Evolution heads down the memory hole.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Merchants of Doubt is a brilliant piece of science history equally well suited for the bedside tables of journalists, scientists, and politicians. Each chapter traces the influential work of handful of paranoid anti-communist, anti-regulation Cold War physics proteges through critical public health and science issues such as acid rain mitigation and the effects of secondhand smoke. Their frustrating stance is easily (and chillingly) summarized:

If you believed in capitalism, you had to attack science, because science had revealed the hazards that capitalism had brought in its wake. (167)

Each chapter is critical of disinformation and distortion, as you might expect. But Oreskes & Conway’s chapter defending Rachel Carson’s legacy is downright excoriating:

Was Carson wrong? What does real science– and real history– tell us? It tells us that Carson– and the President’s Science Advisory Committee and the [EPA] and President Richard Nixon– were not wrong about DDT.

After DDT’s demonstrated success in [WWII], the United States and the World Health Assembly launched a Global Malaria Eradication Campaign (1955-1969). It was not based on large outdoor spraying campaigns– the principal target of Carson’s indictment– but primarily on indoor spraying of household walls and surfaces with DDT (and dieldrin). The US Centers for Disease Control summarizes the results: “The campaign did not achieve its stated objective.” Endemic malaria was eliminated in developed nations, mainly in Europe and Australia, and sharply reduced in India and parts of Latin America, but the campaign failed in many less developed areas, especially sub-Saharan Africa. It was halted in 1969– four years before the US DDT ban– so whatever happened could not have been the result of the US ban. What did happen? 

Malaria eradication failed in less developed nations because spraying alone didn’t work. Spraying along with good nutrition, resuction of insect breeding grounds, education, and health care did work, which explains why malaria was eradicated in developed nations like Italy and Australia, but not in sub-Saharan Africa. […]

But the most important reason that eradication was only partially successful was that mosquitoes were developing resistance. In the United States, DDT use peaked in 1959– thirteen years before the ban– because it was already beginning to fail. (223-24)

The painstaking work of scientists, the reasoned deliberations of [PSAC], and the bipartisan American agreement to ban DDT have been flushed down [Orwell’s] memory hole, along with the well-documented and easily found (but extremely inconvenient) fact that the most important reason that DDT failed to eliminate malaria was because insects evolved. That is the truth– a truth that those with blind faith in free markets and blind trust in technology simply refuse to see. (236)

From Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print. 

Fairness and balance.

The appeal to journalistic balance (as well as perhaps the [tobacco] industry’s large advertising budget) evidently resonated with writers and editors, perhaps because of the influence of the Fairness Doctrine. Under this doctrine, established in 1949 (in conjunction with the rise of television), broadcast journalists were required to dedicate airtime to controversial issuesof public concern in a balanced manner. (The logic was that broadcast licenses were a scarce resource, and therefore a public trust.) While the doctrine did not formally apply to print journalism, many writers and editors seem to have applies it to tobacco questions, because throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s, newspapers and magazines presented the smoking issue as a great debate rather than as a scientific problem in which evidence was rapidly accumulating, a clear picture was coming into focus, and the trajectory of knowledge was clearly against tobacco’s safety. Balance was interpreted, it seems, as giving equal weight to both sides, rather than giving accurate weight to both sides.(19)

From Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

A few oily scientists.

The number of retractions for fraud, mistakes, or plagiarism in scientific journals increased fifteenfold between 2001 and 2010. […] Most of the papers in [China’s] five thousand science journals are largely published for show and go unread. Over two years beginning in 2008, 30 percent of the submissions to the Journal of Zhejiang University – Science were copied.

From: Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2012. EPUB file.