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Scientist Profile: Carson Inspired Environmentalists

473px-Rachel-CarsonLate in the 1950’s something began to gnaw at Rachel Carson, a biologist and editor at the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. As Frank Graham recounts in the November-December, 1978 issue of EPA Journal, she had “a sense that events in the world had taken an ominous turn, that mankind in its ingenuity and arrogance had suddenly gotten hold of the power ‘to change drastically — or even destroy — the physical world.'”

Her own wide reading and her conversations with other scientists led her to focus on the misuse of chemical pesticides as the symbol of what had gone wrong.

The “brief book” on the subject that she had envisioned grew as she began to dig into the evidence that mankind had badly misused these toxic substances, according to Graham. Despite the fact that she was already suffering from a fatal illness, she pushed on for four years — reading, asking questions, writing and re-writing. When her book, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, the uproar it caused and the influence it exerted was compared to that of an earlier classic, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

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