Press Release: DDT research paper exposed as "biased and erroneous"

05 May 2014
Africa Fighting Malaria
DDT research paper exposed as "biased and erroneous"

The environmental science journal Environmental Research has published an article by nine malaria experts exposing major errors in a research paper on DDT and bird eggshells. The result is to invalidate research by South African scientists, pretending to show that DDT used in malaria control damages bird eggshells.

Prof. Henk Bouwman, an ecotoxicologist at North-West University, South Africa, measured eggshell thickness and levels of DDT in birds in areas of South Africa where the insecticide is used for malaria control, compared to birds in areas where DDT was not used. Based on a very small sample (just 5 eggs) from the DDT-sprayed area, Bouwman and his co-authors concluded that higher DDT concentrations lead to thinner eggshells, and warned of "good cause for concern about the reproductive performance" of birds wherever DDT to control malaria.

But Bouwman made a serious error: when graphing his data points, he flipped their order, so the analysis is the reverse of what it should be. Instead of eggshells from DDT-sprayed areas being thinner, his own data actually show that eggshells from the DDT-sprayed areas are marginally thicker.

Bouwman has refused to retract and correct his false analysis, even after malaria researchers spotted the error and published an exposé in Environmental Research. Bouwman says he is "aware" of the researchers' concerns, but has not agreed to the researchers' written request to correct his analysis and the scientific record.

"Perhaps Bouwman and his co-authors accidentally mishandled their data," says Africa Fighting Malaria director, Jasson Urbach, "but as he has been aware of the false scientific result for months and intentionally not corrected it, that seems like academic fraud. We ask North-West University to investigate that allegation. "

"For Bouwman and his co-authors to argue against the use of DDT in malaria control based on such a fundamentally flawed study is unconscionable," says Prof Donald Roberts. When sprayed indoors in tiny quantities, DDT protects residents for an entire malaria transmission season. "Even if DDT were affecting eggshells, which it is not, we would still need to weigh this harm with the enormous public health benefits of its use in South Africa," continues Roberts, "The sort of misinformation that Bouwman published is dicing with people's lives."


Donald Roberts, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, United States
+ 1 540 620 2400

Jasson Urbach, Director, Africa Fighting Malaria, South Africa
(083) 776 3820