Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 30, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DDT AND PHILIP MORRIS....Is DDT a banned substance? Answer: for widespread agricultural use, which produces increased resistance in many insect populations, yes. For vector control (primarily to contain mosquito-borne malaria), no.

For the last decade or so, however, a group of right-wing "sound science" advocates has been implying that the agricultural ban on DDT is really a blanket ban and that millions of poor Africans have died as a result. Why? DDT isn't patented and is only minimally profitable, so it's not as if the DDT industry is bothering to push this. So who is?

Short answer: the tobacco industry. Surprise! Turns out that the DDT disinformation campaign was really an effort to discredit the World Health Organization, which was planning a major anti-smoking initiative back in 1998. Discredit WHO on malaria, and you discredit WHO on its anti-smoking activism. And all the while you get to look like you're standing up for millions of impoversished black Africans. Neat, eh?

John Quiggin has the story. Follow the links for more.

Kevin Drum 12:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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I wonder, how many of the spinned-science crowd were dupes, and which knew what they were fronting for?

PS, is there any legal grounds for a class like scientists to sue for libel/slander against dextro-hacks who accuse them of being "frauds" etc. regarding climate change etc? I wish someone would try to find out...

Posted by: Neil B. on May 30, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like it's been quietly forgotten about all the damage that was layed at the door of broad use of DDT and other chemicals for which, as usual, the side effects had not been sufficiently studied. Silent Spring and all that.

A glass of Agent Orange, suckers?

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Sen. Coburn's campaign contributors must be getting their moneys worth. Rachel Carson's birthday bust was a mysterious puzzle until now.


Posted by: bill on May 30, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting. Tim Lambert at Deltoid would always have the correct data when those claims were made, but not the source of the source of the disinformation. Various Randians and other Libertarian groups would put this out on a regular basis.
Right wingers have unlimited funding for their fake think tanks.

Posted by: Mike on May 30, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

From John Quiggin's Crooked Timber post: "The leading figure in the exercise was Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute and its front organization, Africans Fighting Malaria."

He's got to work his way up to shameless.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 30, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

From Wikipedia; (quote)The alleged international ban is supposed to have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths according to Nicholas Kristof.[68]. In the fiction novel State of Fear:, popular author Michael Crichton states through the character John Kenner:

Since the supposed ban, two million people a year have died unnecessarily from malaria, mostly children. The ban has caused more than fifty million needless deaths. Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler.[69]

However, DDT has never been banned for use against malaria in the tropics. In many developing countries, spraying programs (especially using DDT) were stopped due to concerns over safety and environmental effects, as well as problems in administrative, managerial and financial implementation. Efforts were shifted from spraying to the use of bednets impregnated with insecticides. (end quote)

Posted by: Neal on May 30, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

notthere: A glass of Agent Orange, suckers?

If you want a drink, go on down to your garden center and get some 2,4-D based lawn herbicide, and you'll have half the ingredients. Or just spray it in the yard and let the kids and dogs out to play.


US to al-Quaeda: relax, guys. We're doing it to ourselves, only a little more slowly than you'd like.

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

I have always felt a response to such corporate malfeasance was to pollute in kind. That would mean putting DDT in the executive coffee pot at Philip Morris or dumping DDT in the playgrounds where Philip Morris executives' children play, but that would probably not only be wrong but illegal, so it should not be done.

We need to find a way to make such corporate misdeeds criminal so citizens do not feel a need to become vigilantes.

Posted by: Brojo on May 30, 2007 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Quiggin is splitting hairs. Carsen's book led a number of countries to stop using DDT against malaria. As a result, millions died.

Many public-spirited people naturally agitated to get DDT to be more widely used where necessary to fight malaria. The fact that DDT wasn't formally banned doesn't change the fact that these millions died unnecessarily.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 30, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Spell Carson's name right, then maybe we can tell you how wrong you are.
Come again.

Posted by: Matt on May 30, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

When DDT was banned in the US the manufacturers sold all their stock to African countries. The distribution of DDT and it's derivatives is pretty much worldwide and the mechanism is apparently aerosol.

Posted by: Cj on May 30, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: "The fact that DDT wasn't formally banned doesn't change the fact that these millions died unnecessarily."

And your point, whatever it may be, doesn't change the fact that however many people may have died unnecessarily from malaria, they remain but a fraction of the number killed unnecessarily by tobacco -- and it was the tobacco industry's interest in profits at the expense of human lives that initiated the "outraged" ventriloquism of the American Enterprise Institute/Africans Fighting Malaria.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 30, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

The poison of my disease vector is my panacea!

oh wait

Posted by: uri on May 30, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a legal notion of public fraud that could be used against those folks ?

I know, I know, I'm naive but AFAIK, the 1rst amendment is not a license to spread deliberate lies in the public. There ought to be something to be done against Roger Bate, AFM, AEI and assorted fuckers. Revocation of the AEI 501(c)(3) status, defamation suit in civil court, criminal prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (tricky stuff).

There ought to be something to done against those habitual purveyors of BS who pollute the public debate.

Posted by: Fifi on May 30, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

DDT is very effective when used to spray interior walls and the amount required to do that is tiny. That application in an entire African country uses an amount similar to which used on one cotton farm in the old days. It's also dirt cheap, an important consideration in places like Mozambique that are stony broke.
There is no general ban on DDT: but environmentalists certainly supported such a ban and were narrowly defeated back in 2001. Some poor countries depend on aid agencies for their entire public health budgets, and those aid agencies often (usually) will not fund a country that uses DDT. Basically the aid agencies in Europe and North America care more about reaction back home rather than efficacy. I'm shocked, aren't you?

DDT should probably be used more and politics has held it back: that's what the tropical medicine people think. Have a lot of people died because of environhmentalist pressure on such issues? Sure, but not two million a year; more like tens of thousands a year in the poorest of the poor countries, places like Mozambique.

The shills have exaggerated and have the details wrong (usually they're worse than that) but there is some truth to their allegation that environmentalists have indirectly caused a lot of deaths by malaria. And, I shouldn't have to point this out, the fact that tobacco companies are vampires hardly makes that ok.

Posted by: gcochran on May 30, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Yup, DDT. Great stuff. Not at all persistent in the environment. We should bring it back.



I don't suppose it's occurred to these collective geniuses that had DDT been used continuously in malarial areas all these many decades, by now they'd have happy populations of DDT-resistant mosquitoes, DDT-tainted soil and water and...malaria.

Smart vector control combined with permethryn-saturated bed netting and window screening has proven quite effective, and is quite safe. Something wrong with that approach?

Posted by: Trollhattan on May 30, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

chaunceyatrest, I was going to respond to your post, but gcochran above said it for me. The tobacco companies don't speak for me. I hate the harm done by smoking as much as you do, but I also hate the unnecessary deaths of millions due to not using DDT appropriately.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 30, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

It is time for the American people to get off the defense and take the offense against corporate power, the way it was done in the consumer, environmental and worker areas from 1965 to 1975 and beyond to new frontiers of subordinating the big corporations to the rights and necessities of real people.

Posted by: Brojo on May 30, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal is generally an idiot, and dishonest to boot, but his agreeing with me doesn't prove that I'm wrong. I could say that about so many people.

For that matter, it's not who makes an argument, it's the argument itself that matters. Now from an information-theoretical point of view it can be worth ignoring someone who's usually wrong, but the source doesn't _make_ any argument wrong.

The root of this problem is that scientists _do_ lie, sometimes - even corporately. I've never found any true remedy other than digging into the actual science yourself, which is admittedly taxing.

Posted by: gcochran on May 30, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

As Trollhatten indicated, DDT persists for decades, and maybe centuries in certain conditions. DDT also persists in tissue; once you intake DDT, it stays in your body for a LONG, LONG time. It also has anti-steroid hormone effects. A recent study showed that songbirds that have high levels of DDT have defects in brain areas that are hormone-sensitive. These animals were collected in areas where DDT was last sprayed 30 years ago and still had brain abnormalities.

And yet, people in Africa have always been able to spray this stuff in their homes, despite what the tobacco lobby says.


Posted by: CKT on May 30, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Rush Limbaugh was talking about this in the first few minutes of today's broadcast. He was citing the "ban" as one reason that Al Gore should not be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize: Gore hasn't attacked Rachel Carson.

Limbaugh repeated the "hundreds of thousand dead children every year" line.

Posted by: arkie on May 30, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Oh and speaking of DDT:

"Over the past decade and a half, Mr. Limbaugh has been at times almost a lone media voice correcting misinformation about DDT and also pointing out its life-saving benefits against diseases like malaria. Mr. Gore, by contrast, has continued to spread DDT myths as well as misleading information about the causes of the malaria epidemic."

exerpt from John Berlau's letter to the head of the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize, Ole Danbolt Mjoes. Taken from the article "Rush Limbaugh For The Nobel Peace Prize"
by John Berlau on humanevents.com on 05/30/2007.

I still get a wicked shudder at Rush Limbaugh winning the Nobel Peace Price, and every time I hear about DDT it reminds me to shudder again.

Posted by: Zit on May 30, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: ""... but I also hate the unnecessary deaths of millions due to not using DDT appropriately."

Interesting that the point you cite (gcochran's) indicates the annual deaths to be a tiny sliver of your claim that millions die. He seems to have you in mind when he says that, "The shills have exaggerated and have the details wrong..."

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 30, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal: Quiggin is splitting hairs. Carsen's book led a number of countries to stop using DDT against malaria. As a result, millions died.

Carson's book did no such thing, unless you hold her responsible for people mis-reading it:

The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story - the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting. ...

What is the measure of this setback? The list of resistant species now includes practically all of the insect groups of medical importance. ... Malaria programmes are threatened by resistance among mosquitoes. ...

Practical advice should be 'Spray as little as you possibly can' rather than 'Spray to the limit of your capacity' ..., Pressure on the pest population should always be as slight as possible.

Your idea that some people mis-read it to mean that all DDT use should be banned is true. It's also true that many people were killed (eg in Sri Lanka) because they didn't take here advice to use DDT in such a way that it minimizes the development of resistant strains.

Maybe she should have written a book that could fit on a bumper sticker. Instead, she filled pages with facts, arguments, and (most dreaded) nuance. Of that she is guilty.

Posted by: alex on May 30, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Mass media, corporate greed, individual greed, corporate obfuscation and our democratic process allowing for untrained lay persons to have equal voices about technical issues that affect public health may becoming a problem. It does not help that some of the well trained technocrats are compromised by greed and self-interest, which further complicates the making of public policy. We already know the politicians, regardless of political affiliation, are compromised.

We might as well learn to enjoy melamine, because somewhere a scientist is receiving a check from a chemical corporation to say it is healthy for human consumption and that it tastes good, too.

Posted by: Brojo on May 30, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Been waiting an hour for the PA Police to publish my post they intercepted "for review".

Nothing too impolite in it, only said that never-ever was a sad example of man's stupidity, so not sure why it hasn't been put on thread.

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Irony alert: "ex-liberal" accuses someone else of "splitting hairs."

That "ex-liberal" repeats the dishonest right-wing attack on Carson is, of course, no surprise from such a bad-faith commenter.

Posted by: Gregory on May 30, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

I think that in addition to dicrediting the WHO, this is part of the overall denialist campaign around climate change i.e. "see, we banned DDT and look at all the people who died. The crazy environmentalists are doing it again with climate change!"

Other blogs (http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/05/rachel_carson_kills_babies_org.php) have also rightly pointed out that banning agricultural use of DDT likely delayed the evolution of DDT-resistant mosquitoes, thereby SAVING lives.

Posted by: Brian on May 30, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

"ex-liberal" wrote: The tobacco companies don't speak for me.

Of course -- it seems to be the other way around, you dishonest right-wing corporatist shill.

Posted by: Gregory on May 30, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Part I:
Never-ever is a sad example of man's stupidity.

The way DDT and other chemicals were being used were irresponsible. They were broadcast in quantity without any studies or watching for any negative effects, so that when these arose there was a necessary reaction to the negligence already exhibited. Also DDT resistance was increasing among its targeted species.

DDT is very toxic to a broad range of invertabrates, not just mosquitoes, so has an effect on the whole food chain, as well as being cumulative.

Yes, it has been continously used effectively in more specific applications as it is today.

Man shows the same short-term stupidity in the way they use -- or not -- the recommended anti-malarial (or HIV) cocktails, also leading to resistant strains.

It's worth pointing out that death, pollution and ecological damage arises in many other ways. Don't seem to do much about them. Hunger, Darfur. Iraq. The Gulf "dead zone" predicted to increase in size due to demand for corn and the high use of fertilizer draining off. Over-fishing.

Probably be a good thing when climate change reduces the human population. Fewer never-evers.

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Part II:
Guess they didn't like my 3 links to:

Dept. of Health and Human Services/Agency for Toxic Substances,

Cornell University extension toxicology network,

and WHO and malaria drug misuse

seemed to throw up the flag to be "held for approval".

Wonder why.

Posted by: notthere on May 30, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

I recall an article in National Geographic, I think, about a decoy used to trap the tetse fly. It looked like an udder of a cow and was supposed to be an extremely efficient and ecological friendly way to kill the insect that spreads malaria. It probably did not guarantee corporate profits. How many millions have died because this technology is not used?

Posted by: Brojo on May 30, 2007 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Not even particularly original--Max Shulman sketched out the idea in his 1964 novel, "Anyone Got a Match?" The tobacco company in the novel funded a documentary showing how unsafe food was. They thought that if everyone was scared about food, they would smoke more!

The novel is funnier than the DDT story. . .

Posted by: tfisher on May 30, 2007 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK
...I also hate the unnecessary deaths of millions due to not using DDT appropriately. ex-lax at 2:19 PM
The perfect example of the corporate propaganda anti-environmentalist lying crap. Posted by: Mike on May 30, 2007 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

The smoking guns are in the tobacco archive. You don't have to take anyone's word for anything these days.

Posted by: Eli Rabett on May 30, 2007 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK



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