DDT effects – Paul Offit tries to set the record straight

malarial cell DDT effects

I don’t judge people by their looks, intelligence, bank account or fame. I only judge people by the good things they have done to save and improve lives. It’s a simple equation. Using a similar life calculator, Dr. Paul Offit, in an article in the Daily Beast, examined the legacy of Rachel Carson, and her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. Published in the early 1960s, Carson was the first to warn that DDT effects include accumulation in the environment, and by doing so, it could bring harm to wildlife. She also warned that its overuse could make it ineffective. And finally, she said that we should use natural means for pest control, like bacteria that killed the mosquito larvae.

If you’re unfamiliar with Paul Offit, he is an inventor of a lifesaving vaccine and provider of scientific information about vaccines – he absolutely cares about human lives, despite the nastiness thrown his way. Dr. Offit’s rotavirus vaccine, which he invented, has saved millions of lives across the world. Who amongst us can make that claim, of saving so many lives?

But Dr. Offit looked at something that is generally ignored with regards to the most important of DDT effects – it killed malaria carrying mosquitoes that kills millions of lives. Today, because of DDT, there is no malaria in the USA. But it’s more than just America, Dr. Offit looks carefully at other successes of the pesticide:

As malaria rates went down, life expectancies went up; as did crop production, land values, and relative wealth. Probably no country benefited from DDT more than Nepal, where spraying began in 1960. At the time, more than two million Nepalese, mostly children, suffered from malaria. By 1968, the number was reduced to 2,500; and life expectancy increased from 28 to 42 years.

It’s hard to imagine, but Nepal had a 99% decrease in malaria infections just because of DDT. From our cozy homes in the wealthy developed world, malaria seems like some distant disease that matters not. But it wasn’t too long ago that malaria was rampant in many areas of the developed world, like Italy, the American south, Greece, and other areas. It’s not some boring disease, it kills.

And since DDT was banned, malaria has come screaming back. According to Dr. Offit, “since the mid 1970s, when DDT was eliminated from global eradication efforts, tens of millions of people have died from malaria unnecessarily: most have been children less than five years old. While it was reasonable to have banned DDT for agricultural use, it was unreasonable to have eliminated it from public health use.”

There is a claim out there that whether we chose DDT, and killed ourselves and the environment, or choose malaria with no DDT, it was all the same. But in fact, real scientific studies have since shown us that the danger from DDT was overstated, while the danger from malaria stayed the same.

It’s the 0,1 binary scale of decision making that we see by a lot of anti-science types. DDT may save lives of by preventing malaria, but any harm to the environment is bad. Either an insecticide must be 100% safe, or it’s 100% unacceptable.

Let’s go into more detail about DDT and Rachel Carson – the story is complicated. Continue reading “DDT effects – Paul Offit tries to set the record straight”

Prevent Zika virus with GMO mosquitoes – Frankensquito returns

Prevent Zika virus – female

Over the past few months, the Zika virus, a mosquito borne disease that is passed from the mother to the developing fetus, has become the focus of a lot of attention because of the danger it poses to the fetus. There are no vaccines or treatments for the virus, so the best we can do is stop the carrier, two species of the Aedes mosquito. Probably the best way to prevent Zika virus spread is with genetically modified mosquitoes, the Frankensquito.

Even though mosquitoes are the main way to be stricken with the Zika virus, it is even crazier than that. Men and women who contract the disease can then transmit it sexually to their partners. So even those who are nowhere near the Zika carrying mosquitoes may be at risk of getting the virus.

Recently, there have been numerous cases of Zika virus infection in  south Florida, and, because of the lack of effective preventative vaccines and treatments, public health officials have looked at other methods to prevent Zika virus. The most effective way is to eliminate the carriers of this virus, mosquitoes.

I have written several articles about these GMO mosquitoes, but that had been with regards to preventing Dengue fever, also a dangerous mosquito carried disease. But just like the “outcry” with the Frankensquito and Dengue fever, we’re hearing almost the same nonsense with respect to Zika virus. Let’s look at the scientific facts, with the hope that some will see the importance of prevention.

Continue reading “Prevent Zika virus with GMO mosquitoes – Frankensquito returns”

Debunking the “mistakes science made” tropes?

I know I shouldn’t use the conspiracy theory fallacy when talking about the pseudoscience-pushing science deniers, who are the bread and butter of topics for skeptics. But, when I keep observing the same ridiculous and insanely illogical arguments used in the same manner by all of the deniers, I begin to wonder if they don’t get together annually at the International Society of Pseudoscience meeting, usually held in Sedona, Arizona, ground zero of woo. They obviously share their stories, because we hear the same regurgitated stories in different contexts.

The antivaccinationists, creationists, anthropogenic global warming deniers, and whomever else pretends to use science to actually deny science frequently focus on a trope covering the mistakes science made.  And then they produce a list of historical events that “prove” that science is wrong. Of course, this indicates more of a misunderstanding of what is science and the history of science than it is a condemnation of science. But your typical science denier is probably not going to let facts get in the way of maintaining faith in their beliefs. So let’s deconstruct and discredit these “science makes mistakes” tropes.

By the way, in my story, I admit that there are many “mistakes science made,” so read on. Continue reading “Debunking the “mistakes science made” tropes?”

Stopping dengue fever with genetically modified mosquitoes

Four hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. 

You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the antivaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

As I’ve discussed on a number of occasions, genetically modified organisms, whether they be crops or animals or other organisms, seem to cause an irrational and unscientific concern. GMOs are generally safe, and we have lots of scientific evidence to back that up. But still, people get scared.

Continue reading “Stopping dengue fever with genetically modified mosquitoes”

Arguments that GMO opponents should delete from their brains

keep-calm-gmo-safe-1From my perspective as a trained scientist, skeptic and observer of political debates, there are four scientific issues that have wandered into the realm of political debate: evolution, climate change, vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) generally with regards to food and agriculture.

Evolution and human caused climate change (or sometimes called anthropogenic global warming, AGW) are scientific facts supported by literally mountains of data. The arguments presented by evolution deniers is easily refuted. And the myths pushed by global warming deniers are also quickly debunked. Both of these have become a part of the political conversation, with the evolution and climate change deniers being almost exclusively made up of conservative political groups, including Republicans in the USA. There is no debate about these two facts from a scientific point of view, unless someone cherry picks scientifically weak papers published in bad journals to confirm a bias against these scientific facts.

Vaccines aren’t really a scientific principle per se, but the support for the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is pretty much settled by the vast majority of scientists who actually have experience, research and education in the key fields of science related to vaccines, such as epidemiology, immunology, microbiology, virology, etc. etc. The fact that about 95% of children in developed countries (including the USA and most of Europe) indicates that there isn’t even a “political debate” except some blathering and noise from a tiny lunatic fringe. And the 5% of children who aren’t vaccinated don’t exclusively represent active vaccine deniers–most of these unvaccinated children either cannot be immunized for some health reason, have procrastinating parents, or have parents who may be too poor to get their children vaccinated, even if it’s free to most people in developed countries. The only reason most of us get worked up about the approximately 1-2% of parents who actively resist vaccines is because we think all children should be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

On the other hand, GMOs, at some levels, should have some level of public discourse and debate. For example, glyphosate (Monsanto’s RoundUp) resistant crops have raised public concerns, and despite some awful scientific evidence that has been solidly ridiculed in the scientific community, along with solid scientific studies that show no correlation (let alone causation) between human health and glyphosate exposure (see this, this, and this), excessive use of pesticides frighten people.

Personally, I can buy into certain arguments against GMOs. For example, I think that monoculture agriculture is extremely susceptible to an introduced or novel pest, which could be devastating to our food supply. I am also concerned about certain unintended consequences such as evolved pest resistance (but then again this has been a war since the first day genetic modification occurred 10,000 years ago), lower crop productivity, or other issues. So far, science hasn’t uncovered any problems so far, so there’s that.

If the anti-GMO environmentalist community wants to engage in a reasoned conversation about GMOs with those of us who have scientific evidence supporting our discussion points, then they have to quit using five bad arguments, which they seem to pull out of the manual of science deniers everywhere. Because anti-GMO arguments use the same ridiculous “debate” strategies as those who deny vaccines, evolution and climate change. As I’ve joked more times than I care to remember, I feel as all the science deniers attend the same convention to discuss tactics and strategies. It seems ironic to me that those who are anti-GMO make the same exact points as the climate change deniers, yet those two groups have nothing in common except they are both humans.

So what are these five bad arguments? Glad you asked, so here we go. Continue reading “Arguments that GMO opponents should delete from their brains”

Trying to save lives with the Frankensquito

giant-mosquitoFour hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the antivaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about an innovative an small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, which has developed genetically modified male mosquitos, sometimes referred to as  Frankensquitos (at term I fully embrace as being both ironic and descriptive) that would mate with wild females. Those females would produce offspring that would not survive to adults, because they require an antibiotic, tetracycline, in their diet, something that isn’t usually available in the the wild. Over time, with multiple releases of males, the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the vector for transmitting Dengue fever. would fall to such a level that transmission of the the disease would be significantly reduced, if not completely stopped. Continue reading “Trying to save lives with the Frankensquito”

Regarding those mistakes made by science…

ddt-is-good-for-meI know I shouldn’t use the conspiracy theory fallacy when talking about the pseudoscience-pushing science deniers, who are the bread and butter of topics for skeptics. But, when I keep observing the same ridiculous and insanely illogical arguments used in the same manner by all of the deniers, I begin to wonder if they don’t get together annually at the International Society of Pseudoscience meeting, usually held in Sedona, Arizona, ground zero of woo. They obviously share their stories, because we hear the same regurgitated stories in different contexts.

The antivaccinationists, creationists, anthropogenic global warming deniers, and whomever else pretends to use science to actually deny science frequently focus on a trope that “science makes mistakes.” And then they produce a list of historical events that “prove” that science is wrong. Of course, this indicates more of a misunderstanding of what is science and the history of science than it is a condemnation of science. But your typical science denier is probably not going to let facts get in the way of maintaining faith in their beliefs. So let’s deconstruct and discredit these “science makes mistakes” tropes.

By the way, in my story, I admit that “science makes mistakes,” so read on. Continue reading “Regarding those mistakes made by science…”

The “Frankensquito”–trying to save lives in the Florida Keys

Update to an article from last year.

Four hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the anti-vaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

The British newspaper, the Guardian, last year reported that a small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, is running into public resistance to testing a genetically modified mosquito that may stop the spread of the species of mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the Florida Keys. Earlier this year, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (yes, there are governmental entities in Florida that are entirely responsible for mosquito control and abatement) encouraged public comment about the program.

One of the largest concerns for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) is Dengue fever, a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4) that are transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most important transmitter or vector of dengue viruses in North America. Continue reading “The “Frankensquito”–trying to save lives in the Florida Keys”

Anti-science hysteria vs. dengue fever

Four hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the anti-vaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

The British newspaper, the Guardian, is reporting that a small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, is running into public resistance to testing a genetically modified mosquito that may stop the spread of the species of mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the Florida Keys. Dengue fever is a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4) that are transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most important transmitter or vector of dengue viruses in North America. Continue reading “Anti-science hysteria vs. dengue fever”