23 Jun 2007, Comments Off on The BS will come straight at you

The BS will come straight at you

Author: Helen

Rachel Carson and the environmental movement responsible for the genocide of millions! Heard that one? Good, isn’t it?

May 27 was the centenary of Rachel Carson’s birth, so a bit of celebration of the author of Silent Spring was in order. Some US politicians, bless ’em, decided to honour her with a resolution to honour her birth (whatever that entailed, I don’t know, but I hope there would have been cake.) They also intended to name a post office after her, which was not really trying very hard in my opinion, but sweet all the same.

Image from freemosquitoringones.org
You’ll have guessed by the “would have been” and “intended” that these things never came to pass. A republican senator called Tom Coburn blocked the bills and a further 50 voted it down. Why?

“Dr. Coburn believes the tremendous harm Carson’s junk science claims about DDT did to the developing world overshadow her other contributions…. Millions of people in the developing world, particularly children under five, died because governments bought into Carson’s junk science claims about DDT. To put it in language the Left understands, her ‘intelligence’ was wrong and it had deadly consequences.”

This shabby little factoid has been in existence since at least the 1990s, beamed from tower to tower in the rightwing blogs and opinion pages. The facts are: There was no worldwide ban on DDT. DDT was either banned or just fell out of favour in many places for agricultural use, largely because of the development of resistance in mosquitoes. DDT has always been used for domestic purposes in areas where malaria is a problem, but due to resistance, again, a variety of methods always have been needed. DDT was banned in the USA, where there was no malaria problem, for broadacre cropping, not malaria prevention. DDT bans for agriculture actually help its use for health purposes by slowing down the growth of resistance.

So how come something that’s an outright lie gain so much respectability in the press and in the US government? If you have been following this, you might be… as bemused as I am. If not, you need to read this post by Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings.

I recommend this post in particular because it’s such an excellent roundup of, or introduction to, the manufactured controversy. I have to say though, that it is John Quiggin and Tim Lambert, who Hilzoy links to, who have done the heavy lifting. These guys have been writing about this topic for some years, but as JQ remarks wryly, it’s as if the proponents live in a parallel universe, immune to facts. It’s interesting that this bit of Astroturfing can possibly be traced, like so much “junk science”, to Big Tobacco. As an Australian I’m always inclined to assume a stuffup (or many interrelated stuffups) than a conspiracy. But however they emerged, it’s horrifying that these toxic memes can be created and, like the stories that credulous relatives forward to you by email, accepted as true pretty much forever.

Hilzoy puts her finger on the importance of it.

This sort of thing makes me angry. It is hard to go slogging through the journals finding refutations to all this. The people who fund this sort of thing are counting on that fact: on the fact that most people will not have the time, or the medical journal subscriptions, to discover that what they are saying is false. And so they’ll just be left with a vague sense that environmentalists and other do-gooders are off there being naive again, and have managed to coopt large public health organizations like the WHO, at the expense of millions of lives.

…And precisely because the tobacco industry, and whoever else is paying these shills, are counting on people not having the time to wade through the journals and find answers, I propose to prove them wrong. Please feel free to ask me any questions you’d like to ask on this topic, and I will do my best to find out the answer.

Because intellectual corruption should not go unchallenged.

The AGE Good Weekend had an article on Rachel Carson’s centenary which discussed this matter and made it clear that the allegations about her, and environmentalists generally, are false. That was a relief, because in previous years the SMH (memo to overseas readers: Same paper, basically, different region) retailed the idea as truth. Why isn’t there a page on Snopes? I’ll email them and tell you what they say, if anything.

Some of you will be saying “Why’s the Cast Iron balcony writing about stuff with a hook that was current last month and most of us are across anyway?” I just think that as the rightwing opinionators echo-chamber this stuff, I feel the need to contribute to an alternative echo-chamber of truthiness.

“Ara” on Obsidian Wings:

So the question is: given that powerful harmful moneyed interests are going to come at you with lies, how are you going to combat that, knowing that in a toe-to-toe between the truth and pure BS, often the truth doesn’t win and more often, the truth becomes bloodied and battered under the avalanche of tactical BS, such that it takes very intelligent people years to figure out what happened and, by postponing action for that long, those moneyed interests achieved their aims?

Because the BS will come straight at you…

Oh, and Senator Coburn? Rachel Carson has been honoured and has had bridges, parks and schools named after her. Plays and books have been written. In 1981 she posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which according to Wikipedia is the highest civilian honour in the USA.

So you can take your piece of petty revenge and stick it up your arse.

Comments (0)

  • JahTeh says:

    I remember seeing a film of DDT spraying in suburban streets to get rid of mozzies. They became resistant and adapted like everything does and now research shows that the larvae can wriggle away from water and survive under wet mud. The focus (and Rachel would approve) is on interrupting the life cycle of the parasite in the mosquito without wiping them or us out. If the Senator would put his money where his mouth is and provide more insecticide dosed mosquito nets, he might make a big difference to children worldwide. He might even raise America’s standing.
    Good research into malaria is being done at the School of Biospectroscopy at Monash University.

  • Laura says:

    Feel free (and indeed feel positively egged on) to write about anything worthwhile no matter how many months ago the ‘hook’ was. We worry too much about timeliness in blogworld, I reckon, and sometimes it makes us write half-digested crap. (By ‘us’, I don’t mean you.)

  • Helen says:

    Thanks, Laura. There is the feeling that there’s an expectation to be concurrent with what you’re writing about in the blog world. Immediacy of publication, and all that. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

  • Helen says:

    JahTeh, oh Scientific one, I don’t even know what Biospectroscopy is. Must look it up…

  • JahTeh says:

    A link for you Helen http://www.chem.monash.edu.au/biospec/index.html

    The department is very good at encouraging women scientists I might add.

  • JahTeh says:

    Well wasn’t that decorative!

  • This is a superb post Helen, thank you. The Institute of Public Affairs still to this day trots out the anti-Carson spin. And yes, it takes all the time and resources of people who have better things to do to unravel all the bullshit.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.