Advisory Committee on Pesticides
Background || Roles || Resources || Evaluation || Supplements  

Project Profile:

Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, advocating the limited use of synthetic pesticides. With its vivid images and dramatic evidence, it sparked emerging environmental concerns into a major public controversy. President Kennedy directed his Science Advisory Committee to investigate the claims and make recommendations. Our challenge is to situate ourselves in late 1963 and respond to Kennedy's charge. See background essay and historical supplements. Each person will assume one role and give testimony and initial policy proposals. See role profiles. Everyone will then debate the arguments in Silent Spring, the evidence and proposals.

Extension Activity: Decide whether the Committee should recommend Rachel Carson for the Medal of Freedom for her public service.

Research, Testimony & Discussion
You may orient your research and writing around the following major issues (see resources page):
  • Carson's credibility -- Can the facts in Silent Spring be rigorously documented, and are the sources reliable? Is the presentation balanced and complete? How should Carson's emotive rhetoric and style affect our interpretation of her claims?
  • benefits of pesticides | harm to non-target species -- What evidence indicates negative dimensions of pesticide use -- to insect pollinators, to other organisms in the habitat, to the food chain? What is the nature and scope of the benefits pesticides provide? How ought we maximize benefits while minimizing any risks or harm?
  • indiscriminate use -- Should pesticide use be regulated? In what way, to what extent?
  • safety -- Is our food safe? Do pesticides cause cancer? Are the health and safety of workers threatened?
  • insecticide resistance -- Do insects evolve tolerance to pesticides? If so, what should be our response?
  • alternatives -- Are there any alternatives to chemical pesticides? If so, what are their relative costs and effectiveness?
  • control of nature, balance of nature -- In what ways does use of pesticides reflect larger issues about human relationships with nature that ought to be addressed?

For detailed guidance on preparing your paper and presentation, go here.

Simulation assembled by Douglas Allchin. || last revised November 7, 2009