Called this one right: DDT advocates think poison is always the answer

October 25, 2010

This is a story about the persistence of bad information, and about the flow of news and other new information.

At about the same time I was writing about the Lancet study on potential undercounting of malaria deaths in India, Debora McKenzie at New Scientist pored over the same article (maybe the same Bloomberg News piece), and reported it in greater detail than I did here.  McKenzie’s piece is worthy of a read.

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit picked up on McKenzie’s piece — but reflecting his pro-poison and anti-humanitarianism bias, he tacked on a gratuitous slap at health workers, scientists and governments who tried to eradicate malaria in the 20th century:

MALARIA KILLING MORE PEOPLE THAN WE THOUGHT?

Malaria has always been one of humanity’s biggest killers, but it may be far bigger than we realised. An unprecedented survey of the disease suggests that it kills between 125,000 and 277,000 people per year in India alone. In contrast, the World Health Organization puts India’s toll at just 16,000.

Other countries using similar accounting methods, such as Indonesia, may also be underestimating deaths from malaria. That means it could be killing many more than the WHO’s official estimate of nearly 1 million people a year worldwide, suggesting more money should be spent to fight it.

It’s too bad the malaria eradication efforts were allowed to fail.

“Allowed” to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone wanted the program to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone could have stopped the failure, other than the pro-DDT forces who overused the stuff and drove mosquitoes to evolve resistance, or other than the governments of Subsaharan Africa who could not mount massive health care campaigns due to the instability of their governments?  It’s too bad the program failed — it was mighty ambitious.  “Allowed to fail” is an undeserved slap at malaria fighters like Fred Soper.

This slip to finger-pointing is what I warned about in my post:  Though India is the world’s greatest manufacturer of DDT, and though more DDT is used in India today than the rest of the world combined, someone will look at the undercount story, blame the imaginary ban on DDT, blame Rachel Carson (who never advocated a ban on DDT), and make some smug political snark.

Reynolds was pulled away from the snark, fortunately.  Reader Kevin O’Brien wrote to Reynolds about  the difficulties of beating any disease, using smallpox as his launching point.  Beating smallpox was a massive effort, made easier by the fact that the pox resided only in humans, as opposed to the malaria parasite’s two-species life cycle.  O’Brien’s missive to Reynolds, a few errors included, is the best commentary Reynolds has had on DDT and disease in some time.

One frequently-obnoxious blogger pulled back from the brink is not enough, though.

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt jumped the shark at his blog for the Melbourne (Australia) Daily Sun.  The headline for his post is inflammatory and wrong, and warns us that most of what Bolt writes will be wrong:

How many children did Carson’s green lies kill?

Foolish hope that DDT could be a magic bullet against malaria, like Bolt’s,  helps frustrate workable plans to fight the disease.  Policy makers being convinced that some political conspiracy keeps DDT from working to beat malaria, in effect kills children.  Fighting malaria requires long, hard work, to bolster health care systems in entire nations, to accurately and quickly diagnose malaria, and to provide complete treatment to cure human victims.  That work is hampered by policy makers and popular opinion who hold that DDT would be cheaper and quicker, and effective.  Bolt takes any source, no matter how scurrilous, in his unholy condemnation of conservationists and scientists, especially Rachel Carson.  His sole source to condemn Carson is a publication from the far, far-fringe.

How many children will Bolt’s brown lies kill? one could ask.

I warned earlier:

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

Andrew Bolt, you’ve made me a prophet — a saddened and disappointed prophet.  It’s good to see Glenn Reynolds step back from the brink of hysteria.  It’s too bad Bolt took the plunge.  Others will probably follow Bolt.

How far will the bad claims spread?


Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds poisoned by DDT

May 24, 2010

You can read about it here, at Instapundit.

Reynolds wants DDT back because dengue fever showed up at Key West.  News for Reynolds:  We see it in Texas all the time, but usually among poorer people with Hispanic heritage who live along the Rio Grande.  (Funny how these conservative nutballs all worry about people, so long as they’re white, and rich enough to travel to tropical vacation spots; where’s Reynolds to worry about the people who supply his fruits and vegetables?)

One solution:  Improve health care to cure humans with dengue, and then mosquitoes that spread it have no pool of infection to draw from — mosquito bites become just mosquito bites.

Other preventives:  Drain mosquito breeding areas (tires, flower pots, potholes, etc.) within 50 yards of human habitation.  Mosquitoes don’t fly far, and if they can’t breed where people are, they won’t travel to find human victims.

Stupid, destructive solutions:  Spray DDT.  DDT kills insects, bats and birds that prey on mosquitoes much more effectively than it kills mosquitoes, and mosquitoes evolve resistance faster, and rebreed faster. DDT is especially deadly against brown pelicans — maybe Reynolds figures we don’t need to worry about them any more, since they’re under assault from the oil slick that threatens to kill the estuaries of Louisiana.  Were he concerned about the birds, surely he’d have realized his error, right?

So, why did Glenn Reynolds get stupid about DDT?  Why is he promoting DDT, instead of promoting ways to fight dengue?

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But, then, Glenn Reynolds has been a fool for poisoning (anyone but himself) for a long time:

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United Conservatives of Virginia swallow the DDT poison, too.  Don’t these people ever study history?

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Help Glenn Reynolds recover from DDT poisoning, let others know the facts:

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Instapundit supports pollution, but with a smile

August 23, 2007

DDT follows the same path as PCBs in the environment, both persistent organic pollutants. From World Ocean Review:  Bioaccumulation of toxins in the marine food chain has long been recognized as a problem. The process illustrated here relates to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a typical environ-mental toxin.

DDT follows the same path as PCBs in the environment, both persistent organic pollutants. This illustration from World Ocean Review: Bioaccumulation of toxins in the marine food chain has long been recognized as a problem. The process illustrated here relates to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a typical environmental toxin.

Instapundit is happy to promote the use of poison:

SOME KIND WORDS FOR DDT — in the New York Times, no less. “Today, indoor DDT spraying to control malaria in Africa is supported by the World Health Organization; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the United States Agency for International Development. . . . Even those mosquitoes already resistant to poisoning by DDT are repelled by it.”

The debate over DDT is over. There’s scientific consensus. Anyone who disagrees is a DDT denialist and a mouthpiece for Big Mosquito.

posted at 10:18 AM by Glenn Reynolds

No, Glenn, the debate is not over so long as people continue to deny the harmful effects of DDT and act as mouthpieces for Big Poison, Big Garbage, Big Cancer, Big Pollution, voodoo science and Big Stupid.

There is a scientific consensus, but Reynolds misstates it. Scientists agree that DDT kills birds, bats, reptiles and beneficial insects that prey on malaria-bearing mosquitoes, making control of malaria more difficult (among many other harms). Consequently, DDT use under the rules laid down by the U.S. EPA in 1972 make a lot of sense. Those rules are the same as agreed to in the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs) — no DDT use in broadcast spraying, especially on crops; DDT use is allowed when necessary to fight disease; alternatives to DDT must be researched and created. The POPs Treaty lists DDT as one of the “Dirty Dozen” persistent pollutants.

POPs are a set of chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment for long periods of time, and biomagnify as they move up through the food chain. POPs have been linked to adverse effects on human health and animals, such as cancer, damage to the nervous system, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system. Because they circulate globally via the atmosphere, oceans, and other pathways, POPs released in one part of the world can travel to regions far from their source of origin.

Reynolds appears not to have read the treaty, nor even the article he cites, by Donald Roberts, from the odd, industry-funded Africa Fighting Malaria; even the most optimistic DDT fanatics generally nod in the direction of the dangers. Roberts wrote:

It would be a mistake to think we could rely on DDT alone to fight mosquitoes in Africa. Fortunately, research aimed at developing new and better insecticides continues — thanks especially to the work of the international Innovative Vector Control Consortium. Until a suitable alternative is found, however, DDT remains the cheapest and most effective long-term malaria fighter we have.

Africa Fighting Malaria is apoplectically happy to have one study that shows some repellent effects of DDT. As Bug Girl and Deltoid note, AFM urged unreasonable responses from many of us (I got their request, too). The study is encouraging, but it fails to make DDT the panacea Roberts paints it, and the study completely ignores the dangers of DDT, which have not changed a whit.

The best solutions to fighting malaria do not require DDT. Other new studies show that simple mosquito netting is amazingly effective — in Kenya, a switch in policy to give the nets out for free reduced malaria incidence by 44%. Under policies urged by U.S. conservatives, Kenyans had been required to pay for the nets previously. Reducing the cost of the nets left them beyond the means of many poor Kenyans.

Where is Glenn Reynolds’ promotion of non-poisonous and non-polluting, effective means to fight malaria. Why does he only go for the damaging solutions?

Perhaps Glenn Reynolds and Donald Roberts could make a showing of good faith in this case. Since this one study did tend to break their way, perhaps they could show their gratitude by calling on Sen. Tom Coburn to stop acting like a brat throwing a tantrum and remove his holds on the bill that would name a post office in Pennsylvania for Rachel Carson, honoring her work against pollution.  (Coburn cites junk science and voodoo science as his justification — and he’s an M.D.!)
Or, would making a statement against pollution be contrary to their politics?

To the chronically science challenged, DDT is an answer to more ills than you can imagine. We face new infestations of bed bugs — how long before AFM’s editorial ghosts have people urging DDT spraying wholesale to fight bed bugs? West Nile virus continues to plague the U.S., and already articles have appeared calling for broadcast spraying of towns and marshes to fight it, though that would probably be exactly the wrong thing to do.

The fight against ignorance goes on, but some wear ignorance like a badge of honor.


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