Rachel Carson Wanted GMOs
    By Hank Campbell | August 13th 2012 03:30 PM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    "The formation of a new science of biotic controls,” predicted Rachel Carson in "Silent Spring" 50 years ago next month, was going to save us from pesticides.

    She was wrong that DDT would give you cancer if you sprayed it but she was right in believing that the future of agriculture rested solidly on genetic solutions to problems that chemicals were then solving.

    Why, then, are her intellectual descendants so against science?  Mostly, it's because they never read her book, they have simply read activists discussing what her book was about; being anti-agriculture and gravitating to what she perceived as the problem (DDT and pesticides) rather than one factor (misuse).

    It isn't just kooky Europeans - though E.U. Science Advisor Anne Glover often laments the anti-science culture across the pond - Americans have also been victims of an anti-science public relations campaign.  Yet 'Frankenfoods' are exactly what their spiritual leader, Carson, advocated. 

    As UC Davis, research Pamela Ronald has read the book and it tells her that if Carson came of age in today's science world, she would have been on the front lines of the new era in biology; precise control of genetic modification, instead of relying on random chance:
     For 10,000 years, humans have altered the DNA makeup of our crops. Conventional approaches were often quite crude, resulting in new varieties through a combination of trial and error, and without knowledge of the precise function of the genes that were being moved around. Such methods include grafting or mixing of genes of distantly related species, as well as radiation treatments to induce random mutations in the genetic makeup of the seed. Today, virtually everything we eat is produced from seeds that have been genetically altered in one way or another.
    Would Rachel Carson Embrace 'Frankenfoods'? - This Scientist Believes 'Yes' by Pamela Ronald, Forbes


    This article is revisionist history. the author claims that DDT was not in fact the problem Rachel Carson made it out to be and somehow insinuates that she did not totally grasp the science of DDT, yet was simultaneously a visionary with respect to GMO's. To say that DDT was problematic only due to its "misuse" speaks to the authors extraordinary ignorance of the science behind DDT and its role in human health and its role in ecosystems...not to mention what we dont know...which speaks more to Carson's point in her book...that the consequences of these contaminants are far and way too complex to predict or uncover comprehensively. Everything has a context, and Rachel Carson's book was written in that context of the time....had she lived to become more aware of GMO issues and I GUARANTEE she would not be endorsing their use. The quote used is certainly not her endorsement of GMO technology as we see it today. IT is a recognition of human influences on crop DNA.

    This article is revisionist history. the author claims that DDT was not in fact the problem Rachel Carson made it out to be and somehow insinuates that she did not totally grasp the science of DDT, yet was simultaneously a visionary with respect to GMO's.
    Insinuates?  Let me be more clear then; she used anecdotes as evidence and then engaged in statistical nonsense to back it up.  In 2012 we made fun of Michelle Bachmann for alleging that a vaccine caused mental retardation so we absolutely should recognize that a story about a person spraying DDT in their basement and getting cancer and dying was not science.

    Some farmers used too much DDT - studies show using too much pesticide is no better than the right amount and too much is obviously worse - but that is an education issue and did not warrant a ban. Before WHO finally realized she did not know what she was talking about, over 700,000 children per year died of malaria because they did not use the most effective pesticide to halt its spread.

    It's nice you can GUARANTEE she would be against GMOs because it means you believe what most scientists said then, and would say now if anyone bothered to read her book; she was an anti-science crank. But just about the only thing she got right was on p. 278.

    For more on Rachel Carson's errors on DDT, see
    entomologist Gordon Edwards's article:


    Wow....ddt is pretty settled science with respect to its link to neurological problems, premature birth, diabetes, and host of endocrine effects...and then there is biomagnification and its well researched effect on apex predators in wetland trophic systems. You need to go back to school.

    They aren't teaching her book in any school.  And there is a reason for that. She was writing a scare book and mishmashing dubious statistics to do so.  Was it good?  No.  Have you read it?  No.  Should you?  No, you are convinced pesticides cause diabetes, of all friggin' things.  But I need to go back to school. Sheesh.
    Oh yeah...and medical research has found links to cancer and ddt is considered a carcinogen...the internet is a trippy place...you can just pull crap out of your but and sound expert...good luck with that.

    I read it twice by the age of 17 and have been a wildlife research biologist for 20 years

    So are there any pesticides or herbicides you do think are safe when used properly, anonymous wildlife research biologist?  You need to consider you went into whatever you call wildlife research biology (which government organization is that?) because of the book, not because you cared about science.

    Biologists with a lot more tenure than you have read it - not when they were impressionable children - and see it for what it is.  A lovely hit piece but almost every page has an error, an exaggeration or an outright lie.
    Dude,...the world doesnt live in a cliche. Sure some herbicides and pesticides are safe when used properly. Having conducted a lot of large scale habitat restoration (and farming) I have used herbicides to great effect. Different classes of these chemicals have different problems. You use terms like "used correctly" or "misuse" pretty liberally as if that was just all it really amounts to without having any knowledge of the on-the-ground reality. The problem with DDT and the reason it was banned by the EPA was due to its toxicity, combined with its persistence in the environment. Organo-phosphates for example are nasty pesticide (Acetylcholinestrase inhibitor) but very short-lived in the environment.

    The point Carson was trying to make in 1962...before much of the science had been done on these chemicals - was that we cannot just throw these synthetic compounds around without knowing more about how they effect humans and our surrounding environment. Did she know everything...of course not - neither did Gregor Mendel or Charles Darwin - they both had no way of knowing various biological mechanisms involved in inheritance and natural selection and they got some things wrong. But to say that Carson's book was pseudo-science and your clearly dismissive view of the environmental science in general tells me you are motivated by some sort of conservative backlash politics about the environment.

    At any rate, this debate has only resurfaced due to the WHO being in favor of using DDT to fight malaria and typhoid in the third world...due to its effectiveness. there may very well be an argument for this based on the net-balance improvement to human health. But their are consequences and it isnt a matter of "misuse"....to kill mosquito larvae you have to spray over water....if you spray this chemical over water it is going to having long-term effects.

    I never got into my field because of Silent Spring....it was just one of many books that I read at that age. But your counter-arguments are certainly VERY persuasive and intellectually rigorous:) You have the website science 2.0...what specifically are your biology credentials?

    Unfortunately, I am as qualified as Rachel Carson.   Or you.  is your assertion that if I have a degree in, say, genetics, I am incapable of understanding microbiology or immunology? Or physics or even poetry? Carson has no credentials except zoology, how did that make her an expert on DDT?  Yet you think she is an expert because she wrote about nature and was popular.  Ann Coulter is popular so if she writes a book about DDT, is she an expert?  Not to me, she isn't, but if she is right, she is right, regardless of her politics.  You can't seem to separate your world view from science. 

    Popularity = expertise is not a shocker when it comes to anti-science people but, again, you are hiding behind an anonymous wall and I am not.  I have yet to see how you are more qualified than the thousands of biology PhDs who have determined her book was fine activism but terrible science.  And I have yet to see you document how you are more qualified than anyone, other than using the logical fallacy of demanding a standard for me that you exempt yourself from - which is very Rachel Carson-ish of you.
    I dont have a website called "science 2.0" where I claim to be the bulldog of real science.... so what are your qualifications? "No credentials except zoology"...wow as if that is somehow the unveiling of BS....

    the underlying data behind the book was not her field data ...but a substantial amount of contributions from a huge cadre of researchers....it was a synthesis of the best info at the time and yes it included errors or conclusions that may been incorrect....but the lionshare of the information remains undisputed.

    Rachel Carson was a scientist and someone who had a passion for educating the public about science ...to compare her to Ann Coulter is unbelievable. Silent Spring WASNT a scientific journal paper....just like Richard Dawkin's books are meant for a laymen audience and are often a summary of other research on topics like anthropology - a discipline that is not his expertise. You drone on about real science without providing any substantive clues that you actually have a grasp of the science itself...vs. the ability to regurgitate and reinterpret other people's editorials.

    the underlying data behind the book was not her field data ...but a substantial amount of contributions from a huge cadre of researchers....it was a synthesis of the best info at the time and yes it included errors or conclusions that may been incorrect....but the lionshare of the information remains undisputed.
    3 of those 4 are correct, that last one is not.  But since that 50th anniversary is just around the corner I will compile an exhaustive list of everything that was wrong then and remains wrong today, gleaned "from a huge cadre of researchers" without the exaggeration and scary 'DDT is like radiation' nonsense.   The odd part is you think science agreed with it then.  I agree a lot more people in science agree with it now.  Like you, some people seem to have gone into parts of the field for political rather than science reasons, but it was dismissed by science then because it was inaccurate and exaggerated and that disdain has gotten worse over time, not better.

    Anyway, I will have that big article ready. Then you can tell me I lack qualifications while you insist hers were impeccable - because she was popular and happens to agree with your predetermined bias. Just like Ann Coulter's readers.
    I would like to hear how the huge scale decline of the peregrine and the bald eagle and other apex predators of aquatic systems from the 1940's to the 1970's was not related to DDT...would love to hear your deconstruction of all of the medical research pointing to how DDT effects development, endocrine, etc....would love to hear how DDT is in fact not a persistent toxin....would love to hear how had we kept using it...insects would have never developed immunity....and farm production would be better than ever and the bio-accumulation in human tissues would have been benign...then finally I would like to hear about Science 2.0 scientific credentials....

    Again, I said I am going to write something. This was a link to a post someone else wrote and not much more - but the things she got wrong are a whole book by themselves. I am surprised someone has not written it, except debunking Carson is as pointless as debunking Freud so there is no market.

    And again, let's see your bio as well. 'Anonymous' biologist means nothing but you seem to think you are an authority.