Monday, January 26, 2004

I Love It When Myths Get Busted

Here's a great article on media-fed myths by John Stossel of 20/20, whose "Gimme a Break" segment is the only part of that show worth watching. : Stossel on the Top 10 Media-Fed Myths (hat tip LT Smash).

I love to see myths based on bad science and old wives' tales exploded. Here's one of the top ten myths that has caused the deaths of millions of people.
Myth No. 4 — Chemicals Are Killing Us

In America today, there's this myth that quietly, secretly, everywhere, chemicals are gradually poisoning us. Of course some chemicals, in high enough doses, do kill people.

Americans' fear of chemicals has caused us at times to obsess needlessly about everything from hair dye and dry cleaning to coffee and artificial sweeteners, even though there's no proof that the small amounts of the chemicals in those products have harmed anyone.

Cancer death rates are actually declining in America. But our fear is contagious and sometimes deadly.

Health Minister Jim Muhwezi of Uganda points out that as many as two million to three million people may die annually because of DDT. But not because DDT is bad, but because Americans' fear of it has deprived much of the world of the DDT that could have saved them.

How did this happen? Well, 50 years ago, Americans sprayed tons of DDT everywhere. Farmers used it to repel bugs, and health officials to fight mosquitoes that carry malaria. Nobody worried much about chemicals then.

Today DDT is rarely used. America's demonization of it caused others to shun it. The U.S. government does spend your tax dollars fighting malaria in Africa, but it will not spend a penny on DDT.

The result has been a huge resurgence of malaria. More than 50 people million have died — most children — since the U.S. banned DDT.

"If it's DDT, it must be awful. And that's fine if you're a rich, white environmentalist," says Amir Attaran, a scientist leading a campaign urging the use of DDT to fight malaria. "It's not so fine if you're a poor black kid who's about to lose his life from malaria."

The U.S. Agency for International Development defends its approach saying its programs are as effective as DDT. Yet, it fights malaria with drugs that the government's own Web site admits fail up to 80 percent of the time. USAID acknowledges DDT is safe as currently used, but won't pay for it.

Read the rest.

Unfortunately, nothing works as well as DDT for killing mosquitos. I live in North Texas and in the past few years there has been a dramatic rise in cases of West Nile virus every summer. You can't go outside without repellent and this is a disease which is not indigenous to the area. I'm sure a little DDT would go a long way to getting rid of West Nile.

Update: The word of the day is swivet which means a state of anxiety or tizzy. The mention of DDT causes a swivet amongst envirowackos. Hee-hee!

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