The Nobel Dilemma.

2014_08_29 immagine 01The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in a number of categories by Swedish and Norwegian committees in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances. The will of the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel established the prizes in 1895. The prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace were first awarded in 1901. The related Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was created in 1968. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, while the other prizes are awarded in Stockholm. The Nobel Prize is an award of global significance, given to people who have distinguished themselves in various fields of knowledge, ‘bringing considerable benefits to humanity‘, for their research, discoveries and inventions, for the literary work and for commitment in favour of worls peace.

Mmmh … is it always so true?

2014_08_29 immagine 02Paul Hermann Müller (12 January 1899 – 13 October 1965) was a Swiss chemist who received the 1948 Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine for his 1939 discovery of insecticidal qualities and use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane) in the control of vector diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. After taking out a Swiss patent on DDT in 1940, 2014_08_29 immagine 05Geigy began to market two DDT-based products, a 5% dust called Gesarol spray insecticide and a 3% dust called Neocid dust insecticide. In 1943 the first practical tests of DDT as a residual insecticide against adult vector mosquitoes were carried out. The next year, in Italy, tests were performed in which residual DDT was applied to the interior surfaces of all habitations and outbuildings of a community to test its effect on Anopheles vectors and malaria incidence.

2014_08_29 immagine 03Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environment movement. Late in the 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. Silent Spring (1962) brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people. Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides (1972), and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmetal Protection Agency (EPA). Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

A worldwide ban on DDT agricultural use was later formalised under the Stockholm Convention, but its limited use in disease vector control continues to this day and remains controversial (see for instance this blog), because of its initial effectiveness in reducing deaths due to malaria, as well as the pesticide resistance among mosquito populations it engenders after several years of use. Along with the passage of the Endangered Species Act, the US ban on DDT is cited by scientists as a major factor in the comeback of the bald eagle (the national bird of the US) and the peregrine falcon from near-extinction in the contiguous United States.

Once again, it’s a matter of systems thinking vs reductionism. And you? Whose side are you on?

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[sources: Wikipedia]

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