Betrayal of Science and Reason

Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Washington D.C.,
Corelo, Calif.: Island Press/Shearwater Books,
1996 Hardcover, 335 pages, $24.95

This is what Malcolm Ross, a Scientist Emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia, had to say about Paul Ehrlich´s book: "Betrayal of Science and Reason", in his continuing saga of anti-human books:

"How does one can defend a man who believes that there is no reason that the population of the United States should be greater than 135 million; that 130 million of our citizens are excess baggage; that our military defense costs are only to enrich certain "patrons"; and that one of the most environmentally damaging activities of human beings begins in the bedroom? Paul Ehrlich wrote the book, The Population Bomb, in which he predicted – incorrectly – the coming doom of mankind. Since the publication of the The Population Bomb, Ehrlich has written several more books, some with his wife, Anne Ehrlich, as a co-author, which continue to elaborate on the conjecture that the survival of planet Earth depends on curtailing world population growth and industrial advance. His book Betrayal of Science and Reason, is the latest of this series on man and the environment".

"The main purpose of this book is to discredit those scientists and journalists who find fault with the ideas and policies promoted by advocates for protecting the planet. In the world according to the Ehrlichs, the environmentalists are the good guys who wear white hats and ride into the fray on white horses to rescue the Earth from environmental degradation; they are the "greenlash" heroes whose scientific conclusions are always correct and who do not accept pay from the capitalist polluters and other anti-environmentalist organizations. The anti-environmentalists are the bad guys who wear black hats and who want to destroy the Earth; they are the "brownlash" anti-heroes who are often in the pay of private commercial interests and thus may distort their scientific conclusions to satisfy their patrons. The Ehrlichs believe the "brownlashers" (also referred to as contrarians or skeptics), through their activism, prevent equitable solutions for environmental problems and thus must be exposed as misinformed, deceivers, frauds, or ideologues – as the case may be."

"If one is looking for "science and reason," there is little to find in this book. The Ehrlichs do not cite the original peer-reviewed scientific literature to refute the brownlashers' criticisms of the greenlash conjectures. For example, the scientific publications of Patrick Michaels, professor of climatology at the University of Virginia (he is also the Virginia State climatologist) are discredited, because he accepts "six-figure consulting fees from coal and other energy interests." Dr. Michaels does receive funds to support his research laboratory from various organizations, public and private, but he does not bend his science to suit a client. If he did this, other investigators could easily expose it, by pointing out errors of fact in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Nowhere in this book do the Ehrlichs refute Michaels's work by reference to any scientific journal. This book is written for the non-scientist, so the Ehrlichs feel no need to follow the protocol demanded of the research scientist that requires citation to the scientific literature to support any disagreement with previously published studies."

Complete Ignorance: The Ehrlichs demonstrate a complete ignorance of the literature pertaining to acid rain research. Throughout the 1980s, the U.S. government financed a massive $500 million study of the effects of acid rain. At this same time the environmental advocates were telling the public with thousands of news stories how acid rain was devastating the forests of the eastern United States and Canada and that the lakes were dying and were fishless. But by 1989, much of the acid rain research had been completed and the results published in science journals and in the exhaustive National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP) report. The NAPAP report is dismissed by the Ehrlichs as "a mixed bag" – one wonders if they even read it. I did. The NAPAP studies showed that acid rain had little effect on the north-eastern forests; most are in very good condition, and where there was forest damage, it was mainly due to pests, very cold winters, and/or drought. There were only a few lakes in the northeast United States that became acid because of man's activities. Most of the acid lakes are found in Florida, where there is little acid rain.

The NAPAP researchers also reported that as the forests returned, after having been clear-cut in the 18th and 19th centuries, forest soils became acid as a result of decaying organic vegetation. Lakes in these acid forest soil environments returned to their prehistoric condition of acidity as proven by the presence of acid sensitive fossil biota found in the lake sediment cores. In our studies at the U.S. Geological Survey, we found that one of the more important effects of acid rain was the erosion of marble and limestone building materials. The greenlashers had little to say about these findings and continued to harp on the impending demise of forests and lakes. Dr. Laurence Kulp, who headed the NAPAP program until 1989, was replaced after publication of the preliminary NAPAP report because of political pressure from the greenlashers, for they did not like the scientific conclusions that exposed their false propaganda.

Lack of Understanding: Equally appalling is the Ehrlichs' lack of understanding of modern molecular cell biology and the newest ideas on the origins of human cancer. Although the Ehrlichs accept one of the leaders in cancer research, Dr. Bruce Ames, as among the "legitimate scientists with appropriate credentials" (what an understatement!), they ignore the monumental studies coming from his laboratory. The Ehrlichs go to great pains to discredit the studies of Ames and his colleague Lois Gold (pages 160-161).

What the Ehrlichs did not tell us in their book are the major points presented in scientific papers of Ames, Gold, and their associates – that simply living on the Earth exposes us to innumerable naturally occurring carcinogens; that naturally occurring chemical carcinogens (as defined by animal experiments) are ubiquitous in the foods we eat; that about 50 percent of the chemicals administered in high-dose animal tests, both natural and synthetic in origin, are found to be carcinogens; that of the approximately 1,000 chemicals found in roasted coffee, only 22 have thus far been tested in animals, and 19 of these 22 were found to be carcinogenic in animals; that many beverages contain large amounts of animal carcinogens; such as hydrogen peroxide, methylglyoxal, formaldehyde, nitrosamines, and ethyl alcohol; that we ingest at least 10,000 times more of Mother Nature's carcinogens than of man-made carcinogens; and that naturally occurring chemical carcinogens at concentrations of 50,000 parts per billion or greater are found in such common foods as apples, cauliflower, carrots, celery, cabbage, bananas, potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, and mushrooms.

"If one is looking for 'science and reason,' there is little to find in this book": Despite human ingestion of many naturally occurring carcinogens, they have little effect on cancer induction except in special classes of societies where extremely large amounts of certain foods and beverages are consumed – for example, fats, bracken fern, betel nuts, and alcoholic drinks. The studies of Sir Richard Dole and Dr. Richard Peto show that human cancers are largely due to smoking, diet, and bacterial and viral infections; exposure to man-made chemicals contributes very little to overall cancer mortality, thus refuting the fear-mongering pronouncements of the anti-chemical greenlashers.

Disgraceful: The Ehrlich treatment of journalists who do not follow the greenlash party line is especially disgraceful. They particularly single out Gregg Easterbrook as the most villainous of the brownlash reporters, partly I believe because of Easterbrook's stature as an environmental writer and the 1995 publication of his influential book A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism. This book is an exhaustive 745- page review of much of environmental science and policy. The main points of Easterbrook's analysis are: that we have made great headway in improving our environment, that we should acknowledge this progress, and that the doom-saying orthodoxy of the greenlashers is greatly inflated. In contradiction, the Ehrlichs believe that our planet is still in a desperate condition; thus they find it necessary to discredit Easterbrook's assessment. For example, they quote the following statement made by Jack Schultz, an entomologist at the Pennsylvania State University: A Moment on the Earth., "contains some of the most egregious cases of misunderstood, misstated, misinterpreted, and plainly incorrect 'science' l've ever encountered" (in Natural History, Aug. 1995). Perhaps the Ehrlichs did not make such a statement themselves for fear they could be sued for libel (Betrayal of Science and Reason was vetted by a lawyer specializing in libel law). Criticisms of Easterbrook are particularly trivial and picky; for example, he placed an insect in the wrong family and he violated the second law of thermodynamics (that's a good trick for a journalist to accomplish). To further discredit Easterbrook, the Ehrlichs state that he wrote "a for-hire biography of C. Everett Koop," the former Surgeon General of the United States. Imagine writing for profit!

Scientific Optimism: It is difficult for me as a professional scientist to respond to the question presented at the beginning of this commentary, for the Ehrlichs' Betrayal is a political and social polemic, masquerading as a scientific treatise. I also consider myself a humanitarian, believing that human progress is accomplished through better and better application of our technical expertise to improving the quality of the world around us, while at the same time sustaining our moral commitment to all humanity. With our technical accomplishments, the world is becoming a better place to live, both for humans and for the fauna and flora. This is amply demonstrated by comparing the relatively clean environments of the Western industrial nations to the terrible conditions in the poorly developed nations. However, the greenlashers, including the Ehrlichs, do not recognize the great benefits of modern technology. They believe humans are destroying the Earth, thus human populations must be greatly reduced; by what means they do not say. By slow-motion holocaust?

"To know a fly is to love one."– It is sad to say that in much of the greenlash literature there is expressed a visceral hatred of humanity. The Ehrlichs make a pungent statement that exposes their anti-humanitarianism, "To know a fly is to love one" (page 109). Nowhere in their book did I read "to know a human being is to love one."

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