Posted by: Green Knight | September 27, 2012

Silent Spring, Science Fall

Today, September 27, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s seminal and groundbreaking work. “Silent Spring” is often credited with giving birth to the modern environmental movement, in terms of concern about pollution. There were several books that had been out for much longer, but more along the lines of celebrating Nature. One thinks of Thoreau, or John Muir’s “The Yosemite,” or a personal favorite, Loren Eiseley’s “The Immense Journey,” but Rachel brought public attention to how what should be celebrated was being damaged. (Eiseley, by the way, was one of Ms. Carson’s supporters when her book was under fire.)

She endured a lot of ridicule and criticism from the pesticide manufacturers, and others, of course. They said she wasn’t a “real” scientist (which she was), or not-so-subtly hinted that a woman couldn’t fully grasp the complexities of science. They painted her as an anti-business alarmist who wanted to ban everything (sound familiar?). Suffice it to say that JFK directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate the book’s claims, and they vindicated Ms. Carson.

I wrote about Rachel extensively on her birthday, May 27th (either this year or last year), so I won’t rehash what’s already been said. I’ll have to look and see if I included some old video clips of television interviews with her when the book first came out. A book that has just come out is by author William Souder, a fellow member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Published on the 4th of this month, it’s entitled “On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.” I’m waiting to get a look at it myself, but from what I know of Bill’s work, it’s bound to be thorough and accurate.

Speaking of frogs (LOL), a previous book by Bill, from 2000, is “A Plague of Frogs.” Ever since I wrote about Save the Frogs Day nearly a year and a half ago, frogs have been light-years ahead of any other topic I’ve addressed here on the Hot Sheet. When I look at my site stats, on a good day I might have 40 or more hits; I guarantee that over 30 of them will be resultant from frog-related searches. Mr. Souder’s book was written at a time when the culprits causing deformities in frogs were thought to be flatworm cysts and/or runoff from hormone-mimicking agricultural chemicals. While these aren’t off the hook, we know now that the main cause is chytrid fungus (see my post “The Birds and the Bees and the Bats and the Frogs”). I’d been following the decline of amphibians since the late ’80s; I wish we could nail down the cause and come up with preventive measures for white-nose syndrome in bats. At least my neighborhood crows are back, those that developed a resistance to West Nile virus (which is in the news again lately).

A nice segue to my second topic is a link Bill posted today on Facebook, regarding the myth of “scientific certainty,” a topic I’ve addressed before. Science is never about being “certain.” It’s an asymptotic process, always getting closer to the truth as new information is discovered. Current science is exactly that, the best explanation we have based on the data that are currently available. As I’ve said before, those who deride evolution as “just” a theory are invited to step off the roof of my building, because gravity is “just” a theory too, since even Einstein couldn’t quite figure out exactly how it works. Here’s the blog discussing Rachel’s views on uncertainty in science:

I won’t get into Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle except to say that new techniques have partially succeeded in less intrusive measurement techniques that can determine the location AND the spin of a subatomic particle without collapsing the wave form. Schrödinger’s cat is now a Cheshire cat, and the experiment involves TWO boxes, with the cat in one box and its smile in the other. For further reading on uncertainty in real, or “good” science, consult the following:



  1. but always change the litter box.

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