Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson
By Roger Meiners, Pierre Desrochers and Andrew Morriss (editors)
Cato Institute, 2012

Buy the Book  |  Media  |  Book summary  |  Table of Content  |  About the editors and contributors

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Media (selected)

Print and electronic
- By the editors
Desrochers, Pierre. "Silent Spring - Die wahre Geschichte." Novo Argumente Online (October 15, 2012).

Desrochers, Pierre. "The real story of Silent Spring." (September 28, 2012).

Meiners, Roger. “Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson (Reassessing Environmentalism’s Fateful Turn from Science to Advocacy). Master Resource (September 21, 2012).

Morriss, Andrew P. “Silent Spring after 50 Years.” The Freeman (July/August 2012).

Morriss, Andrew P. and Roger Meiners. Silent Spring at 50: Reflections on an Environmental Classic. PERC Policy Series #51 (2012).

- Reviews

Seeland, Klaus. "Stummer Frühling: Silent Spring at 50." Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen (Swiss Journal of Forestry) 164 (4) (April 2013): 110.

Walker, Bruce Edward. "Rachel Carson’s Environmental Religion." Religion & Liberty
22 (4).

Cohen, Rory. "Rory Cohen: 'Silent Spring' revered and overwrought." The Orange County Register (October 29, 2012).

"Das toxische Erbe der Umweltbewegung." Neue Zuercher Zeitung (October 7, 2012).

Porritt, Jonathon. "Poisonous passions." The Spectator (September 22, 2012).

What Critics Say

"The libertarian Cato Institute, co-founded in 1977 by chemical merchant David Koch, is marking the anniversary of Silent Spring with its own contrarian publication titled The False Crises of Rachel Carson." -Mike Di Paola, Bloomberg News, September 18, 2012.

Shaidle, Kathy. “The Silent Spring that Won’t Shut Up.” Taki’s Magazine (September 18, 2012).

Sterba, James P. “How Nature Made a Comeback.” The Wall Street Journal (August 31st, 2012).

Caruba, Alan. “The 50th Anniversary of Silent Spring: A Lethal Legacy.” Renew America (June 15, 2012).

- Others
Hayward, Steven. "A Not So Happy Birthday." PowerLine Blog (May 27, 2014).

Foster, Peter. "The Child Killers." National Post (August 29, 2013).

Kozlovich, Rick. 2013. "Silent Spring: Fifty Years of Junk Science" Part III (February 9) and Part IV (May 12) Paradigms and Demographics.

Hickman, Leo. "What is the legacy of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring?" The Guardian (September 28, 2012).

Zerbisias, Antonia. 2012. "Rachel Carson: The woman who shaped the environmental debate." Toronto Star (September 28).

Koch, Wendy. "Carson's 'Silent Spring' spurred environmental movement." (September 27, 2012).

Di Paola, Mike. "JFK Fought DDT in Rachel Carson's Environmental Crusade." Bloomberg News (September 18, 2012).

"False crisis of Rachel Carson." The Source, SUN TV (October 18, 2012).

Mangu-Ward, Katherine. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring at 50 Years., September 27, 2012.

Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson. Book Forum with Andrew Morriss and Richard Tren, Cato Institute, September 20, 2012.

The fight against malaria [podcast episode #05] (May 7, 2013) (Amanda Maxham).

CATO Institute Daily Podcast (September 20, 2012) (Andrew P. Morriss).

KOA’s The Mike Rosen Show (September 18, 2012) (Roger Meiners).

WABC’s The John Bachler Show (July 10, 2012) (Roger Meiners).

Book summary

Widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement when published 50 years ago, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring had a profound impact on our society. While Carson was not the first to write about the dangers of pesticides or to sound environmental alarms, her book captured and retained the attention of the public. As an iconic work, the book has received little critical inquiry, but this landmark anniversary provides an opportunity to reassess its legacy and influence. In Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson, experts explore the book's historical context, the science it was built on, and the policy consequences of its core ideas.

The conclusions reached by the authors make it clear that the legacy of Silent Spring is highly problematic. Carson made little effort to provide a balanced perspective and consistently ignored key evidence that would have contradicted her work. Thus, while the book provided a range of notable ideas, a number of Carson's major arguments rested on what can only be described as deliberate ignorance. Just a few of these include:

  • Carson vilified the use of DDT in agriculture but essentially ignored the chemical’s significant role in public health. Millions of human deaths, and much greater human suffering, ultimately resulted from its ban as part of disease-eradication campaigns.

  • Far from being on the verge of collapse, American bird populations were, by and large, increasing at the time of Silent Spring’s publication.

  • Once key statistical adjustments for population age and for tobacco use were made, the apparent rise in cancer rates that so alarmed Silent Spring’s first readers disappeared.

Despite her reputation as a careful writer widely praised for building her arguments on science and facts, Carson’s bestseller contained significant errors and sins of omission. Much of what was presented as certainty then was slanted, and today we know much of it is simply wrong. Silent Spring at 50 reveals the dangers of substituting sensationalism for fact, and apocalyptic pronouncements for genuine knowledge.

Table of Content

1. Silent Spring at 50
2. The Lady Who Started All This
3. The Intellectual Groundwaters of Silent Spring: Rethinking Rachel Carson’s Place in the History of American Environmental Thought
4. Silent Spring as Secular Religion
5. The Selective Silence of Silent Spring: Birds, Pesticides, and Alternatives to Pesticides
6. Rachel Carson’s Health Scare
7. The Balance of Nature and “The Other Road”: Ecological Paradigms and the Management Legacy of Silent Spring
8. Did Rachel Carson Understand the Importance of DDT in Global Public Health Programs?
9. Agricultural Revolutions and Agency Wars: How the 1950s Laid the Groundwork for Silent Spring
10. The False Promise of Federalization
11. The Precautionary Principle: Silent Spring’s Toxic Legacy
12. Risk Over-Simplified: The Enduring and Unfortunate Legacy of Silent Spring

About the editors and contributors

Roger Meiners is the Goolsby Distinguished Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Texas at Arlington and a senior fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.

Pierre Desrochers
is associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto. His main research areas include technical innovation, business-environmental interactions, economic development, and energy policy and food policy. He maintains a detailed website at

Andrew Morriss
is D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene A. Jones Chairholder in Law and Professor of Business at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and is a senior fellow at the Property and Environmental Research Center in Bozeman, Montana.  He has authored or coauthored more than 50 book chapters, scholarly articles, and books.

Jonathan H. Adler
is professor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and the author or editor of four books on environmental policy.

Nathan Gregory is currently a research ecologist with the Institute for Wildlife Studies, a nonprofit conservation organization in Arcata, California.

Lawrence Katzenstein is a science writer and editor who has worked on staff at Consumer Reports and American Health magazines. He is currently the science and publications editor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Wallace Kaufman has taught, lectured, and written about environmental history. He has also served as president of three statewide environmental nonprofits, developing and applying environmental covenants to several thousand acres of land.

Gary Marchant is professor of emerging technologies, law and ethics at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He is also a professor of life sciences.

Robert H. Nelson is the author of many book chapters and journal articles, as well as eight books, including The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America (Penn State University Press, 2010).

Donald R. Roberts specializes in public health research, particularly DDT’s effect in malaria control programs. After retiring, he was awarded U.S. Medicine’s Frank Brown Berry Prize for exceptional contributions to healthcare by a federal healthcare professional.

Hiroko Shimizu is a policy consultant and the author of several reports on the nonprofit sector, food policy, and corporate social responsibility. She is the co-author of The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet (PublicAffairs, 2012).

Richard Tren is a cofounder and chairman of Africa Fighting Malaria, a malaria policy and advocacy group. He was the recipient of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s 2009 Julian Simon Memorial Award in recognition for his work on DDT and public health.


Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson