Overview - DDT and Malaria

Naturally, protections for clean air and water are yet another area where the Far-Right has sought sweeping rollbacks, and yet again, science and public health and safety concerns are seldom involved. Large-scale power, manufacturing, and extraction industries are particularly active on this front.

One notable example is the Far-Right mythology surrounding the banning of DDT. During the 60’s Rachel Carson's Silent Spring alerted the world to its impact on wildlife, particularly birds. Among others, the decline of the bald eagle was shown to be related to its use. At the time, DDT was one of the more effective pesticides for controlling malaria bearing mosquitoes in the Third World, but its large-scale use was phased out soon after these discoveries were made.

For years now, ultra-conservative interests have maintained an entire mythology regarding the history of this phase-out and its relationship to the global prevalence of malaria—a mythology that despite years of easily obtainable information regarding the science and history of DDT and malaria control, is as popular today as ever in these circles. "Rabid enviros", it is claimed, rode the emotional tide created by Silent Spring and "caused" the spread of malaria by getting DDT banned. This page links several articles and historical and scientific reports that address the falsehoods and poor scholarship behind these claims and the history of the World Health Organization's anti-malaria campaign.

On my Global Warming Skeptics page, I discussed the penchant of ultra-conservative advocacy groups for "cherry picking"—the use of partial or severely out of context evidence to defend viewpoints favorable to their interests. The DDT/malaria mythology provides an unusually clear case study of this. The argument appears with much indignant fanfare in Trashing the Planet by Dixy Lee Ray, Toxic Terror by Elizabeth Whelan, and Eco-Sanity by Joseph Bast et. al., accompanied in every case by a veritable flash flood of cherry-picked arguments that would not have escaped even 20 minutes of competent research. It also occurs regularly in various far right forums and talk shows, and was the subject of a fall 2002 nationally syndicated editorial by Rich Lowry, then director of the Cato Institute.

As with most examples of Far-Right scholarship, a thorough and properly professional investigation of all the facts reveals a very different story. The curtailed use of DDT and the rise of malaria were mainly due to decreased effectiveness caused by the appearance of DDT resistant strains of mosquito, and the appearance of new malaria strains which were resistant to the most widely used anti-malarial drugs at the time. The history of malaria prevention, the science behind it, and the concerns about pesticides like DDT are all well documented and easily available to any serious investigator. Yet ultra-conservative special interests have used poor scholarship and even outright fabrications to "document" their claims about them.


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