John Tierney was once an iconoclast libertarian columnist for the Times who now writes forthe Tuesday Science section every two weeks. But yesterday, Tierney stepped back into politics and made a powerful political point by taking on the sainted Rachel Carson, the author of the infamous proto-environmental book "Silent Spring,"a bookindirectly responsible for the banning of the pesticide DDT in poor countries, with deadly consequences.
"For Rachel Carson admirers, it has not been a silent spring. They've been celebrating the centennial of her birthday with paeans to her saintliness. A new generation is reading her book in school - and mostly learning the wrong lesson from it."
Tierney called the book a "hodgepodge of science and junk science in the rest of the book. Nature was good; traditional agriculture was all right; modern pesticides were an unprecedented evil. It was a Disneyfied version of Eden.
"Ms. Carson used dubious statistics and anecdotes (like the improbable story of a woman who instantly developed cancer after spraying her basement with DDT) to warn of a cancer epidemic that never came to pass. She rightly noted threats to some birds, like eagles and other raptors, but she wildly imagined a mass 'biocide.' She warned that one of the most common American birds, the robin, was 'on the verge of extinction' - an especially odd claim given the large numbers of robins recorded in Audubon bird counts before her book....The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they've had to fight against Ms. Carson's disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome 'dirty dozen.'"