The Honor of Being ‘Lamberted’

I have recently been informed that a couple weeks ago I had the distinct honor of being ‘Lamberted.’ That is, I was the object of a tirade by Australian blogger Tim Lambert, a computer science professor who fancies himself an expert on everything from DDT to climate change.

Lambert is one of the “DDT deniers” I reference in my book Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazaardous to Your Health. Following the lead of his idol, Silent Spring author Rachel Carson, Lambert continues to promote the untruth that third-world countries ceased using DDT because the insecticide became ineffective due to mosquito resistance. Eco-Freaks explains the concept of resistance and details Carson and Lambert’s misunderstanding and/or misrepresentatons of these facts. (Tim, to use an analogy from your field of computer science, you wouldn’t forgo the best antivirus software simply because a hacker could develop a new super-virus that could get around it.)

Before I get to the “meat” of Lambert’s criticism (and, when you cut through all the rhetorical “fat,” it’s an awfully slim bone), let me again repeat that is indeed an honor to become the target of his attacks. This is because it puts me in such distinguished company. Several of my colleagues, such as Iain Murray, have had the pleasure of being “Lamberted.” I also join New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and editorial writer Tina Rosenberg, courageous liberals who deviated from the anti-DDT eco-orthodoxy, as one of the objects of Lambert’s venom. He is also none-too-happy that the World Health Organization, taking its cue from malariologists rather than crank computer scientists, recently reversed its long-held postition and now recommends DDT spraying “in areas with constant and high malaria transmission.”

What is it that has raised Lambert’s ire about yours truly? Lambert’s attack on me happened after Instapundit’s eminent blogger Glenn Reynolds linked to commented on my OpenMarket blog entry “The Don Imuses of Envrionmentalism,” about racist and outrageous quotes from prominent environmentalists. Lambert accused me of being a “quote doctor.” Yet a review of Lambert’s “refutations” shows it is Lambert who is attempting to perform the emergency “triage” surgery — to fix quotes embarrassing to the environmental movement.

Lambert, for instance, argues that I have mischaracterized “overpopulation” guru Paul Ehrlich’s preference for forced sterilization of men in India after they have produced their third child. Lambert, with no citation, insists that Ehrlich merely described a proposal being discusse in India and “went on to say that such a plan was not a good idea.”

Oh, really? Why don’t we look at Ehrlich’s exact words from the bestseller that launched his doomsaying career, The Population Bomb. On pages 165-166 of 1968 edition of his book (and 151-52 of the 1971 edition), here are Ehrlich’s own words in recommending the actions the U.S. should have taken in response to the Indian official’s sterilization proposal:

When he suggested sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children, we should have applied pressure on the Indian government to go ahead with the plan. We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments. We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centers for training para-medical personnel to do vasectomies. Coercion? Perhaps, but coercion in a good cause.

Is this statement what do you mean, Tim, when you say Ehrlich didn’t think forced sterilization was a “good idea?” It sounds like the only disagreement Ehrlich had with the Indian official’s plan is it wasn’t harsh enough. Lambert’s impassioned and deceptive defense of Ehrlich makes me wonder if Lambert agrees with Ehrlich that forced sterilization is a good idea? Our computer scientist never actually criticizes the proposal.

Lambert proceeds to rationalize away my other examples barbaric statements that evironmenatlists have made. Club of Rome co-founder Alexander King, for example, wrote that after witnessing DDT save so many impoverished citizens from malaria in Guyana, “my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it greatly added to the population problem.”

Lambert takes me to task for leaving out King’s next sentence, which was, “Of course I can’t play God on that one.” Lambert then charges, “Berlau made it look like King was arguing that [the] Guyanese should have ben left to die from malaria by leaving out the sentence where King made it clear that he didn’t want that.”

I don’t know, Tim. To me, and to some of your other commenters, it sure sounded like King was saying that if he were God, this result is exactly what he would want. And indeed, this is the result that happened when environmentalists got to play God and pushed through polices that curtailed DDT’s use in the Third World. Besides, if King didn’t really desire this result, why did he express this desire in the first place with his complaint about the “population problem” that DDT created.

Lambert’s most extensive set of rhetorical acrobatics is in defense of Sierra Club founder John Muir. I cited vicious comments Muir had made about American Indians. Muir wrote that Indians were “mostly ugly, and some of them altogether hideous.” One response that Lambert could have expressed that would have struck many readers as sensible — though it would have been wrong, as I will explain soon — was that many others in the 1890s were also prejudiced against Indians.

But Lambert has to make his environmental heroes flawless. So he makes this fine distinction. Muir was “not making a racist statement about American Indians, but saying that a particular group were mostly ugly.”

Oh, now I see the difference! Muir was not saying all Indians were “hideous” and “ugly,” only every single Indian Muir happened to see in the California mountains. I guess, by that logic, Lambert would say that filmmaker D.W. Griffith also cannot be called a racist. After all, his infamous Klan-worshipping 1915 film Birth of a Nation didn’t depict vile images of all blacks, just all the blacks in South Carolina, where the film was set.

Lambert’s defense of Muir is silly, even given the usual silliness of Lambert. Any descriptive work is limited to a particular area. But like Griffith, Muir was criticizing not an individual of particular race, but stereotyping an entire ethnic group. Thus, the term “racist” does apply to the founding father of the Sierra Club.

And even Lambert seems to sense the seriousness of Muir’s bigotry when he premptively attacks me for something I never argued. I simply quoted Muir’s “hideous” and “ugly” remarks as well as the sentiment he expressed that Indians “seemed to have no right place in the landscape.” Lambert defended Muir’s anti-Indian animus by saying that Muir “is not, as Berlau wants you to think, arguing for the extermination of Indians.”

I never said he was, Tim. But two prominent environmental historians argue that Muir’s vitriol was indeed used to give further justification to the Indians’ forced removal and brutal treatment. In an essay on the environmental news site Grist, which is hardly ever in sync with CEI on anything, Matthew Klingle and Joseph Taylor, scholars at Bowdoin College and Canada’s Simon Fraser University have this to say on Muir’s influence on this matter:

This view was widely shared among preservationists, who turned out natives from the very places that gave the identity. Beginning with Yellowstone [National Park] in 1872, officials forcefully expelled Indians, in violation of treaty obligations, to uphold the wilderness ideal.

But honest reassessments like this, in which environmentalists detail the racism and snobberty many of the movement’s founders, are few and far between. Whereas even official biograpies of America’s Founding Fathers don’t hesitate to examine their prejudices, eco-groups all too often sound like Lambert in their see-no-evil hagiograpy of Muir and Rachel Carson. I’ve noted in Eco-Freaks and elsewhere that the Sierra Club’s web site still makes the unqualified statement that “John Muir is as relevant today as he was over 100 years ago.”

Klingle and Taylor write in their Grist piece of environmentalism’s “shadow history that few environmentalists know or want to admit.” There is no greater example of this type of denial from contemporary enviros than Lambert’s “how-dare-he” anger at me for including a disputed quote from one of the cofounders of the Environmental Defense Fund.

In my post, I included the allegation of EDF’s original attorney Victor Yannacone that EDF’s chief scientist Charles Wurster said that the side effects of the DDT ban were nothing to worry about because a more acutely toxic DDT subsitute “only kills farm workers, and most of them are Mexicans and Negroes.” I also noted that Wurster denied making this statement.

Still, Lambert goes ballistic on me for daring to repeat Yannacone’s accusation. Lambert asserts that “after Yannacone was fired by the EDF, he came up with the claim” and calls it “the unsupported statement of a man with an axe to grind.” With self-righteous indignation, Lambert asks, “How gullible do you have to be to find that quote plausible?”

Well Tim, I find the alleged quote “plausible” precisely because of the outrageous documented statements of environmentalist heroes like John Muir, Alexander King and Paul Ehrlich. Further, I see no reason why I should assume automatically that Yannacone has any less credibility than Wurster. After he left EDF, Yannacone went on to become one of the most prominent environmental attorneys. He successfully argued the case for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange in their lawsuit against Dow Chemical. In other contexts, Yannacone is praised by environmentalists. Here’s a bio from a 2003 conference that list his other legal achievements.

Whatever “axe to grind” Yannacone may have with his former colleague Wurster, it doesn’t appear to be ideological. Yannacone still talks with pride about his efforts with EDF that led to the DDT ban, as he did in this interview on National Public Radio’s “Living On Earth.”

And as for his being “fired” by EDF, as Lambert confidently asserts, Yannacone maintains that he resigned — and did so precisely because of what he saw as the callousness of Wurster and others at EDF toward the disadvantaged. When I interviewed Yannacone last year for Eco-Freaks, he told me, “It was one of the things that led to my parting from the Environmental Defense Fund: their total insensitivity to people who were poorer and less well educated.”

Do I know for certain that Yannacone’s charges against Wurster are accurate? No I don’t. And neither does Lambert know for sure that Wurster’s version is the truth, given that neither one of us were privy to the orginial exchange. But again, given Yannacone’s distinguished credentials, I see no reason why his version of the story should automatically be given any less credence than Wurster’s.

But in this post and others, Lambert has raised substantial questions about his own credibility. That’s why the good computer scientist’s attempt to save these environmentalists from their self-inflicted glitches of the mouth just plainly does not compute.