In the Spectator, epidemiologist Paul Reiter debunks the “malaria spreading because of Global Warming” meme popularized by Al Gore, and explains how the repetition in print of empty assertions by small groups of activists can effectively promote complete falsehoods into established fact.
Al Goreâ€™s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was a masterpiece. Like an elder brother to all humanity, he patiently explained the familiar litany of disasters â€” droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level rise and the rest â€” spiced with heartrending personal stories: his baby sonâ€™s near-fatal accident, the agony of losing a sister to lung cancer. It was a science lecture crafted by Hollywood. …
In his serious voice, Mr Gore presented a nifty animation, a band of little mosquitoes fluttering their way up the slopes of a snow-capped mountain, and he repeated the old line: Nairobi used to be â€˜above the mosquito line, the limit at which mosquitoes can survive, but nowâ€¦â€™ Those little mosquitoes kept climbing.
The truth? Nairobi means â€˜the place of cool watersâ€™ in the Masai language. The town grew up around a camp, set up in 1899 during the construction of a railway, the famous â€˜Lunatic Expressâ€™. There certainly was water there â€” and mosquitoes. From the start, the place was plagued with malaria, so much so that a few years later doctors tried to have the whole town moved to a healthier place. By 1927, the disease had become such a plague in the â€˜White Highlandsâ€™ that Â£40,000 (equivalent to about Â£350,000 today) was earmarked for malaria control. The authorities understood the root of the problem: forest clearance had created the perfect breeding places for mosquitoes. The disease was present as high as 2,500m above sea level; the mosquitoes were observed at 3,000m. And Nairobi? 1,680m.
These details are not science. They require no study. They are history. But for activists, they are an inconvenient truth, so they ignore them. Even if Mr Gore is innocent, his advisers are not. They have been spouting the same nonsense for more than a decade. As scientists, we have repeatedly challenged them in the scientific press, at meetings and in news articles, and we have been ignored.
In 2004, nine of us published an appeal in the Lancet: â€˜Malaria and climate change: a call for accuracyâ€™. Clearly, Mr Gore didnâ€™t read it. In 2000, I protested when Scientific American published a major article loaded with the usual misrepresentations. And when I watched his animated mosquitoes, his snow-capped mountain was oddly familiar. It took a few moments to click: the images were virtually identical to those in the magazine. The author of the article, Dr Paul Epstein, features high in Goreâ€™s credits.
Dr Epstein is a member of a small band dedicated to a cause. And their work gains legitimacy, not by scholarship, but by repetition. While they publish their work in highly regarded journals, they donâ€™t write research papers but opinion pieces and reviews, with little or no reference to the mainstream of science. The same claims, the same names; only the order of authors change. I have counted 48 separate pieces by just eight activists. They are myth-makers. And all have been lead authors and/or contributory authors of the prestigious IPCC assessment reports.
Take their contention, for example, that as a result of climate change, tropical diseases will move to temperate regions and malaria will come to Britain. If they bothered to learn about the subject, they would know that in a period climatologists call the Little Ice Age, when Charles II held ice parties on the Thames, malaria â€” â€˜the agueâ€™ â€” was rampant in the Essex marshes, on a par even with regions in Africa today. In the 18th century, the great systematist Linnaeus wrote his doctorate on malaria in central Sweden. In 1922-23 a massive epidemic swept the Soviet Union as far north as Archangel, on the Arctic circle, killing an estimated 600,000 people. And malaria was only eliminated from the Soviet Union and large areas of Europe in the 1950s, after the advent of DDT. So itâ€™s hardly a tropical disease. And yet when we put this information under the noses of the activists it is ignored: ours is the inconvenient truth.