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The demonization of Rachel Carson

by Donald Prothero, May 04 2011

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

As we marked Earth Day last month, there are disturbing trends of anti-environmentalism running through the political landscape. I distinctly remember the first Earth Day in 1970, and the ensuing decade when the country was very environmentally conscious. But lately, the powerful special interests who oppose environmentalism (especially the oil and coal industries and their lobbyists and politicians) have been fighting hard through the right-wing think tanks that they fund, and through right-wing oil-state politicians like Sarah Palin and James Inhofe, to gut the EPA (created by a Republican president, Richard Nixon) and create doubt and confusion about global climate change (see the discussion in my book Catastrophes!). I shuddered to hear them chant “Drill, baby, drill” at GOP rallies—never mind the fact that the remaining oil reserves in and around the U.S. (including Alaska) are at best enough to last us 2–3  years at our current rate of consumption (ignoring the environmental costs). I never thought I would see the day when people were happy to defend oil spills (like BP’s disaster last summer) and air pollution and strip mining whole mountains for coal as no big deal. But the strangest case of all has to be the weird attempt by right-wing zealots to demonize Rachel Carson.

Rachel Carson has long been considered to be one of the pioneers and a heroine of the environmental movement. Her book Silent Spring (1962) was an environmental classic, and helped galvanize the early environmental movement in the U.S. It popularized the research that showed that DDT sprayed indiscriminately to kill mosquitoes was also killing a wide variety of other harmless wildlife. In particular, DDT was destroying bird populations because of the increasing concentrations of the poison as it went up the food chain, so that apex predators like hawks, falcons and eagles were dying off at alarming rates. Historians regard the banning of DDT as an early environmental success story. At the time, the ban had widespread support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and DDT was finally made illegal under Nixon’s Republican administration. Carson herself died in 1964, too soon to see how her efforts led to the banning of DDT and the birth of the EPA and Environmental Defense Fund and many other environmental movement organizations.

Most of us consider Carson’s legacy settled. But one can never underestimate the anti-environmentalists and their ability to write revisionist history, and to create villains out of heroines. In a modern world with openly partisan networks like Fox, and industry-funded conservative think tanks generating their own propaganda, and with the crazy garbage that flies across the internet, even environmental saints like Rachel Carson cannot escape the abuse.

As Oreskes and Conway (2010, Chapter 7) document in detail, since 2007 the right-wing and libertarian organizations are calling Rachel Carson a mass-murderer. What? Did they even read about her life? This shy, humble scientist a mass murderer? Their “reasoning”: because her work led to the banning of DDT, thousands of Africans died of malaria, which might not have happened if DDT were available to them. I won’t rehash the entire ill-informed and crazy, convoluted thinking of these people, since Oreskes and Conway (2010) have done it already. The reality of the whole argument is that even if DDT had not been banned, its use would have stopped anyway because insects had evolved resistance to it. DDT was already being phased out at the time of the ban, and other pesticides that worked better and didn’t damage too many harmless animals were being used instead—because DDT didn’t work! If, as these people propose, DDT had been sprayed across the waterways of Africa, it would not have saved any lives whatsoever because of the evolution of resistance. In fact, many other pesticides that have since been used over the years are now useless because insect pests (especially mosquitoes) evolve resistance so quickly. Yet these people manage to distort history as badly as any Holocaust-denier—except instead of trying to exonerate the Nazis of genocide, they turn Rachel Carson into a mass murderer.

Such strange revisionist thinking wouldn’t even be worth mentioning if it were not so common in the public discourse these days. Especially on the internet, where there is no peer review or fact checking, crazy is the norm. Just look at the huge number of sites that support demonstrably false ideas, from Holocaust denialism to creationism to the “9/11 truth” movement, or the idea that Obama is a Kenyan citizen and a Muslim. As many people have pointed out, the universality and democratization of the internet means that anyone can post anything and anyone can believe a crazy, false idea on the internet (such as the anti-vaxxers). It is less and less likely that they will get their information from moderate, fact-checked media (like the old evening news with Walter Cronkite or the New York Times) whose judgment the entire American public used to accept. And so, we have a polarized America, with a significant number of people who only get their information from the conservative “echo-chamber” and no longer have a reality check from more moderate media sources. In a worldview like this, the polluters can be made into saints, and Rachel Carson into a demon. It’s fortunate she died 47 years ago, and never had to suffer through the besmirching of her reputation that many living scientists have endured.

71 Responses to “The demonization of Rachel Carson”

  1. Somite says:

    Whereas Skepticblog is redeemed.

    Thank you Dr. Prothero. The Internet and Google are an important but dangerous tool. Most people simply need to be trained on how to use it. This is the most valuable lesson of modern skepticism; how to distill true information independent of the goals of writers, framing or ideology. I think it’s fair to say some of us believe that ideology and framing have been placed in front of the facts in some recent Skepticblog posts. Posts like Dr. Prothero’s were needed to restore Skepticblog’s credibility.

    If I may plug something here that I think it’s important and relates to what information is present in the Internet. The service Readability allow users to pay a monthly fee that is distributed among all the articles that you favorite. That is, if you believe a posted work in the internet is valuable the author is re

    • Somite says:

      …..rewarded. I believe skeptics should make services like Readability part of their tools to make the Internet a safer place for knowledge.

  2. MadScientist says:

    You get all sorts of weirdos. There are people out there who compare Norm Borlaug with the mythical Satan. See, feeding hundreds of millions of people using practices which unfortunately do a lot of damage to environment is an evil thing and recently departed Norm must be responsible for the future apocalypse.

    As far as energy goes, the responsible thing to do at this point in time is to invest heavily in the development and deployment of alternative energy sources. If we wait until the oil and gas are only a decade away from exhaustion it will be far too late to do anything productive. Unfortunately the capitalist system is focused on short-term gain and not long-term national benefit, so despite some of the Big Oil players being amongst the biggest investors in alternative energy far too little is being done.

    • Actually, late in life, Norm *did* admit to some of the sidebar problems, namely the environmental ones, that mass ag brought with it.

      I certainly don’t demonize him. But, to people who propose him and the “green revolution” for sainthood, I tell them to read *all* about him.

  3. Martha Bunfield says:

    Freedom of Speech was meant to guarantee that important things that needed saying would be said and hence heard. But nowadays one can spend his entire life without ever having to hear a word one disagrees with.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    I think it’s disingenuous and intellectually dishonest to try to lump legitimate critics of Rachel Carson — guess what, Malaria really does kill people! — with Holocaust deniers, antivaxers, etc. Now you’re just calling names. Hardly what one would expect from a rational skeptic but entirely the technique of an ideologue enraged by criticism of one of his saints.

    • Somite says:

      Could you please find a peer reviewed published references that conclude differently from Rachel Carlson? Thanks.

      • itzac says:

        Or, to more appropriately address Donald’s argument, evidence that mosquitoes were not, in fact, already developing resistance to DDT, or that DDT would have had the miraculous effect you claim.

    • Note to Donald and bank-shotting Trimegistus at the same time —


      Is your co-blogger Brian Dunning reading this? Without using the word “murderer,” he has in the past made exactly those types of allegations against Carson and others.

      Just as Shermer needed to read your post on global warming a couple of weeks ago, Dunning needs to read this …..


      Brain, are you out there?


      Trimegistus, Dunning is NOT a legitimate critic of Carson, either. And Prothero is NOT just “calling names.” Puhleeze.

      Max, I’m waiting for you to drop by and follow pu.

    • Ed Darrell says:

      Who is a legitimate critic of Rachel Carson? Fred Soper wasn’t fond of her book, but he stopped the campaign to eradicate malaria with DDT in 1965, because African mosquitoes had developed resistance, and it was impossible politically to create an effective anti-malaria campaign in too many Subsaharan nations.

      Norman Borlaug? He never published anything against Carson nor her findings.

      Who, in science, in research, in health care, in toxicology, in wildlife management, published in the journals an article that would allow us to call that person a critic of Rachel Carson?

  5. Curtis says:

    “The World Health Organization today announced a major policy change. It’s actively backing the controversial pesticide DDT as a way to control malaria. Malaria kills about 1 million people a year, mainly children, and mainly in Africa, despite a decades-long effort to eradicate it.

    “We are asking these environmental groups to join the fight to save the lives of babies in Africa,” Kochi [head of the WHO's antimalaria campaign] said. “This is our call to them.”

    A number of major environmental groups support the limited use of DDT, such as spraying only inside of houses and huts once or twice a year. That type of use is supported by the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense, which was originally founded by scientists concerned about DDT. The limited application is also part of President Bush’s new malaria initiative.”

  6. Michael says:

    I think this post misses the point somewhat. The real discussion should not be over whether or not DDT works or whether or not DDT harms the environment. The real discussion should be about how the decision of whether or not to ban DDT gets made.

    The point that needs to be made is that, despite its harmfulness to the environment, it could be still be useful to some. Now, Donald points out that it is also not very effective anymore, which was enlightening to me (thanks!). That should provide information to update the calculation, but the conversation still needs to happen. Obviously at some point it becomes ineffective enough that its use is causing more harm to the environment than good to farmers and populations at-risk for malaria. But to say X is harmful to the environment and therefore we should not do X is inefficient and not generally how we do things as a society. It seems on the DDT front Carson was right and the environmental costs outweigh the benefits.

    As to the thrust of the article, I agree that demonizing scientists for practicing their discipline and voicing their opinions is folly.

    • MadScientist says:

      I agree; DDT is just one of many. We have global warming and denialism, the ‘war on terror’, the ongoing tobacco wars, and many other issues driven by ideology and business interests vs. science and sensibility.

  7. Beelzebud says:

    Thank you for writing, and posting this piece here. It’s VERY nice to see. Especially after Dunning’s past experience with the topic…

  8. Curtis says:

    Even when mosquito are resistant to DDT, it is still effective against malaria because it works as a mosquito repellant.

    “The laboratory tests showed the primary action of DDT is repellent, alphacypermethrin is irritant, and dieldrin is only toxic. These tests were followed with hut studies in Thailand against marked-released populations. DDT exhibited a highly protective level of repellency that kept mosquitoes outside of huts”

    • MadScientist says:

      How long does the repellent effect last though? I’ve seen the Indian neem plant used in places as a mosquito repellent, but within 2 years large populations of mosquitoes simply become accustomed to it somehow.

    • Ed Darrell says:

      Even when mosquito are resistant to DDT, it is still effective against malaria because it works as a mosquito repellant.

      But DDT is not as repellent as DEET, which is much less toxic and does not do the damage to wildlife that DDT does; nor is the repellent effect so strong as a bednet.

      If DDT doesn’t kill the critter, it’s practically useless. Use of DDT assumes that mosquitoes get a free bite anyway — which is okay if the insect has not yet contracted malaria or has not yet started shedding the parasites. Bednets disallow the first bite.

      Saying ‘DDT is also repellent to some mosquitoes’ is like saying. ‘Nuclear bombs also leave some radioactivity that, if combined into a smaller space, could warm hobos in the winter — so we should drop a lot more atom bombs on cities.’

  9. Curtis says:

    “Malaria cases soared in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa after it stopped using dicophane [DDT] in 1996. Its reintroduction together with artemisinin based combination therapy for treating malaria brought the disease back under control. Dicophane, a “dirty word” in the malaria world, must surely be reintroduced into the conversation on rolling back malaria.”

    • Somite says:

      The point is that the accusation that DDT is being discontinued because of liberal environmentalism in spite of human suffering is false. Where DDT has been withdrawn has been due to resistance or to prevent eliciting resistance. For example the primary paper that is cited by your PLOS reference states that malaria levels increased when pyrethrin resistance became an issue, DDT was re-introduced, malaria was controlled and now DDT resistance is again an issue.

      “Unfortunately the continued exclusive use of DDT within the malarious areas of the province is threatened by the emergence of insecticide resistance”

      This is a continued effort with ongoing research by scientists. If there is an underlying cultural and political issue it is not revealed on a literature review. What is revealed is experts trying to arrive at the best solution given all factors to consider. Including long-lasting environmental effects.

      • Curtis says:

        In 1999, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund supported a treaty to ban DDT by 2007. Apparently, they have sinced changed their mind. Sort of. Their malaria experts realize the benefits of DDT but they still seem to have a long term agenda to end its production. They also seem to spend a lot more effort publicizing the the harm of DDT than the benefits. They have received more blame then they deserve but their are not blameless. They also seem to be rewriting their history.

        “Richard Liroff, head of the WWF’s Alternatives of DDT project, now says that “the only purpose of the deadline was to motivate technical and financial resources to help poor countries come up with alternative malaria control strategies.” The August 2000 WWF statement on Eliminating DDT and Protecting Public Health acknowledges that “negotiators need to ensure that human health is not compromised as reliance on DDT is reduced.” Liroff also points out that the WWF and other groups have accepted a proposal by South Africa that would exempt DDT for disease-control uses (as opposed to agricultural ones), although the parties to the POPs Treaty would eriodically “evaluate the continued need for this exemption.” “Some people are trying to make this controversy fit the caricature of tree huggers not caring about people, but it’s not true,” Liroff insists.”

        “[T]he WWF Core Issues Statement on the Johannesburg conference still asserts that “negotiators need to remain firm and committed to making elimination the central objective of the POPs Treaty.” That includes DDT. Similarly Greenpeace’s briefing paper on the Johannesburg meeting insists that the POPs Treaty must adopt “measures to put an end to the production of and use of all existing POPs.” Again, that includes DDT.”

    • Also, you note that DDT was reintroduced as part of a combination therapy, not alone.

    • Ed Darrell says:

      No — cases didn’t soar because DDT wasn’t used. Cases soared in 1996, long after DDT use was stopped, because mosquitoes and malaria in neighboring nations were out of control. Mosquitoes came over the border. The key to driving malaria down there was the use of artemisinin based therapies, not the reintroduction of DDT.

      DDT works only temporarily, always. If malaria is not reduced when the DDT temporarily knocks down the mosquito population, there will be a surge of malaria. In South Africa, malaria was reintroduced. No fault of no-DDT.

      In point of fact, malaria deaths in the world today, at under 900,000 per year, are 25% of what malaria deaths were at the height of DDT use, in 1959 and 1960. Malaria deaths continued to decline after WHO stopped massive use of DDT in 1965 (WHO never stopped using DDT, by the way); malaria deaths continued to decline after the U.S. stopped spraying DDT on cotton crops in the U.S. in 1972. With only a minor uptick in the 1980s or so when malaria parasites developed resistance to the pharmaceuticals used to treat the disease, malaria deaths have declined in lockstep with the reduction of DDT use. If there were a cause effect relationship (and there isn’t), we would have to conclude that cutting DDT use cuts malaria, too.

      Today, malaria deaths are the lowest in human history, largely without DDT.

      Let’s beat malaria, and stop beating environmentalists, okay?

  10. With respect to all our readers, I find the charges that I’ve demonized Rachel Carson in any way bizarre. Help me out here. If you’re referring to my Skeptoid episode on DDT I suggest you take another look.

    Dr. Prothero and I have disagreed in the past (on whether or not Mono Lake is “rapidly disappearing”) but certainly not on the question of Rachel Carson’s importance to environmental awareness.

    • Somite says:

      “Silent Spring’s legacy may have been good for the birds, but not so much for human populations in the third world.” From the podcast.

      • Ed Darrell says:

        Yet, ironically, we seem to have turned the corner against malaria about 2000, when most malaria fighters in Africa clearly endorsed integrated vector management schemes against the malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

        The irony? Carson never called for a ban on DDT, but instead warned that overuse would render it useless against DDT (label her a prophet). Instead, Carson said we should use “integrated pest management” to fight disease. IPM is the Americanized phrase for IVM.

        Sadly, tragically ironic.

        With IVM malaria deaths are now at the lowest level in human history.

    • At the very least, Brian, you uncritically used sources who take exactly the angle on Carson that Prothero condemns. And, no, that’s not just my word. Not just Somite’s. Not just Max’s.

      It’s also … Jason Loxton’s:

      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.

      And, Tim Lambert, much as you surely have far-less-than-fond feelings for him:

      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 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.”

      Your “defense”? You claimed his first Deltoid post on this issue, since it was all about Milloy, was irrelevant to Skeptoid. Other than that, you never did address and correct all the errors Lambert pointed out. Beyond him, and Loxton, Jim Lippert (a mild libertarian type himself, I think) also took you too task, as did many others.

      Face it, Brian.

      We know you’re going to remain defensive and unapologetic and there’s a long trail to prove that, on DDT and other issues.

      • Heck, folks, just read his whole post, “Skeptoid’s Massive DDT Fail.”

        Actually, be sure read the comments, including ones from people like Jason Loxton, Tim Lambert, Bug Girl, Orac and other insightful people.

        Brian, none of them accused you of calling Rachel Carson a murderer.

        They did, though, note that you had uncritically used sources who have gone, at least, in that general direction before. You then denied that they were really “sources” and at the same time failed to correct errors these sources made and you reprinted.

        At some point, that failure, after repeatedly being pointed out, moved into the camp of outright refusal. That, then, makes you, if you will an “enabler” of the type of people Prothero condemns.

        Just like, in my opinion, Shermer is an “enabler” of scientifically discredited racialism by keeping Sarich and Miele having any official association with Skeptic.

        Period. End of story.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        But it is such a juicy and dramatic story, that can’t be the end of it. I want MOAR!

  11. Max says:

    My impression was that Brian didn’t demonize Rachel Carson, but painted her as being clueless and outdated compared to the latest JunkScience.
    Brian said, “It’s been about five decades since Silent Spring was published, and we’ve learned a lot in those years. One thing we’ve learned is that DDT is only one of many causes of eggshell thinning.” Then, he went down the JunkScience DDT FAQ list, and concluded, “Whether DDT is used or not would probably not have a large impact on bird populations.”

  12. Dennis Skala says:

    If I had read some of the comments in this article out of context, or outside of this blog, I would think they were jokes. For instance,

    “In a modern world with openly partisan networks like Fox, and industry-funded conservative think tanks generating their own propaganda, and with the crazy garbage that flies across the internet …”

    One wonders whether the author has ever watched MSNBC, or any of the major broadcast networks. Or is it that only right wing partisanship is bad? And left leaning think tanks emit no propaganda, and all the crazy garbage is only on one end of the spectrum?

    “It is less and less likely that they will get their information from moderate, fact-checked media (like the old evening news with Walter Cronkite or the New York Times) whose judgment the entire American public used to accept.”

    Yeah, those were the good old days, when folks blindly accepted the information from 3 broadcast networks and a handful of print news organizations, all of which were totally unbiased. Now of course, anyone who just listens to conservative talk radio is a “mind-numbed robot.”

    “never mind the fact that the remaining oil reserves in and around the U.S. (including Alaska) are at best enough to last us 2–3 years at our current rate of consumption.”

    I don’t think so. Sounds like a lowball estimate from a biased source. Every number I’ve ever seen from my biased sources is much bigger.

    What I don’t like about environmentalists —

    * They have no sense of balancing risk/reward. Thanks in large part to the environmental movement, we have not built a new refinery or nuclear power plant in 30 years – not a good thing IMHO.

    * They love straw man arguments, e.g. their opponents want indiscriminate use of DDT. Not so. If it saves human lives, the hell with wildlife, lets use it selectively in places where it will help, in a way which minimizes its effect on wildlife. People are a part of the environment too – the most important part.

    * If they disagree with anyone, anything that person says is automatically wrong. Anti-environmentalist companies and organizations have a financial interest in opposing (extreme) environmental concerns, and therefore are biased, and therefore nothing they say is to be believed. Yet somehow environmental authors who may have a financial interest is their books, or environmental researchers whose livelihood depends on there being a crisis escape this scrutiny.

    * The end justifies the means. If in their infinite wisdom they decide that SUV’s are bad, then it is OK to burn them in dealers’ lots at 3 AM.

    • tmac57 says:

      Dennis,there is much here to debate,but I would ask you this:
      Regardless of the political slant of another network,such as MSNBC,do you think that FOX network is ‘openly partisan’ or not? Implying that MSNBC is just as bad would be a tu quoque fallacy,if that’s what you are doing.

      • Dennis Skala says:

        No, I do not deny that Fox is partisan. My point was that it is a hypocritical to single out Fox for criticism (as is regularly done here) when pretty much all of the networks are partisan, and IMHO more so than Fox Anyone who thinks that MSNBC is less partisan probably has a really bad case of confirmation bias.

      • Somite says:

        Just curious. How do you differentiate between a partisan position and what is correct, if everyone is partisan? Is it possible in your view to be both partisan and correct?

      • Dennis Skala says:

        Sure. (Just had to look up dictionary definition to be sure.) Partisan means biased, usually in favor of a political party or some cause. I see no reason why one cannot be simultaneously biased and correct (or wrong for that matter). They are two different things; no need to differentiate. I imagine that even that SocraticGadfly guy is right every so often. (Wonder if he did a credit check on me too.)

      • Somite says:

        Then can we agree that it is possible that some facts may just happen to support one ideology over another but they should remain facts regardless?

        The point is that it is pretty obvious partisanship comes before facts at Fox news thus making other news sources appear partisan by just reporting the facts?

      • Dennis Skala says:

        “If you worry about single unverifiable incidents rather than substantive discussions about policy based on facts the discussion is lost..”

        Yeah, I guess so. This forum is not a convenient place to make a case for bias. I just cited one of many instances of relative bias. There is not room or time to list the many others necessary to make and reinforce the point. Check out Bernie Goldberg’s book “Bias.” This was written a few years back and I believe predates his association with Fox News.

        Or do a Google search on “media bias in the 2008 election.” Even those who were on the “bias for” side were embarrassed by the one-sided coverage. I’m working from memory here, but I recall reading/hearing of a Nexus study which looked at the coverage in that election – stories favorable/neutral/unfavorable to each of the candidates. Now the election outcome was 52/48, so if news sources were indeed unbiased and representative of the folks, you would expect something near to a 50/50 split, plus or minus a little. Fox News was the only major news organization that even came close to that. In fact, if memory serves me, I think the Fox coverage was just very slightly favorable to Obama. Go figure! All the rest were heavily biased to one side — I’ll let you guess which one.

        But then again, I did sign the Oregon position, which of course unilaterally defines my credibility, and predicts every other opinion I may hold for the rest of my life. ;-)

      • Somite says:

        But that networks are biased is no excuse to not trust any information. Facts are to be had if you use a primary source like a peer reviewed paper. I think you are too concerned about sides and their labels rather than look at wherever the facts ma take tou.

      • Bernie Goldberg? Please. That book was a laugh.

        As for pro-Obama bias, don’t deny it. Was it driven by pro-Democratic ideology? Doubt it. Was it driven by romanticizing him as an African-American? Probably.

        Let’s reverse it. Many in the so-called “liberal media” hung Gore out to dry in 2000. He couldn’t get the time of day from many liberal columnists, especially. Jimmy Carter didn’t get a lot of so-called “liberal media” love in 1980; Mondale certainly didn’t in 1984, nor Dukakis in 1988.

        Another nice try, Mr. Skala, but, another #fail.

        (And, since I’m a non-Democratic left-liberal, you can’t accuse me of having pro-Obama bias. OR pro-Gore bias, for that matter.)

      • Dennis Skala says:

        “But that networks are biased is no excuse to not trust any information. Facts are to be had if you use a primary source like a peer reviewed paper. I think you are too concerned about sides and their labels rather than look at wherever the facts ma take tou.

        I agree, but I don’t see how you draw the conclusion that I am too concerned with labels. I’m not. Actually, my default is to believe any facts that I see/hear on *any* reputable news outlet. But when I see hard news folks injecting their own bias into their reporting, I get a little suspicious of that outlet. And to reiterate, the biggest source of bias is not altering facts, but deciding which facts you want to report/emphasize.

      • Dennis Skala says:

        “The point is that it is pretty obvious partisanship comes before facts at Fox news thus making other news sources appear partisan by just reporting the facts?”

        Sorry, but I disagree. It is not obvious at all (or true). What *is* obvious is the bias of many of the hard news folks on the non-Fox networks. It is not just reporting facts which indicates partisanship, but *which facts* are reported/emphasized. Fox is pretty even-handed on this score in their hard news programs (all bets off for editorial/opinion stuff). Not so with the other cable channels. Their hard news programs tend to cherry pick and play up news snippets which promote their viewpoint. For instance, compare Fox coverage with other cables on SEIU thugs beating up some poor street vendor selling lapel flags on the street at a tea party rally vs. the coverage of a few idiots who show up at tea party rallies with offensive/stupid signs vs. the stupid signs and violent behavior which occurs at left-leaning rallies. Wha

      • Somite says:

        If you worry about single unverifiable incidents rather than substantive discussions about policy based on facts the discussion is lost..

      • Somite, Skala signed the Oregon Petition. There’s no way you’re going to get him to even partially agree on your assessment of Fox.

      • Ed Darrell says:

        Fox is partisan and not a news organization on the issue of DDT. They regularly pay to put up the contrary-to-science, -law, -medicine and -history views of the great junk scientist Steven Milloy.

        On the issue of DDT, Fox works hard to be a player, and a spoiler of science, history and law.

    • And most cons measure risk-reward in dollars only, not in quality of life issues. And, they measure that in short-term dollars only, to boot.

      2. MSNBC is nowhere near as “liberal” as Fox is conservative. Now, if The Nation had a TV channel, that would be another thing.

      3. Speaking of straw-man arguments, I’ve knocked down two of yours already, and counting.

      4. Speaking of straw men, environmental groups generally endorse the Stockholm Convention, which allows limited vector use of DDT.

      5. Claiming a person who disagrees with you is automatically wrong? I see much more of that coming from Faux News watchers than elsewhere. In fact, repeated social psychology surveys affirm that liberals are, in general, relatively open-minded.

      6. Ahh, the undifferentiated middle. Claiming that every environmentalist wants to burn SUVs. Aristotle would have a field day with your gross violations of a basic principle of logic.

      Bye ….

    • Oh, and now I know WHY Mr. Dennis Skala is such an anti-environmentalist, thanks to teh Google.

      Signer of a global-warming denialist petition, among other things:

      THAT petition, the one with scientists later asking their names to be removed, I believe.

      So, just trot your straw men back out the door, and NO, don’t invite Fred Seitz here to comment himself. Instead, buy him an early Father’s Day present — a copy of the Oreskes/Conway book!

      • Dennis Skala says:

        So you are saying that all folks who doubt (not deny) man-made global warming must also be anti-environmentalists too? These are somewhat related, but quite different issues. Sounds a little “straw dog” on your part to me. I think you might want to look up the definition of straw dog. You expressed several opinions contrary to mine; you knocked nothing down, much less straw dog arguments.

        “Claiming that every environmentalist wants to burn SUVs …”

        Straw dog. I just used that as an example of how some “open-minded” liberal environmentalists have dealt with things they don’t like. I never used the word ‘every.’

        I was unaware that the Stockholm Convention endorsed the limited use of DDT. Good for them, and good for the environmental groups that endorse that policy. BTW, I’m letting your use of the term ‘anti-environmentalist’ slide for lack of a better term. I am opposed to the extremists who seemingly would like to see society return to the 19th century.

        “THAT petition, the one with scientists later asking their names to be removed, I believe.”

        Gee, there’s some news. Out of 30,000+ people, some of them later changed their minds. I wonder how many non-signers, in the same time frame, went the other way.

        “And most cons measure risk-reward in dollars only, not in quality of life issues.”

        Dollars have a strong correlation to quality of life issues, especially on the low end.

      • Straw dog back. On enviros burning SUVs, you didn’t use “some,” let alone “a few”; you said “they.”

        Re the Oregon Petition, I’m sure fewer new signers than old ones trying to get their names removed.

        Otherwise, I’m going to stick to my “bye”; I’ve told others here, too, where you’re coming from — no need wasting further time on you.

      • Ed Darrell says:

        I was unaware that the Stockholm Convention endorsed the limited use of DDT. Good for them, and good for the environmental groups that endorse that policy.

        Due to a great Astroturf campaign from Tren, Bate, North and others.

        Generally, when someone claims all scientists on an issue are idiots, they are wrong in that claim. The claim that the Stockholm convention callously disregarded all of Africa and Asia despite having many delegates from both continents, should be viewed with great skepticism. It is not so.

      • Postin a link from Ed’s own blog about that:

        Your blog tag link to DDT also shows Brian Dunning had PLENTY of legitimate research resources to use before, well, blathering.

        Unlike Somite, I doubt he was just mistaken or bit off more than he could chew, though.

    • Ed Darrell says:

      * They have no sense of balancing risk/reward. Thanks in large part to the environmental movement, we have not built a new refinery or nuclear power plant in 30 years – not a good thing IMHO.

      It wasn’t environmentalists who killed new nuclear construction. Environmentalists didn’t fake the safety inspections and overrun construction budgets by 5 times. There is no tougher environmental rule that closed down nuclear construction, just a reluctance of banks to lend to people who lied to them and faked essential safety stuff.

      But I must point out, the last nuclear plant completed was less than 30 years ago — of course, it was way, way overdue.

      Similarly, there is no new environmental rule against refineries. The safety records of some refineries in Texas, for example, may play a bigger role.

    • One other comment to Denis, on Alaska oil. You might recheck your references.

      First, Alaska oil production is declining so much that in the last decade, it fell back to No. 2 in the U.S. behind Texas.

      Second, if current proven reserves in Alaska had to meet 100 percent of current U.S. oil needs, two-three years does sound about right.

  13. Scott says:

    Finally, Socratic Gadfly can continue his obsession with Brian Dunning.

    • No, I’m just allowing you to continue YOUR obsession with my pointing out Dunning’s libertarian-based selective skepticism, Scott. (Take notes of all those other commenters on Dunning’s previous posts, too; I’m in good company.)

      • CJG says:

        I find it interesting that you always have to turn it around….’no, I’M not obsessed with Brian, YOU’RE obsessed with ME following Brian’. Good one. Reminds me of my 5 yr old when we argue. You’ve been called out before for always rambling on about Brian (yes Socratic, it’s now boiled down to ‘rambling’ since most people don’t really care about the DDT saga anymore). Regardless of his posts, you always feel the need to stick something DDT related in as a comment.

        As for your good company, anyone who has been reading these blogs for any length of time knows that your trusty sidekick Max usually chimes in shortly after you post. In fact, you mentioned that this time which made me chuckle (“Max, I’m waiting for you to drop by and follow up.”)

        My point is – I get a laugh out of how predictable these blogs are becoming with you and Brian. Any time Brian posts I can guarantee that you’ll be mentioning DDT regardless of the post, and that Shermer is an evil libertarian. Yawn.

      • Well, I’m glad you know every one of Dunning’s posts and my comments that well. Thanks.

      • Beelzebud says:

        Given that this blog entry actually talked about DDT, I fail to see how it’s wrong to point out Dunning’s past statements on the issue…

      • Exactly. And, actually, you commented on Dunning’s past before I did.

  14. Scott says:

    My obsession? How many comments have you made about Brian’s DDT post? How many have I made about you?

    Do the math. Then look up ‘obsession’ in the dictionary.

    And yes, let’s do pay attention to how others have responded to Dunning’s posts. They make their points and then they move on with their lives. You take it a bit farther than that.

    • For your information, Beelzebud actually raised the first point of order about Dunning on this post, not I.

      As for “obsession,” I’ll let you look in the mirror. Or send me a picture of yourself to paste in my dictionary.

      There; let’s pay attention to how I do “snark.”

  15. grok says:

    You go out of your way to damage your correct defence of Rachel Carson at the end of your article, because you make your case about the Internet — by lumping in the 9/11 issue with the demonstrably crazy ones. There’s nothing crazy about the math there: 2 planes did not drop 3 skyscrapers in their footprints.

    Would that you would approach that awful reality with the same balance these researchers likely took analyzing Carson’s fascistic character assassins — considering that these two disparate situations are actually linked thru this same Reichwing.

  16. scott says:

    You’re right Socratic Gadfly. There’s absolutely no reason for any of us to criticize you here. Sure, of all the other people who have challenged Brian’s DDT post and responses (and there were many), you are the only one that is accused of taking your criticism to the level of obsession, and a lesser person might take that as a sign that perhaps some reflection is warranted. But that kind of weak thinking is certainly not proper for a Skeptic of your caliber.

    I’ll let you have the last word after this. It will be a chance to end with something a little better than your previous response.

    You’re welcome.

    • Somite says:

      I do believe Brian’s post should be vehemently criticized and I am glad some of us take the time to do so. Brian’s DDT post had no place in a skeptical blog for several reasons:

      1) Pushed an ideology and was not based in facts

      2) Used biased secondary references instead of primary references

      3) The DDT battle is still being fought and there are lives on the line.

      It is another issue where libertarians collude with think tanks to spread misinformation for the economic gain of a few. I hope that Brian is sincere and that he is just mistaken. I hope he just bit more than he could chew because places like the Cato institute and heritage foundation have spent time and money to package a tidy story that can be easily referenced.

      Either way it is a skeptic failure. For scientific issues primary references should be the only acceptable data for discussion. This is probably the most important message skepticism has for it’s followers.

      This article just rekindled for me how important and with real consequences is to stay focused on the science because lives are at stake,

      • Ed Darrell says:

        I think it’s fair to ask whether environmentalists helped ban DDT without science, and whether the DDT bans have contributed to the failure to eradicate malaria.

        The answer to both questions is “no.” The true skeptic will, after asking the questions and getting the data, then call out DDT advocates and anyone duped by them, whenever someone claims DDT is a panacea against malaria, whenever anyone claims (falsely) that the ban on spraying cotton crops in Texas with DDT caused an upsurge in malaria in Africa, whenever anyone claims falsely that DDT can beat malaria now, whenever anyone claims falsely that environmentalists are brutes who don’t care about people as evidenced by the story of malaria since 1962, or whenever anyone makes any of the other dozens of errors common about malaria and DDT, each of which is false.

        Dunning’s error wasn’t in asking the question, but in not pursuing accurate science to answer the question.

      • Max says:

        Ed, you said, “It wasn’t environmentalists who overused DDT and rendered it ineffective in the fight against malaria, it was Milloy’s funders. Follow the money.”

        Who profits from DDT use? DDT is manufactured by one Indian state-owned company, right?

      • Ed Darrell says:

        No question that DDT manufacture continues in India — last clear indication I saw said North Korea still manufactures, and I’ve seen no formal note that China stopped.

        But the money path I’m talking about was back then — in the 1960s. Environmentalists didn’t overuse DDT and cause the rise of resistance and immunity in mosquitoes. Big agricultural interests started using DDT, and stepped it up as more creatures became more resistant.

        So far as that goes, look at the litigation in Uganda in the past couple of years. It’s businesses suing to stop DDT use — tobacco and cotton exporters. Environmentalists, like Environmental Defense (formerly Environmental Defense Fund), are on record favoring limited DDT use in Indoor Residual Spraying, the only use any malaria fighter ever suggests.

        In the 1960s, it was big ag interests who wanted DDT. Today? There is no good and logical case to be made for DDT by anyone. I give great credence to the story that the pro-DDT drive is made by people who wish to impugn and attack the credibility of WHO, as WHO is pushing smoking cessation in Africa.

        But I don’t know for sure why anyone advocates DDT. There is no shortage of the stuff. Malaria fighters are not calling for more DDT. DDT is used by malaria fighting organizations where it still can affect susceptible populations of mosquitoes, but those populations are dwindling, and there are more effective means of preventing bites that don’t involve the use of long-term, ecosystem-killing poisons.

        Who profits from DDT use? No one. Who wants more DDT? No one on the ground in any area affected.

        What’s the point? It’s a good way to impugn Rachel Carson (see the post at the top of this thread), “environmentalists” and all science-based cases against money-making, poisoning people schemes.

  17. M167A1 says:

    I’m reminded a bit of Upton Sinclair and “The Jungle” Like Carson his work became infamous, but not for the reasons he hoped.

    In doing her literary job so well Carson invented a simple and effective marketing slogan “Silent Spring” that wound up being used by less rational “environmentalists.” It’s not her fault of course, but in our current political climate the mere mention of her name or Silent Spring poisons the well. (puns intended)

    Likewise DDT has rightly or wrongly become the poster child for both sides of this particular question. Its mere mention brings your motives into question. One becomes a “corporate stooge” or “a tree hugging nut” who would sacrifice us all in favor of birds.

    When it get to this point my inclination is to say “screw all y’all” and walk away and speak on something where listening might actually occur.

    In the final analysis, science must not only be honest it must appear to be honest at all times. When distrust of motivations gets into the mix rationality goes out. In this one area Ms Carson’s book certainly caused some unintended consequences.

  18. CJS says:

    Conservatives have to deflect from the negative attention given to their erstwhile hero Adolf Hitler; hence the fixation on Stalin and Mao (which relies on the premise the someone dying from incompetent, ideologically-driven agricultural policy is morally equivalent to someone dying from being put in a gas chamber), or the post–Roe v. Wade “Holocaust” (which is no different from the pre-Roe v. Wade “Holocaust”, which additionally included countless deaths of women from botched abortions).

  19. Roy Latham says:

    Carson claimed that DDT caused cancer in humans and therefore ought to banned. It’s basically harmless to humans. It is harmful to birds. DDT is not very effective at killing mosquitos and never was. It is used fpr spraying living areas with very good effect.