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Dying to Be Politically Correct

How politics can make even basic science challenges difficult—and why the toxic history of the DDT debate still matters.

�I keep thinking the insects are going to win,” says J. Gordon “Doc” Edwards, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biological sciences at San Jos� State University in California. Speaking from the eponymously named J. Gordon Edwards Entomology Museum, he was reflecting on a lifetime of studying insects and championing the infamous pesticide dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane, or DDT. Pests—and pesticides—are back in the news: last year the mosquito-borne West Nile virus infected 4,156 people in the United States, killing 284, continuing its westward migration this year.1 Meanwhile, malaria is on the rise worldwide. Resistance to the major malaria antimicrobials is increasing the costs of treatment, and once again the disease is killing millions each year. The war against malaria, once a tale of scientific derring-do, is fast becoming a quagmire. At the heart of this reversal of fortune lies a story of how the politics of saving the planet prevailed over the science of saving lives.