By Adyeri Kanyaihe
In the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (Vol 9, No 3, 2004), Prof J. Gordon Edwards dismisses the much-acclaimed Silent Spring by Rachel Carson as a scientific fraud. It is on the strength of this book alone that DDT was banned by order of one man â€” the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency. In his paper, â€œDDT: A case study in scientific fraudâ€ Edward observes that fraud in science is a major problem. He came to this conclusion after reading a 2002 report published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
After reading it, he published a list of frauds published in US scientific journals and sent it to the Editor of Science. One of the most glaring examples of scientific frauds is Carsonâ€™s Silent Spring.
On the first page of Silent Spring, Carson wrote: â€œDedicated to Dr Albert Schweitzer who said, â€˜Man has lost the capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.â€™
Carson knew that this was misinformation because Scheitzer was referring to atomic warfare. But she deliberately implied that he meant there were deadly hazards from chemicals such as DDT. Edwards was suspicious because he had already found many scientific untruths in Silent Spring and this forced him to obtain a copy of Dr Schweitzerâ€™s autobiography.
Instead he discovered the exact opposite of what Carson had implied.
In Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography, Schweitzer wrote: â€œHow much labour and waste of time these wicked insects do cause, but a ray of hope in the use of DDT is now held out to usâ€.
Thanks to Carsonâ€™s book, after the US ban on DDT there is a global malaria burden of 300-500 cases and 1.5-2.5 million deaths annually, mostly among young children. What is most tragic in our context is that the disease kills an African child every 30 seconds (Roberts, D. R. et al â€“ â€œDDT, Global Strategies and a Malaria Control Crisis in South America, 1997).
Edwards asserts that the harmful effects of pesticides in general and DDT in particular have been dramatically false. Human volunteers in Georgia ingested up to 35 milligrams of DDT daily for nearly two years and did not experience any difficulties then or later (Hayes, W. J. in The Effect of Repeated oral doses of DDT in Man, 1956).
There is a scare in Uganda that the use of DDT will strangle the market of the countryâ€™s agricultural produce and environmentalists are also up in arms decampaigning DDT.
There is also particular reference to the effects of DDT on birds and eggshells but scientific evidence on the ground suggests otherwise. While Carson declared that â€œlike the robin, the Bald Eagle seems to be on the verge of extinctionâ€ that same year (1962) Roger Tory Peterson, Americaâ€™s greatest ornithologist wrote that the robin was the most abundant bird in North America (Life Nature Library, 1962). In Massachusetts 30,000 gulls were poisoned as a form of curling! About the alleged thinning of eggshells by DDT, feeding experiments proved that there was very little if any correlation between DDT levels and shell thickness. Thin shells may result when birds are exposed to fear, restraint, mercury or when deprived of vitamin D, calcium phosphorus, light, calories or water. This was proved by J. Bitman, J. Cecil and H.C. Fries. Unfortunately their work was not published in Science because the Editor of Science, Philip Abelson could not publish anything that was not antagonistic to DDT since it had been banned in the US!
Edwards, who was Professor Emeritus of Entomology at San Jose University before his death in 2004 concluded his study thus: â€œThe ban on DDT, founded on erroneous or fraudulent reports and imposed by one powerful bureaucrat, has caused millions of deaths while sapping the strength and productivity of human beings in underdeveloped countries. It is time for an honest appraisal and for immediate deployment of the best currently available means to control insect-borne diseases. That means DDT.â€