In The Excellent Powder: DDT's Political and Scientific History, Richard Tren and Donald Roberts argue that the infamous insecticide is the world's greatest public-health success stories, saving millions of lives by preventing insect-borne disease. Unfortunately for those in areas still infested with mosquitoes and other flying bugs, DDT is also the world's most-misunderstood substance, the target of a decades-long scientifically ignorant and ideologically motivated campaign that has vastly limited its use and applications.
From Rachel Carson in the 1960s to contemporary critics, DDT has been the object of what Roberts, a professor of tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, calls "scare campaigns" that link DDT to "theoretical harms to wildlife and human life that simply don't exist."
Dubbed "the excellent powder" by Winston Churchill for its life-saving qualities, DDT has the potential to transform the developing world from a malarial hell into something else again. Yet as Tren, the winner of the 2009 Julian L. Simon Award, warns, under current international conventions, global DDT production is scheduled to be halted in 2017, thereby consigning much of the world to less-effective and more-expensive alternatives that will consign millions of poor people to living hell.
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie sat down with Tren and Roberts, who are part of Africa Fighting Malaria, to talk about how DDT got such a bad rap and what can be done to set the record straight.
Approximately 9.15 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Dan Hayes; edited by Hayes and Josh Swain.
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