Fighting DDT: A Crusade Against Children?

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Fighting DDT: A Crusade Against Children?
Fighting DDT: A Crusade Against Children?

Seventy-five years ago, the United States began the massive use of the insecticide DDT. In 20 years, he has reduced the number of deaths from malaria by hundreds of thousands a year. But then a book by an environmental activist against the drug was published in the States. It misrepresented the scientific facts, but it worked: Insecticide use plummeted. Malaria, accordingly, took off. The total number of victims of the DDT ban is measured in at least millions. Unfortunately, this story was just the beginning. Many battles against mythical threats took place according to a similar model, and they led to real tragedies. Let's figure out how it happened.

Malaria mosquito

What do we know about DDT

Information about those areas of science in which we do not specialize comes to us either from school (where many important things are not touched at all), or from popular science literature and the media. The most famous insecticide in history is known to us from the last two sources.

They say: “Doctors have found out that … dust is capable of causing the growth of malignant cells in the human body, becoming the cause of the development of oncology. Also, it is not excreted from the body on its own, but it accumulates perfectly in it. When the concentration of a substance approaches the value of 300 ml per 1 kg of body weight, death follows."


Stunning stories like these inevitably raise questions. What do the names and surnames of specific victims of the villainous compound sound like? Who are the people who died from him? Alas, no matter how hard you try, you cannot find one. The most severe cases of DDT poisoning relate to situations where it was confused with flour, eaten and eaten in huge doses. These people were decently ill for two weeks - but none of them died from him, even many years after the poisoning.

If no one dies from the connection, how did it become known that it causes death in people? If it is not eliminated from the body at all, then why has its concentration not reached the lethal level in those who sprayed it? Finally, DDT is actively used in a number of countries, especially in India. Why is the incidence of cancer and deaths from it, adjusted for the age of the population, much lower than in the United States?

Let's try to clarify these issues once and for all.

Insecticides and humans: thousands of years together

Let's make a reservation right away: we exclude natural insecticides from consideration. They have existed for hundreds of millions of years and are extremely diverse - from tar to the extremely dangerous toxins of cassava, nicotine and many others, which would take too long to consider them.

The first unnatural insecticides (substances that kill insects, as the name suggests) were recorded in ancient Egypt. In local storage facilities, grain was poured with ash and dust, which caused dehydration and death of insect pests.

In modern times, new substances appeared, for example, copper sulfate (still in use). It is much more effective than ash, but also much more dangerous: death from copper sulfate occurs from only 10 grams (half of the rats die from it at a dose of 30 milligrams per kilogram of mass).


Since 1892, an even more dangerous compound has been used - lead arsenate. Yes, you read that right: people cultivated crops (which other people then ate) with a combination of arsenic and lead. Arsenic is a poison and a reliable carcinogen. Lead is just poison.Both of these substances have an unpleasant feature: they are poorly excreted from the body, accumulating in it.

The lethal dose of such a pesticide for a person weighing 70 kilograms, depending on the state of his health, is from 1.05 to 3.5 grams. Moreover, the scientific literature claims that there have been cases of autopsy of victims of real poisoning. That is, this is not a purely theoretical mortality rate, as from DDT, but one that actually happened. It's funny, but this pesticide was banned in the United States in 1988 - 16 years later than DDT. In many countries around the world there is still no ban.

And what is the lethal dose of DDT? As we have already noted, it was not possible to record a single death from it, therefore the exact dose for a person is unknown. In experiments on animals (in the table below), it is inferior to lead arsenate in toxicity from 7 to 15 times.


How did it happen that it was banned, and the lead arsenate was not touched for another 16 years?

However, let's leave the lead arsenate. Let's take the most popular class of modern insecticides, completely allowed in the same USA: neonicotinoids. Acetamiprid in animal experiments kills in dosages … like DDT. Yes, we did not make a reservation: half of all animals in the experiments died at doses ranging from 140 to 417 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For DDT, as is easy to see above, the same result is achieved at 113-800 milligrams per kilogram. The wide variations are due to the fact that different works tested these insecticides on different lines of animals. But the general trend is absolutely clear: DDT is no more toxic than the mass insecticides of our time.

Moreover, there are serious suspicions that humans are noticeably more resistant to DDT than animals. Quite a long time ago, an experiment was carried out in the United States: for 18 months people were fed 35 milligrams of this substance per day. It was not possible to record any consequences for their health. Meanwhile, the half-life of this substance from the body is ten years. It turns out that a person can walk with 19 grams of this compound inside (~ 200 milligrams per kilogram of weight) without any consequences.

For reference: without the purposeful eating of DDT, its amount inside a person will not exceed one thousandth of the dose that these volunteers received. Consequently, even workers who sprayed dust for years did not suffer any damage in terms of physical health.


Maybe DDT scared everyone by the fact that it was excreted from the body for a long time? Very unlikely. Take an ordinary potato: for self-defense, it synthesizes two types of bioinsecticides - solanines and hakonins. In flowers, their maximum, in tubers, thanks to selection, minimum. But they are still there. It is reliably known that solanine accumulates in the human body and is excreted from there for a long time. We examine the blood of any of those who eat potatoes - and inevitably we will find these insecticides there.

It is known from experiments that when large doses of it are administered to rodents, solanine causes congenital deformities in mice. What's more: it's much, much more toxic than DDT. Where are the calls to ban potatoes because of the insecticides they contain?

"Silent Spring": How a Popularizer Came to Success

The above is a healthy bewilderment. Yes, DDT accumulates in the body, but other insecticides do the same. From arsenic and lead to solanine, which we eat calmly and regularly. Yes, it is toxic, just like modern insecticides. But it is less toxic than many natural analogues (nicotine, solanine and others). So what is the reason for its ban already in 1972 - the first of all pesticides in history? How did it happen?


Only one fragile woman started this process - Rachel Carson. Having received a biological education, she could not go on the scientific line, because she had to earn money to feed her mother and sisters. But she succeeded in the more monetary line of popularizing scientific knowledge - first in government positions, and then privately.

She had a great, emotionally charged writing style that made more of an impression on people.And most importantly - extensive experience in writing "catchy" texts. In 1960, Carson was diagnosed with cancer. Despite the efforts of doctors, she died from him in 1964. Her book "Silent Spring" was published in 1962 - that is, when she already understood the gravity of her situation. Before the release of the work, Rachel carefully concealed her cancer: she believed that if opponents of her point of view found out about it, they would consider the text biased.

In the book, she led the reader to the idea that the skyrocketing incidence of cancer after the war was a possible result of exposure to pesticides. Today, we know that the real reason for this growth - which continues to this day - has nothing to do with pesticides. Its real reason is the sharp decline in the birth rate. One-child and childless parents are about twice as likely to have cancer than those with many children, and this does not depend on gender. Of course, Carson did not know about this, because such a relationship was discovered quite recently.


In the United States in 1920 there were 3, 2 children per woman, and in 1940 - only 2, 2. Parents of the 1930s and 40s after World War II entered the age of maximum cancer risk. It was then that he began to mow them. Carson herself - an unmarried and childless woman - was a typical example of this kind.

Yet we don't think her cancer really was the mainspring of the book. First, she started writing it before the diagnosis. Secondly, the main emphasis in the text is not on the harm from the insecticide to people, but on the damage from it to nature as a whole. However, first things first.

DDT kills birds! But with him there were only more of them …

Carson believed that the new (at that time) insecticide was causing the egg shells of wild birds to become thinner. Those, under the weight of the brooding bird, squeezed through, which led to the death of the offspring before hatching. Today it is clear that such a picture is possible, but not for all bird species - and requires very significant doses of DDT. It is not known whether the majority of birds in the wild have encountered such doses.


In support of the idea that the harm from the connection is real and great, she cited statements by a number of individuals about the decrease in the number of birds in different parts of the United States. The author paid particular attention to the decrease in the number of wandering thrushes and bald eagles. Their tragedy was described in the work so vigorously that it forever entered the ecological discourse of the Western world. Some environmentalists still propose to make the wandering thrush a symbol of the modern environmental movement.

We are, however, not sure if this is a good idea. To be precise, the worst mockery of the conservation movement is hard to come up with.

It's all about the real situation with the abundance of birds in America, where the wandering thrush lives. There is the Audubon Society of Amateur Birdwatchers. Since 1900, this organization has been fighting against the custom of “Christmas hunting” widespread in the States of those years. This was the name of the mass shooting of all the flyers that people saw near their homes on Christmas. The corpses remained unclaimed - the shooting was carried out for entertainment. Instead of this custom, the Audubon people began to promote the "Christmas count" of birds - and so began the annual count of this group of animals in the United States.


Of course, these are not all the birds of the country, that is, the count is clearly incomplete. But thousands of people participate in it, and it serves as the most reliable indicator of the number of birds that science has for the 20th century as a whole. It is especially important for us that the calculations are carried out mainly in populated areas - near fields and housing. That is, where DDT was used most actively.

The Audubon summaries are published annually, and for both the wandering thrush and the bald eagle, the number of individuals observed increased rather than decreased in the 1940s and 1950s. Moreover, the total number of all birds recorded by the Audubon people per person-observer also increased.

On Christmas Day 1944 - the year before DDT began to be used in the United States - 2,125 Audubonists counted 5.49 million birds.In 1970, before the end of the DDT era in the United States, 16,657 observers counted 87.28 million birds. As we can see, at the end of this period, each observer recorded twice as many flyers than at the beginning.


Of course, some of this increase can be attributed to the growth of observer qualifications over time. But the general trend is quite clear: it is not a matter of observers. Why do we think so? For example, because in December 2000, with 51,637 observers, the Audubonians were able to count only 54.8 million birds. The number of counting people has tripled in thirty years, but the number of birds has dropped by one and a half times. It turns out that the surge in the "DDT era" cannot be attributed simply to an increase in the number of observers. The number of birds was really growing in those years.

We emphasize once again: after the end of the use of this insecticide in the United States, exactly the opposite trend has been observed. Between 1970 and 2019, both the Audubon numbers and alternative bird counts fell. This is especially strange because over the same years, the percentage of land used by humans in the States has dropped markedly. In theory, it has become easier for birds to live. After all, now they are less disturbed by plowing and shooting. How did it happen? Logically, if DDT were so harmful to birds, after its ban there should have been more, not less.

Perhaps Carson did not rely on the Audubon calculations and chose more reliable sources? Alas: firstly, there are no more reliable sources for her era. Secondly, in her book there is generally no specific number of birds in North America or even the United States. More and more stories about "silent bird songs" - without their exact numbers.

Conclusion: if DDT had a negative impact on birds since November 1945, then it was not serious enough to prevent their growth in 1945-1970. If the DDT ban has had a positive effect on American birds, it is not serious enough to prevent their decline in 1970-2020.


From the total number, let's move on to specific types. The decline in the number of bald eagles in the States was indeed noted, and very serious - but until the late 30s - early 40s. In 1940, a law was passed to protect them from shooting. It was he who was the main threat to these animals: occasionally they carried away the lambs, and therefore the American farmers destroyed them with all possible care.

How did Rachel Carson, a member of the Audubon Society, manage not to find out that the number of these birds - and indeed birds in the United States in general - grew in real life, and did not fall, as she argued in her book? Carson's most radical opponents believe that she could not have known this, that is, her book is deliberate disinformation.

How to Distinguish Conscious Misinformation from Unconscious Belief

We strongly doubt this, and here's why. Any of our contemporary can flip through the press on the topic of global warming and see truly monstrous stories. It dissolves shark scales, then cooks green mussels alive by millions, then destroys beaches and has already ruined entire island states.

General Peter Cosgrove, Former Head of the Australian Armed Forces:

“Think of the Tuvalu people now settling in Merrickville, Sydney [Australia] … because their beautiful island disappeared [as a result of global warming].”

The scientific evidence, however, is that the area of ​​the state of Tuvalu has grown by 2.9% in recent decades from satellite imagery. And scientists suspect that global warming is to blame, which has increased the wave sand deposition on its shores. Likewise, ocean acidification from CO2 emissions does not kill sharks, and it is not to blame for the death of mussels. And yes, the area of ​​beaches around the world is increasing, not decreasing, global warming.

Why is the general not aware of the fate of Tuvalu? Because it does not fit into his picture of the world. After all, it was formed by the media, where global warming is evil - there are no options.

It was the same with Rachel Carson.As her biographer rightly notes, Carson "quite deliberately decided to write a book that questions the paradigm of scientific progress that defined American culture in the postwar era."

This is true: the essence of Silent Spring is not whether DDT is dangerous for humans, or what happens to birds there. The key idea of ​​the book is different: man began to threaten nature, pesticides are better called "biocides" (killers of the living). After all, they are never limited only by their target effect - the destruction of insect pests - and almost always affect other, non-target species (for example, birds).

Is DDT safe for humans? So what: in Carson's book, only one place touches on this issue, and 99% of it is about another. Have bald eagles and wandering thrushes dramatically increased their numbers during the years of the application of this insecticide? It doesn't matter: the book is not about that.

All these blackbirds, eagles, people are just an illustration of Carson's main idea: pesticides are evil, because, in her opinion, "nature did not know this before." And what was not originally in nature is unnatural, and therefore cannot but be dangerous. We could talk here for a long time about the fact that plants synthesize insecticides for at least a quarter of a billion years - but it makes no sense.

Because Silent Spring is not about scientific evidence. It is about the value picture of the world of its author. And no one can deny that in this picture, pesticides are evil. Point.

Search for evidence

In principle, this is nothing new. American literature of that era was filled with writers like Clifford Simack, who believed that the civilization and way of life of the big cities was bad, and the unity with nature was good. If Carson's book was perceived as a purely fictional work, that would be absolutely normal.

The trouble was that her talented pen made a documentary impression on people. Readers had nowhere to know that the number of birds in the United States increased during the use of DDT: a member of the Audubon Society, Carson, did not write about it in her book. But she gave a lot of local anecdotal testimonies in the style: "this year there are so few birds in the village, but in the past there were many."

When people sincerely accept some point of view, they begin to see the surrounding reality through its prism. It followed from Carson's book that DDT was harmful, but there was very little specifics about its harm to human health. Therefore, a lot of people who read her book and believed the assumptions set forth there as facts began to look for this specifics in the real world.

This is how the most amazing scientific works appeared, which could hardly have taken place on another topic. For example, some scientific groups took the level of DDT in the blood and adipose tissue of people and looked to see if there was a correlation between the level of DDT and the incidence of cancer, diabetes, and the like.

In such works, it turns out that those who contain more DDT seem to be slightly more likely to have cancer … but only if it is white. And if it is black, then there is no connection. Anyone familiar with the fundamentals of the scientific method understands how bad this result smells.

To begin with, the average number of children in whites and blacks was different, which is a key risk factor for cancer. Naturally, no one took into account the number of children in this work, which is why any further analysis turned into an unscientific search for funny correlations. This is the name for a whole class of "funny correlations", for example, between ice cream sales and the number of drowning in the swimming pools of the city where such ice cream is sold.

Another class of "post-Carson" work on DDT takes the likelihood of developing diabetes and the average content of this insecticide in the blood and fats of a person. Some works are correlated, some are not. But both classes are not very important: the fact is that in today's Western world the likelihood of diabetes in the poor is twice or more than that of the middle class. Just as cancer is a particularly threatening disease for small children, diabetes is especially at risk for the poor.Naturally, in the works on the "links" between diabetes and DDT, the incomes of the studied citizens are not taken into account.


And that deprives them of meaning. For example, in one of these works, more insecticide was found on Mexican migrants in the United States. This is logical: in Mexico they stopped using DDT later, so its content in the tissues of people from there is higher. But the trouble is that migrants from Mexico are often much poorer than "white Americans". Naturally, they are much more likely to have diabetes - but DDT has nothing to do with it.

Science knows an effective way to avoid the problem of ridiculous correlations: you need to set up a controlled experiment. Give the laboratory animals DDT and see how often they develop cancer.

The problem is that such experiments have already been performed. But it was not possible to find statistically differences in the incidence of cancer in the laboratory: in the control and main groups, the frequencies were similar. Some of these works were generally criticized: their authors took laboratory animals from lines with an increased likelihood of cancer, and for such a high probability of "noise". Individual animals of these specially bred lines may be more likely to develop tumors than other rodents from the same line.

Takeaway: There is no scientific evidence that DDT actually increases the chances of getting cancer. Almost six decades of searches in this direction have yielded nothing.

How many millions did Silent Spring kill?

Rachel Carson's book received the harshest criticism not for calling DDT a carcinogen, although there is no scientific evidence for this. And not because she describes the decline of birds from DDT, despite the fact that the number of birds during the era of this insecticide in the United States increased dramatically. All this could be experienced: from the imaginary DDT cancer from her books, no one died. And the number of birds, despite the effect of this insecticide, did not decrease at all.

The problem is that DDT was actively used to combat malaria - but after the publication of her book, the insecticide was used much less for this purpose.


Until 1945, when it fell into civilian use, malaria was the most common thing in our country, in the United States, and in Europe. Let's open the "Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedia":

“In the Caucasus, local troops in some contaminated areas completely died out in 3-4 years. Usually the infection nests in swampy areas. These include the Pinsk bogs in the western edge of European Russia … Perm province … Sweden suffers more from M. than neighboring Norway. " In our country, the disease was found in Siberia and the Far East - only the tundra zones and the northern part of the taiga were not affected.

The USSR was far from immediately able to change the situation. For example, in 1923 there were 150 thousand malaria patients in Moscow alone. In 1934, there were 9.48 million people throughout the country. It is difficult to determine the exact numbers of mortality, but on average, about 1% of those who recovered died. Unfortunately, most of the time they were children. It is clear that this state of affairs did not suit the authorities, and they tried to end malaria.

As a means of fighting the mosquito - without which the plasmodium cannot get into our body - they used "oil", that is, watering puddles and reservoirs with kerosene. Kerosene is much more toxic than DDT for humans and large animals, and it decomposes rather poorly in natural conditions. However, it is difficult to achieve elimination of malaria with its help. The thing is that its toxicity against insects is much lower than that of "real" insecticides.


Therefore, already in 1946, the USSR began mass production of DDT ("dust"). From the next year, he began to influence malaria. In 1946, 3.36 million Soviet citizens fell ill with malaria, and in 1947 - already 2.8 million. By 1960, there were … 368 cases. Malaria was defeated: new cases of it, as in today's Russia, were imported. In itself, such a threat is small: if a visiting patient did not have time to be bitten by an anopheles mosquito, then the disease will not spread further.

The city of Sochi, where under the tsar the guilty military personnel from the Caucasus were exiled - due to overwhelming malaria - has become a resort since the early 1960s. Before that, only a person with really strong nerves could rest in such a place.

Similarly, events developed in the United States: in 1947, they adopted a program to eradicate malaria, sprayed DDT on millions of homes, and ponds were "sprinkled" with dust from the air. By 1951, all cases of malaria in the United States were only imported.

Malaria was a scourge for the whole world: according to WHO, in 1947, 300 million people were ill with it, of which three million died. American and Soviet programs to combat it began to copy. In India in 1947 there were 75 million cases of 330 million people and slightly less than a million deaths. Then DDT was used en masse there - and in 1965 no one died from malaria in India.


Of course, success did not follow insecticide everywhere. Nobody even invested serious efforts in Black Africa. Local colonial administrations were a little too preoccupied with defense: Africans were trying to gain independence. When independence was finally achieved, it turned out that only South Africa has an effective state apparatus south of the Sahara (and this same country has achieved maximum success in the fight against malaria).

An unbiased researcher, having published a book on DDT in 1962, could not fail to point out all these facts. He had to write: for 1945-1965, this insecticide clearly saved more than ten million lives. Alas, there is none of this in Silent Spring. The only mention that, with a strong desire, can be attributed to the recognition of the merits of DDT is this:

“The world has heard a lot about the triumphant war against disease through the extermination of insect vectors. But he had heard little about the other side of the story: the defeats, the short-term nature of these triumphs, which showed that the insect enemies were actually stronger from our efforts. Even worse, we may have destroyed the very means of struggle."

Here Carson talks about insecticide resistance - many species of insects develop it over time, and what used to kill them stops doing so over time. Such resistance arises to antibiotics, but for some reason no one ever said that antibiotics "made bacteria stronger." And this is logical: in fact, they made them weaker. Penicillin may no longer have the same effect as it used to. But he and his substitutes have reduced the number of deaths from bacterial infections by tens of millions a year.

A similar situation has developed with DDT: despite some resistance to it in a number of species, in the very years (early 60s) that Carson published her book, this insecticide gave the deepest failure in malaria mortality. At the same time, her reader had the false impression that insecticides no longer work on disease vectors. Meanwhile, in relation to DDT, this is not so much not so as in 1962, but also in 2020.

Let us cite a group of scientists whose collective letter on this matter was published in Nature. It is called "Carson is not at all a" beacon of reason "on DDT":

“Carson stated that insect resistance to insecticides quickly reduces the effectiveness of DDT. But DDT is basically a mosquito repellent, not a poison. Resistance to it as a poison is widespread - but resistance to it, as a repellent, never emerged. " Rachel's supporters did not respond to this letter: there is simply nothing to reply to it.

But that letter from scientists to the editorial office of a scientific journal. The average American politician does not reveal all this dregs in his life even today. It was the same in the sixties. Yes, scientists strongly resented the inaccuracies from The Silent Spring. But they expressed their indignation in scientific language, and therefore were not heard.

Carson spoke to people in their language - and she won, even after she died. After her book was published, Congress created a special commission on pesticides, and after ten years of public struggle, DDT was banned in the US - except in "emergencies."At first glance, who cares? Indeed, by that time, the United States, like the USSR, had long ago eradicated malaria by this DDT on its territory.


Alas, the consequences of the ban, which would have been impossible without Carson's book, are truly monstrous. The fact is that Washington is the strongest center of influence on the planet. USAID, the American government agency that provides aid to third world countries, does so only when those countries fulfill its terms.

After 1972, one of them was: no DDT in the programs, in the USA this pesticide is considered dangerous. The WHO, also under American influence, began to make the same recommendation, and switched from malaria prevention through mosquito control only to treatment with chloroquine.

To quote the same letter from a group of scientists in Nature:

“By the time DDT was banned in America in 1972, a billion people were nearly free of malaria. Over the course of several years, the number of her diseases increased by 10-100 times. Estimates over the past forty years show that between 60 and 80 million premature and unnecessary deaths, mostly children, have resulted from unfounded fears based on poorly understood observations.”

These numbers, unfortunately, are very similar to reality. Even today, when the third world has become much richer, and many new insecticides have appeared, DDT remains the best known mosquito repellent in terms of cost-effectiveness. This is why it is still used in India - returning to it after a period of reduced application.

In India, malaria still kills thousands a year - up to one person per hundred thousand in some years. But, as can be clearly seen on the map above, this is very little against the background of mortality from malaria in the third world as a whole (outside India): it is still in the region of one person per 10,000 inhabitants today. In total, 405 thousand people died from malaria on the planet in 2018. Of these, 272 thousand are children.

Even if we arbitrarily cut the death estimates from Carson's book by a factor of five, it would still be World War casualties. Only in the world war, mostly men were killed - and in the war against malaria, mostly children were and remain victims.

The Spring of Ignorance as a Model of Success

Carson's supporters - and there are still many of them - are very, very unhappy with the points described above. As they write, "blaming the environmentalists opposing DDT for more deaths than Hitler caused is worse than irresponsible."

Its advocates argue that Carson was not to blame for the 1972 US ban on DDT. And in the United States, this insecticide was not banned for use against malaria, in case it reappeared there. In addition, the US ban is not equal to the worldwide ban. Finally, they hint that it remains to be shown whether the malaria surge in the 1970s was the result of DDT resistance in the malaria mosquito.

We would be happy to side with them. Frankly speaking, the author of these lines is also a popularizer - no matter how much he likes to hear this word addressed to him. Therefore, he is depressed by the idea that the most large-scale liquidation of people in history was launched by the popularizer of science, and not Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. It is unpleasant to feel like a representative of a group whose activities ultimately interrupted the lives of tens of millions of children. But one little thing keeps us from defending Carson: the facts.

First, as we noted above, there is no resistance to DDT as a repellent in malaria mosquitoes. Second, the US ban meant a sharp decline in drug use around the world. And not only because of the pressure mechanisms described above through USAID and WHO.

The fact is that the United States was the largest producer of DDT - and after the 1972 ban, it quickly ceased to be. It was not so profitable to do it without the domestic market: the volume was too small. The third world in the 1970s could only dream of a developed chemical industry. Therefore, he himself did not produce DDT in the required quantities.Moreover, he did not do this with even more expensive insecticides of other types.

Finally, we can easily test the “it's not a ban” hypothesis with facts. Before the fall of the apartheid regime, South Africa was isolated and did not receive significant assistance from the United States and the UN - only sanctions. At the same time, South Africa had an industry and could supply itself with DDT. But in the early nineties it all ended: the White regime fell. South Africa experienced the expected economic problems and began to consume foreign aid. With her came a restrained attitude towards DDT.

In 1996, they stopped spraying local homes with this insecticide once a year and switched to another, less effective, but not mentioned in the book by Rachel Carson. As you might expect, malaria has increased dramatically - and the local authorities are back to their old ways. Malaria rates dropped sharply again. So the hypothesis "the malaria mosquito is no longer afraid of DDT" was clearly refuted by life.

Here's what they honestly write about this in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ:

“We have to rethink … Many donor agencies do not fund antimalarial programs that use this insecticide. But it is effective, and when used in small quantities for spraying homes has remarkable safety … DDT, the swear word in the malaria world, should definitely be involved in the fight against it again."

But, as we noted above, it doesn't matter what they write in scientific journals: politicians and voters will never read them. What matters is what the most popular popularizers write. What they convey to citizens through the "Silent Spring" or popular publications in the media. And in them, we will remind, Carson is constantly called a hero today, and DDT is called “causing cancer” and “destroying birds”.

DDT does not and most likely never will have popularizers. Scientific popularization has its own laws: if you “sell” fear to the reader, he will “buy”. Both the books and the ideas they contain.

Chernobyl killed less than thermal energy in the United States kills a month? This is not to sell: not enough fear. People will not be afraid of the TPP pipe because they see it every day. And she is completely unaware of exactly how she kills them and brings them Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Therefore, those books that carry stories of the horror from Chernobyl will be sold. And no one will ever read scientific articles with opposite theses outside the scientific world.


Has global warming caused a sharp increase in biomass on Earth - to values ​​never seen before in history? You will not sell it: there is no fear. But you can definitely sell books about how it destroys vegetation, which is why we will soon all die of hunger. And it doesn't matter that in life everything is the other way around: what you cannot sell, there is no point in producing. Fear sells better - therefore, in the pay grid of a popular author, it will calmly win over common sense.

Of course, we can say that there are workarounds to convey to the reader the actual state of affairs. It is possible, for example, to generate fear of those who carry ignorance. For example, to declare that GMO is, allegedly, the salvation of humanity from starvation, so the fighters against it must be driven away. Yes, in the real world, humanity is not threatened by hunger at all and without any GMOs. But if you do not create an opposition of "fear - getting rid of fear" in the reader, then he will not buy what you are selling him. So what prevents the creation of the opposition “the fear of DDT killed more than the Second World War” and on this basis again introduce it into the fight against malaria?

Alas, this is impossible. The bulk of malaria deaths are outside the Western world. As any inhabitant of Russia knows, non-Western countries (with rare exceptions) are intellectual colonies of the West. That is, it is mainly the ideas that are accepted in the Western world that are being introduced there.

Africa has a shortage of its own independent-minded popularizers of science and just scientists. That is, there is no one there to create the book “Spring Revived: How the Fight against DDT Killed 60 Million”. And as Carson's example shows us, no political shift will happen without a catchy mass of popularization.

Therefore, African children will continue to die in the hundreds of thousands a year: there is simply no one to save them in the intellectual colonies.

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