Friday, March 7, 2008

Heroes and Villains

To follow up on the post below.....
In the last few years Rachel Carson was named as one of the '100 most influential people of the last century' by Time magazine and then her book Silent Spring, was named as one of the 'Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th centuries' by a panel of 15 Conservative Scholars.

But this is nothing compared to the reception Carson got when the book came out. From the Time magazine article:

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.

You may wonder, as I did, what is so dangerous about Carson's book? Many of her companions on the list of 'harmful books' are more predictable (Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong are the top three). The argument, presumably, is that by starting a campaign that ultimately led to the banning of DDT in many countries, Carson's book led, indirectly, to increased rates of disease as a major tool in the war against insect transmitted diseases was removed.

But what is interesting is that if you actually read the book, nowhere does it call for the banning of DDT. For example at the end of her section on DDT she says:

Practical advice should be "Spray as little as you possibly can" rather than "Spray to the limit of your capacity."

Sound advice.

But if you are ready to have some of your preconceptions about DDT challenged you might want to read this article from the New Yorker magazine about Fred Soper... of the unsung heroes of the twentieth century. With DDT as his weapon, Soper almost saved the world from one of its most lethal afflictions. Had he succeeded, we would not today be writing DDT's obituary. We would view it in the same heroic light as penicillin and the polio vaccine.

No comments: