is it likely that Joe Stalin ever would have called the U.S. “a healthy body?”  Stalin was of a school that claimed capitalism was diseased, and America was infested with a soon-to-be terminal case.  If he called America “diseased” by patriotism and religion, it would be consistent with other statements, but his calling America healthy for patriotism and spiritual life, it’s inconsistent with other claims he made, about America and about capitalism (see Stalin’s 1929 remonstrance to the U.S. Communist Party, for example).

So, Dear Readers, my request to you:  Can you offer the source of this quote, Joseph Stalin or not?

Why would a false claim from Stalin get such a life on the internet?

Update, March 15, 2012:  I’m calling this one:  It’s a bogus quote.  Joseph Stalin didn’t say it.  Not as many comments here as e-mails and comments on other discussion boards and Facebook — no one has come even close to anything like the line above from Stalin.  No source quoting the line even bothers to give a decade, let alone a year, a location, and a citation that would pass muster in a sophomore high school English class.  Tea Partiers, you’ve tried to twist history again — stop it.

Update March 1, 2013: If you’re checking in here studying for a DBQ for an AP class, please tell us in comments, which AP class, and what city you’re in.  Thanks.

Utah report: More false “founders’ quotes” plague American discourse

April 25, 2010

Utah has a movement out to slander education and the Constitution, with a pointless claim that the Constitution cannot be called a “democracy,” damn Lincoln, Hamilton, Madison, Washington, both Roosevelts, and Reagan.

Sadly, it started in my old school district, the one where I got the last nine years of public school education, Alpine District, in the north end of Utah County.

They even have a website, Utah’s Republic. (No, Utah was never an independent republic before it was a state — it’s not like the Texas Republic wackoes, except in their wacko interpretations of law and history, where they are indistinguishable.)

At the blog from that site, there is a silly discussion on how a republic is a much superior form of government to a democracy.  Never mind that sheer numbers in our nation have always made democracy impossible (can’t get 150 million voters in one hall), or that distance makes it impossible to work (vote tomorrow in Washington, D.C.?  Everybody call the airlines, see if you can make it.)

So, I pointed out how a republic can also suggest tyranny.  And the response?  A flurry of “quotes from the founders.”

Can you vouch for any of these “quotes?”  Is any one of them accurate?

The Jefferson “mob rule” quote isn’t in any Jefferson data base that I can find. I find it also attributed to George Washington — but almost always without any citation, so you can’t check.

That maneuver is one of the key indicators of Bogus Quotes, the lack of any citation to make it difficult to track down.  All of these quotes come without citation:

As for a moral people, Washington said there could be no morality without religion and called it the “indispensable support,” not education. Obviously Jefferson and the Founders wanted education of the constitution to take place but we are very far removed from it in our education system.

Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide. – John Adams

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. – Thomas Jefferson

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. – Thomas Jefferson

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. – Benjamin Franklin

Democracy is the most vile form of government… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. – James Madison

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. – Abraham Lincoln

The last one is probably accurate, but irrelevant to this discussion (nice red herring, there, Oak).  Can you offer links to verify any of them?

Is this what I suspect?  The “Utah Republic” drive is not only a tempest in a teapot (though perhaps caused by other more serious maladies), but also a tempest based on false readings of history?

The website for “Utah Republic” is maintained by a guy named Oak Norton, who is obviously in thrall to the voodoo histories of David Barton and Cleon Skousen (I think Barton stole a lot of his voodoo history from Skousen, but that’s another topic for another day).

Funny:  Nowhere do these guys discuss one of the greatest drivers of the republic, over more egalitarian and more democratic forms of government.  Remember, Hamilton preferred to have an aristocracy, an elite-by-birth group, who would rule over the peasants.  He didn’t trust the peasants, the people who he saw as largely uneducated, to make critical decisions like, who should be president.  Norton doesn’t trust the peasants to get it right, and so he wants to dictate to them what they are supposed to know, in Nortonland.

Just because Oak Norton slept through high school history and government is no reason to shut down Utah’s Alpine School District or any other school; he’s not offered much evidence that everyone else missed that day in class, nor evidence that it has any significant effect.

Jefferson's advice on quotes found on the internet

Jefferson’s advice on quotes found on the internet, backdropped by his books now held by the Library of Congress.

David Barton: Mediocre scientists who are Christian, good; great scientists, bad

July 9, 2009

I’m reviewing the reviews of Texas social studies curricula offered by the six people appointed by the Texas State Board of Education.  David Barton, a harsh partisan politician, religious bigot, pseudo-historian and questionable pedagogue, offers up this whopper, about fifth grade standards.:

In Grade 5 (b)(24)(A), there are certainly many more notable scientists than Carl Sagan – such as Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse, etc.

Say what?  “More notable scientists than Carl Sagan . . . ?”  What is this about?

It’s about David Barton’s unholy bias against science, and in particular, good and great scientists like Carl Sagan who professed atheism, or any faith other than David Barton’s anti-science brand of fundamentalism.

David Barton doesn’t want any Texas child to grow up to be a great astronomer like Carl Sagan, if there is any chance that child will also be atheist, like Carl Sagan.  Given a choice between great science from an atheist, or mediocre science from a fundamentalist Christian, Barton chooses mediocrity.

Currently the fifth grade standards for social studies require students to appreciate the contributions of scientists.  Here is the standard Barton complains about:

(24) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the impact of science and technology on life in the United States. The student is expected to:

(A) describe the contributions of famous inventors and scientists such as Neil Armstrong, John J. Audubon, Benjamin Banneker, Clarence Birdseye, George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison, and Carl Sagan;
(B) identify how scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as the transcontinental railroad, the discovery of oil, and the rapid growth of technology industries have advanced the economic development of the United States;
(C) explain how scientific discoveries and technological innovations in the fields of medicine, communication, and transportation have benefited individuals and society in the United States;
(D) analyze environmental changes brought about by scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as air conditioning and fertilizers; and
(E) predict how future scientific discoveries and technological innovations could affect life in the United States.

Why doesn’t Barton like Carl Sagan?  In addition to Sagan’s being a great astronomer, he was a grand populizer of science, especially with his series for PBS, Cosmos.

But offensive to Barton was Sagain’s atheism.  Sagan wasn’t militant about it, but he did honestly answer people who asked that he found no evidence for the efficacy or truth of religion, nor for the existence of supernatural gods.

More than that, Sagan defended evolution theory.  Plus, he was Jewish.

Any one of those items might earn the David Barton Stamp of Snooty-nosed Disapproval, but together, they are about fatal.

Do the scientists Barton suggests in Sagan’s stead measure up? Barton named four:

Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse

In the category of “Sagan Caliber,” only von Braun might stake a claim.  Wernher von Braun, you may recall, was the guy who ran the Nazi’s rocketry program.  After the war, it was considered a coup that the U.S. snagged him to work, first for the Air Force, and then for NASA.  Excuse me for worrying, but I wonder whether Barton likes von Braun for his rocketry, for his accommodation of anti-evolution views, or for his Nazi-supporting roots.  (No, I don’t trust Barton as far as I can hurl the Texas Republican Party Platform, which bore Barton’s fould stamp while he was vice chair of the group.)

So, apart from the fact that von Braun was largely an engineer, and Sagan was a brilliant astronomer with major contributions to our understanding of the cosmos, what about the chops of the other four people?  Why would Barton suggest lesser knowns and unknowns?

Matthew Maury once headed the U.S. Naval Observatory, in the 19th century.  He was famous for studying ocean currents, piggy-backing on the work of Ben Franklin and others.  Do a Google search, though, and you’ll begin to undrstand:  Maury is a favorite of creationists, a scientist who claimed to subjugate his science to the Bible.  Maury claimed his work on ocean currents was inspired at least in part by a verse in Psalms 8 which referred to “paths in the sea.”  Maury is not of the stature or achievement of Sagan, but Maury is politically correct to Barton.

Joseph Henry is too ignored, the first head of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry made his mark in research on magnetism and electricity.  But it’s not Henry’s science Barton recognizes.  Henry, as a largely unknown scientist today, is a mainstay of creationists’ list of scientists who made contributions to science despite their being creationists.  What?  Oh, this is inside baseball in the war to keep evolution in science texts.  In response to the (accurate) claim that creationists have not contributed anything of scientific value to biology since about William Paley in 1802, Barton and his fellow creationists will trot out a lengthy list of scientists who were at least nominally Christian, and claim that they were creationists, and that they made contributions to science.  The list misses the point that Henry, to pick one example, didn’t work in biology nor make a contribution to biology, nor is there much evidence that Henry was a creationist in the modern sense of denying science.  Henry is obscure enough that Barton can claim he was politically correct, to Barton’s taste, to be studied by school children without challenging Barton’s creationist ideas.

Maria Mitchell was an American astronomer, the second woman to discover a comet. While she was a Unitarian and a campaigner for women’s rights, or more accurately, because of that, I can’t figure how she passes muster as politically correct to David Barton.  Surely she deserves to be studied more in American history than she is — perhaps with field trips to the Maria Mitchell House National Historic LandmarkIt may be that Barton has mistaken Mitchell for another creationist scientist. While Mitchell’s life deseves more attention — her name would be an excellent addition to the list of woman scientists Texas children should study — she is not of the stature of Sagan.

David Rittenhouse, a surveyor and astronomer, and the first head of the U.S. Mint, is similarly confusing as part of Barton’s list.  Rittenhouse deserves more study, for his role in extending the Mason-Dixon line, if nothing else, but it is difficult to make a case that his contributions to science approach those of Carl Sagan.  Why is Rittenhouse listed by Barton?  If nothing else, it shows the level of contempt Barton holds for Sagan as “just another scientist.”  Barton urges the study of other scientists, any other scientists, rather than study of Sagan.

Barton just doesn’t like Sagan.  Why?  Other religionists give us the common dominionist or radical religionist view of Sagan:

Just what is the Secular Humanist worldview? First and foremost Secular Humanists are naturalists. A naturalist believes that nature is all that exists. “The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” This was the late Carl Sagan’s opening line on the television series “Cosmos.” Sagan was a noted astronomer and a proud secular humanist. Sagan maintained that the God of the Bible was nonexistent. (Imagine Sagan’s astonishment when he came face to face with his Maker.)

Sagan’s science, in Barton’s view, doesn’t leave enough room for Barton’s religion.  Sagan was outspoken about his opposition to superstition.  Sagan urged reason and the active use of his “Baloney-Detection Kit.” One of Sagan’s later popular books was titled Demon-haunted World:  Science as a candle in the dark.  Sagan argued for the use of reason and science to learn about our world, to use to build a framework for solving the world’s problems.

Barton prefers the dark to any light shed by Sagan, it appears.

More resources on the State Board of Education review of social studies curricula

Encore post: Rebutting junk science, “100 things to know about DDT” point #6 (the “500 million saved” or “500 million died” errors)

June 22, 2009

Encore post — originally posted in August 2007.  Another in a continuing series, showing the errors in JunkScience.com’s list of “100 things you should know about DDT.” (No, these are not in order.)  In the summer of 2009, the denialists have trotted this error out again.

Steven Milloy and the ghost of entomologist J. Gordon Edwards listed this as point six in their list of “100 things you should know about DDT “[did Edwards really have anything to do with the list before he died?]:

6. “To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT… In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria, that otherwise would have been inevitable.”

[National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. 1970. The Life Sciences; Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs; The World of Biological Research; Requirements for the Future.]

In contrast to their citation for the Sweeney hearing record, which leads one away from the actual hearing record, for this citation, the publication actually exists, though it is no longer available in print. It’s available on-line, in an easily searchable format. [I urge you to check these sources out for yourself; I won’t jive you, but you should see for yourself how the critics of Rachel Carson and WHO distort the data — I think you’ll be concerned, if not outraged.] The quote, though troubled by the tell-tale ellipses of the science liar, is accurately stated so far as it goes.

The problems? It’s only part of the story as told in that publication.  The National Academy of Science calls for DDT to be replaced in that book; NAS is NOT calling for a rollback of any ban, nor is NAS defending DDT against the claims of harm. The book documents and agrees with the harms Rachel Carson wrote about eight years earlier.

Sign at the National Academy of Sciences building, Washington, D.C.

Sign at the National Academy of Sciences building, Washington, D.C.

Milloy (and Edwards, he claims), are trying to make a case that the National Academy of Sciences, one of the more reputable and authoritative groups of distinguished scientists in the world, thinks that DDT is just dandy, in contrast to the views of Rachel Carson and environmentalists (who are always cast as stupid and venal in Milloy’s accounts) who asked that DDT use be reduced to save eagles, robins and other songbirds, fish, and other wildlife, and to keep DDT useful against malaria.

First, there is no way that a ban on DDT could have been responsible for 500 million deaths due to malaria.  Calculate it yourself, the mathematics are simply impossible: At about 1 million deaths per year, if we assume DDT could have prevented all of the deaths (which is not so), and had we assumed usage started in 1939 instead of 1946 (a spot of 7 years and 7 million deaths), we would have 69 million deaths prevented by 2008. As best I can determine, the 500 million death figure is a misreading from an early WHO report that noted about 500 million people are annually exposed to malaria, I’m guessing a bit at that conclusion — that’s the nicest way to attribute it to simple error and not malicious lie. It was 500 million exposures to malaria, not 500 million deaths. It’s unfortunate that this erroneous figure found its way into a publication of the NAS — I suppose it’s the proof that anyone can err.

This error, “500 million deaths,” crops up in several publications after it was originally made near the end of the 1960s; honest researchers would get a good copy editor who would do the math and realize that 500 million people would not have died from malaria had there been no control at all, since 1939, when DDT was discovered to have insecticidal properties. Were Milloy and Edwards making a good faith case, I’d excuse it; but Edwards was a scientist and should have known better, Milloy has been spreading this falsehood long enough he could not fail to know better.

But the actual publication from the National Academy of Sciences suggests other issues that JunkScience.com would rather you not know about.

Importantly and specifically, the National Academy of Sciences is calling for broad research 1.) to avoid the problems that DDT presented (problems which Junk Science denies exist), and 2.) to combat the continuing evolution of the insect pests (evolution which Junk Science also denies), and 3.) to provide insecticides that hit specific targets to avoid the collateral damage of harming helpful insects, other animals and especially predators of the harmful insects (more problems that Junk Science pretends do not exist).

Three pages carry references to DDT in the book, The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs — The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future (National Academy of Sciences, 1970). This was a study of the state of science in several areas, with a survey of places particularly ripe for research considering human needs in the world. It was a sort of road map of where governments and other funders of research should spend their research monies in order to have the greatest beneficial effects.

The book suggests the need for extensive funding for research in biology over the following decade or two, or four. Were Milloy and Edwards correct that DDT was the panacea lifesaver, one might wonder why DDT was included in the book at all except to note a great success that precludes need for further research. That’s not what the book says at all.

Among the chief recommendations, NAS said research had to focus on rapidly biodegradable, closely targeted chemical pesticides to replace the DDT-style, long-lived, broad spectrum pesticides. NAS recognized the environmental dangers of DDT first and foremost in the introduction and statement of key recommendations:

It is imperative that new, degradable insecticides and pesticides with highly specific actions be devised and that their ecological consequences be understood, as it is imperative that the full ecological impact of the existing armamentarium of such agents be evaluated. Classical dose responses, evaluated only in terms of mortality or morbidity statistics, will not suffice; such data also must include an assessment in terms of modern knowledge of cell physiology, metabolism, and cytogenetics. [see page 11 of the book.]

These are exactly the things Milloy and Edwards ignore. This is a warning that simple toxicity tests on humans are not enough — pesticides need to be tested for downstream effects. That is what Rachel Carson called for in Silent Spring, research to understand the full effects of chemicals we use in the wild. This recommendation from NAS fully recognizes that chemicals like DDT, while they may offer significant benefits, can at the same time be significantly dangerous and damaging.

From the general introduction, the NAS authors point to three specific DDT-related issues. In general, the NAS view of DDT can be summarized like this: ‘DDT produced some great benefits fighting harmful insects, but its benefits need to be balanced against its great dangers and great potential for long-term damage. DDT is the poster child for beneficial chemicals that are also hazardous. We need to understand all the dangers as well as some of the benefits, in order to make wise decisions on chemical use. In the interim, where we have gaps in our knowledge, we should be careful.’

By carefully selecting only part of a statement by the NAS in one of the three areas of research, and leaving out all the qualifying statements, Milloy and the late Edwards misrepresent what NAS said. NAS was not calling for greater use of DDT. NAS was not calling for continued use of DDT. NAS was not criticizing any of the bans on DDT usage. NAS was saying we don’t know how great is the danger from DDT, and more study is needed; and use of DDT must be restricted in the interim.

Excerpt 1: Crop research

Increase research in rotating crops, herbicides and pesticides: In a section mentioning the need for alternative treatments, and commending organic methods of farming, on page 182 NAS notes the efficacy of crop rotation, and then talks about the need to have several different tools available to get rid of weeds and insect pests.

Similarly, recognition of the insecticidal properties of DDT in 1939, initially used against insects directly injurious to man, indicated the intelligent application of understanding of insect physiology, entomology, pharmacology, and the arts of the organic chemist could prevent crop destruction by insects. To date, the use of 2,4-D has increased yearly even though it has been replaced in part, and DDT is being withdrawn because of concern for its potentially adverse effects on man, transfer to the general environment, prolonged persistence, destruction of beneficial insects and possibly other wildlife, and stimulation of resistance in the target insects. These are now matters of broad general concern, and it is regrettable that public decisions must be made on the basis of our limited knowledge. But these compounds paved the way for modern agriculture. Without their equivalent, modern intensive agriculture is not possible, and, just as the continual breeding of new crop strains is imperative, so too is a continuing search for effective herbicides and pesticides, optimally with specific effects on offending organisms, degradable in the soil and nontoxic to man and animals. Attainment of these goals will require continuously increasing understanding of plant and insect physiology and life cycles.

Control of undesirable species by biological means is, in many ways, the most attractive possibility for future exploration. The notion is by no means new; attempts at such control began late in the nineteenth century. Indeed, some 650 species of beneficial insects have been deliberately introduced into the United States from overseas, of which perhaps 100 are established. These are now major factors in the control of aphids and a variety of scale insects and mealybugs. More recently, microbes and viruses have been considered for these purposes, a few of which are being used; for example, spores of the bacterium B. thuringiensis are used to control the cabbage looper and the alfalfa caterpillar. Some insects have been utilized for control of weeds — e.g., prickly pear in Australia and the Klamath weed in the western United States — while a combination of the cinnabar moth and the ragwort seed fly is required to keep down the population of the toxic range weed, the tansy ragwort.

There is no ringing endorsement for bringing back DDT, but rather a much more sophisticated understanding demonstrated that a variety of tools, some chemical and some living, need to brought to bear in agriculture and health — coupled with a clear understanding that non-beneficial effects need to be studied and understood, for all attempts to control pests for crops, and threats to humans. This is quite contrary to the general tone of Milloy’s and Edwards’s list, and far beyond the misleading snippet they offer.

Near the end of that first paragraph, the NAS call for pesticides that are pest specific, rapidly degradable once released, and nontoxic to humans and other beneficial creatures, targets and shoots directly at DDT, which is non-specific, long-lived in the soil, and toxic to almost everything.

That’s just the first of the three mentions of DDT.

Excerpt 2: Industrial technologies – Pesticide research

The second mention is in a discussion specific to pesticides. The NAS panel recommends research to find safe, short-lived alternatives that target specific pests. DDT is a long-lived toxin that has broad targets. This is a very long entry, but unlike the JunkScience.com guys, I think accuracy is more than one quote ripped out of context; in context, you see that NAS is not defending DDT as a safe, panacea against malaria.

I quote from the NAS publication at length, below; I want you to see that NAS is not contradicting Rachel Carson in any way; in fact, NAS is paying homage to Carson, adopting her calls to action in research and development, while updating the science which showed, in 1969, that Carson was right more than anyone could have known. Because it’s a long quote, I’ll put it in a different color, not boxing it where the formatting gets out of hand:


From: The Life Sciences: Recent Progress and Application to Human Affairs — The World of Biological Research Requirements for the Future (National Academy of Sciences, 1970)

[Beginning on page 213]


As noted earlier, the properties of DDT and 2,4-D inaugurated a new era in management of our living resources and gave rise to a new industry. Each touched off a wave of research that continues to the present, seeking newer compounds that are species-specific, safe, and degradable. For the moment, the use of such compounds is indispensable; until superior means and materials are found, these compounds are essential to the success of our agriculture, while assisting in maintenance of our woodlands and protection of our health. It is the scale of this use, rather than their intrinsic toxicity, that has properly generated public concern over the effects of these chemicals on the public health. In 1966, total production of all pesticides in the U.S. was 1,012,598,000 pounds.

The rapid increase in use occurred because new pesticides have been developed that control hitherto uncontrolled pests, and broader use of pesticides in large-scale agriculture has increased crop yields significantly. Current trends in crop production involving large acreages, greater use of fertilizers, and intensive mechanized cultivation and harvesting offer particularly favorable opportunities for insect pests and would result in large crop losses to these pests unless control measures were applied.

The increased number of new pesticides in part reflects a second generation of pesticides with more appropriate persistence for economic control of specific pests, more complete control of the pest, less hazard for the applicator, or less hazardous residues on the crop. An additional impetus to the development of the pesticides comes from the fact that many insect pests have developed resistance to the older pesticides. The development of pest resistance does not necessarily entail the development of more dangerous pesticides; the new agent need only be chemically different to overcome resistance. The continuing search for new, more nearly ideal pesticides requires the joint effort of research teams composed of organic chemists, biochemists, pharmacologists, physiologists, entomologists, and botanists. The effort is managed much like the development of new drugs, each chemical entity being tested in a “screen” of a variety of insects.

About 73 percent of the total insecticide usage is in agriculture, and about 25 percent is used in urban areas by homeowners, industry, the military, and municipal authorities. The remaining 2 percent is applied to forest lands, grassland pasture, and on salt and fresh water for mosquito control. Over 50 percent of the insecticide used in agriculture is applied to cotton acreage alone.

When insect-control measures are not used in agriculture, insect pests take 10 to 50 percent of the crop, depending on local conditions. Losses of this magnitude are not readily tolerated in the United States in the face of a rapidly increasing population and a concomitant decrease in agricultural acreage. In this sense, the use of pesticides might be deemed essential at this time for the production and protection of an adequate food supply and an adequate supply of staple fiber. While alternative methods of pest control are under investigation and development, they are not yet ready to displace completely the chemical pesticides, and it appears that a pesticide industry will be required for some years to come.

Pesticides have been tremendously effective, but individual pesticides, like sulfa drugs and antibiotics, tend to lose their effectiveness as species resistance to them develops. Hence, there will be a continuing search for new pesticides as long as pesticides are considered to be required for the economy or the public health. This search will require the continuing participation of able biologists. As with drugs, new pesticides, optimally, should be selectively toxic for specific pests, rather than broadly toxic against a wide variety of pests with serious side-effects on nonpest species. Broad-spectrum pesticides affect an essential enzyme or system common to a wide variety of pests. A selective pesticide, on the other hand, either should affect an essential enzyme or system peculiar to a particular pest or should be applied in such a way that only the particular pest gains access to it.

An interesting example of a selective pesticide is the rodenticide norbormide, which is highly toxic for rats, particularly for the Norway rat. By contrast, the acute oral toxicity of norbormide for other species is much lower, the lethal dose for a great variety of birds and mammals, per kilogram of body weight, being more than 100 times greater. The mechanism of the selective toxic action of the norbormide for rats is not yet elucidated.

Achievement of target specificity requires a sophisticated knowledge of the anatomical, physiological, or biochemical peculiarities of the target pest as compared with other pests or vulnerable nonpests; a pesticide may then be developed that takes advantage of these peculiarities. This is obviously not easy to accomplish, and norbormide may prove to be unique for many years. An alternative is the introduction of a systemic pesticide into the host or preferred food of the target pest. Other pests or nonpests would not contact the pesticide unless they shared the same host or food supply. As an example, a suitable pesticide may be applied to the soil and imbibed by the root system of a plant on which the pest feeds. The pest feeding on the plant then receives a toxic dose. The application of attractants or repellents (for nontarget species) would increase the selectivity of the systemic pesticide. The use of systemic pesticides on plants used for food by humans or domestic animals poses an obvious residue problem.

There has been a strong public reaction against the continued use of pesticides on the grounds that such use poses a potential threat to the public health as well as being a hazard to wildlife. Careful investigations have so far failed to establish the magnitude of the threat to the public health; i.e., there are as yet few if any clear-cut instances of humans who have suffered injury clearly related to exposure to pesticides that have been used in the prescribed manner. Report No. 1379 of the 89th Congress (July 21, 1966)* concluded:

The testimony balanced the great benefits of disease control and food production against the risks of acute poisoning to applicators, occasional accidental food contamination and disruption of fish and wildlife. . . . The fact that no significant hazard has been detected to date does not constitute adequate proof that hazards will not be encountered in the future. No final answer is possible now, but we must proceed to get the answer. (Italics ours [NAS]).

Failure to establish such hazard does not mean that it does not exist. There are no living animals, including those in the Antarctic, that do not bear a body burden of DDT. Large fish kills and severe effects on bird populations have been demonstrated. The large-scale use of these agents has been practiced for less than two decades, and use has increased annually until this year (1969). Whereas the anticholinesterase compounds, which have high acute toxicity (and hence are highly hazardous to the applicator), are readily and rapidly degraded in nature, the halogenated hydrocarbons are not. With time, their concentration in the soil and in drainage basins, lakes, ponds and even the oceans must continue to increase, thereby assuring their buildup in plant and animal tissues. Over a sufficient time period, this is potentially disastrous. And should such a period pass without relief, the situation could not be reversed in less than a century. Because of the large economic benefit to the farmer, it is pointless to adjure him to be sparing; unless restrained by law, he will make his judgment in purely personal economics terms. But mankind badly needs the incremental food made possible by use of effective pesticides, and the enormous benefit to public health of greatly reducing the population of insects that are disease vectors is a self-evident boon to humanity. Thus it is imperative that alternative approaches to pest control be developed with all possible dispatch, while we learn to use available pesticides only where they are clearly necessary and desirable and to apply them in the minimal amounts adequate to the purpose.

A recent development in insect-pest control has been the possible use of juvenile hormone. This hormone, normally produced by insects and essential for their progress through the larval stages, must be absent from the insect eggs if the eggs are to undergo normal maturation. If juvenile hormone is applied to the eggs, it can either prevent hatching or result in the birth of immature and sterile offspring. There is evidence to suggest that juvenile hormone is much the same in different species of insects, and analogs have been prepared that are effective in killing many species of insects, both beneficial and destructive. There would, therefore, be great danger of upsetting the ecological balance if juvenile hormone were applied on a large scale.

What is needed, then, is development of chemical modifications of juvenile hormone that would act like juvenile hormone for specific pests but not for other insects. For example, a preparation from balsam fir, which appears to be such an analog, has been identified and is effective against a family of bugs that attack the cotton plant, but not against other species. If it proves possible to synthesize similar analogs specific for other pests, a new type of pesticide may emerge. If this happens, it will be extremely important to explore possible side-effects on other insect species and on warm-blooded animals before introduction of yet a new hazard into the biosphere.

We cannot rest with existing pesticides, both because of evolving resistance to specific compounds and because of the serious long-term threat posed by the halogenated hydrocarbons. While the search for new, reasonably safe pesticides continues, it is imperative that other avenues be explored. It is apparent that this exploration will be effective only if there is, simultaneously, ever-increasing understanding of the metabolism, physiology, and behavior of the unwanted organisms and of their roles in the precious ecosystems in which they and we dwell.


* U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Government Operations. Interagency Environmental Hazards Coordination, Pesticides and Public Policy (Senate Report 1379). Report of the Subcommittee on Reorganization and International Organizations (pursuant to S. R. 27, 88th Cong., as amended and extended by S. R. 288), 89th Cong., 2d sess., Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966.


Anyone should be able to see from various parts of that excerpt that NAS was not defending DDT as harmless; that instead, NAS was saying that despite its great utility, DDT use needed to be extremely limited, and that substitutes for it needed to be found as quickly as possible — and then, the substitutes need to be researched to make sure they don’t have unintended bad effects, on other species, at other places, at other times.

Excerpt 3: The Great Hazards – Man and his environment

The third excerpt has the money quote — it contains an obvious error of fact, but an error that has been seized upon and trumpeted from one end of the world to the other: The 500 million dead miscalculation. Critics of environmental stewards like to trot this out, sometimes going so far as to accuse Carson and environmentalists of genocide, for the deaths of 500 million people that would have been prevented but for our concerns ‘for a few silly birds.’

I reiterate, the mathematics do not work. If we assumed 5 million deaths to malaria every year for the 20th century, we’d get 500 million deaths. Records indicate total deaths as high as 3 million in some years; since World War II, deaths have averaged about 1 million per year. So, even were it true that DDT bans unnecessarily caused all those deaths (and it’s not true), the total, between 1946 and 2006 would be about 50 million deaths. The “500 million deaths” figure is incorrect by a multiple of 10, at least, in addition to being absolutely in error historically. DDT never offered the realistic hope of eradicating malaria; by 1965, it was already failing where it was applied, and human institutional failures (not environmentalists) prevented its application in places where it might have helped.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) discusses hazards from chemistry and biochemistry, in one of its final chapters studying life sciences and their applications to human affairs. NAS authors write about the need to study causes of deaths and how to prevent them (including lung cancer and smoking), and there is discussion on the difficulty of getting clear answers to every question. In a section titled “Man and his environment,” NAS discusses environmental damage: Deforestation, pollution, and animal and plant extinctions. On page 430, there is an example given of supposedly beneficial chemicals turning toxic once released; DDT is the example:

Then NAS discusses DDT:

Large-scale use of pesticides can start a chain in which these substances concentrate in plant an animal tissues and, when ingested, accumulate in the adipose [fat] tissue of the human body. As an illustration of this process, consider the record of Clear Lake, California, where DDD (a breakdown product of DDT) entered the lake at 0.02 part per million (ppm). A year later, its concentration was 10 ppm in the plankton, 900 ppm in fish that eat the plankton, and 2,700 ppm in fish that eat fish that eat plankton. No data are available concerning people who ate such fish.

* * * * *

The effects of these changes in the environment on man himself are not known.

NAS notes that absence of proof of damage should not imply safety, and the article notes that small doses of pollutants, repeated over time, can cause serious health problems.

And then, on page 432, NAS discusses the harmful, latent effects of substances considered to be beneficial — using DDT as the example:

Until reliable evidence thus obtained becomes available, public health measures designed to minimize exposure to such pollutants are patently advisable. But surely a rule of reason should prevail. To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT. It has contributed to the great increase in agricultural productivity, while sparing countless humanity from a host of diseases, most notably, perhaps, scrub typhus and malaria. Indeed, it is estimated that, in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million deaths due to malaria that would otherwise have been inevitable. Abandonment of this valuable insecticide should be undertaken only at such time and in such places as it is evident that the prospective gain to humanity exceeds the consequent losses. At this writing, all available substitutes for DDT are both more expensive per crop-year and decidedly more hazardous to those who manufacture and utilize them in crop treatment or for other, more general purposes.

The health problems engendered by undesirable contaminants of the environment may also be raised by substances that are intentionally ingested. Only large-scale, long-term epidemiological research will reveal whether the contraceptive pills, pain killers, sleeping pills, sweetener, and tranquilizers, now consumed on so great a scale, have any untoward long-range effects on their consumers.* Man has always been exposed to the hazards of his environment and it may well be that he has never been more safe than he is today in the developed nations. Food contamination is probably minimal as compared with that in any previous era, communal water supplies are cleaner, and, despite the smog problem, air is probably less polluted than in the era of soft coal or before central heating systems were the norm. Witness the fact that jungle dwelling natives of South America exhibit a considerably higher incidence of chromosomal aberrations in their somatic cells than does the American population. But modern man also increasingly exposes himself to the chemical products of his own technologies and has both the biological understanding to ascertain the extent of such hazards and the prospect of technological innovation to minimize them where they are demonstrated. To do less would be improvident and derelict.


* This sentence was written in June 1969. Revelations of the untoward effects of both steroid contraceptives and cyclamates were made public months later.


As presented by the “100 facts about DDT” list, all the qualifiers, warnings, and listed harms of DDT are left off. The numbers cited in the quoted section are in error, and considering that the NAS was calling for research into the harms of DDT, research to replace DDT with chemicals that were short-lived, more carefully targeted by species, and fully researched to avoid the collateral harms DDT caused, it seems dishonest to present that edited quote as an endorsement of DDT. It is no endorsement at all.

And so, it is dishonest to present the quote at all so grossly out of context.

Steven Milloy should strike #6 from his list of “100 things you should know about DDT.”



Fake quotes in prize-winning essays

June 16, 2009

Rational Rant crashes into some use of faked and edited quotes in prize-winning essays and speeches.

Nothing new to careful observers.  Several of the Usual Suspects™ bad quotes turned up.

The trouble with these quotations, which are central to the theses of both pieces, is that all of them are fake. And by fake I don’t mean, please note, that they had a word off here and there, or that they were a popular misquoting of something Washington or Franklin actually said or wrote—I mean that they were out-and-out fakes, words put into their mouths by somebody else with an axe to grind. (And even worse—a number of them were actually misquotations of the original fake quotation.) Here are the seven, in all their glory:

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! (falsely attributed to Patrick Henry)

It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here. (falsely attributed to Patrick Henry)

He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world. (falsely attributed to Benjamin Franklin)

The reason that Christianity is the best friend of government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart. (falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson)

The future and success of America is not in this Constitution but in the laws of God upon which this Constitution is founded. (falsely attributed to James Madison)

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. (falsely attributed to George Washington)

It is impossible to rightly govern a country without God and the Bible. (falsely attributed to George Washington)

It’s difficult to get students to attribute quotes with proper citations.  Students are mightily confused by the notion of plagiarism.  We teachers need to work harder to get them to verify what they quote, and to offer appropriate citations.  Since these quotes can’t be cited, students should have discovered the errors as they wrote.

One of the offending pieces was written by a high school junior, the other by a 10-year-old.  There’s time to make them savvy (but will anyone do it?).

Do we need to give judges, of essay and speech competitions, sheets of the quotes that most frequently show up, though they are faked?

Quote mining Harry Truman, on confusing people

February 3, 2009

I think it was Mark Twain who said a lie can get around the world twice before the truth has got its boots on (feel free to correct me on that if you have a good source).

Whoever said it, it was right.

Now, we see that a mined quote can do the same thing as a whole lie.

Harry Truman is the victim this time.

Google turns up more than 27,000 sites with this quote, attributed to Harry Truman:

If you can’t convince them, confuse them.

Now I ask you, Dear Reader, does that sound like old Give-’em-hell Harry, the original straight talker?  Did Harry Truman really urge the use of confusion, when persuasion fails?

If you’re careful and persistent, you can turn up four Google hits for the accurate version, from his dramatic and historic campaign for election in 1948:

I don’t think you are going to be the victims this time of the old Republican doctrine:  “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

There you have it.  Harry Truman was not urging the use of confusion.  He was campaigning against it.

Last page of a comic book biography of Harry Truman for the 1948 campaign - Truman Library

Last page of a comic book biography of Harry Truman for the 1948 campaign - Truman Library

Misquoting Jefferson?

February 1, 2009

Statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial - Mr. Lant's HIstory page

Statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial, Rudulph Evans, sculptor – Library of Congress photo by Carol Highsmith, who graciously puts her photos in the public domain

A commentary from Cal Thomas caught my eye — little more than a few quotes from Thomas Jefferson strung together.  Jefferson seems oddly prescient in these quotes, and, also oddly, rather endorsing the views of the right wing.

From the way the text is laid out, and the brevity of the piece, I’m guessing it’s a radio commentary.

I read Jefferson often.  I’ve read Jefferson a lot.  I don’t recognize any of the quotes.

So I plugged them into the Jefferson collection at Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty, which has a lot of Jefferson ready for full-text searching.

Oops.  None of the quotes scored a hit.

Couldn’t find them in the Library of Congress’s on-line list of quotes, either.

It looks as though Jefferson didn’t say these things that are being attributed to him.

Cal, is that you?

Cal, can you give us citations on these quotes?

How about you, Dear Reader?  Can you save Cal Thomas’s bacon by providing a citation for any of the quotes below, alleged to be from Thomas Jefferson?






There you have ’em, Dear Readers.  Did somebody hoodwink Cal Thomas into thinking these are Jefferson’s bon mots, when they are not?

Shake of the wet scrub brush to Truthseeker.

Below the fold, the complete Cal Thomas commentary.
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The Wrong Stuff, on purpose: Weikart misquotes Darwin

May 10, 2008

Richard Weikart is an arm of the Discovery Institute’s disinformation brigade. A couple of years ago he published a book attempting to link Darwin to the Holocaust in a blame-sharing arrangement. This book and some of its arguments appear to be the foundation of the text used to write the script for the mockumentary movie “Expelled!” featuring Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein.

Which is to say, the basis for the movie is dubious. Weikart’s scholarship creating links between Darwin, science and Hitler is quite creative. It is also based on arguments created from Darwin’s writings that mislead the innocent about evolution, science and history, or which get Darwin and evolution exactly wrong.

Michael Ruse published an op-ed in a Florida paper in February — a piece which is no longer available there (anybody got a copy? Nebraska Citizens for Science preserved a copy) — and Weikart responded, restating his creative claims. Alas for the truth, Weikart’s canards are still available at the Discovery Institute website, putting an interesting twist on Twain’s old line: The truth will go to bed at night while a falsehood will travel twice around the world as the truth kicks off its slippers.

Looking for Ruse’s piece, I found Weikart’s response here and here. I composed a quick response pointing out the problems, which I would like to posit here for the record — partly because I doubt Darwiniana gets much traffic, partly because the censor-happy folks at Discovery Institute don’t allow free discussion at their site, and partly so I can control it to make sure it’s not butchered as Weikart butchers Darwin’s text.

At Darwiniana I said:

Weikart’s strip quoting of Darwin is most disappointing. [Weikart wrote:]

Darwin claimed in chapter two of The Descent of Man that there were great differences in moral disposition and intellect between the “highest races” and the “lowest savages.” Later in Descent he declared, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.” Racial inegalitarianism was built into Darwin’s analysis from the start.

Darwin argued the differences in intellect and manners between the “highest” of men and the “lowest” of men did NOT change the fact that we are are all related — legally, Darwin’s argument would evidence a claim absolutely the opposite of what Weikart claims. Here are Darwin’s words from Chapter II of Descent of Man, as Darwin wrote them, without Weikart’s creative editing:

Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his child on the rocks for dropping a basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who uses hardly any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakespeare. Differences of this kind between the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are connected by the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they might pass and be developed into each other. [emphasis added]

That’s not inegalitarianism at all — Darwin’s saying they are the same species, related closer than the poets allow. If we stick to the evidence, and [do] not wander off into poetic philosophy, we must acknowledge that Darwin’s own egalitarian spirit shows here in the science, too. It would be an odd kettle of fish indeed that a crabby guy like Hitler, who shared the antiscience bias of Weikart’s organization, would suddenly accept the science of a hated Englishman that ran contrary to his other philosophies. Who makes the error here, Hitler or Weikart? If they both think Darwin endorsed racism, they both do — but there is not an iota of evidence that Hitler based his patent racism on science, let alone the science of an Englishman.

As to the second quote, Weikart leaves the context out, and the context is everything. Darwin is not arguing that “savages” (the 19th century word for “aboriginals”) were less human, nor that they are a different species. He was arguing that in some future time there would appear creationists like Dr. Weikart’s colleagues at the Discovery Institute who will deny evolution because, once Europeans and others with guns conduct an unholy genocide (which Darwin writes against in the next chapter), and once humans wipe out chimpanzees, orangs and gorillas, the other great apes, the creationists can [then] dishonestly look around, blink their eyes and say, “Where are the links? There cannot be evolution between (Animal X) and humans!”

Darwin wrote:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, [emphasis added] and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

In the end, Darwin wrote against genocide, against racism, and in favor of the higher thinking abilities of all dark-skinned people. He wrote in favor of Christian morality. Darwin himself remained a faithful, tithing Christian to the end of his life.

Such a man, and such amazing science, deserve accurate history, not the fantastic, cowardly and scurrilous inventions Dr. Weikart has given them. We should rise to be “man in a more civilized state” as Darwin had hoped.

Update, July 24, 2008, nota bene:  To anyone venturing here from the Blogcatalog discussion on intelligent design: Get over to the site of Donald Johanson’s Institute for Human Origins, and especially look at the presentation “On Becoming Human.”  Also check out the Evolution Gateway site at Berkeley, especially this page which explains what evolution is, and this page which offers some introduction for what the evidence for evolution really is.  One quick answer to a question someone asked there:  Between H. erectus and modern humans, H. sapiens, in the time sequence we have fossils of H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis.  It’s pretty clear that Neandertal is not ancestral to modern humans, but instead lived alongside modern humans for 50,000 years or so from the Middle East through Southern Europe.  To the question of actual transitional fossils, you’d need to hit the paleontology journals — there are a lot.  You may also benefit from taking a look at the articles at this special Nature site.

Peregrine falcons — ‘100 things about DDT #77’

December 8, 2007

Another in an occasional series that analyzes “100 Things You Need to Know About DDT,” a junk science publication by former tobacco lobbyist Steven Milloy.

Here’s a note from Audubon a while ago (August 2004) (emphasis added):

Winged Tonic

For those dispirited by the notion that humanity has doomed itself to a lonely, sterile future in a world increasingly bereft of wild creatures, there is no tonic more curative than the peregrine falcon. Today, on cliffs, bridges, and city buildings nationwide, young peregrines are strengthening their wings. Within a few weeks, those wings will propel them at speeds near 250 mph, enabling them to kill birds as large as great blue herons, mostly by impact. City aeries are frequently monitored by TV cameras, and you can watch the progress of the hatchlings on your computer or television. (Do an Internet search to find the monitored aerie nearest you.) Before World War II the peregrine was among the planet’s most successful species, breeding on every continent and many mid-ocean islands, from the Arctic to as far south as Cape Horn. When University of Wisconsin biologist Joseph Hickey surveyed eastern peregrines in 1942, he found 350 breeding pairs. In 1963, after two decades of DDT use, he found none. But in 1972 the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT, and soon an alliance of federal agencies, conservationists, and private groups was sponsoring captive breeding and the “hacking” of young peregrines into the wild. The recovery goal had been 631 breeding pairs in the United States and Canada. By 1999, when the peregrine was taken off the Endangered Species List, there were at least 1,650.

Compare this with Milloy’s claim #77:

The decline in the U.S. peregrine falcon population occurred long before the DDT years.

[Hickey JJ. 1942. (Only 170 pairs of peregrines in eastern U.S. in 1940) Auk 59:176; Hickey JJ. 1971 Testimony at DDT hearings before EPA hearing examiner. (350 pre- DDT peregrines claimed in eastern U.S., with 28 of the females sterile); and Beebe FL. 1971. The Myth of the Vanishing Peregrine Falcon: A study in manipulation of public and official attitudes. Canadian Raptor Society Publication, 31 pages]

Here are some potential problems:

Eggs of peregrine falcon, crushed by parent due to thin shells caused by DDT. Photo copyright Steve Hopkin, www.ardea.com

Eggs of peregrine falcon, crushed by parent due to thin shells caused by DDT. Photo copyright Steve Hopkin, http://www.ardea.com

1. Milloy offers no real citation to Hickey in 1942. The quote would be impossible to track down. Why is Milloy hiding sources, being so coy?

2. While Milloy doesn’t quote Hickey directly, Milloy’s citation of Hickey implies that Hickey’s work supports Milloy’s point. But when we read what Hickey found, according to Audubon, it contradicts Milloy’s point. If Hickey found only 170 nesting peregrines in 1940, and 350 in 1942, clearly that suggests the peregrines were doing very well, more than doubling their nests in two years. Milloy claims peregrines were on the decline, but from what little we have, it looks like their populations were rocketing up prior to DDT. Hickey developed a great reputation for his work revealing the bad effects of DDT; how is it that Milloy has found the only instant ever recorded where Hickey discovers no harm? I suspect Milloy has doctored the data, and not that he’s made a grand discovery of a missing Hickey manuscript.

3. A general decline of raptors prior to DDT does not refute the evidence that DDT killed embryoes, killed hatchlings before they could fledge, and killed fledglings before they could mature. DDT wasn’t the sole cause of the decline of peregrines, nor eagles, nor brown pelicans, but DDT was the major barrier to their recovery. The history of the war against eagles, for example, is rather well documented, as is the development of the wild lands eagles use as habitat. Eagle populations started to decline at the latest when Europeans started to settle North America. Those pressures have never gone away. But after the eagle was protected from hunting in 1918, and then with a tougher law in 1940, the decline was not ended. After 1950, eagles essentially stopped reproducing. This made recovery impossible, and this was the problem DDT caused. When DDT spraying stopped, peregrine falcon populations started to rise, and so did eagle and brown pelican populations, among others.

I have been unable to find a single study that does not corroborate the claim that DDT and its daughter products were hammering the reproduction of predator birds in North America — nor have I found a single study that says the damage has ended. Where does Milloy find any evidence to support his implied claim that DDT was not responsible? It’s not in the citations he offers.

There may be more on this issue coming. So far, nothing Milloy has said against a DDT ban, or in favor of DDT, has checked out to be truthful from the citations he gives, nor from any other source. There are 109 points in his diatribe; I’ve only researched fewer than 20 in any depth.

Other posts pointing out Milloy’s errors:

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon – “Mr. Milloy, you wouldn’t tell fibs about what’s killing my babies, would you?”

Hoax quote collections: Quote mining Hillary Clinton

October 17, 2007

We’re past the political equinox in the political hemisphere (not to be confused with any real equinox anywhere), and we’re coming down to silly season in the presidential race. Soon the hoax quotes will start appearing in full breeding plumage, to be beaten to death by unsuspecting candidates who wish to instill fear in voters, and by partisans who would rather give a tweak to someone they don’t like, rather than get their facts straight.

Remember when the oral faux pas of former Vice President Dan Quayle went around the internet — attributed instead to Al Gore? Yeah, that’s the sort of bird we’ll see. (To be fair, we should note that some of the Quayle quotes are invented, and they were also attributed to George W. Bush, and then to John Kerry; watch for them sometime in 2008.)

How do I know the misquote mocking birds will sing? I’ve already seen one bird, with sightings claimed by dozens of non-thinkers in the blogside. Hillary Clinton’s victory at the 2008 Democratic Convention is so much assumed that people are already staking claims on quote mines, pulling out nuggets of disinformation. In one “quiz,” quotes are listed, and the reader — that would be you or me, Dear Reader — is asked to select who might have said the disgusting thought, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Nikita Kruschev, the Devil Himself (just kidding), or “None of the above.” Each quote’ s “correct” answer is then revealed to be “none of the above,” because Hillary Clinton said it.

SEn. Clinton at Iowa rally, January 2007 - Reuters photo

For those who may doubt, a date is attached to each “quote.”

  • Photo: Sen. Hillary Clinton at a campaign rally in Iowa, January 2007 – Reuters photo.

You can see this one coming from miles away: Clinton’s quotes are true quote mine nuggets, ripped out of context, disguised with odd dates and no other details, and edited so a discerning reader cannot track them down to expose the fraud by the makers of the quiz (who was identified as Neal Boortz in one piece I saw but I haven’t been able to find his version).

We’ll take a more rational, hoax-debunking view below the fold. You can bet that Hillary Clinton didn’t take the Idi Amin-Stalin-Mao-Hitler view. You can take that to the bank.

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