The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword – Rachel Carson, Animal Experimentation, And Conflict Resolution

Silent Spring by Rachael Carson

A book that changed our lives for the better. Photo by FitOldDog, in The Quarter Moon Coffee Shop (highly recommended, based on coffee and book quality).

Warning sign of aggressive cat.

Warnings can be important. We took care to avoid the cat – was there a cat? Photo by FitOldDog.

While enjoying a cup of coffee, recently, my attention was pulled away from a sign about a deadly attack cat, who never did make an appearance, to times past. I had spotted Rachel Carson’s inspiring book, Silent Spring, on an adjacent shelf. This book created a conflict that continues to this day, which had me wondering about conflict resolution, and how best to deal it?

I seem to be better at creating conflict, than fixing it.

Much to learn.

Furthermore, Rachel Carson’s book contributed, in no small way, to my 40-year career in Toxicology, the Science of Poisons.

Silent Spring received mixed reviews, including some venom. If you write something that really angers some people, you’re probably onto something. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good something, but you’ve touched a nerve. Rachael Carson is one of my heroines. My admiration for her work only increased over the years, as I encountered the hostile attitude to her book of a few people in the Chemical Industry. People who I considered to be somewhat less enlightened – but who am I to judge? The rest of these people were fine with me, but they live in a complex environment, with many different pressures. One of these pressures comes from the problem of the necessity of animal experimentation to test chemical toxicity, until we can find viable, and acceptable, alternatives – not easy!

FitOldDog's Animal Experimentation Conflict Network With Logo


There are bad apples in every barrel, but I can honestly say that the majority of scientists I encountered, in both the Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries over a period of 35 years, had their hearts in the right place. Then I thought, well, I irritate people often enough, so I looked up conflict resolution, and came across this approach:

  • Acknowledge that a difficult situation exists – it does, we have to test the chemicals somehow, but how?
  • Let individuals express their feelings – that’s a lot of people, and they seem to be pretty good at expressing their feelings, to the point of being somewhat threatening.
  • Define the problem – see the diagram above, and the cartoon below.
  • Determine underlying need – solutions, acceptable to all, including the rats and mice.
  • Find common areas of agreement, no matter how small: Umh!
    • Agree on the problem
    • Agree on the procedure to follow
    • Agree on worst fears
    • Agree on some small change to give an experience of success
  • Find solutions to satisfy needs: Umh again!
    • Problem-solve by generating multiple alternatives
    • Determine which actions will be taken
    • Make sure involved parties buy into actions. (Total silence may be a sign of passive resistance.) Be sure you get real agreement from everyone.
  • Determine follow-up you will take to monitor actions – no problem, everyone is watching everyone, except the rats and mice, but then again, maybe the mice are up to something.
  • Determine what might happen and what you’ll do if the conflict goes unresolved – we’ve got to fix it!


Rachael Carson Headline NYTimes

Chemicals and insects can be friends or foes – how to eliminate our foes of either category, whilst growing enough food to feed our burgeoning population, is the challenge of the Science of Poisons (Toxicology),” FitOldDog.

Was Rachel Carson a fear monger, or a visionary? She was most certainly a thought leader, in my opinion.

The story tells itself. Rachel Carson changed our lives for the better, but she also left us with the critical challenge of finding the bad actor chemicals, thus expanding the application of the Science of Poisons (Toxicology) to the regulation of exposures to potentially toxic chemical species.

But what a challenge Toxicology has become, as is depicted in the included cartoon, with respect to pharmaceuticals (which are chemicals, as much as any industrial commodity product, and they are turning up in growing amounts in our water tables, and on our dining room tables, too, probably).

The consequent expansion of the use of animals, especially rats and mice, in Toxicology research, led to serious ethical challenges. I never wanted to murder rats for a living, as I’ve said before. It is not easy to determine whether a particular chemical is safe for human and/or non-human animals, and there are all of our other cousins in the Biosphere to consider, from plants to bacteria, none of which can we live without. It is a carefully balanced ecosystem, of which we are but a small part.

Cartoon about pharmaceuticals

Copyright purchased by FitOldDog for educational purposes.

Then animal protection ramped up, and appropriately so, with further conflict, and attempts to reduce the use of painful, even horrible, animal testing methods, many of which are mandated by law. It’s not easy being a pesticide manufacturer in this environment, nor is it an easy matter to change the rules, and improve our approaches. But improve them we must, if we want to consider ourselves ‘good shepherds’ of the Earth. It’s the only game in town, so we had better beware.

We need people like Rachel Carson to keep our noses to the ethical and ‘humanitarian’ grindstone.

As the owner of a new vegetable garden, I work to avoid the use of pesticides, preferring to apply ‘natural products,’ including B. thuringiensis and marigolds. This won’t work for the mass human food supply, which has to provide for many cities, each containing millions of inhabitants and a limited surface for plant growth – people are developing roof-top gardens more, though, which is encouraging, but not enough.

It seems that the real answer lies in controlling the size of the human population, but how we do that I have no idea!

In the meantime, let’s keep working to do the best job we can for all members of the Biosphere, including humans, rats, mice, birds and the rest of our wonderful companions on (in?) Spaceship Earth.

Humans are resourceful creatures, so I know we can do it, without upsetting Rachel too much!

Demonizing others won’t work, so try to walk in their shoes for a while, see how it feels, and try again.



    Carson was barely scientific – more a call to arms for fledgling activist.
    – correct that some pesticides bioaccumulate
    – relied heavily on anecdotal rather than scientific evidence
    – ignored the effectiveness of DDT for malaria control
    – used effect on upper food chain animals to incorrectly predict mass biocide
    – failed to acknowledge that DDT saved millions of lives
    – single handedly advanced idea that synthetic=bad, natural=good.

    • Hi AgSciGuy,
      I really enjoy considering different opinions. Let me think about this, and get back to you. I liked her approach to waking people up. I worked in Toxicology, for the chemical industry and then PHARMA, for years, including work on certain herbicides. I was not too impressed by the attitudes of some companies, especially Monsanto.
      Clearly, life is a benefit-risk challenge. The problem with networks is their unpredictability.
      Good intentions can cause bad outcomes and vice versa.
      I’ll get back on this, after I’ve considered each of your points.
      Thanks for your input.

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