NOAA’s chief scientist reminds everyone that accuracy with honor is necessary for science to be good.
Here is the entire message from NOAA Assistant Administrator Craig McLean, to NOAA staff, sent out Tuesday, September 10, 2019.
A Message from Craig McLean: Hurricane Dorian and Exceptional Service
This following is the original message Craig McLean, NOAA Research Assistant Administrator, sent to all NOAA Research employees on the morning of Monday, September 9th regarding Hurricane Dorian and its wide-ranging impacts.
The fierce storm we know as Hurricane Dorian has concluded its ferocious path through the Bahamas and along the U.S. East Coast. Many of you have contributed to the excellent science that has underpinned the forecasts and current understanding of storms such as this one, which accelerated quite rapidly in intensity. The storm also presented challenges in track which improved with enhanced observations. We know that our collective work, from the scientists in the aircraft penetrating the storm, to the scientists deploying the glider picket line, to the modelers and folks working the physics of the storms, across OAR and in our CI’s, and across all NOAA Lines, we are working the problem in order to give the NWS forecasters the best tools we possibly can to keep America and our neighbors safe. Thank you.
During the course of the storm, as I am sure you are aware, there were routine and exceptional expert forecasts, the best possible, issued by the NWS Forecasters. These are remarkable colleagues of ours, who receive our products, use them well, and provide the benefit of their own experience in announcing accurate forecasts accompanied by the distinction of all credible scientists—they sign their work. As I’m sure you also know, there was a complex issue involving the President commenting on the path of the hurricane. The NWS Forecaster(s) corrected any public misunderstanding in an expert and timely way, as they should. There followed, last Friday, an unsigned press release from “NOAA” that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster. My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political. Our NOAA Scientific Integrity Policy and Code of Scientific Conduct make clear that all NOAA employees shall approach all scientific activities with honesty, objectively, and completely, without allegiance to individuals, organizations, or ideology. The content of this press release is very concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises.
You know that the value of our science is in the complexity of our understanding, our ability to convey that understanding to a wide audience of users of this information, and to establish and sustain the public trust in the truth and legitimacy of that information. Unfortunately, the press release of last Friday violated this trust and violated NOAA’s policies of scientific integrity. In my role as Assistant Administrator for Research, and as I continue to administratively serve as Acting Chief Scientist, I am pursuing the potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity. Thankfully, we have such policies that are independently cited as among the best in the federal community, if not the best. Your NOAA and OAR management and leadership team believes in these policies and principles. I have a responsibility to pursue these truths. I will.
Thank you for your continued excellent work, and your trust. Carry on.
Craig N. McLean Assistant Administrator Oceanic and Atmospheric Research National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
This is an encore post, a repeat post from about four years ago, back in 2008. For some reason the post got a couple hundred hits one day this past week, probably from a reference at another blog that I could not track. I reread it — still true, still good stuff. In this campaign year of 2012, I am dismayed at how anti-science and the denial of reality haunts election discussions, especially on-line, but also in the newspapers and magazines, on television and radio, in diners and drugstore fountains, in churches and PTA meetings. Denial of reality may or may not be a genuine ailment to humans. When it becomes a core belief of a significant number of people, denial can cripple our nation, our states, cities and towns. We need to ask deep questions. We need to have real answers, not fantasies nor dangerous delusions.
Charles Darwin’s study, where he conducted experiments and made many of the observations he wrote about. Photo: National Endowment for the Humanities
Denying reality plagues us as an actual political response to several problems. Denialists wander so far down paths of disreality, they argue that we should ignore serious problems, and that the problems will then go away.
Should we teach the science of evolution to our children, or should we pretend fairy tales will substitute? This has deep meaning to those who understand that Charles Darwin’s greatest contribution to science probably was his strict methodology, which required observation of things in nature before writing about them as if authoritative.
Early in his life Darwin recognized that the natural world he saw, in Brazil, in the Galapagos Islands, in Australia and Tasmania, in South Africa, bore little resemblance to the world portrayed as authoritative by the great William Paley in his Natural Theology. Throughout his science career Darwin observed real things in real time. For his monograph on coral atolls, Darwin extensively observed the volcanic island phenomena throughout the South Pacific. To write about barnacles, Darwin raised them in tanks in his study. Looking at the mystery of exactly how the ivy twines, Darwin put a plant before him, and watched it, unraveling the secrets of how tendrils “knew” what to latch onto for support of the vine. To write about leaf moulds, Darwin observed worms at work, in his lab and in his gardens. To show the variation existing in what we now call the genome of a species, Darwin made extensive interviews and correspondence with animal husbanders of pigs, sheep and cattle, and he raised pigeons for generations himself, demonstrating how variations can be expressed that drive populations of one species to split into two through natural, everyday processes familiar to anyone who observed nature, and accessible by anyone who made methodical notes.
This familiarity with reality made Darwin a great scientist. The methodology proved extendable into other areas when he carefully observed the mediums to whom his brother had cast great credence. Charles revealed to Erasmus that spirit knocking on the tables at the séances did not occur so long as they held the hands of the mediums, who were then unable to feign the knocking.
Ultimately it provided some despair to Darwin, too: In the face of criticism from William Thompson,Lord Kelvin, that the Earth was not old enough to allow for evolution as Darwin suggested it must have occurred, Darwin had no answer. Lord Kelvin calculated the ages of the Earth and Sun to be no more than 200 million years. This was shown by the present temperatures and color of the Earth and the Sun, and calculated by Lord Kelvin from how long it would take the Earth, known to be composed of much iron and nickel, to cool from white hot to current temperatures. Lord Kelvin ventured deep into coal mines to measure the temperatures of the Earth deep underground, to confirm his calculations. At his death, though he defended his own observations of fossils and breeding of live animals, Darwin had no response for those arguments. Darwin thought there must be other forces at play. Only some years later did Ernest Rutherford find the secret of the Earth’s heat: Radioactive decay in the mantle and core of the planet keeps it warm. Measures of heat loss for such a large body had not accounted for continuous heating from within. A short while later astronomers and physicists discovered problems with Lord Kelvin’s calculations of the age of the Sun: The Sun is not composed of iron, cooling from white hot temperatures, but instead is hydrogen, fusing into helium, and making its own heat.
Darwin’s calculations of the age of the Earth were more accurate than Lord Kelvin’s, based on Darwin’s crude calculations of how long it might take animals and plants to have evolved from much more primitive forms. History demonstrated by easily observable things provided greater accuracy than history devised without benefit of grounding in reality.
In what other realms might grounding in reality produce answers different from what some expect, even producing better questions that many ask? Should we consider the migratory pattern changes of birds, fish and mammals, as indicators of a warming climate, over rebuttals provided by untested claims that measuring stations might not be placed correctly? Can we actually “cool” atoms with lasers, and use individual atoms to store information, no matter how counterintuitive that might sound? Can it be true that teaching people about contraception, and about sex, actually prompts teenagers (and others) to reduce sexual activity and look for love, rather than just sex? Does extending medical coverage to an entire population actually decrease total health care costs as observed in all other nations where that solution has been tried, or will it increase costs because the only way to reduce medical costs is to ration it, either with a bureaucracy, or by cutting off access by backdoor, death panel means testing (no money, no health care)? Is there any place Arthur Laffer‘s “curve” of increasing tax revenues by cutting tax rates, actually does not work — or any place it actually works? Has any society in history ever gotten rich by showering riches on the rich, and ignoring the poor, the merchants, and the working class?
In short, how does reality we know, inform us about reality yet to be? Which is the more potent predictor, observed reality, or hoped-for results to the contrary?
Our future hangs on how we answer the question, probably more than what the answer actually is.
I believe Christians, the largest faith group in the U.S., have a duty to stand for reality, and truth discovered by observation. That was the issue in 2008, too.
Here is my post of four years ago. I noticed a few of the links no longer work; I’ll replace them with working links as I can. If you find a bad link, please note it in comments; and if you have a better link, note that, too.
Charles Darwin’s Study, Down House, where Darwin wrote all of his publications after his marriage. Photo by and copyright held by Bob Radlinski. Radlinski’s description: Darwin regularly spent about 5 hours a day here for 40 years and kept a chamber pot behind the partition so that he wouldn’t have to trek to the toilet. But he still had time for an active family life with his wife Emma and their 10 children. The low stool with casters was used to spin himself from one desk where he dissected in front of the window to another where he took notes or wrote up labels—the stool the children were allowed to use for their games, punting themselves around the living room with long poles. The sitting room at the back of the house has large windows that go to the floor so that on nice days, the children (and dogs) could roam back and forth from house to garden at will.
Point being, of course, that evolution occurs in the real world. Creationists rarely exhibit the faith of their claims when their life, or just nagging pain, is on the line. They’ll choose the evolution-based medical treatment almost every time. There are no creationists in the cancer or infectious disease wards.
At one point I responded to a comment loaded with typical creationist error. It was a long post. It covered some ground that I’ve not written about on this blog. And partly because it took some time to assemble, I’m reposting my comments here. Of course, without the Trudeau cartoon, it won’t get nearly the comments here.
I’ll add links here when I get a chance, which I lacked the time to do earlier. See my post, below the fold.
Gee, I think I first posted this more than a year before the Pennsylvania decision. In any case, the subject has come up once again in another forum: Why don’t we teach intelligent design as an “alternative” idea in public school science classes? The answer is, simply, ID is not science. It’s not an alternative hypothesis, it’s a chunk of minority cult religious dogma.
Most bad science claims recirculate year after year, until they are simply educated out of existence in the public mind. We can hope intelligent design falls into that category. But we might worry that modern creationism, begun as a backlash to the anti-Soviet, National Defense Education Act‘s effects on beefing up science teaching in American schools, survives.
I noted that Beckwith’s getting tenure denies ID advocates of an argument that Beckwith is being persecuted for his ID views (wholly apart from the fact that there is zero indication his views on this issue had anything to do with his tenure discussions). Of course, I was wrong there — ID advocates have since continued to claim persecution where none exists. Never let the facts get in the way of a creationism rant, is the first rule of creationism.
Discussion has since turned to the legality of teaching intelligent design in a public school science class. This is well settled law — it’s not legal, not so long as there remains no undisproven science to back ID or any other form of creationism.
Background: The Supreme Court affirmed the law in a 1987 case from Louisiana, Edwards v. Aguillard (482 U.S. 578), affirming a district court’s grant of summary judgment against a state law requiring schools to teach creationism whenever evolution was covered in the curriculum. Summary judgment was issued by the district court because the issues were not materially different from those in an earlier case in Arkansas, McLean vs. Arkansas (529 F. Supp. 1255, 1266 (ED Ark. 1982)). There the court held, after trial, that there is no science in creationism that would allow it to be discussed as science in a classroom, and further that creationism is based in scripture and the advocates of creationism have religious reasons only to make such laws. (During depositions, each creationism advocate was asked, under oath, whether they knew of research that supports creationism; each answered “no.” Then they were asked where creationism comes from, and each answered that it comes from scripture. It is often noted how the testimony changes from creationists, when under oath.)
Especially after the Arkansas trial, it was clear that in order to get creationism into the textbooks, creationists would have to hit the laboratories and the field to do some science to back their claims. Oddly, they have staunchly avoided doing any such work, instead claiming victimhood, usually on religious grounds. To the extent ID differs from all other forms of creationism, the applicability of the law to ID was affirmed late last year in the Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover. (Please go read that case!)
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.
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.”
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?
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:
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.]
The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
The discoverer has worked in isolation.
The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.
Here, with thanks to Robert Park, is what I propose for the warning signs for bogus history, for voodoo history:
The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
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.
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.
Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
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.
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.
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Among the allegations, that Monsanto aggressively protects its patents on seeds and other products sold to farmers, and that the company may not be above a bit of skullduggery to push farmers and, in this case, milk processors, to use Monsanto products. Watch for Steven Milloy’s name to pop up in the last paragraph. The site quotes a Vanity Fair article on Monsanto from 2008.
Even if Monsanto’s efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there’s nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don’t use Monsanto’s artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.
He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to “help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels.” There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn’t use Monsanto’s product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk.
There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. “They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do,” says Kleinpeter. “We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected.”
As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the “junk science” commentator for FoxNews.com and operator of junkscience.com, which claims to debunk “faulty scientific data and analysis.” It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the “junkman,” was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.
The extreme right-wing Heritage Foundation lashed out at health care workers and scientists fighting malaria in Africa and Asia for World Malaria Day, April 25 (HF’s post showed up on May 5). If these malaria fighters really were smart, HF’s Jane Abel wrote, they’d just poison Africa with DDT instead of protecting children with bednets and working to improve medical care. According to Abel, DDT is safe for everyone but mosquitoes, and more effective than anything else malaria fighters use — so they are stupid and venal, she asserts, for not using DDT.
Here’s her post:
Environmentalists celebrated World Malaria Day last week (and Earth Day the week prior). Meanwhile, thousands of African children died of malaria.
While these activists may make themselves feel like they’re saving the world, they are ignoring the best possible solution to Africa’s malaria problem: the use of DDT to wipe out the Anopheles mosquito.
Even though the World Health Organization resumed promotion of DDT in September 2006—realizing it had the best track record for saving the lives of 500 million African children—environmentalists are still emphasizing the use of bed nets instead. DDT treatments almost completely eradicated the disease in Europe and North America 50 years ago, but today an African child dies every 45 seconds of malaria.
Providing sub-Saharan Africans with bed nets has had far from acceptable success in delivering the amount of protection needed from mosquitoes. The World Bank touts the fact that 50 percent of children in Zambia are now sleeping under nets as a good thing, but what about the other half who are left defenseless against a killer disease? The Democratic Republic of the Congo had only 38 percent of children under nets in 2010.
One would question why, in the 21st century, people should have to live inside of a net in order to be safe from malaria. The world has a better solution, and it’s not the quarantine of African infants. Dr. John Rwakimari, as head of Uganda’s national malaria program, described DDT, which is nontoxic to humans, as “the answer to our problems.”
World Malaria Day 2011 had the theme of “Achieving Progress and Impact” and aims to have zero malaria deaths by 2015. If the world really wants to make progress and increase the number of lives saved from malaria, it needs to embrace for Africans the best possible technologies available today, and that means DDT.
DDT is toxic to humans — just not greatly and acutely so. Ms. Abel should be aware of recent studies that indicate even limited, indoor use of DDT in the end produces a death toll similar to malaria. But we digress on just one of the errors assumed by Ms. Abel.
Please do not forget that malaria is a parasite disease, and that mosquitoes are only the carriers of it. To truly eradicate malaria, we need to cure the humans — and if we do that, the mosquitoes do not matter. With no infected humans, mosquitoes have no well of disease to draw from. Without infected humans, mosquitoes cannot spread malaria.
Also, it’s important to remember that DDT has never been banned in Africa. DDT non-use is much more a result of the ineffectiveness of DDT in many applications — why should we expect Africans to throw away hard-earned money on a pesticide that doesn’t work?
Ms. Abel assumes that all Africans are too stupid to use DDT, though it might save their children. He states no reason for this assumption, but we should question it. If Africans do not use DDT, it may well be because the local populations of mosquitoes are not susceptible; or it could be because other solutions, like bednets, are more effective, and cheaper.
Ms. Abel has not made a case that DDT is the best solution to use against malaria. DDT cannot improve a nation’s medical care delivery systems, to quickly diagnose and appropriately treat malaria in humans. DDT cannot make mosquitoes extinct, we know from 66 year of DDT use that mosquitoes always come roaring back. DDT cannot prevent mosquitoes from spreading malaria as effectively as bednets.
Maybe, just maybe, as evidenced by the dramatic reductions in malaria deaths, we might assume that modern Africans and health care workers know what they’re doing fighting malaria — and they do not need, want, or call for, a lot more DDT than is currently in use.
It’s too bad Heritage Foundation fell victim to so much junk science, and that the otherwise august press release operation pushes the grand DDT hoaxes. Just once, wouldn’t it be nice if these conservative echo chambers would, instead of recycling the old, wrong press releases of other conservatives, would do a little research on their own, and get the facts right?
* It’ll be fun to watch. I sent my response early, early in the morning while rushing to get a presentation ready, and I made a couple of egregious typos, including identifying Jonathan Weiner as “Stephen Weiner.” If HF wished to embarrass me, they’d publish that one out of their moderation queue — but I’ll bet that even with my typos, they can’t allow the facts through. Also, for reasons I can’t figure, some guy named Thurman showed as the author of HF’s piece on May 5. So I had referred to Mr. Thurman instead of Ms. Abel. Interesting technical glitch, or story, there.
Update, May 8: As we should have expected, Steven Milloy’s Junk Science Side Bar also went on record as favoring the poisoning of Africa rather than the fighting of malaria. Milloy makes claims that DDT will beat malaria (ostensibly before it kills all life in Africa), but his sources don’t support the claim. Milloy is always very careful to never mention that, largely without DDT, the death toll from malaria is at the lowest point in human history. Instead he notes that while malaria fighters promoted World Malaria Day, lots of African kids died of malaria. That’s true, but misleading. Because of the malaria-fighting efforts of those Milloy tries to impugn, far fewer African kids die. Contrary to Milloy’s insane and offensive claims, it’s not alright that “only people” die. Milloy asserts implicitly that, but for environmentalists, thousands or millions of children would survive that do not know. That’s not true: Because of the work that Milloy denigrates, millions fewer die. It wasn’t environmentalists who overused DDT and rendered it ineffective in the fight against malaria, it was Milloy’s funders. Follow the money.
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Jerome Corsi, that serial fictionalizer of vital issues, has a book out promoting his slimy schemes besmirch President Obama. Goddard urges people to buy it.
But they really pile on in the comments. It’s almost as if Casey Luskin had a whole family just like himself, and they got together to whine about Judge Roberts again.
Warming denialism, creationism and birthers — is it all just three minor variations on the same brain-sucking virus? Or could three different diseases produce the same sort of crazy on so many different issues?
I’m reminded of the old saw that you cannot reason a person out of a position he didn’t reach by reason. These guys will never see the light. Heaven knows, it ain’t evidence that gets ’em where they are now.
This week, EPA bashing took front and center on the performance stage that passes as Congress these days. There is a school of thought that thinks EPA should be eviscerated because EPA is carrying out the mandate an earlier Congress gave it, to clean up the air. Especially, the recent assailants claim, EPA should not try to reduce carbon emissions, because clean air might cost something.
Steven Milloy, who makes crude and false claims against William Ruckelshaus, a great lawyer and the hero of the Saturday Night Massacre. Why does Milloy carry such a pathetic grudge?
Wholly apart from the merits, or great lack of merits to those arguments, the anti-EPA crowd is just ugly.
78-year-old William Ruckelshaus, the Hero of the Saturday Night Massacre, a distinguished lawyer and businessman, and the founding Director of EPA who was called back to clean it up after the Reagan administration scandals, granted an interview on EPA bashing to Remapping Debate, an ambitious, independent blog from the Columbia School of Journalism designed to provide information essential to policy debates that too-often gets overlooked or buried. [Remapping Debate sent a note that they are not affiliated with CSJ; my apologies for the error.]
Ruckelshaus, as always, gave gentlemanly answers to questions about playing politics with science, and bashing good, honest and diligent government workers as a method of political discourse.
He’s the 20th century’s only mass murderer to survive and thrive (as a venture capitalist) in the 21st century.
Milloy owes Ruckelshaus an apology and a complete retraction. I rather hope Ruckelshaus sues — while Milloy will claim the standards under New York Times vs. Sullivan as a defense, because Ruckelshaus is a public figure, I think the only question a jury would have to deal with is how much malice aforethought Milloy exhibits. Malice is obvious. Heck, there might not even be a question for a jury — Milloy loses on the law (nothing he claims against Ruckelshaus is accurate or true in any way).
This is much more damning than what got two NPR officials to lose their jobs.
Who will stand up for justice here? Rep. Upton? Rep. Boehner? Anthony Watts?
I tried to offer a correction, and since then have written Milloy demanding an apology and retraction — neither comment has surfaced yet on Milloy’s blog. Here’s the truth Milloy hasn’t printed:
20. DDT can have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish and estuarine organisms when directly applied to the water.
21. DDT is used as a rodenticide. [DDT was used to kill bats in homes and office buildings; this was so effective that, coupled with accidental dosing of bats from their eating insects carrying DDT, it actually threatened to wipe out some species of bat in the southwest U.S.]
22. DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.
23. DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.
On that basis, two federal courts ruled that DDT must be taken off the market completely. Sweeney agreed with the findings of the courts precisely, but he determined that the law did not give him the power to order DDT off the market since the newly-proposed labels of the DDT manufacturers restricted use to emergency health-related tasks. With the benefit of rereading the two federal courts’ decisions, Ruckelshaus noted that the courts said the power was already in the old law, and definitely in the new law. [See, for example, EDF v. Ruckelshaus, 439 F. 2d 584 (1971)]
DDT was banned from use on crops in the U.S. as an ecosystem killer. It still is an ecosystem killer, and it still deserves to be banned.
Ruckelshaus’s order never traveled outside the U.S. DDT has never been banned in most nations of the world, and even though DDT has earned a place on the list of Dirty Dozen most dangerous pollutants, even under the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty of 2001, DDT is available for use to any country who wishes to use it.
Please get your facts straight.
Would you, Dear Reader, help spread the word on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or any other service you have, that the Brown Lobby has gone too far in it’s error-based propaganda against clean air and those who urge a better environment? Please?
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
Tuesday morning, March 8, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce opened hearings on global warming, staging an assault on science with a series of witnesses, some of whom recently have made a career out of mau-mauing scientists.
Dr. Donald Roberts’ testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Power, on March 8, 2011, presented a grand collection of Bogus History, coupled with Bogus Science. Roberts has an unfortunate history of presenting doctored data and false claims to Congress.
One witness took after the EPA directly and Rachel Carson by implication, with a specious claim that DDT is harmless. Donald Roberts is a former member of the uniformed public health service. Since retiring, and perhaps for a while before, he started running with a bad crowd. Of late he’s been working with the Merry Hoaxsters of the unrooted Astroturf organization Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), a group dedicated to publishing editorials tearing down the reputation of Rachel Carson, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
(That would all be purple prose, were it not accurate in its description of people, organizations and their actions.)
Why was Roberts testifying at a hearing on global warming? He’s carrying water for the anti-science, “please-do-nothing” corporate crowd. It’s a tactic from the old tobacco lobbyist book: Roberts claims that scientists got everything wrong about DDT, and that the ban on DDT done in error has wreaked havoc in the third world. Therefore, he says, we should never trust scientists. If scientists say “duck!” don’t bother, in other words.
Roberts is in error. Scientists, especially Rachel Carson, were dead right about DDT. Because corporate interests refused to listen to them, the overuse and abuse of DDT rendered it ineffective in the fight against malaria, and DDT use as part of a very ambitious campaign to eradicate malaria had to be abandoned in 1965. The entire campaign had to be abandoned as a result, and more than 30 million kids have died since.
So don’t grant credence to Roberts now. He’s covering up one of the greatest industrial screw-ups in history, a screw up that, by Roberts’ own count, has killed 30 million kids. What in the world would motivate Roberts to get the story so wrong, to the detriment of so many kids?
Putting issues of EPA budget aside, I want to introduce my technical comments with a quote from a recent Associated Press article with a lead statement “none of EPA’s actions is as controversial as its rules on global warming.” In my opinion, this is wrong.
Dr. Donald Roberts testifying to the House Energy Committee, March 8, 2011. Screen capture from Committee video.
Roberts is correct here in his opinion. It is simply wrong that EPA’s rules on global warming and controls of the pollutants that cause it should be controversial. Among air pollution scientists the rules are not controversial. Among climate scientists the rules are not controversial. Roberts and his colleagues at the so-called Competitive Enterprise Institute, Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM), and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) work hard to manufacture controversy where the science does not support their case.
It is wrong. Roberts should be ashamed.
Almost forty years ago EPA banned DDT in the United States. Its action against DDT was extraordinarily controversial, and still is. As activists advanced fearful claims against DDT, the EPA was warned, over and over again, a ban would destroy critically important disease control programs and millions upon millions of poor people in developing countries would die as consequence. Leaders of the World Health and Pan American Health Organizations, and even the U.S. Surgeon General warned against the ban. The EPA banned DDT anyway, and the doomsday predictions of those public health leaders proved prescient.
EPA’s ban on DDT in the U.S. was limited to the United States. Roberts doesn’t say it flat out, but he implies that the U.S. ban on spraying DDT on cotton fields in Texas and Arkansas — and cotton was about the only crop where DDT was still used — somehow caused a ban on DDT in Africa, or Asia, or South America, or other places where malaria still occurs.
I’m also not sure that health officials “pleaded” to stop the U.S. ban on any grounds, but certainly they did not plead with Ruckelshaus to keep spraying DDT on cotton. Roberts is making stuff up in effect, if not in intent.
Probably more to the point, health officials had stopped significant use of DDT in Africa in 1965, seven years before EPA acted in the U.S., because overuse of DDT on crops in Africa had bred mosquitoes that were resistant and immune to the stuff. Since 1955, in close cooperation with the malaria-fighting experts from the Rockefeller Foundation including the great Fred Soper, WHO carried on a methodical, militant campaign to wipe out malaria. The program required that public health care be beefed up to provide accurate malaria diagnoses, and complete treatment of human victims of the parasitic disease. Then an army of house sprayers would move in, dosing the walls of houses and huts with insecticide. Most malaria-carrying mosquitoes at the time would land on the walls of a home or hut after biting a human and getting a blood meal, pausing to squeeze out heavy, excess water to make flight easier. If the wall were coated with an insecticide, the mosquito would die before being able to bite many more people, maybe before becoming capable of spreading malaria.
DDT was Soper’s insecticide of choice because it was long-lasting — six months or more — and astonishingly deadly to all small creatures it contacted.
But, as Malcolm Gladwell related in his 2001 paean to Soper in The New Yorker, Soper and his colleagues well understood they were racing against the day that mosquitoes became resistant enough to DDT that their program would not work. They had hoped the day would not arrive until the late 1970s or so — but DDT is such an effective killer that it greatly speeds evolutionary processes. In the mid-1960s, before an anti-malaria campaign could even be mounted in most of Subsaharan Africa, resistant and immune mosquitoes began to stultify the campaign. By 1965, Soper’s crews worked hard to find a substitute, but had to switch from DDT. By 1972 when the U.S. banned DDT use on cotton in the U.S., it was too late to stop the resistance genes from killing WHO’s anti-malaria program. In 1969 WHO formally abandoned the goal of malaria eradication. The fight against malaria switched to control.
Roberts claims, implicitly, that people like those who worked with Soper told EPA in 1971 that DDT was absolutely essential to their malaria-fighting efforts. That could not be accurate. In 1969 the committee that oversaw the work of the UN voted formally to end the malaria eradication project. In effect, then, Roberts claims UN and other health officials lied to EPA in 1971. It is notable that Soper is credited with eradicating malaria from Brazil by 1942, completely without DDT, since DDT was not then available. Soper’s methods depended on discipline in medical care and pest control, and careful thought as to how to beat the disease — DDT was a help, but not necessary.
Interestingly, the only citation Roberts offers is to his own, nearly-self-published book, in which he indicts almost all serious malaria fighters as liars about DDT.
Can Roberts’ testimony be trusted on this point? I don’t think we should trust him.
In fact, DDT and the eradication campaign had many good effects. In 1959 and 1960, when DDT use was at its peak in the world, malaria deaths numbered about 4 million annually. The eradication campaign ultimately was ended, but it and other malaria-fighting efforts, and general improvements in housing and sanitation, helped cut the annual death toll to 2 million a year by 1972.
After the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton, mosquitoes did not migrate from Texas and Arkansas to Africa. As noted earlier, the EPA order stopping agricultural use, left manufacturing untouched, to increase U.S. exports. So the ban on DDT in the U.S. increased the amount of DDT available to fight malaria.
Malaria fighting, under Soper’s standards, required great discipline among the malaria fighters — the sort of discipline that governments in Subsaharan Africa could not provide. Had WHO not slowed its use of DDT because of mosquito resistance to the stuff, WHO still would not have been able to mount eradication campaigns in nations where 80% of residences could not be sprayed regularly.
Advances in medical care, and better understanding of malaria and the vectors that spread it, helped continue the downward trend of malaria deaths. There was a modest uptick in the 1980s when the parasites themselves developed resistance to the drugs commonly used to treat the disease. With the advent of pharmaceuticals based on Chinese wormwood, or artemisinin-based drugs, therapy for humans has become more effective. Today, the annual death toll to malaria has been cut to under a million, to about 900,000 per year — a 75% drop from DDT’s peak use, a 50% drop from the U.S. ban on farm use of DDT.
With the assistance of WHO, most nations who still suffer from malaria have adopted a strategy known as Integrated Vector Management, or IVM (known as integrated pest management or IPM in the U.S.). Pesticides are used sparingly, and insect pests are monitored regularly and carefully to be sure they are not developing genetic-based resistance or immunity to the pesticides. This is the method that Rachel Carson urged in 1962, in her book, Silent Spring. Unfortunately, much of the malaria-suffering world didn’t come to these methods until after the turn of the century.
Progress against malaria has been good since 2001, using Rachel Carson’s methods.
Don Roberts’ blaming of science, EPA, WHO, and all other malaria fighters is not only misplaced, wrong in its history and wrong in its science, but it is also just nasty. Is there any way Roberts could not know and understand the facts?
These are the facts Roberts works to hide from Congress:
“Science” and scientists were right about DDT. DDT is a dangerous substance, uncontrollable in the wild according to federal court findings and 40 years of subsequent research. If we were to judge the accuracy of scientists about DDT, we would have to conclude that they were deadly accurate in their judgment that use of DDT should be stopped.
If the ban on DDT was controversial in 1972, it should not be now. All research indicates that the judgment of EPA and its director, William Ruckelshaus, was right.
EPA was not warned that a ban on agricultural use of DDT would harm public health programs, in the U.S., nor anywhere else in the world. In any case, EPA’s jurisdiction ends at U.S. borders — why would WHO say anything at all?
DDT use to fight malaria had been curtailed in 1965, years before the U.S. ban on farm use, because overuse of DDT on crops had bred DDT-resistant and DDT-immune mosquitoes. Consequently, there was not a huge nor vociferous lobby who warned that health would be put at risk if DDT were banned. Claims that these warnings were made are either false or grossly misleading.
Malaria death rates declined to less than 50% of what they were when DDT was banned from farm use in the U.S. — there was no “doomsday” because the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton, and there never has been a serious shortage of DDT for use against malaria, anywhere in the world.
How much of the rest of the testimony against doing something about global warming, was complete hoax?
[Editor’s note: My apologies. I put this together on three different machines while conducting other activities. On proofing, I find several paragraphs simply disappeared, and edits to make up for the time of composing and fix tenses, got lost. It should be mostly okay, now, and I’ll add in the links that disappeared shortly . . . oh, the sorry work of the part-time blogger.]
Update, 2015: Video of the hearing, from YouTube:
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.
In the last two weeks we’ve seen a virtual-world assault by Richard Tren, Roger Bate and Don Roberts, alternately telling fantastic tales about how Rachel Carson from beyond the grave organized a mass murder that rivals Joseph Stalin, or saying that environmentalists conspire to keep life-saving chemicals from getting to Africa and Asia.
Fraud? That’s all on Bate. Here are things Bate will not tell you:
No malaria fighting organization claims it needs more DDT.
DDT has never been banned in Africa, nor Asia.
If any nation wishes to use DDT to fight malaria, that nation need only write a letter to the World Health Organization informing WHO of that fact.
If anyone violates the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs) and uses DDT without telling WHO first, there is no penalty.
Malaria death rates are, now, at the lowest level in human history. While there is a threat of a resurgence of malaria, the threat comes because the malaria parasites themselves develop resistant to the pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease in humans — no connection to DDT.
DDT use cannot stop malaria. Consider: India is one of two or three nations today who still manufacture DDT, and India uses more DDT than all the rest of the world’s nations put together. Malaria is still a problem for India.
Beating malaria requires more than poisoning the hell out of Africa.
Roger Bate: Walking science, history, law and policy fraud. His claims are hoaxes.
“3 Billion and Counting” premiered at a tiny New York venue a couple of weeks ago, the latest skirmish in the War on Science. Physician-to-the-stars Dr. Rutledge Taylor claims that malaria could be eradicated if only DDT had not been banned from Africa.
What? No, no, you’re right: DDT has never been banned from Africa, not even under the 2001 Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty. The film comes out of Hollywood, starring a Hollywood physician. Perhaps that should clue us in that it is not a serious documentary, and not to be taken at face value.
Nor at any value.
Taylor engaged a publicist and conducted a national campaign to launch the movie. In that campaign he someone appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show. [There’s a guy in comments who claims it wasn’t Taylor, though Taylor wrote it in the first person. Odd as hell.]
The problem with DDT is that it worked too well in stomping out malaria. The science proves that it minimally impacted the environment. But this information was suppressed. Wonder why and by whom? This movies addresses and uncovers the answers to these questions..Questions that many of us had about this issue.
I tried, without success I’m sure, to set him straight:
First, DDT was not the weapon that eradicated malaria in the U.S. We worked for 30 years to improve medical care, beef up the Public Health Service and county public health officers, educate people on how to drain mosquito breeding areas near their homes, be certain people with malari were fully treated to a cure, and to raise incomes to improve housing so that people could live in a home where mosquitoes could not enter at night (the times malaria-carrying mosquitoes bite). By 1939, malaria was essentially eliminated from the U.S. DDT was not available for use for another seven years.
Earlier we had defeated malaria and yellow fever in Panama, during the construction of the Panama Canal — long before any insecticide existed. Beating malaria is possible with discipline, accurate information, and sustained effort. No pesticide is necessary.
Second, DDT has never been out of use in Africa since 1946, nor in Asia. DDT is in use right now by the World Health Organization (WHO) and at least five nations in Africa who have malaria problems. If someone told you DDT is not being used, they erred.
Unfortunately, overuse of DDT by agricultural interests, in the early 1960s, bred mosquitoes that are resitant and immune to DDT. DDT simply is not the effective pesticide it once was, and for the WHO project to eradicate malaria, this problem was the death knell. WHO had to fall back to a malaria control position, because pro-DDT groups sprayed far too much of the stuff, in far to many places, mostly outside.
Third, all serious studies indicate that DDT greatly affects environment, with doses of the stuff multiplying from application through the top of the trophic levels in the ecosystem. A minimal dose of DDT to kill mosquito larva in an estuary, for example, multiples many times as zooplankton and the mosquito larva soak it up. The next level of consumers get about a ten-times dose from what was sprayed, and that multiplies exponentially as other creatures consume the lower-level consumers. By the time an insect or crustacean-eating bird gets the critter, the dose is millions of times stronger, often to fatal levels for the bird.
If the dose is sub-lethal, it screws up the reproduction of the bird. DDT in the egg kills the chick before it can fledge from the nest, often before it can hatch. If by some miracle the chick does not die from acute DDT poisoning, the eggshells produced by a DDT-tainted female bird are often too thin to survive the growth of the embryo — either way the chicks die. (There are a couple of studies done on plant-eating birds which showed that the chicks did not die before hatching — they died shortly after hatching.)
DDT is astoundingly effective at screwing up the reproduction of birds.
Fourth, studies show that humans exposed to DDT rarely get an acutely toxic dose, but that their children get screwed up reproductive systems, and there is a definite link from DDT exposure to the children of the mother — the cancer goes to the next generation. DDT is not harmless to people at all — it is just not acutely toxic, generally.
Fifth, as I note above, DDT is no longer highly effective in controlling mosquitoes. Where once it killed them dead, they have developed immunity, and now digest the stuff as if it were food. There are studies that show DDT is also weakly repellent, but there are better, less-toxic repellents, and there is no reason to use something so deadly to all other creatures in the ecosystem to get a weak repellent effect.
Because of the biomagnification, DDT kills the predators of mosquitoes much more effectively, and for a much longer period, than it kills mosquitoes. This sets the stage for mosquitoes to come roaring back, with all the natural checks on mosquito population out of commission.
Why use a poison that is not very effective, but very deadly, when there are better alternatives available?
Malaria death rates are the lowest they have been in human history. There is no good case to be made that more DDT could provide any benefit.
DDT is still manufactured in astonishing quantity in North Korea, for one. DDT is used in Africa and Asia, but no one with any sense uses it to eradicate malaria — DDT screwed up that chance 50 years ago.
Mystery photo: If spraying pesticides to fight malaria isn't allowed in Africa as Rutledge Taylor argues, why are these pesticide sprayers pictured in this photo? Publicity still from "3 Billion and Counting" via Rotten Tomatoes website
We've been soaking in the Bathtub for several months, long enough that some of the links we've used have gone to the Great Internet in the Sky.
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Retired teacher of law, economics, history, AP government, psychology and science. Former speechwriter, press guy and legislative aide in U.S. Senate. Former Department of Education. Former airline real estate, telecom towers, Big 6 (that old!) consultant. Lab and field research in air pollution control.
My blog, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, is a continuing experiment to test how to use blogs to improve and speed up learning processes for students, perhaps by making some of the courses actually interesting. It is a blog for teachers, to see if we can use blogs. It is for people interested in social studies and social studies education, to see if we can learn to get it right. It's a blog for science fans, to promote good science and good science policy. It's a blog for people interested in good government and how to achieve it.
BS in Mass Communication, University of Utah
Graduate study in Rhetoric and Speech Communication, University of Arizona
JD from the National Law Center, George Washington University