SkepticblogSkepticblog logo banner

top navigation:

Skeptoid’s Massive DDT Fail!

by Brian Dunning, Dec 09 2010

Several weeks ago I did a Skeptoid episode about the insecticide DDT. DDT has been banned in many places, though some question the wisdom of such bans. It's a great topic for Skeptoid, and people had been requesting it for some time. I went into it with enthusiasm, because I knew very little about the subject other than what most people have generally heard. But there was fallout. I get burned in effigy every week by somebody, usually kooks, but the criticism this time came from science web sites. The headlines were:

Skeptoid Fact Check
Brian Dunning's DDT Fail
Skeptoid Disappoints about DDT and the Environment

There may have been others. As of this writing, not a single person has contacted me directly with any corrections or heads-ups that I was being blogged about; I had to stumble across mentions of these on Twitter (to which I've had spotty access, having spent most of the intervening time in Australia with little or no free time).

I was befuddled, surprised, and actually quite shell shocked, since I thought I'd done a pretty good job and was proud of it. So let's cut straight to the chase and see what the blowback was all about.

The central criticism here was a wrong assumption over who I used as my main source for the episode, so I will come right out with the real source. My real source was actually Wikipedia. But before you knee-jerk and jump on me for that, let me explain. I often begin researching episodes with Wikipedia, as it's a great way to find out who are the major players in a subject, and you usually get a wealth of links to more authoritative sources, which is where I generally spend a lot of time, along with science journals and newspaper archives, to which I have many access accounts.

Whenever people ask me about Wikipedia's reliability, I always answer that it's great if you want to look up something about boron, but increasingly shaky if you look up 9/11 or something where there are lots of ideologically-charged cranks vandalizing articles with their own nonsense. This situation has been improving notably in the last year or so, but on a page-by-page basis. Some pages are protected against edits or vandalism, some are still automatically confirmed. It's easy to check a page's edit history, the log of its status changes, and the talk page. Looking at the DDT page and several related pages that I used as my launching points, there have been a number of minor changes reverted in recent months, but no major vandalism, and no changes to the references that were noteworthy. None of the content I used had any recent messiness. I'm not a complete newbie and I do know how to use Wikipedia responsibly.

Again, I stress, Wikipedia was my pointer to references, which were where content came from. I never use a Wiki factoid that's not footnoted to a source that I consider reliable; and then I always go to that source, whenever they're accessible.

This time around, Wikipedia's various articles on DDT and related topics proved to be so dense that there really wasn't room in a 1,750 word podcast to accommodate an additional primary source. The articles' references are thorough, numerous, and authoritative, and they gave me all I needed; indeed, more than I could squeeze in. You should find nearly everything I said in the episode in the references linked from Wikipedia's DDT page and related pages. I'm satisfied that most everything I said in the episode represents the consensus, with a few exceptions noted in my transcript. I could well be wrong about that, but I'm satisfied that I followed a responsible path. Infallible? Of course not. About as good as can be reasonably expected? I think so, others obviously disagree.

There are a few people (count them on one hand) with whom I've had direct email conversation about this DDT clusterfuck. Those with whom I've spoken all know that it made me quite angry. I shouldn't get angry, and almost never do, because you have to have a pretty thick skin as a science podcaster. I get accused of being a puppy murderer from some quarter every week. This week it was a little bit different, and I'm not entirely sure why. But yes, I was pissed off by the criticism. I think it was warranted.

It all seems to have started with Tim Lambert from ScienceBlogs, who wrongly believed that I used the often discredited libertarian pundit Steven Milloy of JunkScience.com as my primary source (Milloy was not a source at all, as stated above). Lambert then proceeded to write a lengthy critique of Milloy, oddly titling it a critique of Skeptoid, and offered two — exactly two — corrections to the episode (the birds who died in the Newcastle outbreak were chickens, not pelicans; and the theory of eggshell thinning was developed after author Rachel Carson's death, it was not in her book). I happily added both corrections to the online transcript.

Lambert's wrong assumption was then picked up by a pseudonymous blogger called “Bug Girl” who did virtually the same thing, but with an especially condescending tone: criticized Milloy under the guise of criticizing Skeptoid (irrelevant), parroted that I used Milloy as my main source (wrong), and offered exactly one correction, a repeat of one of the two Lambert gave. She disingenuously portrayed my episode as a lazy “critique” of Rachel Carson's book, which I would never presume to do as I've never even read it, and threw in a gratuitous obscenity. And, of course, managed to flash the tired old charge that I'm just cherrypicking whatever agrees with my existing worldview. Bravely charged, Ms. Anonymous.

Then Orac [Name withdrawn by request] of Respectful Insolence and Science Based Medicine, who I well know to be a steadfast defender of good science and a powerful advocate of critical thinking, picked up the thread and basically summarized what Lambert and “Bug Girl” had said. Orac, however, offered no corrections at all, indeed he did not point out a single thing that was wrong. He simply said “Skeptoid Disappoints”, and repeated a few sentences of the already-given criticism of Milloy. Again, irrelevant to Skeptoid.

My responses, where I posted them, were generally of the form “Your dislike of Milloy, warranted or not, does not constitute a useful correction to my Skeptoid episode. Send a specific correction, I'll gladly use it.” That was badly received, but I think it's the right response. I'm not in charge of Steven Milloy.

I noted a post to Skeptalk, and it nicely summed up the way I felt about my episode and the responses of these blogs, by a poster who is by no means a yes-man to Skeptoid:

I am not sure exactly what was actually stated during the Skeptoid episode on DDT that made [Bug Girl] see red. I had to listen a second time, because I swear she couldn’t have listened to the same episode I did… I found nothing outrageous in Brian’s nuanced opinion. Are Bug Girl and Tim Lambert too personally invested in their personal blog wars against JunkScience.com?

Lambert wrote a Part II to his original post, and here he really lost me. He began by taking one sentence of mine out of context, flipped it around and tried to make it look like I'd “admitted” Steven Milloy was my source. I don't see how this could have been anything other than a deliberate distortion, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the universe is geocentric.

Since there is continued misunderstanding of this in the comments below, let me put it another way:

Him – You're wrong because the sky is purple.

Me – Your dislike of the sky's color is not a criticism of my episode.

Him – Ha! You just admitted the sky's purple!

No, I really didn't. I restated what he'd said that's wrong.

Lambert also rightly points out that a number of things in my episode can also be found on Milloy's DDT page. Well, maybe some of them are true, Tim. There are many, many aspects of DDT and its usage that are not in dispute. I probably also butter my toast on the same side as Milloy.

Much of Lambert's Part II is devoted to confirming things I said in the episode, but somehow framing them as if they were wrong when I said them, but right when he said them. Some donors oppose DDT's usage only conditionally. It was wrong when I said that, but right when Lambert worded it differently. He gave my conclusion, that DDT's “current usage is probably not too far off of what it should be. The exception is Africa where DDT's upside far outweighs the down”, and then says:

Dunning's proposed policy is, in fact, the current policy… So what went wrong with Dunning's podcast?

Huh?

There are nitpicks, like I trimmed one guy's quote to just the relevant part. Yeah, so does every writer. I do this in virtually every episode; it's necessary for a 10-minute podcast.

When I'd criticize “many” groups for doing this or that, Lambert would point out that some don't. Yeah, that's kind of what “many” means.

Maybe it's just me, but however I read his critique, it sounds like he's just desperate to make me look wrong, desperate to paint me as an enemy of the environment, even though I can find very little in his article that either I, or my episode, would have disagreed with. By and large, I look at the sources and snippets Lambert gives, and I agree with them. I see very few substantive discrepancies between my episode and Lambert's Part II facts. Yet my episode is being characterized as a calamity. I honestly don't see one thing from his Part II that I could take back to my transcript and post a [Correction: xxx]. Really all Lambert has done here is to provide additional information, and to throw in the occasional “Dunning's prejudices” and random attacks like that. Slow blogging day, Tim?

Why did all of this happen? How did I end up as Science Enemy #1? To my surprise (which shows my naivete) it seems to be all about party politics — a war raging between (presumably) democratic bloggers and a libertarian pundit. Somehow I ended up in the middle.

The commenters on Lambert's two blog entries have very little to offer other than “Dunning is obviously a libertarian” (or a “racialist” or my favorite, an “anti-science dick, purely”) which makes for entertaining reading but is not terribly interesting to the intelligent reader. Almost without exception, the comments (supposedly about Skeptoid) are critical of Michael Shermer's libertarian screeds, Penn & Teller's show, libertarians in general, and the “libertarian Dunning” (as if the words are synonymous). I'm not familiar with Lambert's blog, but its readers are clearly far more interested in anti-libertarianism than any other topic mentioned; so I'm much less concerned about having been criticized there. (I know Michael Shermer and Penn & Teller personally, and if you paint any of them as enemies of reason, you're going to lose; and that's got nothing to do with their politics.)

The funniest part is that I am not a libertarian, though I'm familiar with the routine, as I went through a phase for a while. I was a hardcore Reagan conservative in college, then flipped and was a radical Greenpeace liberal for a long time, then in my thirties I hated all government and espoused some strange blend of socialism, libertarianism, and communism. Finally I concluded it was all pointless and have been about the most apolitical person on the planet for the better part of a decade. So, name your philosophy: Been there, done that. I'm not new to this.

In Skeptoid, I try to offend and appeal to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians equally. This is a very deliberate marketing choice to attract to as broad an audience as possible. I'm careful about it. For anyone to be familiar with my work and get the idea that I'm here to promote a particular political agenda boggles the mind. One might possibly suspect … possibly … that those now accusing me of being an anti-science libertarian are motivated more by hatred of Milloy than by knowledge of any of my Skeptoid episodes.

Steven Milloy, however, is a libertarian. Bully for him. I'd never heard of him until this whole thing blew up, because I just don't follow Fox News or its pundits. Sorry, but I don't. Not really interested in any pundits. It's true that I'd listed his DDT page on JunkScience.com as a Further Reading suggestion for the episode, because it was the most comprehensive collection of pro-DDT links I found; the author's name simply didn't stick in my head because it wasn't really relevant and I didn't recognize it when I saw it. To represent the other end of the spectrum, I listed Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. I try to do this on all Skeptoid episodes. When I do a conspiracy theory episode, someone like Alex Jones or David Icke is always listed to represent that viewpoint. When I do an episode on vaccines, you'll find there are always pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine references. I believe this is the best way to do what I do, and I plan to continue doing so. I do not remotely apologize for listing JunkScience.com's DDT page. I can't imagine a better source to represent the extreme pro-DDT perspective. To my way of thinking, my willingness to link to both pro-DDT and anti-DDT perspectives is a strength of Skeptoid, not a failure; and I stand by it.

I acknowledge that there is no differentiation in my online transcripts between what was a reference and what is a further reading suggestion. This is a weakness that I hope to eventually address. It's perfectly reasonable that someone could look at my further reading suggestion of JunkScience.com and mistake it for a source. My original intent was that anyone interested in the subject should look at everything listed, regardless of how it got there. Probably not the best idea, but that's why it is the way it is.

I'd like to close with one point. I do know Orac, and I don't know either “Bug Girl” or Tim Lambert, but I'll take it on the word of others that they are also allies to the cause of promoting critical thinking. All three of you have the same assurance from me that all of my friends and allies have. If I ever come across something you say that I find to be so wrong that it warrants a correction, I'll call you privately to see what's up before trumpeting what I perceive to be your failure to the public. It could be that you made an honest mistake, like James Randi did when he mentioned The Petition Project. It could also be that I'm the one who's wrong. Five minutes on the phone would sort it out. What's most important to me is that the public be given the best data we can collectively give them. None of you chose to extend that courtesy to me or to the public, probably under the excuse of “nobody should be immune to criticism”, which as you well know is not the point. With my “Things I'm Wrong About” episodes coming out as often as I can fill them, I don't think you can reasonably charge me with feeling I'm above criticism. I am always, always open to your corrections and will receive them with thanks and pass them on to our mutual audience.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 4.6/5 (76 votes cast)
Skeptoid's Massive DDT Fail!, 4.6 out of 5 based on 76 ratings

Recommended Reading

258 Responses to “Skeptoid’s Massive DDT Fail!”

  1. Richard Hesketh says:

    Well put Brian. Whilst I would count myself as ‘fledgeling’ and ‘Praetexta’ in my approach to critical thinking, I consistently champion your arguments in the face of sometime criticism. The DDT podcast left Me with a couple of source questions but re-listening clarified my worry about attribution. No easy task this exploration. More power to you!

    • If you want REAL critical thinking, you’ll find it from Skeptic’s Dictionary creator Bob Carrol at http://www.skepdic.com

      • Max says:

        Who, by the way, was also suckered by Milloy, ACSH, and Penn & Teller’s junk science on secondhand smoke, but was man enough to admit it and make the appropriate corrections.
        http://www.skepdic.com/news/newsletter41.html

      • Exactly!

        That said, per Lambert, Dunning is LYING STILL AND AGAIN on his latest podcast. From a friend of mine, Dunning’s comment, then Lambert’s response.

        [Additional info: The World Health Organization's ban on DDT does include limited exemptions for malaria control in many regions, but money for its use still often depends on qualified foreign aid. In Africa, the exemption allows indoor use only, like wearing armor on half your body - BD]

        The World Health Organization does not ban DDT. The Stockholm Convention’s ban on DDT has am exception for public health use that any country in the world can take advantage of if they choose. The exemption for DDT use doesn’t restrict to indoor use. It isn’t used outdoors because that’s wasteful and bad for the environment.”

        So, Brian, we see that doctrinaire libertarianism is going to trump skepticism from you. You’re a pseudoskeptic as well as a liar. Must be part of the Shermer family.

        And, again, you want people like readers here to support your “John Stossel Gang” show on PBS why??

      • And, now we have Dunning squaring his own lying efforts. His Skeptoid podcast now links to an opinion piece by Henry Miller, a former member of the Phillip Morris-funded junk science front group, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC).

        Brian, tell me another lie, will you? Tell me you aren’t actually using this as a “source” and the URL just accidentally jumped on your webpage.

      • Here’s what Dunning’s source believes, in his own words. From the homepage of junkscience.com

        Now that the most absurd but potentially catastrophic junk science in human history is unraveling and we are preparing to declare victory over gorebull warbling we can devote more attention to neglected junk.

        Taking Liberty — How Private Property is being Abolished in America
        Click here to jump straight to the global warming (a.k.a. “climate change”, “global weirding”, “people are icky, nasty, weather-breaking critters”… ) section if you so desire.

        Yep, that’s Dunning’s source that isn’t a source.

        Someone who’s not just a junk scientist, but antiscientific.

        No wonder, speaking of denialists, Dunning’s in denial.

      • And, even Novella interviewed Milloy long ago, apparently without first checking on his background?

        http://www.miskeptics.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f&t=234&p=822#p822

      • Max says:

        During the SGU interview, Milloy seemed to hide his ties to Big Tobacco, referring only to some nameless “employer”.

      • Patrick says:

        Mr. Gadfly, you are obnoxious.

      • Febo says:

        SocraticGadfly, Novella did challenge Milloy’s political douchebagery during the interview, although very politely. I actually thought the novel’s overly polite manner made Milloy look like even more of a douche.

    • Here’s more of just how problematic DDT is, and how much its decay products (along with other residues from pesticide/herbicide use) can remain in the ground at unsafe levels for DECADES!!

      http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.21/farmings-toxic-legacy
      Reply

      This story is subscription-walled, so I’ll give a brief summary and quotes:

      Unfortunately, the very thing that made organochlorine pesticides like DDT effective for a long period of time also makes them hard to get rid of. Because chlorine binds strongly to other elements, the compounds are stable and do not break down easily. Organochlorines also bind to organic matter in soil, and to the fat cells of the organisms that consume it. When they eventually do degrade, they can break down into other toxic compounds. Lead arsenate, meanwhile, is composed of lead and arsenic, the party lingerers of the elements. Neither breaks down over time. They also bind to organic matter in the soil and don’t dissolve readily in water, so rain can’t easily wash them away. All of these chemicals can remain in the top 12 to 18 inches of the ground for decades — perhaps even hundreds of years.
      Though no one has comprehensively sampled Western soils for legacy pesticides, during the 1990s, the U.S. Geological Survey looked at streambeds and fish across the nation, including every Western state. In watersheds where more than 50 percent of the land was in agriculture, DDT and its breakdown products, DDD and DDE, were present in sediment at half the sampled sites as well as in the tissue of 90 percent of sampled fish. Dieldrin was present in sediment in 17 percent of the sampled sites and in 63 percent of the fish. And while levels of both pesticides in fish tissue have dropped by 50 percent since they were banned for agricultural use in the ’70s, research published in the past five years shows that this trend has flat-lined for DDT in some lakes. It could be that a certain amount of the compound is not degrading, or there may be continuing input of DDT from the atmosphere or watershed. The fact that these chemicals persist in the environment means they’re still finding their way into our bodies. DDT, dieldrin and other organochlorine pesticides are commonly found in the fatty tissues, and even in the breast milk, of people throughout the country, including those born decades after the compounds were banned.

      The U.S. EPA does not require sampling of former orchards or other farmland when converted to schools, residential neighborhoods, etc. A couple of Western U.S. states do state level testing, including Washington and California. Findings for one Yakima, Washington family?

      A composite of five soil samples taken from the Comptons’ yard by High Country News revealed levels of DDE, a DDT breakdown product, at 0.6 parts per million — roughly half of the EPA’s cancer risk threshold — and arsenic at 4.7 ppm, seven times the safe level in Washington and 67 times the levels recommended by California’s environmental health agency. This is fairly normal in central Washington, where background levels of naturally-occurring arsenic are 5 ppm. Still, that’s not much consolation for a pregnant mother. And because the samples taken were combined and tested as one owing to the cost, the pesticide levels are only an average of the sampled sites. So now the Comptons have new questions: Are there hotspots in their yard where pesticides exceed safe levels, perhaps due to a spill or an old storage area? Or is most of the yard relatively clean?

  2. Febo says:

    “As of this writing, not a single person has contacted me directly with any corrections or heads-ups that I was being blogged about; I had to stumble across mentions of these on Twitter (to which I’ve had spotty access, having spent most of the intervening time in Australia with little or no free time).”

    Are you not familiar with the common practice science bloggers have of reading each other’s blogs and responding to them? You listed the link right there, if you go ahead and click on them you will find a very detailed analysis of factual errors you made that have nothing at all to do with Junk Science or Libertarianism or anti-Libertarianism or whatever. There is no reason for people to have to personally email you analysis that is readily available to the entire science blogging community.

    “The central criticism here was a wrong assumption over who I used as my main source for the episode…”

    This is another factual error. The central criticism was actually the factual errors you made; the fact that you seemed to cut and paste these errors from a questionable website was just a interesting aside. By making that side the primary focus of your rebuttal, you are dodge the issues.

    “There are a few people (count them on one hand) with whom I’ve had direct email conversation about this DDT clusterfuck. Those with whom I’ve spoken all know that it made me quite angry. I shouldn’t get angry, and almost never do, because you have to have a pretty thick skin as a science podcaster. I get accused of being a puppy murderer from some quarter every week. This week it was a little bit different, and I’m not entirely sure why. But yes, I was pissed off by the criticism. I think it was warranted.”

    The difference here is that your critics this time are not kooks who you can dismiss with a sarcastic remark, they are people who actually know more about the subject matter than you do. The usual way for self-proclaimed skeptics to deal with corrections from people with more expertise than them in a particular error is to say, “Oh, that’s interesting, I learned something, let me go back and correct that.” It is not to try to twist the situation into a political debate and then hide behind “I’m just looking at both sides.” There are people who care about your politics. You should ignore them; they drag down the level of discourse. The point of promoting scientific skepticism is to help people learn to cut through the bullshit, not to revel in it.

    Youre response to this whole situation has been incredible disingenuous and lacks the intellectual integrity I have come to expect from Skeptoid. I’ve heard that you recently tweeted something like, “If you were offended by the DDT episode, you’re really going to be offend by the IQ episode.” The fact that you think that the main reason for the negative response you got to the DDT episode was people being “offended”, and that that would have anything to do with an IQ episode, demonstrates that you clearly do not get it.

    You really need to re-evaluate your self-assessment of being “pretty thick-skinned” — I do not think I have ever seen a more thin-skinned response to friendly criticism than your response in this situation.

    • Sounds like Dunning could be listed in SciBlogs’ “How to be a Crank” post: http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2007/05/crank_howto.php

    • LovleAnjel says:

      “If you were offended by the DDT episode, you’re really going to be offend by the IQ episode.”

      If Brian said that about an upcoming IQ episode, I sincerely hope he read “The Mismeasure of Man” as well as “The Bell Curve”.

      • Given his pseudo concern trolling for sub-Saharan Africans, he probably did NOT read Mismeasure.

        He probably DID, though, read Bell Curve’s “cousin,” Race, written by Shermer’s beloved racialist Frank Miele.

      • Max says:

        They’re the first two references in that episode, but that doesn’t mean Brian read the book.
        The DDT episode cited “Silent Spring”, but misrepresented its central thesis.

    • Orac says:

      “The central criticism here was a wrong assumption over who I used as my main source for the episode…”

      This is another factual error. The central criticism was actually the factual errors you made; the fact that you seemed to cut and paste these errors from a questionable website was just a interesting aside. By making that side the primary focus of your rebuttal, you are dodge the issues.

      It’s known as a straw man argument, and it’s a logical fallacy that I never thought I’d see from Brian.

  3. Brian,

    I have been waiting for some time to see how you would address the criticism of the Skeptoid DDT episode.

    I think you did an excellent job of sticking to the high ground and not allowing things to descend to personal attacks. First and foremost, this should be about the science, not the egos.

    Rick Smathers

    • I see it FAR differently.

      As of this writing, not a single person has contacted me directly with any corrections or heads-ups that I was being blogged about.

      What, comments on his website don’t count as corrections? Comments on previous Skepticblog posts aren’t read by him? How did he know about Lambert’s blog about his podcast?

      He’s lying, IMO. Pure and simple.

  4. Jeff Wagg says:

    Brian, I have to thank you for writing this piece. I think you’ve addressed a larger meta-issue here. “We” need to learn to disagree with people without vilifying them. Snarky blogging seems to be the norm these days, and people believe they can win arguments with clever epithets rather than facts. And judging from the comments on these blogs, they’re right.

    Skepticism is supposed to be about a willingness to change your mind in light of new evidence, rather than defending your position with ad hominem attacks and irrelevant humor.

    • J. J. Ramsey says:

      Wagg, from what I can tell, snarky blogging is not the main problem here. If I look at the content behind the links to the blog posts “Skeptoid Fact Check”, “Brian Dunning’s DDT Fail”, and “Skeptoid Disappoints about DDT and the Environment,” what I see is not scorched-earth mouth frothiness, but a matter-of-fact discussion of the flaws in Dunning’s apparent sources. These quotes, one from each blog post, show the tone of these pieces:

      * “Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid does an excellent job of debunking pseudoscience, so his podcast on DDT is profoundly disappointing.”

      * “A few weeks ago, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid posted a podcast that made a variety of claims about DDT and Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring that were poorly researched and factually incorrect.”

      * “I normally love Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast. In general, it’s thorough, well-written, and Brian is interesting to listen to. I listen pretty much every week, and on weeks when I miss the podcast I usually catch up the next week. Unfortunately, occasionally even Dunning screws up. Occasionally he screws up big time.”

      Blunt, yes, but no personal attacks, and not even much attempt at being funny at Dunning’s expense.

      • Orac says:

        Exactly. That’s one thing I’ve found so infuriating about Dunning’s response. His increasingly over-the-top responses make it sound as though I had launched a frothing-at-the-mouth vicious personal attack on him when in fact I bent over backwards to qualify my criticism with honest praise for his podcast.

  5. ross says:

    What we have here is a failure to communicate… with Brian Dunning.

  6. Trimegistus says:

    It’s simple, Mr. Dunning. You don’t hate the right people.

    • Derek says:

      So true!

      Brian, your apolitical stance makes it very difficult for me to determine if you are right or wrong.

  7. Max says:

    “[Lambert] began by taking one sentence of mine out of context, flipped it around and tried to make it look like I’d ‘admitted’ Steven Milloy was my source. I don’t see how this could have been anything other than a deliberate distortion, but maybe I’m wrong.”

    Looks like an in-context admission to me. I don’t see how it can be interpreted as anything else.
    Copy-pasted straight from Skeptoid comments:

    Yeah, the very fact that you would consider Junk Science a source worthy of citing frankly is enough to treat the entire article with extreme skepticism. Junk Science is nothing more than an anti-science ideologically driven libertarian/industry front group. I prefer to get my science information from the scientific consensus, not partisan free market ideologues.
    Robert E, Greensboro, NC
    November 02, 2010 10:06am

    Feel free to point out any flaws you find, I’ll happily correct them.
    I’m not sure your political disagreement with one of my sources constitutes a valid correction to anything in the episode.
    Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel
    November 02, 2010 10:30am

    You admitted that JunkScience was one of your sources.

    • Max says:

      Brian,

      The only distortion here is YOUR distortion of this exchange, which you described above as follows: “My responses, where I posted them, were generally of the form ‘Your dislike of Milloy, warranted or not, does not constitute a useful correction to my Skeptoid episode. Send a specific correction, I’ll gladly use it.’”

      First, this leaves out the fact that you referred to Milloy’s JunkScience as “one of my sources.”
      Second, this leaves out the fact that you were replying to an accusation that you “consider Junk Science a source worthy of citing.” Had this source been Prison Planet or Greenpeace, I’m sure you would’ve responded very differently.

      • Methos says:

        Wow. Ouch! Come on, Brian, you’re just digging a deeper hole by misrepresenting the criticism. Disavow JunkScience and move on. No one is perfect, (or expected to be).

      • itzac says:

        Here’s a link to the actual discussion for anyone interested.
        http://skeptoid.com/episode.php?id=4230&comments=all#discuss

        Max, I think Brian’s characterization here is fairly accurate.

        And I think you’ve clearly missed the point he’s trying to make. What Brian is asking is what precisely is wrong with what Milloy is saying? Has the effect of stress on shell thickness been well enough characterized that it can be eliminated as a confound in Carson’s research?

        “He’s wrong because he’s Steven Milloy,” is not a useful answer, but if it’s all you’ve got, keep it up. It’s not very often you get to see a genuine ad hom.

      • itzac says:

        That paper very clearly demonstrates a link between DDT and shell thinning; which Brian at no point disputes.

        It does not address thinning induced by stress, which is one of the points from JunkScience you and Max take such issue with. Is the role of stress in shell thinning being overblown by Milloy? How do we know that? Do we know how significant the role of stress is in the thinning observed by Carson?

      • Somite says:

        This is a classic denialist tactic. Add a factor that may contribute in some unspecified way to attack the main point. More importantly when DDT is removed populations are noted to bounce back:

        http://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~grier/bald-eagle-ddt-science.pdf

      • itzac says:

        Yes, it is a classic denialist tactic. When it’s used in global warming discussions the response is usually of the form, “That cause has been studied and characterized, and determined not to be large enough to account for the size of the effect observed.” What such a refutation typically doesn’t involve is evidence strictly in support of other causes because that’s a non sequitur.

      • Somite says:

        I just gave you a reference. Right here..

      • Methos says:

        If he’s not wrong BECAUSE he’s Steven Milloy, then why is Brian denying having used him as a source (after having admitted using Junk Science as a source)?

        Worse, this blog post totally misrepresents the back-and-forth where Brian admits using it. In what way is “one of my sources” NOT one of your sources? One has to wonder why he’d mislead about that.

      • Michael M says:

        Occam’s razor people! What’s more likely; that a man whom you all apparently rever has suddenly changed the very core of his being to defend a position on a topic he was unfamiliar with before he started researching this episode, or that he misspoke in a heated debate? I don’t know anything about DDT and don’t care about Libertarian or anti-Libertarian agendas, but I do know Skeptoid and I do know Brian’s reputation, and if your accusations really are his true colors then most of the respected names in the skeptical community are wearing a lot of egg on their faces for having harbored a cook. Does that make him not a cook? No, but does it suggest in which direction the truth lies? Absolutely.

  8. Max says:

    “When I do a conspiracy theory episode, someone like Alex Jones or David Icke is always listed to represent that viewpoint.”

    Yeah, you represent that viewpoint to debunk it. But the DDT episode didn’t debunk or even criticize JunkScience. It parroted content from JunkScience.

    Skeptoid: “Perhaps most significantly, birds in captivity in order to undergo testing are under stress, and this stress alone is enough to produce eggshell thinning.”
    JunkScience item 49: “Stress from noise, fear or excitement and disease are associated with egg shell thinning.”

    Skeptoid: “Along the Gulf coast, hunting by angry fishermen had reduced the pelican population in Texas from 5,000 annual births to just 200 in 1941.”
    JunkScience item 91: “Brown pelicans declined in Texas from a high of 5,000 birds in 1918 to a low of 200 in 1941, three years before the presence of DDT.”

    Skeptoid: “The California populations suffered a double whammy in the years following Silent Spring’s publication; first with an oil spill off Santa Barbara in 1969, and then with an outbreak of Newcastle Disease in 1971 that unfortunately required the culling of millions of brown and white pelicans.”
    JunkScience item 94: “Brown pelicans did suffer reproductive problems following the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Oil on eggs is a known cause of embryo death.”
    JunkScience item 96: “An epidemic of Newcastle disease resulted in millions of birds put to death to eradicate the disease. The epidemic among U.S. birds was caused by the migration of sick pelicans along the Mexican coast.”

    The Wikipedia article on DDT doesn’t mention Newcastle disease, and googling Newcastle disease and DDT brings up JunkScience and Skeptoid in the top three search results.

    • Jay Cox says:

      Max, even if he did parrot it, or parrot a parrot, or made something that only coincidentally looked like a parrot, is there anything ACTUALLY wrong with those facts?

      • Jeremy says:

        Yes!! As posted in above comments, the scientific evidence that DDT significantly reduces bird populations and that after DDT was banned bird populations bounced back is very strong and almost uncontested in the literature. Bringing those points up is clearly presenting a case against the hypothesis that DDT reduces bird populations – otherwise what is the point of raising those claims?

      • itzac says:

        So, in other words, no. There is nothing wrong with those facts. They are simply not worth considering given the strength of the evidence linking DDT to bird population decline. The contribution made by other causes is negligible. Am I understanding you correctly?

        Because you would be the only person in 125 comments and 14 hours actually articulating that argument. Mazeltov! For the most part, this debacle has consisted of speculation about Brian’s politics or motives and a bizarre second degree ad hom. Max is still flogging that horse at the bottom of the page.

      • Somite says:

        It is because it is documented that in some populations removal of DDT is sufficient for population rebound. Also, stress and other factors are controlled in dose experiments.

        http://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~grier/bald-eagle-ddt-science.pdf

      • itzac says:

        What is because it is documented…?

      • Max says:

        itzac,

        I think my reply is pending moderation, which is insane, but I’ll try to say it differently.

        Throwing red herrings is a favorite tactic of Deniers, especially deniers of a certain genocide that starts with “Holo” and ends with “caust”. They might agree that millions of Jews disappeared during the war, and suggest many different explanations, except gas chambers. Here are some: death by Allied bombings, extermination by Soviets, epidemics, starvation, and emigration.

        Are you going to defend them because there’s nothing wrong with their facts?

      • itzac says:

        Hitler liked dogs, too.

        Brian, do you like dogs? Are you like Hitler?

        No, Max, I’m not going to defend Nazis because their facts aren’t wrong. What I’m going to is put those facts in context, and (and this is the part that only Jeremy above has done) explain why those correct facts are not persuasive.

        Facts are not rendered false because they aren’t relevant in a given context.

      • itzac says:

        Whoops, was supposed to be “because their facts are right.” But that should be fairly obvious.

      • itzac says:

        Unwhoops. I need to get more sleep.

      • Max says:

        Jay,

        Yes, there was a lot wrong with the junk science from JunkScience.
        First, my comment above makes the case that Brian got his information from JunkScience, even though he denies it.
        JunkScience is notorious for distorting science, taking things out of context, and throwing red herrings, so anything taken from JunkScience deserves extra scrutiny.

        The best example is the mention of Newcastle disease when discussing the decline of pelicans. JunkScience was wrong that the 1971 epidemic was caused by sick pelicans, and the fact that millions of “birds” were culled is a red herring because the birds were poultry, so why even mention it? To get you to assume that the birds were pelicans, which is exactly what Brian did, very unskeptically. This was one of the two things Brian later corrected in his episode.

    • Somite says:

      Interesting that the Science mag article I cite below is from 1968, a year before, and nowhere near the oil spill and the 1971 Newcastle’s outbreak.

    • So basically you’re saying that if Brian says the same thing as JunkScience, then he must be using that as the source. Does JunkScience own the facts of the case? Is it impossible for someone to agree with some points they’re making unless they use JunkScience as the source?

      • Max says:

        When Brian parrots JunkScience items 91, 94, and 96 in one paragraph, and these items are not in the Wikipedia article on DDT, and Brian actually cited JunkScience as one of his sources, I believe it’s more likely that Brian went down the JunkScience list than this being a coincidence.

        When I first listened to the episode, it smacked of JunkScience so much that I actually looked for JunkScience in the episode’s references, and yup, there it was.

  9. Jester700 says:

    Great response, Brian. Hopefully some reasoned contrition from the more vehement attackers is forthcoming. We are, after all, on the same side of critical thinking.

    • I agree that civility is most often the best approach. I think what’s happened is that those who have studied this issue more closely are quite passionate about the topic. And if Brian’s arguments are recycled talking points from ideologues (which has been the claim by his critics), then frankly, I can see why there would be the vitriol.

  10. We had Bug Girl on our podcast, and a central point that she made is that DDT is not a panacea to fight malaria. In some areas, mosquitoes are already resistant to it. She argues that each area requires careful planning on how to best address the issue. Installing screens, getting rid of wet areas (where mosquitoes begin the first part of their life cycle), use DDT (or other pesticides) in some isolated areas, etc.

    DDT is one of many tools that can be used to fight malaria. And that when to use it for a certain area, under certain circumstances – should be left up to relevant science and health experts, not politicians or philanthropists.

  11. jeff says:

    When I first read the Bug Girl post I was really shocked at how vitriolic it was. I think anybody who’s a regular listener of Skeptoid would know you’re willing to cop to mistakes or factual errors. I mean, I imagine that Bug Girl could have gotten your email, at least.

    Nice to see somebody is willing to call their critics and work it out more or less in person instead of flaming them on their blog. Well said, Brian.

  12. Jerome says:

    Hmm, another “skeptic leaders should be immune from public criticism” post, not unlike last year’s “Are you paddling, or just dragging?” here: http://skepticblog.org/2009/10/01/untitled/

    I’m annoyed by this attitude, Brian. I don’t care about your political leanings, and do believe that they are irrelevant to you, so I’m not criticising from that angle. Rather, I think that no one, and least of all “skeptic leaders”, should be immune from factual criticism, in that they should demand that others contact them in some pre-approved manner when they make factual errors. Arriving at the truth is indeed every non-quack person who would likely follow this blog’s goal, but the way the truth is arrived at should continue to be made public, so everyone can see what happens when mistakes are made or intellectual dishonesty comes to bear. This is part of the process which Feynman so succinctly described in 63 seconds here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b240PGCMwV0

    “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are, or who made the guess, or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong.”

    Yes, I appreciate everything you have done for the popularization of science. I genuinely appreciate how diligent you are in continuing to make episodes for these long years, and what dedication that requires. But, unfortunately, there are and should be no kings in arriving at the truth, and dare I say even more careful examination should be directed when promoting that truth to others.

    Yes, it is like herding cats, I’m afraid.

  13. arthwollipot says:

    Bug Girl is required to remain anonymous because she has a government job, and government employees in the US aren’t allowed to publicly express opinions. At least, this is how it was reported on the SGU, when she spoke about bedbugs.

  14. Somite says:

    “In Skeptoid, I try to offend and appeal to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians equally. This is a very deliberate marketing choice to attract to as broad an audience as possible.”

    And this is why I don’t support skeptoid anymore. This is precisely the opposite of skepticism where only the facts and conclusion that most approach the truth should be presented with reference to the contrarian view along with a discussion of why it is less acceptable and not the scientific consensus.

    Let me give you the best example of the problem with your approach. You write:

    “Although DDT’s mechanism for eggshell thinning is plausible, many studies throughout the 1970′s and 1980′s failed to correlate such thinning with high levels of DDT, even extremely high levels. Other studies have confirmed Rachel Carson’s findings. My own conclusion based on a review is that there probably is a correlation, but it’s not a strong one; and at best it’s only one of many causes. Whether DDT is used or not would probably not have a large impact on bird populations.”

    This is probably based on the junkscience references which are frankly junk; bulletins, pamphlets and low impact journals. Even the most cursory search in Science magazine shows:

    Chlorinated Hydrocarbons and Eggshell Changes in Raptorial and Fish-Eating Birds
    Joseph J. Hickey and Daniel W. Anderson
    + Author Affiliations

    Department of Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison
    ABSTRACT

    Catastrophic declines of three raptorial species in the United States have been accompanied by decreases in eggshell thickness that began in 1947, have amounted to 19 percent or more, and were identical to phenomena reported in Britain. In 1967, shell thickness in herring gull eggs from five states decreased with increases in chlorinated hydrocarbon residues.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/162/3850/271.abstract

    and please look at the articles that have cited this article.

    These are not equal and opposing views to the junkscience references. Science magazine has the highest impact index of all sources and its publications reflect the scientific consensus and the results of many papers in many less impactful journals.

    You are doing what is killing skepticism and journalism; a manufactroversy for the sake of the story and not the facts. You state that you do it to attract an audience, just like mainstream media does, but I suspect other issues might be at play:

    http://xkcd.com/774/

    http://www.xkcd.com/675/

    • If that’s the impression you got, then I was not very clear. Mainstream media pushes sensationalism without regard to facts. I push facts (as best as I can) while choosing subject areas that have the broadest possible appeal. I can’t agree that I’m either “killing skepticism and journalism” or that I’m “just like mainstream media”.

      • Somite says:

        Can you detail what is wrong with my analysis above. The problem is not understanding what are the best references and deliberately or not comparing them to bad references.

        References in junkscience are not equivalent to work in Science magazine and both are equally available to you. This should be the message of skepticism; that sources are unequal and you have to evaluate the importance of source before using it as a story device.

        You say that is the “impression I got”. Can you tell me how that “impression” is erroneous in light of the references I provided?

      • @Somite

        IMO, Skeptoid isn’t there to be the definitive source of truth, but to offer insight into an issue and provide supplemental sources which even a layman can understand and use to reach a more educated decision.

        In many cases, the conclusion is a no-brainer. Take the Brown Mountain Lights for example. In some cases, there is a great deal of good research and propaganda approaching the issue from all sides. DDT is one such issue.

        In a way, it’s like the Global Warming debate. Early on, many Skeptics were reluctant to embrace Global Warming because sufficient evidence wasn’t there. Over the last decade though report after report has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that Global Warming is real and that mankind is most likely a significant factor.

        With DDT, there is a similar hesitation to rush to judgment, and there has also never been the overwhelming preponderance of data to demonstrate the correct answer.

        I think Brian was correct to present the issues and offer only a very tentative conclusion with lots of opportunity for individuals to research more thoroughly.

        On the other hand. I see a number of individuals attacking Brian for not accepting their viewpoint rather than simply presenting their case and letting the reader decide, this is NOT GOOD SKEPTICISM!

      • Somite says:

        “Skeptoid isn’t there to be the definitive source of truth, but to offer insight into an issue and provide supplemental sources which even a layman can understand and use to reach a more educated decision.”

        This is the opposite of skepticism. The layman should not be seeking to make an “educated decision”. There are results based on peer-reviewed publications that we should all accept specially if they are outside of our area of expertise. Using sub-par references along with the best references possible only creates controversy where there is none.

      • @Somite

        There are conflicting studies and even the experts can be wrong. Linus Pauling and Vitamin C comes to mind. It was just accepted by many authorities for 50 years before anyone bothered to question it.

        Skepticism is never about taking someone else’s research or conclusion without thought and consideration.

        The Scientific Method and Peer Review are an important consideration, but ultimately, there is no universal truth that we have access to. That’s why even tried and true concepts in science are Theories. It is acknowledged that at some future point, new evidence might prove them wrong in some way.

        Even sub-par sources should be considered and even expert sources should be doubted.

        Consider Joe Nickel’s approach to investigations. You can’t assume a foregone conclusion or you can’t be open to new evidence.

        If you refuse to consider all possible data, then how are you different than a 9/11 Truther who refuses to consider any sources which they consider to be wrong?

      • Patrick says:

        Agreed, taking someone at their word just because they were published in a top journal is akin to faith. That isn’t skepticism. Even the best articles in the best journals should be subjected to criticism to help refine the thesis and root out any problems that were not foreseen by the author.

        The back and forth debate is how we get ahead.

      • Somite says:

        Because the quality of the references is not equal. It is not a valid comparison. To really take into account all information you must have a basic understanding of the quality of the information.

        References in junkscience are not equal to the standards of a publication in Science mag. If you want to dispute a finding in a reputable journal you must publish your result in a journal of equal or better impact.

      • LovleAnjel says:

        Just because Science is a high-impact journal doesn’t mean it’s more correct. The articles there can be cutting-edge, and therefore may turn out to be less correct than those published in journals with a lower impact rating. I’m not saying this makes JunkScience an equal (far from it), but you can’t judge the reliability of a study just by a high journal impact factor.

      • Somite says:

        It is a matter of probability of being correct. It is science after all so revisions and corrections will happen as new information and interpretations arise. There is a place to cite and discuss different point of views and results from the consensus but it must be clearly labeled so.

        For example the appropriate way to discuss eggshell thinning literature would be in the context of the definitive work that shows catastrophic declines of three raptorial species in the United States that have been accompanied by decreases in eggshell thickness that began in 1947…etc and discuss the merits of dissident work if any, not just accept all views as equally valid.

      • I wonder how Somite would have viewed “Silent Spring” at the time of its publication? At the risk of offending devotees of St. Rachel, since the book was not in a peer reviewed publication, scientists and skeptics should have considered the information in the book to be sub par. If I’m reading Somite correctly, this also means that any mention of the book should have pointed out that it is less acceptable and not the scientific consensus.

  15. Leo says:

    Brian, I have to wonder why, on a scientific topic you admit to not having known much about beforehand, you didn’t seek assistance from the many working scientists we have in the skeptical community with actual knowledge of the topic? If you didn’t know who the relevant experts were, you could have simply just asked on Facebook, your mailing list, or here. I too think Wikipedia is a great jumping-off point, but when you’re doing a show about a scientific topic you have no expertise in, then isn’t it better to talk to the people who do have expertise?

    • That’s about timing. Previously published papers are available immediately, but asking questions of people rarely gets me the answers in time for my deadlines. I often do so, but often get answers 3 or 4 weeks after the episode comes out. However for next week’s episode, two NOAA scientists responded to me within the hour with two papers. Sometimes it works.

      Because of direct querying’s temporal unreliability, I only use it as a last resort when there’s something I can’t find (or when I’m working way in advance and have plenty of time). In this case I found everything I thought I needed in existing publications.

      • Leo says:

        I can understand the timing issue. It’s something journalists constantly confront and just one of the reasons why science reporting is so often flawed. I still contend however that when approaching a topic of this complexity you really should have taken the time necessary to research the question more fully and seek qualified expert opinion, especially since the arena has been so muddied by false and misleading information from the likes of Milloy.

        I’ll be honest. I was really disappointed with this episode, nor do I think your blog post gives any indication that you understood Tim and Bug Girl’s criticisms. And just as I think you should have sought relevant scientific expertise beforehand, I also agree with you that it would have been better if Tim had come to you first with the problems he saw with this episode.

        I am a far-left liberal, but my concern is not for the politics here but that you effectively parroted a paid science denialist even if you didn’t know that Milloy was the ultimate source of a substantial portion of your episode.

        As I’ve said elsewhere, this single episode won’t stop me from listening to Skeptoid. It is an excellent podcast, and highly entertaining. I don’t believe people should be hung out to dry just for a single instance of poor judgment. After all, skepticism is not in the conclusion, but how you get there.

      • Jason Loxton says:

        As a research scientist and skeptic, I have to chide you a little, Brian. Time isn’t an excuse. DDT is an extremely politically charged discussion, one with real world implications, and one with a long and well-documented history of industry interference (the attacks on Carson and her science reemerged during her recent centenary, e.g., the CEI, but they have been ongoing since the 60s). A failure to be aware of Milloy (an infamous anti-DDT polemicist), shows a distressingly shallow understanding of the politics and players in this scientific/policy debate.

        I take some guilty credit for being the one to put Dan onto his recent obsession with skeptical scholarship and domain expertise (while hiding in my lab myself), but I repeat my caution here. My own familiarity working within controversial science (if, admittedly, lamely controversial) has proved humbling. Evaluating minor technical arguments requires not just an exhaustive familiarity with the literature, but a knowledge of the research histories of the workers (their biases, shortcomings, etc.), as well as a detailed knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the methodologies employed (or neglected) in their work. As such, it is very, very difficult for a non-expert to accurately weigh in on contested technical science. My position is that skeptics *have* to turn to neutral experts for help navigating the technical literature if they chose to go beyond just presenting science news (popularizing), and into the realm of critical analysis. In some areas we are the experts, e.g., Creationism, but in most of the rest the required expertise requires a decade of study. Which is well beyond a podcast timeline.

      • Jason, that’s exactly like saying I’m not qualified to do an episode about ghosts because I don’t watch Ghost Hunters.

        I’ve freely admitted my lack of awareness of the politics surrounding DDT. I remain uninterested in the political motivations that drive people to view their science from a desired perspective.

      • Jason Loxton says:

        Far from it, Brian. You can comment on ghost hunting, since it’s pretty easy to become an expert in ghost hunting (the practice, not the history of) because there really isn’t much literature, i.e., it’s a pseudo-scholarly area (mostly).

        Where there *is* a real literature, however, I am saying that unless you have an thorough knowledge of that literature (in your case, specific areas of epidemiology, entomology, aid policy/history, and several other fields) or you consult someone (ideally several people) who do have that expertise to review for accuracy and comprehensiveness, you’re not qualified to comment on the topic (not as an informed opinion, anyway).

        (A specific example, you’ve note that the Junkscience 100 reasons list was well-cited, but there’s no way you can know this unless you are familiar with all the possible sources that they *could* have cited, all–if any–replies there have been in the literature to the sources they do cite, exactly what methodologies the authors use, etc.)

        Further, in the case of politicized science, you *do* need to know the background of both the authors and the journals they are published in (if they are low circulation journals) to evaluate an article’s quality. (Actually, you benefit from knowledge of the authors even in non-politicized science, since author bias and competence strongly affects quality. For example, I will give a paper to my supervisor that I think is interesting, and he’ll say, “oh, that’s Dr. X, he’s got a bee in his bonnet about Y” or “his biochemistry is good, but don’t even bother reading his systematics, they’re awful!”.)

      • Adam_Y says:

        Jason, that’s exactly like saying I’m not qualified to do an episode about ghosts because I don’t watch Ghost Hunters.

        Wait a dam second. Are you actually saying that it would be a bad idea to get an expert in physics/engineering in a field which anomoly hunts and butchers the laws of physics?

      • LovleAnjel says:

        Brian, if someone’s politics colors their science, then you need to know that. It’s the best way to filter out bias and pick out the truth as best you can. Or at least be aware that it may alter the researcher’s interpretation of their research.

        Shakespeare is best read in the original Klingon.

  16. tmac57 says:

    “In Skeptoid, I try to offend and appeal to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians equally. This is a very deliberate marketing choice to attract to as broad an audience as possible.”
    I suspect the “offend” part of this statement is at the root of the vigorous response mounted by skeptics,warranted or not.I understand that every blogger and podcaster need to establish their own voice and niche,so I won’t criticize this tactic.If it were me,I would go with ‘challenge’ rather than ‘offend’ though.

  17. David H. says:

    Brian: Illigitimi non carborundum. (Don’t let the bastards wear you down.)

  18. Tim Lambert says:

    Dunning pretends that I blind sided him with my post, but the history is rather different. As soon as his podcast went up he received comments criticising him for using junkscience as a source. Dunning’s response in full and not out of context as he claims:

    “Feel free to point out any flaws you find, I’ll happily correct them.

    I’m not sure your political disagreement with one of my sources constitutes a valid correction to anything in the episode.”

    As well as more comments about Milloy, there were quite a few pointing out flaws. For example:

    “Brian, PubMed indicates that eggshell thinning is significantly correlated with DDE levels (a DDT metabolite) in many bird species.”

    Others pointed that he was wrong about Newcastle disease causing pelicans to be culled and that scientific sources attribute pelican decline to DDT, that he was wrong about stress skewing experiments on eggshell thinning, that he was wrong about donors not funding DDT, that he was wrong about Greenpeace opposing the use of DDT against malaria and that he was wrtong about DDT being effective even when mosquitoes are resistant. (That last one was mine).

    We all sat back and waited for Dunning to make the promised corrections. Then he did the Drunken Skeptics Podcast where he made it clear that he wasn’t going to make any of those corrections and affirmed, again, that junkscience was one of his sources. Here’s a transcript:

    “One of the many sources listed was form junkscience.com. I’d never heard of it before, the guy that writes it, Steve Milloy, I’d never heard of him before. This was a complete blind-side to me, this hail storm of guff that I got from people, saying ‘How on Earth could you ever list this guy as a reference? He’s a libertarian, he’s a Republican, he’s on Fox News, he’s therefore evil.’

    “Well, that’s not the criteria I use for what sources I go to. I don’t check out their political voting backgrounds. His page that I used, “100 facts about DDT” was extremely thoroughly referenced. For two or three of the points that I made in the episode I went to some of the journal articles that he referenced. Now, in fairness, it was a mistake to list that page as a reference. Instead I should have listed the two or three journal articles I used separately.”

    So that’s when I decided that the only chance of getting a correction out of Dunning was to write detailed blog posts that he could not ignore. I invite everyone to look at them and see if I only offer two corrections as Dunning claims, or if there are a whole lot more. As well as Dunnings podcast, I do look at some of the papers cited by junkscience, but that is because Dunning SAID HE USED THEM. See transcript above.

    The Wikipedia article on DDT is pretty accurate. Here’s what it says:

    “Most famously, it is a reproductive toxicant for certain birds species, and it is a major reason for the decline of the bald eagle,[6] brown pelican[35] peregrine falcon, and osprey.[1] Birds of prey, waterfowl, and song birds are more susceptible to eggshell thinning than chickens and related species, and DDE appears to be more potent than DDT.[1]”

    Compare Dunning:

    “Whether DDT is used or not would probably not have a large impact on bird populations. … it was the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the bird’s 1967 placement on the endangered species list, combined with increased penalties for poaching, that ultimately led to the bald eagle’s successful return to remaining habitats. … Brown pelicans … would have dropped sharply whether DDT was in the picture or not.”

    • I think I’ve repeated all of this enough times by now, but since you’re the one who started all this I’ll repeat it once again for you.

      Your Part 1 consisted almost entirely of criticism of Milloy, which is not relevant to Skeptoid.

      Your Part 2 consisted almost entirely of good additional information, of a sort that I simply didn’t have time to get to in my short episode. There was hardly anything that disagreed with my episode, maybe at best in tone. I added a link to it in my transcript so people can get to it. I wish you’d chosen to present it as helpful further information to further inform the public. Instead, you framed it as best you could as attacks against my work, for some reason. More than anything else, that’s what called your motivations into question.

      Regarding the contradictory statements I made on that podcast interview, I’m surprised at the transcript and don’t have any explanation other than that careless and sloppy language has characterized this whole mess. (At one point in the same interview, I also clarified that Milloy was not a source; but you chose not to include that in your transcript above.) What I’ve put in print is what I stand by.

      • Rick Dakan says:

        But Brian, Tim does make some very specific critiques about what you wrote in both of his posts, several of which you haven’t addressed. In this very post you’re replying to he brings up a flaw in what you wrote about bald eagles and you ignore it again. I pointed out some other valid points in my comment below.

      • Jim Lippard says:

        Because many of the references at the end of episode transcripts on the Skeptoid website are crowdsourced and do not reflect the actual sources used to produce the episode, I can understand how confusion could be produced about whether the JunkScience site was or was not “one of my sources” (used to produce the episode, or listed on the site?). This is a problem that should be corrected by distinguishing sources used to create an episode from sources that are crowdsourced for further reading.

        The question remains, however, what the actual sources were for the claims made in the episode that Lambert has shown to be mistaken. It also doesn’t appear to me that Brian has acknowledged that there were any genuine mistakes–the original post above is purely a meta-discussion about the debate that doesn’t get into the details.

        I agree with Jason Loxton’s point that this shows the need for expertise–a lay skeptic, even a highly intelligent one like Brian Dunning who generally does great work, can fail to recognize the current status of a scientific issue by engaging in a selective reading of primary sources, which may be biased by accident of sampling or at the direction of sources with a political or ideological stake in the game.

        When Dunning said that “whether DDT is used or not would probably not have a large impact on bird populations,” he was contradicting the best available evidence.

      • tmac57 says:

        Jim,this is one of the more thoughtful responses here.Thank you.

    • MadScientist says:

      I can’t understand why all these allegations that Milloy was a source. “Oooh, he didn’t jump up and down and deny it, Milloy must be a source!” The best way to prove that Milloy was a source is to identify characteristic Milloy material and also demonstrate that it was not parroted by other sources used. Then there seems to be this attitude of “everything must be wrong if a few things are wrong”.

      • Tim Lambert says:

        I did identify the characteristic Milloy material in Dunning’s podcast and which of Milloy’s conveniently numbered points Dunning was regurgitating. This material does not come from Wikipedia, and after he denied that he got it from Milloy, Dunning has been repeatedly asked to explain where he did get it from and repeatedly evaded the question.

        As a simple test of Dunning’s credibility I invite everyone to read part 1 of my fact check and see whether it is “almost entirely criticism of Milloy” as Dunning claims.

      • Febo says:

        By my count, 7 out of the 26 paragraphs in that article dealt with Milloy.

  19. Daniel A says:

    After listening to the DDT episode, I had an inkling suspiscion that there was going to be some fallout, and did some followup of my own into the issue. I had no idea there was such emotional investment on both sides of the issue, and I think that’s where the problem lies. While the evidence of the harm of DDT is published, as well as the rapid development of resistance to it in mosquito populations, there is significant benefit to the human populations in the short term.

    I don’t think Brian ever said that the only solution is DDT, but was addressing, specifically, the science surrounding it, while Bug Girl managed to bring it to a wider perspective of “How best to manage malaria with a combined effort of pest management, avoidance of transmission, and chemical interventions”, which I don’t think was what Brian was getting at.

    As someone whose research into the science of DDT usage is extremely limited, I’m definitely curious now if there’s a reasonable and even-handed treatment of all the available data that is easy enough for most laymen to understand.

  20. MadScientist says:

    Ah, good ol’ DDT.

    Draining wetlands was very effective in many areas, but of course that decimates the wetlands and can lead to other environmental problems. In other areas which had been drained, malaria has made a resurgence due to people simply tossing garbage everywhere and providing pools of water which last long enough for the right mosquito to breed – then you just have to reintroduce the malaria parasite(s) somehow. In many areas of PNG I just don’t know how malaria can be fought – draining wetlands and destroying the nearby forests aren’t sensible options. Maybe one day someone will develop a chemical which interferes with the malarial cycle and doesn’t do too much damage to other things. That evolution thing remains a challenge though; if some chemical can do harm to the malaria parasites there’s a good chance it does some harm to a lot of other things too.

    That reminds me – what happened to that project to use a laser to zap the nuts off the male anopheles mosquitoes? Wasn’t that group able to get that ball rolling?

    • “That reminds me – what happened to that project to use a laser to zap the nuts off the male anopheles mosquitoes? Wasn’t that group able to get that ball rolling?”

      Nice.

    • LovleAnjel says:

      Laser sterilization of individual mosquitoes would drive me nuts pretty quick.

      • MadScientist says:

        Just think of how cool it would be doing the job with lightsabers though. There would be more action than in the Jedi battle scenes.

      • LovleAnjel says:

        You wouldn’t need to do anything, the little bastards would fly right into the lightsabers. That’s why there are no insects on Alderan (before it asploded)!

  21. Zerodash says:

    Watching the fallout over the Skeptoid DDT episode unearths some unfortunate things about a lot of people in the “Skeptical Community”.

    It seems that DDT is as much a political issue as it is a science issue, and a lot of the rhetoric appears to be coming from anti-corporate or anti-capitalist tendencies more prevalent in skeptical circles.

    Is it not a Strawman to automatically presume that an individual who exposes a certain political position to be factually wrong on every subject? Penn and Teller may have unpopular politics, but you can’t reasonably presume that they are always wrong on facts.

    When evaluating a controversial topic, the presumption that one should NOT take an in-depth look at both “sides” is absurd! Is this not how a consensus is built? By picking apart what each and every camp is claiming to be “fact” and evaluating each on their own merit is the essence of critical analysis. Just because one “side” or source is associated with an unpopular political position does not mean it should be ignored.

    If you automatically ignore a source simply because you don’t like their “agenda” does that not also make you guilty of having an “agenda”? We mock Creationists because they ignore science because they accuse it of being part of the “liberal agenda”.

    If the science and facts purported by the source are so shaky, then take the opportunity to determine and demonstrate why that is. It is far more productive than name-calling.

    It is also very disappointing to see how many people claiming to be “skeptics” or “critical thinkers” have resorted to blanket statements, stawmen, and accusations of an agenda when attacking Brian. I thought Skeptics were better than that. Apparently I thought wrong.

    I’m actually makes nervous about posting a comment here, lest I be accused of being pro or anti DDT although having never stated my position.

  22. Patrick says:

    “In Skeptoid, I try to offend and appeal to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians equally. This is a very deliberate marketing choice to attract to as broad an audience as possible.”

    Love it!

    Btw, why is DDT equally as volatile as political debates? I guess it has become a political debate.

  23. James B. says:

    The case against Brian Dunning:

    1. Used an unreliable source – Maybe. Only Brian will ever know for certain what sources he used or how much stock he put in them. All that we can reliable verify is the information presented. That should be the focus of debate.

    2. Included a link to an unreliable source – It’s not clear if the link was meant as a source citation or a for further reading. Brian wants to make the distinction clearer in the future. What doesn’t need to be clarified is whether the reader should agree with the linked material or not. Presumably people can think for themselves. Also, it is absolutley possible for an intelligent argument to use kooky sources. Many of Brian’s best episodes link to UFO-ologists and cryptozoologists and Bigfootologists. He’s never had to tell anyone those sources were unreliable.

    3. Material facts in the episode were incorrect – Brian has admitted that he got some (2) facts wrong and ammended the transcript. Are other errors of science alleged?

    4. The wrong conclusions are drawn – Oops. Nobody alleges that. In fact his accusers agree with his views on how DDT should be used.

    5. Brian is a libertarian lover of junk science – Ad hominem.

    • Jim Lippard says:

      Seems to me there are more identified errors in your category 3 than Brian has corrected. A few key criticisms are in comments 28, 41, and 43, and to a lesser extent in 18 and 8.

      Brian claims nobody came to him to complain, by which he means nobody called him up or sent him private email–he did engage with a few of us on Twitter shortly after the DDT episode came out, and we chided him for reliance upon Milloy. I don’t recall him denying the use of Milloy as a source at that time, but several of us got the impression that he had used Milloy as a way to locate other sources.

      I agree with the point made in your #2, that Skeptoid should clearly distinguish sources relied upon for developing the episode from the crowdsourced further reading items that Brian may not himself have even read.

      I’m not sure your #4 is correct–the Skeptoid episode ends by saying “our DDT policy is definitely due for a tuneup,” and it sounds like he advocates more widespread use of DDT in Africa, which doesn’t appear to be merited by the evidence (see comment 28).

      • Tim Lambert says:

        Here’s what he said on Twitter shortly after the episode:

        Jim Lippard: Haven’t listened yet, but will. Is Milloy cited as a supporting source or a source of misinformation being corrected?

        Brian Dunning: It’s where I got sources for the hunting of pelicans in Texas. It was not the original source, which I probably should have cited.

        Note that on the “Contact” page on skeptoid.com he asks that comments on the podcasts by posted there and not emailed to him. That’s what I and many others did, to no effect.

  24. So essentially what I’m seeing here is:

    B. Dunning: If you see any other corrections to be made, or incorrect information, let me know. I’ll gladly fix it.

    Angry Internet: You used a source that isn’t good, so the whole episode and the entirety of your show is questionable.

    B. Dunning: What you feel about the sources doesn’t answer whether or not there is any more incorrect information.

    Angry Internet: So you admit you used them!

    B. Dunning: So are there more areas that need correction in the episode?

    Angry Internet: I can’t appreciate your inability to own up to your mistakes!

    • LOL. No comment. :-)

      • Well, you’ve made the same claims on Orac’s blog, too.

        So, “LOL” aside, it is true. See Febo.

        Oh, and on admissions of wrong, Penn/Teller eventually admitted they were wrong on secondhand smoke, at least partially admitted.

        That said, something like Brian’s truculence would sure make that planned PBS series “fun.”

      • MadScientist says:

        No comment! So you admit to it! (hehehe)

      • CrookedTimber says:

        Are you not reading Lambert’s comments(once again)pointing out many more than two errors???? Why do keep avoiding them?

    • Febo says:

      No, that is not the situation as all; that is the distortion that Brian keeps trying to push. It’s more like:

      Science Blogger: Brian Dunning made some mistakes, and here they are…

      Brian Dunning: If you see any other corrections to be made, or incorrect information, let me know. I’ll gladly fix it.

      Angry Internet: These Science bloggers have pointed out your mistakes, here are the links, what is your response?

      Brian Dunning: You’re just picking on me because you don’t like my sources!

      Angry Internet: Yes, your sources were pretty bad, but what about the factual errors in your podcast, here are the links again…

      Brian Dunning: I didn’t even use that source!!! I’ve never even heard of that source!!! Besides, I’m just presenting both sides!!!

      Angry Internet: Setting politics aside for the moment, how do you respond to the claims that you made factual errors?

      Brian Dunning: No one ever emailed me any errors I made! All my critics have a political agenda! I’m above politics!

  25. laursaurus says:

    Make that not a Skeptoid yes-woman ;)

    BugGirl, the anonymous blogger, claims to have her PhD in Entomology It isn’t possible to verify her credentials since she’s anonymous. At the Deltoid site, Tim Lambert’s profile states: “Tim Lambert…is a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales.” Orac is apparently a surgeon. Heck if we’re going to attack Brian as a naive amateur then what’s good for the goose…
    However, any Skeptoid listener knows that this type of argument is example of a logical fallacy, regardless of who uses it.
    BugGirl has posted another article that kicks ass on several defenseless straw men.
    In conclusion she reveals the blinding rage that is fueling these so-called “science” bloggers:
    “It’s not, really, about DDT at all. It’s about tarring and feathering the environmental movement, and keeping people distrustful of science.”
    So this IS all about political ideology, after all.
    Oh! And throw in the “anti-science” claim for good measure.

    Like Brian explains above, the “science” doesn’t endorse a particular political ideology. When someone claims that it does, you have very good reason to be skeptical!

    • She’s right. Skeptoid is all about keeping people distrustful of science. I wake up every morning and plot against science.

      • Febo says:

        Yes, Brian… sarcastic ridicule of straw-man versions of your friendly critics is certainly a better way to deal with them than addressing their actual points would be.

        I am still puzzled by your response to this situation. Self-correction is part of the scientific process; it is what makes science better than all the various forms of Woo.

        Fortunately, I suspect many of the readers of this blog will actually follow the links you provided, and see for themselves the analysis of your errors that you seem hell-bent on ignoring.

      • “Keeping people distrustful of science” are her exact words. Do you need a refresher course on what a straw man is?

      • Febo says:

        The straw man to which I am referring, “Brian”, is your ongoing insistence on ignoring the legitimate criticism of the factual errors you made and focusing instead on ancillary issues like the political biases of your sources, and irrelevant side comments like “keeping people distrustful of science”. If you would focus on the facts, you would have a lot more people on your side in this. Hell, when this thing started, I was totally on your side, because I assumed that you would simple acknowledge your mistake, make the corrections, and move on, leaving the conspiracy nutters and political ideologues to arguing amongst themselves. But you seem to have inexplicably jumped into the deep-end of the crazy pool on this one.

      • Mick Green says:

        She was quite clearly referring to the “manufactured controversy surrounding DDT” with that sentence, Brian, and not specifically to you or your podcast.

      • J. J. Ramsey says:

        Her exact words, yes, but from a blog post that contained a more general commentary about DDT denialism and was not aimed at you alone, Mr. Dunning. The context makes pretty clear that the quote,

        “It’s not, really, about DDT at all. It’s about tarring and feathering the environmental movement, and keeping people distrustful of science.”

        was about the agenda of denialists of the environmental impact of DDT, and not about you. From what I can see, BugGirl thinks that you were misled by the denialists, not that you are (necessarily) one of their number.

      • CrookedTimber says:

        You have given that lesson by only responding to the more vitriolic comments focusing on politics and avoiding the many, many substantive criticisms. I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt but your reaction has only made things worse.

    • Amy says:

      An entomologist would be a decent person to evaluate DDT.

      • laursaurus says:

        You’d think so, wouldn’t you?
        But she doesn’t bother. The only entomological expertise she has offered is the following:
        1. DDT isn’t a pancea
        2. Some mosquitoes have developed resistance in the past,
        3. links to several activist blogs. Deltoid was the only one that somewhat resembled the science. An expert on the science needs on a computer scientist blogger for factual data?

        She has not even attempted to educate either Brian or his listeners like an expert in any other field would.This incident was a golden opportunity to advance public awareness by clarifying any specifics. Instead she launched a personal attack on Brian that consisted of the craziest logical fallacies and vitriol. Imagine reading something on Science-Based Medicine like what she blogged on Skeptchick. I have zero respect for that site now. Were they so desperate for female bloggers that they needed a pseudo-skeptic who doesn’t know the first thing about avoiding logical fallacies?
        I have serious doubts about her credentials. Any political pundit could have written what she has so far on DDT & Malaria.

      • Max says:

        She linked to her own past entries on her blog.

        “DDT, Junk Science, Malaria, and the attack on Rachel Carson”
        http://membracid.wordpress.com/2007/06/07/ddt-junk-science-malaria-and-the-attack-on-rachel-carson/

        “DDT, Junk Science, Malaria, and insecticide resistance”
        http://membracid.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/ddt-malaria-insecticide-resistance/

    • MadScientist says:

      “The environmental movement” means nothing at all to me. There are serious people who work hard to protect the environment and the plants and animals (including humans) there, and there are rabid loons who pretend they know everything about the environment and that we filthy humans should change nothing and upset our magical relation with nature. The best way to poo-poo the honest environmental researchers would be to associate them with frauds like Greenpeace – that would be far more effective than dredging up DDT.

  26. laursaurus says:

    PS. Expect Tim Lambert to weigh in within the next 12 hours. He has special radar that promptly alerts him whenever Deltoid is mentioned anywhere on the blogosphere.

    Stay tuned because this could get interesting!

      • Rick Dakan says:

        You know that’s from two weeks ago, right? And that Brian actually writes about it in this post we’re commenting on?

      • Rick Dakan says:

        Sorry, I assume you’re referring to Tim’s comment at the bottom of the thread, which is from today. I apologize for my unwarranted snark.

      • Febo says:

        There is a reply to this blog in the comments section of that blog, since the response he tried to post here is still awaiting moderation.

    • Rather, he’s TRIED to weigh in. Brian (and the rest of the Skepticblog law firm-type partnership, why is his comment still on moderation? Brian, methinks you doth protest WAY too much.

      • We had to add moderation to this blog because of spamming cranks. Moderation is slow because there are no full-time employees to do it – so we simply ask patience and moderate as often as possible. Having said that – I moderated all comments so they are now up.

      • “Bug Girl” also suggested that I was censoring her comments. Get real, folks.

      • Febo says:

        Brian, I agree with you that it is ridiculous to suggest that you would censor comments on your blog. But then, it was also ridiculous that you let this situation get so out of hand, so you will have to forgive the wild speculation. If you expect people to treat you like a reasonable person, you have to behave reasonably yourself.

        I believe that you are now being sincere in your attempts to correct the errors and clarify the misrepresentations you made in the DDT podcast. It’s too bad you couldn’t have done so earlier and avoided this whole shit-storm. There are a lot more people who think that you are a political hack now than did a few weeks ago, and I think that is ashame.

  27. Zerodash says:

    I just noticed that comments on Tim Lambert’s site say that the Skeptoid episode on DDT indicates that A) Brian Dunning is clearly a Libertarian and B) Brian Dunning is a racist because he is a Libertarian.

    This is the work of skeptical thought? Or is it simply because the internet is an insane place?

    • I said something about how Dunning appeared to be going way over the snark line when he hinted that liberals’ concerns for people of color apparently didn’t extend to sub-Saharan Africans because of their allegedly indiscriminate opposition to DDT. I nowhere said that made him a racist. I did say, though, in the same post, that Shermer’s beloved Frank Miele pretty clearly IS a racialist, or hereditarian if you want to be kinder.

  28. Rick Dakan says:

    Brian,

    It seems to me that you’re not representing Tim’s critiques entirely accurately and he makes some strong criticisms with multiple citations that you’re brushing aside in this response.

    For example, you write:

    “There are nitpicks, like I trimmed one guy’s quote to just the relevant part. Yeah, so does every writer. I do this in virtually every episode; it’s necessary for a 10-minute podcast.”

    A perfectly reasonable point on it’s face, but Tim Lambert has a very specific complain about the words you cut out. Here’s what you have in the original post on your site:

    “Such wealthy donors have often had little personal exposure to the issues, and can sometimes have a skewed perspective when it comes to bald eagle eggshells in the United States versus the deaths of children in Mozambique. Writing in the Nature Medicinejournal, malaria advocate Prof. Amir Attaran criticized American environmental groups for opposing the public health exceptions of DDT bans:
    “Environmentalists in rich, developed countries gain nothing from DDT, and thus small risks felt at home loom larger than health benefits for the poor tropics. More than 200 environmental groups, including Greenpeace, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the World Wildlife Fund, actively condemn DDT.”

    The clear implication here is that some environmentalists in wealthy nations show too much concern for animals when balanced against human lives, but the words you cut from the quote you give are, according to Tim “condemn DDT for being “a current source of significant injury to…humans.” The person you’re quoting says donors are concerned about human health impact of DDT, but your version of the quote is used to support the implication that the donors are more concerned about animals than people.

    Maybe Tim has the quote wrong, but it is, I think, much a more serious criticism than a mere nitpick over when to cut a quote.

    You also say that Tim’s critique only gave you two corrections, but I see at least one that would require a correction if you agreed with Tim’s critique or a refutation of it if you don’t. You wrote:

    “In the end, it was the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the bird’s 1967 placement on the endangered species list, combined with increased penalties for poaching, that ultimately led to the bald eagle’s successful return to remaining habitats.”

    Tim offers five or six studies that show the exact opposite – that eliminating DDT was very important to bald eagle recovery. Maybe you don’t buy those studies, but it’s a serious, well-sourced critique that deserves a response from you.

    Another critique from Part II, seems much more specific than “confirming things I said in the episode, but somehow framing them as if they were wrong when I said them, he’s just saying the same things you are but saying he’s right and you’re wrong.” That’s not how I read the post at all. He makes some very specific criticisms, including:

    “Dunning concedes that DDT resistance is a problem but then argues:

    Moreover, we’ve since learned that it is still effective against resistant mosquitos, only a little less so. Susceptibility in resistant strains goes down to 63%, as opposed to 87% in non-resistant strains.

    Dunning doesn’t give a cite for this, so we don’t know what he is referring to, but it’s probably this 2007 study, which found that 73% of DDT-resistant mosquitoes were repelled or killed by DDT, but 92% were repelled or killed by dieldrin (which they were not resistant to). First, you can’t generalize this result — local conditions and the nature of resistance in the mosquito population could make a big difference,. The mosquito species studied, Aedes aegypti, doesn’t even transmit malaria. Second, even if DDT is still somewhat effective, that doesn’t mean you should use it — this experiment found that an insecticide that the mosquitoes were not resistant to was much more effective. (More comments on this paper here). Third, the repellent effect of DDT can actual hinder the effectiveness of vector control. Fourth, the disastrous experience of Sri Lanka in the 60s proves that DDT resistance can render it ineffective against malaria. DDT spraying had reduced malaria by so much in 1963 that there weren’t enough cases to justify spraying against malaria (though DDT continued to be used in agriculture). Unfortunately, malaria returned and when they resumed anti-malaria spraying DDT had lost much of its effectiveness because the mosquitoes had evolved resistance. By 1975, DDT was pretty much useless and they were only able to get malaria back under control by switching to the more expensive malathion.”

    These are substantive critiques that you don’t address here at all. Do you disagree that they’re substantive? Do you have a response to them?

    • Rick Dakan says:

      Tim’s post above at 18 was in moderation while I wrote mine. I’m not surprised he brings up the same points I do (plus others). Consider my quotes as references for what Tim’s asking about in 18.

  29. Brian, while Orac’s “secret” web identity is one one the worst kept secrets in the blogosphere, and he has publicly outed himself on numerous occasions (but not directly on his web site), as long as he maintains the pretense of anonymity on his website, it’s generally considered common blogosphere courtesy not to “out” him or link his real identity with his pseudo-anonymous web identity in internet print.

    [This comment edited by Brian -- Orac contacted me and asked me to remove his name. I was not aware that he wants it a secret, my apologies.]

    • Brian, you need to edit your post again: Orac does not post on Science Based Medicine. David Gorski, Steven Novella, Kimball Atwood, Hariett Hall, Mark Crislip, Peter Lipson, David Kroll, Scott Gavura, et al post at SBM; no posts are credited to anyone called Orac.

  30. Methos says:

    Why would you refer to Junk Science as “one of my sources” and then deny using it as a source?

    • You might want to read the explanation of this in the article. It was Lambert’s statement that Milloy was my source, I was merely repeating his charge in my comment to him. It did not occur to me that people would interpret it as a confirmation of his statement (it was a denial), and should have been worded more clearly.

      • itzac says:

        I read that comment and interpreted it more as a general admonition against poisoning the well. I guess there are a lot ways to interpret a 20-word comment.

      • Max says:

        Imagine if Brian cited Prison Planet in an episode about a conspiracy theory, and someone commented, “Yeah, the very fact that you would consider Prison Planet a source worthy of citing frankly is enough to treat the entire article with extreme skepticism.”
        Do you think Brian would reply, “I’m not sure your political disagreement with one of my sources constitutes a valid correction to anything in the episode”?
        I doubt it. I think he’d explain that he cited Prison Planet in order to debunk it.

      • itzac says:

        Let’s try this:

        “Even if I had used X as a source, I’m not sure your political disagreement with one of my sources constitutes a valid correction to anything in the episode.”

        Notice how the meaning of everything after the comma doesn’t change if you remove the “even if” clause? Considering what else someone could have meant by something usually pays off. But speculating as to how someone might have communicated a different meaning is hardly an argument.

  31. Joreth says:

    I’m still confused. I’m no fan of the Libertarian party, but what does your (non-existent) Libertarian views have to do with anything *if* the studies cited are good studies?

    When talking about what the wackaloons think, isn’t it usually a good idea to actually link to them to *show* what they think so that you can show you’re not taking them out of context? When Southpark did the episode on Scientology, didn’t they put up text that said “seriously, we’re not making this shit up, this is what they actually say”?

    If you say “here’s the far left position on DDT” and then follow with “here’s the opposing position on DDT”, I would think you *would* use an actual far-left source to get what the far-left is saying. I mean, I would hate to think that you did an episode where you said “and here’s what environmentalists think about DDT, and I found out about what they think by perusing http://www.antihippiecommiebastards.com“.

    • It is explained in this article that I tried to give links to viewpoints from both ends of the spectrum. I doubt there is any way I could have done this that would have satisfied everybody.

      • bug_girl says:

        Maybe *this* comment will make it through? None of my other ones have.

        You have just summed up my critique exactly in that statement Brian. You presented both sides.

        However, both sides of the spectrum are NOT EQUALLY VALID scientifically.
        To give equal time and consideration to information that is known to be (a) in error; and (b) politically motivated, is a mistake, and you become a tool for dissemination of poor information.

      • Max says:

        In other words, you were “fair and balanced” by “teaching the controversy”.

  32. Febo says:

    “With my “Things I’m Wrong About” episodes coming out as often as I can fill them, I don’t think you can reasonably charge me with feeling I’m above criticism.”

    Actually, in the past I have always thought that your “Thing’s I’m Wrong About” episodes sounded a bit disingenuous and self-serving, but until now I just assumed this impression was due to me not getting your sense of humor.

    If you are not above criticism, why do you refuse to address the legitimate criticism and instead dwell on political and ideological distractions?

    • “Febo” – Please don’t listen to my show anymore. I’m concerned that biofeedback from your brain waves might make it back to the server and turn the entire audience into an army of conspiracy mongering zombies.

      • Febo says:

        Brian, I have no idea what you’re on about. It must be your sense of humor.

        Okay I have to ask… why did you bring up “conspiracy mongering”? What in any of my posts lead you to associate me with a “conspiracy” of any sort? And what does “biofeedback” have to do with anything? This exactly the sort of random non-sequitor insult that makes your feedback shows seems disingenuous. Not everyone who disagrees with you believes in every crazy thing you’ve ever debunked. And the sad thing is, I don’t even disagree with you.

        Whatever. I’m going to keep listening to your podcast, we’ll see if the biofeedback does the conspiracy thing or whatever that joke I didn’t get was.

      • With you as lead conspiracy monger, Brian? After all, you halfway implied, or more, a “liberal conspiracy against DDT.”

  33. Brian, in case you are only reading the new comments at the end of the thread, you should check out my reply to my edited reply.

  34. Max says:

    Tim Lambert ended his critique with this:

    “If you do a podcast every week on a wide variety of topics, there will inevitably be errors and I don’t think that people will hold that against Dunning. But digging in and not making appropriate corrections will mean that people lose confidence in him.”

    Brian is digging in and not making appropriate corrections, and his responses to serious critics (or strawmen of them) continue to be disingenuous and condescending.

  35. Jacob Block says:

    I’m not going to lie, I thought this was entertaining.

    Hang in there Brian.

  36. Jansob says:

    ….and this is why I am no longer involved in the “organized” skeptic’s movement. Once an argument starts, it will rage forever, with no hope of ending, not hope of settlement unless one side bows utterly to the other.

    We have just seen one more internal wall raised, and the rancor will never die.

    Skeptoid is effectively dead, as a large part of the skeptiverse will see it as tainted. One more skeptical voice gone.

    Skeptic Blog is well on the way, with politics and reactions to politics raising more walls and creating more divisions. I no longer send new skeptics here.

    Reminds me so much of fights I saw in church!

  37. Beelzebud says:

    Between this and Shermer’s Libertarian bias on everything, I think it’s time to bid this site adieu. It’s not hard to see why certain people left this site behind a long time ago. This is the same schtick Reason Magazine tries to pull. Being a pro-corporate, anti-state, Libertarian doesn’t make you reasonable or a skeptical thinker. Your political ideas are not science. DDT shouldn’t be a political issue, but it is because some people think that private companies should never be regulated.

    • Zerodash says:

      @ Beelzebud

      NO political views are science, even liberalism. If you want to disagree with what the facts or their interpretations are, then keep the discussion there. Attacking anyone who disagrees with you on a non-political topic by labeling them as a type of person you dislike (IE conservative, libertarian, or whatever) is neither reasonable or polite..

      Guess what? Being an anti-capitalist, pro-big-government, Liberal doesn’t make you reasonable or a skeptical thinker. (Personally, I doubt the thinking ability of anyone who classifies themselves into any political stance)

      Your playing the “evil private companies” card is a red herring. The discussion is about the safety of DDT and the cost/benefits of it’s use. The topic was not about the business interests who are supposedly hell-bent on destroying the environment and killing people, no matter how much you want it to be.

      • Beelzebud says:

        See here is the thing. You don’t know what my political beliefs are because I’ve never spoke about them here. That’s kind of the point. The reason I single out the Libertarian viewpoints here, is because they’re being peddled by the people who run this site, as scientific fact.

        I *know* that my political beliefs are not scientific fact, so I avoid trying to sell them as such.

      • Right on, Beelzebud. Not quite skeptical of Zerodash to make that assumption. Besides, Ed Braydon, for example, has some libertarian leanings, but, contra to Brian … **keeps them out of his science-related blog posts!**

        I had said good-bye to here years ago, but Messr. Loxton, via a third party and that party himself, said, in essence, that Shermer didn’t post that Libertarian economic crap here anymore! Hah! Double hah on him still being a booster of Frank Miele, racialist.

        (That one makes me wonder if Skeptic the Mag gets money from the Pioneer Fund, to be honest.)

  38. Dan Kennan says:

    Skeptoid is effectively useless now as a teaching tool. Anytime I use Skeptoid from now on, a perfectly legitimate question will be “but most skeptics think he’s an anti-science buffoon”. And they will be right.
    Nice while it lasted, but I can’t trust it now. I’ve just unsubscribed and deleted the old episodes and suggest everyone else do the same.

  39. Carl says:

    Brian, I understand that you’re angry (because you said so) but you might want to either respond to the actual criticisms (instead of ignoring/dismissing them), or simply write what would have ended this immediately: “I seem to have made some factual errors in my podcast, but Lambert, Bug_Girl and I all agree on most policy and scientific issues, and it would be stupid to argue endlessly with people I agree with.”

    BTW, if you contact Bug_Girl privately she’d probably tell you her real name and credentials. She can’t currently publish opinions without permission from the government, but there is presumably no restriction on her telling people her name through email.

    • Methos says:

      I think you’re missing the point. He didn’t complain about Bug Girl being anonymous and refer to her as “bug girl” (in quotation marks) because he is genuinely curious about her identity or credentials. He did it to poison the well.

  40. Amy says:

    I thought Lambert’s post was pretty nice to Brian, he actually sounded like he appreciated your work, and was pointing out specifics of that episode (the comments were not nice, and did almost seem conspriracy theorist). Bug girl said she wasn’t going after specific points, and her anonymous identity has been discussed; she says her job is done in may, maybe she won’t be anonymous after that. I can understand why one would want to be contacted privately, but that really sounds secretive. Science blogs often point out errors of others, I thought that was the point, free and open discussion?

    • Orac says:

      Indeed.

      Personally, as one of the targets of his self-rightsous wrath, I bristle at Brian’s apparent expectation that anyone on “his side” who finds fault with something he wrote and wants to blog about it should notify him beforehand and get his response. Sure, one can do that if one likes as a courtesy. However, in the blogosphere (and the podcast-o-sphere, to coin a Frankenword), as far as I’m concerned, once something is out there and public, it is fair game for a public response. One can notify the person being criticized beforehand if one likes, but it is by no means mandatory, nor is it wrong or a failing if one does not. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that someone who gets all self-righteous and angry because he’s been publicly criticized by another blogger who’s normally on “his side” without having received an e-mail ahead of time from that blogger might–just might–be a tad too dainty for the rough-and-tumble world of the blogosphere.

      This is particularly true in Brian’s example, given that Tim and I, at least, bent over backwards to preface our criticisms of his DDT misstep with copious praise for Skeptoid and Brian’s long history of skeptical activism, topped off with statements that surely his screw-up with regards to DDT must be an anomaly and how we understand that anyone who does a weekly podcast for so long will at some point get something badly wrong. If Brian had simply acknowledged his errors in a timely fashion (or at least substantively addressed them and not kept repeating his mantra that there were only “two errors” pointed out to him and that his critics are all a bunch of poopy pants) and emphasized that, errors in fact aside, there is actually far more agreement than disagreement between him and his critics regarding DDT policy, the entire kerfuffle would have been almost instantly deflated and then rapidly forgotten, no harm, no foul. Instead, apparently stung that he was being criticized by fellow skeptics, Brian took the criticism way too personally and started digging himself in much deeper.

      • Amy says:

        Wow, Orac responding to my post, I blush! I’m embarrassed in being 4 days late in responding. I agree, bloggers/podcasters should expect public criticism of their work, even welcome it, if legitimate. If you’re putting yourself out there, I think you would expect this, even from your own “side.” Asking for personal email seems a bit too guarded, blogs are open discussions, please keep them that way.

  41. Max says:

    Another example of Brian parroting JunkScience.

    Skeptoid: “One thing we’ve learned is that DDT is only one of many causes of eggshell thinning. Other culprits include lead and mercury toxicity, oil, phosphorus and calcium deficiency, and dehydration. Perhaps most significantly, birds in captivity in order to undergo testing are under stress, and this stress alone is enough to produce eggshell thinning.”

    JunkScience
    http://www.junkscience.com/ddtfaq.html
    Item 46: Oil has been associated with egg shell thinning.
    Item 47: Lead has been associated with egg shell thinning.
    Item 48: Mercury has been associated with egg shell thinning.
    Item 49: Stress from noise, fear or excitement and disease are associated with egg shell thinning.
    Item 53: Dehydration is associated with thinner egg shells.
    Item 59: Phosphorus deficiency is associated with thinner shells.
    Item 60: Calcium deficiency is associated with thinner shells.

    Is it a big coincidence, Brian? What was your source for that paragraph?

  42. FORMER FAN says:

    Give it up, people, Dunning is not going to admit fault any more than Bill Nye did.

    Skeptoid’s credibility is shot, and I no longer trust the earlier episodes. Just delete the Skeptoid feed and move on. I have.

  43. Tim Lambert says:

    Dunning has now added this to his podcast transcript:

    [Additional info: The World Health Organization's ban on DDT does include limited exemptions for malaria control in many regions, but money for its use still often depends on qualified foreign aid. In Africa, the exemption allows indoor use only, like wearing armor on half your body - BD]

    The World Health Organization does not ban DDT. The Stockholm Convention’s ban on DDT has am exception for public health use that any country in the world can take advantage of if they choose. The exemption for DDT use doesn’t restrict to indoor use. It isn’t used outdoors because that’s wasteful and bad for the environment.

  44. Citizen Wolf says:

    I think there should be an actual physical stick-fight arranged to settle the matter. No limit on the number of participents and everyone has a hurley (go look it up if unsure).

    • tmac57 says:

      Liz,or the fat guy from ‘Lost’? ;)

      • Citizen Wolf says:

        I wouldn’t mind having a Liz Hurley of my very own. But, Liz isn’t exactly the sort of Hurley that would be useful in a stick-fight.

      • Citizen Wolf says:

        Then again, if everyone had a Liz Hurley of their own (and a Johnny Depp for all the ladies) that would probably calm the situation down a lot quicker.

  45. CrookedTimber says:

    …And Tim Lambert continues to post substantive criticisms, all done politely and sticking to facts while Dunning continues to ignore those criticisms and attack straw men. And he wonders why the back lash?

  46. Yilloslime says:

    Dunning,

    As a primary architect of the wikipedia you apparently relied upon, all I can say is that you’ve missed the forest from the trees. Sure, most of the factoids you’ve cited are correct, but the narrative that you’ve constructed from them is way off base. Your thesis regarding DDT’s role in malaria control seems to be that “If we shelve our most effective tools hoping that something perfect will come along that has no potential downside, we’ll wait forever, and thousands will continue dying every day.” What you’ve ignored is that DDT is rarely among “our most effective tools” anymore, and in most situations alternatives are more effective.

    Wikipedia’s DDT article naturally focuses on the debate over its use in malaria control, since the topic of the article is DDT. But to get a more holistic view of malaria control, you should have done some reading on malaria in general. The wikipedia article on malaria would have been good place to start. If you did that, you see you’ve overstated the importance of DDT. As malaria control experts Hans Herren and Charles Mbogo recently argued in a letter in Environmental Health Perspectives, framing the issue as a simple choice between DDT and malaria is the wrong way to think about the issue. There are other tools to fight malaria, and which tools are most appropriate vary across space and time.

    It all comes to down the take away message: The overall impression of your skeptoid episode is that DDT is a (near) silver bullet for malaria control, that it has been underused, and that it’s the fault of overzealous environmentalists. It’s hard to listen to the episode and think that your conclusion is something else. But unfortunately, this is impression doesn’t jive with history. And if you look at who is championing this version of history, you’ll see that by and large these folks come from a certain ideological perspective. Meanwhile, if you listen to what the professional malaria control community is saying, and if you read the historical literature on the history of malaria control, you’re left with a very different impression. These folks aren’t blaming environmentalist for the malaria burden, nor are they calling for increases in the use of DDT at the expense of other interventions.

  47. Yilloslime says:

    At the risk of getting lost among the trees, there are a few additional incorrect factoids in the transcript that Lambert and BugGirl haven’t pointed out.

    -”Up to three million people die of malaria each year, most of them in Africa”. The most authoritative source on malaria mortality is the WHO, and their most recent figures put the number at just under 900,000. Google “world malaria report.”

    -”with production increasing today in India, China, and North Korea, for both agricultural and anti-malaria uses.” Currently, DDT is only being produced in India. (Granted, the wikipedia article on DDT is out of date on this one. Mea culpa.)

    -”but it also doesn’t get dissolved away by them and diluted into virtual nothingness, so it hangs around for a long time.” This doesn’t really explain its persistence.

    -”In the end, it was the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the bird’s 1967 placement on the endangered species list, combined with increased penalties for poaching, that ultimately led to the bald eagle’s successful return to remaining habitats.” Most ecologists and ornithologists would also include the domestic DDT ban in this list.

    Perhaps nit picky but:

    -In the first para: “DDT has now been banned for the most part in many countries.” This sentence comes in the middle of paragraph focused mostly on DDT’s antimalarial use, so most readers/listeners would conclude that the ban is on its use against malaria. In fact, most malarial countries have not banned it for use against malaria. This conflating of agriculture bans with public health use bans and actions taken in developed countries with those taken in developing countries happens in a few other places in the episode, contributing to the impression that DDT is unavailable to countries that could benefit from it.

    -”As a result of these pressures, many donations now coming from wealthy nations are now contingent upon DDT not being used, which leaves the poor nations with fewer options, often too expensive and less effective, and children die.” It would be interesting to see a source (other than Amir Attaran) for this statement.

    • Jim Lippard says:

      These are exactly the sorts of criticisms that Brian should be taking the greatest pains to address and correct, rather than spending nearly all of his time on the meta-issues. The “he’s a libertarian” argument is not only apparently wrong, it’s almost entirely beside the point. An ideological bias can lead to mistakes, but discussion of purported ideological bias shouldn’t preclude discussion of and correction of the mistakes.

  48. laursaurus says:

    “In Skeptoid, I try to offend and appeal to conservatives, liberals, and libertarians equally. This is a very deliberate marketing choice to attract to as broad an audience as possible. I’m careful about it.”

    Out of curiosity, from which group is the most vocal?

  49. Skeptic Podcast Lover says:

    What the fuck guys?

    I mean seriously, what the fuck is this shit? Why are you all acting like children? Its one podcast. Isn’t a guy allowed to make a mistake? And even if he did, I recall Brian Dunning making corrections to previous podcasts so I don’t get all the outrage over this.

    Is Brian Dunning some mysterious man from authority demanding that all his listeners take his own personal research as if it were dogma handed down by the FSM? Take a deep breathe and chill the fuck out everyone. Bug Girl, shut the fuck up. Stop being such a whiny uptight bitch.

    We are skeptics, lets have some rational debate and stop acting like children.

    These comments are toxic and septic.

    If you want to be septic instead of sketpic, thats fine with me, just do it away from me.

    • Irene Delse says:

      I wonder why the moderators allow sexist insults here.

      • Skeptic Podcast Lover says:

        I wonder why someone thinks name calling automatically makes one sexist?

        HINT: Its not sexist, your just insane.

      • Blaine says:

        Whoa buddy, it doesn’t get much more sexist than your insult there; “whiny uptight bitch”. That is insultingly sexist. For shame.

    • tmac57 says:

      If you want to defend Brian,that is fine,but this kind of rude,obnoxious,and generally hateful comment is not welcome here,and I think Brian would agree.

    • Amy says:

      You must not have read the original critical posts, 2 of the 3 said that with a podcast every week, he’s expected to make errors here and there.

  50. Mat says:

    Here laid bare is skepticism’s naked butt, exposed and ready to be kicked.

    We perhaps spread ourselves too thin. Experts on everything from vaccines to cryptozoolology via evolution and global warming, and more besides. And when a well meaning prominent skeptic – with a commitment to public education, and an eye to the bigger picture – comes to a slightly different opinion over a nuanced piece of science, there’s a queue to get the boot in.

    Take a look over the work Dunning has put in over the last few years and consider whether the criticism he is receiving is in proportion. In my opinion the world would be a better (and certainly more entertaining) place with more Brian Dunnings in it.

    • Febo says:

      Many people have made arguments like this, and they seem to me somewhat hypocritical. The point of scientific skepticism is to promote the pursuit of truth, as revealed by observation and critical analysis. When someone fails to do that — especially someone who is prominent in the skeptical movement — it is only appropriate that they be taken to task on it. This is what they should expect, as skeptics. We don’t let people off for current errors just because they were right about a lot of stuff in the past.

      The problem with Dunning in this situation is not that he made some mistakes — we all do that. The problem is that when presented with his mistake, his first reaction was to deny the existence of the legitimate criticism, and focus only on the ever-present background noise of wackos and political ideologues who will criticism him no matter what he says. He attempted to dismiss serious skeptics who are basically on his “side” by lumping them in with the kooks, which many found surprising, perhaps more than a little offensive, and certainly not the way prominent skeptics are expected to behave.

      Hopefully, Brian has learned something from this experience.

      • Orac says:

        Unfortunately, I get the distinct feeling the Brian has learned nothing from this incident. I hope I’m wrong, but fear that I am not.

    • Somite says:

      But it is a recurring problem with Brian’s posts dealing with political, social and scientific issues. As he admitted his goal is the same as the denier, create controversy in spite of the facts to get hits. Just like Fox news and the mainstream media. Look at his previous podcasts and articles dealing with SUVs, climate change, Electric car, etc. Invariably he adopts the Lomborg position rather than showing interest in the facts.

  51. Tom says:

    Q: Why are the fights on Skepticblog so vicious?

    A: Because the stakes are so low.

    (Apologies to Sayre for corrupting his law in this manner)

  52. Trevor says:

    I was a bit surprised to read that you were attacked by skeptics/scientific sources over your DDT podcast. When I listened to it, I was not surprised by anything you said (and I don’t mean that in any condescending sense). Being a regular reader of lay scientific press (New Scientist, Scientific American, Cosmos….) I had already encountered the arguements and rationale for limited and approprate use of DDT.
    Thank you for your podcasts. I don’t always agree with your conclusions but I am constantly left with…”must check that out” which I gather is one of your major aims and one thing that many of your critics seem to fail to pick up on.

  53. Ideology sucks says:

    I’ve never seen such hateful commentary outside of YouTube comments in a while. I guess I’m not reading the right comments.

    One of the criticisms seeem to be using JunkScience.com as a source. When I read Voodoo Histories I noted that one of the many sources cited was many pro-racist sources. Many sources were cited that were totally crankish. Well, you have to have those sources when you’re writing about the subject.

    Brian Dunning obviously used that as a source for the same reasons the author of Voodoo histories did.

    It is pathetic the kind of things said by people here that they would never say to someone’s face. If they would say these things to somone’s face then they’re just assholes, whether their arguments are right or wrong. Criticizing people isn’t about being sarcastic or “clever” it is about calmly pointing out where they went wrong. The vicious attacks here are just not helping clear the issue. They are just shrill noise that have no place in discussions of science.

    I am so tired of “internet balls” turning what should be intelligent discussion into a FOX News show.

    It just further proof that dogma, political or religious, makes you not only crazy, but an asshole.

    Whether you are right or wrong, you do not deserve ANY respect for being a prick about it. I would name names, if I weren’t so thin skinned myself.

    • Max says:

      “Brian Dunning obviously used that as a source for the same reasons the author of Voodoo histories did.”

      No, he obviously didn’t. Instead of debunking or criticizing JunkScience, Brian regurgitated its claims and then defended it.
      http://skepticblog.org/2010/12/09/skeptoids-massive-ddt-fail/#comment-35158

      Skeptoid usually does NOT reference the crankish sources it debunks. For example, the Zeitgeist episode cites a number of debunkers, but NOT the Zeitgeist movie or movement itself.

      • Oldskool says:

        He didn’t have to cite the movie as he quoted and commented about how readily available it was. Your argument is like saying that ‘he disputed Darwinism, but didn’t cite “on the origin..”!’

        He didn’t have to given the topic of the podcast.

        I have read all of the arguments on both sides, and I think that Orac, and Bug Girl are getting more than a little carried away- Brians conclusion is in line with theirs. Certainly, Brian has used erroneous information, but he has maintained areasoned hypothesis. So unless the anti DDT people are saying that there is not and never will be a place for DDT in the fight against Malaria, then you are all arguing to the same end- and all looking rather childish as you do it.

  54. Gary S. says:

    A few comments from a long-time Skeptoid listener but a new poster (evidently subject to review…):

    1. Brian: You’ve done a great job of instigating a discussion about a legitimate topic. You’re the expert with this sort of thing, but I’d step back and go ahead and let the fur fly for awhile before worrying about criticisms about your sources rather than thoughtful debates about the subject at hand. (“Instigate” is a mildly pejorative word that I deliberately chose, but then that’s your job right? To instigate discussion.)

    2. It’s unfortunate that scientific theories and hypotheses end up getting popularized in books published in the lay press, websites, and other means that aren’t subject to rigorous peer review. It appears that for some people the mere length of debate in these places somehow translates to them being viewed as authoritative sources of facts. Peer review isn’t perfect, but it does filter out some of the bias that these other sources almost certainly contain. I did some looking in PubMed and there unfortunately is a surprising paucity of review articles on the topic of DDT use for disease control. There are many more primary articles, but they aren’t necessarily good places to find an integration of various facts, ideas, and perspectives from an expert on the topic. One good review which is available as a free pdf download (disclaimer, I don’t know the author not do I have any vested interest in the topic… other than a mild concern about the spread of bedbugs) –

    van den Berg, H., “Global status of DDT and its alternatives for use in vector control to prevent disease.” Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Nov;117(11):1656-63

    - provides a very good overview of the various aspects of DDT use. It does reflect the author’s synopsis of various facts, but each point is supported by specific citations that can in turn be checked (I didn’t do that–my daughter’s U12 soccer team made it to the playoffs and that was more pressing this weekend). Most importantly, the article suggests that at least some viewpoints that seem to spark the most strident vitriol are actually not supported by firm data–at least according to this article.

    3. It’s interesting that in debates such as this, the sides seems to be focused mostly on “winning” and not necessarily getting to the facts. Winning appears to mean that you haven’t conceded any points and that you haven’t budged an inch from your original position. Unfortunately it appears that if you win you don’t even have to be concerned about whether or not your victory was based on facts because understanding the facts is often so complicated and hard to do that the majority of sideline observers–the court of public opinion–will never really care and will merely accept whatever their favorite source of information tells them to think.

    4. It is stunningly amazing how little you have to scratch the surface to reveal just how thin the basis is for various perspectives. This is, moreover, almost universally true.

  55. Max says:

    Here’s why it matters if Brian used JunkScience as a source.

    1. Skeptics have already debunked JunkScience’s DDT claims in the past.
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/fisking-junk-science-and-100-things-you-should-know-about-ddt-a-new-project/

    2. If Brian got his facts from JunkScience, then he lied when he repeatedly denied using it as a source.

    3. It would explain what went wrong, and serve as a valuable lesson for others.

    • Max says:

      And if Brian didn’t use JunkScience as a source, then it’s interesting why it looks so much as if he did.

  56. Pedro Homero says:

    I’m truly sad, that ideology is once again trumping the search for truth. That’s what happens when you let your Libertarianism get in the way of facts and rigorous research. What a sad, sad day, Mr. Dunning.

  57. Steve L says:

    Tim Lambert is a lamb. Too much so. It’s amazing to me that Brian Dunning has responded this way, and continues to do so. There are substantive criticisms, well sourced, presented to Brian. If he thinks they are baseless, he should explain why, preferably with citations. He should show which sources support each of the claims. If he can do it, Lambert’s criticism is off-base. Pretending he has provided a satisfactory answer is unimpressive. It seems to me that he’s hoping none of his readers will actually go and check out Lambert’s blogs.

  58. Brian Dunning says:

    You’re listening to Skeptoid. I’m Brian Dunning from Skeptoid.com

  59. Donna Gore says:

    How can you have a scholarly discussion/debate with somebody who won’t even provide his or her real name? They should at least have the nads to identify themselves, instead of hiding behind a screen name. How can anyone take them seriously? I wouldn’t even dignify them with a response. If the person wants to be taken seriously then they should man (or woman) up and use their real name.

    • Max says:

      Focus on ideas, and not on personal details.

    • Febo says:

      Interestingly, I am using my real name, yet “Brian” (if that is his real name) put my name in scare quotes when responding to me, as if he thought it wasn’t my real name.

      By this logic, if Einstein had published under the name “PhysicsDude”, “e” would not equal “mc^2″.

      I believe this is called the “poisoning the well” logical fallacy, as someone else has already pointed out.

      Maybe this whole thing is actually a giant game of “Name that Logical Fallacy?”

      • Citizen Wolf says:

        I’ve never heard them referred to as scare quotes before.

      • Febo says:

        The first time I heard the term “scare quotes” used was by Steve Novella on the SGU.

      • tmac57 says:

        I have a problem with Brian’s position on Skeptoid of:
        “Remember, you should always read with skepticism the comments of anyone too lame to put their real name & city.”
        I think that this is a spurious argument,in that there is nothing about using a pseudonym that affects the validity of an argument (as Max alludes to).Skepticism should be applied equally to the named and unnamed to be consistent.
        I think that if someone issues a personal attack,then they should do so using their real identity,but debates about facts and logic,…not so much.

      • NightHiker says:

        No kidding.

        This reminds me of an episode a few years ago, when I decided to experiment on the issue. I created a fake profile on Orkut named “Dr. House” and started to participate in the Portuguese language Medicine community, answering to posts about differential diagnose exercises and engaging in ethical discussions about the practice of medicine in general. Mind you I do know a lot about medicine in general, from a layman’s perspective, but I am not a doctor. So I used a very obvious fake name so people would be certain it was a “fake” profile, and paid attention to never participate in discussions about real, current medical cases (as it would be unethical).

        In a couple of months I ended up being a well reputed and generally liked persona in the community, until I finally “came out” and stated I was not a real doctor. Hell broke lose, and people who had came to respect me suddenly became bitter enemies and started to question everything I wrote. A funny thing is that quite a few simply refused to believe I was not really a doctor, saying that it was impossible someone who was not a doctor would have “fooled” them. However, I had never even once said I was a real doctor, so I actually didn’t “fool” anyone. I guess people simply assumed there was a real doctor behind the profile.

        It was a great lesson, to me, about how people give names and authority too much value, even when they are clearly bogus.

    • Orac’s real identity is not exactly a well kept secret. In fact, the original version of this post unintentionally outed Orac because Brian knows Orac’s real identity and was apparently unaware the Orac likes to keep his real identity separate from his Respectful insolence blog identity on the internet.

      Perhaps if you ever experience a concerted effort of someone trying to get you fired from your job for what you say on the internet, you might change your tune on the anonymity thing.

      Well supported arguments and facts should be able to stand on their. If an argument is logically argued and well supported by fact, it shouldn’t matter whether Joe the Plumber or Orac Surgical Oncologist and PhD said it.

  60. Michael says:

    I have been unpleasantly surprised and disappointed with the tone of the debate involving this specific podcast. Perhaps it is somehow telling how emotional this has become for some commentators. I find it hard to believe that people would be so biting if this discussion were happening face-to-face. The shroud of the internet has such a way of reverting us to adolescent tendencies…

    • Febo says:

      The only emotionalism in this debate are coming from Dunning and his supporters. The criticism against Dunning has always been, “You’ve made factual errors (as expounded by Lambert, Orac, Bug Girl,etc), please respond.”

      The negative tone that seems to permeate this discussion is entirely the result of Dunning’s comically inept attempts to avoided addressing this simple and fair critique.

  61. WScott says:

    @ Steven Novella #26:

    We had to add moderation to this blog because of spamming cranks. Moderation is slow because there are no full-time employees to do it – so we simply ask patience and moderate as often as possible.

    But it does seem like only certain people’s posts are getting caught in moderation, while other people’s posts go right through? I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but could you explain how your moderation filters work?

    • It’s simple – first time commenters get moderated. Once you have an approved post, your comments are no longer moderated. There are a few names and phrases that are also moderated, mainly to keep out some known cranks, and there may be some collateral moderating from this, but I doubt there’s much.

  62. Cato says:

    This is dismaying. I follow the SGU podcast, Dunning and Orac regularly and never realized just what the “skeptical movement” “believed.” I never realized that only liberals can do science and that “libertarian” is thrown about as some shorthand for “corporatist,” which is itself shorthand for “evildewars.” I can’t be sure if it’s being used to poison the well or just merely ad hom. I can only imagine what “conservative,” “right-wing” and “counter-revolutionary” are used as synonyms for.

    The Deltoid comment thread is amazing; I suppose I should have expected the freshman vitriol since an Australian is apparently involved in that website (/jk). Dunning is reported as saying something disagreeable and questionably sourced; there’s speculation as to his politics; and then it’s “OMGWTFBBQ libertarianism!!1!!”

    Is it true that a scientific, rational, reasonable person votes only liberal?

    @ Dunning, keep it up. I look forward to many future episodes exploring liberal shibboleths. You should warn people though; use a “panty-bunching” scale.

    @ Yilloslime, you win, dude. I haven’t checked your sources, but that was a useful post of the sort that should make Dunning a little more diligent next time.

    • Tim Lambert says:

      So it’s anti-Australian bigotry now.

      I didn’t mention anything about libertarianism in either of my posts. I wrote about what Dunning got wrong and supported what I wrote with high-quality references. I think the science is really interesting — especially Lincer’s 1975 paper that nailed down the evidence that DDT causes eggshell thinning.

      Out of almost 180 comments on my posts, only six suggested that Dunning was a libertarian. I think there were more saying that there was no evidence for this and/or it didn’t matter.

  63. Lukas says:

    I think this whole fiasco shows a fundamental problem with the “skeptical movement” being dominated by scientifically interested amateurs. As long as we are shooting at “easy targets” like ghosts, ESP, homeopathy, creationism etc. everything is fine and dandy, just because the claims are so ludicrous that not much more than a critical mind and some basic scientific literacy is needed to refute the nonsense.

    However, as soon as we get into some more controversial topics like DDT or global warming, it becomes very messy to sort through the literature. There is a reason that it takes several years of education and hard work to even be able to read the scientific literature in certain fields, and you can’t fast-track this process in a few weeks, no matter how much work you put into preparing your podcasts/blogs/tweets/whatever.

    I enjoy listening to Skeptoid or reading Michael Shermer, but I sometimes suspect that the air of authority that people like Brian and Michael bring to topics they don’t know much about (DDT, global warming) hurt the cause of promoting skeptical thinking more than they help, especially if they dig in their heels in the face of criticism like Brian does here. Sure, everyone always gives great references for further reading, but how many listeners/readers will actually dig deeper into the literature? So the spin you put on things matters, and if it completely distorts the scientific consensus, it hurts the cause of rational discourse as much as Deepak Chopra or Oprah Winfrey.

    I think the best way to deal with these topics is to invite working scientists in the field and interview them. I realize this isn’t the way Skeptoid works, but if you don’t do this you always run the risk of completely misunderstanding the science, or falling for some politically motivated propaganda like Brian apparently did here. And like many others said, the most disappointing part of the whole story is not that this happened at all, since we all make mistakes, it is Brian’s condescending and arrogant reaction to the criticism. Maybe the other Skeptologists should stage an intervention…

  64. Carl says:

    Y’know, if a Skepchick/entomologist, Orac, and Jim Lippard all find flaws in something I write about entomology, medicine and skepticism respectively … I would take the possibility that I was wrong seriously.

    • Orac says:

      Indeed.

      If I were to write something that resulted in a lot of skeptics and people who knew a lot more about my topic than I telling me I was not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong–with multiple errors of fact and science, to boot–and that I had spun the story in a way that the evidence doesn’t justify, yes, I would be upset. However, after perhaps an initial flash of anger at being criticized by “my people” that might or might not lead to some sarcastic Orac-ian initial responses, I like to hope that I would start to seriously ask myself if I had screwed up in a big way and therefore should think about going back and looking at the issue again. I’d ask myself if I needed to issue a retraction, clarification, or just say I screwed up and take the post down and leave an apology in its place. Then I’d start investigating and engaging my critics.

      What, I hope, I would not do is to keep circling the wagon after my initial pique, attack the most obnoxious of my critics in order to deflect attention from the reasoned and civil critics and make it seem as though all my critics are ideologically motivated, and then issue conflicting stories about how I came to my erroneous conclusions.

      Being wrong–even spectacularly wrong–from time to time is not the problem. We all make mistakes, and those of us who have a decent-sized following will have our mistakes rubbed in our noses in a most distressing fashion. Our critics will do it gleefully. How we react to making mistakes is what defines skeptics. We all have to be willing to admit it when we are wrong, correct our errors, and then move on. Unfortunately, Brian has done none of these things. It’s still not too late, though. Here’s hoping he comes around.

      • Febo says:

        Hey! That’s what I said a comment a few days ago, (see above) and you were all like, “Grrr…Brian hasn’t learned anything…Grrr!” (Well, you didn’t actually type “grrr”, but that’s how I imagined your tone in my mind). I’m glad you’ve come around on the possibility of Brian coming around!

      • I’m still not holding my breath.

    • NightHiker says:

      When I criticized in this blog the way they went about asking for a logo for the new show and how it was demeaning to design professionals, even if unintentional, Brian used the same “poison the well” strategy by misrepresenting the criticism on Twitter and calling me and others “haters” who didn’t do anything for the cause (contrary to him, obviously). That episode was enough to make me realize Brian was quite thin skinned, actually, so this mess comes as no surprise at all.

      There are those people who genuinely care for the truth of their messages, and those who care more about the spotlight they get from being in the forefront of such movements than the actual content of their messages. Brian’s seemingly “holier than thou” attitude at any criticism that doesn’t come from his own controlled environment makes me wonder which of those categories represents him best.

  65. Somite says:

    I just wanted to share something Bug Girl just tweeted:

    “How much of a non-controversy is DDT for researchers? http://www.malarianexus.com/sitesearch/?criteria=DDT That’s about right.”

  66. Lukas says:

    Hmm, I just found and read this old post of Brian, “Are You Paddling, or Just Dragging?”: http://skepticblog.org/2009/10/01/untitled/

    For those who haven’t read it, this article might help put his reaction into context. He seems to think of the skeptical movement similar to a military operation or a political party who don’t debate their internal conflicts in public. I can understand this attitude, but ultimately I think it is a disturbing attitude and very damaging to the cause of rational thinking.

    • NightHiker says:

      Nice catch. It is disturbing. It looks like Brian’s ideal skeptical community is one where there is never apparent disagreement, that looks completely uniform to outsiders. I guess Aldous Huxley would have something to say in that regard. That is not only dangerous, it is boring. If I wanted to be part of a community where everyone said “amen” to each other… Well. You get the point.

      Disagreement is likely what drives thought the most. A community where everyone agrees with each other, even if just superficially, is a stagnant community. That people disagree, even vehemently, is never a problem – the problem is what they do with that disagreement. As long as they are intellectually honest and do each other’s arguments justice, they will almost invariably leave with more than they started with. And they don’t need to agree in the end either – all they need to do is have the desire to converge, even if it ultimately fails.

      If we want to teach religious or pseudoscientific communities a lesson, it is not by pretending to always agree, but the opposite: showing that unlike them we can deal with disagreement in a healthy manner and thrive, not despite of it, but because of it.

  67. sunny says:

    Rachel Carlson was a fiction writer who never realized it. There was no truth in her book but many people believed it. The ban on DDT was never based on science it was based on emotion. During the 20th century Mao, Hitler, Lenin and a few others killed over 100 million people. Rachel Carlson with her work of fiction disguised as science may have been responsible for more then 100 million deaths.

  68. Somite says:

    “The smatterer in #science thinks that by mouthing hard words, he proves he understands hard things.” – Melville, White-Jacket

  69. Dan Kennan says:

    Cato, you’re not alone. For most of the “skeptical movement”, you’re either a far-left Obama supporter or you’re Fred Phelps. Nothing in between. Seems like a bit of a fallacy to me, but that’s the reality. If you still have any doubts, go read Pharyngula, almost universally loved by skeptics. You’ll see a truly vicious, angry, spittle-flecked hatred of anyone to his right (and that includes nearly everyone!)

    It’s why I no longer contribute to any of the skeptical organizations and am no longer a member of any local groups. Despite keeping my political beliefs out of the picture, it just became obvious that only liberals were really welcome, and that Bush/Palin/Corporation/Conservative hatred were a central social bonding mechanism. Realizing that even my quite moderate conservatism would be seen as a sign that I was a closet snake-handler, I withdrew.

    I suggest that you continue spreading reason and science and skepticism in your local environment, but give up on the “movement”. They don’t want you.

    • laursaurus says:

      IKWYM, Dan!
      Initially, I was enthusiastic to discover the variety of podcasts devoted to the topic of skepticism. I fell in love with the Dr. Dean Edell radio show over a decade ago. When I encountered Captain Disillusion’s YouTube channel, I watched every episode that very day.
      The first skeptical podcast I sampled was SGU, which gets rave reviews on iTunes. But I could only sit through a few episodes of the hand-wringing when some local school board in an obscure town was considers adding creation to their curriculum. Enduring their obligatory bitch session just to get to science or fiction, was too much of a chore. Then I found Skeptoid! It was like an oasis of critical-thinking and intriguing content.

      Sadly, I realized that I will never fit in with the sub-culture surrounding the Skeptical Movement. Here we have a stark example of how political ideology has completely diverted the participants away from their primary purpose, which is supposedly about improving science education and over-all critical-thinking skills for the betterment of society.
      The “Skeptical Movement” seems to be completely unaware how divisive they are becoming. The thin boundary between promoting skepticism and advocating atheism, has completely eroded. Intentionally alienating everyone who believes in God by making them the butt of your jokes, also presents a false dichotomy to the public. Point this out to the supporting members, and they either completely condone it or deny that it is happening.
      Now, apparently, there is zero-tolerance for a skeptic to criticize the basic tenets of left-wing political ideology. Eliminating DDT remains a cherished victory to the environmental movement. Those who dare to state the negative unintended consequences commit blasphemy. Daring to speak the truth opens one up to scathing personal attacks that are supposedly off-limits (for reasonable and rational people.)
      The Left thinks of themselves as compassionate, ironically. But failed to extend the slightest bit toward Brian.
      The movement is marginalizing themselves by getting completely side-tracked by politics and religion.

      • Lukas says:

        I don’t know why you keep going on about politics, and this particular conflict had nothing to do with atheism either. Instead of whining about the political bias of some of Brian’s critics, how about if you look at the substantial arguments? Brian got the science seriously wrong, as well as the position of environmental groups, only to paint them as Western elitists who “don’t care about brown people”. I don’t think Brian or any of his fan boys has yet apologized for this slanderous remark, or did I miss it?

        And if you think that the “skeptic movement” is all about left-wing politics, try looking at some other issues like nuclear power, alternative medicine, etc., where the “skeptical consensus” is pretty clearly at odds with left-wing orthodoxy.

        Most skeptics (as well as most college-educated people) might be more liberal and less religious than the average person, but skepticism is not about politics, and this particular controversy isn’t either, even if Brian, you, and some other people pretend it to be.

  70. Ed Darrell says:

    Tried to post this earlier, but got a note that I was “behind a proxy.” Nuts.

    Steven Milloy’s site has a lot more problems than just his political bias — which, alone, is great enough to make him an unreliable source.

    Did you check out any of his citations on DDT? That he can give you bullfeathers, and you take them willingly, isn’t a good comment on your skeptical tendencies.

    Rachel Carson is not the “other end of the spectrum” on DDT, compared to Milloy. Milloy is an out-and-out liar. Carson was a distinguished scientist with a flair for communication. You don’t need to follow their politics to know that — just check their citations. Or check the history: President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Council vetted Silent Spring in 1963, and they found it deadly accurate, but too easy on DDT.

    Can’t you use the same skepticism and science Nobel winners used in 1963 to determine the facts? Or is such care “antiquated?”

    You didn’t know Milloy’s reputation before you cited him, and still you cited him?

    Where can we begin? Essaying 101: Get good sources.

  71. sunny says:

    Since DDT was banned there have been over 100 million deaths from Malaria (about 3 million worldwide every year). This disease could have been controlled and possibly eliminated with DDT. DDT was banned largely as a result of the book Silent Spring and not as a result of good science. This has been a disaster of biblical proportions and should be investigated. Sadly it is not the first time that politicians acted before the science was clear and people were harmed. In fact this seems to be the new trend.

    As a sidebar there is something interesting going on in Africa. Deaths from Malaria are going down!! Well not really. Deaths from malaria are now being blamed on AIDS. There is money in AIDS. African nations are exaggerating AIDS deaths and are getting monetary benefits comensurate with those numbers. But the fraud is carried one step further and WHO is claiming that since deaths from Malaria are going down their efforts to protect Africans from malaria are working. I think this is called a twofor.

    • Max says:

      What DDT ban are you talking about? The ban on agricultural use unrelated to malaria?
      Where did you get the accusation that “Deaths from malaria are now being blamed on AIDS”? JunkScience or Africa Fighting Malaria? Why is there more money in AIDS than in malaria?

    • Ed Darrell says:

      At the peak of DDT use, malaria deaths were about four million annually, worldwide. In 1972, when the U.S. banned DDT use on cotton crops, malaria deaths were about two million, worldwide.

      Today, malaria deaths are counted at under 900,000 per year, world wide. The death toll from malaria is less than half what it was when the U.S. banned DDT, according to the WHO.

      If one wishes to claim that DDT is a lifesaver, one should first look for accurate statistics. Stats alone show a decline in malaria deaths as DDT use has slowed.

      The science was clear when DDT was banned, by the way. Under U.S. law, no agency could act without clear scientific evidence. Two federal courts found DDT unsafe before EPA acted; two appellate courts reviewed EPA’s action and ruled that it was supported by the science.

      • sunny says:

        DDT deaths are about 3 million a year worldwide, your information is incorrect.

        That Malaria could be controlled and probably eliminated with the use of DDT is not disputed by anyone.

        It would be naive to believe that courts are capable of determining the truth or falseness of issues of a scientific nature. Their record at this is not good and the evidence that lawyers have misused courts and science for personal gain is there for all to see. Courts aren’t even particularly good at determining the guilt or innocence of individuals in straight forward cases as Ron Goldman’s family will attest to.

      • Lukas says:

        I assume you mean “malaria deaths” instead of “DDT deaths”. Where do you get your figures from? The most recent WHO report says “The number of deaths due to malaria is estimated to have decreased from 985 000 in 2000 to 781 000 in 2009.” Link here: http://www.who.int/malaria/world_malaria_report_2010/en/index.html

        And contrary to your assertion, I have never heard a scientist or medical professional claim that “malaria could be controlled and probably eliminated with the use of DDT”. It is certainly not a mainstream opinion, except maybe among some right-wing nutjobs who think that mainstream science is all just a liberal conspiracy.

        The only thing I agree with you about is that courts are not arbiters of scientific truth. However, in this case the courts and the mainstream scientific opinion seems to agree.

      • Sunny says:

        Yes I meant deaths from malaria.
        For some reason the data varies depending on the source. Disease is a BIG money maker for WHO and they manipulate the data in ways that bring in more money. They have been caught attributing deaths from Malaria to aids with the intended purpose of inflating aids deaths to increase aids funding. Conversely they have been caught manipulating the number of deaths from Malaria downwards to “prove” their $12 billion program is working. Probably the correct number of deaths from Malria worldwide is in the range of 2.7 million. But who (or WHO) really knows since funding depends on how it is spun?

        Malaria is unique in that it is spread by one misquito and the life cycle of the parasite depends on the misquito. If this cyce could be interrupted either by killing all the specific misquito that carry it then Malaria would disappear from the face of the earth. Maybe genetic manipulation of the misquito could accomplish this. Sterilization might work. And erradication using DDT or something else could work. I don’t think there is any desire on the part of WHO to erradicate Malaria since it makes so much money for them. But it could be done.

      • Lukas says:

        Sunny, do you have any evidence to back up the statement “Disease is a BIG money maker for WHO and they manipulate the data in ways that bring in more money”? It sounds like conspiracy theory to me, and apart from the missing evidence, how exactly does the WHO make money from anything, and what does it spend all its presumed profits on?

        You also say “I don’t think there is any desire on the part of WHO to eradicate Malaria since it makes so much money for them.” It is nice for you to share your thoughts, but again, do you have any evidence for this extraordinary claim? And who exactly in the WHO does not have the desire to eradicate malaria? Everyone who works for them? All the scientists? All the bureaucrats? And why is everyone in the UN so evil? Do you also think that doctors didn’t like eradicating smallpox because it robbed them of a source of revenue?

        In summary, please give more (or really any) credible sources for your claims.

      • bug_girl says:

        Whaaaat?
        “That Malaria could be controlled and probably eliminated with the use of DDT is not disputed by anyone.”

        It’s not disputed…. because it’s blatantly incorrect. You have been fed the same hooey that Brian swallowed:
        http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2010/01/22/DDTPropaganda/

        Check out the Oct. 2010 Lancet issue with multiple peer-reviewed articles covering malaria eradication and control. NONE of them argued that DDT was a solution.
        http://www.thelancet.com/malaria-elimination

      • BlackSwan says:

        It’s not disputed because it was used successfully to eradicate Malaria in other countries:
        “In May 1955 the Eighth World Health Assembly adopted a Global Malaria Eradication Campaign based on the widespread use of DDT against mosquitos and of antimalarial drugs to treat malaria and to eliminate the parasite in humans. As a result of the Campaign, malaria was eradicated by 1967 from all developed countries where the disease was endemic and large areas of tropical Asia and Latin America were freed from the risk of infection. The Malaria Eradication Campaign was only launched in three countries of tropical Africa since it was not considered feasible in the others. Despite these achievements, improvements in the malaria situation could not be maintained indefinitely by time-limited, highly prescriptive and centralized programmes.”

        The National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Research in the Life Sciences of the Committee on Science and Public Policy. Said in 1970 “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.”

  72. lordweird says:

    So Brian made some mistakes, why does it seem that there is so much condescension behind the criticisms? If you put anyone on the defensive like that (even a skeptic) they will only build a fortress.

    Kudos to yilloslime for summarizing the issue in an emotionally detached way.

  73. Matt says:

    Merry Xmas!
    I’m new to this community, and have begun to listen to Skeptoid only recently.
    Can I make what I hope is a rational suggestion in a world where skeptical thought is unpopular and working through an issue rationally in itself might be a advertisement?
    Brian/Bug Girl/Oracle/Tim Lambert get together and script something of a discussion based around the facts of DDT, omit politics or perceived politics, omit the ego stuff. If sources are inaccurate discuss why their facts are wrong, not who they are.
    All of you, including Brian, discuss what was said on Skeptoid, the facts only.
    Take it point by point, give us a brilliant episode of Skeptoid and make it a blogger wide event so visitors to all of your sites can see where it takes you.
    Otherwise, go back to your squabbling and feed more ammunition to those who’d love to take rationalism and skepticism down a peg.
    Matt

    • Michael M says:

      You’ve got my vote for that! End all this back and forth and actually, openly discuss this in a respectful manner with each other. Seems like Brian was already looking for that when he expressed his frustration at no one calling/emailing him before blasting him on a blog.

  74. Peter Hogan says:

    Brian has been criticized for expecting the critics to contact him to discuss his sources on the grounds that if he blogs publicly he can be criticized publicly
    This is a good point and normally I would agree. But I think there are special circumstances here.
    If you are going to criticize someone for getting their facts wrong the critic has an obligation to get their facts correct.
    Brian doesn’t normaly tell about his research process. He gives us some references which he clearly states cover both sides of the topic.
    I think the critics have jumped to conlusions about how Brian did his research. It wouldn’t hurt to ask Brian about how he did his research if that’s what you’re critical of.
    Jumping to conclusions, a common fault of cynics, is not really smart.

    Peter Hogan
    Melbourne Australia

    • Somite says:

      This has been previously discussed. Dunning’s critics mentioned the source of his references only as a possible explanation of how the facts and conclusions of his episode could be so wrong.

  75. Max says:

    Brian admitted using the JunkScience FAQ:
    Exhibit A
    Exhibit B

  76. Henry says:

    How does it help for skeptics to eat their own?

    I think the main message of Skeptoid has always been “be skeptical not political” — that is, try not to let your personal biases or past positions color your evaluation of evidence. More than once I’ve heard Brian tell listeners to even be skeptical of him and the sources he chooses. He puts his thoughts out there for examination, not as The Truth.

    From reading the comments here and on Tim Lambert’s piece, I get the impression that some of Brian’s ire comes from being accused of doing the very thing that he works so hard to fight against. He’s been more defensive than is probably good for him, but it’s easy to see why that would be so from the self-righteousness of some of his critics.

    It’s lamentable that Brian got a couple of facts wrong in his DDT episode, but it is 1,000 times more lamentable that the issue is so polarized there are people on both sides eager to lash out at anyone they view as insufficiently pure.

  77. Tim Lambert says:

    The problem isn’t that he got a few facts wrong – it’s that he refuses to correct his mistakes.

  78. Peter Rott says:

    In what way is repeatedly asking Mr. Dunning to acknowledge and correct numerous factual errors a political or personal attack?

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE