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From the archives: The 1960s

Rachel Carson gets a scathing review

by Alexander H. Tullo
July 30, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 25

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Few would disagree that Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book denouncing the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT, became a foundational document for the modern environmental movement. Writing on the occasion of Carson’s 100th birthday, in 2007, C&EN editor in chief Rudy Baum assesses the book’s deep impact: “At a time when humans largely believed themselves to be apart from nature and destined to control it, Carson argued passionately that nature is, in fact, a network of interconnections and interdependencies and that humans are a part of that network and threaten its cohesion at their own peril.” In 1962, C&EN did not receive the book so cordially. We published a review with the patriarchal and dismissive title “Silence, Miss Carson.” The piece, by William J. Darby, a professor of biochemistry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, doesn’t get any more charitable from there. Darby accuses Carson of cherry-picking sources, providing no new information, making emotional appeals, quoting scientists out of context, and misinterpreting data. “The responsible scientist should read this book to understand the ignorance of those writing on the subject and the educational task which lies ahead,” he concludes. But even at the time, Darby’s piece brought rebuttal. “No informed person who is honest can claim that our environment is not being changed in many harmful ways,” reader Joseph Hoffman says in a letter to C&EN a few weeks later.


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