Thursday, 31 January 2013

Rachel Carson - manipulator or messiah?

The definitive start to the environmental movement goes back to 1962 when  Rachael Carson published Silent Spring. Prior to the book being published, and to this day, experts in various disciplines have pointed out the shortcomings of her writings. Faced with compelling facts to the contrary people still blindly follow her writings.  One of her unintended legacy’s  is giving the environmental movement a blueprint on how to effectively use misinformation and half-truths. People like David Suzuki, Chief Theresa Spence, Al Gore and others are masters of manipulation distorting facts on virtually every media campaign. Rachael Carson taught them how to cherry pick data to prove a point and ignore any data to the contrary. It matters little if they are right or wrong just that they are heard.  Please take a moment to read the article below and ThinkTwice next time you hear her name mentioned.
Paul Visentin
ThinkTwice group

Silent spring at 50:Reflections on an environmental classic

Fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carsons Silent Springthe books legacy is mixed. It helped raise awareness about the costs of mass spraying operationsbut it also provided justification for campaigns against the use of DDT in malaria control programswhich contributed to the deaths of millions in Africa and Asia.


Despite blunders in Silent Springthe book is often cited with reverence. An example is Discover magazine ranking it one of the 25 greatest science books ever writtennoting that [h]er chilling vision of a birdless America is still haunting(Discover 2006). This accolade for an advocacy book aimed at a mass audience typifies how Silent Spring is treated. As Wallace Kaufman notesexcept for Henry David ThoreauCarson has been cited more than any other environmental writer (MeinersDesrochersand Morriss 2012Ch. 2).


Carsons earlier publications on the oceans and marine life were fine works of nature writing that helped build her reputation. In Silent Springshe shifted from documenting natures beauty to advocating positions linked to a darker tradition in American environmental thinking: neo-Malthusian population control and anti-technology efforts. She drew on her reputation as a nature writer to give these ideas a more acceptable face. Canonizing Silent Spring helped build those darker themes into mainstream environmentalism today. For those of us who believeas did the late Julian Simonthat humanity is the ultimate resource(Simon 1998)that was a tragic wrong turn.


Carsons prose is powerfulbut the substance of the book is not what one would expect from a leading sciencebook. Silent Spring presented an emotional argument against chemical pesticides. It left key data and issues out of the picture. Her outrage was prompted in part by government spray programs that blanketed cropland and forests with heavy doses of pesticides in efforts to eradicate pests. Such programs often ran roughshod over landownerswishes. But it was not only the overuse that agitated Carson. She was highly critical of chemical pest control in general. She proposed mass introduction of alien species as a means of biologicalcontrol of pestsa problematic alternative. Above allSilent Spring is a work of advocacyweaving anecdotes and carefully selected bits of science into a compelling brief against uses of chemicals that had already saved millions of lives at the time Carson wrote.


This PERC Policy Series draws on a larger work by a group of scholars assembled to examine Silent Spring in the context of the time in which Carson was writing. As is appropriate for a work intended to influence public policySilent Spring deserves critical analysis. The complete analysis will be published in 2012 by the Cato Institute as Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of RachelCarson (readers who would like more detailed documentation for the abbreviated discussion here will find it in the book).

Historical Background 
Todaythere is a vague perception that the 1950s were a time of reckless chemical usage. Although innovations in chemistry were hailed—the inventor of DDT was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering itand U.S. servicemen in World War II praised it for preventing insect-borne diseases—there were concerns about DDT from its earliest use. As World War II drew to a closeCarsons employerthe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)worried that organochlorides such as DDT damaged wildlife. The U.S. Department of Agrigulture (USDA)a larger and more powerful agency than the FWSwon the initial skirmishbut the claims and the clashes between agricultural interests and wildlife advocates were present from the start. FWS gained an ally when the FDA entered the debate as the agency sought authority to regulate residues in food.
Responding to concerns about chemical exposurethe House of Representatives passed a resolution in 1950 calling for an investigation into chemicals in food products. Rep. James J. Delaney of New York was named as chair of the House Select Committee to investigate the Use of Chemicals in Food Products(Meiners et al. 2012Ch. 9). To be the committees chief counselDelaney chose Vincent A. Kleinfeldthe FDAs general counsel. Kleinfeld ran masterful hearings for the Select Committeecarefully building a case for more authority. Although agricultural interests were represented on the committee and were powerful in CongressKleinfeld outmaneuvered them by using USDA and agricultural witnessestestimony to paint the USDA as a biased agency beholden to special interests. His questioning of witnesses created the impression that the USDA was ignorant of the harms that were being inflicted on the public by the use of toxic chemicals that tainted food. The hearings attracted considerable attentiondrawing major media coverage as they were held around the country.


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