Saturday, February 26, 2005

DDT hoaxing

On February 17th, Tim Lambert wrote:

The Great DDT Hoax

Anti-environmentalist writers frequently claim that after DDT had all but eliminated malaria from Sri Lanka, environmentalist pressure forced Sri Lanka to ban DDT, leading to a resurgence of malaria:

Roger Bate in Politicizing Science: The Alchemy of Policymaking writes:
Some developing countries imposed a complete ban on the pesticide, as Sri Lanka did in 1964, when officials believed the malaria problem was solved. By 1969 the number of cases had risen from the low of seventeen (when DDT was used) to over a half million.

Ted Lapkin in Quadrant writes:

When Sri Lankan authorities agreed to ban DDT during the mid-1960s, rates of malaria infection exploded from twenty-nine cases in 1964 to over 500,000 a mere five years later.

Now when you think about it, the story that they tell just isn’t credible. If DDT spraying had almost eliminated malaria, and they got a new outbreak, then no environmentalists would be able to stop them from resuming spraying. So I went to the library to find out what really happened. And it wasn’t hard to find out. The definitive history of malaria is Gordon Harrison’s Mosquitoes, Malaria and Man and it turns out that, yes of course they went back to spraying. Harrison writes:

Sri Lanka went back to the spray guns, reducing malaria once more to 150,000 cases in 1972; but there the attack stalled. Anopheles culicifacies, completely susceptible to DDT when the spray stopped in 1964, was now found resistant presumably because of the use of DDT for crop protection in the interim. Within a couple of years, so many culicifacies survived that despite the spraying malaria spread in 1975 to more than 400,000 people.
So in 1977 they switched to the more expensive malathion and were able to reduce the number of cases to about 50,000 by 1980. In 2004, the number was down to 3,000, without using DDT.

And the reason why they stopped spraying in 1964? It wasn’t environmentalist pressure. With only 17 cases in 1963, they didn’t think it was needed any more.


The anti-environmentalist version of what happened is a hoax. That doesn’t mean that all the writers above were being deliberately misleading: they might be just repeating what another anti-environmentalist wrote and be unaware of the true story. AEI scholar Roger Bate, however, coauthored an entire book on DDT and Malaria which relies very heavily on Harrison’s history, citing him over twenty times.



And now, Tim has this post:

DDT Hoax Update

Ted Lapkin has objected to my reference to him in my post on the Great DDT Hoax. In his email he writes:

I would very much prefer, if possible, to keep things on an informal basis rather than a legal one. Thus this whole misunderstanding can be cleared up by a retraction and apology on your blog. In that event I would see no need to pursue matters further.
I offered to post his argument as to why he felt that I was wrong, but he declined, saying that it was a private communication. I have posted the paragraph above because I don’t think threats are entitled to privacy.


Everything Tim says in these posts sounds reasonable to me.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Using bad laws for good

Volokh blog member David Bernstein calls hypocrisy on law professors who opposed the Supreme Court's granting the Boy Scouts a right to discriminate against homosexuals. Bernstein says it's hypocritical for them to then turn around and use the Supreme Court decision to argue that their law school has a right to discriminate against an employer (the US military) who practices discrimination against gays. Bernstein's wrong.

A lawyer who fails to cite useful precedent that she dislikes commits malpractice. Failing to salvage the good out of a bad outcome is just stupid. The only way the law profs Bernstein mentions would be hypocritical is if they previously said, "Man, that Supreme Court decision was terrible! We hope no one ever cites to it, as that may limit its effect."

Environmental regulation presents a similar issue. The Bush Administration has introduced a peer review, best data policy to benefit industry by slowing down good environment regulations that protect the public. What they forgot is that the Forest Service and other partially-captured agencies use "expert judgement" as the basis for concluding their projects will not harm the environment. Environmentalists would be crazy not to take the policy of peer review and throw it back in the administration's face when they try to ram logging projects through Forest Service review.

When given lemons...

P.S. As to the root issue of whether disciminatory employers should be allowed to recruit on campus, I'm not sure what I think, except that they should let them all in, or none of them. Libertarians should be prepared for seeing Klan wizards showing up on campus just to annoy people.

Update: Bernstein adds a clarification that the hypocrisy is in seeking to expand the effect of the Supreme Court decision in one area while denying it in another, similar area. That's a better argument, although it mostly sounds to me like bad tactics unless you've got good factual arguments for distinguishing the two. His comments about the Professor who proposes anti-hate speech codes seem pretty good to me, although maybe it's just because I hate those codes.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Random comments on "Collapse"

I'm currently reading Jared Diamond's Collapse, another good book along with his Guns, Germs, and Steel and The Third Chimpanzee. I've read enough blog commentary to believe that you can't count on accuracy in details in his books, but the overall ideas seem pretty good.

So, comments:

*He says that it takes 10 yearst for a Forest Service logging plan to get final approval because of lawsuits. As someone who's been involved with such suits, that is hardly typical. The only way it could take ten years is if the Forest Service was successfully sued over flawed environmental documentation, came back with new documents, and was successfully sued again. The point is that if it takes a long time, it's unusual and it's because the Forest Service is screwing up and trying to hide the impacts of its proposals.

*He says that Hutu-Tutsi ethnic division existed before Belgian colonization of Rwanda and Burundi, although the Belgians took steps that made the division worse. I've seen asserted on several occasions that the Belgians created the concept of them being two different groups (most recently in the movie, Hotel Rwanda), and I've never found that believable. Aside #1: of course as soon as I find something asserting the position I agree with, I consider the matter settled. Aside #2: Belgians are infamous for devastating and screwing up the Belgian Congo, as well. They must be the worst of the modern imperialists. Good thing they weren't a major power.

*Diamond discusses how for cultural status reasons the elite members of the Greenland Norse wasted resources on cows that had to be fed hay in stalls for nine months out of the year (sheep and goats are better at foraging in snow). He discusses how the elite Polynesians gave up their garden-destroying pigs on Tikopia Island, an isolated 1.8 square mile island that has been successfully inhabited for centuries. My question is what our elite will do about this.

Matt Yglesias has some commentary on Collapse, see here for more.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Volokhs off again on the environment

I give the Volokhs' latest post on the environment a C-minus, an improvement over their previous environmental posts, all of which are far worse than their non-environmental posts.

This latest post is on global warming. It suggests Bush should not be criticized for failing to support Kyoto, because Kyoto would never pass the Senate. Not pushing Kyoto in the Senate is far from the top of environmentalists concerns. His constant attempt to sabotage Kyoto by trying to keep Russia and other nations out ranks far higher. Higher still is his reneging on the sole meaningful environmental promise in 2000, saying he would regulate carbon dioxide pollution. Volokhs fail to mention these issues.

Volokhs point to Kyoto signatories who will likely fail to meet their obligations as indicating Kyoto is bad, but their failure will just put more pressure on them in the next treaty round. The sentence, "Even some who believe global warming is a pressing policy concern doubt Kyoto represents a responsible strategy to address climate change concerns" is misleading - any important doubters would want MORE action, not less.

Volokhs point to the Bush Methane to Markets program, but whether this voluntary program involving little money will accomplish its goal of stabilizing methane emissions is highly doubtful. With carbon dioxide constituting 84% of the human-caused greenhouse gas effects, saying the methane program "could do as much to reduce the threat of global warming as Kyoto" is ridiculous, and a claim that even the Bush administration doesn't make.

To provide additional backup to their points, they rely on an inaccurate article that fails to realize the Bush Clear Skies program significantly delays air pollution cuts that could be reached earlier under current law. They provide additional support with another blog post that just summarizes the first article.

I think there may be something to this idea of attacking methane emissions, hard, but whether the Bush program does anything effective is a very different question. A voluntary, low-effort program sounds less than impressive.

keywords: Volokh Correction

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Biased liberal media reports on gay marriage anniversary

Here in the San Francisco Bay area, media reports have covered the one-year anniversary of San Francisco's short-lived experiment in gay marriage. In a typical example, the local public radio station interviewed gay and lesbian couples who dropped everything when the announcement came out and ran to City Hall to get married. They interviewed couples who had been together for years, felt accepted by society for the first time, still felt married despite the court rulings, blah blah blah.

The bias is obvious, isn't it? The media only talks to people who benefited from gay marriage, not those who were personally hurt by gay marriage. Where were the interviews of people driven to divorce, incest, and bestiality by San Francisco's decision? Conservative religious leaders are quite clear that they believe, they know, that man-on-man action is so irresistibly hot that only societal disapproval of gays will save heterosexual families. Why didn't the media give us examples?

Now you, the kind and forgiving reader, will say, "but it takes time for gay marriage corrode society into nothingness, maybe that's why the media didn't balance their interviews." I know you're trying to be open-minded, but remember the irresistible hotness. If the media didn't interview people hurt by gay marriage, it's only because the media didn't try.

P.S. I don't want to end on such a sour note, so I will point out some unbiased media coverage, even if it's not about gay marriage. The Washington Post provides this lead sentence on John Kerry's discussion of military topics:

"Former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who lost decisively to President Bush in an election focused on national security, said Tuesday the country would be 'far better off' with his proposals for Iraq and the military."

Now that's the fair lead-in I'd expect from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. You've come a long way, Washington Post!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Like, intellectual dialogue

Friend Bill writes:
I was reading about disaster relief in situations like the tsunami and
how the most difficult part is the rehabilitation, in part because its
hard to get funding once the initial crisis is past. People like to
support rescue efforts but they're not interested in helping with
like buying fishing nets to get fishermen back on their feet. So I was
thinking of something like a mutual fund of disaster-recovery
microloans. People could invest in it, expecting a modest return on
their money as the fishermen (for example) paid off their loans with a
small interest rate. Investors would be motivated primarily by
altruism, but giving would be made easier by the expectation that the
return on their investment would at least keep up with inflation, so
they would suffer no net loss. Bundling the loans into mutual funds
would address the fact that it will take a very long time for the loans
to be repaid. (so maybe a large capital donation would be needed to
things going). Maybe the government could even insure investments a la
the FDIC -- a public subsidy to private charity.

Does this make any sense economically? (I suspect it might be the
financial equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. I only got about 4
hours sleep last night). I guess if it does somebody is probably
already doing it. . .

I responded:

it might make sense - sounds like a socially
responsible mutual fund that uses positive screens
(criteria to pick "good guy" investments) instead of
negative screens (criteria to eliminate "bad guys"
from your investment pool). Positive screens
historically are riskier and underperform markets, but
you're not looking for high return.

The real problem is identifying who should get the
microloans and administering them. I don't really
understand the microloan business - they say it works,
but if it does, why doesn't everyone do it?

If the idea can work, I think organizations that are
already in the microloan business like the Grameen
Bank would be the ones who could pull it off. I don't
know if they accept investments or if they rely solely
on donations. Maybe it's a business model they should
look into if they haven't already.

The next day after that dialogue, the local NPR station had a call-in show on microcredit/microloan
institutions, and 2005 just so happens to be the International Year of Microcredit

I tried to call in Bill's question, but couldn't get through. Did my best, man. The show referred everyone
to a website listing microcredit organizations. I can't tell after 5 minutes of research (that's a lot for me)
if any of them function as investments for people rather than simply as donations, but maybe someone else can take over from here.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Wrong on the environment

Volokh Conspiracy continues its trend of being reasonable on many things, and wrong about the environment. It reposts the following movie review:

Near the end of The Day After Tomorrow (the day after, I guess), the Vice President, clearly based on Dick Cheney, goes on TV and apologizes for not listening to climatologist Dennis Quaid's warnings. (The well-meaning but stupid President died in a blizzard). Slate Magazine had a contest to write how the real Dick Cheney would have apologized. I didn't enter, but I think the speech would have gone like this:

In the 1960s, there were many significant spokespeople for the environmental movement who claimed the game was already lost and by the mid-70s, we'd have mass starvation in the United States. After being proved comically wrong, they kept predicting apocalypse in very short order, and yet, though disproved time after time, never gave up making terrible predictions, and never apologized for being so frighteningly wrong. By 2004, after more than four decades of being absurdly mistaken, and with the average human on earth better fed, clothed and housed than ever before, you can understand my skepticism when one lone expert predicted outrageous scenarios of disaster, one following upon another, in a matter of weeks. I was not willing at the time to jeopardize the world economy to avoid what sounded like the plot of one of those empty, big-budget hollywood summer movies, full of spectacle at the expense of character. It now turns out after forty years of experts being wrong and not apologizing, one of the experts finally got it right--for not recognizing this, I apologize.

Enviros made some wrong predictions in the 60's and 70's of future scarcity for commodities whose primary value is commercial and are traded in free markets. Only some enviros, I would add - standard for the anti-environmentalists is to take one incorrect assertion by one environmentalist and attribute it to all enviros. The many other predictions were either correct or were stopped through governmental regulation - clean air, clean water, pesticide control, chemical regulation, endangered species protection, and most relevant to the above post, stopping thinning ozone. I'd say we enviros mostly failed to stop sprawl - not many people are rejoicing about that. As to who's been right more often since the 60's - environmentalists or Dick "Let's Buy An Asbestos Company" Cheney, I'd go with the enviros.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bush and the Iraq elections

Brad DeLong asks why didn't we hold elections in Iraq 2 months after overthrowing Saddam, when we still had considerable goodwill and only 100-plus soldiers died?

Juan Cole comments:

The original plan, designed by then-U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, was a complicated formula of regional caucuses to select a national government, which would write a constitution, and then hold the elections. "It was Sistani who demanded one-person, one-vote elections. So to the extent it's a victory, it's a victory for Iraqis. The Americans were maneuvered into having to go along with it."

Bush also said we had to wait to do a census in order to register people to vote, that Sistani's idea of using the UN's food ration cards was insecure. Turns out the vote was held without a prior census, and food ration cards were used as the basis of registration.

Fafblog summarizes it all:

Once again the doubters and the skeptics have been proven wrong. Alarmists insisted that Iraqi elections would be a disaster, with low turnout, a massive and forboding Sunni boycott, and hundreds killed by crazed insurgents. But the Iraqi people rose to the occasion, delivering above-average turnout, a massive and foreboding Sunni boycott, and mere dozens killed by crazed insurgents. Success!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More short links

Bad news on global warming is less likely: a report that global warming might be twice as bad as originally thought is thought to be unlikely by people who know what they're talking about. I can't totally follow their argument, it has something to do with computer modelling not being validated against real data, but I trust these guys since they're actual scientists set up to respond to global warming skeptics. Their reaction in to the second comment indicates they think the original report is a good first step, but more work needs to be done.

Social Security privatization: Brad DeLong, as usual, has the best response on how Social Security "actual reform" should be done, with steps to eliminate the regressive cap on taxes from Social Security, and managed private accounts that are in addition to SS, not substituting for it. It's a little hard to understand unless you're as geeky as I am in following this debate, but it looks good to me. This post by Matt Yglesias suggests the Bushies might do something not all that bad (in my estimation), if the people who participate in the voluntary, partial privatization do not get the SS benefits as those who lack the financial resources to participate in it. I think Yglesias overlooks this possibility - we'll find out soon, maybe, what Bush will actually propose.