“Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ Fails Test of Time” (New York Times verdict in 2007)


by Robert Bradley Jr via wattsupwiththat.com

“Carson used dubious statistics and anecdotes to warn of a cancer epidemic that never came to pass. She rightly noted threats to some birds, like eagles and other raptors, but she wildly imagined a mass ‘biocide.’ She warned that one of the most common American birds, the robin, was ‘on the verge of extinction’ – an especially odd claim given the large numbers of robins recorded in Audubon bird counts before her book.” (John Tierney, New York Times column, June 5, 2007)

Little remembered, the “newspaper of record,” as the New York Times was once known, frankly presented the scientific misconduct and false alarms of the iconic Rachel Carson (d. 1964) fifteen years ago. Still, Carson promoters invoke her memory today in regard to the the climate debate. Physician Hope Ferdowsian recently wrote in the Harvard Public Health:

Sixty years later, the book’s lessons are more relevant than ever…. Rachel Carson might not have known how much climate change would become a defining crisis of our time when she penned Silent Spring. But the combination of her logic and reverence for the natural world offers an example of how we can sustainably address the deepest roots of disease and reframe how we approach the health of the planet, animals, and ourselves. 

Has Ferdowsian done her homework on Carson’s book? Did she even want to? Here is the John Tierney column’s true-up, “Carson’s “Silent Spring” fails test of time.”

The New York Times a decade later would publish an op-ed by Carson apologist Clyde Haberman (January 22, 2017), Rachel Carson, DDT and the Fight Against Malaria, but the John Tierney column above stands as a fair verdict of no-nonsense science.

For a more recent critical assessment, see “Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson” (Reassessing environmentalism’s fateful turn from science to advocacy), published at MasterResource in September 2012.  Roger Meiners et al. concluded:

Carson made little effort to provide a balanced perspective and consistently ignored key evidence that would have contradicted her work. Thus, while the book provided a range of notable ideas, a number of Carson’s major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance.


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