Monday, April 10, 2006

Pianka: Smear victim, eco-fanatic, or neither?

My post on the Eric Pianka controversy has generated considerable debate in the comments, with some posters saying that I have fallen for a right-wing creationist smear against an innocent scientist accused of advocating the deaths of billions for the sake of the planet. The "smeared by the right" meme also prevails in the liberal blogosphere, and one conservative blogger, Atlanta Rofters, has retracted his anti-Pianka position and apologized.

So, do I stand by my first blogpost? Mostly, yes.

I'm quite certain that Pianka, a University of Texas biologist, did not advocate active steps to kill 5 billion people with a deadly virus; but I made it clear in my initial post that I endorsed no such claim. I believe that for "Intelligent Design" maven William Dembski to report Pianka to Homeland Security as a potential terrorist was ludicrous and reprehensible.

Did Pianka, as reported by Forrest M. Mims III, wax enthusastic to the Texas Academy of Sciences about the prospect of over 5 billion people dying in an Ebola plague, or expressed hope that such an epidemic would come to pass (rather than merely warn that it will if we don't change our profligate ways)? I'm not absolutely certain of that; but I think that the rush to exonerate Pianka in some quarters is a little too quick and easy. For instance, at The Panda's Thumb, we're told that "KXAN News36 in Austin, TX, has just debunked the whole thing." But the "debunking" does not include any independent evidence, such as a transcript of an audio recording of Pianka's speech, or an eyewitness account contradicting Mims. It consists, instead, of Pianka's assertion that he is not pro-genocide, doesn't want vast numbers of people to die and wants his granddaughters to have a future. Well, that's very nice. But, as one commenter at The Panda's Thumb correctly noted, "A denial is by no means a 'debunking.'"

Others have pointed to this statement on Pianka's website, denying any ill will toward humanity and asserting that Pianka's apocalyptic scenario was simply a warning, as exculpatory evidence. But this statement, as far as I can tell, was posted after Pianka became the target of unwelcome publicity. It does not, as Atlanta Rofters seems to think, represent the content of his speech.

So, what about this content? A partial transcript of the Texas Academy of Sciences speech has been posted on the website of Nancy Pearcey, another ID champion. In those portions, Pianka hails draconian measures to restrict childbearing, but the part dealing with the human "die-off" is not there.

There is, however, a transcript of another, apparently quite similar speech Pianka made before the controversy broke, at St. Edward's University in Texas. It was given on March 31 -- actually, the very day Mims published his account of the earlier speech. The trasncript from an audio (with a few small gaps) was published on April 7 in The Sequin Gazette-Enterprise, which has covered the Pianka story. Weirdly enough, a couple of days later the paper removed all Pianka-related material from its website (even though stories generally stay up for a month). What is behind this removal, I don't know. However, thanks to Google cache, I was able to locate a copy of the transcript. Here it is.

This transcript, as the pro-Pianka blog The Questionable Authority points out, differs in some substantial ways from the paper's own report about the speech. It's also interesting to note that in this speech, Pianka actually says that it's likely going to be some virus other than Ebola that is going to get us. But TQA's textual analysis omits the portions of the transcript that tend to bear out Mims's claims:

So this is really, really an exciting time in the history of mankind. Remember the ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times”? I think that right now has got to be just about the most interesting time ever and you get to see it, and, hopefully, a few are gonna live through it. ... Things are gonna get better after the collapse because we won't be able to decimate the earth so much. And, I actually think the world will be much better when there's only 10 or 20 percent of us left.

It would give wildlife a chance to recover — we won't need conservation biologists anymore. Things are gonna get better.

So yes, there is documented evidence of Pianka expressing enthusiasm for a mass die-off. There is also, as I previously mentioned, Brenda McConnnell's blogpost about his speech -- one that supports his views, and also largely supports Mims's account. McConnell has now deleted her blog, but the relevant portions are reproduced in my blogpost.

Check out, too, this interesting post in the Daily Kos comments thread from Neil Sinhababu, a UT graduate student in philosophy who closely knows people who work with Pianka:

I just asked them if this sounded like something Pianka would actually say. The grad student laughed and told me that Pianka is in fact crazy, and has repeatedly said in classes that it'd be good if devastating diseases would wipe out 90% of the human population. There were freakish references to "our friend, AIDS."

He has a history of other bizarre behavior too. The professor says that whenever new prospective faculty are brought into the biology department and meet Pianka, Pianka likes to puts his feet up on his desk and loudly say, "We're all fucked!" (This is apparently how the professor himself was greeted.) The biology department has started making sure that new hires meet the other ecologists before they meet Pianka, so as to make clear that not all Texas ecologists are insane.

The poster's bona fides seem to be in order (check out his own blog). Admittedly this is second-hand information, but in conjunction with the speech transcript, Brenna McConnell's blogpost, and some of the student evaluations he has posted on his own website, the picture that emerges is not a pleasant one.

Many people find it unbelievable that someone who spouts the human-hating views attributed to Pianka would be treated as mainstream in the biology/ecology field. Well, in my last post, I cited the example of Dr. David Graber, a biologist with the National Park Service, who wrote in 1989 in the Los Angeles Times:

We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. ... Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

If Graber has been professionally shunned for this repugnant statement, I'm certainly not aware of it. (He is currently a science advisor to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.)

It should be noted as well that the kind of views Pianka has been accused of holding have been expressed by some of his supporters on various blogs. Take, for instance, this post by "Praedor Atrebates" at Pharyngula:

Umm...feeling some personal satisfaction at the thought of an inevitable population decline (due to disease, famine, whatever) because of the harm we as a species are doing to our home is NOT the same as advocating same.

I welcome a culling for the same reasons but have no desire to see any particular people die. It is a general, theoretical feeling of satisfaction. We as a species getting our comeuppance due to your thoughtless activities against the natural world. Such an onslaught can ONLY come to ill, not only for humans, but for far too many innocent other species as well (the collatoral damage).

...

I also fully realize that a human species fall could well include ME. So be it. That doesn't mean I don't, in general, get a feeling of satisfaction from the idea of schadenfreude: humans getting their broad just deserts for thoughtlessness, greed, profligacy, and selfishness. Totally different from advocating actively bringing about such a result, which Pianka is accused (falsely) of.

It is objective fact that the environment would do EXTREMELY well should humans fall out of it. There's a silver lining to all storm clouds.


This post, I believe, speaks for itself. (It should be noted as well that none of the other Pianka supporters in the thread reacted to "Praedor's" post with outrage.)

I don't want to get into the issue of how much of Pianka's alarmism -- for instance, about deadly virus mutations due to overpopulation -- is rooted in good science. This is primarily an issue not of science, but of ideology.

The conflict between Pianka and his persecutors, most of whom are ID supporters, has been (mis)cast as a war between science and reason on one side, and religious zealotry and superstition on the other. But as I have said before, I think it is in fact a conflict between two different brands of religious zealotry. Commenters at Kos and other left-of-center blogs have gleefully pointed out that the same religious conservatives who voice outrage at Pianka's vision of an agonizing death for 80 to 90% of humanity often embrace the idea of a God who will visit horrific destruction upon the world and punish the disobedient with eternal agony. They are correct, but they miss the point that the irony goes in the other direction, too: the radical environmentalists are as enamored of Armageddon as the more conventional religious extremists. The eco-doomsayers are driven at least as much by their fervent belief that humanity needs to be punished for its sins of greed and luxury as they are by scientifically based concerns. (Note the moralistic, not scientific, language in "Praedor Atrebates'" post above.) Joseph Herzlinger, who has a blog of his own, puts it best in the comments thread at Bad Astronomy Blog:

This looks like crackpot vs. crackpot. It’s a debate between someone ignoring the evidence in favor of Darwin’s theories and someone ignoring the evidence against Malthus’s theories.

The enviro-zealots and the religious zealots are united in their hatred of the human mind, of human freedom and pride; and both long to see humanity crushed under the weight of a superior power, be it God or Nature. I should add here, by the way, that I have nothing against God or Nature, against religion or environmentalism -- as long as they are not anti-human.

But of course, humanism -- the bugaboo of the religious right -- is also in disfavor with the Piankas of this world, who lament the evil of "anthropocentrism." Even PZ Myers of Pharyngula, who regards Pianka as "eccentric," writes that he is "more sympathetic to the egalitarian view that denies humanity a privileged position, except in our own personal esteem." Being a humanist, it seems, is a lonely job these days.

75 comments:

Mr. Grouchypants said...

"Pianka: Smear victim, eco-fanatic, or neither?"

My answer would be "both". It seems pretty clear that Mims was trying to exaggerate what Pianka actually said about a virus killing the majority of humans. However, Pianka's remarks regarding mass sterilization just as clearly place him in the "fanatic" category.

Jason H. Bowden said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jason H. Bowden said...

"They are correct, but they miss the point that the irony goes in the other direction, too: the radical environmentalists are as enamored of Armageddon as the more conventional religious extremists."

That's as clear as one can make it. And I'm no proponent of intelligent design either.

Anonymous said...

Cathy wrote:

"This is primarily an issue not of science, but of ideology."

Yes, because you and others have made it so. The importance of what Pianka said should surely be it's content.

I wonder how recent this phenomenon is; that one who offers dire prognostications is firstly and foremostly questioned as to his/her ideology. "Is he an extreme liberal eco-loony?" rather than "Gee, do you think he might have a point?". However old this tactic is, it has certainly become widely used in the last few years (see almost anything by Charles Krauthammer).

Very sad.

Rob G

Revenant said...

I wonder how recent this phenomenon is; that one who offers dire prognostications is firstly and foremostly questioned as to his/her ideology. "Is he an extreme liberal eco-loony?" rather than "Gee, do you think he might have a point?".

His "point" is that it would be good if the human population was reduced to a tiny fraction of its current total. But the only reason to do this is to avoid an possible future environmental catastrophe... that would reduce the human population to a fraction of its current total. So no, he doesn't have a point, or at least not a rational one.

Granted, he also thinks this would be desirable to prevent humans from "harming nature". But the idea that humans "harm" nature is a religious one, not a scientific one. From a scientific perspective, what humans do is ALTER nature. Wiping out a species or paving over some wetlands is only "harm" if you care if that species, or those wetlands, exists. Pianka, like most environmentalists, appears to believe that nature as it currently exists has some moral value independent from its usefulness to humanity. That is why he is bothered by the "harm" we are doing to it, and why he sees a sharp reduction in the human population as a basically good thing.

Richard Bennett said...

This is primarily an issue not of science, but of ideology.

Rubbish. Pianka is a scientist making scientific claims, and we're only entitled to inquire into his motivations if we can determine that they're false.

The doctrine of human primacy is as religious as envangelicalism or environmentalism, so at the end of the day what we have here is a three-way religious debate.

And revenant (or should I call you "Pollyanna?") it's certainly possible for humans to damage nature in principle; consider the consequences of that Global Nuclear War we used to worry about and tell me that they wouldn't suck.

Anonymous said...

"Pianka, like most environmentalists, appears to believe that nature as it currently exists has some moral value independent from its usefulness to humanity."

Ah, nature as our amusement park/toilet. How quaint. Unfortunately, if we destroy our nest, we destroy ourselves. Is this really so difficult to grasp?

And where do you get that nonsense about "most environmentalists"? That's just more straw man BS.

By your logic, is the torturing of a cat a morally neutral act?

Rob G

Anonymous said...

Never mind the last question. Symptom of a long workday. But the rest stands.

Rob G

Revenant said...

Ah, nature as our amusement park/toilet. How quaint. Unfortunately, if we destroy our nest, we destroy ourselves. Is this really so difficult to grasp?

It isn't hard to grasp at all, no. But your argument is that we should act out of self-interest, not out of moral concerns for the well-being of the rest of nature. Pianka's viewpoint, like that of most environmentalists, is that the "harm" we do to nature is wrong for reasons *independent* of the indirect harm which is done to humanity as a result.

If you want to argue that we need to protect our environment in order to protect ourselves, that's fine. But that's not Pianka's argument. His argument is that the end result of human environmental meddling will be good, because once most humans die off as a result of our environmental meddling we will be less able to harm nature.

By your logic, is the torturing of a cat a morally neutral act?

Depends on what moral system you use. Strange that you chose a cat for your question, though, as cats themselves tend to enjoy torturing smaller, weaker creatures.

Also, the very fact that you're asking me that question suggests you think that cats DO have moral value independent of their usefulness to humans. Which makes me wonder why you're claiming that my description of most environmentalists as believing that sort of thing is a "straw man".

Synova said...

"Ah, nature as our amusement park/toilet. How quaint. Unfortunately, if we destroy our nest, we destroy ourselves. Is this really so difficult to grasp?"

Human=Bad
Nature=Good

This is religion. Is that really so difficult to grasp?

Warnings about impending doom *might* be science if the data support that conclusion. The problem is that the data, trends, evolving human behavior, etc., don't reliably support that conclusion.

Is that really so difficult to grasp?

Nor does saying so equate to believing that nature is our amusement part or toilet. Someone can favor preserving nature and species and clean air without being a religionist. Most people would rather live in a park than in a waste dump. Taking care of the world is easily to support as a quality of life issue.

Here's something I'd like you to try on for size. If all but 20% of the world population died, technology, medicine, commerce, education... all of it would collapse. Would this be good for nature?

Education and wealth are the most reliable predictors of human infertility. Those things would go away. The remaining groups of humans would be reduced to tribal existance (tribal is good, right? because it's primative, right?). But the predictors of low birthrates are gone. Now instead of education and wealth we've got poverty... and not a condom factory in sight.

How long will it take to exceed pre-die-off levels of humanity with a starting population of people... maybe 25% who can bear children and pretty much 100% with a very basic level of understanding about germs and nutrition. Institutions may end instantly with that sort of die-off but knowledge will persist for at least 2 generations but probably more.

How many children can a girl have before her insides are so messed up that she dies? My great great grandmother had 18 and only the twins died before reaching adulthood. Of her 16 children families upward of 10 children were the norm... I'd say average. So in only two generations two people became 160 people. I know someone my own age with over 160 first cousins who has more than 7 children of her own.

With wealth and education at modern levels this is highly unusual. More usual is people having no children at all, or only one or two. Fertility rates are below replacement in Europe and the trend is expected to continue. *IF* the trend of wealth and education continues.

So... we're supposed to respect the ideas that, 1. Humans are breeding out of control, and 2. It would be good for nature if 80% of us just died already.

It would be just as logical to see a die-off as an event that will revitalize human reproduction and get us off the planet before we voluntarily extinct ourselves by failing to breed.

Lori Heine said...

"Pianka, like most environmentalists, appears to believe that nature as it currently exists has some moral value independent from its usefulness to humanity."

That's because environmentalism is, indeed, a religion. Everybody has a religion -- even those who think they don't.

The only thing scarier than the fundamentalists who believe Armageddon is just around the corner are the eco-twits who want to see the destruction of humanity so that Mother Gaia can be saved.

This is why religion and politics can never really be separated. If Pat Robertson deserves serious consideration as a leading voice on the Religious Right, then perhaps the Unabomber really was a prophet. Both, after all, advocate the violent deaths of others.

Revenant said...

Actually, I just thought of an illustrative example of the whole "immorality of harming nature" thing: the extinction of the passenger pigeon.

The obliteration of the passenger pigeon species posed no harm to humanity at all. The chief effect was a reduction in the amount of guano we had to deal with. Furthermore, the extinction of that species did not lead to any ecological collapse -- even the parasitic lice that the pigeons hosted managed to live on in other species of bird.

Yet environmentalists almost universally point to the extinction of the passenger pigeon as an enormous *wrong* done by humanity. How can that possibly be, unless some moral value is assigned to the idea of untouched nature? Wiping out the pigeons didn't hurt humans at all -- it only hurt the pigeons themselves. So how could it be wrong, unless extinguishing a species is itself inherently wrong?

Revenant said...

If all but 20% of the world population died, technology, medicine, commerce, education... all of it would collapse.

I agree with most of the rest of your post, but I wanted to point out that the above claim probably isn't entirely true. Even if ecological collapse killed 80% of the world's population it is highly unlikely to kill 80% of the United States' population. We would suffer enormous economic harm, but we are rich enough, and have enough available land, to live entirely within climate-controlled buildings and grow all our food in climate-controlled greenhouses if we had to. Life would certainly suck, possibly for generations, but we would not be likely to lose our technology or medical and scientific knowledge. It is the developing world (which lacks the necessary wealth and technology) and Europe (which lacks the necessary space, unless it cuts a deal with Russia) which would get screwed by ecological collapse.

Anonymous said...

What's all this nonsense about science being free of moral judgment?

Medicine is a field of science, every doctor in the world is a scientist, and they are all devoted to the moral judgment that life and comfort are better than death and suffering. See also the physicists who judge that examining the movements of subatomic particles is even worthwhile and the astronomers who think outer space is worth a dime or a day's effort.

Harping on the fallacy that only the ecological sciences involve an element of moral choice is simply done for the sake of devaluing nature.

And Cathy, I must say I am surprised by how tenaciously you are clinging to your ad-hom attacks against Pianka. You say you are "not certain" he said what Mims accused him of, but think there was a "rush to exonerate him." Golly, what ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Is it enough that now any creationist can accuse someone of being ideologically impure, and now the victim must prove they have never committed thoughtcrime?

The most damning things you or anyone has been able to produce from Pianka, in all this quicksand of half-remembered hearsay, are his statements (probably not even from this particular speech) that it would be better for ecosystems / wildlife if mankind were to be decimated. And... it arguably would. This, likewise, does not count as advocacy. It would be better for your car if you were deceased: less of a risk of being driven and crashed. It would be better for your wallet if you were single and childless: more money saved. Does saying that it is cheaper to be childless amount to an attack on the family? Does the mere *suggestion* that it indeed is such an attack mean that one is now obligated to prove that this attack never happened--especially if the statement itself cannot be produced?

Skye said...

I don't have anything to add to the discussion, but as a Texan I was quite amused to see the town of Seguin renamed-by-typo as Sequin. I can just imagine the remodeling they'd have to do to live up to that new moniker!

Anonymous said...

Of course killing off 90% of the world's people would take the population back to what it was in 1700AD,(According to the World Population Clock at Wiki).

So that's really going to save the world, isn't it. With people being people and the trappings, (and knowledge), of civilazation lying around, I expect we'd be back up to 6 billion in no time.

It really shows how well the anti-humanists who wish for the culling of humanity have really thought this through doesn't it?

Kevin B

Revenant said...

Medicine is a field of science

No, it isn't. Medicine is more like a form of engineering than anything else; doctors apply solutions that other people have researched in order to solve specific problems. Medical researchers are scientists, of course. But medical researchers don't take the Hippocratic oath.

See also the physicists who judge that examining the movements of subatomic particles is even worthwhile

What's that got to do with morality? Or are you redefining "morality" as "anything that motivates a human being" or something like that?

In any case, it is a good thing that real science *doesn't* depend in any way on morality. Because morality is untestable, unmeasurable, and unfalsifiable. If science depended on morality in order to work, science would BE a religion -- and the only difference between biologists and Creationists would be the church they prayed in.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

"Note that in every case the voice crying 'I told you so' has an ulterior
motive. Science is wheeled on just as God was once wheeled on, as corroborating evidence (from a superior source) for something upon which the voice of moral reproof wanted to insist anyway." -- Matthew Parris

Richard Bennett said...

Demise of the passenger pigeon linked to spread of Lyme's Disease: It might be difficult to imagine how the loss of a particular bird species can cause an outbreak of human disease, but the Stanford University research team behind the study offered an equally compelling and convincing yet disturbing example. Team researcher Gretchen Daily cited the example of the oft-discussed passenger pigeon, revealing that its extinction is believed to have exacerbated the proliferation of Lyme's disease. When the birds existed in large numbers, the acorns on which they subsisted would have been too scarce to support the large populations of deer mice that flourish today. These rodents are the main reservoir of Lyme's disease, and the acorns make up a significant part of their diet.

Ha ha ha, Pollyanna.

Katherine said...

I find it fascinating that many of you are defining religion down to mean any opinion that something is undesirable. So apparently if I think not having cancer is better than having cancer, I hold a religious belief? Ridiculous.

Religiosity requires some sort of belief in the supernatural. If merely having an opinion about *anything* is now "religious", then clearly the word has no real meaning. I don't understand why merely having an opinion about the optimal population of humans on earth is "religious".

And holding the opinion that the optimal human population is a number lower than the current population does NOT mean that one hates humanity. I love cats and dogs. Yet I want to see them spayed and neutered, and would like to see their population drastically reduced. Not because I hate them - because I love them. If that's a religious belief on my part, then religion is much less meaningful then I always thought it was.

Cathy Young said...

Katherine, a quick reply (more later):

I am using the term "religion" to denote any belief system that exalts a "higher power" over human welfare.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

My own definition: Those who talk about humans' relationship with their environment in terms of cause and effect are scientists. Those who talk about humans' relationship with their environment in terms of hubris and nemesis are religionists.

Lori Heine said...

"Religiosity requires some sort of belief in the supernatural."

No, it does not. A religion is whatever a person believes about the ultimate meaning of life. It can either affirm or deny the very existence of the supernatural. Even if a person believes life HAS no ultimate meaning, that, too, is a religious belief.

Nor must a religious belief include a belief in God. Atheism is one of the oldest religions in the world.

The people who are actually getting screwed by the limited public understanding of what religious belief consists of are actually those who do NOT hold conventional religious beliefs. Such folks are often attacked by "religious" people. Why should this be so?

The Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religious expression for EVERY citizen. When it is defined down to mean just people who are conventionally "religious," then no one else's views are taken seriously or considered worthy of respect.

"I don't understand why merely having an opinion about the optimal population of humans on earth is 'religious'".

Very clearly, you have not met some of the hard-core Greenies out there. They will unabashedly TELL you that the earth is a Goddess, and that "life" is all part of a sort of cosmic web, in which humanity ranks fairly low in value. This would, theoretically, meet Cathy's definition, as it is, indeed, a belief system that exalts a "higher power" over human welfare.

The only people whose religious views are currently taken seriously in this country are those who think God simply went hocus-pocus, and there were Adam and Eve. People who think that Adam was an amoeba who split to form Eve are not given the same degree of consideration.

Richard Bennett said...

With respect to the hostess, I would submit that the term "religious" has been used here simply to refer to people who hold irrational beliefs, where such beliefs have a metaphysical basis.

Does Eric Pianka believe in a "higher power" that holds dominion over humans, or does he believe that the global ecosystem has limited ability to support life, human or otherwise? I see no evidence of a "higher power" in anything he's alleged to have said.

Revenant said...

Religiosity requires some sort of belief in the supernatural.

Not necessarily. Unitarians, for example, don't necessarily believe in the supernatural. It would probably be more accurate to say that religiousity requires spiritual and metaphysical beliefs.

In any case, the term "religion" has applied to a lot more than the worship of gods for quite a long time now. :)

And holding the opinion that the optimal human population is a number lower than the current population does NOT mean that one hates humanity. I love cats and dogs. Yet I want to see them spayed and neutered, and would like to see their population drastically reduced.

Hm. Even if we accept that you don't hate humans, the above statement strongly suggests that you view humans, like dogs and cats, as merely a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. The desired end, in this case, being some idealized Earth that has just the right amount of the humans, dogs, and cars you want.

And in truth you don't truly believe there are too many humans. If you did, you'd kill yourself. What you believe is that there are too many *other* humans, and that the world would be a better place if there were less of *us*. If that's not misanthropy, what is?

Anonymous said...

Synova, what on Earth do you mean? We are behaving in a way that is destructive to our environment, and hence to ourselves, and we should change that. That's not religion, that's reality.

"Human=Bad
Nature=Good"

Where do you get this stuff from?

Rob G

Anonymous said...

Lori wrote;

"That's because environmentalism is, indeed, a religion. Everybody has a religion -- even those who think they don't."

Gee, I thought environmentalists were people who were concerned about the environment. Silly me. Guess there's nothing to be concerned about. Okay, enough snark.

Why are you trying to conflate concern about the environment with Gaia-worship? Are you saying there are no such concerns? If so, you're more reality-challenged than any tree-hugger I've ever met.

Rob G

Anonymous said...

If environmentalism is a religion, because "religion" apprently now means "anything you believe in," then how can one possibly argue that creationists are wrong in their claims that evolution is a religion too?

After all, isn't the creationist straw-man attack on evolution just about spot-on to how people have described environmentalism (radical or otherwise) in these threads?

"It's earth-worship. It demeans humanity. You believe in it because you want huamns to die / it empowers those who devalue human life."

The Sanity Inspector said...

Thanks for the link, Cathy.

I retracted my post because I couldn't back up what I had written. I'm well aware of all the misanthropes in higher education and the environmental movement, and agree that they are a threat. But I'd never heard of Dr. Pianka before, and ought not to have taken the word of Mr. Mims' solo reportage. Even if, thanks to your sleuthing here, it turns out that Pianka really was rooting for a mass die-off, that would still be the case.

I'm continuing to watch developments with interest, but will probably refrain from editorializing any further.

Anonymous said...

Shorter revenant;

"If you think overpopulation is a problem, consistency requires that you must be suicidal."

Awaiting a coherent argument with hope, but no expectation.

Rob G

Anonymous said...

Sanity inspector,

How exactly are misanthropes a threat? Do they have a nation-wide radio talk show that I haven't heard of? Are they running CBS?

Really, how are they a threat?

Rob G

Katherine said...

I don't agree with the definition of religion as merely any belief or worldview about big philosophical questions. My dictionary defines it as "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe", and I think that's the classic definition. Saying that any idea about life or morality is a religious belief seems to me to be defining it down.

In addition, Cathy, if your definition of religious is partaking in a "belief system that exalts a 'higher power' over human welfare", then I don't think Pianka qualifies. I get the impression that he thinks there are too many humans because (1) Natural resources are limited, (2) Continued growth isn't sustainable with modern living-standards, (3) Our current store of resources isn't sufficient to support the current human population if everyone was raised up to the American living-standards, and (4) For aesthetic reasons (i.e. he probably thinks a meadow or forest is prettier and more desirable than another housing development). These seem like perfectly reasonable claims that can be made with no reliance whatsover on appeals to a "higher power". I imagine that you'd agree that it's possible to hold the opinion that there are too many deer in North America, and that the deer population should ideally be much smaller, without ascribing that belief to a higher power. So why can't someone think the same thing about humans?

Also Revenant, I have no idea why you think that I want people killed. A population can be reduced by reducing fertility to below replacement rate for a few generations...there's no need for anyone (or any dogs or cats for that matter) to be killed off.

Also, I've known quite a few hard-core environmentalists and I've never once heard anyone talk about an Earth Goddess. I'm sure they exist, but that isn't any kind of majority view in the environmentalist community.

Revenant said...

"If you think overpopulation is a problem, consistency requires that you must be suicidal."

Awaiting a coherent argument with hope, but no expectation.


The belief that the world's population should be smaller in order to protect N (where N is Nature/humanity/whatever) logically requires the belief that the average currently-living human represents net harm to N. Ergo suicide, on average, improves N, and will continue to do so until the population of humans in the world falls to whatever magic number is best for N.

If Bob the Environmentalist claims that the world's population should be smaller and yet refuses to die himself, it logically follows that Bob believes himself deserving of special treatment -- that even though the typical person's existance is a bad thing, Bob himself is so special that it falls to *other* people to pay the price for his existance.

Mark B. said...

It's interesting to see Pianka's defenders on this thread come forward with earnest, rational defenses of his views, stripped of the moral judgments and value statements that Pianka himself used.

Pianka certainly does believe in a "higher power" - his image of Nature is as an omnipotent, corrective force that will sweep offending humanity off of the planet one way or another. There is nothing "scientific" about this view, and it is far removed from the dispassionate commentaries on excessive resource use, environmental degradation, and related topics offered on this thread.

Pianka is a herpetologist, not a population scientist, resource specialist or economist. When he speaks of worldwide plagues and mankind's receiving its comeuppance, he speaks as a moral philosopher, not a scientist, and his views are justly open to interpretation and criticism on those grounds.

Richard Bennett said...

mark b: If in fact Pianka were simply speaking as a moral philosopher he would indeed be subject to criticism according to the standards for criticizing moral philosophers. But what's going on here is a criticism of Pianka's "moral" views simply because they're believed to be "moral".

Revenant said...

My dictionary defines it as "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe"

That's a direct pull from dictionary.com. I guess you missed definition #4: "A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion".

I get the impression that he thinks there are too many humans because (1) Natural resources are limited,

That's not a rational objection to overpopulation. What difference does it make if nonrenewable resources are used up by 10 billion people over 100 years or 1 billion people over 1000 years? Either way the same number of people get to play.

(2) Continued growth isn't sustainable with modern living-standards,

That's an argument against indefinite population growth, not against the current population of the world. And the world's population isn't going to keep growing indefinitely.

(3) Our current store of resources isn't sufficient to support the current human population if everyone was raised up to the American living-standards

The only crucial resource that is even vaguely limited at this point is oil, and we have replacement technologies available for that.

(4) For aesthetic reasons (i.e. he probably thinks a meadow or forest is prettier and more desirable than another housing development).

If Pianka wants to advocate based on his aesthetic judgements he shouldn't do so under the guise of being a scientists. That said, if meadows are better than housing developments wouldn't the ideal population of the world be zero, not 600 million? His point can't be that the current population of the world doesn't allow for beautiful natural vistas and unspoiled forests, because it obviously does: beautiful natural vistas and unspoiled forests are easy to find in every part of the world except for Europe and parts of Asia.

Also Revenant, I have no idea why you think that I want people killed.

I didn't say you did. I said you viewed people as a means to an end and were displaying a misanthropic attitude towards your fellow humans.

Also, I've known quite a few hard-core environmentalists and I've never once heard anyone talk about an Earth Goddess

Aside from a few pretentious Wiccans I knew in college (get a real religion, kids) neither have I. Far more common, in my experience, is environmentalists who speak of the human race the way that normal humans talk about cockroaches and other vermin -- as a nasty sort of infestation wrecking the world they live in. That's certainly the tone of Pianka's talk, based on the available transcript.

Anonymous said...

[i]"A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion".[/i]

So, holding your child's hand as they cross the street is a religion. Likewise having a job and putting money in a bank account and reading "Reason" every month and being a regular poster on this blog. The looseness of terms required for dressing up environmentalism as a "religion" only testify to how inappropriate the label is.

[i]if meadows are better than housing developments wouldn't the ideal population of the world be zero, not 600 million?[/i]

Not "meadows are better than houses" as much as, I suspect, "different amounts / relative ratios of both meadows and houses are better than what we have now." It is a matter of enlightened future planning, rather than 100% replacement in the present day. Just because you ought to eat less red meat doesn't mean you have to stop eating it forever and pre-emptively destroy all you ever encounter from then on.

[i]His point can't be that the current population of the world doesn't allow for beautiful natural vistas and unspoiled forests, because it obviously does: beautiful natural vistas and unspoiled forests are easy to find[/i]

And so that is not his position. I see him arguing more that current human population is putting tremendous stress on biodiversity, which is a quite different matter from scenic vistas.

TTT

Anonymous said...

Oy. I mis-typed the tags. I hang my head in shame.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend, especially to revenant;

http://www.vhemt.org/

;)

Rob G

Anonymous said...

Revenant-

Medical researchers are scientists, of course. But medical researchers don't take the Hippocratic oath....In any case, it is a good thing that real science *doesn't* depend in any way on morality. Because morality is untestable, unmeasurable, and unfalsifiable. If science depended on morality in order to work, science would BE a religion

Actually, medical science does exactly depend on morality to 'work'. We may not take the Hippocratic oath, but we are required to adhere to the MORAL and ethical guidelines enshrined in the Bellmont Report. Researchers, who do not adhere to these guidelines, are not permitted to do ANY research on human beings in this country.

I hate to break Godwin's law here, but these guidelines emerged as a response both to Tuskegee and the Nuremburg trials. If science and morality were as divorced as Revenant is claiming, it would be perfectly acceptable for us to do stuff like injecting death row inmates with live HIV virus to test a potential vaccine. The state would likely kill them before the virus would, so its hardly murder, particularly if the state was doing the research.

Yet, we don't do things like this because moral judgement is and should always be an important part of good science.

Z

The Sanity Inspector said...

Anonymous:

How exactly are misanthropes a threat?

See: Ideas, exfoliating nature of

Lori Heine said...

Rob G, had you read my comment more carefully, you would not have missed that I was speaking of "the more hard-core Greenies," rather than EVERY SINGLE ENVIRONMENTALIST IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Those who are letting their disdain for conventionally religious people get in the way of their common sense are tripping all over their own bigotry. And, as I previously tried to say, it is far less in their interests than it is in those of "religious people." All this condescension may be great fun, but it could very well come back to bite you.

Those bent on turning this country into a theocracy believe that only those with the most popular religious beliefs are entitled to freedom of religious expression. Actually, it is supposed to apply to everyone -- including those who can't set aside their condescension toward Christians, Jews and others long enough to recognize the value of the First Amendment.

"I don't agree," says Katherine, "with the definition of religion as merely any belief or worldview about big philosophical questions. My dictionary defines it as 'Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe', and I think that's the classic definition."

Revenant is right; this is NOT the only definition.

"Saying that any idea about life or morality is a religious belief seems to me to be defining it down."

Really?! It seems, to me, to be showing respect for the ways people who do not share my faith might answer the ultimate questions faith attempts to answer.
This is the ONLY way we will be able to continue all living together in a nation dedicated to honoring a plurality of views.

Cathy Young said...

First of all, to Robert G.:

I have no issues with pragmatic environmentalism, as in "we need to have clean air and water, wise management of natural resources, etc."

I wonder how recent this phenomenon is; that one who offers dire prognostications is firstly and foremostly questioned as to his/her ideology. "Is he an extreme liberal eco-loony?" rather than "Gee, do you think he might have a point?".

First of all, I think that when their ideology is as blatant as it is in Pianka's case, the questioning is not inappropriate. Someone who thinks that a lizard has the same moral worth as a human being is a loony in my book. Second, by now so many dire prognostications (e.g. Paul Ehrlich's) have been proven wrong that skepticism is not unwarranted.

I'm surprised that the idea of radical environmentalism as a religion comes as news to many people. Do you (Robert and others) really mean to say that you haven't heard of "the Gaia hypothesis"? Here's one webpage that deals with "environmental spirituality." In fact, many radical enviromentalists make no secret of the religious nature of their views. For instance, here's a passage from a December 17, 1990 Newsweek article on religion among the baby boomers:

n the marketplace for values, churches face stiff competition from secular movements. As an adolescent in Anchorage, Alaska, Monte Paulsen became a born-again Baptist missionary but dropped out because the Baptists only wanted to know how many people he had "saved." Now 27 and the editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Portland, Maine, Paulsen has given himself to a new mission -- to save the environment. His religion, he says, is "deep ecology," and he is struggling to overcome the assumption that humankind is the most important species on earth -- something which the Christianity he rejected insists on.


Even without such explicit identification, articles decrying man's depredations against the environment often have a distinct religious or quasi-religious tone, a la "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." For instance, the recent Time cover story on global warming lists a series of recent hurricanes and other natural disasters and concludes, "It seems Nature has had her bellyful of us." This phrase turns "Nature" into a conscious, godlike entity expressing its displeasure with humans.

And let's not forget this infamous item by James Wolcott:

root for hurricanes. When, courtesy of the Weather Channel, I see one forming in the ocean off the coast of Africa, I find myself longing for it to become big and strong--Mother Nature's fist of fury, Gaia's stern rebuke. Considering the havoc mankind has wreaked upon nature with deforesting, stripmining, and the destruction of animal habitat, it only seems fair that nature get some of its own back and teach us that there are forces greater than our own.

I will not be able to respond to all the other comments individually, but I do find it telling that so many of the people supporting Pianka are not so much disputing the anti-human views attributed to him as sharing them. And by the way, to equate human being in moral worth with dogs, cats, lizards, etc. is anti-human, in my opinion. In my view, such an outlook is far less likely to imprpove our treatment of animals (whom, by the way, I dearly love, and hate seeing subjected to unnecessary suffering) than to cause our treatment of fellow humans to deteriorate.

I don't think you necessarily need to follow any conventional religion, or even to believe in God, to recognize that human beings are "special." Whether it was divine design or spontaneous evolution that caused an amoeba to evolve into a being capable of building cathedrals and skyscrapers, unlocking the mysteries of DNA and studying other galaxies, harnessing the power of the atom and flying into space -- it's still an awesome miracle.

I find the idea of "species equality" dangerous because it is likely to result in the devaluation of such uniquely human qualities as reason and morality.

Revenant said...

So, holding your child's hand as they cross the street is a religion. Likewise having a job and putting money in a bank account and reading "Reason" every month and being a regular poster on this blog.

The word is not generally used in that manner, no.

Come on -- don't any of you people have regular conversations in English? If someone said "he collects stamps with religious zeal" would you scratch your head in confusion and wonder what stamps have to do with worship of the creator of the universe? If someone said "baseball is a religion for him" would you be utterly unable to determine what the speaker could possibly be talking about? Sheesh.

Environmentalism has many of the trappings of religion. Obsession with sin and redemption, sacrificial offerings, belief that a higher power will punish wrongdoing, imperviousness to arguments against the prevailing dogma, etc. It appeals to that same need in humanity that religions and radicial political movements do. That is why many people refer to it as a religion.

Revenant said...

Actually, medical science does exactly depend on morality to 'work'.

No, it doesn't. A medical procedure has the exact same effect on a patient regardless of the beliefs, attitudes, and motivations of the doctor. A vasectomy does the same thing whether it is being performed by a Nazi doctor attempting to sterilize a Jew or by a Beverly Hills physician helping a movie star avoid paternity suits. Morality is important to the American medical *profession*. But while many doctors arrogantly conflate "being a doctor" with medicine itself, they are entirely wrong to do so.

Anonymous said...

If someone said "he collects stamps with religious zeal" would you scratch your head in confusion and wonder what stamps have to do with worship of the creator of the universe? If someone said "baseball is a religion for him" would you be utterly unable to determine what the speaker could possibly be talking about?

Look, if it's just a meaningless figure of speech, just own up to it. Because in the context of this discussion it HAS been uniformly meant as a statement of fact: "environmentalism is a religion, they worship this and that, beware." Yet what you have just described is "environmentalism is a hobby or strong interest." To alter one of my previous comparisons, medicine is now a religion. Goodness knows, I've met doctors who are at least as "into" their fields as any stamp collector.


Environmentalism has many of the trappings of religion. Obsession with sin and redemption, sacrificial offerings, belief that a higher power will punish wrongdoing, imperviousness to arguments against the prevailing dogma, etc. It appeals to that same need in humanity that religions and radicial political movements do. That is why many people refer to it as a religion.

It also looks like why creationists call science and evolution "religions". Likewise it fits just as aptly as a pejorative description of working the stock market or putting seatbelts in cars.

In my experience--and I have seen people retreat Godwinishly into that epithet too many times--those who perceive environmentalism as a "religion" just cannot fathom the valuing of nature.

I think we're seeing a fundamental disconnect on this board. I am well familiar with radical environmentalists and Earth First!-types, and how incredibly marginalized and meaningless they are. But it seems that there are people here who are not much familiar with conservation biology, restoration ecology, or other scientific disciplines pursued by scientists whose fields involve the study and stewardship of Earth's ecosystems.

You all know James Lovelock's name because there's one of him. It's easy to remember. If I asked you to name a thousand field ecologists, you'd have to look them up. But you'd find them. You'd actually find well more than that. But anyway.

TTT

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Perhaps the environmental movement would get better press if it could come up with a better way of marginalizing its radicals than naming the Texas Distinguished Scientists.

Revenant said...

Look, if it's just a meaningless figure of speech, just own up to it.

It isn't a "meaningless figure of speech". It is an accepted use of the word "religion", as indicated by the dictionary definition I cited and the conversational examples I gave. If the fact that the English language has been using the word "religion" to mean things other than "worship of deities" for decades now bothers you that much, well, tough cookies. :)

It also looks like why creationists call science and evolution "religions".

Yeah, whatever. You might as well say that the definition of science sounds like why creationists call Intelligent Design a science.

I have seen people retreat Godwinishly into that epithet too many times--those who perceive environmentalism as a "religion" just cannot fathom the valuing of nature.

Which sounds a great deal like the common Creationist claim that people who believe in the theory of evolution only do so because they're atheists. :)

Environmentalists are fond of acting like they have some special insight into loving nature. But here's a clue: virtually every man, woman, and child on Earth likes living in a clean environment with pretty flowers and trees. What distinguishes environmentalists from everyone else isn't a love of nature -- except, of course, with those environmentalists who prefer nonhuman organisms to human ones, such as Pianka and one or two of the posters in this thread -- but the arrogant belief that they have some special revelatory insight into the True Relationship With Nature that the rest of the world either fails to believe out of ignorance of actively opposes out of malice.

I am well familiar with radical environmentalists and Earth First!-types, and how incredibly marginalized and meaningless they are.

Radical and marginzalized? They control PETA and Greenpeace, just for starters. How marginal is that?

But it seems that there are people here who are not much familiar with conservation biology, restoration ecology, or other scientific disciplines pursued by scientists whose fields involve the study and stewardship of Earth's ecosystems.

I'm not sure who the "people" in question are or what your basis is for claiming that, but it seems to me that you've failed to consider that actual scientists represent an even smaller percentage of the environmentalist movement than the aforementioned "Earth First" types do. If you don't accept radical environmentalists as representative of the movement, why should I accept scientists as representative of the movement?

Richard Bennett said...

Re: this odd remark: Perhaps the environmental movement would get better press if it could come up with a better way of marginalizing its radicals than naming the Texas Distinguished Scientists.

The Distinguished Scientist award was given by the Texas Academy of Science. Unless we're to believe that TAS, of which the creationist Mims is a member, is an environmentalist cult, the comment makes no more sense that a typical revenant remark.

Anonymous said...

If the fact that the English language has been using the word "religion" to mean things other than "worship of deities" for decades now bothers you that much, well, tough cookies.

I guess it just depends on what your definition of the word "is" is. Clearly the goal of smearing and mocking environmentalists is so important that one can resort to blatant doublespeak, accusing them of behaving as a new and deviant religion and then retreating into the "hobbyist / medical doctor / stamp collector" definition of the word, which is so unthreatening and unsinister that it renders the original appellation totally pointless.


Radical and marginzalized? They control PETA and Greenpeace, just for starters. How marginal is that?

Incredibly much so. To such an extent that I can't believe you think they count as rhetorical points in your favor.

PETA is an animal-rights organization, not an environmentalist group. On numerous points they are openly anti-environmentalist and are proud of it. Look into the case histories of their stances when it comes to invasive mammal species wiping out rare native plants, for instance.

Greenpeace is an environmentalist group that has amounted to somewhere between diddley and squat in the last 10 years. Much like James Lovelock, they are blessed with name-brand recognition among people who do not actually follow the field.

it seems to me that you've failed to consider that actual scientists represent an even smaller percentage of the environmentalist movement than the aforementioned "Earth First" types do.

Uh huh. Care to back that up? As in, numbers of members of Earth First! versus numbers of academic and professional environmental scientists? You can limit it to the USA if you like. I'll wait.

If you don't accept radical environmentalists as representative of the movement, why should I accept scientists as representative of the movement?

So I control your responses now? Dude, sweet.

TTT

Anonymous said...

Lori,

I read your comment carefully, and saw no distinction, just a blanket term "environmentalists".

Then I see this;

"The only people whose religious views are currently taken seriously in this country are those who think God simply went hocus-pocus, and there were Adam and Eve. People who think that Adam was an amoeba who split to form Eve are not given the same degree of consideration. "

Are you joking? You can't get elected in the U.S. unless you profess your love of Jesus.

Rob G

Anonymous said...

Lori,

Forgive me. My last comment was way too hastily written, and I certainly didn't read you carefully this time. That's what you get for trying to work and comment at the same time.

Rob G

Anonymous said...

Revenant,

Medical science is a process, not a specific procedure. I know you know what the scientific method is. I know you have a strong interest in psychological research. You know, or should know, that morality plays as important a role as the pure scientific considerations in deciding what we study, how we collect the data, how we treat the people who are participating, and what we do with that data. All that has to be clearly laid out and reviewed right, left, and center before any research can actually begin. That is what Institutional Review Boards, Human Studies committees, and Data Monitoring Boards are for. For most medical researchers, ethics, morality, and moral judgement are now and have always been a part of the conduct of science and research. The exception to this rule, those who let their scientific curiosity overwhelm their basic humanity, are disbarred and/or criminally prosecuted.

Now what's with the rant about doctors? That isn't what we were talking about.

Z

Revenant said...

PETA is an animal-rights organization, not an environmentalist group

The animal rights movement is a subset of the environmentalist movement.

Greenpeace is an environmentalist group that has amounted to somewhere between diddley and squat in the last 10 years.

First of all, the environmental movement as a *whole* has amounted to somewhere between diddley and squat in the last 10 years.

Secondly, Greenpeace has 2.8 million members and takes in over $200 million a year in donations. I'm not sure if you were merely unaware of their size or just chose to deliberately misrepresent them, but in either case your claim that they are a "marginal" group is obviously quite wrong.

Care to back that up?

Well, are there more than 2.8 million conservation biologists in the world? As I noted above, there are 2.8 million supporters of just *one* loony "Earth First"-type environmentalist organization. The Earth Liberation Front (which itself broke off from Earth First) has an estimated 10,000 members, which I suspect is itself more than the number of conservation biologists in the USA too (overlooking the fact that there is overlap between the groups, as radical environmentalists are often employed in an environment-related capacity too), but I'm not aware of an exact headcount of conservation biologists so I can't confirm that.

Also, in light of your newfound interest in actual facts, when were you planning to support your claim that radicial environmentalists and "Earth first" types weren't a significant part of the movement? Just curious.

Revenant said...

You know, or should know, that morality plays as important a role as the pure scientific considerations in deciding what we study, how we collect the data, how we treat the people who are participating, and what we do with that data

I'm sorry, but that is complete nonsense. You've confused "how I feel comfortable with employing scientific methodology" with "what constitutes scientific methodology". It would be perfectly valid science to gather information on, say, human willingness to obey orders by carrying out a Stanley Millgram-type experiment in which people were *actually* tortured to death. Indeed, the data thus gathered would be higher-quality data than that of the original experiments, as there would be no chance of the subjects seeing through the "victim's" act. That experiment would be utterly immoral -- but also great science. Similarly it would be perfectly valid science to gather data on healthy human lungs by killing healthy people and extracting their lungs. Again, bad morality, good science.

Now, perhaps you have chosen to slap the label of "morality" onto the scientific requirement that researchers be honest and objective. But that's not morality -- that's pragmatism based on enlightened self-interest. Science won't tolerate lies, not because lying is immoral but because lying passes along bad data.

That is what Institutional Review Boards, Human Studies committees, and Data Monitoring Boards are for.

Again, you've confused the bureaucracy associated with holding a job as a scientist with science itself. You don't need any of that crap to perform scientific research.

Anonymous said...

The animal rights movement is a subset of the environmentalist movement.

You need to check your facts. The animal rights movement arose from 19th-century antivivisection societies, long before the modern awareness of environmental degradation (spurred by the decimation of North American bison and, later, "Silent Spring") had spread even to the mainstream scientific community, let alone the lay public.

I have already cited how PETA is openly anti-environmentalist. When the agent of degradation of Hawaiian rainforests are cute pigs, they are proud to side with the pigs. Likewise with the lab "liberation" splinter groups as they confidently justify their sudden release of large numbers of potentially diseased ferrets into whatever ecosystem their activists happen to be nearest at the time.

So sorry man, that dog don't hunt.


the environmental movement as a *whole* has amounted to somewhere between diddley and squat in the last 10 years

Do I detect sour grapes?

In just the year 2003 a single group, Conservation International, brokered a deal that set aside, if memory serves, 2 million acres of Brazilian rainforest for protection and study. Already this year the Nature Conservancy successfully arranged for the protection of over 200,000 acres of forestland throughout the American southern states. In the mid '90s biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups confirmed the survival of Javan rhinoceros on mainland Asia and set up a rapid response of surveying the population, paying for guards, and reaching out to locals to protect the species. A few years before that, the quick sequential discovery of many new species in the isolated Vu Quang area of Vietnam saw the World Wildlife Fund come on-scene and script up a varying-use plan that, upon successful implementation, protected over 60,000 acres of valley forest at the core of the new reserve. If I could actually be bothered to look up and construct a timeline of all such projects, you can rest assured it would be sizable.

And of course, 1989 saw the passage of the Montreal Accords to limit the release of ozone-destroying chemials, which proved to be one of the most successful and scientifically sound environmental policies ever scripted. Though I concede that the last two examples were somewhat more than 10 years ago, so it is possible that you actually had these and other raging successes in mind when you said that only more recently had the environmental movement amounted to naught. For some reason, though, I doubt it.

In any case, now that you are presented with the above examples by all means feel free to pooh-pooh them or deny their necessity or humaneness. I know the drill.


Greenpeace has 2.8 million members

There's a lot you won't learn from a ten-second Internet search. Such as how Greenpeace only counts people as members if they engage in activism firsthand. What they have 2.8 million of are people who donate money. Which matters for sure, but so too does the institutional difference between the categories. Many people paid to see "Brokeback Mountain," and not all of them were gay.


The Earth Liberation Front... has an estimated 10,000 members

"Estimated" by what blind reach? ELF might as well be The Anarchist's Cookbook. It has no formal leadership or membership and no cell structure. People see the idea, like the idea, and go out and do it.


To answer your last point:

For my part, I do not know how many ecologists, marine biologists, captive husbandry specialists, etc., there are in this country. Since YOU were the one who raised the assertion that the radicals outnumbered the scientists, I had assumed you could back that up, and so asked you to. Since I've been unable to actually find roster numbers for each scientific discipline, I had thought you in your confidence had had more success.... looks like I was wrong. But since your definitions of "membership" in some of these groups are as sketchy as your definition of "religion," I'm going to continue to defer to my own personal life experience on the matter. No doubt you will do the same.

At the risk of causing offense, you really do appear to have been arguing in circles the whole time just for the sake of maximizing the available rhetorical spin. Environmentalism is a creepy religion except when it's a mundane hobby like stamp collecting. Environmentalism is mean yet at the same time most people share its underlying assumptions. And while most people share these underlying assumptions, it's revealing and important that a whole 3 million of them send money to Greenpeace.

Something cannot be both a normal and mainstreamed interest and, at the same time, abnormal and subversive. Unless the whole point of the conversation is just to slime the target ideologically, in which case all factual and rhetorical constraints are off.

TTT

Anonymous said...

Cathy, skepticism is a virtue concerning the unproven, but not about recent climate change. For whatever reason, scientific studies are either ignored or have their importance minimized. This is what has alarmed me the most in the last few years - the thickness of Arctic ice has been reduced by 40% in the last few decades.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/05/22/eveningnews/main509808.shtml

I don't care about Pianka's philosophy. I think he is right about our future. Stop shooting the messenger.

A good graphics link;

http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/figspm-1.htm

Rob G

Sir Oolius said...

Cathy,

You seem to paint the environmental movement in awefully broad brush-strokes. In your Boston Globe op-ed as well as in your blog posts, the impression one walks away with is that you believe most all environmentalists are in it only for some sort of spiritual contentment they can't get anywhere else. You back this up by linking to old quotes from obscure environmentalists. The most recent quote you use in your posts and column--besides Wolcott's and Pianka's--is from 1989!

It seems you have no grasp of the current environmental movement and have to resort to outdated stereotypes to make your trite point. I couldn't care less about some whacko in Texas who may or may not have said something that might or might not motivate some other hypothetical crazy out there to do something bad in the future. What a bunch of crap.

What makes me angry, though, is when you take this is a representative example of an "environmentalist." Oh sure, you don't have anything against "pragmatic" environmentalists, but what exactly do you mean by that? I'd venture a guess that your definition thereof is someone who's all too happy to compromise: an endagered species here, some carbon dioxide there, what's the big deal as long as it makes me feel good?

Propaganda is all you offer.

Cathy Young said...

Sir Oolius: I have never called Pianka representative of the environmentalist movement, but of a certain strain in the environmentalism movement which I think environmentalism has not done enough to repudiate.

Oh sure, you don't have anything against "pragmatic" environmentalists, but what exactly do you mean by that? I'd venture a guess that your definition thereof is someone who's all too happy to compromise: an endagered species here, some carbon dioxide there, what's the big deal as long as it makes me feel good?


Well, yes, I do think that a rational environmentalist would be someone who realizes the basic fact that there is no such thing as a pristine, sacred, inviolate state of nature (the extinction of species, btw, is very much a part of the natural world!), and that there have to be tradeoffs. For instance, beyond a certain threshhold, eliminating even the minutest traces of some chemicals from the environment has such negligible health benefits and is so expensive that it would be far more beneficial to humans to direct that money elsewhere.

Oh, and to Rob G.: Pianka's predictions have absolutely zero to do with global warming. To be frank, the fact that you say he's "right about our future" and then point to findings completely unrelated to anything he has said suggests to me that you may be eager to believe in environmental doomsday predictions, no matter what the specifics.

Richard Bennett said...

The controversy over Pianka's remarks strikes me as similar in many ways to the Larry Summers brouhaha. Both said some provocative things, and their remarks sparked a dialog that left many of us better-informed than we were at the outset. Pianka is a university professor, and has been one since the time that professors understood that getting people to think was part of their job. He was teaching at UT when I was a student there in the 70s.

And the reaction has been pretty similar to both Summers and Pianka, with a large number of people willfully distorting their remarks and then gleefully attacking the strawmen. Pianka may have seemed "gleeful" when he suggested that a mass die-off of humans would benefit the environment, but I suspect his glee had more to do with his knowledge of the impending reaction than with the the reduction in greenhouse gases that this reduction in the human population would entail.

Incidentally, an over-populated planet and its attendant degraded environment is not especially good for humans either, and a few days in South India will show you what an overpopulated planet looks like.

Anonymous said...

richard,

Yes, there are some similarities. Both made the scientific community look bad - in Summer's case by the overreaction it received and its underwhelming defense, and in Pianka's case by the incredible support and near unanimous defense it seems to have received.

Summer suggested that the underrepresentation of women in math and science might not be due to discrimination -- the understatement of the century considering how much preference women receive at every stage of the game on the way to a professorship in Harvard in math or science. Professors stormed out of his talk nauseated. Also, Summers released his talk to the public and did not deny his words.

Pianka talks about the bird flu as a good thing, flippantly suggests we sterilize everyone, and if Mims is to be believed, much more (and worse), based on flimsy assertions of impending doom. The scientific reaction? A standing ovation, and calling Mims a disgruntled liar. Pianka posts a greatly watered-down version of his beliefs for public consumption on his site, says he was misunderstood, and gets away with calling his critics right-wing fools.

Are we better informed than at the outset? Did Pianka make us think? Yes, it opened my eyes (and many others I suspect) to the incredible left-wing bias in academia, even in the sciences, something that I had not believed could be true up to this point.

If you are truly interested in convincing people to do something about overpopulation, then you would acknowledge the criticisms of Pianka’s talk without glossing over his words, as you’ve done.

Richard Bennett said...

And your statement of Pianka's beliefs is false on every count: Pianka talks about the bird flu as a good thing, flippantly suggests we sterilize everyone, and if Mims is to be believed, much more (and worse), based on flimsy assertions of impending doom.

And actually no, Mims isn't to be believed, and in fact one of the great lessons of this debate is the fact that Mims is a raving lunatic, a pathological liar, and an unprincpled religious fanatic.

Anonymous said...

And your statement of Pianka's beliefs is false on every count: Pianka talks about the bird flu as a good thing,

PIANKA: You know the bird flu’s good, too. [Laughter.]


flippantly suggests we sterilize everyone,

PIANKA: So this is what we need. We need to sterilize everybody on the Earth [laughter]

And actually no, Mims isn't to be believed, and in fact one of the great lessons of this debate is the fact that Mims is a raving lunatic, a pathological liar, and an unprincpled religious fanatic.

Maybe, and Pianka could easily prove this by releasing the transcript from the lecture Mims attended and reported on. So where is it?

Richard Bennett said...

Laughter

Do you have a dictionary, anonymous? Look that word up and get back to me.

And no, Pianka doesn't have to prove Mims a liar, Mims has done that himself.

Anonymous said...

Oh I see, he's just doing a comedy shtick, a "What would Charles Manson say if he were a college professor?" satire. Now I get it.

Personally, Dembski reporting Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security had me rolling on the floor. I only wish agent Brian Doyle had been sent to interrogate his grandchildren [Laughter].

Richard Bennett said...

OK, "anonymous", I see where you're coming from: Pianka's one of them wicked godless evolutionists, and any punishment meted on him for holding heathen views is appropriate, up to and including burning at the stake.

And when you're not complaining about Pianka inventing bird flu in his secret lab underneath the East Mall at the U. of Texas campus you're complaining about Bill Dembski's lack of intellectual freedom, aren't you?

You people are so transparent.

Anonymous said...

Richard,

You probably don't want, in the same thread, to criticize Pianka's critics thusly:

...with a large number of people willfully distorting their remarks and then gleefully attacking the strawmen.

and then a short number of posts later declare:

I see where you're coming from: Pianka's one of them wicked godless evolutionists, and any punishment meted on him for holding heathen views is appropriate, up to and including burning at the stake.

When you've ironed out this discrepancy, and develop a coherent point of view, then get back to me. Honestly, are you trying to make us atheists look bad? Job well done.

Richard Bennett said...

Did I say I'm an atheist? Perhaps you can point out the "discrepancy", anon.

There there.

Anonymous said...

Did I say I'm an atheist?

No, I did not say you were an atheist, nor did I say that you said you were an atheist, nor did you say you're an atheist. I only wondered if you were trying to make us (meaning atheists, a group of people to which I belong) look bad. I have no idea what Pianka’s religious beliefs are, but I don’t want his supposed membership in the group to which I belong to be used as a deflector from criticism, as an easy exploit to question the motives of those who criticize his statements, without credible evidence. I think doing so does damage to the reputation of atheists, such as myself, and makes it harder to present a credible case when there is genuine anti-atheist bigotry.

I concede, however, that my use of the word "us" was ambiguous, allowing it to be easily misinterpreted. Perhaps this sloppiness was due to my guess that you might belong to the same group, or at least not consider yourself religious. I apologize if I suspected incorrectly, and am quite happy (literally) to entertain the possibility that my suspicions were incorrect.

I can’t tell if you are pulling my leg by asking for an explanation as to why I think your statements are inconsistent, but, at the risk of further trivializing this discussion, I do want to make it abundantly clear. You first argue, as I interpret it, that critics of Pianka are using straw arguments about what he believes, which is a bad thing to do, and then you say such and such is what you (I) believe, isn’t it extreme, ridiculous and inconsistent? The problem, of course, is it isn’t what I believe, nor would a reasonable person conclude it is what I believe based on what I wrote. Therefore, by definition, you replaced what I was saying with a straw argument, which, according to your earlier statement (as I interpret it), is a bad thing to do.

My arguments were: Pianka made some statements, which I quoted from a transcript, worthy of harsh criticism, not a standing ovation. Academic freedom does not mean freedom from criticism. Saying his statements were simply for humorous effect does not excuse them, as I think you tried to do. Some "jokes" are in such bad taste, as I tried to demonstrate in a way I hoped you would understand, that they should be avoided, not excused. Otherwise, there is no limit to what outlandish things people might say or do, free from harsh criticism, so long as a group of people can be found who find it "funny."

I did not argue, nor do I believe, that being godless (if he is, I don’t know or care) or an evolutionist should be held against him. Nor did I argue that he is "wicked," whatever that means. The closest I came here is suggesting that he seems to be pretending to sound like what a "wicked" person would sound like, for humorous effect. Nor do I believe he should be burned at the stake. For you to say I believe these things is dishonest, and bears no resemblance to how I treated Pianka’s statements (which was to quote them literally).

I do think it’s appropriate, and in UT’s best interest, to confine Pianka to teach courses on subject matters where he is truly an expert, and confine science courses to be about science, not environmental spiritualism or political propaganda. This is consistent, at least in spirit, with the policy that teaching ID as "science" in a publicly funded institution is unconstitutional, is it not?

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