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“Silent Spring” & DDT Reexamined

written by Jason Lewis

“Silent Spring” & DDT Reexamined

We recently passed the fiftieth anniversary of the first publication of the book “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s book which raised public awareness of pesticides and their risk to the environment. The bans on DDT are reportedly the eventual result of this book. As a child, I remember reading about DDT causing thinning egg shells in birds, which caused some of them to break open too early, which hurt the populations of endangered birds. More recently, I have seen some rebuttals to the claims made in this book. I’ve also seen the allegation made that the bans on DDT has been responsible for millions of preventable malaria deaths, especially in Africa.

This week, there have been several editorials, both in support and critical of the book. One article, in Slate, titled “Rachel Carson Didn’t Kill Millions of Africans, How the 50-year-old campaign against Silent Spring still distorts environmental debates” supports Carson. I expected to see more support of the claims in the book, maybe some justification of the ban on DDT, or an explanation of why the ban didn’t matter. Instead, the first half of the article seemed to be largely ad hominem attacks. The second half of the book promoted the idea that Carson was not responsible for ban, which seems to agree with the idea that the ban was a bad thing.

Quote:Carson did not seek to end the use of pesticides—only their heedless overuse at a time when it was all but impossible to escape exposure to them

But it’s a stretch to see how the mood surrounding Silent Spring was the prime cause of DDT’s exit from the fight against malaria.

Rachel Carson’s Deadly Fantasies, is critical article published at, that gives a quick overview. It mentions a fairly old 1992 article that was written by Entomologist, J. Gordon Edwards, which comments on specific pages of the book.

A few years ago, I stumbled across an article at, “100 Things You Should Know about DDT,” which gives a fairly comprehensive rebuttal of the claim made in “Silent Spring.” I just realized that this article was co-written by the same J. Gordon Edwards. Even if you aren’t a fan of the website and it’s founder, Steve Milloy, I don’t think that this compilation of information can easily be ignored for someone who seriously wants to look into the DDT issue. Some of the things that I recall are:

  • DDT exposure to birds did not cause egg shell thinning in the controlled experiements.
  • Egg shell thinning correlated to drought conditions.
  • Some birds has thicker egg shells during higher exposure to DDT.

In understanding is that DDT itself is a fairly inert chemical. This can be good and bad. It’s good in that this tends to make it less toxic to more animals. It can be bad in that it tends to break down slowly in the environment. It would seem that moderate use could be a good thing.


Fill out this creepy survey or go to jail

written by Jason Lewis

How would you feel if an anonymous person demanded to know:

  • Are there any women or children in your household?
  • Do you have any young daughters that live in your home?
  • How old is she?
  • What time do you usually leave for work?
  • How will you be getting to work?

Does this seem creepy to anyone else?  Does it seem like a database for stalkers?

Other questions included are:

  • What was your income for the past 12 months?
  • How much do you pay for your mortgage and utilities?

I’m one of the lucky ones who received a packet in the mail called “The American Community Survey” this year.  It’s run by the U.S. Census bureau.  The first letter that I got wasn’t the packet itself, but a threatening letter warning me that I would be required by law to filled out and return the questionnaire that would be mailed to me.

In the 2000 census, some people got the “short forms” and others got the “long forms.”  This time, everyone gets the short forms, and some lucky ones get the American Community Survey forms that are somehow required by law as well.

I don’t usually gripe about the census, but this is WAY beyond being constitutional in my opinion.


How to pronounce “Keynesian”

written by Jason Lewis

and Keynes and Keynesianism.

John Maynard Keynes and his system of macroeconomic theory has been getting a lots of discussion lately among economists and politicians.  Keynes published his ideas in a book titled The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money during the Great Depression in 1936, and his ideas are being invoked today as support for government spending in order to stimulate the economy.  Whether you buy into this theory or not, it’s a good idea to know what people are talking about.  The Wikipedia entry for Keynesian economics is one place to get started.

I’ve heard the various forms of this word mispronounced a lot lately.   It’s not obvious, but “Keynes” is pronounced “canes.”   If that seems hard to believe, then see and listen to the entry for Keynes at   (See the photo above as a reminder).

Keynesian is pronounced “Cane-zian”

Keynesianism is pronounced “Cane-zian-ism.”  If you are a skeptic, then see the Merriam-Webster link  here.

I suppose that you can blame the British.   Good luck and enjoy your dinner party.

The cane portion of the photo was from Medical Mobility.

Beware of Ideological Teamism

written by Jason Lewis

This article was originally published at American Thinker (October 10, 2009)

Many people don’t realize it, but they are being exploited by a psychosocial phenomenon that is encouraging them to think irrationally.  Everyone is susceptible, and it can lure you to betray your principles in order to support ideological causes.  The general form of this phenomenon as defined here is called “teamism.”  “Ideological teamism” is a more specific manifestation.  In both cases, your belonging to a team will influence what you want to believe, and can corrupt your judgment.  To illustrate teamism, here are two familiar examples of how wanting to believe something will induce non-critical thinking.

First, consider a sporting event where a referee makes an incredibly close call in the final championship game.  The referee’s call is made within a cloud of dust, and he is the only one with a clear view of the critical event.  The fans from the losing team instantly become furious and hostile.  Rumors of a bad call are believed without any factual basis.  Fans from the winning team instantly accept the referee’s call.  Neither side has any objective basis for having a strong opinion.  Anger ensues, followed by fights between fans of opposing teams, and the stadium eventually erupts into rioting

The second example illustrates an effect of ideological teamism.  For this phenomenon, consider a close presidential election in which the deciding state was a statistical tie.  One candidate sues, and eventually, one candidate is confirmed as the winner after a court’s decision is made on procedures.  Supporters of the losing candidate are furious and hostile.  It takes little effort to convince themselves that the judge made a bad call and robbed them of the election.  Rumors of fraud, corruption, incompetence, and unfairness are easily accepted and believed without any factual basis.  Supporters of the winning candidate immediately defend the judge’s ruling without understanding the basis of the ruling.  People are outraged all over the country and neighbors become hostile with each other.

As humans, we seem to have a tendency to identify with a team and to be defensive about other perceived teams.  Some have proposed that this is an inherent evolutionary trait based on tribal identity or psychology of hunter-gatherer bands.  An experiment in the 1950’s with fifth grade boys had interesting, yet somewhat disturbing findings.  For this experiment (Robber’s Cave Experiment), 22 boys were divided into two groups at the Robber’s Cave State Park in Oklahoma.  Initially, the groups were kept separately.  As soon as the two groups became aware of each other, they immediately became defensive about territory, and were eager to challenge the other team.  A set of competitive games were setup, and the hostilities between the groups escalated to alarming levels, including name calling, vandalism, and likely violence if the adult researchers (posing as staffers) hadn’t prevented it.

While many manifestations of teamism can lead to a harmless, exciting, and productive competition in sports and business, its corrupting influence on our judgment can have a detrimental effect on society when it affects other areas, such as science, economics, politics, and history.  Our tendency to become emotionally attached to issues and ideologies encourages a loss of rationality by making us want to believe conclusions which support our ideology.  People tend to rationalize what they want to believe by seeking out information that confirms what they want to believe and by ignoring contradictory information.

It’s unfortunate that expert economist and politicians can’t agree on lessons learned from the Great Depression. Political beliefs affect economic beliefs, and two teams looking at the same data will emotionally defend opposite conclusions.  On one team, FDR’s policies were necessary and beneficial.  On another team, FDR’s policies made the Great Depression worse and longer that it needed to be.  Polite intellectual disagreements are understandable, but an internet search using the words “Krugman” and “Shlaes” reveals an abundance of emotional vitriol.  The quest to determine man’s role in global warming is another important field which has been corrupted by ideological teamism.  Ad hominem and nasty rhetoric are rampant among both researchers as well as non-scientist advocates on both sides of the issue.

What to watch for:

As with many hazards in life, recognizing the hazard is often the key to prevention.  This can be useful in identifying ideological teamism in yourself as well as in other people.  Here are some traits that are often found in ideological teamism:

  1. Emotional Attachment:  It’s very hard to remain objective when you are emotional about an issue.  An emotional influence will encourage you to want to believe certain things.  It’s not wrong to be emotional about an issue, but be aware that your objectivity may be compromised.
  1. Emphasis on beating the other side:  When winning a debate is more important than understanding both sides of the issue, then a person has definitely crossed the line into teamism.  The issue has turned into an “us against them” game. In a truly objective investigation, a person should embrace and invite viewpoints that oppose his current beliefs about a subject.  A good scientist will test his own theories harshly and thoroughly in order to try to prove them wrong.  An ideological teamist will use rhetorical tricks to try to deflect arguments that do not support his ideology.  An ideology should win on its own merits, and not by the skill of the debater.
  1. Ridicule and Insults Become Acceptable:  This is a common type of ad hominem attack for the ideological team member.  Normally nice people can become rude while under the influence of teamism.  While it is more common to directly insult and ridicule someone else’s ideology in a semi-anonymous internet forum, ridicule in a face-to-face situation most often occurs among friendly team members of the same team.  Have you ever ridiculed a political issue to a friend who agrees with your politics?  If so, then this may reveal an emotional attachment to an issue.  Sometimes, ridiculous things happen.  However, be cautious of your objectivity about an issue when you recognize it.
  1. Vilification:  There is a moral superiority in being a victim.  I’m not just right, but my team is “better” than yours.  The other side isn’t just wrong; they are stupid, negligent, uncaring, irresponsible, or evil.  This is standard practice in many political discussions.  Godwin’s Law is demonstrated over and over again in internet forums.  The words “ilk” and “minions” become more common when they describe the opposition.  Try an internet search of the words “Cheney” + “Ilk” or “Democrats” + “Ilk”.  Be cautious if you begin to feel that those with whom you disagree have ill intent.  It may be that one or both of you are simply misguided.

What’s in it for me?

By recognizing and preventing an emotional attachment to your ideologies, you may be less defensive and more rational in your thought processes.  You’ll be better able to test your beliefs and be less defensive about them.  For the issues which you are right about, you will be better able to test them and discuss them calmly.  For issues which you are wrong about, you’ll be better able to see and accept a correction.  There’s nothing illogical about having strong opinions, but it’s good to not get too emotionally attached to them.


Book Review: “Happiness, the science behind your smile”

written by Jason Lewis

I thought that the book was fascinating, insightful, and well written. It’s fairly concisely written at 184 pages (excluding notes, references, index, etc…), though as a consequence, it can be a little dry at times. If you think that a book about the science of happiness would be interesting, you’ll likely enjoy this book. It doesn’t read like a typical pop-psychology or self help book because it isn’t. It’s about the science of happiness and it’s written in a somewhat technical style. There are no catchy “systems” to improve yourself. The author, Daniel Nettle, gives an overview of the latest scientific understanding of the human system of happiness, and reviews relevant statistical and biological data to back those claims.

I thought that the hardest part of the book to get through was the first (and longest) chapter which reviews early studies of happiness and discusses the difficult (and somewhat tedious) task of defining happiness. However, the book quickly recovers by the end of the chapter.  I thought that the rest of the book read fairly easily.

One of the more interesting topics was how “the purpose of the happiness program in the human mind is not to increase human happiness; it is to keep us striving” (p. 43). The book tends to relate it’s conclusions about happiness in the context of an evolutionary advantage. For instance, negative emotions tend to be long lived, while positive emotions tend to be short lived.  If you were frightened by a snake as a child, you will likely still be frightened by snakes as an adult. However, the thrill from that big raise you received two years ago has probably worn off by now. You keep striving for more if don’t stay satisfied with your accomplishments.  By continuing to strive, you’ll have an evolutionary advantage.

Another interesting discussion in this book is how the brain’s system for desire is separate from the system for pleasure. As a consequence, we don’t always want or do the things that we like. We also tend to over estimate the happiness that something will bring us. “Nicotine, for example, produces for too little pleasure for this to be a satisfactory account of why people are addicted to it. These drugs stimulate the wanting system, making them the perfect self-marketing products. If you are a smoker, you have been duped by chemistry into spending a lot of time and money on doing something that you don’t actually enjoy” (p. 126).

Read this book if you’d like an overview of the latest theories of happiness, and why scientists have come to believe them.

Link to Amazon

Link to Barnes and Noble


Unforgivable: Kroger Garden Blend Mixed Vegetables

written by Jason Lewis

Kroger Garden Blend Mixed Vegetables. The arrows show traces of rice shown in the photo.

You’re in Kroger and you are looking for something quick and healthy to eat.  In the frozen food aisle, you see a package labeled “Garden Blend.”  The photo on the package (see above) shows broccoli,  baby corn, carrots, and other healthy vegetables with some rice.  The arrows show traces of rice in the photo.  Great!

I’m not naive enough to think that packages of mixed vegetables won’t be somewhat misleading about the proportion of their contents.  The package typically contains more carrots than the photo on the label suggests.  I usually expect a package photo that is overly optimistic about the actual contents.  However, the extent of misrepresentation of the Kroger Garden Blend is truly unforgivable.  It motivated me to pick up the camera so that I expose to world this atrocity that the minions at Kroger have committed.  Below is a photo of the actual contents.   Arrows show the three bits of corn and the pathetic trace of  broccoli stalk that was in the package.

Actual contents of the Kroger Garden Blend.

Actual contents of the Kroger Garden Blend.

This abomination is one of the reasons that I decided to start this blog.   Future postings in the Unforgivable category will contain other examples of unforgivable behavior.  I hope that you have enjoyed this postng more than I enjoyed the meal.