Progress, Unsung Heroes

In Praise of Moonbattery

12.09.06 | 1 Comment

Way back on 9/11 I was going to put up a post denouncing those who thought that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were faked. I still beleive that many of these people either have a deep-seated need to blame nebulous conspiracies instead of a few highly motivated individuals, but I also realized that single-mindedness to the point of mania has its uses.

Around that same time I ran across an article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “The Mosquito Killer.” The subject was Fred Soper, a public health official with the Rockefeller Foundation (among other organizations). Soper had a goal: wiping out malaria. And he pursued this goal to the point of lunacy.

As the article points out, malaria was a huge scourge back in the 1940s when Soper began his crusade. It was still common not just in the tropics but in the American south. Hundreds of thousands died from it every year. When Soper was handed a new insecticide called DDT, he decided to do something about it.

Read the article for more information, but suffice to say that A) Soper was ultimately unsuccessful, and B) he nevertheless saved tens of millions of lives (a conservative estimate).

It’s surprising to me that people like Soper and Norman Borlaug (who saved hundreds of millions through the development of new strains of grain and intensive farming techniques) aren’t better known. Even Jonas Salk, famous for wiping out polio, is not as well known as he once was.

Worse, it seems that there’s a strong reluctance to meddle in the natural world these days. It’s true that there are unintended side effects to any “solution”, but millions die every year from ailments as treatable as diarrhea. The world was a much different place just a hundred years ago, for everyone, everywhere, and the fact that people live longer and most never face a debilitating disease is taken for granted now, thanks to people like Soper, Borlaug, and Salk, and their insane refusal to take no for an answer.

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