While Rachel Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is to be found listed amongst Time magazine's 100 greatest scientists and thinkers who've changed our world, when Carson's book was first published, she was the subject of ferocious attack.
To the fore was a corporation whose tactics against its critics continue to attract controversy:
'Monsanto tried to destroy her. They mounted a tremendous advertising campaign to discredit her and invalidate her work. They wanted to ruin her in every possible way they could.' (Common Ground Interview with John Robbins) http://www.foodrevolution.org/commonground.htm
As well as coming under personal attack, efforts were made to silence her publishers (see The campaign against Rachel Carson). Rachel Carson was, of course, far from the last to be lined up to be silenced in this way.
In 1997, for example, Monsanto succeeded in pressurising Fox TV into not showing a report that two award-winning investigative journalists had made about Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBGH. The report was pulled virtually on the eve of broadcast, after Monsanto hired a renowned New York attorney to complain to Fox TV. Under pressure from Monsanto, the journalists were ordered to rewrite their report and when they then refused to - in their own words, 'broadcast false information and slant the truth to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of special interests', they were sacked.
Then there was, Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food by Dr Marc Lappe and Britt Bailey. Just three days before the book was due to be published by a major publisher, Monsanto sent a threatening letter and the publisher pulled out.
Happily, Against the Grain went on to be published by Common Courage Press in 1998. That same year, though, the printers for The Ecologist - a firm that had worked successfully with the magazine for over twenty-five years - unilaterally pulped the 14,000 copy print run of its special edition, The Monsanto Files.
And even when the special issue went on to be printed by a different firm, two leading UK newsagent chains refused to stock it for fear of the consequences. The Ecologist's editor, Zac Goldsmith, spoke of 'de facto censorship' and said of Monsanto, 'It goes to show what a powerful force a reputation can be.'
The vilification of Rachel Carson herself also bears witness to the fact that it is not just printers, publishers and retailers who have to mind their backs. In 2002 research by GM Watch helped to expose a Monsanto-initiated smear campaign against Dr Ignacio Chapela, following the publication by the journal Nature of research by Quist and Chapela showing GM contamination of native Mexican maize.
Our research also showed that the campaign of character assassination Chapela faced was part of a wider campaign to get fellow scientists to put pressure on Nature to retract his article. We tracked how the whole campaign was initiated and fuelled by Monsanto and its PR agency, the Bivings Group, using third party fronts and proxies to make the campaign appear unconnected to the corporation.
Even though the PR tactics deployed may have been less sophisticated at the time of the publication of Silent Spring, Monsanto and the other chemical corporations involved could still rely on support for their campaign of attack from willing third parties. And this involved not just their friends and supporters in government and the media, but also those in academia.
It's no wonder then that Rachel Carson felt it worth drawing attention to the financial ties between the corporations and the universities, as well as to ask, 'When the scientific organisation speaks, whose voice do we hear - that of science? Or of the sustaining industry?'