Tag Archives: DDT

Friendly Reminder: The DDT-Holocaust Hoax promoters don’t actually care about malaria deaths

As previously discussed on this blog and elsewhere (e.g. Deltoid, Slate), there is a form of denialism based on the lie that hippies are responsible for millions of deaths due to malaria because they effected a ban on DDT. This is simply and unequivocally false.

But the people perpetuating the DDT-holocaust lie don’t care about facts. Moreover, they don’t actually care about people dying from malaria.

If they did, they would be up in arms about this.

The DDT-holocaust lie promoters like Fred Pearce and Roy Spencer have not and will not say a word about it. Because they are frauds.

Making an honest hack out of Fred Pearce in five easy steps

Image courtesy of Flickr user “bLOGOS/HA HA”, used under Creative Commons

Attempting to convince those in the grip of denialism is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. Take the case of the DDT-holocaust lie. No sooner has one false claim been thrown out (e.g. DDT ban in Malaysia in 1999 resulted in an increase in malaria) and shown to be nonsense than a new claim bearing no particular relation to its predecessor is deployed. Rather than chase down every single mutually contradictory claim made by those perpetuating the lie, I invite them to put themselves on record in a manner that makes their claims easily assessable.

In order to claim, as rubbish journalist Fred Pearce has, that anti-science environmentalism is responsible for “blanket opposition” to DDT use in fighting malaria resulting in a “virtual ban” for “more than three decades” and “millions of deaths”, one only has to satisfy a handful of conditions:

  1. Quantify how many, from where, and over what time interval the “millions of deaths” are supposed to have occurred.
  2. Demonstrate that there was a ban (actual or “virtual”), restriction, or other meaningful impediment to using DDT for malaria control (vs. for example agricultural spraying) in place for all deaths claimed in the above.
  3. Demonstrate that had DDT been implemented, all deaths claimed in the above would have been prevented (taking into consideration obvious confounding factors like the increase in resistance to DDT).
  4. Demonstrate that had DDT been implemented, the overall net result including health, economic, and environmental problems would have been positive- in other words, that using DDT would have resulted in more good than harm.
  5. Demonstrate that the cause of DDT not being implemented in all of the above cases was specifically attributable to “blanket” anti-science environmentalist opposition, rather than science-, economics-, efficacy-, and logistics-based reasons from professional science and health organizations like the World Health Organization, or implementation problems that had nothing to do with Silent Spring (such as replastering and bedbug concerns raised in places like South Africa).

Pretty simple. If you can’t satisfy the conditions, you don’t get to toss corpses at the feet of supposed anti-science environmentalist opposition arising from Silent Spring. Just how serious a case do people like Fred Pearce and Roy Spencer really believe they have?

My guess? Most won’t even  get past the first question or two.

Tom Fuller and Malaria – A Case Study of Denialism and the Backfire Effect

[I’m going to assume that most people who visit this blog are familiar with denialism and its hallmarks. If not, check out a good rundown from Denialism blog.]

Longtime readers are already familiar with Tom Fuller’s denialism on climate, e.g. here and here. Lately, Fuller has decided to throw his lot in with the DDT-holocaust lie.

The meme that anti-science environmentalist hysteria resulted in a ban on DDT use, resulting in millions of deaths from malaria, is fairly prevalent among the fringe American right wing but few places elsewhere. It’s championed by anti-regulatory front groups (e.g. CEI), climate denialists (e.g. Roy Spencer), and more recently rubbish journalist Fred Pearce.

It is of course demonstrably false. Make no mistake, there was indeed a resurgence of malaria after some decades of relative success in suppressing it. This resurgence had nothing to do with anti-science environmentalist hysteria. The reasons for it are not shrouded in mystery, but are rather mundane and (unfortunately for those looking to smear environmentalists) pretty much what a sane person would expect: financial problems, complacency, political instability, growing resistance, cost-benefit tradeoffs with alternatives due to scientific, economic, and practical concerns, and the like (Nájera et al., 2011; Cohen et al., 2012).

This was pointed out to Fuller. But Fuller tends to think with his gut, so he was not about to let pesky little things like reality stand in the way of a good blood libel. So he attempts to marshal some “evidence” in support of Pearce’s use of the lie. His first attempt is to blame the 1972 domestic ban on DDT use in the US- that had explicit exemptions for public health needs such as disease vector control- for a decline in DDT use in Sri Lanka that began in 1964. This is, to put it mildly, rank idiocy. Its nonsensical nature is pointed out.

Unsteadied, Fuller spends the next few comments telling people like myself that we “suck”, we’re on acid, and that environmentalists are like skinheads.

You might think this invective is the dawning of a realization of defeat. But the human psyche is a funny thing. When someone is shown that their position is stupidly, laughably wrong, if the position is tied to their ideological beliefs, it will have some interesting effects. Rather than accept their wrongness, they will actually discount the the refuting evidence and reaffirm their position even more strongly (Nyhan and Reifler, 2010). So after the brief period of insults free of any actual arguments, Fuller goes casting about for something else that will justify the DDT-holocaust lie. And look what happens along the way:

Fuller starts out just trying to justify Pearce’s use of the word “arguably”, and says that, well “[t]here are a substantial number of people who sincerely believe” in the DDT-holocaust lie, so Pearce is okay [October 23rd, 2012 at 12:16 pm]. His attempts to defend Pearce are shown to be wrong and he goes looking for other ones. As he does, he becomes more and more invested in the idea not just that Pearce was okay to spread the lie because he said it was “arguably” true, but that it is in fact absolutely true [October 24th, 2012 at 4:45 pm; October 24th, 2012 at 4:52 pm], and then goes still further and claims Pearce was really understating (!) the case [October 24th, 2012 at 9:28 pm]:

If Pearce is guilty of anything, it appears to be understatement.

This is the backfire effect on full, magnificent display.

And of course, denialism is nothing if not predictable, so Fuller’s evidence included the following: citing a four year hiatus of DDT use in South Africa that actually had nothing to do with anti-science environmentalist hysteria related to Silent Spring and was, it should go without saying, not responsible for “millions of deaths” (Mnzava, 2001; Cliff et al., 2010). Claiming that a 1999 ban on DDT caused an increase in malaria infections in Malaysia- this is what the trend in malaria infection actually is:

Citing the science, economic, and logistics-based decisions of the World Health Organization as anti-science environmentalist hysteria. Copypasta’ing walls of text from Senate testimony-fudger and all-around innumerate DDT evangelist Donald Roberts. And claiming that DDT was “stopped several decades [before the year 2000 in Mozambique], because 80% of the country’s health budget came from donor funds, and donors refused to allow the use of DDT” , despite DDT being the main method of malarial control until 1993. Claiming this, I should add, hours after it was pointed out as a falsehood in response to another commenter.

There is no admission of being wrong about any of things Fuller tossed out that were demonstrably false. There is no attempt made to maintain coherence of evidence or narrative (science and logistics are conflated with anti-science hysteria; the World Bank and WHO are conflated with hippies; the “millions of deaths” are supposed to have taken place in Africa in the 60s, then the 90s, then in the Americas; etc.). Causality is, several times, thrown completely out the window. And the sillier and more contradictory the claims grow, the more convinced Fuller becomes that the DDT-holocast lie is true.

All of this behavior will seem irrational and bizarre to many onlookers. And it is bizarre, if we were really talking about a person who was legitimately interested in looking at the reality of the situation. But of course, that’s not at all what’s taking place. What’s taking place is very classic behavior associated with motivated reasoning. It’s certainly not rational, but it is all too familiar. Though the topic is different, the dynamics are the same with respect to the denial of the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic climate change. Some people are just not going to be reachable by reality-based arguments. Taking a fact-based approach will actually cause some of them to be even more committed to their incorrect beliefs. Fortunately, though, the same social science that has illuminated this irrational behavior offers us some ways to bypass it. Hopefully I will have more to say on that later.

Note: In comments, Fuller says he was not defending Pearce’s use of “arguably”.

References

  • Cliff, J., S. Lewin, G. Woelk, B. Fernandes, A. Mariano, E. Sevene, K. Daniels, S. Matinhure, A. Oxman, and J. Lavis (2010), Policy development in malaria vector management in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Health Policy Plan, 25(5), 372–383, doi:10.1093/heapol/czq008.
  • Cohen, J., D. Smith, C. Cotter, A. Ward, G. Yamey, O. Sabot, and B. Moonen (2012), Malaria resurgence: a systematic review and assessment of its causes, Malaria Journal, 11(1), 122, doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-122.
  • Mnzava, A. E., B. L. Sharp, D. J. Mthembu, D. le Sueur, S. S. Dlamini, J. K. Gumede, and I. Kleinschmidt (2001), Malaria control–two years’ use of insecticide-treated bednets compared with insecticide house spraying in KwaZulu-Natal, S. Afr. Med. J., 91(11), 978–983.
  • Nájera, J. A., M. González-Silva, and P. L. Alonso (2011), Some Lessons for the Future from the Global Malaria Eradication Programme (1955–1969), PLoS Med, 8(1), e1000412, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000412.
  • Nyhan, B., and J. Reifler (2010), When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions, Political Behavior, 32(2), 303–330, doi:10.1007/s11109-010-9112-2.

Fred Pearce continues to be rubbish

Image courtesy of Flickr user “Editor B”, used under Creative Commons.

Not content with lying about positions scientists don’t actually hold, passing off his opinions as reporting, engaging in the kind of “he said, she said” false equivalency that has been so toxic in media coverage of climate, and just generally getting things wrong, here’s Pearce perpetuating the free market/anti-regulation think tank lie about DDT bans causing millions of deaths:

When Rachel Carson’s sound case against the mass application of DDT as an agricultural pesticide morphed into blanket opposition to much smaller indoor applications to fight malaria, it arguably resulted in millions of deaths as the diseases resurged.

[Although there was a big push to do away with agricultural DDT spraying, its use to fight malaria was not banned. DDT use continued apace in some countries and declined in others for top down reasons rather than environmentalist-driven anti-science hysteria, including resistance in mosquitoes, political instability, preferences for pyrethroids (which also killed cockroaches) or netting (which didn’t involve coating one’s walls with a sticky unpleasant substance), and genuine-science-based health concerns of governments.]

But hey, it’s totally fine to say something that egregiously, hideously untrue as long as you mumble “arguably” into your sleeve, at least according to Pearce’s cheerleaders.

Pearce’s lie comes in the context of the latest hippie punching fad, which is to equate environmentalist fears about GMOs, nuclear power, and fracking with evolution denial, climate denialism, and other hallmarks of the anti-science right. This is approaching something of a cottage industry among people who seem to be garnering fewer eyeballs on topics like climate change than they once did.

There are three facts of relevance here, in my opinion:

  1. There are unquestionably environmentalists who have and promote fears about certain technologies that are unsupported or in contradiction to the balance of scientific evidence.
  2. This anti-science vein is in no way equivalent to, in terms of political legitimacy at the levers of governmental power, that right wing anti-science beliefs enjoy.
  3. The actual, problematic anti-science beliefs of environmentalists are often conflated with issues that have nothing to do with science in order to make the problem seem larger than it is. This is counterproductive.

I think point number 1 is hugely important. The work of Dan Kahan and others (e.g. Kahan et al., 2011) has shown pretty convincingly that egalitarian-communitarians interpret scientific evidence in a way that conforms to their preexisting worldviews just as hierarchal-individualists do. I would like to see anti-science fears about GMOs and nuclear power either marginalized or preferably reversed by effective messaging and education. I vehemently believe that GMOs and nuclear power are going to be necessary tools in dealing with our energy and agricultural needs in the future, and that climate change probably increases their importance.

Point 2 is something that I trust is not in any way controversial or requires further discussion.

For those of us who believe point 1 is a legitimate problem, point 3 effectively knee caps efforts to ameliorate it. When people conflate issues that enjoy no clear scientific consensus, such as the environmental impacts of fracking, with denial of evolution or the reality of anthropogenic climate change, they are injecting a false equivalency that muddies the waters of discourse and prevents positive movement on the issue. The same goes for conflating dislike of business practices of certain agricultural companies and economic/national security concerns over nuclear power with denial of evolution or climate change.

If Pearce or the others who have taken up this latest meme stuck to what actually was equivalent, their complaints would look a great deal less serious. So they have to over-egg the pudding. This not only gives the appearance of more substance, it also generates more acrimony and page views. Whether the latter is intentional or not, it’s certainly not productive in actually addressing the problem, which requires understanding the actual scope and potential strategies for overcoming what environmental anti-science exists. And make no mistake, there are people doing just that.

But Fred Pearce is not one of them.

UPDATE: Some folks over at Collide-a-scape are trying to pin the decline in DDT use in some countries in the 60s against malaria on a 1971 US domestic ban. Yes, something in the 60s is being attributed to something that happened in the 70s.

Setting aside the timeline idiocy, as I stated previously, actual examination of the causes of malaria resurgence simply does not bear this out. Nor does it support in any way Pearce’s ghoulish lie that environmentalists are somehow to blame for it or millions of deaths. In the course of providing others with some references, I came across some additional reasons for malarial resurgence. It turns out that weakening of programs due to financial shortfalls, premature complacency, and intentional expiration of short term programs- in addition to aforementioned factors like resistance and political instability- are responsible not just for a decline in DDT use, but a decline in malarial-eradication programs generally (Cohen et al., 2011;  Nájera et al., 2011). Both papers should be accessible without a subscription.

References

  • Cohen, J., D. Smith, C. Cotter, A. Ward, G. Yamey, O. Sabot, and B. Moonen (2012), Malaria resurgence: a systematic review and assessment of its causes, Malaria Journal, 11(1), 122, doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-122.
  • Kahan, D. M., H. Jenkins‐Smith, and D. Braman (2011), Cultural cognition of scientific consensus, Journal of Risk Research, 14(2), 147–174, doi:10.1080/13669877.2010.511246.
  • Nájera, J. A., M. González-Silva, and P. L. Alonso (2011), Some Lessons for the Future from the Global Malaria Eradication Programme (1955–1969), PLoS Med, 8(1), e1000412, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000412.

Yes, Roy Spencer IS a creationist.

[UPDATE: For those who are unaware, Roy Spencer is a vocal climate change “skeptic”, but a particularly influential one as a member of the UAH remote sensing team. He has been making the rounds of late peddling a “climate is self-stabilizing due to large negative feedbacks” take on the issue. He is a member of the Heartland Institute, a contributor to the George C. Marshall Institute, and the favorite climatologist of Rush Limbaugh.]

Some people have for whatever reason argued that Spencer is not a creationist, perhaps because in defending the idea that neo-creationist Intelligent Design should be taught in public schools, Spencer plays dumb at who or what the Designer is supposed to be, a common creationist tactic:

Intelligent design can be studied and taught without resorting to human creation traditions and beliefs, which in the West are usually traceable to the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Just as someone can recognize and study some machine of unknown purpose built by another company, country (or alien intelligence?), one can also examine the natural world and ask the question: did this machine arise by semi-random natural physical processes, or could it have been designed by a higher power?

In case anyone believes that Spencer is merely advocating the teaching of ID as a hypothetical rather than as part of his personal religious views, he follows up with a clarification that speaks volumes about both his ability to separate ideology from science and his trustworthiness as a science communicator:

Indeed, I was convinced of the intelligent design arguments based upon the science alone.

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