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Friday, February 10, 2017

Fake Skeptics Spread Fake News About Rachel Carson

I receive Google alerts for several subjects, and I like to play 'guess who wrote it?' when I see an absurd headline. Most of the time I have a pretty good idea. For instance if it's a Forbes headline trashing organic agriculture, it's almost a sure bet that Henry I. Miller is behind it.

So when a Daily Beast article showed up entitled, 'How Rachel Carson Cost Millions of People Their Lives' I wasn't exactly shocked. It's a trope I've heard a zillion and a half times before, usually from Uncle Henry's alma mater American Council on Science and Health and other industry stooges. 

Imagine my surprise to see that it was from the well known champion of public health, Paul A. Offit. Paul is the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania according to his bio. This is a man who is promoted frequently in the media as an expert, and he's a huge fan favorite of the Skeptic crowd as well. I've personally read his book Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases about Maurice Hilleman, and taken his vaccine course online so he is someone I am familiar with. I expect a lot of things from Paul, but this piece in the Daily Beast was not among them. 

The opinion piece contained zero citations, and even a simple Google search can show you how many of the claims made are flat out false. Like, in regards to India, Sri Lanka and South Africa for example. 

The publication of this article did lead to a couple of responses, this one had a very concise rundown of the issue for those who may not be familiar:

"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." 

The same article links to this post from Yale Environment 360 that touches on the matter more in depth. Also recommended is the book Merchants of Doubt which addresses the subject of DDT in one of the chapters. 

Despite the information Offit espouses having no merit whatsoever, as well as already having been very widely refuted - this did not stop the Skeptic community from sharing it. To be sure, there were dissenters, and they earned their points for this. Mark Hoofnagle being one, and David Gorski as well who has written about DDT before. Some remained conspicuously silent on the matter, while others just uncritically shared the article - presumably because of who the author was. 

Skeptic's Guide - 851 shares

Sci Babe shared from SGU - 183 more shares

Skeptoid Podcast's Brian Dunning doubles down on his ignorance and contributes 54 shares

That's over 1000 shares of pure bullshit posing as fact. To put it in the common vernacular - it's fake fuckin' news! So how ironic then, that it should be shared by those who claim to promote evidence and science and condemn fake news.

SciBabe aka Yvette d'Entremont is even going to be giving a lecture about fake news at the American Chemical Society's national convention soon.

Are we really supposed to take these people seriously when they yammer endlessly about evidence and reason and critical thinking, and then demonstrate such an egregious lack of applying it to themselves?

A convicted felon, former pesticide co. employee, cow and a potato walk into a bar...

Rachel Carson once said: "We live in a scientific age, yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priestlike in their laboratories. This is not true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the way, the how and the why for everything in our experience."

Her words don't ring any less true today.

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