Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aaron Swartz on DDT

The suicide of Aaron Swartz under pressure from Federal Prosecutor  Carmen Ortiz and her deputy Steven Heymann, who pushed this prosecution.  Swartz at the age of 14 was substantially responsible for configuring RSS, and his contribution s over the next 12 years (he died at 26) were many and important.  In a short 14 year period he met and touched many people as the outpouring of grief and the many memorial recollections that have appeared in the last few days.  Just to pick one, a tweet from Sir Tim Berners Lee

Aaron dead.
World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder.
Hackers for right, we are one down.
Parents all, we have lost a child.
Let us weep.

Eli was reading Caleb Crain's Postscript in the New Yorker when he learned that Swartz had written an essay on the political misuse of DDT in 2007.

Quoting the entire piece here would be wrong, quoting enough to send you to Swartz's blog where you can sample more of this remarkable young man's mind is what is needed.

DDT's dangers

These myths can have serious consequences. For one thing, despite what is claimed by the right, DDT itself is quite harmful. Studies have suggested that prenatal exposure to DDT leads to significant decreases in mental and physical functioning among young children, with the problems becoming more severe when the exposure is more serious (American Journal of Epidemiology, 9/12/06; Pediatrics, 7/1/06), while the EPA classifies it as a probable human carcinogen.
For another, resistance is deadly. Not only has DDT's overuse made it ineffective, but, as noted, it has led mosquitoes to evolve "cross-resistance": resistance not only to DDT but also to other insecticides, including those with less dangerous environmental effects.
And perhaps most importantly, the pro-DDT line is a vast distraction. There are numerous other techniques for dealing with malaria: alternative insecticides, bed nets and a combination of drugs called artemisinin-based combination therapy, or ACT. ACT actually kills the malaria parasite fast, allowing the patient a quick recovery, and has a success rate of 95 percent (World Health Organization, 2001). Rollouts of ACT in other countries have slashed malaria rates by 80 to 97 percent (Washington Monthly, 7/06).
But such techniques require money and wealthy nations are hesitant to give it, especially when they think they can just avoid the whole problem by unbanning DDT. "DDT has become a fetish," says Allan Schapira, a former senior member of the malaria team at the World Health Organization (Washington Monthly, 7/06). "You have people advocating DDT as if it's the only insecticide that works against malaria, as if DDT would solve all problems, which is obviously absolutely unrealistic."
As a result, senators and their staff insist that DDT is all that's necessary. And the new director of WHO's malaria program, Arata Kochi, kicked off his tenure by telling the malaria team that they were "stupid" and issuing an announcement that "forcefully endorsed wider use of the insecticide DDT" while a representative of the Bush administration stood by his side. Half his staff resigned in response (New York Times, 9/16/06).
There are genuine issues with current malaria control programs: incompetent administration, misuse of funds, outdated techniques, a lack of funding and concern. And, much to their credit, many on the right have drawn attention to these problems. Africa Fighting Malaria has frequently called for more effective monitoring, and conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) has used his influence to fight corruption in anti-malaria programs.


Anonymous said...


-- by Horatio Algeranon

Let me be perfectly clear:
You've nothing at all to fear,
Unless you are transpaaront,
In which case, you are aaront.

Anonymous said...

Eli, I rarely agree with you, but it is tragic that young Aaron took his life. Imagine what he would have accomplished in a normal lifetime. He was a genius.
To be fair to your readership you should point that Ortiz is a Democrat(I only mention because knowing you, it would have made known if he was a repub.
With all the kvetching about DDT, recall that in 1971 the National Academy of Sciences credited DDT with saving 500 million lives. Many more since then. Weigh that number against the assertion that it is a carcinogen(it is not) or may impair fetal development(it doesn't).

J Bowers said...

Thanks for the 42 yesr old evaluation, Anon. I heard things have moved on since then.

Anonymous said...

Those who want an informed opinion might like to read The Pine River Statement: Human Health Consequences of DDT Use, which addresses the various issues.

Cymraeg llygoden

Anonymous said...

@anonymous. Link please to NAS report asserting 500 million lives saved by DDT up to 1971? Current estimates of global malaria deaths are about a million a year, saving orders of magnitude more with single control method sounds...unlikely. At least one party here seems to have been misinformed.

Anonymous said...

Re that 500 million lives "saved". I think it's in "National Academy of Sciences. The Life Sciences. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press; 1970."

But see Ed Darrell's first response here and this analysis of those numbers.

Cymraeg llygoden

cynthia said...

Well, well, well, where's our Commander in Chief now with one of his perfunctory and admonishing speeches about "how we'll be judged as a society" for failing Mr. Swartz? Oh, that's right, Mr. Swartz was trying to do an honorable and noble deed by making available to all of us, free of charge, published academic journals that would enrich and broaden our lives. I can sure see the crime in that (facetious). All those published papers might have encouraged a more informed public. And we all know what a well informed public can do? Rise up and demand social justice!

Terrorizing and threatening Mr. Swartz to the point that he chose suicide as his only option, that is murder. And while this won't bring Mr. Swartz back, nor will it soothe or quell the unimaginable grief surrounding his death, I hope like hell someone close enough to Mr. Swartz will file murder charges against any and/or all of the people responsible for harassing and bullying him.

I didn't know much about Aaron Swartz before reading Glenn Greenwald's article eulogizing him (read first link below). He is a hero; the type of man whose courageous behavior we could all do right by through emulating.

How many more martyrs like Aaron do there have to be before people face the reality of how far the criminal element running this country and the world are willing to go to maintain their grip on power? These people are the sickest monsters the human race can produce. It's time to call them out in unison so they know that no one is buying their propaganda anymore. The truth is it is THEY who hate US for our freedom. The freedom to communicate that is. They demand total control of information. That's why they're persecuting Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Jeremy Hammond, a leading member of the hacker group Anonymous (listen to second link below).

To his family and friends, my sincere condolences. I'm ashamed of our Dept. of Justice.

Ed Darrell said...

With all the kvetching about DDT, recall that in 1971 the National Academy of Sciences credited DDT with saving 500 million lives. Many more since then.

Thanks to Anonymous for pointing out this statement is wrong, with links to sources.

The 500 million figure was an editing error -- that is instead the number of malaria infections annually. At the time, malaria deaths had been reduced from a 1959-1960 peak of 4 million/year to about 2 million/year. DDT was first available to fight malaria in 1944, in the South Pacific. Do the math: 26 years to 1970, times 4 million deaths (the maximum possible, but more than double the actual number in many of those years), and you get 104 million deaths. That's assuming DDT had eradicated malaria in 1945, which it never did. So the 500 million figure is wrong.

Plus there is this: That book from the National Academy of Sciences urged immediate reduction and quick elimination of DDT, because, though it was beneficial, its harms outweighed its benefits.

So if we scale the benefits back -- perhaps 30 million lives saved -- the NAS call for the elimination of DDT should carry more weight, don't you think?

The claim is #6 in the notorious Steve Milloy's and zombie Gordon Edwards' "100 things you should know about DDT," which contains about 90 complete falsehoods about DDT. Milloy is the former tobacco lobbyist searching for new science fields to foul after Congress wrote into law the real science of tobacco smoking (it kills, big time). I have a longer explanation of Milloy's errors at my blog, dating back a few years, but still accurate: "Rebutting junk science: 100 things to know about DDT #6"

cynthia said...

Swartz was ahead of his time
A victim cut-down in his prime
His criminal deed
To help those in need?
I no longer understand "crime"

The Limerick King

cynthia said...


The reason to free the articles in JSTOR -- the online publishing company that digitizes and distributes scholarly articles written by academics and then sells them, often at a high price, to subscribers -- has a number of different pieces to it . First, much of the research, or perhaps most or all of it, is publicly funded. Second, the revenue generated by selling that information does not represent any value. It's simply another parasite (monopoly) tax. Third, the prime motive for "intellectual property" in Merka has been part of a strategy to extract political advantage for the empire in the global "great games". Fourth, freeing up information simplifies life for people, and levels the playing field, so that people who resist running the rat race still have access. The benefits of this feeds back in an amazing complexity to grow compound benefits. And fifth, the biggest single reason to free up all information is that the potential for further scientific, technical, social advancements is huge, when people with better intentions, visions, and agendas are able to formulate hypotheses on such a foundation and develop those through research based on free access, without the social/political pressures manipulating the direction of the research. So this allows ALL INFO FREELY ACCESSIBLE TO ALL PEOPLE ALL THE TIME. Sheesh. How many decades more do we have to wait?

Anonymous said...

Ed Darrell says, "So if we scale the benefits back -- perhaps 30 million lives saved -- the NAS call for the elimination of DDT should carry more weight, don't you think?" So let's assume your scaled back 30 million dead is correct (which it is not) - that is 5 Holocosts. Are you saying that the benefits of banning DDT would outweigh 30 million deaths. You're kidding, right?

J Bowers said...

Anonymous, resistance to DDT in mosquitoes is an example of natural selection happening in realtime. Those 30 million lives saved would ramp down to zero, and DDT would be completely ineffective as vector control. Milloy is full of shit.

guthrie said...

In fact DDT was already being phases out across large parts of the world because the mosquitos were resistant to it, before it was even banned. Thus the idea that you can blame the ban for many deaths is pretty silly.

Anonymous said...

"Bearing the Truth"
-- by Horatio Algeranon

The truth laid bare
For all to see
Is common cause
For humanity

But deny is what
We'd rather do
Than bear the truth
And tell it too

Nyati said...

Anonymous, the use of DDT for vector control is not banned internationally. Never was.

(Even the U.S. produced it for export, until 1985.)

What is banned is its use for agricultural purposes. And none too soon, because were it not for its indiscriminate use in agriculture which led to resistance, DDT would be much more effective now.

willard said...

Anonymous said...

Blaming malarial infections on agricultural DDT prohibitions is like blaming hospital MRSA infections on prohibitions of antibiotic use with livestock.

It just doesn't make any sense at all.

--caerbannog the anonybunny

Jeffrey Davis said...

"Are you saying that the benefits of banning DDT would outweigh 30 million deaths. You're kidding, right?"

Obvious mis-characterization of the argument is pretty creepy and stupid.

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

The prosecution sounds more like persecution. I can see how it can add to a person's stress load.

That being said, people look for the 'reason' for a suicide. Often the reason is an organic illness rather than exterior reality.

Anonymous said...

Darrell, Mis-Characterization? Hey dummie, this is your quote, "So if we scale the benefits back -- perhaps 30 million lives saved -- the NAS call for the elimination of DDT should carry more weight, don't you think?"

Anonymous said...

RIP Aaron Swartz. His death is a great loss to an open and fair internet and knowledge domain.

My attention was drawn yesterday to a piece that was aired last night on a rather dreadful commercial program in Australia called "The Project". It takes a minute and a half to get to the story after an arduous slog through ads, but the comparison with Mark Zuckerberg - at 2 minutes 57 second in to the clip - is a telling one.

It seems that in the Land of the "Free", having money to buy freedom - or having the freedom to make more money for already-rich people - is really what it's about. And lest I offend my American friends, Australia is little different when it comes down to it.

Bernard J.

Anonymous said...


This "DDT is is icing sugar, evil Greens are killing brown and black babies by banning DDT" zombie meme is as resistant to scientific fact and truth as equatorial anopheles species are to dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.

I suspect that there is a real, inducible resistance-to-truth phenomenon that occurs in the minds of ignorants and ideologues in the face of objective science that threatens to instigate cognitive dissonance. The ultimate manifestation is the cognitive scotoma currently demonstrated so remarkably by Spangled Drongo over on the Deltoid sea level thread.

Grr. Argh.

Bernard J.

cynthia said...

Bernard J.,

The sad fact is that we are running very low on people that dare to speak out against the ever-spreading culture of control and intimidation from our so-called Governments. I have nothing like the understanding Aaron Swartz had of the world, but the situation depresses me. If the battle for control of the internet is lost, one way or another we are all screwed, so it is time for each person to do what they can to respect and carry on the work that he did.

This is a man who stood for freedom of information, who could have taken the big money that certain more well-known internet pioneers took. And now he's dead, but I somehow know that when we look back a few years from now he will be remembered as more relevant than the corporate versions of what he was pioneering. Internet as a tool of liberation, not as a way to commodify and make a few people rich. May your name and your deeds live on Aaron. Rest in Peace.