2007-05-23 01:41:36 UTC
05/22/2007 @ 6:57 pm
Filed by Michael Roston
A Republican Senator known for his criticism of various environmental causes
is single-handedly holding up two bills in the US Senate that would honor
the life of Rachel Carson, author of the well-known book Silent Spring, RAW
STORY has learned. The bills were introduced by a bipartisan group of
Senators from Carson's home-states of Pennsylvania and Maryland on the
occasion of the centennial of her birthday on May 27.
"This week, Dr. Coburn blocked two bills intended to honor Rachel Carson on
the 100th anniversary of her birth (one bill to name a post office after her
in PA, and a resolution honoring her)," said a press release at Senator Tom
Coburn's (R-OK) website.
Coburn is perhaps best known for his clashes with former Vice President Al
Gore and as a strong critic of the scientific basis for the claim that
global warming is caused by humans. He said through a spokesman that Carson
was undeserving of honor from Congress because she had promoted 'junk
"Dr. Coburn believes the tremendous harm Carson's junk science claims about
DDT did to the developing world overshadow her other contributions," said
spokesman John Hart in an e-mail to RAW STORY. "Millions of people in the
developing world, particularly children under five, died because governments
bought into Carson's junk science claims about DDT. To put it in language
the Left understands, her 'intelligence' was wrong and it had deadly
One of the resolutions Coburn is blocking with a parliamentary 'hold' seeks
to mark the 100th birthday of Carson, who died in 1964.
"Congress honors the life of Rachel Carson, a scientist, writer, and pioneer
in the environmental movement, on the occasion of the centennial of her
birth," reads the resolution, which was introduced by Senators Barbara
Mikulsky and Ben Cardin, both Democrats of Maryland, where Carson spent much
of her life, and Senators Arlen Specter, a Republican, and Democrat Joe
Sestak, from Pennsylvania where she was born.
Their resolution recognizes Silent Spring for detailing "how synthetic
chemicals accumulate in water, soils, fish, and animals, including birds,"
and for pushing President John F. Kennedy to convene a scientific panel
whose findings led "to the domestic ban of the sale of the chemical [DDT] in
1972, an action that many credit with saving the bald eagle from
The resolution also notes that Carson's book "is credited with helping to
launch the modern environmental movement."
Coburn's action is part of an ongoing scientific and public health
controversy over the use of the pesticide DDT, which the World Health
Organization recently approved for limited use in order to prevent the
spread of malaria in developing countries.
"This book was the catalyst in the deadly worldwide stigmatization against
insecticides, especially DDT," said Senator Coburn at his website. "The U.S.
and western European countries all used DDT in the mid-20th century to
eliminate malaria from their territories, but then banned the substance for
use by poor countries today to combat their number one health threat."
Dr. Diana Post, President of the Rachel Carson Council, was critical of
Coburn's message that there was no reason to celebrate Carson's life.
"It's very important today that she linked human health and the impacts of
pesticides on wildlife and plants and we know that today," Dr. Post
She added, "Rachel also pointed out to us that all of those aspects of the
environment are important, and that we need to have better a relationship
with the environment."
Another researcher also explained to RAW STORY that Carson's scientific
insights made her life deserving of celebration.
"She had important insights about the importance of interdisciplinary
approaches to environmental health, and she was one of the first to point to
the importance of linking the effect of pesticides on wildlife with human
health and I think that's a very key insight that is important today in the
study of endocrine disrupting compounds," argued Dr. Julie Brody, who
directs the Silent Spring Institute, a non-profit group that identifies
links between the environment and women's health, especially breast cancer.
Even some critics of Carson's work recognized that her book had beneficial
Ronald Bailey, the science correspondent for the libertarian magazine
Reason, has been critical of the quality of Carson's scientific research and
favors the limited use of DDT for anti-malaria purposes. He told RAW STORY
in a phone interview Tuesday that there had nevertheless been some positive
benefits from Silent Spring.
"To a certain extent, she launched a movement based on bad science that
nevertheless had good results," Bailey argued, explaining that Carson had
essentially become a 'myth.'
"Let's face it, Americans needed to be alerted to problems of pollution, and
there's value in that," he added.
Dr. Post from the Rachel Carson Council also suggested that Carson
effectively saved the chemicals industry from itself.
"Many people, people who were not even anti-pesticide, said that what Rachel
Carson did probably saved the pesticide industry from further radical
complaints or actions against it, because if things had been allowed to go
on as they were, there would have been real trouble in the future," she
But Senator Coburn's spokesman was adamant that he'd maintain his
parliamentary hold, which will prevent the casting of votes in favor of the