Teaching Science through History II

Rachel Carson & Silent Spring

by Douglas Allchin

Rachel CarsonIn 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, criticizing the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides and advocating respect for the integrity of nature. With its vivid images and dramatic evidence, it sparked emerging concerns about pollution and wildlife into a major public controversy. Ironically, Carson largely summarized existing scientific evidence. But her evocative writing was both timely and persuasive, highlighting issues of the public communication of science. Major NOS elements include:

  • nature of expertise
  • individual versus collective nature of science
  • role of individual motivation
  • interaction between emotion, values and research
  • communication and writing skills
  • role of personal background in interpreting a scientific problem

Chapter 7 image

Download chapter from Doing Biology (1996).


The episode is also simulated in a role-play activity set in 1963, for up to 25 participants. Students assume the responsibilities of The President's Committee on Pesticides, 1963, and make recommendations based on Carson's book, and consider whether Carson should receive the Medal of Freedom.
Go to opening webpage of simulation.