If there is a more obvious case of bad science, and its impact on human health, we d like to see it. Because it turns out that DDT, the evil chemical blamed by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring for thinning of bird eggs, does no such thing. And the consequences of this error are tragic one million deaths per year, mostly in Africa. This abomination was not helped by the publication of a 2013 paper by Hindrik Bouwman and colleagues in which they once again claimed that DDT causes thinning egg shells.
Unfortunately for Bouwman, people were paying attention, and the folly of his study perhaps intentional was so thoroughly exposed that we wouldn t be surprised to find him hiding under a bed in Africa. With mosquito netting, of course.
Bouwman s mistakes are worthy of a junior high school science experiment maybe. First, his sample size was five eggs an absurdly small sample. But far worse is the fact that he mixed up the data from eggs that were and were not exposed to DDT. All this did was change the story entirely. A paper in the April 28th Environmental Research journal, which was written by nine malaria experts, corrected this minor error. In fact, they found that the shells of DDT exposed birds were slightly thicker than the shells that were not exposed to DDT, although this conclusion is unlikely to be supported by statistically significant data. Oops.
Jasson Urbach, director of the nonprofit organization Africa Fighting Malaria, is rather blunt about this:
"Perhaps Bouwman and his co-authors accidentally mishandled their data, but as he has been aware of the false scientific result for months and intentionally not corrected it, that seems like academic fraud. We ask North-West University to investigate that allegation."
Donald Roberts, the lead author of the Environmental Research paper, is similarly blunt: For Bouwman and his co-authors to argue against the use of DDT in malaria control based on such a fundamentally flawed study is unconscionable. When sprayed indoors in tiny quantities, DDT protects residents for an entire malaria transmission season. Even if DDT were affecting eggshells, which it is not, we would still need to weigh this harm with the enormous public health benefits of its use in South Africa. The sort of misinformation that Bouwman published is dicing with people's lives."
We at ACSH have long been vocal critics of the phony science surrounding DDT. Both Dr. Elizabeth Whelan and Dr. Gil Ross appeared in the 2010 movie 3 Billion and Counting, which looks at the obscene combination of incompetence and agenda-driven science, which has led to the unnecessary death and suffering of billions of people. All because of completely unfounded fears about DDT.
We also recommend the book The Excellent Powder: DDT s Political and Scientific History, by (the aforementioned) Prof. Donald Roberts, and Richard Tren.
Dr. Ross, a fervent supporter of the proper use of DDT to save lives in Africa says, The zealots who continue to attack DDT, inspired originally by Silent Spring, seem to never give up whatever the evidence shows, and regardless of the vast loss of life and health their know-nothing crusade has caused. The real shame is that official groups, exemplified by the UN Environment Program, and (of course) Greenpeace and similar anti-chemical groups, seem to wish for the continued devastation of malaria while failing to recognize the power of tiny amounts of DDT to protect homes from mosquitoes. After a decade of study of the subject, I can assert that DDT has no adverse effects on human health, period.