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A Hideous Lie

Children playing in the DDT fog left behind by the TIFA truck.  (Photo by George Silk//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Children playing in the DDT fog left behind by the TIFA truck. (Photo by George Silk//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

I see people are once again going down the “Rachel Carson is a mass murderer” road. The idea is that because Carson sought to ban DDT, cases of malaria exploded and thus millions of people died. Pravda recently went down this road too.

In 2014, Google honored Carson on the 50th anniversary of her death, prompting this commentary from Breitbart News: “Will Google be paying tribute to any of the other mass killers of the 20th century? Hitler? Stalin? Mao? Pol Pot? Probably not. But then, none of the others have had the benefit of having their images burnished by a thousand and one starry-eyed greenies.” Breitbart in 2014 was led by Stephen K. Bannon, now chief strategist and senior counselor in the Trump White House.

I am not going to debunk the whole thing because this has been discussed many times. But the short version of it is that a) Carson did not call for the complete ban of DDT when it could save people’s lives, b) The U.S. ban on DDT in 1972 did not include other nations, where malaria was actually killing people, many of which never did ban DDT, c) her actual argument was not that chemicals should not be used to kill insects, but rather that the unregulated spraying of them everywhere all of the time had massive ecological consequences that would affect humans negatively too, d) mosquitoes were becoming resistant to DDT by its ban in 1972, e) much of the rise in malaria in the developing world in the 1970s had to do with decreased anti-malaria expenditures by governments, and f) DDT is still frequently used in the developing world.

This is a right-wing lie meant to discredit not only one of the finest Americans ever to live but the entire environmental movement. Never, ever believe it. Tell people who say it that they are grossly wrong and should never speak again about anything until they learn how to decipher truth from right-wing lie.

Richard Conniff has a more complete debunking here if you need it.

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  • Tom in BK

    But, bedbugs.

    In seriousness, there was a Daily Beast article making the rounds yesterday on Twitter. I did my best to shut it down wherever it popped up.

    • Phil Perspective

      Can people finally wake up to the fact that the Daily Beast is a dumpster fire and no one should read it? It’s run by a wing-nut Republican for cryin’ out loud. And that, along with the above, just scratches the surface of its awfulness.

  • Thom

    As James McMurty put it in satirical form:

    The boys were chasing the city truck, spraying DDT
    It kept the mosquitoes down
    And that stuff won’t hurt you none the neighbor lady’d say
    Encephalitis, now that can ruin your day

    • Sev

      Hmmm. Friends and I used to ride our bikes in the clouds as kids. And, you know, mosquitoes STILL don’t like me all that much, while they love my son…
      Re encephalitis, friend of my Dad’s, a college prof(Chinese Lit), was first profoundly disabled and later died of it.

      • pianomover

        Was in Cuba in 2002 third floor hotel room we were awoken by what we thought was a very loud vacuum. Suddenly our room was filled with a white fog which quickly dissipated.. We were told not to worry it was for the mosquitos. Only later did we realize that it must have been DDT. GOID TIMES

        • Ramon A. Clef

          Could also have been malathion.

      • Thom

        That’s what makes his satirical songwriting so good–it is not without elements of truth (the part about encephalitis). And as someone who has spent substantial time in southern and east Africa, I am not unaware of the damage done by malaria.

  • Dennis Orphen

    Formal logic applied to actual facts to reach accurate conclusions?

    Fuggettaboutit, Erik. It’s eviltown.

  • It would be too bad if that picture started going around r/w Twitter with the caption “a case of malaria explodes after Carson bans DDT.”

  • mtraven

    Just visited UC Santa Cruz last week and found they had named one of residential colleges after Carson. I like that place.

    • wjts

      There are three nearly-identical suspension bridges Pittsburgh over the Allegheny River. Each one is named for someone with a connection to the city: Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol, and Rachel Carson.

      • If there was a Henry Clay Frick bridge, someone might have to blow it up. Not an anarchist though. That person would fail like Alexander Berkman.

      • Dennis Orphen

        How conspicous is the abscence of Donnie Iris from that list? Asking for a friend.

    • There’s an academic hall named after her at Sonoma State University.

    • pianomover

      The Bannana Slugs

      • Cheap Wino

        Maybe the greatest sports mascot ever.

        • Porlock Junior

          Right. Even a step above the UC Irvine Anteaters, with their rallying cry “ZOT! ZOT! ZOT!”

          (Wondering: Does anybody now remember BC? I mean, remember when it was funny, before the artist got religion and made it dumb.)

          • so-in-so

            Yes! Then he died, and his heirs made it even less funny.

    • watermelon

      The “Rachel Carson State Office Building” in Harrisburg contains offices for the PA DCNR and PA DEP. She was born in Pennsylvania.

  • heckblazer

    The myth first became mainstream thanks to the tobacco industry trying to discredit the World Health Organization and it’s Tobacco Free Initiative in the late 1990s. Fucking wankers.

  • PeteW

    PBS recently had a excellent American Experience on her. A true American hero.

  • cpinva

    i remember the clouds of DDT, as it was sprayed through the neighborhoods, in the late 50’s, early 60’s. however, i also recall guys going around, tanks lashed to their backs, spraying thin films of oil over bodies of stagnant water. this caused the newly hatched mosquito larva to drown, because they couldn’t get through the layer of oil to breathe. they also sprayed old tires too, as these usually had water in them, and were a favorite place for mosquitoes to deposit their eggs. the oil seemed more effective than the DDT, but i honestly have no idea what effects it had on the local environment.

  • Halloween Jack

    It used to be used directly on people for delousing. Here’s an article on the Army using it for such.

  • Woodrowfan

    there is a plaque honoring her in the sidewalk on G Street NW in DC.


  • Dagmar

    Ahhh, the memories of riding bikes through the fog of diesel/DDT. Or, maybe I shouldn’t admit that, except to my doctor.

  • JR in WV

    When we lived in Key West in the 1970-72 era, while I was in the USN, the city/county ran Pickup trucks around the islands fogging a dense white cloud. But I expect it was malathion by then, and they did it late at night, so no kids playing in the clouds.

    The tropical mangrove swamps were particularly infested with skeeters, and they bit really hard! Not so much on Key West, but once you were NE past the Naval Air Station, on Boca Chica key, wow, they could be harsh.

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