Rachel Carson biography, On a Farther Shore, one of best books of 2012

December 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews listed as one of 2012’s top 25 books William Souder’s biography of Rachel Carson, On a Farther Shore.

William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore. MPR  image

William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore. Minnesota Public Radio image

Rachel Carson often gets credit for starting the modern environmental movement.  In highly cynical political times, Carson is under cruel smear attack from people who wish the environmental movement did not exist, and who appear to think that we could poison Africa to prosperity if only we’d use enough DDT, contrary to all scientific work and medical opinion.

Souder’s book, issued on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Carson’s best-known book, Silent Spring, lays out the facts.

Nice to see that book lovers like Souder’s work, too.  Carson’s work was painstakingly accurate as science, but also a wonderful read.  Silent Spring has a larger following among lovers of literature than science, a tribute to her writing ability.  Souder’s book plows both veins, science and writing.

Cover of On a Farther Shore, by William Souder

Cover of On a Farther Shore, by William Souder

In circles serious about science, the environment, human health, and literature, Souder’s book is the book of the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring.  There is irony there.  Pesticide manufacturers mounted a campaign against Silent Spring and Rachel Carson calculated to have cost $500,000 in 1962, when that book was published.  Souder’s book fights propaganda from Astro-turf™ organizations like Africa Fighting Malaria, a pro-DDT group that collects money from chemical manufacturers and anti-environmental political sources for a propaganda campaign that costs well over $500,000/year.  Despite all the paid-shill shouting against Rachel Carson and her work, it is the voice of On a Farther Shore that stands out.

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Africa Fighting Malaria claims to be fighting malaria

July 6, 2010

In response to earlier analysis here, that Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) does not appear to do much to fight malaria, Richard Tren wrote a comment to a post at TropIKA.

Tren is unlikely to respond here; I gather he does not want to answer questions.

I will comment more completely later — I’m still not sure just what AFM does to fight malaria.  It’s humorous that he calls my question an “ad hominem” attack; I ask the questions because Tren has led the fight in the unholy smear campaign against Rachel Carson, against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, against dozens of other scientists and science itself, against saving the bald eagle, against wise use of pesticides, against bed nets, against fighting malaria other than poisoning Africa. Most recently, as Tren mentions, he published a book that repeats much of the inaccurate claims and hoaxes he has relied on before.  But he’s concerned about attacks on him personally, and not the substance.

Why am I concerned at all?  The AFM-led assault on the World Health Organization, Rachel Carson, malaria fighters in public health, scientists and environmentalists  has come at an extremely high cost in human life. It is impossible to know how many people have died needlessly from malaria, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases in the absence of medical care or prevention programs in lieu of DDT, but it must be millions — many of them could have been saved but for policy-makers’ beliefs that an increase in DDT could poison these people to health quickly and cheaply.  The campaign in favor of DDT has hampered serious efforts to fight malaria especially, such as Nothing But Nets and USAID’s support for prophylactic measures to beat the disease.

Does Tren answer the question well, what does AFM actually do to fight malaria?

Help me find some substance here in Tren’s letter (unedited by me in any way):

Paul,

It’s hard to know whether or not to respond to this. To say that we are ‘under fire’ because of the sniping and ad-hominem attacks from a blogger who has, for some or other reason, decided to take issue with my organization is an exaggeration to say the least. However even though your post has so far received zero comments I’d like to make a few things clear for the record.

AFM was founded in South Africa in 2000 and we opened an office in the United States in 2003. We maintain an office and a presence in South Africa as well as an office in the Washington DC. You say that we have focused most of our attention on one issue – the desirability of using DDT in mosquito control programs. Actually we focus on malaria control programs, not mosquito control programs; but to an extent you are correct. We have focused on this issue because DDT continues to play an important role in malaria control in many southern African programs (and in some other countries) and over the years other countries, such as Uganda have attempted to use DDT but have been harshly criticized and domestic and international groups forcing DDT spraying programs to close down. AFM defends DDT because of its outstanding record in saving lives and because it is under attack. The scare stories and smear campaigns against this insecticide are so pervasive and the misunderstanding about it so widespread that it is vital for some group or individual to provide a counterbalance, based on sound science.

AFM was a critical voice in securing an exemption for the use of DDT in the Stockholm Convention, and our research and advocacy work helped to usher in far-reaching reforms to US support for malaria control. We recently published a major book on DDT and its role in malaria control – The Excellent Powder – see http://www.excellentpowder.org. Additionally, we have responded to several recent publications that seek to limit the use of DDT (and interestingly other insecticides such as pyrethroids), with letters in Environmental Health Perspectives, British Journal of Urology International and working papers published on our own website. We have publicly exposed and criticized the way in which anti-insecticide advocacy groups, like Pesticide Action Network, have lobbied against indoor residual spraying programs that are funded and maintained by the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). All of these letters and papers can be accessed from our website – if any of your readers have any difficulty in accessing them, I’d be happy to forward them.

A word on our critical review of a paper published in British Journal of Urology International. Several researchers from the University of Pretoria published a paper in late 2009 claiming that DDT use in IRS would increase the chance that a boy would be born with a urogenital birth defect by around 33%. This paper was widely covered in the media and caused considerable problems for the malaria control programs in southern Africa. One scientist in particular even claimed on a public TV program that DDT was linked to the case of intersex South African athlete, Caster Semenya; this was further promoted in the print media causing great concern among people living in malaria areas. As we documented in our review, the research paper was very deeply flawed and the conclusions of the authors were premature to say the least. Although it required a considerable investment of time and effort, we respond with a formal review of both the paper and the outrageous claims made in the media for which there was no scientific evidence. Our letter to the journal, which was co-authored by some senior malaria scientists from South Africa, was published in the journal. Although the authors of the paper were given ample opportunity to respond to our criticisms, they declined – which is telling.

You make the point that we have focused on DDT – true, we have done so because there is a need for someone to respond to the never-ending claims of harm. Someone has to stand up and defend the malaria control programs that are using DDT and implementing effective malaria control measures – perhaps if some of the other advocacy groups or individuals stepped up and helped to defend IRS and the use of public health insecticides, we wouldn’t have to spend so much of our time and energy doing it.

In addition to defending the use of public health insecticides, we strongly advocate for investments in new insecticides and against regulations and policies that may hamper access to insecticides or investment in new insecticides. For instance in 2008/9 we coordinated a response to proposed EU regulation of insecticides that could limit access to insecticides. (The various documents that I describe are available on our website) As an example of our work in this regard, we recently held a successful policy briefing on Capitol Hill (in Washington, D.C.) involving stakeholders from advocacy groups, donor agencies and the private sector. Again details of this are available on our website.

Aside from our advocacy and defense of public health insecticides, we have been successful in exposing the ongoing use of sub-standard malaria medicines as well as fake medicines in Africa. Our research studies have been published in Malaria Journal, PLoS One, and other journals. In order to maintain this project and to get safe and effective malaria medicines out to communities we have raised funds for malaria treatments and have focused on increasing access in Uganda. Again, details are available on our website.

Lastly AFM is involved in a research and advocacy program to remove import tariffs and non-tariff barriers from malaria commodities. As malaria programs are scaled up, it is increasingly important to ensure that barriers to access are removed – import tariffs and non-tariff barriers can be significant and AFM is very excited to be involved in this important area of research and advocacy. See http://www.m-tap.org for more details.

So, I hope that this helps to answer the questions about what we do. We are a policy and research group, we have never pretended to be anything else and our track record stands for itself.

Paul, if you want to have a discussion about our work, I’d be happy to correspond with you and your colleagues on a basis of cordiality and respect. I would be delighted to debate our work on DDT, public health insecticides, drug quality and import tariffs and non-tariff barriers, but let’s leave the sniping bloggers and their misleading and biased comments out of this.

Richard Tren


Does Africa Fighting Malaria actually fight malaria?

June 11, 2010

This spring’s publication of a book, The Excellent Powder, by Richard Tren and Donald Roberts, repeating most of the false claims about malaria and DDT, got me wondering. Their organization, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM):

Does AFM do anything to fight malaria? At its own website it makes some astoundingly grandiose claims:

In its seven years of operation, AFM has helped transform malaria control by taking on and turning around failing public health institutions, donor agencies and governments.

Offhand I can’t think of any public health institution AFM has even been involved with, other than its undeserved criticism of the World Health Organization — and if anyone knows of any donor agency or government AFM has “turned around,” the history books await your telling the story.

Africa Fighting Malaria springs to life every year around World Malaria Day, April 25, with editorials claiming environmentalists have killed millions. AFM seems to be one of the sources of the bizarre and false claim that Rachel Carson is a “mass murderer.” AFM makes noise whenever there is difficulty getting a DDT spraying campaign underway in any part of Africa, for any reason, quick to lay the blame on environmentalists, even though the blame generally rests in other places. AFM is quick on the draw to try to discredit all research into DDT that suggests it poses any health threat, though so far as I can tell AFM has published no counter research, nor has it conducted any research of its own.

In its 2009 Annual Report, AFM proudly states “AFM is the only advocacy group that routinely supports IRS [Indoor Residual Spraying] and through its advocacy work defends the use of DDT for malaria control.”

Cleverly, and tellingly, they do not reveal that IRS in integrated vector (pest) management is what Rachel Carson advocated in 1962, nor do they mention that it is also supported by the much larger WHO, several nations in Africa, and the Gates Foundation, all of whom probably do more to fight malaria when they sneeze that AFM does intentionally.

Google and Bing searches turn up no projects the organization actually conducts to provide bed nets, or DDT, or anything else, to anyone working against malaria. I can’t find any place anyone other than AFM describes any activities of the group.

AFM has impressive video ads urging contributions, but the videos fail to mention that nothing in the ad is paid for by AFM, including especially the guy carrying the pesticide sprayer.

Looking at the IRS Form 990s for the organization from 2003 through 2008 (which is organized in both the U.S. and South Africa), it seems to me that the major purpose of AFM is to pay Roger Bate about $100,000 a year for part of the time, and pay Richard Tren more than $80,000 a year for the rest of the time.

Can anyone tell me, what has Africa Fighting Malaria ever done to seriously fight malaria? One could make the argument that if you sent $10 to Nothing But Nets, you’ve saved more lives than the last $1 million invested in AFM, and more to save lives than AFM in its existence.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula and Antievolution.org, even though AFM wasn’t what they were targeting.

Update: Tim Lambert at Deltoid sent some traffic this way, which caught the attention of Eli Rabett, which reminded me that there really is more to this story about Africa Fighting Malaria, and you ought to read it at Deltoid and Rabett’s warren.

Formatting issues More (updated September 24, 2013):


Does Africa Fighting Malaria actually fight malaria? (format fix)

June 11, 2010

[Editor’s note: This post is an attempt to fix a formatting error in the earlier post with the almost-same headline, which has some corruption in it I have been unable to find or fix, but which renders the text almost unreadable.  My apologies.  Have not yet figured out how to move comments, alas; check the old post.]

This spring’s publication of a book, The Excellent Powder, by Richard Tren and Donald Roberts, repeating most of the false claims about malaria and DDT, got me wondering. Their organization, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM):

Does AFM do anything to fight malaria? At its own website it makes some astoundingly grandiose claims:

In its seven years of operation, AFM has helped transform malaria control by taking on and turning around failing public health institutions, donor agencies and governments.

Offhand I can’t think of any public health institution AFM has even been involved with, other than its undeserved criticism of the World Health Organization — and if anyone knows of any donor agency or government AFM has “turned around,” the history books await your telling the story.

Africa Fighting Malaria springs to life every year around World Malaria Day, April 25, with editorials claiming environmentalists have killed millions.  AFM seems to be one of the sources of the bizarre and false claim that Rachel Carson is a “mass murderer.”  AFM makes noise whenever there is difficulty getting a DDT spraying campaign underway in any part of Africa, for any reason, quick to lay the blame on environmentalists, even though the blame generally rests in other places.  AFM is quick on the draw to try to discredit all research into DDT that suggests it poses any health threat, though so far as I can tell AFM has published no counter research, nor has it conducted any research of its own.

In its 2009 Annual Report, AFM proudly states “AFM is the only advocacy group that routinely supports IRS [Indoor Residual Spraying] and through its advocacy work defends the use of DDT for malaria control.”

Cleverly, and tellingly, they do not reveal that IRS in integrated vector (pest) management is what Rachel Carson advocated in 1962, nor do they mention that it is also supported by the much larger WHO, several nations in Africa, and the Gates Foundation, all of whom probably do more to fight malaria when they sneeze that AFM does intentionally.

Google and Bing searches turn up no projects the organization actually conducts to provide bed nets, or DDT, or anything else, to anyone working against malaria.  I can’t find any place anyone other than AFM describes any activities of the group.

AFM has impressive video ads urging contributions, but the videos fail to mention that nothing in the ad is paid for by AFM, including especially the guy carrying the pesticide sprayer.

Looking at the IRS Form 990s for the organization from 2003 through 2008 (which is organized in both the U.S. and South Africa), it seems to me that the major purpose of AFM is to pay Roger Bate about $100,000 a year for part of the time, and pay Richard Tren more than $80,000 a year for the rest of the time.

Can anyone tell me, what has Africa Fighting Malaria ever done to seriously fight malaria?

One could make the argument that if you sent $10 to Nothing But Nets, you’ve saved more lives than the last $1 million invested in AFM, and more to save lives than AFM in its existence.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula and Antievolution.org, even though AFM wasn’t what they were targeting.

_____________
Update: Tim Lambert at Deltoid sent some traffic this way, which caught the attention of Eli Rabett, which reminded me that there really is more to this story about Africa Fighting Malaria, and you ought to read it at Deltoid and Rabett’s warren.

More (updated September 24, 2013):


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