Tag Archives: malaria

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”.


  • 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.

Did the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report oversell the climate-malaria connection?

In light of a recent paper by Gething et al. published in Nature that challenges the notion that malaria will be on the march in a warming world, it might be useful to see whether or not there is a basis for accusing the IPCC for yet another “error”.

You be the judge: Malaria

The spatial distribution, intensity of transmission, and seasonality of malaria is influenced by climate in sub-Saharan Africa; socio-economic development has had only limited impact on curtailing disease distribution (Hay et al., 2002a; Craig et al., 2004).

Rainfall can be a limiting factor for mosquito populations and there is some evidence of reductions in transmission associated with decadal decreases in rainfall. Interannual malaria variability is climate-related in specific ecoepidemiological zones (Julvez et al., 1992; Ndiaye et al., 2001; Singh and Sharma, 2002; Bouma, 2003; Thomson et al., 2005). A systematic review of studies of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and malaria concluded that the impact of El Niño on the risk of malaria epidemics is well established in parts of southern Asia and SouthAmerica (Kovats et al., 2003). Evidence of the predictability of unusually high or low malaria anomalies from both sea-surface temperature (Thomson et al., 2005) and multi-model ensemble seasonal climate forecasts in Botswana (Thomson et al., 2006) supports the practical and routine use of seasonal forecasts for malaria control in southern Africa (DaSilva et al., 2004).

The effects of observed climate change on the geographical distribution of malaria and its transmission intensity in highland regions remains controversial. Analyses of time-series data in some sites in East Africa indicate that malaria incidence has increased in the apparent absence of climate trends (Hay et al., 2002a, b; Shanks et al., 2002). The proposed driving forces behind the malaria resurgence include drug resistance of the malaria parasite and a decrease in vector control activities. However, the validity of this conclusion has been questioned because it may have resulted from inappropriate use of the climatic data (Patz, 2002).Analysis of updated temperature data for these regions has found a significant warming trend since the end of the 1970s, with the magnitude of the change affecting transmission potential (Pascual et al., 2006). In southern Africa, long-term trends for malaria were not significantly associated with climate, although seasonal changes in case numbers were significantly associated with a number of climatic variables (Craig et al., 2004). Drug resistance and HIV infection were associated with long-term malaria trends in the same area (Craig et al., 2004).

A number of further studies have reported associations between interannual variability in temperature and malaria transmission in the African highlands. An analysis of de-trended time-series malaria data in Madagascar indicated that minimum temperature at the start of the transmission season, corresponding to the months when the human–vector contact is greatest, accounts for most of the variability between years (Bouma, 2003). In highland areas of Kenya, malaria admissions have been associated with rainfall and unusually high maximum temperatures 3-4 months previously (Githeko and Ndegwa, 2001). An analysis of malaria morbidity data for the period from the late 1980s until the early 1990s from 50 sites across Ethiopia found that epidemics were associated with high minimum temperatures in the preceding months (Abeku et al., 2003). An analysis of data from seven highland sites in East Africa reported that short-term climate variability played a more important role than long-term trends in initiating malaria epidemics (Zhou et al., 2004, 2005), although the method used to test this hypothesis has been challenged (Hay et al., 2005b).

There is no clear evidence that malaria has been affected by climate change in South America (Benitez et al., 2004) (see Chapter 1) or in continental regions of the Russian Federation (Semenov et al., 2002). The attribution of changes in human diseases to climate change must first take into account the considerable changes in reporting, surveillance, disease control measures, population changes, and other factors such as land use change (Kovats et al., 2001; Rogers and Randolph, 2006).

Despite the known causal links between climate and malaria transmission dynamics, there is still much uncertainty about the potential impact of climate change on malaria at local and global scales (see also Section 8.4.1) because of the paucity of concurrent detailed historical observations of climate and malaria, the complexity of malaria disease dynamics, and the importance of non-climatic factors, including socio-economic development, immunity and drug resistance, in determining infection and infection outcomes. Given the large populations living in highland areas of East Africa, the limitations of the analyses conducted, and the significant health risks of epidemic malaria, further research is warranted.