Defending DDT's Defenders:

Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute and co-founder of Africa Fighting Malaria responds to an attack from Tim Lambert and John Quiggin seeking to paint DDT defenders as stooges of the tobacco industry.

John Quiggin and Tim Lambert purport to restore Rachel Carson's reputation, trashing me and an organisation I helped found, Africa Fighting Malaria, in the process. Their article amounts to a half-baked conspiracy theory that breaks down with a cursory review of the facts. The authors' hope is that by branding me a tobacco lobbyist and claiming the tobacco industry is bankrolling the campaign for DDT, they will convince others to dismiss DDT advocates as industry stooges. They are sadly mistaken. . . .

The reality is that DDT is probably the most useful insecticide ever used for public health. . . . DDT still has a place in malaria control, one that has expanded because of sensible recent policies from WHO, the Global Fund and the US government. Quiggin and Lambert are wrong to dismiss WHO's 2006 support as a restatement of old policy. While DDT has been a WHO-approved insecticide for decades, for many years WHO officials did not promote its use, instead tending to push for insecticide-treated nets. Following WHO statements supporting DDT, some developing-country governments, such as Uganda, have been emboldened to say they want to spray the chemical, even in the face of opposition from local business lobbies. . .

I first proposed the idea of a pro-DDT campaign because I thought it was scientifically valid; I still do. Furthermore, I thought WHO and other international bodies were dangerously applying environmental regulation; they still are (the 1997 anti-insecticide World Health Assembly resolution still stands). Having spent time in malarial areas (sometimes under bed nets) and having had the disease myself, I welcome any intervention that saves lives. DDT remains underused. It is no panacea, but it is still the most cost-effective method of malaria prevention in most locations. I wish the tobacco industry had funded the campaign I proposed back in 1998, but they didn't. Quiggin and Lambert's attempt to rewrite history will not change it. DDT has saved innumerable lives. Stifling Africa's efforts to use it against malaria has likely cost many more.

Lambert responds with more guilt-by-association arguments (though he suggests a more substantive response will follow). Quiggin has a more substantive response, but it does not contest much of anything Bate has to say.

For what it's worth, I've known Bate for fifteen years and can verify his recounting of events. Like many working on environmental risk issues in the 1990s, Bate sought funding from industry sources, but this was always to promote his — not their — message. That some industries supported his work does not diminish its worth. Bate's work with the IEA and ESEF in Europe, and AEI and Africa Fighting Malaria, can and should be evaluated on its own terms. Indeed, it is telling that Bate's critics tend to spend more time attacking his funding sources — both real and imaginary — than the substance of his work.

UPDATE: J.F. Beck does some digging into the myth of a widespread, tobacco-initiated campaign to compare Rachel Carson to Hitler, and finds more links to Lambert and Quiggin than to folks actually making the outlandish (and offensive) Carson=Hitler comparison.