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Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson Hardcover – September 16, 2012
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About the Author
Roger E. Meiners is chairman of the department of economics at the University of Texas at Arlington and a senior fellow at the Property & Environment Research Center, Bozeman, MT. Pierre Desrochers is associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto and senior research fellow at the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University. Andrew P. Morriss is professor of law and business at the University of Alabama and a senior fellow at the Property & Environment Research Center, Bozeman, MT.
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The authors say, "Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s best-seller contained significant errors and sins of omission."
A "sin of omission" is by definition an omission that someone is aware of. Obviously if there was an omission, Carson wasn't aware of it: that wasn't her style. So there were no "sins" committed in writing her book.
They accuse her of "deliberate ignorance." Anyone who knows anything at all about Rachel Carson would bite their tongue before accusing her of unethical behavior of any kind, much less "deliberate ignorance." It's a simple insult leveled by simple people.
They continue: " Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong."
"Slanted" is certainly an opinion. Many held that opinion. Many others did not. But an investigation to uncover the fact that things that were known 50 years before are "simply wrong" today is not a very productive use of these gentlemen's time. Much of what ANY scientist knew 50 years ago is known to be wrong today. Not, in other words, a heart-stopping statement. (And anyway, "much" is quite an exaggeration).
It is perhaps better to examine the author's impact in terms of what she herself wanted to achieve (by her own words). She wanted the aerial spraying of DDT to end. This was achieved. (And by the way, the bald eagle is no longer an endangered species thanks to her). She wanted people to know about bio-accumulation and the development of resistance. This was achieved. She wanted people to learn that life on earth was a delicately balanced system. This was achieved. She wanted farmers to start considering the use of biological control agents. This was achieved. She wanted the public to stop passively condoning the irresponsible use of chemicals without adequate review from independent agencies. This was achieved--at least insofar as politics has allowed. She wanted the public to understand the capitalist underpinnings of chemical development, use, and funding of scientific research so they would no longer view the government as their friendly Papa. This was achieved.
Even Rachel Carson's impact on the biological sciences cannot be underestimated. Her thoughts were pioneering: today these subjects are regularly taught in classrooms as a part of the science of Ecology. We owe much of our scientific progress to biologists like her who were willing to risk the wrath of public agencies and industry. If we're able to rescue our natural resources from abuse at all, we will owe a large debt to Rachel Carson.
Edited Dec. 4, 2015, per new information. Would you like to know who the author Andrew Morriss is? He's an Alabama law professor. He likes to write, too. This might still mystify us: why would an Alabama law professor make a book criticizing "Silent Spring" and Rachel Carson? And why so insulting? Et voila, I have an answer for you. He put together this book for the Cato Institute, a libertarian "think tank" founded by Charles Koch, of the Koch brothers. And here's what he said: "It’s not polite to talk about brown and black people dying because rich white people in America feel better about themselves when the brown and black people don’t get to use DDT..." Which is incredibly bizarre, because his touching concern about "brown and black people," in the parts of the world where malaria is a problem, is misplaced. DDT was NEVER BANNED. It was never banned to control any disease. That is part of why all humans today carry DDT, a potent endocrine disrupter, in their blood. Still, malaria persists. Why? A big problem is RESISTANCE. Yes, mosquitoes, just as Rachel Carson predicted, are developing resistance to DDT. But all of this would seem to be irrelevant--because Carson never even asked for a "ban" on DDT. Yes, for those of you who are curious, this is a book with an agenda: it is yet another anti-liberal propaganda book put out by the leaders of the world's biggest industries: those "rich white people" Morriss, a rich white man himself, so piously attacks.
The authors, almost none of whom are scientists, pick and chose which subjects to investigate and they use methods that would be laughed from the real scientific community. Let's take Carson's words on cancer. She predicted that cancer cases would increase with the increasing use of synthetic chemicals. The authors, for some reason, chose to examine cancer deaths rather than cancer cases, which is like comparing apples and bananas. Treatment of numerous cancers has improved markedly since the book was written. Just because the death rates haven't increased, or have decreased, does not mean the number of cases hasn't. In addition, the death rates from the cancers most likely to be caused by chemical exposure are beginning to increase considerably and in the people (age wise) who would have been the most exposed. These include liver, pancreatic and lymphoma cancers.
Ironically, the authors took her to task for not pointing out the link between cigarettes and cancer. However, that really was not the point of the book…it was to warn about synthetic chemical use in the environment so why would Carson have addressed cigarettes. If we follow that logic, she also failed to link asbestos to cancer and the link was known then too. In addition, it was way outside her field of expertise. her field was fresh water marine ecosystems. It was not epidemiology.
Another section that is disingenuous, at best, is a section on the use, or lack thereof, of DDT in African nations. The authors of that chapter make several arguments, including the number of people who have died because of this lack of use and that DDT is a highly effective killing agent that would cut malarial deaths significantly. But is that really the case? First, DDT is still available to African nations that wish to use it. The manufacture of DDT was banned in the United States but there was never a ban worldwide and it is still available today. In addition, it is not the wonder chemical the authors make it out to be. It is subject to biological selection of populations just like any other chemical compound. Yes, DDT lasted longer and resistance showed later than would have been normal for many chemicals, but resistance did appear, and with it the ability to use DDT was limited.
I discovered just how much resistance had increased when I attended a national mosquito abatement conference (I work in the field) and found detailed photographs of mosquitoes standing on DDT crystals. DDT is supposed to have a repellent effect along with the poisonous one and seeing mosquitoes standing atop DDT crystals pretty well flushed the notion of repellent away. I asked the scientist what happened to the mosquitoes that he had photographed. They were wild mosquitoes that could transmit malaria that had been captured an transported back to the US for research work. They had been in cages and before photographing them, the author put DDT in their cages to see what would happen. Hence the photographs and his comment that they were alive and well several days after the photographs were taken.
Other sections of the book were equally harsh and many were drawn out, as if a longer argument made it more salient. I was very disappointed by the book and found it to be a hatchet job on Carson and her work. Some of the material was valid, but such a small part compared to the whole, that it isn't really worth mentioning.
I would avoid this book. Since little of it was written by scientists that actually know the field involved, it lacks credibility. If you want to read it, do so with a very wary mind.
This is an obvious long-stretch and shallow attack on Rachel Carson - an attack on the person, more than her book, who died of cancer shortly after publishing so she's not here to defend herself. This book inspired a huge movement towards saving our planet's life support system, a legacy under-appreciated, and if the capitalist movement wanted to debunk Carson's statements they're more than a day late and a dollar short... it's 50 years late and even shorter. I'm guessing no one expected her legacy to live on this long and now that the Millennial generation is embracing this legacy, carrying it with them into their next generation, it's time to try to destroy it? Clearly the authors and supporters of this wasted literature are clueless about, among many other things, understanding how modern people which span across generations think, feel, and actually understand.
It's worth breezing through this, which is all I could stomach doing, though not worth putting $$ into-borrow if you can. It's worth it because it's always good to understand what the opponent thinks, how the enemy strategizes.