The Irrational Ape: how flawed logic puts the world in danger

Book review: David Robert Grimes presents critical thought as bulwark against fascism and fraud

The incorrect targeting of sparrows in 1958 contributed to the deaths of up to 45 million Chinese people in a famine.

The incorrect targeting of sparrows in 1958 contributed to the deaths of up to 45 million Chinese people in a famine.

Sparrows are hardly your typical counter-revolutionaries. Yet, in 1958, the Chinese government, under Chairman Mao Zedong, declared the humble sparrow to be “public animals of capitalism”. What happened next is where farce meets tragedy. Having seen that sparrows eat grain, the authorities ordered a nationwide persecution of the hapless birds. Within a year, more than a billion sparrows were dead, and the species was functionally extinct.

It turns out that insects, rather than grain, were the sparrows’ staple diet. Within a year, grain harvests were devastated by exploding swarms of locusts. Over the next three years, between 15 and 45 million Chinese people had starved to death as a result of the ensuing famine.

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