Science & Technology

Silent Spring's Shoddy Science


The 1962 environmentalist classic Silent Spring by Rachel Carson helped build the foundation of the green movement. Roger Meiners, a professor of economics and law at the University of Texas at Arlington, is the editor of a new book, Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson (Cato). reason asked him to list Carson's three most egregious scientific errors.

She exaggerated cancer rates.  Carson asserted that one person in four in the United States would die of cancer and that cancer was becoming epidemic in children, despite public health data to the contrary. The cancer rate was increasing, but chiefly because far fewer Americans were dying of other diseases. This meant they lived long enough to die of cancer, the incidence of which rises with age. Carson also ignored the evidence linking tobacco smoking to cancer.                                  

She ignored the upsides of pesticides. Silent Spring's reporting on the effects of pesticides is entirely negative. Carson ignored the public health benefits of DDT and other pest controls that saved millions of lives worldwide by controlling malaria, typhus, dysentery, dengue fever, and other diseases that had previously been common.

3 She promoted the myth of the balance of nature. Rachel Carson's belief in the still-common concept of a "balance of nature" is a misunderstanding of how ecosystems really work. There is no "equilibrium" in nature. Her presentation of the environment is teleological or mystical rather than scientific.