Zombie DDT myth reanimated

A large part of my blogging career has consisted of attempts at zombie-slaying: finding ideas that have been refuted by the facts, but that remain undead. Zombies are hard to kill, but one I thought had been permanently dealt with – the myth that Rachel Carson brought about a worldwide ban on DDT, leading to millions of deaths from malaria[1]. Although quite a few people helped to show that this wasn’t true, the lion’s share of the credit, at least in the blogosphere, goes to Tim Lambert (who stopped blogging a while back, though his site still runs a montly open thread). Tim and I laid out the facts in a 2008 piece in the English magazine Prospect which made the following points

* DDT has never been banned in anti-malarial use
* The failure of DDT to eradicate malaria was due to resistance, promoted by overuse in agriculture and elsewhere, exactly as Carson warned. Bans on agricultural use of DDT helped slow the growth of resistance
* The attacks on Carson were undertaken by tobacco industry lobbyists, seeking (among other things) to pressure the World Health Organization not to undertaking anti-smoking campaigns in poor countries

Our primary targets were Steven Milloy and Roger Bate‘s Africa Fighting Malaria organization.

Whether due to our efforts or not, the DDT ban myth seems mostly to have died. Milloy, whose links to tobacco have thoroughly discredited him, seems to be out of the pundit business altogether. He still has an adjunct perch at the Competitive Enterprise Institute but his web page there shows only two opinion pieces since 2008. AFM is also quiescent – its website doesn’t show any research activity since 2011 and its staff all appear to have paying jobs in free-market thinktanks, suggesting a zombie organization.

But the zombie plague always recurs and just now I’ve seen (via Ed Darrell) another instance, oddly enough in an environmentalist magazine Greener Ideal. The author, one Mischa Popoff is described as ” former organic farmer and USDA-contract organic inspector” and repeats the standard DDT myth before a segue into a defence of GMOs. But, as Ed Darrell points out, Popoff is being a bit cute here. DuckDuckGo reveals that he is in fact a Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute and a Research Associate for The Frontier Centre for Public Policy (the latter being apparently a Canadian version of Heartland, as is the IPA in Australia. The site is down now, so I can’t check).

As long as Heartland lives, zombie ideas will never truly die.

fn1. As usual, the Australian right commentariat bought this one hook line and sinker. Miranda Devine excelled herself, but Blair, Bolt, Quadrant, the CIS and the IPA were all along for the ride.

7 thoughts on “Zombie DDT myth reanimated

  1. Site seems to be up now. They claim “As an organization, we do not subscribe to any political ideology”.
    Media Release (25 July 2013) – Rachel Carson and Organic Cherry-Picking: The Anti-science Wing of the Organic Movement may be the hippie bashing Silent Spring review. (See the linked PDF).

    The inflammatory last sentence of the PDF is unreferenced and seems ignorant of DDT-resistant mosquitoes, or the current work on most cost effective malaria control.

  2. “Ian Andrews” is the guy behind “Greener Ideal”.

    He is a marketing guy.

    I’m still digging, but it looks so far to me like this is not so much an astro-turf outfit as much as a “let’s all just do little things like get green shopping bags rather than actually disturb BAU” marketing effort.

    The late great Bill Hicks had some very good points in his diatribe against “marketers”. In essence he said – “kill yourselves”.

    Good advice.

  3. So an ex-organic farmer writes pieces in favour of GMO? Colour me skeptical, but I suspect that “Mischa Popoff” was never an organic farmer. And sure enough, his published CV indicates he was an inspector of organic foods for five years, but never a farmer. So he’s a liar, straight up. And he gets a testimonial from Patrick Moore, who founded Greenpeace, don’t you know.

    Not that I think much of organic foods, but one doesn’t expect organic farmers to go the full Patrick Moore and become passionate advocates for GMO. And surprise surprise, this person never did …

  4. Any myth can be easily resurrected if it serves business interests, even if one generation sees through the scam, the next will be easy marks for corporate propagandists. People actually think that Arts and Law graduates are experts on climate change or vaccination.
    It’s all part of the long game business has played since the start of the Industrial Revolution–pass the costs of externalities onto the taxpayers.

  5. There hasn’t been any dispute of this post. So was reanimating the zombie DDT myth attempted with knowledge of the facts? Or was the reanimation in ignorance that could not be defended or supported?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s