The recent 100th birthday of Rachel Carson, (the author of Silent Spring, which is credited for launching the modern environmental movement) has triggered baseless attacks from politicians, and pundits. These attacks, however, are not new, they have been slung at Carson since before the book was published.
Carson was violently assailed by threats of lawsuits and derision, including suggestions that this meticulous scientist was a “hysterical woman” unqualified to write such a book. A huge counterattack was organized and led by Monsanto, Velsicol, American Cyanamid—indeed, the whole chemical industry—duly supported by the Agriculture Department as well as the more cautious in the media.
Most of the attacks claim that Carson argued for the ban on DDT which resulted in malaria spreading and becoming the threatening disease it has become today. They falsely claim the malaria was almost eradicated, but thanks to Carson and her anti-DDT crusade millions have died. They accuse her of genocide.
Having read Silent Spring, I know that the claims and criticisms against her are baseless. Carson argued for responsible pesticide use, and realized that the benefits in disease control most be balanced with the costs of environmental deterioration. She also realized that the large scale use of DDT in agriculture (which she did call for a ban of) would result in the development of DDT resistance in mosquitoes which would limit DDT’s effectiveness as a tool to fight malaria.
No responsible person contends that insect-borne disease should be ignored. The question that has now urgently presented itself is whether it is either wise or responsible to attack the problem by methods that are rapidly making it worse. The world has heard much of the triumphant war against disease through the control of insect vectors of infection, but it has heard little of the other side of the story – the defeats, the short-lived triumphs that now strongly support the alarming view that the insect enemy has been made actually stronger by our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed our very means of fighting. …
What is the measure of this setback? The list of resistant species now includes practically all of the insect groups of medical importance. … Malaria programmes are threatened by resistance among mosquitoes. …
Practical advice should be ‘Spray as little as you possibly can’ rather than ‘Spray to the limit of your capacity‘ …, Pressure on the pest population should always be as slight as possible.
-Rachel Carson in Silent Spring
In fact, had Carson’s advice been followed, DDT would have been more successful at fighting malaria, because the much lower use of DDT would have reduced the emergence of DDT resistant, malaria transmitting mosquitoes. She is hardly the mass-murderer some have made her out to be.