This valentine shows the mutualistic relationship between ants and aphids where both benefit. Aphids produce very sugary poop, which ants find delicious. The ants protect the aphids from other insects that might want to eat them. Win-win.
The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement. Mark Hamilton Lytle, 2007. Oxford Univ. Press.
Bug Rating: (with some caveats)
I have written quite a bit about Rachel Carson, mainly because I am baffled at the amount of vitriol still spewed over her book Silent Spring nearly 50 years after it’s publication. It’s turned out to be my own personal mini-crusade, since everytime I mention the name of this woman people come out of the woodwork to say…well, ill-informed wing-nutty things, frankly, including people who should know better.
I find Carson fascinating not just because she is the focus of a modern dis-information campaign, but because she was a scientist that could write. And I mean REALLY write, not just to communicate, but to bring the beauty and love of the natural world that she saw around her alive.
In all the DDT hoopla, it seems people have forgotten that Carson wrote beautiful prose about science. She wrote well enough to win a National Book Award, and to have her science book stay #1 on the New York Times best seller list for 86 weeks:
“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.”
I was interested this short biography of Carson, and picked it up. I’m really glad I did, because it helped me gain a better understanding of this woman and the huge challenges she faced. And there were a lot of challenges.
Carson did not come from a wealthy family, and much of her life was occupied in chasing enough money to support herself and her extended family. Carson moved her mother, her brother and sister, and her 2 nieces into one house–and became the primary financial support for all of them during the Depression. In 1929, women did not commonly apply to Johns Hopkins, or gain admission to graduate school at Woods Hole. Carson did both of those things successfully, and recieved a Masters in 1932.
She skipped pursuing a PhD in order to seek work, and was lucky enough to find a home in the Department of Fisheries. She began writing radio scripts, and progressed to writing USFW publications and magazine pieces. Carson published her first book in 1941–which was promptly eclipsed by a world at war, and did not prove to be very profitable. In 1950, she got her big break with The Sea Around Us, which did bring enough income in to allow her to purchase a home in Maine and become an independent writer. In 1950 Carson also had her first cancer tumor removed from her left breast.
Reading her story now, I can’t help but think of my many freelancing writer friends, and how they struggle to support their families and to try to make a living. It doesn’t seem to have gotten any easier in the last 50 years to be an independent writer.
Carson had a demanding family life. Her mother wanted to be connected and involved in Rachel’s life in a way that…well, I found kind of creepy. Rachel’s niece (who was, remember, living with her and diabetic) had an out of wedlock child. Carson became the primary caregiver for both her elderly mother and disabled niece, and could not afford to put either of them in a nursing home or have home help. That Carson could write well under those conditions is pretty amazing. And that doesn’t even begin to cover how much stress she must have been under when writing Silent Spring.
In 1958 Carson began work on what would become Silent Spring–her last book. She had a radical mastectomy in 1959. Early excerpts of the book attracted vitriolic criticism, and lots of gendered slurs. ”Shrill.” “Emotional.” “Unscientific.”
In 1960 Carson developed secondary tumors and blood poisoning, and was confined to a wheelchair for many months. In 1961 she developed an infection that caused her to loose her sight for several months, and was unable to read what she had written. In 1962, as Silent Spring was going to press, more tumors were found in her abdomen. She wore a wig to testify in Congress, hiding her loss of hair from radiation treatments. By late 1963 compression fractures in her spine from radiation treatments made walking difficult and painful. Carson died in Spring 1964.
This woman had ovaries of brass. I am in awe of how tenacious and determined she must have been to finish this last project. Her letters show she was hanging on by her fingertips, determined to see it through.
As for this book—how does it compare to other Carson biographies? It is short, and a quick read, and has enough footnotes you can be fairly sure of source material. I was very happy that the author chose to not speculate about the nature of Carson’s close friendships with other smart, sciency women of her time, since we don’t know for sure if they were or were not platonic or romantic.
The book itself sort of falls into two parts: things jerks said to Carson while she was alive, and things jerks say about her now that she’s dead. It’s not comprehensive, but for a quick dip into the issue and a history of what Carson endured, it’s a good read. I don’t think the author covered modern attacks on Carson very well, but much of the documentation of who paid for the “hit” on Carson came out in late 2007/2008, so that’s understandable.
At one time I was pretty actively writing about Carson and DDT, and trying to combat the misinformation campaigns put out by various astroturf groups. I eventually stopped, mostly because the people that comment on that topic scare me. I have gotten many, many threats over those posts, most of them threats of sexual assault. Those posts about DDT and Rachel Carson are the reason that comments on posts close after 40 days on this blog, since that way I don’t have to go in daily and remove nasty spittle-flecked comments.
I can’t be intimidated into believing their lies about a brave woman and a wonderful writer, but I was intimidated enough that I stopped writing about Carson to stay under their radar. I think I need to take a lesson from Ms. Carson herself. In the face of terrible pain and opposition, she WON with good writing and truth.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Rachel Carson
I wonder if sometimes I feel driven to defend Carson because I see so much of my sister in her. Both women are talented, had breast cancer much too young–and neither one seems able to catch a fucking break. Anything that could go wrong does seem to go wrong.
And by God, if you mess with my sister, you mess with ME.
I got your back, Rachel. I got your back.
- If you haven’t read Carson’s “The Sense of Wonder” you should.
- How well have claims in Carson’s 1962 book held up? Pretty well, actually!
- A collection of things I and others have written to try to set the record straight about Carson and DDT
- PBS Carson Documentary
- Audio Interview with the Biography Author
- Interview with the Biography Author at Oxford Press Blog
Just wanted to make sure everyone knows to contact their legislators about the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1913).
While some states have laws protecting LGBT people, there is no federal protection. Amazingly, bullying laws have failed to pass in several states. Two eleven-year old boys committed suicide this month over homophobic bullying.
At the link I posted above, you can send a letter to your congressperson. Please.
The Matthew Shepard Act gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the department with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Listen to the way in which Angie Zapata is discussed as a thing in the trial of her murderer. 10 years ago a young college student and a black man in Texas were brutally murdered–because of who they were.
Rather predictably, while most of us rejoice, some others think the world is ending. I just loved this graphic from Pam’s House Blend illustrating fundamentalist reactions–It make me laugh very much. I hope they don’t mind me swiping it
Other good news:
New York is closer to passing a bullying bill.
While MSU did not beat UNC, they did come awfully close, and made a lot of Michiganders happy.
It finally stopped snowing.
Yeah, this doesn’t fix the world, but it does help to win a few for a change.
I was going to try to stay on the insect topic all week, but enough stuff keeps happening that I just can’t.
On the 45th anniversary of the 16th Street Bombing, Angry Black Woman connects the deaths of black children in the past to an assault on the nursery in a Mosque in Ohio Last week. How. Is. This. NOT. A. Hate. Crime? From the news coverage:
“Mosque board member Tarek Sabagh said many people within the mosque speculated that the incident was the result of a DVD about Islamic radicalism titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” that was mailed to area homes by its producers and circulated as a paid advertisement with more than 70 newspapers, including the Dayton Daily News.”
We got a copy of that video too–as did everyone I know in Michigan. Some racists have really deep pockets.
And, yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd. Two men tortured in horrible ways because of who they were.
We have come a long way–but we still have so far to go. These are important topics in Michigan, since we are home to a group called FAIR–Federation for American Immigration Reform. New documents that have come out this month show that the FAIR leader has pretty clear Neo-Nazi ties. FAIR has argued that “some immigrant groups” are engaged in “competitive breeding.” I think you can read between the lines, there.
Hatred is still here, and it is still very real. I hear a lot of white folks discussing the Obama campaign, and saying “I can’t believe that people are still so racist they wouldn’t vote for a black man!” and “I didn’t think there are still Skinheads!”
Hello? Have you been paying any attention?
Yes, things are much better than they were. But we can’t relax.
“When any of us have a soapbox, an opportunity to get up and talk, we must continue to stand by those who aren’t called on. If you want to consider yourself an anti-racist or a white ally to people of color — if you want anyone else to consider you those things — then it behooves you to swim against the current. If everyone did, perhaps the tides would turn, even if it was just in our corner of the blogosphere….
When you find yourself in the inevitable currents of our society that always flow towards greater privilege, away from the marginalized, the oppressed, be prepared to swim against that tide. Don’t just stand there and let sand pool around your ankles.” (emphasis mine)
Fagbug! What an awesome story of someone taking an act of hate and turning it into something positive.
From a news article covering her story, and the rainbow makeover courtesy of Volkswagen:
“Fag Bug has become much more than when it started. And to be able to transform it into something positive, rather than have people look at my car and be upset and hurt, I’d rather they look and see how bright the colors are, see something fun and playful instead of something hurtful,” Davies said.
One year ago someone spray painted anti-gay slurs on her car. Instead of removing it, she drove around the country for a year and documented reactions to the hateful words. It was difficult both financially and emotionally.”
I’m very interested in seeing the documentary she’s working on.
Welcome to the Valentine’s edition of the Skeptics’ Circle!
We have to lead off with Gateway Skepticism‘s skeptical examination of “scientific dating.” Personally, I think it might take a while to verify the claim that having divergent histocompatibility complexes makes for better sex and more orgasms. I’m sure quite a few skeptics are willing to sign up for the clinical trial to put that to the test, though.
That trial would also be a nice tribute to Valentine’s Day, which currently is named for one of 3 rather horribly mangled saints, but actually began as a wild party:
“The roots of St. Valentine’s Day lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on Feb. 15. For 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus. On Lupercalia, a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year. “
Hey, looks like they already have our clinical protocol for the orgasm study worked out!
Ah, but wait–some people are skeptical (!) that’s really how the story goes.
And what is love, really? Is it biochemistry? A strange hormonal disorder? Well, no one really addressed the topic of the biology of love specifically this Circle, but we did have a great deal of writing about medicine and medical issues:
Val Jones MD discussed the rise of snake oil in the US, as does WhiteCoatUnderground. Skeptico discusses a new website, “What’s the Harm?,” which documents actual harm caused by medical woo-meisters. He asks for your contributions, too!
Terra Sigillata advises you to beware online sites offering advice about breast cancer, and jdc325 contributes a biography of Joseph Chikelue Obe, the loony homeopath that sent Quackometer a cease and desist letter.
Not quite people, but still medicine: Wandering Primate covers the invasion of ‘alternative’ medicine into veterinary schools.
Love makes us all crazy, and Andrea explains the 3lb. exemption, or how Scientology manages to ignore/demonize psychology and psychotherapy.
Lynda Barry says “Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.” Ah, so true.
And one of the fruits of love is children. We have several entries about kids and skepticism:
Podblack contributes Skeptical Books for Children–Part 2, and SkepDad discusses what sounds to me, an admittedly biased person, like the best toy in the universe: a bug jug.
Skepchick also covers Indigo Children. (Hint: these are not offspring of the Blue Man Group.)
Math and statistics were discussed in some SC entries, although no coverage of the probability of you finding true love:
Evangelical Realism covers some sketchy interpretations of statistics to imply atheists are more likely to be criminals.
One Brow’s spelling could use some work, but he discusses the number of factors you need to account for if you are trying to calculate the probability of creation or evolution. Joe at Cotch.net also tells us How to lie with Tissue Culture. In other words, why what works in cell cultures may or may not actually translate into actual whole organism effects.
In Literature, Skepchick has a lovely breakup story–how writerdd told God she needed some space.
Archeoporn critiques an article in Skeptic magazine by Tim Callahan, and Greta Christina has a review of “Mistakes were made, but not by me”, which she heartily endorses.
And, while they can’t use their psychic powers to predict if you’ll get laid tonight, The TANK Vodcast does present two skeptics who investigated and/or worked as psychics!
BTW, The valentine images you see used in this post are from Jacks of science, Ironic Sans’ lovely science valentines, complimented by Neatorama’s geeky science valentines, and The Love Poodle is courtesy of Kitty from Skepchick!
Lastly, a quote about love from Douglas Adams, who I sorely miss:
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
I’m afraid I ran into a bit of a technical snag, so the Circle is up a bit later than usual. Just have it with brunch, rather than breakfast, ok? By now your brain is fully caffeinated, and it will make more sense anyway.
The next Skeptics’ Circle is hosted by Conspiracy Factory on February 28th.
I have been sick for a while now, and it’s really making a dent IRL and here online. I’m on my third round of antibiotics, and I’m pretty sure this time the sinus infection will really go away. Hopefully.
So, I totally missed posting on National Coming Out Day, and then missed a mention of Seven Straight Nights. But I haven’t forgotten!
I’m a bisexual woman that married a guy, so I ended up in a privileged position legally.* I can actually provide benefits to my partner, and have our marriage legally recognized by the state.
I want to make sure I use my electronic bully pulpit to say how much I support the ability of my LGBT friends to marry, to be free of hate, and to live their lives as they see fit. It is a human rights issue.
So, I’m a little late, but thought I’d link to a nifty website I discovered recently that monitors the religious right and their LBGT hatred: Soulforce.org.
“The primary source of spiritual violence and misinformation against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) individuals comes from religious leaders and institutions who adhere to a rigid theology and misguided teachings used to condemn and shame non-heterosexuals.
It is the mission of Soulforce to work to end spiritual violence perpetuated by these anti-gay religious policies and teachings.”
I’m not a religious person myself, so it’s encouraging to see people of faith fighting back against dogma.