Why Dissent Matters

Because Some People See Things the Rest of Us Miss

The thalidomide tragedy was averted in the United States because Dr. Kelsey, alone and in the face of fierce opposition, did her job. Her perspective was educated, fresh and unique. If there had been no thalidomide crisis, the United States, with the rest of the world following, would still at some time have brought pharmaceutical regulation into the 20th century. But thalidomide created one of those moments when something had to be done. It could not be ignored in 1961-62, and it led immediately to a better and stronger regulatory system. Maybe someone else would have stopped thalidomide in the United States had Dr. Kelsey not been assigned the NDA, but, interestingly, no one else stopped it anywhere else until it was too late. Dr. Kelsey was the only person in the entire world who said no. She said no to a bad drug application, she said no to an overbearing pharmaceutical company and she said no to vested interests who put profits first. She was one brave dissenter. In the end, the question is not what made Frances Kelsey, but why aren’t there more like her?

Because Some People See Things the Rest of Us Miss

The nature writer Rachel Carson identified an emerging environmental disaster and pulled the fire alarm. Public protests, individual dissenters, judges, and juries can change the world – and they do.

A wide-ranging and provocative work on controversial subjects, Why Dissent Matters tells a story of dissent and dissenters – people who have been attacked, bullied, ostracized, jailed, and, sometimes when it is all over, celebrated.

William Kaplan shows that dissent is noisy, messy, inconvenient, and almost always time-consuming, but that suppressing it is usually a mistake – it’s bad for the dissenter but worse for the rest of us. Drawing attention to the voices behind international protests such as Occupy Wall Street and Boycott, Divest, and Sanction, he contends that we don’t have to do what dissenters want, but we should listen to what they say. Our problems are not going away. There will always be abuses of power to confront, wrongs to right, and new opportunities for dissenting voices to say, “Stop, listen to me.” Why Dissent Matters may well lead to a different and more just future.

Read This is Dr. Frances Kelsey’s story, the globe and mail, MAY 11, 2017.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, one of the most influential books of the twentieth century

In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems that she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides.

Silent-Spring book cover image
Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, widely considered to be the most important environmental book of the 20th century.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Lord Shackleton, a preface by World Wildlife Fund founder Julian Huxley, and an afterword by Carson’s biographer Linda Lear.

Now recognized as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, Silent Spring exposed the destruction of wildlife through the widespread use of pesticides. Despite condemnation in the press and heavy-handed attempts by the chemical industry to ban the book, Rachel Carson succeeded in creating a new public awareness of the environment which led to changes in government and inspired the ecological movement. It is thanks to this book, and the help of many environmentalists, that harmful pesticides such as DDT were banned from use in the US and countries around the world.

Rachel Carson (1907-64) wanted to be a writer for as long as she could remember. Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, appeared in 1941. Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the dangers of the misuse of pesticides, was published in 1962. Carson’s articles on natural history appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, Reader’s Digest and Holiday. An ardent ecologist and preservationist, Carson warned against the dumping of atomic waste at sea and predicted global warming.

More information

  • Website. Read reviews on Amazon and GoodReads.
  • Clip: The Bravery of Rachel Carson, billmoyers, May 15, 2014.
  • Great Women in Medicine Rachel Carson, Jeffrey Dach MD, January 6, 2014.
  • How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement, nytimes, SEPT. 21, 2012.
  • Margaret Atwood: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, 50 years on, theguardian, 7 December 2012.

Pesticide Action Week

On Flickr®

Pesticides – DDT – Rachel Carson – Silent Spring

Historical clips on DDT, Rachel Carson and science explaining why humans pollute. The chemical structure of DDT is very similar to DES

One should notice that the chemical structure of DDT is very similar to Diethylstilbestrol (DES), the synthetic estrogen which was contraindicated by the FDA (1971) because it caused cervical cancer – adenocarcinoma of the vagina – in the daughters of women given DES during pregnancy.

Sources