Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Death of Millions


Kevin Roeten wishes a few words with you on the subject of DDT:

Many times politics can be good. But when it’s bad — it’s bad. Especially when it means the death of millions. Unfortunately, sometimes the road has to be traveled for years before facts become known. One of the most hideous ones was the banning of a chemical named dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.
Since DDT was not banned for use against malaria, the death toll resulting from this "ban" is, to put it very politely, apocryphal. Plus, restrictions on agricultural use may've delayed the development of resistance in some areas.

All of which is very old news indeed. Fortunately, Roeten has bigger fish to fry. Building on the pioneering research of Walter E. Williams, Roeten announces that DDT is an anti-tumor agent:
Actually, DDT was found to reduce tumors in animals.
Like most DDT propagandists, Roeten can't be bothered to provide cites. I assume he's referring to a rather...nuanced 1972 paper entitled Dimethylbenzanthracene-induced mammary tumors in rats: inhibition by DDT. I think it'd be fair, if insufficiently abusive, to call this cherrypicking.

Next, Roeten dredges up a few quotes from the vast Sargasso of wingnuttian disinformation to "prove" that the goal of the (imaginary) DDT ban was to depopulate the Third World; the WHO, Roeten claims, wished "to assure that 40 percent of the children in poor nations would die of malaria."

I remain fascinated by the conservatarian tendency to enjoy anti-genocide fantasies and pro-genocide fantasies simultaneously; it reminds me of H.G. Wells' claim that "moral indignation is jealousy with a halo." But that's a discussion for another, more lighthearted day.

Just to round things off, erstwhile Grist commenter Jeff Hoffman gets a promotion. Walter Williams misleadingly but correctly stated that Hoffman "wrote on Grist.org"; Roeten simply links Hoffman's name to the site:
Jeff Hoffman, environmental attorney (grist.org) wrote, “Malaria was actually a natural population control, and DDT has actually caused a massive population explosion in some places where it has eradicated malaria.”
Although he's demonstrated to any sane person's satisfaction that DDT restrictions stemmed, like chemtrails and sex-ed classes, from the Trilateralists' murderous campaign against "useless eaters," Roeten ends his piece with an accomodationist whimper:
One can wonder how science has treated chemicals such as daminozide (alar) and chlorofluorocarbons (blamed for the ozone hole). Damnation by the uniformed public is a better description.
Putting aside his ghastly prose, it's interesting how easily he jumps from the incendiary claim that the WHO made an explicit decision to kill children by the millions, to a tepid, roundabout plea for "sound science"; it's a perfect example of wingnut overdetermination.

The main problem I have with his line of reasoning - I mean, apart from the fact that it's utterly dishonest and insane - is that it contributes to the perception that Western doctors and aid workers are agents of genocide in the developing world. This perception routinely causes problems for vaccination teams, and causes at-risk populations to avoid seeking prophylaxis or treatment for serious diseases.

Which is why, beneath its faux-humanist veneer, Roeten's rhetoric is a good deal more poisonous than DDT.

7 comments:

ellroon said...

Why on earth are they trying to bring DDT back again? I've heard this all over the net. My daughter did a report on Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring. My god, she's become a hateful figure in some places. It's truly bizarre.

OT, Phila, I can't get your email to show up. I've tried IE and Firefox, cached and not etc, but if the email is on that blue bar at the bottom, it doesn't show.

That said, another fun site with lots of articles:
http://giantmonster.com/index.php?tag=science%2Ftechnology

Phila said...

Why on earth are they trying to bring DDT back again?

Well, it never really went away, as far as anti-malarial use is concerned...but my theory is that any battle the Right has ever lost must be refought and made to turn out right...whether it's restrictions on DDT, or war in Southeast Asia, or segregation.

I know money's involved too...but mostly, I think it's just the "principle" of the thing. And the fact that they want to strip all credibility from anyone, living or dead, who's opposed their larger project and can't simply be co-opted.

As for the e-mail...weird. There should be a link you can click. No big deal, though...I'll send it to you in a bit.

olvlzl said...

This morning on NPR John Nielsen's story about those icky bed bugs had a pretty blatant promotion of using DDT burried in it. The website for the story has an interesting picture you might want to look at.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=13829937

WHT said...

Roeten is certainly an idiot. Research is rife with studies of "poisons" known to reduce tumors or combat malignancies. Of course they do; they are poisons!
But these never progress beyond the research stage because they are poisons!

Phila said...

Research is rife with studies of "poisons" known to reduce tumors or combat malignancies. Of course they do; they are poisons!

Good point! Hadn't thought of that.

Yeah, I guess L-asparaginase is harmless, too. After all, it "reduces" tumors.

Phila said...

Now I can't find your e-mail, elroon!

No idea where my address link went, but it's buffoonia at yahoo.

Be gentle with me!

ellroon said...

Ack! I always assumed since I could see it others could.

ellroon at gmail dot com