Environmentalist Mythology, Part 1: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring–Killing Us Softly

by | Aug 11, 2002

If the death toll from malaria—or West Nile or dengue—begins to mount in this country, we'll certainly hear about it on the nightly news. Mosquitoes will be blamed, of course, but the real culprit will be environmentalist mythology, which has been killing us softly for decades.

Theirs is the disease you don’t hear about on the nightly news. Newspaper editorialists, too, are silent about the death toll from this ailment—nearly 9½ million people between 1999 and 2002, of which 8½ million were pregnant women or children under the age of five. No, the disease isn’t AIDS. It’s mosquito borne malaria, and we’ve had the means for wiping out this affliction for over a century. However, thanks to environmentalist mythology, the tool, DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), has been banned in most countries worldwide.

The ban on DDT, like the modern environmentalist movement itself, grew out of the book, Silent Spring, by Rachael Carson[1]. As almost any school child today can parrot, Carson claimed DDT thinned the eggs of birds. Pointing to a 1956 study by Dr. James DeWitt published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Carson wrote: “Dr. DeWitt’s now classic experiments [demonstrate] that exposure to DDT, even when doing no observable harm to the birds, may seriously affect reproduction.”

DeWitt, however, concluded no such thing. Indeed, he discovered in his study that 50% more eggs hatched from DDT fed quail than from those in the control group.

Following Carson’s lead, hippie environmentalists began claiming that raptor populations—eagles, osprey, hawks, etc.—were declining due to DDT. They failed to note that such populations had been declining precipitously for years prior to the use of DDT. Indeed, according to the yearly Audubon Christmas Bird Counts, 1941 to 1960, years that saw the greatest, most widespread use of DDT, the count of eagles actually increased from 197 in 1941 to 897 in 1960. A forty-year count over roughly the same period by the Hawks Mountain Sanctuary Association also found population increases for Ospreys and most kinds of hawks.

Finally, after years of study, researchers at Cornell University “found no tremors, no mortality, no thinning of eggshells and no interference with reproduction caused by levels of DDT which were as high as those reported to be present in most of the wild birds where ‘catastrophic’ decreases in shell quality and reproduction have been claimed” (Scott, M.L., J. R. Zimmerman, S. Marinsky, P. A. Mullenhoff, G. L. Rumsey, and R. W. Rice.  1975.  “Effects of PCBs, DDT, and mercury compounds upon egg production, hatchability and shell quality in chickens and Japanese quail,” Poult Sci. 54(2): 350-368.).

Carson, her book’s affected prose designed to create optimum public panic, heralded, too, a coming cancer epidemic among humans. Her assertion was based on the high incidences of liver cancer found in adult rainbow trout in 1961—a result, not of DDT, but of a fungi produced carcinogen, aflatoxin, which had contaminated the food chain of the trout.

Once again, environmentalists followed Carson’s lead. A 1969 study concluded that mice fed DDT developed a higher incidence of leukemia and liver tumors than unexposed mice (Tarjan, R. and Kemény, T. 1969. “Multigeneration studies on DDT in mice,” Food Cosmet. Toxicol. (7): 215-22). Epidemiology data of the preceding 25 years, though, showed no increases in liver cancer among the human populations in the areas where DDT had been sprayed. Upon further examination of the data, moreover, researchers discovered high incidences of tumors in the control group, too. Apparently, both groups had been feed food that was moldy, contaminated by aflatoxin.

Since then, in 1978, after a two-year study, the National Cancer Institute concluded that, indeed, DDT is not carcinogenic. Even more recently, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October 1997 found nothing to indicate that the risk of breast cancer is increased by exposure to DDT or DDE, a byproduct of DDT (David J. Hunter, M.B., B.S., Susan E. Hankinson, Sc.D., Francine Laden, S.M., Graham A. Colditz, M.B., B.S., JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., Frank E. Speizer, M.D., and Mary S. Wolff, Ph.D. 1997. “Plasma organochlorine levels and the risk of breast cancer,” NEJM.  (337): 1253-1258).

None of this evidence, though, would have swayed William Ruckelshaus, head of a brand new Environmental Protection Agency in 1971. Ruckelshaus not only refused to attend EPA’s 1971-72 administrative hearings on DDT, but also refused to read even one page of the 9,000 pages of testimony. Not surprisingly, Ruckelshaus ignored the findings of the hearings’ judge—”DDT is not a carcinogenic … a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man”—and banned DDT anyway. It’s not surprising because William Ruckelshaus was a member of the Environmental Defense Fund—later his personal stationery would have printed on it the following boast: “EDF’s scientists blew the whistle on DDT by showing it to be a cancer hazard, and three years later, when the dust had cleared, EDF had won.”

Since 1971, pressured by specialized environmentalist organizations like the International Pesticide Action Network, much of the rest of the world has banned DDT, too. Those countries now rely on pesticides that are neither as effective nor as safe as DDT. Meanwhile, the death tolls from malaria in tropical Third World countries silently climbs. Heedless of this, environmentalists are now pressuring governments to preserve wetlands, i.e., swamps, which are the foremost breeding grounds of disease carrying mosquitoes. One would have to conclude, given the facts, that environmentalists are either insane or intent upon eradicating every human being from the face of the planet. At a UN sponsored Earth summit in 1971, a delegate’s remark gives us the answer: “What this world needs is a good plague to wipe out the human population.”

If the death toll from malaria—or West Nile or dengue—begins to mount in this country, we’ll certainly hear about it on the nightly news. Mosquitoes will be blamed, of course, but the real culprit will be environmentalist mythology, which has been killing us softly for decades.


Excerpts: “The Lies of Rachel Carson”

Page 17: Carson says arsenic is a carcinogen (identified from chimney soot) and mentions a great many horrible ways in which it is violently poisonous to vertebrates. She then says (page 18): “Modern insecticides are still more deadly,” and she makes a special mention of DDT as an example.

Dr. Edwards’ comment: This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false. Human volunteers have ingested as much as 35 milligrams of it a day for nearly two years and suffered no adverse affects. Millions of people have lived with DDT intimately during the mosquito spray programs and nobody even got sick as a result. The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1965 that “in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.” The World Health Organization stated that DDT had “killed more insects and saved more people than any other substance.” 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.”

Page 109: Carson alleges that because of the spray programs, “Heavy mortality has occurred among about 90 species of birds, including those most familiar to suburbanites and amateur naturalists. … All the various types of birds are affected—ground feeders, treetop feeders, bark feeders, predators.”

Dr. Edwards’ comment: Carson provides no references to confirm that allegation. The Audubon Christmas Bird Counts, in fact, continued to reveal that more birds were counted, per observer, during the greatest “DDT years,” including those types that Carson had declared to be declining in numbers. When marshes were sprayed with DDT to control the mosquitoes, a common result was a population explosion of birds inhabiting the marshes. The increases evidently occurred because of a reduction in bird diseases that were formerly transmitted by local blood-sucking insects, greater abundance of available food (less plant destruction by insects), and increased quantities of hepatic enzymes produced by the birds as a result of ingesting DDT (these enzymes destroy cancer-causing aflatoxins in birds and other vertebrates).

Page 118: Carson writes: “Like the robin, another American bird seems to be on the verge of extinction. This is the national symbol, the eagle.”

Dr. Edwards’ comment: In that very same year, 1962, the leading ornithologist in North America also mentioned the status of the robin. That authority was Roger Tory Peterson, who asked in his Life magazine Nature library book, The Birds, “What is North America’s number one bird?” He then pointed out that it was the robin! The Audubon Christmas Bird Count in 1941 (before DDT) was 19,616 robins (only 8.41 seen per observer)—see Table 1. Compare that with the 1960 count of 928,639 robins (or 104.01 per observer). The total was 12 times more robins seen per observer after all those years of DDT and other “modern pesticide” usage. Carson had to avoid all references to such surveys, or her thesis would have been disproved by the evidence.



Fighting Malaria With DDT—Op-Ed.  New York Times, December 23, 2002.

What the World Needs Now Is DDT—Tina Rosenberg, New York Times, April 11, 2004.

It’s Time to Spray DDT—Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 8, 2005.

W.H.O. Supports Wider Use of DDT vs. Malaria—Report, New York Times, September 16, 2006

A New Home for DDT—Donald Roberts, Ph.D., New York Times, August 20, 2007.


[1]See The Lies of Rachael Carson by world-renowned entomologist, the late Dr. J. Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., San Jose State University, where he taught biology and entomology for 43 years.  Dr. Edwards was also a long-time member of the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.

Steven Brockerman, who has a Masters degree in English education, is the owner of WrittenWord Consulting, an education consulting company that contracts with businesses and colleges, develops 1-8 grade curriculum for the home education market and does contracted research. In addition, Mr. Brockerman has been an assistant editor of Capitalism Magazine and is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Post, Florida Today, Salt Lake City Tribune, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bangkok Daily News, Tallahassee Democrat, Charlotte Capitalist, Mideast Newswire, Free Republic and Jerusalem Post, among others.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

1 Comment

  1. she did the right thing to protect our planet

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