text from: "Nature is for the Birds." [viewpoint] Chemical Week (July 28, 1962): 5.


Nature Is for the Birds

The organic farmers, antivivisectionists, and those opposed to fluoridation, chemical pesticides, blood transfusions, etc. ad infinitum, are a motley lot. They range from superstition-ridden illiterates to educated scientists, from cultists to relatively reasonable men and women.

Despite their diversity, they are bound together by belief in one extravagant fallacy: that "Nature" is good, and that anything contrary to "Nature" is bad. Their creed was formulated by the 18th Century's Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose ideal man was the "noble savage" and who said: "God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil."

In this fallacy Nature is seen as a state of primitive innocence--limpid pools of pure water, clear skies, abundant nuts and fruits waiting to be plucked. Overlooked are the unfriendly aspects of Nature--hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, plagues, fleas, ticks, lice, and mites.

The history of Man, it seems to us, is a struggle against Nature, which surrounds him with a hostile environment. In the natural scheme of things Man is simply one of the many organisms that must be kept in balance; therefore it is natural that he should be prey to stronger carniverous beasts, to poisonous plants, or to subtle but deadly micro-organisms. The American Indian, for example, survived in an ecological balance with his fellow fauna and flora; he didn't flourish because he lacked the means to change his environment sufficiently. The same is largely true today of primitive tribes in Africa, South America and Australasia.

These facts must not be lost sight of in the controversy that is bound to arise over Rachel Carson's forthcoming book, "Silent Spring," an expansion of her New Yorker series (CW Viewpoint, July 14, p. 5).

We don't suggest for one minute that Miss Carson herself is a nature cultist. But the sweeping and sometimes unwarranted conclusions she draws will be seized upon by the extremists as vindication of their erroneous tenets. Distribution of her book by the Book-of-the-Month Club will put it in the hands of many who lack the background and knowledge to question her more questionable conclusions.

There's no question but that modern large-scale agriculture (which confers on us the dubious privilege of maintaining the most expensive surpluses in history) does upset the balance of nature. Reputable entomologists--whether in schools, industry, or the government--are keenly aware of the problem. The procedures they work out are designed to accomplish the greatest good with the least harm. Sometimes they'll make mistakes, just as surgeons and chemists make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes will kill birds, or fish, or even men--just as a qualified surgeon's patients may sometimes die under the knife.

In pest control--as in medicine, law, or international diplomacy--we must weigh risks against benefits. Is the chance of restored health worth a dangerous operation? Is the survival of civilization worth a few pounds of fallout? Is a crop of wheat worth a few songbirds? These aren't easy questions; and entomologists, no more than other serious mcn, will not give easy answers.