Research Challenge: Guns, Cats and Parachutes

Things are chugging along with the updated edition of The Myths of Innovation. But there are two nagging research issues I’m hoping someone with some investigative chops might want to take on.

Deadline: Friday May 7th
Reward: Acknowledgement in book + signed copy (see bottom)

1. DDT disaster / Parachuting cat’s into Borneo

The story about DDT in Chapter 10 is related to a story about cats being dropped into Borneo to deal with the rat population explosion caused by DDT.  I was careful in the book not to base my point on this story, but I was never able to get solid, first person evidence on the entire story.

  • Was DDT was actually used and had the cascading and devastating effects described?
  • Were cats were ever actually used, much less via parachute (which I assume is ridiculous – certainly that they were individually strapped into parachutes, which most people assume)?
  • Does an official WHO official report or document of any kind exist sfor the event?

The basic story is here – Operation cat Drop and a possible summation is here.

2) Why didn’t firearms take off in Asia?

On page 115 I explain how culture effects the rate of adoption of a new innovation. But my story about Japan, and their romantic preference for swords, has no reference – the footnote I offer is wrong.  Now, I did not make up this story, I’m confident I read it – but I definitely misreferenced it and I’ve been unable to sort out which historian made this observation. The basic point is – if firearms were invented in China, why didn’t they become as popular there as they did in Europe?

  • Is this story about Japan and firearms even true?
  • Is there a similar story that supports my point that is better referenced and supported in the literature?

One possible research trail.

3) If you read the original 2007 edition of the book, and found other sketchy claims similar to the above in the book that should be investigated further, please speak up now. There’s still time for me to either pull the mention, change the story to be more accurate, or provide better references if in fact I was on the right track in the 2007 edition of the book.

Reward: The 3 or 4 folks who provide the most useful research will be thanked in the acknowledgments, will get a signed copy of the paperback edition, and I will tell my Mom about how cool you are.

1. Parachuting cat’s into Borneo

The story about DDT I tell in Chapter 10 is related to a story about
cats being dropped into Borneo to deal with the rat population
explosion caused by DDT.  I was careful in the book not to base my
point on this story, but I was never able to get solid, first person
evidence on the entire story.

a) Was DDT was actually used and had the cascading and devastating
effects described?
b) Were cats were ever actually used, much less via parachute (which I
assume is ridiculous)?
c) Does an official WHO official report or document of any kind exists
for the event?

The basic story is here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cat_Drop

A common example of secondary/tertiary reporting on this story, with
no references:

http://schools.utah.gov/curr/science/core/8thgrd/sciber8/bio_ener/htm…

2) Why didn’t firearms take off in Asia?

On page 115 I explain how culture effects the rate of adoption of a
new innovation. But my story about Japan, and their romantic
preference for swords, has no reference – the footnote I offer is
wrong.  Now, I did not make up this story, I’m confident I read it –
but I definitely misreferenced it and I’ve been unable to sort out
which historian made this observation.

a) Is this story about Japan and firearms even true?
b) Is there a similar story that supports my point that is better
referenced and supported in the literature?

Possible research trail:
http://www.scottberkun.com/blog/moi-corrections/#comment-669857

3) If you found other sketchy claims similar to the above that should
be investigated further, please speak up now. There’s still time for
me to either pull the mention, change the story to be more accurate,
or provide better references if in fact I was on the right track in
the 2007 edition of the book,

Let me know if you’re interested – I figured this might be fun for
someone.  Thanks,

6 Responses to “Research Challenge: Guns, Cats and Parachutes”

  1. Jeroen

    I’m not a historian, but I would say gunpowder weapons (not just firearms) were fairly popular in Asia before they came to Europe. I just read a book on Genghis Khan, and it mentions several uses of gunpowder and firearms during the Mongolian conquest of China, by both sides. During their short-lived invasion of Hungary, the Mongolians also used it, the first recorded use in Europe.

    Perhaps the Europeans and Arabs did continue weapon development better than the Asians after the invention spread – certainly they appear to have used it more frequently and prominently. Nevertheless, the Asians used firearms all the same in their wars.

    Japan may be the only exception, but even they had accepted and used firearms before they were banned for a period of time.

    Reply
  2. Ed Darrell

    You might want to track down a guy named O’Shaughnessy at the University of Iowa — he’s the guy behind the Cat Drop website.

    There’s a long history to the Borneo cat parachuting story, which leads me to believe there’s a solid basis in fact, if not in all the details.

    If you can track down a copy of The Tomorrow of Malaria by Socrates Litsios, that might help, too. I’ve been unable to find a copy available for interlibrary loan in the U.S.

    And, good luck!

    Reply
  3. Rogier

    I know that I am late to the game, but maybe this might help you some more.

    There is this article on answers.com: http://www.answers.com/topic/gunpowder-and-guns-in-east-and-west that says that firearms were used in the 16th century, but were abandoned after the internal wars.

    According to this wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samurai firearms, more specifically Arquebus or tepp? were introduced by the portugese and dutch (always us again…) and mostly used by the peasant foot troops while the Samurai never liked them. So after the war the peasants went back to their jobs and guns just slowly disappeared in a few centuries of relative peace. There are some references listed on wikipedia but again none specifically to guns.
    There are also some books mentioned here that you might find interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunpowder In particular: Gunpowder: The History of an International Technology by Brenda J. Buchanan. Also check the version at google books: http://books.google.nl/books?id=7n6Cg9znFrUC

    About the cat drop, these two resources cite from an RAF report which says over 20 cats were dropped on march 13th, 1960. http://www.strange-loops.com/scicatdrop.html and http://catdrop.com/cats.htm. The only strange thing is the question mark added to the reply message. It made me think that maybe the original ‘cats’ had been een abbreviation or slang of some kind and the reply mentioned the animal as some kind of a joke. Just a strange gut feeling though about that question mark, might be totally irrelevant.

    Good luck.

    Reply
  4. Vjatcheslav

    I think the book “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations” by David Landes gives a very interesting read about firearms in Asia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wealth_and_Poverty_of_Nations (a wikipedia page about it).

    A short recapitulation from memory: China has long had a scientific culture that is very dependent on geniuses who make relatively great leaps forward, but they neglected to follow those leaps up and so they were forgotten. Also there was a rather strong central government in China, which made it a harsh environment for dissidents (scientists and capitalists are often de facto dissident because change, even of the government, is made implicitly possible) – for example, the great sea voyages of China were abandoned and all archives were destroyed, even the building of large ships became prohibited.

    Japan banned a large part of their fireweapons in an attempt to get peace back (they did it when a long period of civil war was ended, and the winners didn’t want the destabilising effect of fireweapons to endure).

    Reply
  5. Ed Darrell

    Hey, who finally got the books?

    And what did you conclude about the parachuting cats?

    Reply

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