And another thing….

I was interviewed by Drunken Skeptics (Michigan Skeptics Association) about DDT, bed bugs, and my criticism of Brian Dunning for not doing proper research and posting a lot of incorrect stuff about DDT.

Listen to the podcast here!

I’m actually rather pleased with how it turned out, although you can clearly tell I had a cold.

The biggest complaint I have about the whole manufactured controversy surrounding DDT is that it’s a waste of time and energy, and distracts from the real work we need to be doing.  DDT boosters like to frame the argument as: “Which is worse, Malaria or DDT?”

They have framed that question so that there is only one possible choice. A forced choice between Malaria and DDT is the WRONG QUESTION. I completely reject that false dichotomy as oversimplification. There are more than two choices.

The real discussion that needs to happen is about the best way to control malaria and improve human health in a particular situation.  Over 99 countries have a malaria problem. It is patently absurd to think that one chemical can solve a problem that is global in scope.  DDT is already part of current WHO treatment guidelines. But it is only one piece of a huge, huge complicated problem.

What is the political, environmental, and socio-economic situation of a particular community struggling with malaria control? What, if any, data do we have on the resistance of the parasite and mosquito vectors to drugs and insecticides? It is not a one-size-fits-all problem with one solution.

Because of the vitriol that is spewed, people like me (and probably a few politicians) are hesitant to talk about Malaria at all. It makes aid to the WHO and Africa a political football that is used to score points. It’s not, really, about DDT at all.  It’s about tarring and feathering the environmental movement, and keeping people distrustful of science.

And that is sad.

I’d really like to type up a transcript for the podcast, but I still am under the weather health wise; hopefully I can do that next week.


Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really! If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. Rachel Carson is to DDT defenders as Al Gore is to Global Warming Denialists. Ed Darrel at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub does a great job of reporting on the issue of the demonization of Carson , with demonstrably false facts about the way in which her work was unscientific and used by the Kennedy administration to get an outright ban on DDT, and that before it had even been demonstrated to cause environmental harm.

    He also touches quite frequently on the false dichotomy of Malaria vs. DDT and the blame that environmentalists are responsible for the death of millions each year because they “hate DDT.”

    Here are his DDT posts..

  2. I agree–I linked quite a bit to Ed’s work in my original post. He does a great job–and is a teacher, to boot!

    I will reserve judgment about Dunning until I see what he posts Thursday. Given what I’ve seen from him so far, it doesn’t look promising. :(

  3. Definitely the most unfortunate part of that podcast was learning that you are allergic to alcohol? How is it that you survive? Are you able to, I don’t know, eat a lot of yeast and grapes and let your body ferment it into wine itself? I might not understand how distillation actually works.

  4. If I recall correctly, isn’t the primary reason for the restrictions and bans on DDT based on the fact that it seems to bioacumulate in certain organisms and ultimately result in problems with the bonding of calcium in the egg shells of birds that feed on said organisms?

    Its effectiveness or lack there of (which varies quite a bit depending on the circumstance) may play into whether or not its worth using, but as I understand it, the ban was entirely motivated by the egg shell issue.

    But either way, it’s not like DDT is unique in what it does or anything. There are plenty of organochloride compounds that are reasonably comparable to DDT. Methyloxychloride compares very favorably to dtt and seems to have less problems with development of resistance, but that’s going to be a problem in any case where one single chemical is used anyway.

  5. No. First, DDT is not Banned at all. It can still be used in the US for public health reasons, and it is currently in use in several places in the world today. It is not supposed to be used agriculturally, and was already being phased out because of resistance problems when the US decided to regulate it’s use.

    Second, DDT was strictly regulated for a *variety* of reasons, which Ed Darrel has done a great job of covering. Click on Mike’s link in the comments above and start reading.

    DDT does bioaccumulate, but I think it was a complex interaction of events in the 70’s that highlighted the need for more attention to the environment. DDT was reported in human breast milk in the 1950s, and (IMHO) effects on human health that finally motivated the regulation.

    History of DDT levels in human breast milk up through 1990.

  6. I thought that post was very sad. He did not address any of our criticisms. If anything, it makes me regret that I wasn’t meaner to him for saying this:

    “If we shelve our most effective tools hoping that something perfect will come along that has no potential downside, we’ll wait forever, and thousands will continue dying every day. These are the cases where wealthy environmental groups appear to do their best to justify their elitist stereotype, at the expense of brown people.”

    That is just about a quote of the DDT/Junkscience party line. It ignores 5o years of evidence about DDT, insecticide resistance, and the complex scientific and political realities I mentioned above.

    I am sad that Dunning got suckered, and won’t admit it, and is now undermining what little credibility he has left.

    Also, I am grateful that when -I- screw up I have the other Skepchicks to tell me and talk me down.

  7. @bug_girl: I have little to offer on the DDT topic. I am ashamed. However, as an expert in booze-ology, allow me to recommend Nocello, a walnut liqueur, and even more emphatically, Maplejack, from the Finger Lakes Distillery in upstate NY. Unfortunately, they don’t ship, so you have to go there yourself or delegate a minion to ship it to you. It is an apple brandy base sweetened with maple syrup. It is simply awesome.

  8. er… sorry for calling DDT “Banned,” as I suppose I should say “Heavily restricted”

    But resistance is obviously not the reason it was restricted. You don’t need to restrict an insecticide that many insects have resistance to, because there’s no point in using it anyway if it’s not very effective.

  9. Tell that to all the people who want me to give them DDT to kill bed bugs!
    You are assuming that people act logically. That is, sadly, an incorrect assumption.

    There is a rationale for regulation of pesticides for a variety of reasons–public health is one, but trying to manage resistance is another one.

    There are many, many sad incidents in history where folks have used pesticides incorrectly, or in a manner in which they were not approved for use. Example:

    In that case, a systemic pesticide was used on an edible crop. It’s a pesticide that is still in use, but under restricted circumstances.

    A lot of people think that because a chemical works well on one pest, using more, or using it in new ways, would be even better. They would be wrong.
    Having strict regulations about when, where, and how pesticides may be applied is in the public interest.

    (you might find reading up the Tragedy of the Commons helpful)

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