October 11, 2005

A WHILE BACK I mentioned Chris Mooney’s new book, but the story’s not quite as one-sided as that may make it seem. Sebastian Mallaby observes that despite all the criticism of the Bush Administration:

Consider the case of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, on which the Bush administration is marginally better than the European Union.

DDT, to give that chemical its more familiar name, works miracles against diseases that are spread by insects. During the Second World War, vast quantities of the stuff were dusted over troops and concentration-camp survivors to kill the body lice that spread typhus. Later, DDT was used widely in Latin America to beat back dengue and yellow fever. But the chemical’s noblest calling is to combat malarial mosquitoes. In the early 20th century, Dunklin County, Missouri, had a higher rate of malarial mortality than Freetown, Sierra Leone. Between 1947 and 1949, DDT was sprayed on the internal walls of nearly 5 million American houses, and at the end of that process malaria had ceased to pose a significant threat in the United States.

DDT also helped to eliminate malaria in Europe and parts of Asia, and in 1970 the National Academy of Sciences estimated that the chemical had prevented 500 million deaths. And yet, despite that astounding number, DDT has all but disappeared from the malaria arsenal.

The reasons don’t have much to do with science, he says. (Via Ron Bailey).

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