Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Greatest Tragedy?

What's the greatest tragedy of the last century? . . . Hitler's Third Reich, Stalin's Great Purge, Mao's collectivization, Michael Jackson's latest Kids' Day?

Wrong. According to Michael Crichton in his latest book State of Fear, it was the banning of the pesticide DDT:

"Since the ban, two million people a year have died
unnecessarily from malaria, mostly children. The ban has caused more than fifty million needless deaths. Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler."

(p. 487)
Crichton goes on to say that DDT was not a carcinogen, scientists knew it wasn't a carcinogen, and that its replacement, Parathion, was the real toxin, causing the death of hundreds of farm workers.

What's the point of this revelation? That public hysteria for fear-driven, emotional, and unscientific quick "fixes" can lead to unintended consequences that are much worse than any perceived crisis.

Science, like all other intellectual pursuits, is vulnerable to bias, political agendas, and the corruption of the flow of research monies - and Crichton makes a plea for double-blind experimentation, data gathering, analysis, and funding so that results can be evaluated in as pure a form as possible. The thesis of his book is that global warming is a manufactured fad that is unsupported by the data, and yet many scientists have fallen into the corruptive influence of those who stand to gain by global warming's institutionalization.

The Government of Uganda has just announced that it will begin using DDT again to help eradicate malaria outbreaks in its country, leading to the intended consequence of economic development:

"We are convinced that DDT will reduce the risk of malaria.
There is a strong relationship between malaria and poverty. Most communities affected by malaria have been economically retarded."
The governments of Africa have learned a lesson, and it remains to be seen whether the global warming lobby will learn theirs. As for Michael Jackson, it's hard to know whether these consequences are intended or unintended.