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December 15, 2003
I don't want to be rude

I received a note from someone, saying that they found something I wrote interesting and pointing out that they'd written on the same topic themselves.

So naturally, all flattered and stuff that someone had heard of me (okay I doubt that, but I'm sure they googled around for bloggers who had written on the topic and I was one of who-knows-how-many hits), I went on over to read what they wrote.

So, what's the etiquette for responding to that kind of a note with a new post of one's own that essentially disagrees with 90% of everything the other person has to say, I wonder?

I dunno, so I sent them a note thanking them for the link and warning them that my follow-up was going to take issue with pretty much everything in their post. I mean, lacking any data to the contrary, I'm going to assume that this person is one of us rational types who can be disagreed with without disintegrating into a whimpering pile o'weeping and whining, okay?

(Actually, that's really unfair. I frequently disagree with people on-line and 98% of the time I'm met by calm, rational discussion. I hear a lot about the insanity of folks on-line, but I've seen very little of it myself. The very fact that the person in question provided me with a link to a post that essentially disagreed with mine indicates they are definitely on the rational side of the scale.)

(At this point, I'm suspecting my own motives and assuming this entire introductory section to this entry is purely and simply a way for me to swank around and brag that someone sent me an e-mail.)

(For the rest of you who have dropped me a line from time to time, I promise to get a grip on my ego right now and not to drag your names into conversation and generally make myself appear to be more well-informed or well-known than I am.)

Okay, seriously, my discomfort really does stem from the fact that I intend to take issue with someone who was kind enough to send me a link. Somehow it feels...impolite.


'Way back a long time ago, I wrote a fairly typical, quick post reacting to the Bush Administration's surreptitious attempt to dismantle the rules and regs around what foods can be advertised and sold as "organic." Specifically I was concerned that an animal fed non-organic feed should not be marketable or salable as "organic" meat and that plants nourished with non-organic pesticides and fertilizers not be marketable as "organic" produce.

In that post, I made a passing reference to DDT which, as I also said elsewhere, seems to have a half-life in the environment, depending on your source, of 30 years or eternity. (Part of the debate comes from whether you're measuring the persistence of DDT in the environment or the persistence of the chemicals it breaks down into.)

(Side note: Persistent organic pollutants in the form of artificial compounds really should be of concern to everyone. It's not whether or not they're gonna hurt you today so much as what the combination of 500 or 5,000 of them in the environment is going to do to everyone and everything on the planet in about a hundred years.

And, to be fair, let me add at this point that while real scientists don't argue about the toxicity of DDT in the environment, not even those infuriated by the publication of Silent Spring, it's also true that scientists are at work on the problem of breaking down DDT and its byproducts, so it's not like "scientists" are somehow trying to ignore the problem or pretending it ain't their fault. Nor do I, personally, blame the scientists of yesteryear for not knowing all of the ramifications of what they were doing when they turned DDT loose on the planet. The short-term benefits that derived from the chemical are not to be denied.)

At this point, I've already completely lost track of where I was going with this post.

Okay. Let's start over.

I wrote a post where I referred, very briefly, to DDT.

Alex Singleton kindly dropped me a note over the weekend to let me know that he (she?) had written on the topic of DDT.

Popping over to look at the post, I find that Alex cites a link to a site with a post "debunking" Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and her contention that artificial chemicals in the environment are killing us and the planet's wildlife, a post that's well-written but fails to supply any authoritative links to back up its assertions.

I also find a quote from Michael Crichton. While I know that Mr. Crichton has a substantial reputation as an author, I'm unclear on precisely when and how his credentials as an environmental scientist were obtained and must therefore decline to accept his unsupported assertion that DDT was a jolly good thing and we should all have a little more. (Okay, that's a rude and misleading paraphrase.)

The point is that I found nothing in the body of the post to support what seemed to be Alex's main contention, that "environmentalism" is "religion" and that you just can't talk rationally to "them."

While I agree that DDT's role in helping fight malaria is important and that consideration of that needs to be given when discussing the "ban" on the use of the chemical in countries afflicted with severe outbreaks of the disease, I also find that my reaction to the inflammatory and quite useless assertion that, "Thanks to environmentalists, malaria kills one million people each year. If environmentists did not exist, malaria could be eliminated with DDT" disinclines me to discuss the topic rationally with the author of the post.

Let me just suggest that any sufficiently strongly held opinion can be indistinguishable from "religious fervor" to those who don't share the same belief system and that those casting that particular stone might want to take a good look at their own glass houses from time to time.

Anyhow. I was aware of the controversy surrounding whether or not DDT is bad for us or the environment before I wrote my original post, much less before today, but there's nothing in Alex's post that encourages me to consider the matter further.

I expect me to write off-the-cuff, knee-jerk posts about whatever topic catches my eye for ten seconds, but I don't portray myself as an "expert" on any of these topics. I expect people posting on what seem to be professionally supported sites to offer a little more depth and rationale for their opinions.

I'm going to bookmark the site and check it a few times anyhow, though. There could be some very interesting stuff there.

Moving on, and sticking (more or less) with the topic, there are some succinct and accurate facts about malaria on-line.

Among the other things we all ought to consider is the statement about insects developing resistance to various pesticides. The increase in malaria deaths could be partially attributable to that. It could, yes, also be attributable to the increasing ban on the use of DDT world-wide.

(The problem, of course, would be moot if we could take the money nations spend on guns and ammo every year and apply it to health-related research instead. The fact that malaria kills more people in a year than Saddam Hussein ever did would, in a better world, make malaria a higher priority.)

Now, let's have a little perspective on the case.

There are reportedly 2.5 million deaths annually in the USofA due to medical errors. Note that these risks are by far the highest in children and remember that these are deaths in the USofA only.

In this round-up from Cornell University, we read that:

The snail-borne disease schistosomiasis,causes an estimated 1 million deaths annually and is expanding its range as human activities provide more suitable habitats in contaminated fresh water. Following construction in 1968 of Egypt's Aswan High Dam and associated irrigation systems, prevalence of the Schistosoma mansoni organism in humans in the region increased from 5 percent to 77 percent.

Note: "Contaminated fresh water" is the culprit. What can we do about the contamination of our fresh water supply? Shall we pour another chemical in it?


Lack of sanitary conditions contributes each year to approximately 2 billion diarrhea infections and 4 million deaths, mostly among infants and young children in developing countries. In the United States, inadequate sanitation accounts for 940,000 diarrhea infections and about 900 deaths each year.

It's not a huge problem here (although 900 is still too many), but it's a major problem in developing countries.

Also, from WHO, we read that deaths from food poisoning could be at over 3 million a year.

In the world today, it's estimated that about 176,525,312 people suffer from type 2 diabetes today. In 1985, that number was 30,000,000. Some have blamed this burgeoning epidemic on diet and lifestyle. (We eat wrong and don't exercise enough.) On the other hand, there are those who suspect a link with PCBs and dioxin, both POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants).

The point Alex (and the rest of you), is that while a million deaths is painful to me, considering that most of those malaria deaths are children, there are not only bigger health problems in the world today, but we need to know that the DDT we're using to get rid of the insects that carry malaria aren't going, in the end, to cause more problems than the malaria.

When you ruin the cake mix by pouring bleach in it instead of vanilla, you can't fix it by dumping chocolate syrup into the mix and masking the taste. The bleach is still there and it's still likely to kill anyone who eats the cake.

Posted by AnneZook at 02:02 PM