In praise of Rachel Carson

Tim Lambert and I have a piece in the online edition of Prospect, defending Rachel Carson against the tobacco/DDT lobby. It was cut down for publication from a much longer article, which I’ve appended over the fold. The article shows how the legend that Carson caused the banning of DDT, just as it was about to wipe out malaria, was invented and popularised by tobacco lobbyists, notably Steven Milloy and Roger Bate, who wanted to mount a flank attack on tobacco’s archenemy, the World Health Organization.


25 thoughts on “In praise of Rachel Carson

  1. Fascinating in a horrid way, if not surprising. I’d missed the tobacco connection. I strongly recommend Harvard Prof’s Allan M. Brandt’s “The Cigarette Century” with a lot of detail about the origins of all this. It also made me appreciate the canny tactics of the Surgeon General, Luther Terry, who managed to get a consensus, despite tobacco companies actually having a veto over the committee membership…

    Where was the interview where Bate “mellowed”?
    I found jan 24, 2007 “Honest is a Virtue, but that didn’t seem like a change of mind. A later interview?

  2. That’s fascinating. It seems the challenge of the future will not be in the availability of information to support solutions, but in sorting valid information from the disinformation provided by vested interests.

  3. Wait a minute! DDT, dieldrin and dichlorvos were sold by private corporations acting in a free market and purchased by rational consumers acting in their own best interests. How could there be anything harmful about them?

  4. re 2
    The real question is: has the leopard *really* changed its spots?

    In that piece, Bates says AFM took no funding from various companies [correct, as far as I can tell] … but of course, it did get funding from a bunch of foundations, as described by Sourcewatch AFM entry, which of course, is not necessarily authoritative, but is often a good start, and lists BHP as one of the funders.

    For some reason, journalists ask “Did ??? companies fund you?” and are satisfied with “no”, and don’t then ask “And what foundations funded you?”

    At least in the US, many think-tanks and PR organizations are *not* primarily funded by companies, but by family foundations, at least some of whom made their money in fossil fuels, chemicals, cigarettes. A few companies or trade associations are well-known for doing this directly, but otherwise, a lot of the money flow takes work to track.

    [BTW: I have no problem with people giving money to whoever they want to articulate political or economic agendas … if they are presented as such, but NOT when their purpose is to obfuscate science.]

  5. Thank you John and Tim, that’s a fantastic article. It also gives me great pleasure to see you part of a team issuing a definitive knock-out blow against the amoral right wing individuals out there who have long used this breathtakingly hypocritical and inhumane propoganda campaign to attack both environmentalists and those working hardest to protect the world’s poorest from malaria.

    There’s also personal satisfaction for me, given that the worst encounter I ever had with a pro-ddt shill was on your blog here- can’t remember the handle, but same guy used to rant on in support of GM crops, giving false conflations and dilemmas such as “do you support the development of GM corn that can resist [various moulds and bacteria] or do you support denying food to millions of people”. Gosh, I miss him so.

  6. I’ve nothing against amoral right wing individuals. It’s the immoral ones that, for me, taint what value there might be in various right-wing ideological positions.

  7. You know what a lobbyist is, right? Just checking…because as far as I can tell, Bate never was one. He had a brief consulting stint with them in the mid-90s, and that was it. To “lobby,” you actually have to register (which Steve Milloy has done in some cases, I believe). Yes, Bate applied for funding for AFM, but he never got it. Have you ever attempted to contact Bate to confirm/refute any of these allegations? Have you ever attempted to contact Philip Morris? If not, it seems to me you’re basing these accusations on a few documents in the Tobacco Archives and a Wikipedia entry (which you have written much of yourself). That’s poor journalism, and poor research (and, as my intro to journalism course once taught me, potentially libelous).

  8. David, “registered lobbyist” isn’t the only meaning of the word. The OED gives one meaning as “one who promotes a lobby”, where lobby is defined as “a sectional interest”. For example, the tobacco industry.

    Yes, it’s based on the Tobacco Archives, you know, primary sources. Bate was employed by them to write opinion pieces that advanced their interests.

  9. David, I’m impressed by your passion for linguistic accuracy. You don’t appear to care in the least that Rachel Carson and the entire environmental movement have been falsely accused of mass murder, but a quibble over the precise job description of the work Bate did for Big Tobacco has you up in arms.

    This one comment encapsulates, for me, the entire rightwing blogosphere. Well done!

  10. I won’t belabor the point, but for the record, I am a Democrat and have never voted for a Republican in my life. I am also a journalist who finds it offensive when non-journalists write so-called investigative pieces based on a bit of Googling. If Bate was paid by the tobacco industry for 6 months out of a 20 year career, I just don’t see how that makes him a tobacco lobbyist. Now, do I give that 6 month stint a moral thumbs up? NO. But there’s a difference between that and being a lobbyist. All I’m sayin’.

  11. Bate may have been many different things in his 20 year career, but, as you concede, he was working for the tobacco industry in 1998, which is the point in time to which the article refers when describing him that way.

  12. Curiously Eli- is skeptical of the claim that David is a Democrat, a journalist and has never dated a Republican in his life. Eli is a fuzzy bunny for that matter. However, as the Rabett recalls (and at the moment he is on the end of a very slow connection) in his pitch to PM Bates then current organization had a fair amount of support from big tobacco

  13. re: #11
    What do you think is “potentially libelous”?

    [Tim & I are familiar with an individual who often throws around legal threats, but you seem unlikely to be him [no Latin]. But maybe it’s catching.]

    I’m not sure where “6 months” comes from, as the ESEF was set up in 1994, and even casual inspection shows tobacco-supporting articles sprinkled around for years.

    In the tobacco archives, in Bate letter to David Greenberg of PM, 4th Sept 1998 (20652467366737), I found, noting that PMCS = Philip Morris Corporate Services:

    “As you probably know, I was working for PMCS Brussells at a rate of 800 pounds sterling a day. I would be content to work at the same rate.”

    In 1998, with exchange rates then prevailing, that was US$$1360 (around $1700 in today’s US$) or AU$2270. Many would be “content” with that rate.

    The Tobacco Archive is a truly wonderful resource: my only problem is that reading much of it is not good for your blood pressure.

  14. JQ,

    Is my earlier comment (as posted at Crooked Timber and Deltoid) caught in moderation or did you choose not to publish it?

  15. It went into moderation, and since I’d already replied at CT, I ignored it. I didn’t realise you’d had a third bite with the same stuff at Deltoid, which only confirms me in my decision.

    I doubt that anyone else would think of trying this, but, in case they do, please don’t think that the publication of a post here and at CT entitles you to post the same silly comment at both sites.

  16. John Quiggin,

    You and Tim Lambert attempt to maximize readership by posting links to your Prospect article (and the truly atrocious “director’s cut”) here, at CT and at Deltoid but want to restrict access to my criticisms. Fair enough, it’s your blog but it seems to me you’d do better to rebut my “silly” comment rather than stonewall.

    You at CT and Lambert at Deltoid have provided three links to Fox and WSJ articles supposedly supporting the premises of your article: that Rachel Carson is accused of killing more people than Hitler and that she is responsible for a “ban” on the use of DDT. Unfortunately, none of the links (Lambert’s to articles from 2000 and 2002) support the premises on which your article is based.

    You have so far failed to respond to my request for evidence to support your assertion that this alleged misinformation campaign orchestrated by the political right led the World Health Organization to “replace the head of its antimalaria division and announce changes in policies” – whoever edited your Prospect article had the sense to tone down this rubbish. Anyway, it’s your claim, so you owe it to your readers to support it. I, on the other hand, think that the WHO changed personnel and policies hoping to reinvigorate its faltering anti-malaria effort.

    You might also bring your readers up to speed on DDT’s use in the fight against malaria by telling them where DDT impregnated bednets are in use.

    First chance I get I’ll go through your article closely and post on it so you can have a good laugh.

  17. JFB, I’ve long since learned that it’s a waste of time responding to you. All you get is an endless stream of quibbles, designed to cover the fact that you were sucked in by the tobacco lobby and have never admitted it.

  18. JQ,

    You long ago learned not to discuss DDT issues with me because you are consistently wrong.

    How about you support your claim regarding the WHO’s personnel and policy changes? Or are you going to continue to veer off on diversionary tangents? I mean, you made the point so it must be important, right?

  19. Most of my readers seem pretty happy with what I’ve provided JFB . Perhaps you should publish your own article on this topic. David, above, is a journalist, so he might be able to help you find an outlet, assuming you have no problems working with a lifelong Democrat :-).

  20. I love how in Bate’s response ( he says “AFM does not accept money from malaria control industries—drugs, insecticides or mosquito net manufacturers—nor any governments,” but the competing interest statement in his PLoSOne paper, also published this month, says “In the past five years Roger Bate and Amir Attaran received travel grants from pharmaceutical company Novartis, and Amir Attaran received a consulting fee. No funding was received in respect of this research.”

  21. I share the Quiggin-Lambert view of Rachel Carson as the founder of the modern environmental movement and for what it’s worth have written that myself.

    I well remember reading Silent Spring in December 1963 when I was living in Rabaul PNG.As I recall at about that time malaria had just about been eradicated from PNG.

    I don’t want to enter the DDT V the rest or similar arguments.

    But I can tell you that DDT did work in killing mosquitoes. The health department had “fogging machines” that went around the streets of the town from time to time spraying under the shrubbery – mostly in the evenings as I recall.

    The post-spraying relief from mosquitoes was pappable. Did DDT do me good ot bad? Don’t know, but at the time I certainly welcomed the relief from the spraying.

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