Skeptoid disappoints about DDT and the environment

You may have noticed that there wasn’t the usual 3,000 word heapin’ helpin’ of Insolence this morning. That’s because I happened to be away visiting family in Chicago over the weekend and I just didn’t have time to come up with anything–and I enjoyed myself too thoroughly to worry overmuch about it. In case you’re wondering, the posts that went up over the weekend were either written before I left or so short that they took me five or ten minutes to do.

Sort of like this post.

Unfortunately, this morning I did see something of interest that disappointed me enough that I took a bit of time to compose this. I normally love Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast. In general, it’s thorough, well-written, and Brian is interesting to listen to. I listen pretty much every week, and on weeks when I miss the podcast I usually catch up the next week. Unfortunately, occasionally even Dunning screws up. Occasionally he screws up big time. Like his podcast from three weeks ago, for instance, on DDT, which caused me to cringe as I listened to it. Indeed, I had even thought of blogging it at the time, but my expertise isn’t sufficient to cover the topic as well as I normally like to cover my topics.

Fortunately, there is fellow ScienceBlogger Tim Lambert. As Tim shows, in this case Brian Dunning used Steve Milloy of as a major source for his information that he used to try to paint the picture of DDT not being all that bad for wildlife and to trash Rachel Carson. Tim’s posted part I of what promises to be a two-part Skeptoid fact check. It’s depressing reading, particularly because Dunning should know better. Particularly disturbing is Dunning’s response to criticism that Milloy is a well-known corporate apologist whose positions nearly always align with corporate interests and who is well known for distorting science to defend said interests:

The JunkScience guy has a blatant libertarian agenda. The SourceWatch guy has a blatant anticorporate agenda. Big whoop! They’re both still researchers. I have no problem citing either if they’ve done the research I’m looking for.

If you must insist that this makes everything coming from either guy always right or always wrong, then you should demand to see the voting history of every scientist or researcher in order to determine the quality of their work.

As Tim points out, although it is true that all sources have some biases and usually aren’t wrong about everything (indeed, even Milloy gets it right when it comes to slapping down anti-vaccine idiocy), Dunning completely missed the point. He didn’t exercise proper skepticism regarding Milloy’s claims about DDT, virtually all of which are erroneous or exaggerated. As if his post weren’t enough rebuttal to the numerous egregious errors in Dunning’s DDT installment, Tim also has an extensive library of previous posts on the topic of DDT and Steve Milloy’s frequent distortions of science and has pointed to other sources taking down the myths about DDT that are out there, especially Milloy’s misinformation. Then there’s Bug Girl’s extensive listing of material showing the misinformation and distortions of science used to support the idea that severely restricting DDT use showed how radical environmentalists somehow care more about birds than people and/or that DDT isn’t nearly as bad as environmentalists paint it to be.

Color me profoundly disappointed. Here’s hoping Dunning takes Tim’s fact check to heart and doesn’t make such an enormous mistake again.