Monday, June 02, 2008


Australian economist John Quiggin on getting it right:
One of the benefits that ought to arise from the existence of the blogosphere is that of fact-checking. False claims can be refuted quickly, and, we might hope, not repeated thereafter. Sadly it doesn’t seem to work out that way...
In the discussion that follows Quiggin's fact-averse sidekick Tim Lambert chimes in:
Since the proposal to ban DDT was defeated in 2000, what has been driving the debate has been a general aversion/hatred of Rachel Carson (she’s worse than Hitler according to some). These people don’t care about what the best way to fight malaria is, they just want to spray DDT.
Who, exactly, makes such an outlandish claim?

Googling "rachel carson" + hitler gives only 27,700 results, so the Carson-is-Hitler meme isn't exactly spreading like influenza in 1918.

The number one result is a Free Republic republication of a July 2003 Front Page Magazine article by Lisa Makson originally titled "Rachel Carson's Ecological Genocide" but retitled at Free Republic as "Rachel Carson's Ecological Genocide-Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot ... Rachel Carson". The article's text does not mention Hitler.

The second result is an anti-Carson article by entomologist J. Gordon Edwards. The article does not liken Carson to Hitler, saying:
A leading British scientist pointed out that “If the pressure groups had succeeded, if there had been a world ban on DDT, then Rachel Carson and Silent Spring would now be killing more people in a single year than Hitler killed in his whole holocaust.”
The third result is a blog post by Tim Lambert.

The fourth result is an article by environmental education organization New Cue accusing J. Gordon Edwards of likening Carson to Hitler, linking to Edwards's article above as proof. But as already shown, Edwards does not liken Carson to Hitler.

The fifth result is a blog post by John Quiggin. He doesn't mention Hitler but his commenters do, as does the linked article, which he co-wrote.

The six result is a comment titled "Debunking the 'Rachel Carson = Hitler' myth" which links to the Quiggin post above.

The seventh result is a flaky blog post titled "Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, and Rachel Carson: Legacies of Mass Genocide". It's either poorly executed satire or outright rubbish.

The eighth result is a pro-Carson article at climate change discussion site Celsias. The article links to both Lambert and Quiggin.

The ninth result is a pro-Carson article at Salon which refers to Hitler twice:
[Novelist Michael Crichton] took on DDT and climate change in his footnote-studded 2004 novel, "State of Fear." "Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler," his protagonist alleges. "And the environmental movement pushed hard for it."
May Berenbaum, head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has studied mosquitoes and malaria, says that "to blame environmentalists who oppose DDT for more deaths than Hitler is worse than irresponsible."
A Salon commenter suggests Quiggin and Lambert as excellent sources for those wanting to know more about Big Tobacco's attacks on Carson. (More on this below.)

The tenth result is an environmentalist blogger who thinks maybe some ignorant people think Carson is like Hitler.

Only two of the top ten Google results are for right-wingers comparing Carson to Hitler. One of the linked articles has J. Gordon Edwards saying Carson would be like Hitler if DDT had been banned outright. Six of the links are to leftist claims that the right likens Carson to Hitler. Of those six, five connect in some way with Quiggin or Lambert, or both, who jointly claim Carson is "regularly accused of killing more people than Hitler". It's one great big left-based misinformation loop pretty much anchored by Quiggin and Lambert.

In Silent Spring Rachel Carson mentions tobacco some six times, most of her references having to do with the toxic chemicals used to protect the plant. As far as I know, Carson wrote nothing substantial about tobacco or smoking. So how is that Goggling "rachel carson" + tobacco produces over 25,000 hits? A close look at the first page of results reveals that nine of the first ten results either link to or derive from Australia's credential touting Rachel Carson worshipers, John Quiggin and Tim Lambert – searching Quiggin and Lambert's sites using the terms "rachel carson" + tobacco produces 31 and 220 hits respectively, while searching for just "rachel carson" gives 374 hits for Quiggin and a whopping 1,290 for Lambert.

The number one result from Googling "rachel carson" + tobacco is a page at Grist which provides a good summary of what's going on here:
How did the wingnut critique of Rachel Carson (worse than Hitler!) move from the lunatic far-right fringe to the slightly-less-lunatic conservative mainstream?

Tim Lambert does a little digging and find that the answer traces back to ... Big Tobacco. Seriously.
The first Grist link is to another Grist page which also links to Lambert. The direct link to Lambert above goes to a 1,795 Deltoid post damning Roger Bate and Africa Fighting Malaria as paid stooges of Big Tobacco:
So Philip Morris hired Roger Bate to set up a new astroturf group Africa Fighting Malaria and criticize the WHO for not doing enough to fight malaria.
The simple argument they used to drive a wedge between public health and environment was that we had to choose between birds and people. That by banning DDT to protect birds, environmentalists caused many people to die from malaria.
Now you'd reckon that in a 1,795 word post Lambert would well and truly nail Bate as the originator of the Carson is worse than Hitler myth, right? Not even close; Lambert draws no direct connection between Roger Bate and the Carson is worse than Hitler myth. All Lambert does is connect Bate to Big Tobacco, which is of course evil, which makes Bate evil, which makes him responsible for spreading the evil myth about Rachel Carson. which was pretty much created by Quiggin and Lambert in the first place.

So here we have two Australian academics who have teamed up to achieve an extraordinary feat, the creation of two internet myths:
  1. That the right is responsible for spreading the notion that Rachel Carson is worse than Hitler.
  2. That Roger Bate is pushing, at the behest of tobacco companies, the notion that Rachel Carson is worse than Hitler.
Quiggin and Lambert should be ashamed of themselves but are probably proud of the part they've played in misinforming the public. I wonder if their respective universities know what these guys get up to online?

Editing note: the following text has been deleted: "Here we see the tobacco companies and their henchmen blamed for the Carson is worse than Hitler myth."


Anonymous jc said...

Thats very amusing. So basically it was Professor Clouseau-Quiggler and his able assistant Ratatouile-Lambert who started this mis-information campaign.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous EliRabett said...

You are not a cross-dresser? That's welcome news

9:57 PM  
Anonymous J F Beck said...

Who says I'm not a cross-dresser? The point is that Steve Munn made a comment that wasn't in any way linked to the matters being discussed and then stealthily removed it. He is not to be trusted and is not welcome here.

10:08 PM  

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