The DDT Debate
The quality of the science in Aaron Swartz’s article on DDT (Extra!, 9-10/07) is exceptionally poor. It suggests a lack of understanding of the issue. The inaccuracies are numerous; in fact, virtually every statement is at best slanted. For instance, “there is no global ban on DDT” is at best deliberately misleading. It is banned in all U.S. programs, which means programs funded by the U.S., and until September 14, 2006, it was also banned in U.N. programs. In other words, virtually all programs that could possibly impact Third World malaria rates had to be done without DDT. His claim that no one cut back on pesticide use in Africa is absolute rubbish.
Elsewhere he belittles statements made by others that are simply factual, which anyone can easily verify. A character in Michael Crichton’s book says that DDT was “so safe you could eat it.” Swartz calls the comment fictional; while the story was fictional, the claim is simple fact. The literature clearly supports the statement, and DDT is less toxic to humans than many natural foods. As to being a carcinogen, I haven’t seen that study to know if it is believable, but a FAIR person might point out that 60 percent of all chemicals ever tested, whether natural or synthetic, are classified as carcinogens according to the EPA.
As a long ago grad student in environmental chemistry who tried very hard to verify any of Rachel Carson’s claims regarding DDT; I can’t help thinking she deserves all the negative press she can get. She may not have been deliberately perpetuating a fraud but I can’t think of anyone offhand who has done such a disservice to science and to society.
Chippewa Falls, Wisc.
Thanks for the excellent article on the history and polemics involved with DDT. I am neither scientist nor politician nor expert on disease control, but I am widely read as hell.
I also happen to live in the area that Silent Spring was written about, in Northern California on Clearlake. Here’s an informal and hot tip for you: The area never recovered. By the time the book came out, the area was truly fucked by both public health and commercial farming interests, and while the area is better off for her work, people have consistently become stupid all over again in regard to water pollutants, pesticides and watershed issues aplenty.
DDT has been and will be dangerous, as are the entire range of pesticide materials. I have close friends who have suffered life long from the utterly asinine and stupid use of chemicals, their government approval, and the promotion in Third World countries by U.S. state and private interests. A close friend was blinded by U.S. government-approved Parathion while serving in Guatemala in the Peace Corps, along with five local villagers. He has never fully recovered.
That was the ’70s, but it’s not much different today. Beware all organophosphates and chlorinated hydrocarbons should be a byword of the FDA and the entire world of food production.
It’s easy to dig at enviros—your deceit and non-science leave you wide open. For example, your continued adherence to the lie that DDT was harmful to eagles. That is long since discredited. Rachel Carson isn’t to blame; people like you have the blood of millions on your hands.
Missing: Population Explosion
Poverty articles in the September/October issue missed the same issue that all other publications and websites and possibly blogs miss. Human numbers have been exploding and there really is a pie to be divided. The greater the total numbers, the greater the number of people in poverty.
In 1960, the global population was “only” 3 billion, today it is about 6 and half billion, despite all the wars and genocides. In 1960, U.S. population was only 181 million. Today, according to U.S. Census Bureau, which grossly under estimates, it is 302 million.
One day soon, all resources that support life will have been used up, and no one is brave enough to say, “Let us put a lid on fertility.”
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Don’t Fire Cockburn
In reply to a letter in a recent issue of Extra! (9-10/07), it would be an overreaction for the Nation to expel columnist Alexander Cockburn. While Mr. Cockburn is completely wrong about global warming, he only did a few columns on that subject, and most of his columns are much more informative.
The Correct Answer
Peter Hart’s “Why People Hate Politics” (Extra! Update, 8/07), although not strictly written as a question, provides the correct answer. Without a free press, there cannot be a government of, by and for the people. So why should people whom the system doesn’t serve like such politics!
However, it is not just the lack of a free press—one that would vigorously challenge government and other powerful institutions and offer some vision of a better world—but an educational system that (overall) doesn’t strive to produce skeptical, critical-thinking, active adult citizens. Instead, the schools seem to aim for a supply of compliant workers and less-than-human, narrow professionals, who are ready to accept whatever illegal wars and injustices their fellow citizens have heaped upon them.
Robert M. Goldberg
The article in the September/ October 2007 issue on media coverage of the Gaza civil war mistakenly stated that the White House had requested $83 billion to support Fatah forces; the actual figure is $83 million.