Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson : biography

May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964

Carson predicts increased consequences in the future, especially as targeted pests develop resistance to pesticides, while weakened ecosystems fall prey to unanticipated invasive species. The book closes with a call for a biotic approach to pest control as an alternative to chemical pesticides.

Promotion and reception

Carson and the others involved with publication of Silent Spring expected fierce criticism. They were particularly concerned about the possibility of being sued for libel. Carson was also undergoing radiation therapy to combat her spreading cancer, and expected to have little energy to devote to defending her work and responding to critics. In preparation for the anticipated attacks, Carson and her agent attempted to amass as many prominent supporters as possible before the book’s release.

Most of the book’s scientific chapters were reviewed by scientists with relevant expertise, among whom Carson found strong support. Carson attended the White House Conference on Conservation in May, 1962; Houghton Mifflin distributed proof copies of Silent Spring to many of the delegates, and promoted the upcoming New Yorker serialization. Among many others, Carson also sent a proof copy to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a long-time environmental advocate who had argued against the court’s rejection of the Long Island pesticide spraying case (and who had provided Carson with some of the material included in her chapter on herbicides).. Douglas’s dissenting opinion on the rejection of the case, Robert Cushman Murphy et al., v. Butler et al., from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, is from March 28, 1960.

Though Silent Spring had generated a fairly high level of interest based on pre-publication promotion, this became much more intense with the serialization in The New Yorker, which began in the June 16, 1962 issue. This brought the book to the attention of the chemical industry and its lobbyists, as well as a wide swath of the American populace. Around that time Carson also learned that Silent Spring had been selected as the Book-of-the-Month for October; as she put it, this would "carry it to farms and hamlets all over that country that don’t know what a bookstore looks like—much less The New Yorker.". Quotation (p. 408) from a June 13, 1962 letter from Carson to Dorothy Freeman. Other publicity included a positive editorial in The New York Times and excerpts of the serialized version in Audubon Magazine, with another round of publicity in July and August as chemical companies responded. The story of the birth defect-causing drug thalidomide broke just before the book’s publication as well, inviting comparisons between Carson and Frances Oldham Kelsey, the Food and Drug Administration reviewer who had blocked the drug’s sale in the United States.

In the weeks leading up to the September 27 publication, there was strong opposition to Silent Spring from the chemical industry. DuPont (a main manufacturer of DDT and 2,4-D) and Velsicol Chemical Company (exclusive manufacturer of chlordane and heptachlor) were among the first to respond. DuPont compiled an extensive report on the book’s press coverage and estimated impact on public opinion. Velsicol threatened legal action against Houghton Mifflin as well as The New Yorker and Audubon Magazine unless the planned Silent Spring features were canceled. Chemical industry representatives and lobbyists also lodged a range of non-specific complaints, some anonymously. Chemical companies and associated organizations produced a number of their own brochures and articles promoting and defending pesticide use. However, Carson’s and the publishers’ lawyers were confident in the vetting process Silent Spring had undergone. The magazine and book publications proceeded as planned, as did the large Book-of-the-Month printing (which included a pamphlet endorsing the book by William O. Douglas).

American Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens and former Cyanamid chemist Thomas Jukes were among the most aggressive critics, especially of Carson’s analysis of DDT. According to White-Stevens, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.". Retrieved September 23, 2007. Others went further, attacking Carson’s scientific credentials (because her training was in marine biology rather than biochemistry) and her personal character. White-Stevens labeled her "a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature",Quoted in while former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson—in a letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower—reportedly concluded that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was "probably a Communist".. Benson’s supposed comments were widely repeated at the time, but have not been directly confirmed.