Donald Roberts' false testimony to Congress

With Donald Roberts about to give testimony before Congress it is instructive to look at his Senate testimony on October 6, 2004.

Just as the use of DDT in house spraying brought spectacular reductions in malaria,
declining use of house spraying brought spectacular increases in malaria. ... Data from Asian countries show similar
relationships. Figures 2-5 contrast malaria rates in recent years with the years when DDT was
used. The data represent annual parasite indexes (a population-based index of malaria
prevalence) during the period from 1995-99 compared with identical data from 1965-69.
Differences in rates for the two performance periods are stunning.

Indeed they are. Here is his most stunning figure, for Sri Lanka showing an increase from 0 API to almost 20.


But if you check the source he cited, WHO reports for South-East Asia, you'll find that in reality the malaria rate actually decreased from 16 to 11.


And if you wanted to see the effect of stopping DDT use, surely it would make more sense to compare the five years before DDT spraying stopped in 1976 (malaria rate 22) with the five years after (a much lower malaria rate of 3.4).

The number cases of malaria in Sri Lanka came from the graph in this WHO report. The population figures for computing rates came from The World Bank. Data and calculations are in this spreadsheet.



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Also from the WHO report linked by Tim (emphasis added):

> _With __widespread resistance of A. culicifacies to DDT__, malathion spraying was introduced in 1975 in areas of P.falciparum transmission affording protection to nearly one million people. Towards the end of 1976 DDT spraying was completely discontinued and during 1977 exclusively malathion was used as an adulticide._

I'd dearly love to know how such a blatant mangling of facts gets such a prominent platform. Does the US political system not have a better way getting science to inform political debate?

Good job Tim-- yo called it. Roberts mislead Congress again today. Surely that is actionable?!

And not to mention the fact that none is suggesting that we ban FFs or CO2 for crying out loud. His testimony was one giant lie, red herring and strawman. A hat-trick.

By MapleLeaf (not verified) on 08 Mar 2011 #permalink

Is there a process for submitting comments and corrections to the congressional record?

By James Haughton (not verified) on 08 Mar 2011 #permalink

Is there a reason why the first graph has the early dates on the right? It's really bugging me for some reason.

Is there a process for submitting comments and corrections to the congressional record?

This isn't the Congressional Record, but a hearing before the Energy and Commerce Committee instead. When the Dems ruled, it was regular procedure that the hearing record be kept open for at least a week for additional statements and written testimony. I haven't found that statement in today's records, yet, but I would imagine the same rules apply.

Does this count as hiding the decline?

Just for those of us less versed in this issue: is "Pf%" the percentage of mosquitoes with P. Falciparum? Or something else?

By Anonymous37 (not verified) on 09 Mar 2011 #permalink

I watched a few minutes of live webcast of the House committee on Science, Space and Technology (until I couldn't stomach it any more). I noted that Chair Ralph M. Hall specifically mentioned about the record being kept open for one week for responses.

By Jim Prall (not verified) on 10 Mar 2011 #permalink

Tim Lambert's smear campaign: A Response from Africa Fighting Malaria

11 Mar 2011
Africa Fighting Malaria The blogger, Tim Lambert (aka Deltoid), regularly engages in the DDT debate by making ad hominem attacks on those who defend DDT in an effort to undermine their credibility. AFM has often been the target of such attacks and as a general policy, has not considered it a constructive use of our time to engage in these often misguided and pointless discussions. However, as Lambert recently blogged about a recent peer-reviewed paper that we published, we consider his comments too important to ignore.

Lambert recently posted a commentary on our peer-reviewed scientific paper investigating false claims made by UNEP and GEF about insecticide-free malaria control interventions in Mexico and Central America, accessible here. Lambert begins his commentary with the statement "Roberts and Tren's key argument is that reductions in malaria in the Americas were not the result of Global Environmental Facility interventions but were caused by increased use of antimalarial drugs."

This opening comment misstates our argument entirely. The most important message of our paper was that UNEP/GEF/Stockholm Convention officials were promoting false information when they claimed that their project had controlled malaria with environmentally sound methods. From his comments, it seems as though Lambert never took the time to actually read the paper; rather it appears he has just tried to discredit data we included in one of the tables.

Evidence for a conclusion is presented in the 'Results' section of scientific papers; however, Lambert ignores the results section of our paper entirely. Our conclusion about false claims of UN officials is explained clearly in the results subsection "Claims about effectiveness of GEF project interventions." The falsehood of UNEP claims rests entirely on epidemiological analyses conducted by independent scientists, which we describe. The analyses were not ours, and our conclusion does not rely on data in the table at all. Data presented in the table is nothing more than an effort to explain how countries actually exerted control over malaria once environmentalists forced them to stop using insecticides. The tabular data had a limited and secondary role in proving UN officials were making fraudulent claims. Had Lambert actually read the paper, he could not possibly have missed that basic fact.

Lambert goes on to state reductions of more than 100% are impossible. Actually, there is no mathematical reason for not having a positive or negative percent value and you can have a percent value greater than 100. The validity of numerical values is dependent on the reader having a clear understanding of what the numerical values represent. This is true whether you call the value a percent, a proportion, or some other relative unit of measure.

The caption of our table in question reads: Table 1 Numbers of chloroquine pills distributed per diagnosed case of malaria in Mexico and seven countries of Central America for 1990 versus 2004 and percent change in numbers of pills per case and percent change in numbers of cases from 1990^35 to 2004^36

Lambert uses the example of Panama to inform his followers that we erred. He states "I checked the source for the column "pills/case in 2004" and found that all these numbers were incorrect, being too high by a factor 10. The correct number for Panama, for example, was 13.99, not 140."

If he had checked our literature citation (see reference 36), he would have discovered we cited data from two tables, Tables 7 and 8. Lambert pulled his stats from Table 8 and from the column heading "Number of first-line treatments available per case reported." Lambert obviously saw no disconnect in what is stated in our caption versus that column's heading. Our caption states, "The number of chloroquine pills distributed per diagnosed case of malaria," not "The number of first-line treatments."

The reason we cited two tables of data is because our values are derived from two tables, not one. The number of diagnosed cases was in Table 8 and the number of pills distributed per diagnosed case was in Table 7. So tabular data for number of pills distributed per diagnosed case in Panama, which Lambert claimed was incorrect, is composed of two variablesânumber of pills from Table 7 divided by number of cases from Table 8. Thus, for Panama in 2004, 712,852 pills (Table 7) divided by 5,095 cases (Table 8) equals 140 pills distributed per diagnosed case; the same value in our table.

In attacking data values in the table, Lambert states "The column appears to show the bigger number divided by the smaller." He is precisely correct. We did it that way so any reader could immediately understand what those values represented.

In the table we present number of pills per case for 1990 and 2004. For Panama, the number in 1990 was 202 and 140 in 2004. By dividing 202 (larger number) by 140, we get a quotient of 1.4428. This value multiplied by 100 is 144. Since fewer pills per case were distributed in 2004 than in 1990, we used a negative sign to show direction of change, -144. That is to say, there was a negative change of 144% in number of pills distributed per case in 2004 than in 1990. Although one might argue this is an 'improper' percent value, it is, nevertheless, a legitimate value. Since both dividend and divisor are presented in the table, even the most obdurate will understand how the quotient was derived, and how it was then converted to a percentage value. For clarity, with reversals in increasing or decreasing numbers of pills per case for different countries from 1990 to 2004, the role of dividend and divisor could be reversed. We noted such switches in parts of the equations by using a - or + symbol to indicate the direction of change. A plus meaning that number of pills per case increased from 1990 to 2004 (i.e., value for 1990 divided into 2004 value), and a negative value meaning number of pills per case decreased from 1990 to 2004 (i.e., value for 2004 divided into 1990 value). There is nothing mathematically wrong with this and the method was used for purposes of simplicity and clarity. For consistency, the same process was used for generating all endpoint data in Table 1.

Lambert can rage about these values but the real question is: did they present a mathematically valid, clear and succinct message? The answer is: yes, they did.

Lambert states, "all these numbers were incorrect." In fact, as we have demonstrated, the numbers were precisely correct and the misunderstanding was a consequence of his carelessness. Lambert does not understand that evidence for our conclusion was not in the table in the first place, it was in the results section of the paper.

Lambert's claim about decreasing numbers of malaria cases invalidating our conclusions is total nonsense. Obviously, Lambert does not understand most countries distribute drugs according to a ratio of one curative treatment per diagnosed case. When those ratios change and a program is distributing far more drugs than needed for cure of diagnosed cases then, by definition, drugs are being used to suppress malaria, not just treat infections, per se. This relationship is true regardless of numbers of diagnosed cases and regardless of the scale of numbers of excess drugs distributed per diagnosed case. We will not dignify further his meaningless commentary.

Some of Lambert's devoted readers have encouraged him to write a rebuttal to the journal. We hope he follows this advice, as we would greatly appreciate the opportunity of writing a formal response. For far too long Lambert has relied on false and tendentious arguments to launch personal attacks on those with whom he disagrees. His campaign against DDT harms malaria control and feeds into an agenda that has imposed great harm on the world's poor.

Are they really, actually, honest-to-god defending that calculation?


BTW, the web site one arrives at by clicking Hecht's name is... well, see it to believe it...

In order to replicate Table 1 contained in Roberts and Tren (herafter RT2010), one needs only 2 variables (specifically the number of diagnosed malarial cases and number of pills distributed) across 2 years (1990 and 2004) and 8 central American countries (Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama).

Data for 2004 are easily gleaned from Tables 7 and 8 that are correctly cited by RT210 as their #36 reference (the reference document is freely available at:

Data for 1990 are less accessible via RT210 (their #35 reference is not available on-line) However, numbers of diagnosed malarial cases are easily found. I used:

In my opinion this is a useful site that could allow more substantial analysis across years.

Tim got it right. RT2010 calculated "per cent changes" erroneously.

Consider x_1990 to be your bank account balance in 1990. Call it $49. Consider your bank account increased to $235 in 2004. What is the percent change from 1990 to 2004? The correct procedure to calculate %change is (235 minus 49) divided by 49 times 100 = 380%. Congratulations! You made substantial gains.

Using the RT2010 formula one would divide x_2004 by x_1990 (yielding 235/49 = a quotient of 4.8). Golly! That equates to 480%. Congratulations. You made even more money! Except that calculation is fundamentally wrong.

Consider some alternate cases. Suppose your bank x_1990 = $300, but x_2004 = $53. The correct calculation would be (300-53) divided by 300 times 100 = -86% loss. Ouch. That means a bad financial period for you. It happens, sadly.

Mind you, thatâs still better that would be the case if you used the RT210 approach. Using their method you would divide 300/53 to yield a quotient of 5.66, multiplied by 100 and then with application of a negative trend factor = -566%.

Others have said this and I will reiterate: It is impossible to lose more than 100% of the initial value when expressed as a percentage of the initial value. Positive increases greater that 100% from the initial value are of course possible and often seen.

The true sadness of the RT2010 paper is not expressed by poor math, but in the complete lack of experimental design or analysis.

There is a great future for âopen-accessâ journals and contributions from "citizen-scientists". RT2010 is not a particularly helpful example of this.

And Tim, I learned a helluva lot about malaria that I did not know. Your website is greatly appreciated.

Lee, look up "Lyndon LaRouche", and you know where Marje Hecht comes from...

Small P.S. to Andrew:
In principle it IS possible to get loses over 100% when expressed as relative to the initial amount. Just not when the low value is bounded by zero.

For example, seeing one's bank account go from 100 plus to 100 minus corresponds to a 200% drop. But in the case like this, where you cannot have negative numbers of pills, 100% is the max loss.

Marje Hecht forgot to tell us something I've been dying to know for years - When will "Africa Fighting Malaria" actually start spending money fighting malaria in Africa?

Or is "Africa Fighting Malaria" going to continue to concentrate its resources on bizarre fact-free political lobbying for a little longer instead of fighting malaria?

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 12 Mar 2011 #permalink


Can the comments that belong in the other thread be moved there?

By TrueSceptic (not verified) on 12 Mar 2011 #permalink

Marje Hecht:

I'm a trained mathematician, and there are mathematical reasons you can't have more than a 100% reduction. Here is one:

The set used for "number of cases" is the non-negative integers. This is because you can't have a negative number of cases (or a fractional absolute number of cases unless there's a "fuzzy" definition of membership in the set "cases"). The set used for "number of pills/doses" is the non-negative rational numbers (for the reason above, with the added property that you may plausibly have fractions of a pill/dose). In any event, since medicaltreatment is not infinitely fine-grained, the set for "pills/case" is the positive rational numbers.

A greater than 100% reduction (and it seems people who believe the toxic industry front Africa Fighting Malaria are easily confused by percentages) means taking more pills from the average case than you were using in total. This leads to a negative number of pills/case. But that means logically either a negative number of pills - which is not the system you're working in - or a negative number of cases, which is not the system you're working in.

Thanks to your fanaticism, you've signed on with people who are saying if you're taking 5 malaria pills today, next month you can take negative five pills.

All this aside, it's time to call a spade a spade. "Africa Fighting Malaria" is a sociopathic criminal organization, distinguished only by an excessive amount of money for the low quality of their outputs. The biggest irony is that they're actually apologists for agricultural use of DDT, which caused resistance to evolve faster in the first place.

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 13 Mar 2011 #permalink

Paging Marje Hecht, your presence is required on the main stage. Paging Marje Hecht...

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 14 Mar 2011 #permalink

Bernard J @ 20

I have a picture in my mind of one of those B grade movies where the poor innocent is calling to the cute creature unaware that it is monster from Aliens.

Click on the link "Marje Hecht" above and you descend into the mad mad world of the LaRouchies. Believe me you do not want to go there and you do not want to call her back here.

Here is a small sample of articles from the link which goes to their "21st Science & Technology" site.
. Leading Entomologist Attacks Anti-DDT Genocidalists
. New Report Shows 20th Century Global Warming Caused by Data Manipulation
. Towards a New Periodic Table Of Cosmic Radiation
. New Paper Exposes Dangers Of Evidence-Based Medicine
. Radio Frequency Emission from DNA
. Christopher Monckton Interview: Genocide Is Real Aim of Global Warming Swindle
. THE GREAT SEA-LEVEL HUMBUG There Is No Alarming Sea Level Rise! Nils-Axel Mörner

It was noticeable that Monckton and Morner did not appear at all out of place.

"Actually, there is no mathematical reason for not having a positive or negative percent value and you can have a percent value greater than 100."

Last year I took 100 pills. This year the number of pills I take will be down 150% from last year. How? Please show your work.

By Robert Murphy (not verified) on 15 Mar 2011 #permalink

> Thanks to your fanaticism, you've signed on with people who are saying if you're taking 5 malaria pills today, next month you can take negative five pills.

Maybe induced vomiting of the pills taken last year (with the requirement that the pills neither pass through the digestive tract nor are dissolved)?

>*Are they really, actually, honest-to-god defending that calculation? Really?*

Lee, more than half the population is at or below average IQ, all they have to do is push some doubt. Easy with math, half the population are scared of math.

". New Report Shows 20th Century Global Warming Caused by Data Manipulation "

After reading that, I started getting ideas.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I've gone and manipulated some data myself, only the data I've manipulated is CO2 concentration data. You'll be happy to know that my data manipulation has brought CO2 back down to 285ppm.
On the downside, there's this bloke called Roy Spencer - he also manipulated some data and now the Earth is only 8,000 years old. Millions of geologists, palaeontologists and so forth are now unemployed.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 15 Mar 2011 #permalink

I just clicked on Marje Hecht's link. Are those people fucking insane?

26 Alex,

Insane, delusional, or just stupid? How can we tell? Oh, there's "dishonest" too but any of the first 3 might let them off the hook.

By TrueSceptic (not verified) on 18 Mar 2011 #permalink

When faced with that level of weirdness, the appropriate therapeutic measure is to savour the range of suitable words as you would approach a special wine or a coffee or a chocolate.

Sniff, sip, spit. ....... I detect a dominant nose of 'peculiar', with highlights of 'strange' and an aftertaste of 'omigod!'.