Silent Spring at 50 – the False Alarm of Rachel Carson

CCNet – 27 September 2012
The Climate Policy Network

This week Silent Spring will turn 50. Rachel Carson’s jeremiad against pesticides is credited by many as launching the modern environmentalist movement, and the author, who died in 1964, is being widely lauded for her efforts. In Silent Spring, Carson crafted a passionate denunciation of modern technology that drives environmentalist ideology today. At its heart is this belief: Nature is beneficent, stable, and even a source of moral good; humanity is arrogant, heedless, and often the source of moral evil. –Ronald Bailey, Reason Online, October 2012

Did cancer doom ever arrive? No. In Silent Spring Carson cites data showing that American farmers were then applying about 637 million pounds of pesticides to their crops. The most recent Environmental Protection Agency estimate is that farmers used 1.1 billion pounds in 2007. What happened to cancer incidence rates? According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, age-adjusted incidence rates have been dropping for nearly two decades. Why? Largely because fewer Americans are smoking and lots of women stopped using hormone replacement therapy, which researchers have now concluded significantly increased the risk of breast cancer. –Ronald Bailey, Reason Online, October 2012

This iconic book, hardly scrutinized over the decades, substituted sensationalism for fact and apocalyptic pronouncements for genuine knowledge. Carson made little effort to provide a balanced perspective and consistently ignored key evidence that would have contradicted her work. Despite her reputation as a careful science- and fact-based writer, Carson produced a best-seller full of significant errors and sins of omission. Carson vilified the use of DDT and other pest controls in agriculture but ignored their role in saving millions of lives worldwide from malaria, typhus, dysentery, among other diseases. Millions of deaths, and much greater human suffering, ultimately resulted from pesticide bans as part of disease-eradication campaigns. — Roger Meiners, Master Resource, 21 September 2012

9 Thoughts on “Silent Spring at 50 – the False Alarm of Rachel Carson

  1. I have just been over to Jo Nova’s site, and it looks like it is down again, and I assume it has been hacked again. It seems that there are some people out there who simply will not permit views that disagree with their own; in so doing, they are just serving to point out that they have no argument.

    • Richard C (NZ) on September 29, 2012 at 11:57 am said:

      “I assume it has been hacked again”

      Andrew Barnham
      September 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Myself and a couple of others are helping Joanne get the site up and running.

      For what it’s worth, I do not believe the cause of the failure was a malicious powerful hack. Joanne’s site simply outgrow the modest capacities and competencies of her prior provider.

      Building a high volume site on a shoe string is challenging; and personally slightly outside my domain expertise. But learning fast. Minor turbulence expected ahead, but will be back into the swing of things before too long.

      http://joannenova.com.au/wp/2012/09/bingo-were-back/#comment-1129773

  2. Rob Taylor on September 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm said:

    Right, National Radio recently featured a searing expose of Rachel Carson’s warmist propaganda – a must to listen to here:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/20120917

  3. This is slightly off topic but an interesting essay from Richard North who reports the erroneous claim by various UK newspapers that there are only 100 adult cod left in the North Sea.

    It demonstrates quite well, I think, how alarmism seems to self-manufacture in the press.

    In case you’re wondering and can’t be bothered reading the article, the 100 figure is slightly out. The actual figure is around 21 million

  4. A review from 1962:

    Logically, it should be possible to terminate this review here. Unfortunately, however, this book will have wide circulation on one of the standard subscription lists. It is doubtful that many readers can bear to wade through its high-pitched sequences of anxieties. It is likely to be perused uncritically, to be regarded by the layman as authoritative (which it is not), and to arouse in him manifestations of anxieties and psychoneuroses exhibited by some of the subjects cited by the author in the chapter “The Human Price.” Indeed, the author’s efforts at appraising the psychologic evidence concerning the effects of substances reveal a remarkable lack of competence as a psychiatrist, even as great a lack as in the area of toxicology or even knowledge of existing regulatory controls. The obvious effect of all this on the reader will be to aggravate unjustifiably his own neurotic anxiety.

    Also:

    The author ignores the sound appraisals of such responsible, broadly knowledgeable scientists as the President of the National Academy of Sciences, the members of the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee, the PResidents of the Rockefeller Foundation and Nutrition Foundation, the several committees of the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council (including the Food and Nutrition Board, the Agricultural Board, the Food Protection Committee) who have long given thoughtful study to these questions, and the special advisory committees appointed by the governors of California and Wisconsin. The latter committees were chaired by two distinguished scientist-presidents of universities, Dr. Emil Mrak and the late Dr. Conrad A. Elvehjem.

  5. If you believe this opinion piece in the NY Times, Rachel Carson put a lot of effort into providing a balanced perspective:
    http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/how-rachel-carson-spurred-chemical-controls-by-highlighting-uncertainty/#more-46242

    • I think the issue is not so much with Carson’s work but the downstream effect it had on people’s lives (e.g via EPA’s banning of DDT) , in particular the millions that are thought to have died from Malaria as a result.

      Therefore, I think it is unfair to blame Carson solely for this and I certainly don’t go along with the rhetoric that she was a “mass murderer” and other terms that get bandied around

    • I agree, Andy. The blame rests squarely on the environmentalist movement. They never think, they just react, making as much noise as possible. We see this now with global warming, but they’ll be onto something else shortly as the whole edifice of AGW collapses.

      Luckily, with each new scare the public becomes more and more wary (and weary).

    • I have Booker and North’s “Scared to Death” on my bookshelf – not got round to reading it yet.
      It describes the lifecycle of the scare phenomenon. Global Warming, BSE, Sars etc.

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