Taking on an environmentalist icon

John Tierney of the New York Times dares to point out the feet of clay of environmentalist legend Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. A sample:

The obsession with eliminating minute risks from synthetic chemicals has wasted vast sums of money: environmental experts complain that the billions spent cleaning up Superfund sites would be better spent on more serious dangers.

The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they’ve had to fight against Ms. Carson’s disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome “dirty dozen.”

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Tierney has additional posts on the subject at his blog, TierneyLab.

Permanent link to this article: https://edwardwillett.com/2007/06/taking-on-an-environmentalist-icon/


    • Edward Willett on June 12, 2007 at 3:41 am
    • Reply

    I confess I haven’t researched the topic enough to have an informed opinion. But I’m generally a fan of Tierney’s science writing, and quite startled to see this counter-the-usual-wisdom article on Carson in the New York Times, which is why I linked to it.

    • Derryl Murphy on June 11, 2007 at 10:56 pm
    • Reply

    He doesn’t note that in many countries, DDT wasn’t banned for years or even decades after Silent Spring. And there’s no mention of mosquitoes developing a resistance as another reason why malaria may be making a comeback.

    And don’t get me started on the whole “natural carcinogens” thing. Of course almost everything is naturally occurring, and of course it depends on how much we ingest. But the fact is, we create versions of these chemicals that are much more concentrated and then put ourselves into situations where they can’t be avoided.

    Carson was a scientist, but spent most of her working career as a writer. It’s fine to call out her mistakes, but not with a load of other errors and omissions.


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