Whom to believe?
Reason separates man from animals and politicians
Founded in 1968 at the Academia den Lincei (the Lincean Academy), the so-called Club of Rome is an association of 100 full members from among former and current heads of state, high ranking members of government, United Nations officials, diplomats, scientists, economists, and business leaders from around the world. Today, the Club of Rome is based in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Stop laughing — it matters.
One of its founders was a gentleman named Alexander King (1909-2007), a British chemist and a pioneer of the so-called sustainable movement. King’s concern was the impact upon the environment of “unprecedented economic growth.” He argues that economic growth is a good thing, but too much of it has a deleterious effect on the environment. To my mind, such a claim seems wholly sensible. The problem, on this one issue, is the answer to the question, “Who gets to ‘regulate’ the global economy to mitigate its environmental impact?”
The real subject is the development and use of the chemical with the rather ridiculous sounding name Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. With any name exceeding the number of letters in the alphabet, it seems prudent to shorten it to DDT. One may recall that DDT was developed as a cure for insects known to cause serious illness and death among human beings. It was developed in the 1930s, and came into use during World War II. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was able to persuade John F. Kennedy to ban the product owing to her claim of birth defects to humans and the extinction of wildlife.
Dr. Alexander King might have agreed with Carson to ban the product, but for entirely different reasons. According to King in 1990, “My own doubts came when DDT was introduced for civilian use. In Guyana, within two years, it had almost eliminated malaria — but at the same time, the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the population problem.”
Dr. King was a chemist. Rachel Carson had a Master’s Degree in Zoology. I make this point because while we may give credit to her work as an undersea biologist, she was out of her depth in matters of pesticides. Her only practical work beyond university study, never quite making it to a doctoral level, was that she worked for the U. S. Bureau of Fisheries.
Why this matters (primarily to me, I suppose) is that I recently read a post at Pacific Paratrooper, whom I admire for her work respecting World War II, wherein G. P. Cox told the story of DDT’s development and how it materially served the interests of our combat troops in protecting them from virulent illnesses and diseases caused by insects. While reading this article, I remembered as a youngster the DDT truck making a pass through our neighborhood on base housing at Camp Pendleton, California in 1952-53.
One commenter at Pacific Paratrooper, self-identifying at Jet Eliot, wrote, “I enjoyed this essay, GP, reading how the malaria and insects were dealt with in war times. A sign of the times, they created what they thought was a great thing to remedy their problems. Fortunately Rachel Carson and others were able to demand deeper investigation into these lethal chemicals and their detrimental effects on humans and the planet. We have pelicans and bald eagles and numerous other wildlife species now, all these years later, that were close to extinction due to DDT. And we are the generations of humans who have developed and benefitted from the curtailment of these strong chemicals. We live and learn, and fortunately our species continues.”
Unfortunately, Ms. Eliot’s argument is greatly contested in the scientific community, but it is a lie told so often that claims that DDT is harmful to humans is generally accepted as true. It is what we’ve been told for the past 60 years. Scientists today assure us that the lie is actually a damn lie. Carson’s claim, they say, was based on emotion and junk science, and if this were not bad enough, the cost of such claims have been, quite literally, millions of lives. This was the point made by Dr. King — whose only complaint was that DDT so effectively saved lives that we ended up having too many people on planet earth.
Of course, there a few issues with DDT that most people are unaware of. For example, there is an issue with how the US Agency for International Development (USAID) went about forcing poor countries to stop using the product. Essentially, USAID refused to fund any international projects that used DDT. Around the world, poor countries were told that if they continued to use DDT, then they wouldn’t get any more monetary aid from the United States. So, because many of these regimes were corrupt and put a higher value on access to the American people’s money than they did on the lives of their own citizens, they stopped using DDT.
Another issue is/was, the question of whose lives were saved through the use of DDT — mostly people of color living within the third and fourth world countries. Since the suspension of the use of DDT (we are told), more than 100 million people have died in Africa alone due to malaria (and other insect-borne diseases). Apparently, the lives of one-hundred-million people do not matter quite as much if they have a darker complexion than the rest of us.
A third (but not last) issue is that Rachel Carson’s science was so fraudulent and distorted that one’s only rational conclusion is that she may rank along with Margaret Sanger as one of humanity’s greatest monsters, far above Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
Modern scientists now tell us that the tragic irony of the tens of millions of deaths attributed to the banning of DDT is that all central claims made by Carson (and others) are patently false. For example, in order to cause cancerous tumors in mice, the animal would have to be exposed to DDT 10 times its body weight over an extended period of time. There is, today, no correlation of Carson’s data. According to the World Health Organization, numerous studies have failed to show ‘any convincing evidence’ of patterns of associations between DDT and cancer. A US study corroborated the WHO findings.
Carson claimed that the effect of DDT on wild birds was so severe that one day, all the birds on earth would be dead and we would experience the “silent spring.” It was pure poppycock. Scientific data reflects that between 1941 and 1960, when DDT was regularly used to thwart infectious diseases from insects, bird populations actually quadrupled. Among Robins, whom Carson specifically singled out, the population of these animals between 1941-60 increased twelve-fold.
Worse than this was Carson’s (and Charles Wurster’s) claim that DDT was dangerous to phytoplankton in sea water. Wurster, co-founder of the Environmental Defense Fund, conducted his experiments in salted water with alcohol added, not sea water. So again, the science was skewed from the beginning. Again, more than 100 million people have died because we stopped using DDT.
So far, at least, I suspect there may not be much interest in this topic, especially since malaria is not a problem most Americans have to deal with. Dengue fever is, though. But here’s the real point of this tirade.
If we cannot trust science on a matter such as DDT, then how can we have confidence in any other scientific product — where there are agendas to pursue. Shall we, then, blindly trust science on matters that DO affect us — such as immunology and COVID-19, climate change as a man-caused phenomena, or that the oceans will soon cover all of our coastal cities?
You tell me. Whom do we believe — and why?