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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Silent Spring: Fifty Years of Junk Science, Part III

By Rich Kozlovich

Rachel Carson is commonly known as the mother of the environmental movement due to the publication of her book Silent Spring.  Why did this book have such an impact?  First of all, she was an exceptional writer.  Her writing skills placed her beyond the works of others of her time discussing many of the same subjects.  Originally her major in college was English, which she later changed to biology, but first and foremost she considered herself a writer.   Although classified as a scientist, she wasn’t a practicing scientist.  While “working for the U.S. Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Services in the Commerce Department, her job there was as a writer, summarizing then popularizing the work of scientists in the lab and in the field.”

Before she wrote Silent Spring she was already well known for her books about the ocean.  Her personal research included “a brief and shallow dive clinging to a boat’s ladder”.  She never claimed to have been where she had not, but she wrote with a technique “guiding the reader in narrative form, observing as if with her own eyes- or the readers.”  . 

Silent Spring started as installments in New Yorker magazine.  Her ocean books were tremendously popular, and accurate.  Two were on the New York Best Sellers list, and appear to have been exemplary works of fact. This gave her credibility with the public, so she already had a reputation as a respected science writer.  The real driving force with the public was her claims that DDT caused cancer and made dire predictions that cancer would be a national plague caused by synthetic pesticides.  She was wrong, and if her work had been peer reviewed before publication the errors in her work would have been exposed.  But this was a book about scare mongering, not science. 

The one thing that I hear all the time is that DDT caused egg shell thinning and was destroying the bald eagle population and would decimate the entire bird population everywhere, including robins.  That was blatantly false.  This is an important falsehood because she must have known it was false.  Carson joined the national board of the Audubon Society in 1948 and had to know that the nation’s bird population wasn’t decreasing but in reality increasing during the DDT years.  She also had to know that robins were the most populace bird in North America during that time and had expanded somewhere between 12 and 26 times during those years.

The opening chapter of her book is entitled, “Fable for Tomorrow”, where she lays the foundation for the rest of her claims describes a town where;

“a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change.  Some evil spell had settled on the community” mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died.  Everywhere was a shadow of death.  The farmers spoke of much illness among their families.  In the town the doctors had become more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness appearing among their patients.  There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be stricken and suddenly while at play and die within a few hours.”

“There was a strange stillness.  The birds, for example –where had they gone?  Many people spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed.  The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted.  The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly.  It was a spring without voices.  On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods.”    

She went on to say that chickens had no chicks, farmers were unable to raise any pigs because the piglets were small and died in only a few days.  She then says that bees no longer droned among the blossoms of fruit trees and as a result they were barren.   She then goes on to say;

"No witchcraft no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.” 

Powerful and moving words, but where was this town?  In the last two paragraphs of the first chapter of her book she then reveals the truth…. it doesn’t exist!

“This town does not actually exist, but it might easily have a thousand counterparts in America or elsewhere in the world.  I know of no community that has experienced all the misfortunes I describe.  Yet everyone one of these disasters has actually happened somewhere and many real communities have already suffered a substantial number of them.  A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.

What has already silence the voices of spring in countless towns in America?  This book is an attempt to explain.”

So while admitting that this town doesn’t exist, she still attempts to claim all these things “might” be happening.  Her goal was to inculcate into people’s hearts and minds the idea that synthetic pesticides were responsible for an ultimate devastation of human and animal life.  Well, all that she described wasn’t happening then nor did any of it ever happen.  Carson made it up and this trend continued throughout Silent Spring.

As for the bald eagle; she had to know that the bald eagle population wasn’t decreasing.  Being involved with the Wildlife Service and the Audubon Society she had to know the truth.  In 1961 entomologist Philip H. Marvin noted in the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America that “during the past 15 years of expanded insecticide use, bird numbers have multiplied several fold.”  This was based on the “observations of the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Census, which had been conducted every year around Christmas time since 1900 and co-sponsored by Carson’s employer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during Carson’s employment there and in the years preceding the publication of Silent Spring.”

Among the many misrepresentations in her book are her claims regarding egg shell thinning, which would threaten avian life in America with extinction.

She cited “an obscure study by Dr. James Dewitt of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to shown that DDT was reducing the number of bird eggs that were hatching.”

“However the actual study showed that despite feeding quail 3000 times the daily human intake of DDT, their eggs did not hatch significantly less than the control group. The same study done with pheasants showed that the survival rate of hatchlings of DDT feed pheasants actually increased. This is exactly the opposite of what Rachel Carson wrote.”

“Researchers that produced thin shelled quail eggs did so by reducing the calcium intake of the birds. After the study was published in Science magazine, it was exposed as a fraud. The study was then conducted with normal calcium intake. The quail fed DDT treated food did not produce thin shells. However, Science magazine refused to print that study. Its editor later related that they would never print an article supporting the use of DDT.”

Carson had to know that and yet still published lies which permeated her work.  On “Page 85. Carson says we are “adding... a new kind of havoc—the direct killing of birds, mammals, fishes, and indeed practically every form of wildlife by chemical insecticides indiscriminately sprayed on the land.”

Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, who spent much of his life debunking Carson’s claims asks;

Is it possible that Carson was unaware of the great increases in mammals and game birds harvested by hunters during the years of greatest use of the modern insecticides to which she objects? Is it possible that she was unaware of the tremendous increases in most kinds of North American birds, as documented year after year by participants in the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts? (That abundance was proven by the numbers of birds counted, per observer, on those counts.) The major things that limited numbers of fish during the ”DDT years” was the increasing competition among hordes of fishermen, the damming of multitudes of streams, and the sewage produced by our burgeoning population of healthy, well-fed American people.

As for DDT and bald eagles Steve Milloy, editor of states that;

“As early as 1921, the journal Ecology reported that bald eagles were threatened with extinction – 22 years before DDT production even began. According to a report in the National Museum Bulletin, the bald eagle reportedly had vanished from New England by 1937 – 10 years before widespread use of the pesticide.

“But by 1960 – 20 years after the Bald Eagle Protection Act and at the peak of DDT use – the Audubon Society reported counting 25 percent more eagles than in its pre-1941 census. U.S. Forest Service studies reported an increase in nesting bald eagle productivity from 51 in 1964 to 107 in 1970, according to the 1970 Annual Report on Bald Eagle Status.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attributed bald eagle population reductions to a “widespread loss of suitable habitat,” but noted that “illegal shooting continues to be the leading cause of direct mortality in both adult and immature bald eagles,” according to a 1978 report in the Endangered Species Tech Bulletin…….U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists fed large doses of DDT to captive bald eagles for 112 days and concluded that “DDT residues encountered by eagles in the environment would not adversely affect eagles or their eggs,” according to a 1966 report published in the “Transcripts of 31st North America Wildlife Conference.”

Is it any wonder that Carson captured the imagination of America with chapters entitled, Rivers of  Death; The Human Price; The Rumblings of an Avalanche and Beyond the Dreams of the Borgias.
Edwards went on to say at one of his lectures;

I trust that this partial analysis of Carson’s deceptions, false statements, horrible innuendoes, and ridiculous allegations in the first 125 pages of Silent Spring will indicate why so many scientists expressed opposition, antagonism, and perhaps even a little rage after reading Carson’s diatribe. No matter how deceitful her prose, however, the influence of Carson’s Silent Spring has been very great and it continues 30 years later to shape environmentalist propaganda and fund-raising as well as U.S. policy.

Carson never directly called for the ban on DDT, but the only conclusion anyone could come to after reading Silent Spring was that DDT had to be banned; it was and people all over the third world became sickened by the hundreds of millions and millions of them died.  Carson lied and people died.  In a trial if someone has been found lying in any aspect of their testimony their entire testimony justifiably called into question.  Should this be any less true of scientists, or science writers?

It is one thing when the activists and the media spew out this nonsense, but I am outraged at those within our industry who jumped on board supported that which is unsupportable and corrupt.  Viv Forbes makes this statement regarding Global Warming.  “The public has been misled by an unholy alliance of environmental scaremongers, funds-seeking academics, sensation-seeking media, vote-seeking politicians and profit-seeking vested interests.”  That statement is an apt description for everything promoted by the environmental movement, including the ban on DDT. 

Much of what has appeared here was from the book “Silent Spring at 50” by Meiners, Desrochers, and Morriss, Steve Milloy’s “100 Things You Should Know About DDT”, and “The Lies of Rachel Carson”, a presentation by J. Gordon Edwards.  You may wish to view my Sunday, January 27, 2013 Book Review: Silent Spring at 50.   Rich Kozlovich

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