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Fact-checking in the blogosphere

June 19th, 2005

One of the benefits that ought to arise from the existence of the blogosphere is that of fact-checking. False claims can be refuted quickly, and, we might hope, not repeated thereafter. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work out that way, as the following examples show.

Tim Blair points to yet another repetition of the “plastic turkey” story, this time in Pravda. Not surprisingly he’s frustrated by this.

Meanwhile, the claim that bans on the use of DDT in anti-malaria campaigns have cost millions of lives, has been repeated yet again, by Miranda Devine in the SMH, and Rafe Champion at Catallaxy.

So in the interests of accuracy and bipartisanship, let’s get the facts straight

* In his visit to Iraq in November 2003, Bush did not pose with a plastic turkey, as has been often claimed, but with a decorative, real “show turkey” not intended for eating. The “show turkeyâ€? is a routine part of the presentation for the soldiers eating in the mess hall, so there’s nothing surprising about the fact that Bush posed with one.

* DDT has never been banned in antimalarial use. The main reason for declining use of DDT as an antimalarial has been the development of resistance. Antimalarial uses have received specific exemptions from proposals to phase out DDT, until alternatives are developed. Bans on the use of DDT as an agricultural insecticide, promoted by Rachel Carson and others, have helped to slow the development of resistance, and therefore increased the effectiveness of DDT in antimalarial use ( links on this here

If Tim is willing to make the same points, maybe we’ll get somewhere on this (begins holding breath).

OK, I’m not really holding my breath, and I don’t suppose the SMH is going to apply the Google rule to lazy, sloppy and inaccurate work like Devine’s.

Devine scores just about all the points possible on this one, citing fiction writer Michael Crichton as a scientific authority, misrepresenting the easily checkable position of the WHO, and citing the ludicrous bookburners of Human Events.

More seriously, she recycles an unsourced and obviously fabricated quote imputed to Rachel Carson, that ”

We should seek not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides,” wrote Carson, “but to find instead a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves

. It’s easy to find more unsourced versions of this quote at sites like Frontpage

However, a bit more searching reveals this quote (link is to a PDF file) from the end of Silent Spring

Through all these new, imaginative, and creative approaches to the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures there runs a constant theme, the awareness that we are dealing with life – with living populations and all their pressures and counter pressures, their surges and recessions. Only by taking account of such life forces and by cautiously seeking to guide them into channels favorable to ourselves can we hope to achieve a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves

Clearly we’re seeing the usual game of quote fabrication here, with the line about malarial mosquitos inserted into an unobjectionable statement of the desirability of what’s generally called integrated pest management as opposed to indiscriminate use of pesticides. Devine has been too lazy to check her third-hand or fourth-hand sources, and no doubt her editors won’t bother pulling her up.

No surprises here. But I’m a bit disappointed that Rafe Champion hasn’t bothered to correct his erroneous post, or to respond to comments pointing out his errors. Catallaxy generally holds to higher standards than this.

Update As Tim Lambert points out in comments, Devine has actually taken the critical step in the fabrication herself. Her apparent source, Keith Lockitch, doesn’t have quote marks around the first part of the statement, so he is passing it off as a paraphrase (though Carson never said anything about malarial mosquitoes in the relevant passage). Devine seems to be the one who added the quote marks.

Further update Miranda Devine has written to me, indicating that she will correct the spurious Carson quote, and saying that she took the quote from a republication of the Lockitch article in The Age, where it appeared as she quoted it. It’s therefore clear that she was not responsible for fabricating the quote, but merely reproduced it without checking.

Yet further update It was a mistake on my part to draw the conclusion that Miranda Devine was responsible for adding the quote marks, since I should have considered the possibility of an intermediate republication or reproduction of the quote. I apologise for this.

Final update (26/6) Devine’s column in today’s SMH includes the following:

Last week I inadvertently misquoted Rachel Carson by repeating a mistake from The Age of January 29. In an article by Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, Carson was quoted: “We should seek not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides, but to find instead a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves.”
But in Lockitch’s original, published in FrontPage Magazine, the quote was part paraphrase: “We should seek, Carson wrote, not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides, but to find instead, ‘a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves’. ” Apologies.


Absolutely final update (27/6)
Tim Lambert points out that Lockitch’s article did not, as claimed by Devine, appear in The Age on January 29 or, as far as can be determined from the public archive[1], any other date in any Fairfax paper. The Factiva database reveals that the piece was in fact published, with the incorrect quotation marks, in a Murdoch paper, the Melbourne Herald-Sun, on January 13, 2005 (access restricted to subscribers). This further error on Devine’s part isn’t particularly important compared to the others noted in the main post above, but it does make this post by Tim Blair look a bit silly.

fn1. I don’t have access to the internal Fairfax library, but it seems unlikely that a piece already reprinted by the Murdoch press would be recycled by a Fairfax paper.

Categories: Environment, Metablogging Tags:
  1. jquiggin
    June 23rd, 2005 at 08:15 | #1

    To sum up, as I said right at the beginning, there has never been a global ban on the anti-malarial use of DDT, mainly in the form of hut spraying. Widespread spraying of DDT has been abandoned, mainly because the development of resistance made it ineffective, and no-one serious is advocating resumption of this practice.

    There is general agreement that where possible, DDT should be phased out and replaced by less damaging alternatives, the sticking point being the fact that these are more expensive. Within this general agreement, there has been dispute over target dates, protocols and similar.

    Would any reader of Devine’s and similar pieces have drawn these conclusions?

  2. June 23rd, 2005 at 11:46 | #2

    John,
    I don’t agree with your summing up – you seem to be about rewriting history. The bottomline is that groups like Greenpeace and WWF have run campaigns against chemical use generally and in agriculture more specifically. The general idea that ‘chemicals’ are bad was a component of the recent WWF ‘Save the Reef’ Campaign launched in 2001.
    Australian farmers currently risk losing access to the herbicide diuron (an important component of a minimum tillage system) as a result of this type of dumb campaigning.
    Issues of resistance can be managed, but haven’t been much a part of the debate – the driver has been a general aversion/hatred of all chemicals including DDT. Rachel Carson was a part of the push to move the debate from one of science and logic to one driven exclusively by emotion.

  3. Ian Gould
    June 23rd, 2005 at 14:19 | #3

    Jennifer,

    Nothing that you say has any bearing on the fact that Devine’s claims are, at the very most, an extreme overstatement of the facts.

    As it happens, I agree that there is excessive concern about many chemicals. Which is wholely irrelevant to false claims of millions dead because of a (nonexistent) ban on DDT use for malaria control.

  4. June 23rd, 2005 at 15:14 | #4

    Jennifer Marohasy wrote an opinion piece advocating the use of DDT against malaria in Sri Lanka after the tsunami. The fact is, that it would be useless since the mosquitoes are resistant to DDT. And yes, resistance can be managed — the way you do that is to switch to an insecticde that will kill the mosquitoes.

    Since the proposal to ban DDT was defeated in 2000, what has been driving the debate has been a general aversion/hatred of Rachel Carson (she’s worse than Hitler according to some). These people don’t care about what the best way to fight malaria is, they just want to spray DDT.

  5. euan
    June 23rd, 2005 at 15:40 | #5

    Tim, I think you should conclude your sentence with “…they just want to bash environmentalists.”

  6. June 23rd, 2005 at 15:49 | #6

    That too, but I’m more concerned that their “DDT is a magic bullet!” nonsense will end up compromising the fight against malaria.

  7. June 23rd, 2005 at 21:00 | #7

    DDT is no “magic bullet”, it’s just one tool in the anti-malaria toolkit.

    Even if some mosquitos are resistant, DDT’s ability to deter them entering sprayed houses makes it a useful tool, or so claim some of the experts.

  8. June 23rd, 2005 at 21:07 | #8

    So the conclusion is that DDT was never banned? Or if it was, it was only in certain countries? And, regardless of whether it was banned or not, the dangers of DDT were overstated by environmentalists, as noted by the late Julian Simon in his book The Ultimate Resource 2? Although, it’s funny the conventional wisdom is apparently a myth. Even Simon wrote (albeit around 1996) in his book of how “DDT was banned”.

    What has been agreed to here, if anything?

  9. jquiggin
    June 23rd, 2005 at 21:32 | #9

    IIRC, Simon was referring to the ban on the use of DDT as an agricultural pesticide, which, as I pointed out at the start, prolonged its useful life as an antimalarial agent.

    One of the most disgraceful things about the rightwing campaign on DDT is that they attack the ban on the agricultural use of DDT which resulted in part from Silent Spring while invoking malaria as a justification. Devine’s column (which I note no one in this lengthy thread has defended) is a typical example.

  10. MarkL
    June 25th, 2005 at 16:14 | #10

    Fascinating thread, and generally civil all round.

    At least the mis-quote has been tracked back to the source. I am unsurprised that it came from the Age. While not good under the previous editor, the decline in that paper’s quality has been remarkable since Jaspan too over.

    I assume that the oddly strident comment that “… Devine has actually taken the critical step in the fabrication herself.” is now withdrawn?

    MarkL
    Canberra

  11. Nash Kato
    June 25th, 2005 at 17:06 | #11

    You’re a small, small man, Quiggan.

    What kind of apology is “So it looks as though this bogus quote evolved, rather than being consciously fabricated” after your baby-fisted tirade?

    Admit that she pulled the quote from a (supposedly) reputable source, with no malicious intent whatsoever, and that you and your blog-buddies jumped on an imaginary bandwagon yet again.

    I look forward to reading nothing further from you on the subject. Now resume your half-assed sleuth work, Detective Dimwit!

  12. Ian Gould
    June 25th, 2005 at 17:16 | #12

    The misquoting of Rachel Carson is trivial. The real problem with Devine’s article is the DDT-Ban lie, which she has not, apparently, retracted.

    I leave it to others to draw their own conclusions about the competence of the fact-checking that went into Devine’s article.

  13. June 25th, 2005 at 18:26 | #13

    Nabakov, I’m curious. In the past you have claimed to be both a powerful, high-level politician (http://dailyflute.com/?comments_popup=559) and a successful professional writer/author (http://www.roadtosurfdom.com/surfdomarchives/002517.php).

    Would you please evidence these claims by identifying the party you work for, the position you occupy, and the literary works that you must have had published in order to make the grand boast of being “someone who makes serious money from putting words together”.

    If you can’t provide evidence, I guess that means you’re just a bit of a phoney, and we’ll all be able to lend your views the credibility they really deserve.

  14. Ian Gould
    June 25th, 2005 at 18:42 | #14

    While I have no personal qualms about using my real name on the internet, I feel it’s a bit rich for someone who goes by the name “MJ” to demand that others unmask themselves.

  15. June 25th, 2005 at 18:54 | #15

    I’m returning “Nabakov’s” favour, actually Ian. Reciprocating, not initiating.

  16. jquiggin
    June 25th, 2005 at 19:26 | #16

    I’ve been travelling and had technical problems updating the blog. So the version of the correction that ran today was a first draft, and the subsequent edit, which now appears, is what I intended to write.

  17. slatts
    June 25th, 2005 at 21:12 | #17

    Quiggin and Lambert, you made savage mistakes, so do the right thing and apologise you bums.

  18. June 26th, 2005 at 00:00 | #18

    I believe the law of libel measures the harm done to someone’s reputation, and assesses that in terms of the reputation there was to lose in the first place. Bearing that in mind, and the public reputation of journalists – deserved or undeserved – there is really very little to be concerned about. Journalists are almost as low in public esteem as politicians.

  19. Ian Gould
    June 26th, 2005 at 09:42 | #19

    I note that Slats et al continue to beleive it is perfectly acceptable for a professional journalist to falsely claim that a nonexistent DDT ban is killing millions and to reprint without checking an egregious misquote from a readily available primary source.

    when Devine apologises for calling Greenpeace, the WHO and the World Bank mass-murderers maybe then other apologies can be considered.

  20. slatts
    June 26th, 2005 at 12:21 | #20

    The issues regarding Greenpeace, WHO and World Bank are debatable. That Devine deliberately fabricated quotations is a lie and should be withdrawn with an apology. Just because this is a lefty’s site you can’t expect to fly only with rhetoric.

  21. jquiggin
    June 26th, 2005 at 12:28 | #21

    The suggestion that Devine was responsible for the fabricated quote has been withdrawn. The fact remains that it was a shameless misrepresentation of Carson’s actual statement, quoted in full above. Perhaps you’d like to apply your ethical standards to this one, Slatts.

  22. Dave Ricardo
    June 26th, 2005 at 13:25 | #22

    The turkey story reminds of thr myth of Bill Clinton’s haircut. In 1993 there was a story put about by rightwingers that Bill Clintomhad held up air traffic by having his hair cut in Air Force 1 on the runway of Los Angeles airport.

    It was a total fabrication, repudiated immediately by the air traffic authorities, but is repeated by right wingers to this day.

  23. June 26th, 2005 at 13:53 | #23

    The “suggestion” that Devine was responsible … ?

  24. rog
    June 26th, 2005 at 16:17 | #24

    Never mind the splitting hairs, what about the televised perjury?

  25. Dave Ricardo
    June 26th, 2005 at 17:06 | #25

    It depends, Rog, on what you think the definition of is, is.

    And besides, Clinton was tried by the Senate and found not guilty.

  26. rog
    June 26th, 2005 at 17:59 | #26

    Had Clinton had been tried in a court of law, with witnesses and evidence presented, things may have been quite different. It was an impeachment ‘trial’ judging his ability to hold office of President as judged by his political peers.

    It was a 50:50 vote on obstruction of justice and 45:55 for perjury, which failed to reach the required 67 for impeachment to proceed.

    That’s how it is.

  27. June 26th, 2005 at 22:55 | #27

    Here’s a good description of the ban::

    In her 297 pages,Rachel Carson never mentioned the fact that by the time she was writing, DDT was responsible for saving tens of millions of lives, perhaps hundreds of millions.

    DDT killed bald eagles because of its persistence in the environment. ”Silent Spring” is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind. Public opinion is so firm on DDT that even officials who know it can be employed safely dare not recommend its use. ”The significant issue is whether or not it can be used even in ways that are probably not causing environmental, animal or human damage when there is a general feeling by the public and environmental community that this is a nasty product,” said David Brandling-Bennett, the former deputy director of P.A.H.O. Anne Peterson, the Usaid official, explained that part of the reason her agency doesn’t finance DDT is that doing so would require a battle for public opinion. ”You’d have to explain to everybody why this is really O.K. and safe every time you do it,” she said — so you go with the alternative that everyone is
    comfortable with.

    See at: http://rwdb.blogspot.com/2005/06/silent-spring-killing-rampage.html

  28. abb1
    June 27th, 2005 at 04:25 | #28

    Here’s a good description of the ban:

    It was plastic.

  29. June 27th, 2005 at 04:30 | #29

    This part from my latest post is perhaps relevant:

    … no article by Lockitch was published in the Age or any other Fairfax paper on January 29 or any other date. Nor has the quote appeared in any article in any Fairfax paper other than Devine’s. …

  30. Ian Gould
    June 27th, 2005 at 09:49 | #30

    Tim,

    FrontPage is a right-wing American web-site of dubious repute.

    One wonders what the copyright holders of the FrontPage article think of Devine’s wholesale appropriation of their work.

    Obviously some property rights are more equal than others.

  31. Katz
    June 27th, 2005 at 10:03 | #31

    How appropriate. Miranda Devine attempts to exculpate her mis-citation with … wait for it … A MIS-CITATION!

  32. Ian Gould
    June 27th, 2005 at 12:31 | #32

    The claims Beck recycles are refuted by quotes from Silent Spring provided by Tim Lambert on his blog in which Carson quite specifically recognises the value of DDT for malaria control, supports such use and argues for an elimination of DDT from agricultural use BECAUSE IT THREATENED TO REDUCE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF DDT AS AN ANTI-MALARIA AGENT.

    Of course in order to discover that one would have to actually read what Carson wrote rather than pasting holus-bolus from wildly inaccurate internet sites.

  33. June 27th, 2005 at 18:22 | #33

    The claims I have recycled are actually made by Tina Rosenberg in the New York Times.

    For those who don’t like the source I originally linked, Rosenberg’s article can also be seen at http://mitosyfraudes.8k.com/Pesti/DDTNow.html

  34. jquiggin
    June 27th, 2005 at 18:36 | #34

    Note that the article cited by JF Beck correctly says that the primary reason for the decline of DDT was the rise of resistance.

    DDT was falling out of favor even before the 1962 publication of ”Silent Spring,” … DDT had not been sold as a way to control malaria but to eradicate it, so the world would never have to think about malaria again. But eradication failed — it is now considered biologically impossible — and because DDT had not lived up to its billing, disillusion set in. At the same time, DDT’s indiscriminate use was provoking the development of resistance among mosquitoes, and many countries were shifting to decentralized health systems, which meant they were no longer able to organize nationwide house spraying.

    Undoubtedly, there have been instances where misguided opposition to DDT led to its abandonment in situations where it would have been useful. Equally, there have been many cases where overenthusiastic use of DDT did more long-run harm than good. None of this justifies the kind of hyperbolic claims made by promoters of the DDT blood libel.

  35. June 28th, 2005 at 23:23 | #35

    JQ,

    I’ve posted a long response at http://rwdb.blogspot.com/2005/06/yours-trolly-on-ddt.html

  36. jquiggin
    June 29th, 2005 at 21:07 | #36

    JF Beck. The quotes you’ve assembled are old stuff as far as I’m concerned. I have to wonder whether you’ve followed the debate at all, or just jumped in to support your side in the topic du jour

    Search the site on DDT and you’ll see that these issues have been discussed at length, for years, including most of your sources
    here for example. As far as I can see, none of the anti-environmentalist contributors to the current round have added anything that wasn’t dealt with comprehensively years ago.

  37. Ian Gould
    June 30th, 2005 at 11:08 | #37

    We should also remember that Devine’s oreiginal claim (actually FrontPage’s claim) was that the DDT ban caused “millions” of deaths.

    Currently around 2.5 million people per year die of malaria. To arrive at the 50 million figure used by soem of the hatemongers of the right you have to assume that ALL malaria deaths on the entire planet could have been prevented but for the alleged “ban”.

    So, for example, not only do you have to ignore the issue of DDT resistance (and also the countries such as India where most transmission occurs outside the home making house-spraying of limited use) you also have to ignore other factors such as the civil war in Sri Lanka, the effective collapse of government in Uganda in the 80′s and Congo in the 90′s and incompetence and corruption in countries such as Zimbabwe had no effect.

  38. Ian Gould
    July 1st, 2005 at 17:07 | #38

    http://mosquito.who.int/cmc_upload/0/000/015/372/RBMInfosheet_1.htm

    “Ninety per cent of deaths due to malaria occur in Africa south of the Sahara mostly among young children. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds. ”
    One fatality every 30 seconds translates to around 1,000,000 fatalities per year.

    I wonder how Rosenberg gets from 1,000,000 total malaria fatalities in African children per year to “millions” of deaths attributable to the (non-)ban.

    It’s also instructive to look at the accompanying map which shows that malaria is endemic across large parts of Brazil, Columbia and south and East Asia including all or most of India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    The non-African countries in which malaria is endemic have a population 3-4 times that of all of sub-saharan Africa yet they have only 1/10 as many fatalities from malaria.

    Seeing as the same international conventions affect those countries and they deal with the same NGOs, it seems reasonable to assume that the difference is fatality rates from malaria is attributable to some other factor.

    In this context, its also worth noting that several of the alleged examples of countries which have reduced malaria through the widespread use of DDT (Swaziland and Mozamabique are two examples cited in the Wikipedia article on DDT) are in Africa. So, African coutnries use DDT more extensively and yet still have higher malaria fatality rates.

  39. jquiggin
    July 1st, 2005 at 17:54 | #39

    I thinl we’ve finally hammered this one into the ground, at least until next time.

  40. rog
    July 2nd, 2005 at 09:48 | #40

    Part of the confusion maybe put down to ~300 million cases pa globally with more than 1 million deaths, ~90% being in Africa. WHO attribute the high African rate to a more virulent strain spread by a more efficent mosquito.

    Its not simply a matter of how many deaths there are to malaria, there can lasting effects on those who survive malaria – children can have brain damage and mothers can have secondary ailments eg of perinatal mortality, low birth weight and maternal anaemia. Severe anaemia leads to blood transfusions which can lead to HIV.

    WHO estimates on the economic impact of Malaria in some African countries as -1.3% of growth pa which would have a cumulative effect.

    “Costs to individuals and their families include: purchase of drugs for treating malaria at home; expenses for travel to, and treatment at, dispensaries and clinics; lost days of work; absence from school; expenses for preventive measures; expenses for burial in case of deaths.

    Costs to governments include: maintenance of health facilities; purchase of drugs and supplies; public health interventions against malaria, such as insecticide spraying or distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets; lost days of work with resulting loss of income; and lost opportunities for joint economic ventures and tourism.”(ref CDC)

  41. July 2nd, 2005 at 19:33 | #41

    JQ wrote: “JF Beck. The quotes you’ve assembled are old stuff as far as I’m concerned. I have to wonder whether you’ve followed the debate at all, or just jumped in to support your side in the topic du jour.”

    This isn’t the first time you’ve caught yourself out by accusing me of ignorance on a topic. On 28 April you posted the following comment at Jennifer Marohasy’s blog: “JFB, moving a post doesn’t break links or delete existing comments and it doesn’t ‘remove the existing post’. Your other points have been answered above. I suggest you take the time to learn a bit about how blogs work before engaging in further debate on this topic.” In fact, since moving to WordPress, the updating method you were then using did in fact break links, as noted in comments by Tim Lambert: “I linked to JQ’s April 21 2004 posting when he posted it. That link still works. The post was not deleted. Since then has switched to wordpress which includes the data in the permalink, so changing the date breaks links.â€? You have so far refused to correct your original, incorrect, assertion.

    I have indeed followed the DDT debate, whereas you apparently have not. If you had keep up to speed you would be aware that I wrote the following on 20 May: “Such anti-DDT pressure was even more intense in the lead up to the implementation of the ill-fated total DDT ban. So great was the pressure not to use DTT back then that in his Lancet article, Roberts et al specifically refer to a ban and even use the heading, Consequences of the ban.�

    Following the rejection of the de jure DDT ban, the de facto ban, which is neither total nor totally effective, slowly eroded. That doesn’t mean that the ban has been lifted: on the contrary, environmentalists still seek to force non-use of DDT. Fortunately, an increasing number of observers have figured out what’s really going on and have openly challenged the anti-DDT camp.

    For my most recent post I purposely posted excerpts from a range of sources, many of which are indeed old, but relevant nonetheless. Each excerpt contains a bolded portion relating specifically to pressure applied in furtherance of the de facto ban. Just so there’s no doubt as to the meaning of ban, I posted the following at Deltoid: “One of the meanings of ban according to the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘Practical denunciation, prohibition, or outlawry, not formally pronounced, as that of society or public opinion.’� This perfectly describes the de facto DDT ban.

    By the way, when are you going to correct the incorrect assertion made at Jennifer Marohasy’s?

  42. jquiggin
    July 3rd, 2005 at 09:59 | #42

    JF Beck, the dispute we had referred to a post shifted when I was using MT, which doesn’t break links, and to your suggestion that in moving the post to a more prominent position, I was trying to break critical links to that post. It’s true that this is a problem with WordPress, and I’m happy to correct this trivial error here. I’ve also avoided redating posts under WordPress for this reason. Can we move on now?

    As regards your semantic exercises, I guess DDT is banned in the same sense in which Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, evolution is only a theory, many climate scientists dispute the theory of global warming etc etc.

  43. October 14th, 2005 at 08:52 | #43

    Ever heard of Roger Kerr? Check out:
    http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/archives/012195.html

  44. jquiggin
    October 14th, 2005 at 09:01 | #44

    Roger and I go back a long way

  45. d
    October 14th, 2005 at 17:43 | #45

    I continue to be disappointed, JQ, at your odd refusal to also unknowledge that Green activism pressurised countries to stop using DDT with tragic results.
    To you its as if the leadup to the Joburg whingding never occurred.
    eg
    http://www.usembassy.it/file2000_11/alia/a011140a.htm

    Yes, the 2000 Joburg conference did not succed in a formal absolute ban on DDT (despite a massive effort to do so), but active efforts to reduce and discourage its use continued after Joburg, and an epidemic of deaths did in fact result.

    At least the BBC recently keeps these facts on the record:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4264374.stm

    “South Africa had stopped using DDT in 1996. Until then the total number of malaria cases was below 10,000 and there were seldom more than 30 deaths per year.

    But in 2000, the country saw malaria cases skyrocket to 65,000 and 458 people were killed.”

    JQ has extreme trouble frankly acknowledging the harm done to the victims of malaria. Isn’t that morally more important than pedantic quibbles over political right versus left bun fights, and legalistic splitting of hairs over exactness of quotations from Rachel Carson, who was rather shoddy herself with careful use of evidence.

    (Dont force me to go to the bookshelf for the exact page numbers of Rubin’s The Green Crusade, and to the library for the late great Edith Efron’s The Apocalyptics for chapter and verse)

    There’s this great big gaping whole of discussion in JQs version of history that omits mention of the strenuous efforts to ban DDT.
    Finally, South Africa’s doing things right today 9see BBC), but with no thanks to the Green movement.

  46. jquiggin
    October 14th, 2005 at 18:07 | #46

    D, Tim Lambert has addressed these issues in more detail, showing that this summary of the situation in South Africa is highly misleading. Note the heavy reliance on pro-DDT lobby group Africa Fighting Malaria. The bodies that actually do the work on malaria have a much more balanced view, with DDT playing a much more minor role that AFM would suggest, let alone the hysterical statements made by those on the right who’ve recycled the AFM line

    Coming back to my position, I agree that the position taken by some Green groups in the leadup to Joburg 2000 was mistaken, and have said so previously. But since (AFAIK) these groups themselves had already changed their position well before I got involved in this debate, I fail to see to what point it is you are trying to make.

  47. d
    October 14th, 2005 at 22:36 | #47

    I’ m glad to see that you realise the position on DDT taken by the Green groups prior to Joburg is morally wrong, but dont expect me to believe that after Joburg the zealots suddenly made a 180 turn and became converts to proactive and responsible use of DDT, as the evidence is otherwise.

    I’d suggest you go back and re-read Attaran’s papers before you dismiss DDT as a minor anti-malaria tool in Africa. The BBC URL I posted also shows convincingly that its a significant tool.

    Your reference to “hysterical statements” by journalists and lobbyists is interesting. You seem to be saying that no issue should be considered to have any merit if someone somewhere has made an over the top claim about it.

    To me, thats just a clumsy red herring to distract attention from one very serious issue where the Green have made grave moral errors. The fact that they continue to make grave moral errors that harm the poor, and continually avoid thinking about these harmful consequences is justification enough for my comments.

    As far as your remark about bodies actually working on malaria, the ones I know arn’t impressed with your argument. Besides that, in print, medical people arnt going to rock the boat too much.

  48. d
    October 14th, 2005 at 23:16 | #48

    PS But I agree, quite likely the commentaters you call as hyping things up are probably exaggerating a bit (not necessarlity intentionally), but gosh, what does that mean about other exaggerations; should we dismiss global warming because some people exaggerate it…

  49. jquiggin
    October 15th, 2005 at 14:30 | #49

    As it happens, d, Tim Lambert has two more excellent posts up on this topic, one on the role of agricultural spraying in the development of resistance and one demolishing yet another restatement of the absurd right-wing line on this topic. I’d suggest that you follow up there.

    The role of DDT in an optimal program is one on which reasonable people can disagree. Attaran and Roberts are at one end of a spectrum of opinion on this: I take their opinion seriously, but I don’t regard it as authorative. Bate & Tren are another matter. They are no more qualified than I am (Tren in fact is an environmental economist like me) and are partisan hacks. Yet most of the DDT stories rely on them.

    Coming back to my own views, I see no need to condemn those who advocated a faster phaseout of DDT in the leadup to Joburg as immoral. It was perfectly reasonable to suggest (as they did) that DDT could be replaced by safer alternatives – after all it has been replaced in developed countries and we don’t have malaria. The problem was that the alternatives cost money and, as it turned out, no-one was willing to pay.

    If anyone insisted that, even in the absence of alternatives, DDT should not be used, I condemn them. But I haven’t seen any evidence that any group took this position.

  50. d
    October 15th, 2005 at 18:28 | #50

    Its good to see Tim has posted details of a solid review on DTT. It is a bit out of date and could nicely be continued to include the story of how continued development of integrated pest management has occured in the cotton industry, with dramatic improvements in pesticide management world wide using biotechnology, especially these last two years.

    Ill see if I can find a few extra good links, and maybe ferrit out some left-wing loonyness to balance out the right wing stuff you seem to hve a penchant for.

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