What would Rachel Carson Do

Gardasil and the American Bald Eagle – What Would Rachel Carson Do?

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A mated pair of bald eagles twenty yards above me both tip their wings and set a synchronized dive wing-tip to wing-tip toward me. The Willamette River and the Oregon City’s Willamette Falls are the sources of interest for these youngsters. The raptors are giving me pause and hope – a certain sanity floods my head seeing things in balance, nature in action over a plugged-up Interstate 205, the gas guzzlers of the elite and the endless serpent of 18-wheelers looking like a monster to these eagles. These birds’ orange-yellow beaks and pitch-black body feathers remind me of this big web of life that is continually being disrupted, torn apart, and obliterated by the master species’ addiction to oil, chemicals, and industrial-strength-and-sized unnatural interventions.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, 1962) and her efforts to preserve the integrity of natural ecosystems from industrialized greed. I am reminded of all those foggers tooling through neighborhoods with DDT gas spewing out and kids chasing after in the vortex of the poison. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, synthesized in 1886, was deemed perfectly safe to life and limb by a battalion of scientists and medical impresarios backed by the likes of Monsanto. Carson, a biologist by trade, understood the dangers of these chemicals and fought arduously to inform the public. Through a series of letters and short chapters published first in the New Yorker and then compiled into the now landmark book Silent Spring, Carson’s efforts ultimately resulted in the banning of DDT but not before she was thoroughly castigated in the press.

For her robust scientific skepticism of the safety of all those government-approved and scientifically-proven chemicals polluting the landscape, she endured endless personal attacks. For me and countless other ecologists, Carson is the mother of the environmental movement. One such attack demonstrates the misogyny and scientific-technology chauvinism of her time:

Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn’t it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K.—Letter to the editor of the New Yorker, 1962

Though tame by comparison to the vitriol of 21st century social media attacks, the playbook remains much the same, and sadly, so too are the battles. Fifty years after Rachel Carson felt the sting of the attacks on her character and intellect, we are still fighting against these chemical companies, only now we fight from multiple fronts. The same companies polluting our ecosystem, our rivers, streams, lakes and ground soil, pollute our bodies.

Poisons, and now the slide into poisoned and colonized minds, have taken me from my birth in 1957 to a truly Kafkaesque carnival show of incompetence, perverted power, and inverse logic at all levels of the societal ladder. I questioned the safety of Gardasil and was fired from a non-profit for doing so. My story is all over the internet, and that’s fine. See “Social Worker Helping Troubled Teens Loses Job for Questioning Gardasil Vaccine During Planned Parenthood Required Training”. This sort of cause célèbre doesn’t pay the mortgage and doesn’t restore my character and professional standing that have been sullied by the events of recent weeks, but it does, open a door to a perspective once blocked from view.

Call it the Pandora’s Box opening up, or the tip of the iceberg surfacing. Since the forced paid leave and then the sacking, I have delved into the nefarious connections between non-profits and their funding agencies. What I found was disturbing and points to a much larger problem, a forced collusion between medical marketing, non-profits, foundations and scientists, a relationship that demands acquiescence or risks the loss of funding. While I have long understood that money influences decision-making, the extent to which profits are blocking questions about medication safety from being asked is unprecedented. The implications are frightening. This collusion is forcing people, cultures and their ecologies to bear the burden of illness, disease, cancers, ecocide and inter-generational hardships because of greed, galvanized through the adoption of a wholly market-driven science.

Amidst this unholy trinity of ideology-economics-politics, I cannot help but wonder, what would Rachel Carson do? She would write, of course. She would write passionately and clearly not to the institutions capitalism is beholden to, but to us, the people most affected by these decisions. I will do the same.

It is common practice among these chemical companies to attack prominent scientists who speak out against their products. This is a well-known part of the chemical industry playbook, dating back to the battles against DDT and refined by the tobacco industry. To censure unknown, low level employees of non-profits, however, speaks to a new level of message control, one, even I, an old journalist, educator and environmental activist, find surprising. I think you will too.

Over the coming weeks, I will publish a series of articles exploring the influence of pharmaceutical funding to non-profits on the messaging and marketing of health related information. As you read these posts, we encourage you to look at your own circumstances and ask yourself how what you know or think you know about a given chemical might be influenced by corporate interests. If you work at non-profit tasked with disseminating health or environmental information, how are questions of efficacy and product safety dealt with? Are there certain topics that cannot be broached, even by lower level employees? Has anyone been terminated for asking the wrong questions? Then ask yourself, “What would Rachel Carson do?” and consider sharing your story with us.

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This article was published originally on November 7, 2017.

Paul has been writing in a journalistic way since 1974. He's covered the environment and all daily newspaper beats since that time. He has worked in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Vietnam on environmental justice stories. He has a master's in English and a graduate degree in urban and regional planning. Additionally, he writes regularly for Dissident Voice, LA Progressive and other venues. He is a member of the Society for Professional Journalists for which he has won a few writing awards. He lives and works in the Pacific Northwest-Portland. His teaching career has taken him to Texas, Juarez, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, and Vietnam. His short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam can be purchased at www.cirquejournal.com


  1. I appreciate the enthusiasm. My desire since my late teens has always been a search for truth and a deeper search of what are the lies and the marketing magics of the controllers, from government to corporations. So,LMP, here, someone I draw from a lot — Ed Curtain, as a way to frame the search I undertake in this small drop in the pond around an age old problem — whomever controls the truth controls the veins feeding the profiteers and propagandists:

    For while the mainstream media does the bidding of the power elite, there is ample alternative news and analyses available on the internet from fine journalists and writers committed to truth, not propaganda. There is actually far too much truth available, which poses another problem.

    But it doesn’t take a genius to learn how to research important issues and to learn how to distinguish between bogus and genuine information. It takes a bit of effort, and, more importantly, the desire to compare multiple, opposing viewpoints and untangle the webs the Web weaves. We are awash in information (and disinformation) and both good and bad reporting, but it is still available to the caring inquirer.

    The problem is the will to know. But why, why the refusal to investigate and question; why the indifference? Stupidity? Okay, there is that. Ignorance? That too. Willful ignorance, ditto. Laziness, indeed. Careerism and ideology? For certain.

    Upton Sinclair put it mildly when he said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on not understanding it.” Difficult? No, it’s almost impossible.

    The French sociologist, Jacques Ellul, has argued convincingly that modern propaganda in a technological mass society is more complicated than the state and media lying and deceiving the population. He argues that propaganda meets certain needs of modern people and therefore the process of deceit is reciprocal. The modern person feels lost, powerless, and empty.

    Ellul says, “He realizes that he depends on decisions over which he has no control, and that realization drives him to despair.”

    But he can’t live in despair; desires that life be meaningful; and wants to feel he lives in a world that makes sense. He wants to participate and have opinions that suggest he grasps the flow of events. He doesn’t so much want information, but value judgments and preconceived positions that provide him with a framework for living. Ellul wrote the following in 1965 in his classic book Propaganda:

    “The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation. For they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a ‘key’ that will permit them to take a position, and even ready-made opinions….The man who keeps himself informed needs a framework….the more complicated the problems are, the more simple the explanations must be; the more fragmented the canvas, the simpler the pattern; the more difficult the question, the more all-embracing the solution; the more menacing the reduction of his own worth, the greater the need for boosting his ego. All this propaganda – and only propaganda – can give him.”


    • Thank you so much for this thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post! I really appreciate it! I cringe to think of the corruption of non-profits by corporate chemical companies, yet I look forward to reading your future posts! It would be interesting to see/explore how university research is corrupted as well.


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