Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Speaking of fanatics...

As a number of people including yours truly have noted before, radical environmentalism is a secular religion, complete with its own zealots -- and not all of them live in cabins in the woods. Some teach at universities.

Yes, I'm talking about Eric Pianka, University of Texas ecologist and Texas Distinguished Scientist of 2006, whose speech at the meeting of the Texas Academy of Science last month is making waves in the blogosphere. According to a report in the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, Pinka spoke enthusiastically of the (alleged) prospect of 90% of humanity being wiped out by a global epidemic, most probably of a mutated Ebola virus:

"Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine," Eric Pianka cautioned students and guests at St. Edward's University on Friday. Pianka's words are part of what he calls his "doomsday talk" - a 45-minute presentation outlining humanity's ecological misdeeds and Pianka's predictions about how nature, or perhaps humans themselves, will exterminate all but a fraction of civilization.

Though his statements are admittedly bold, he's not without abundant advocates. But what may set this revered biologist apart from other doomsday soothsayers is this: Humanity's collapse is a notion he embraces.

Indeed, his words deal, very literally, on a life-and-death scale, yet he smiles and jokes candidly throughout the lecture. Disseminating a message many would call morbid, Pianka's warnings are centered upon awareness rather than fear.

"This is really an exciting time," he said Friday amid warnings of apocalypse, destruction and disease. Only minutes earlier he declared, "Death. This is what awaits us all. Death." Reflecting on the so-called Ancient Chinese Curse, "May you live in interesting times," he wore, surprisingly, a smile.

So what's at the heart of Pianka's claim?

6.5 billion humans is too many.

In his estimation, "We've grown fat, apathetic and miserable," all the while leaving the planet parched.

The solution?

A 90 percent reduction.

That's 5.8 billion lives - lives he says are turning the planet into "fat, human biomass." He points to an 85 percent swell in the population during the last 25 years and insists civilization is on the brink of its downfall - likely at the hand of widespread disease.


Pianka is now under fire from Forrest M. Mims III, Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the Texas Academy of Science, who claims that Pianka used the Texas Academy meeting as a forum to advocate the painful death of over 5 billion people.

Pharyngula, the noted science blog, responds by shooting the messenger, pointing out that Mims is a well-known advocate of intelligent design and a disgruntled critic of the science establishment ever since Scientific American refused to hire him as its "Amateur Scientist" columnist because of his pro-ID views. Pointing to another account of the meeting and the speech, by Texas Lutheran University senior and biology major Brenna McConnell, Pharyngula's PZ Myers says:

It mentions nothing of a plan to intentionally infect people with airborne ebola and kill a majority of the people on Earth.

But I don't think Mims claims that Pianka advocated such a plan, either. He did express concern that "a Pianka-worshipping former student might someday become a professional biologist or physician with access to the most deadly strains of viruses and bacteria." Well, when you think of the Unabomber, maybe the idea of an enviro-zealot turned bioterrorist isn't all that farfetched.

In fact, McConnell's account broadly confirms Mims', and also shows what kind of mindset his ideas generate:

Dr. Pianka's talk at the TAS meeting was mostly of the problems humans are causing as we rapidly proliferate around the globe. While what he had to say is way too vast to remember it all, moreover to relay it here in this blog, the bulk of his talk was that he's waiting for the virus that will eventually arise and kill off 90% of human population. In fact, his hope, if you can call it that, is that the ebola virus which attacks humans currently (but only through blood transmission) will mutate with the ebola virus that attacks monkeys airborne to create an airborne ebola virus that attacks humans. He's a radical thinker, that one! I mean, he's basically advocating for the death of all but 10% of the current population! And at the risk of sounding just as radical, I think he's right.

Humans are far too populous. We've used up our resources, and we're destroying the Earth at an accelerated pace. The more technology we create, the more damage we're capable of doing. ... It's the harsh reality that many people alive right now should be dead. And even harsher to think that the world would be better off with them dead too. My grandparents, who I love dearly and am so incredibly thankful to know, are honestly being kept alive only through the technology that we have created via medicine. The same goes for the millions of other old folk alive and kicking and will continue to do so for another 5-10 years, using up more resources. Or think of all the babies being born every hour with abnormalities that 50 years ago would have kept them from living. ...

Dr. Pianka made a very profound comment during his presentation; he said that China has the right idea by limiting reproduction at 1. We're past the point of replacement reproduction as a species. We're too many for the number we're at now! We need to decline in population. A virus is probably the fairest method of extermination (though still not completely fair, I admit) because it's nondiscriminatory as to whom it targets. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, nice, mean, religious, agnostic - we'd all be targeted equally. The only difference is who can afford medicine and even then, if it's a mutated virus that strikes fast, humans would have only the tiniest of a chance to find a cure in time so money wouldn't matter.

Of course, in reality, a virus would be quite discriminatory: Ebola is an African virus. In a correspondence with Mims, Pianka has apparently asserted that it could migrate to Europe or the Americas by means of a single infected airplane passenger. (Methinks he's seen the movie Outbreak a few too many times -- rooting for the virus, no doubt.) But it's virtually certain that quarantines and other preventive measures would be quickly imposed, and the damage in the West might well be contained while Africa turned into a mass grave. Furthermore, do Pianka and his followers really think the chances of infection and survival in an epidemic would have nothing to do with levels of sanitation, medical care, and other things related to wealth? (By the way, Pianka overstates the mortality rates from the virus -- according to Emergency Medicine, fatality rates in Ebola epidemics have ranged from 53% to 88% -- and does not seem to know that the infection rate for most airborne diseases is far below 100%.)

Pharyngula suggests that because Pianka received enthusiastic applause at the TAS meeting, his comments couldn't have been as vile as Mims and other critics suggests. But the fact is that anti-humanism has long enjoyed a disturbing level of acceptance in the environmental church, including acceptance from scientists. In an article in the Los Angeles Times Book Review on October 22, 1989, reviewing Bill McKibben's book, The End of Nature, David Graber, a research biologist with the National Park Service, wrote:

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn't true. Somewhere along the line -- at about a billion years ago, maybe half that -- we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.

It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

(Note that Graber's idea of rejoining nature entails going to a 500 million years BCE level of human culture. Charming.)

For other pearls of such wisdom, see this page.

This is evil stuff, and not very different from "classic" religious fanaticism in its hatred of human freedom and achievement, and its demand for absolute human submission to a greater power.

Pharyngula reports that the Texas Academy of Sciences has been receiving "death threats" over the Pianka speech, though the only email PZ Myers cites is a heated but non-violent condemnation which says (rightly) that the Academy is "diminished" by its association with Pianka's views. Of course death threats, or threats of any kind, are wrong. But I think that environmentalists, and scientists, need to recognize that they are diminished and compromised by doomsaying and misanthropy.

Mistrust of "godless" science is already all too common in American society. People like Pianka and Graber only give further ammunition to the enemies of science.


47 comments:

Auds said...

I think it's self esteem issues.
I seldom say "self esteem issues" as a causative theory for anything, but I think this times, it fits.

If Pianka had more self esteem, he might find his own existence and that of his human family, more tolerable and be less amenable to killing us all off.

colagirl said...

...Whoa. After reading your column, I can only say this guy is a real wacko. I'm amazed (even though, sadly, I probably shouldn't be) that this guy is actually a professor at UT.

With his idea of a virus that would equally target all members of the entire human race, and kill 9 out of every 10 irrespective of access to medical care, prior levels of health, nutrition, quarantine measures, etc., it seems pretty clear that he's living in a fantasy world. I wonder if he's a fan of The Stand? (I bet he is.)

I also love his arrogance about how "humans are no longer a part of nature." If only that were true....

And you know, with guys like these, the question that always springs to my mind is, Why hasn't he put his money where his mouth is? If he really believes that humanity is a cancer on the planet and that 90% of the population needs to die off, why doesn't he "take one for the team," and step out himself? Of course, the answer is that he means everybody *else* should die off, leaving the righteous, chosen few behind to inherit the earth.

...Come to think of it, I bet he *is* a big fan of The Stand. Perhaps he should pay more attention to King's point about how the survivors, unable to escape their own human (evolutionarily created) nature, end up creating a new society that is in many ways an image of the one that was destroyed.

Anonymous said...

"Self-esteem issues" - probably so. Doom-mongering is a worn-out but still useful way of grabbing power and people's attention.

Pianka is a classic example of someone making a fool of himself ouside his field. H emay think that this is his foeld because he is an ecologist, but in fact he is talking about social and political issues. He is obviously incompetent in those areas. He says that we as humans are fat and bloated. He needs to get of campus then and go tour some of the world's hellholes. He completely ignores known example sof population decrease - they are usually due to increased prosperity, not epidemic. He sems to assume that humans populations are react like populations of rabbits or whatever to threats and stresses, using a biologist's tools where he need's a historian's. Abiola Lapite observed a few months ago how many engineers turn into religious fanatics, and it seems to be because they apply habits of thought that work well in engineering to religious questions and, where they are basically usefless, and fundamentalism is the result.

colagirl said...

Actually further food for thought--Pianka tells about how "China has the right idea, limiting the birthrate at one per family," and it is followed up by a comment that "humanity needs to *decrease* in population." Well, as I understand it, birthrates have been dropping steadily across the developed world for quite a while now, to the point that many Western societies have birthrates that are below replacement, and this has profound implications for such things as social pension systems, future care for the elderly, etc. Decline in birthrates generally as I understand it correlates with rise in standard of living, education levels (esp. for women), etc. which means that theoretically, if and as things improve in the developing world, the same might be seen there. How this ties in with the idea that Western society is ruinously destructive and that humans are a cancer on the planet that are destined to crush the world under the weight of an ever-increasing biomass, I don't know....

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

colagirl asks: "why doesn't he "take one for the team"?P.J. O'Rourke offers the best definition of overpopulation: "Just enough of me, way too much of you."

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

colagirl: You're correct about the leveling-off effect brought on by increased standard of living. The demographic study that sticks in my mind concluded that world population would peak at about 15 billion, then slowly decrease.

AprilPNW said...

Hmmm..maybe Mr. Pianka should put his money where his mouth is, and be the first to deliberately off himself with a virus? Sort of leading by example?

Seriously, folks, I have noted a trend on many cable channels towards more and more hysterical programming that is just plain alarmist. It seems that this guy is riding the coattails of a trend that has already started...

AprilPNW said...

ooops, sorry, just realized my comment was more of the same..

Apologies - "hit and run" posting at work, don't ya know...

beenaround said...

Cathy wrote:


(Note that Graber's idea of rejoining nature entails going to a 500 million years BCE level of human culture. Charming.)


Is that really his idea? 500 million years ago (we can forget the 2000 to get to BCE) there were no mammals. Indeed, there weren't many creatures on land, so it would be a bit hard to get to that level of culture.

Richard Bennett said...

500 million years ago the Earth was just entering the Ordovician Period of the Mesozoic Era, and we didn't even have corals let alone mammals. That seems a bit off.

Cathy, it seems you've gone off the mark here and bought into the interpretation of Pianka's remarks the creationists are selling. From what I've read, the man's basic point is the the Earth is presently over-populated with humans, and when any population grows beyond its natural limits bad things happen whether you want them to or not. Earth's carrying capacity for humans is a question that reasonable people should be able to discuss and debate without being labelled religious extremists, compared to Hitler, or otherwise misrepresented.

You're usually scrupulously fair so it's a bit surprising to see that you've (apparently) drunk the creationist Kool-Aid on Pianka. The winner of the Distinguished Scientist Award in Texas is not a Unabomber, he's a serious credentialed scientist.

Revenant said...

From what I've read, the man's basic point is the the Earth is presently over-populated with humans, and when any population grows beyond its natural limits bad things happen whether you want them to or not.

Could you provide some links to supporting evidence for your belief? Cathy did.

The winner of the Distinguished Scientist Award in Texas is not a Unabomber, he's a serious credentialed scientist.

You're setting up a false dichotomy. It is easily possible to be a serious credentialed scientist and an amoral sicko at the same time. If Pianka actually does believe that "a human life is no more valuable than any other - a lizard, a bison, a rhino" and really does think of humanity as a "scourge" upon the world then he is morally no different from the Unabomber -- indeed, that would make Pianka, quite literally, a psychopath, even if he hasn't actually done anything to harm people yet.

He is, furthermore, mixing science with environmentalist religion. Even if you accept the (currently fringe) scientific theory that humans are inevitably going to trash the planet unless something is done to stop us, it is neither a fact, nor a scientifically testable theory, that the trashing of the Earth would be bad. That is merely a value judgement, which scientists have no business peddling under the cover of scientific credibility. Maybe a population of 15 or 20 billion means no other large animal species (aside from food animals) will be able to survive on Earth along with us. One could argue that that would be bad, or one could argue that it would be good or indifferent. But the argument would be a moral or aesthetic one, not a scientific one. Taking sides on the issue within the context of a scientific lecture is unacceptable.

Richard Bennett said...

For those too lazy to Google, I commented on this case previously on my blog.

The factual issues are these:

1. Is Pianka a credentialed scientist in the field of population biology or is he some wacko who lives in the woods?

2. Is it reasonable to suggest that the planet has a finite capacity for supporting life in general and human life in particular?

3. Is suggesting that there is a finite limit necessarily the same as advocating a program of mass extermination?

4. Is it responsible to ignore the fact that population growth beyond some theoretical limit is a danger to us all?

The creationists at the Discovery Institute say we needn't worry about population growth because humans are creative and therefore able to solve any problem our population creates. I think this is a naive formulation.

Synova said...

I mentioned Pianka on my blog related to a script I'm working on. I linked to this post and also to SM Stirling's book _Drakon_ which features a eco-religionist who joyfully betrays humanity to an "alien" who promises to turn the world into parkland with only a few, carefully managed populations of humans left. It's not a new book.

We don't need to follow China in any case because much of the West is already got negative fertility rates and the US is just barely hanging on to a smidge above replacement. Left to their own devices people are chosing not to reproduce.

I also think it's important to mention that (according to what I heard when AIDS first became an huge issue and some people suggested that lots of people dying whouldn't be all that bad, really) large scale deaths seem to be followed by population booms. The actual result of a die-off is that very shortly afterward the population has rebounded to greater than previous levels. I don't recall the details though I'm half convinced it was an editorial in a science magazine, but the time it took the population of Europe to recover from the Black Plague was cited and it was an amazingly short period of time.

After huge die-off... where does a person get birth control and medical care? One woman can easily have 10 children... some have significantly more than that.

Someone who is supposedly an expert on this stuff should know that.

Synova said...

To try to be more concise...

Voluntary negative fertility rates are associated with wealth, education, and medical care.

A huge die off would mean no wealth, no education and no medical care.

By the time the stink of decaying bodies faded away it would be replaced by the wailing of human infants.

Jim said...

"1. Is Pianka a credentialed scientist in the field of population biology or is he some wacko who lives in the woods?"

Actually the issue, as revenant points out, that Pianka seems to be a wacko in the field of "population biology" and that the dichotomy you propse is false. The point I made above was that his credentials and the expertise they document may actually decrease his abiltiy to say anything accurate of useful in the discussion. "Population biology" as a filed is hardly equipped to describe or analyze economic and sociological behavior. The man is just not competent to make predictions when it comes to the breeding behavior of human populations. They/we behave differently from bactieria or rabbits when it comes to reproduction. How useful are Pianka's methods going to be in the discussion on male and female reprductive rights we had in the thread on the last posting?

The scientific method is necessarily amoral. That is not a criticism of it, that is praise. What is to be criticized is any attempt at making moral judgments using the scientific method.

"3. Is suggesting that there is a finite limit necessarily the same as advocating a program of mass extermination?"

We were discussing what Pianka actually said, not some hypothetical "necessarily", and when he gloats about the prospect of a 90% die-off of humans, that sounds like advocating or at least wishing for mass extermination.

"4. Is it responsible to ignore the fact that population growth beyond some theoretical limit is a danger to us all?"

Is it responsible to ignore the historically documented potential for genocidal evil that such a proposal entails? Or is this just another example of the incomptence of people trained in the hard sciences to comment on the truly cmplex and difficult questions that their particular disciplines do not equip them to handle?

Pianka is not somehow validated by his opposition to the Discovery Institute ideologues. You can say that the human population is too large for the earth - I happen to think so - and also say that he is just indulging in doom-mongering wish fulfillment. In fact his tone is identical to that of the End Times fanatics - gloating over the destruction of the wicked. Not a very scientific viewpoint, is it?

Revenant said...

Is Pianka a credentialed scientist in the field of population biology

No, he's a zoologist known for his work with lizards.

or is he some wacko who lives in the woods?

The Unabomber had a Ph.D in mathematics from the University of Michigan and had worked for years as a researcher. So he, too was a "credentialed scientist". He was certainly a wacko as well, but Pianka's comments appear to qualify him for that label as well.

Is it reasonable to suggest that the planet has a finite capacity for supporting life in general and human life in particular?

Only in the sense that there is a physical limit to how many humans you can stick on the surface of the Earth. For example, at a population density equal to that of, say, North Carolina, the Earth could hold around 30 billion people (assuming we only live on the land).

Is suggesting that there is a finite limit necessarily the same as advocating a program of mass extermination

He's accused of significantly more than "suggesting that there is a finite limit".

Is it responsible to ignore the fact that population growth beyond some theoretical limit is a danger to us all?

You mean "the hypothesis that population growth beyond some theoretical limit is a danger to us all". And the answer is that it is reasonable to ignore any hypothesis until convincing evidence is offered in support of it. That's how science works -- scientists don't credulously buy in to every crackpot theory advanced by everyone who happens along. They wait for supporting evidence before they believe.

The best evidence we have is that the Earth is entirely capable of comfortably supporting a population much larger than the one we currently have and much larger than we have any reason to believe we will ever have (since the Earth's population is on track to cap at around 10-20 billion).

jw said...

Distopia's have long been part of Science Fiction.

We may have a mass die off: We may not. I can see no way of predicting that. If we do, the species will likely live through the mass die off.

Some have said that the very first immortal human may now be alive ... it's hard to say. I doubt technology has advanced enough for an immortal, but maybe.

Technology may have advanced far enough to stop a mass die off once it got started ... again, there's simply no way to know.

So, it seems to me that Pianka is speculating in the manner of the SF author: That's OK, SF can be fun and we've learned a bit over the years from some of the speculation.

LetMeSpellItOutForYou said...

Ravenant: I would label Pianka as a radical ideologue and zealot, but not a "psychopath." Just as zoologists might make poor demographers, anybody but his shrink would be unqualified to apply that label.

Anonymous said...

Can somebody post a link to some articles or papers that are in line with the one that argues human population will reach 15 billion then level off?

Boris Goodenough said...

Anonymous:

Hope this helps.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

Of course death threats, or threats of any kind, are wrong.

To be sure. The most appropriate sort of message to send the Texas Academy of Science, under the circumstances, would be one which merely says it would be a great thing if Pianka were to die a horrible death. As long as the writer stopped short of expressing any intention to bring about that result himself, what complaint could Pianka and his supporters possibly have?

Richard Bennett said...

The O'Reillification of Prof. Pianka is truly amazing. Yes, the man says that human population growth is a potential threat to the global ecosystem, and no, he doesn't say governments should start exterminating people in order to avoid it. You creationists should calibrate your sensors before going off like that.

As far as the Unabomber goes, a lot of what he said about civilization happened to be true, the problem wasn't the ideas it was the methods. I don't see Pianka planting bombs anytime soon, but if was to blow up the creationist Forrest Mims I wouldn't shed any tears.

For those of you who have to get outraged any time somebody suggests we might be facing some trouble in the future, consider this: China and India are home to 2 billion people who would like to live as comfortably as we do in the West.

What happens to the planet Earth when they do? In your answer, focus specifically on air and water pollution, and for extra credit discuss the origin and development of Avian Flu.

Thank you very much.

Revenant said...

You creationists should calibrate your sensors before going off like that.

The fact that you're labelling us all "creationists" confirms my suspicion that your grasp of the facts in this matter is nonexistant.

China and India are home to 2 billion people who would like to live as comfortably as we do in the West. What happens to the planet Earth when they do?

Probably nothing much. If the resources they demand turn out to be limited, prices for those resources will rise and the result will be that the western standard of living declines, while the Eastern standard rises, until some new equilibrium is reached.

In your answer, focus specifically on air and water pollution

The effect of bringing India and China up to an American standard of living would be a much cleaner planet. The air and water quality of the United States have been steadily improving for quite a while, even though our population density and per-capita energy usage are steadily improving.

for extra credit discuss the origin and development of Avian Flu.

H5N1 influenza spreads from birds to humans in environments where humans live in close proximity to lots of infected birds, i.e. third-world nations. As is so frequently the case, the problem wouldn't exist if the people in question enjoyed a western quality of life.

As for the "development" of the flue, well, so far there hasn't been any. Humans can get the disease from birds in rare circumstances, but thus far human-to-human transmission has proven to be virtually impossible. Should that change, the worst-case scenario has around 3% of the world's population dying, almost all of that (of course) in the undeveloped world.

Revenant said...

even though our population density and per-capita energy usage are steadily improving.

Sorry, that should be "steadily INCREASING", not "improving".

Richard Bennett said...

Thanks for proving my point, revenant. You've expressed an opinion about the effects of human population growth on the planetary ecosystem, to the effect that there isn't one. I've labeled you a creationist for holding this point of view and you're offended.

Pianka expressed a point of view on this subject that differs from yours in both method and conclusion (his is based on evidence) and for that you and Cathy Young have labeled him a wacky religionist.

I find that offensive as well. It could very well be the case that Pianka is wrong, and it could very well be the case that the Discovery Institute is wrong on this subject. I submit that we don't get very far in the discussion of the pros and cons if all we do is label the speakers.

Revenant and the Discovery Institute take the position that any consequences of over-population can be mitigated by technology. This is a fanciful position because the inappropriate use of technology is one of the factors driving environmental destruction. The current outbreak of bird flu was caused in large part by the practice of using antibiotics engineered for human populations on chickens in order to increase productivity and feed a burgeoning population in China. As that practice was endorsed by the gov't and discouraged by the UN, the PRC kept it secret. Ultimately a super-resistant strain of flu was created, and it's now finding its way around the world.

This situation was caused by a growing population, the expectation of affluence, and the application of technology to yield a short-term fix. But it's no problem, and anybody who says so is a crazy religionist.

Right.

Boris Goodenough said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Boris Goodenough said...

Cathy,

It is not clear to me what distinction you are making, when you first write of Mims:


...who claims that Pianka used the Texas Academy meeting as a forum to advocate the painful death of over 5 billion people.


and later:

But I don't think Mims claims that Pianka advocated such a plan [to intentionally infect people with airborne ebola and kill a majority of the people on Earth], either.

To add to the information to consider, the pro intelligent design site "the Percy Report" claims to have a transcript of the (same?) lecture.

There are a few things I find peculiar. The site, presumably interested in painting Pianka in a negative light, and Mims in a positive one, doesn't give any indication that the transcript is incomplete. Yet the transcript appears to begin in the middle of the speech, or at least a thought:


. . .

We've got an airborne 90 percent mortality human killing [agent]. Think about that.

Now, so far, it’s been down, down, down. Let’s start up. But we can’t get up very far.


It also precedes the transcript with this odd comment:


That such an audio-based document exists at all may be an intriguing part of this story since, according to published reports, an effort apparently was made to ensure that Dr. Pianka's speech was not recorded by video or audio.


If the transcript is complete, then, as I read Mims's account of what happened, and compare to the transcript, this would indicate that Mims fabricated the first part of the speech, but gave a fairly accurate representation of the second half.

Of course if the first part of the transcript is missing, then maybe Mims's account was accurate. It does appear to corroborate with what you quote from Brenna McConnell's account (the blog is no longer there), and also the account of the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, which I am unable to read because that link appears broken now as well. Or maybe the transcript is incomplete because it doesn’t corroborate Mims. It's all very odd.

If the transcript is indeed genuine, then probably the most controversial statement is this one, which Mims did not mention in his account:


But I asked a reproductive physiologist years ago about this. I said, "Could you design a molecule that you could administer once that would bind to the DNA to turn off reproduction and make people sterile?" And he said, yeah, theoretically. And I said, well, if you did that could you design an antidote that would unmask it just briefly for as few seconds? And he said, yeah, probably. So this is what we need. We need to sterilize everybody on the Earth [laughter] and make the antidote freely available to anybody who’s willing to work for it.

Immediately you'd get responsible parenthood. No more juvenile delinquents, unwanted kids. You have a kid, you had to work, and you had only a few seconds to do it in.


If the transcript is also complete (which it doesn't appear to be) then I think Mims’s concerns were overblown and unfair, but cannot be totally dismissed. It is particularly alarming to think that an audience of scientists would laugh at the suggestion that we sterilize everybody.

If the transcript is accurate, Pianka’s opinions are way out there, and his arguments quite unconvincing, something I would expect from a college freshman, after a few drinks too many, not from a distinguished scientist. I certainly hope this is not representative of what passes for a "scientific lecture" these days (and perhaps in that particular forum it was not billed as one). It was a political speech to the converted, as even he seems to admit.

If he has been so smeared, why doesn’t he release the text of what he said and clear up the air?

Anonymous said...

I am willing to admit from what Pianka has stated outside this speech that he is an alarmist. However, a lot seems to have been made about this speech based on Forrest Mims recollection of the it. Pianka claims, and is supported by the university in this, that he is not in favor of mass death and was misinterpreted. It has also been suggested that these two (Pianka and Mims) have an antagonistic history. What other evidence (besides a creationist site transcript) is there to decide that we should believe Mims and not Pianka? Between a "sky-is-falling" environmentalist and an Intelligent Design crackpot, I would be cautious of taking sides.

If Mims was at the speech it could not have been closed to all but the extreme environmental crowd. Surely someone else should be able to corroborate Mims version of events. Where are they?

Old MD Girl said...

Cathy,

I was intrigued by your comment that viruses are "discrimintory." You alluded to one reason -- their location of origin makes it more likely that the people/animals who live in that region will be infected. But it goes much much further than that. The Plague that swept across Europe 500 years ago killed almost everybody it infected. Some people didn't get infected, however. These people had a mutation in a protein cell receptor that the virus had to bind to in order to infect the cell and replicate (and kill the host). Most people of European decent who are alive today carry this mutation. So, viruses by virtue of what conditions they need in order to replicate are inherantly discriminatory. This means that at least in part, the casualties from a viral epidemic are NOT random.

My other comment was that Ebola is not a likely candidate for viruses that will turn into a pandemic. It kills its host VERY quickly, and in an obvious, revolting way. This is why it typically dies out before it kills more than 300 or so people in a village. 1. It's easy to tell who has it, and 2. Viruses do best when their hosts live long enough to transmit it to a lot of people.

Really interesting post, though. This guy sounds a big wacko! I guess I'm not surprised he's an academic!

Mark B. said...

Anonymous -

If you reread Cathy's post, you will find Brenna McConnell's account quoted at length - it broadly substantiates Mims' quotes (if not his interpretation of them).

Mims is a creationist crank, to be sure, but Pianka sounds like a card-carrying member of the 1960's Erlich/Limits to Growth school, with its fixation on neo-Malthusian thought and utter ignorance of human technological advances. If you check the Club of Rome's predictions from 1969, by now we should be out of oil, coal and copper, drowning in our own wastes and covering every square inch of the planet. The 60's activists also failed to note that economic development goes hand-in-hand with declining birthrates and the desire to preserve habitats. This means that the Third World needs to do much more than simply create "sustainable" subsistence economies to achieve true population control as well as acquire the discretionary wealth necessary for real environmental protection.

Humbug said...

This is horse... feathers (I am too lazy to check for a comment policy so I'll keep it clean).

I read the transcript as Mims saw it and it sounds no different from any of the biologists, ecologists, bacteriologists, epidemiologists, and virologists who get giddy when discussing the details and implications of what they are studying.

Brenna McConnell (according to the description) is an undergrad and she seems to have taken down her account and the blog it was posted on and one of the principle papers who pursued the "Mad Scientist" angle has taken down its story without offering a retraction. Seems like no one is willing to stand by their stories.

It sounds like the reason the audience was smiling and laughing was because they understood that he was using gallows's humor and was not in fact gleeful about the prospect. People like Mims are notorious for missing the point of things whether it is a scientific paper, a logical argument or a joke.

Ampersand said...

In a correspondence with Mims, Pianka has apparently asserted that it could migrate to Europe or the Americas by means of a single infected airplane passenger. (Methinks he's seen the movie Outbreak a few too many times -- rooting for the virus, no doubt.)

This is about as irrelevant a point as I could possibly make, but the scenario described sounds more to me like 12 Monkeys than like Outbreak. Plus, 12 Monkeys was a better movie.

Revenant said...

I've labeled you a creationist for holding this point of view and you're offended.

I'm no more "offended" that you've called me a creationist than I would be if you called me an oak tree. It is a simple fact that I am not a creationist, and only a person completely ignorant of my beliefs and/or the meaning of "creationism" would suggest I was one. And indeed, your admission that you called me a "creationist" for not believing that population growth would be harmful proves that you yourself haven't the foggiest idea what the word "creationist" actually means. I would suggest that you beat a hasty retreat from this thread before you humiliate yourself further.

Pianka expressed a point of view on this subject that differs from yours in both method and conclusion (his is based on evidence)

No, his belief is based on the religious idea that humanity is doomed. The actual evidence is that the world can easily support a far large population than it currently has or is projected to ever have. Which is why, for example, both the quality of the environment in the United States and the health and longevity of its inhabitants has been steadily improving for decades, even as our population and population density grow.

Religious people such as yourself and Pianka have been predicting the imminent destruction of humanity for thousands of years. You have no new ideas, you have no new theories, and you have no new evidence. You just have the same tired belief that if you keep shrieking hysterical warnings for long enough you'll eventually find an audience willing to listen to you. The problem you face, of course, is that there's no evidence of this impending apocalypse. Things are, on a worldwide scale, getting better and better with each passing year. This means that you have no hope of convincing anyone other than the ignorant, and can only hope to keep them convinced for so long as they *remain* ignorant. This is, ironically, the same problem faced by actual creationists. :)

I confess to being amused by your bird-flu conspiracy theory, though. Especially the part about a "super-resistant" flu being developed as a result of antibiotic usage -- antibiotics don't kill viruses in the first place! That's why doctors don't treat normal human influenza with antibiotics.

Richard Bennett said...

Revvie: You make a very interesting claim: Things are, on a worldwide scale, getting better and better with each passing year. And then you go on to denounce me for not being scientific. That's heavy.

Do I agree with Pianka? No, not really, but I think he should be able to speak without being labelled a terrorist or a religionist, and I think we may be close to the Earth's limits, assuming an American standard of living in Asia. But we'll see.

And BTW, did I say "natibiotics?" Dear me, I obviously meant "antivirals" such as Tamiflu, which is still being used widely in hopes of stopping the flu, which of course it won't.

Mr. Grouchypants said...

While talk of viral pandemics is certainly sensational stuff, I'm surprised that more people haven't commented on his praise for China's population control. It's one thing to think that we might be facing a population problem. It is quite another to support human rights violations as a remedy.

Anonymous said...

It sure looks to me like Pianka is being "O'Reilly-ed." There's a lot of hysteria over practically no observable source of what he allegedly said.

Here's the full text of *a* speech, though perhaps not *the* speech, that Pianka made:

http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/Everybody.html

Where is the vicious misanthropy? Where is the justification for the death-threats? Where is the vindication for Mims' scarlet letter tactic? I see nothing. Pianka is using real and demonstrated scientific findings, most notably the fact that epidemic disease is a density-dependent limiting factor of human population, in order to cast an admittedly gloomy projection of our future.

Saying that he is in favor of human mass extinction is like saying George W. Bush was in favor of 9/11, because he talked about that a lot too.

Oh, and, Revenant? American air and water quality did not "get better" as our population grew. Our environmental quality was MADE better, through government regulation such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Which the usual suspects fought tooth and nail, swearing in their own right-wing Luddite manner that the new rules would bankrupt our economy and have us all living in caves again. That is the true environmental alarmism.

Ampersand said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ampersand said...

Cathy, I think there's a more than reasonable doubt as to whether or not the characterizations of Pianka's speech you've relied on are reliable.

According to Pharyngula, 35 people who attended the speech in question have signed on to a statement saying "Mim's has dishonestly mischaracterized Dr. Pianka's statements. Dr. Pianka in no way advocated billions of deaths from Ebola or said anything that would lead a reasonable person to think he was doing so."

Nor do the transcripts that are available so far support the more extreme charges leveled against Pianka.

I don't think you can reasonably dismiss the possibility that you've been taken in by (and then helped to spread) lies, or at least malicious misinterpretations, about Pianka.

At least one blogger has done the right thing and retracted his (her?) support of the accusations against Pianka. IMO, you should consider doing the same.

Richard Bennett said...

There you go, Cathy. When Richard Bennett and Ampersand agree on an issue, you probably don't want to be on the other side.

(Not that I don't have the highest respect for my former neighbor, mind you, but the number of times we've agreed on anything is about small as the number of creationists with Ph. D.s in evolutionary biology.)

Revenant said...

Oh, and, Revenant? American air and water quality did not "get better" as our population grew. Our environmental quality was MADE better

That's useless semantic quibbling. The environment got better because humans used technology to improve the environment. My claim that the environment improved even while population and energy use grew remains entirely true.

through government regulation such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

There is little evidence that either of those Acts had any positive impact on the environment. You are correct that the environment improved because people took actions to improve it, but that just demonstrates my point -- that humans don't inevitably make the world around them worse for themselves. There is no need for a large majority of humans to die in order to preserve the environment; Pianka is nuts on that point.

Which the usual suspects fought tooth and nail, swearing in their own right-wing Luddite manner that the new rules would bankrupt our economy and have us all living in caves again.

Of course, according to the environmentalists of a generation ago we were supposed to already be living packed in like sardines in a poison-choked world depleted of all natural resources by now. The lesson to be drawn from this is that both environmentalists and "right-wing Luddites" are almost never right about anything, and sensible people ignore the lot of you.

Anonymous said...

Revenant:

"There is little evidence that either of those Acts had any positive impact on the environment."

Presumably other than the part of the environment that's inside your veins, since that's an area that benfited immensely from the CAA's phase-out of leaded gasoline.

As for the CWA, its reduction of point-source water discharges by +/- 90% was attended by a doubling of the amount of America's waters that are fishable / swimmable.

C'mon, dude.

Revenant said...

Presumably other than the part of the environment that's inside your veins, since that's an area that benfited immensely from the CAA's phase-out of leaded gasoline.

The phase-out of leaded gasoline was, to the best of my knowledge, carried out by EPA directives, with the Clean Air Act only getting involved in its 1990s revision (at which point virtually nobody was using leaded gasoline anymore anyway). Plus, of course, the threat posed by the elevated lead levels was dramatically exaggerated in the first place -- European countries were slow to ban leaded gasoline but aren't measurably unhealthier than Americans are.

As for the CWA, its reduction of point-source water discharges by +/- 90% was attended by a doubling of the amount of America's waters that are fishable / swimmable.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?

You're erring right off the bat in giving the CWA credit for the reduction in point-source pollution (not sure where the 90% figure comes from either). In most cases the reductions were the result of even tougher local state regulations. In states that lacked the will to pass such legislation the CWA itself (which relies on state enforcement in all but a handful of states) was widely ignored.

nike said...

You will never find swimsuit more excellent than in Ed Hardy!
ed hardy ugg boots
ed hardy love kills slowly boots
ed hardy love kills slowly
We provide you with the sexiest swimwear at present. Wanting to be bright on beach in this
ed hardy polo shirts
ed hardy love kills slowly shoes
ed hardy wear
Abandoning traditional concepts on sexy swimwear, Ed Hardy adds tattoo upon, which is meaning
how your outline if only you like now! Genuine material admits you to throw your whole worr
ed hardy love kills slowly shirts
ed hardy trousers
ed hardy jackets
It seems that ed hardy mens shoes was difficult to be able to let you exist out in swimwear, the
just fold, flouncing, bow and swim suits, Ed Hardy has been widely worn in open.
ed hardy t shirts sale
ed hardy womens t shirts
ed hardy boots
In the trunks term, the Panerai candy-flush has mainly took the Louis Vuitton Speedy purpose
I fondness ed hardy womens Swimwear shirts, and other printing of
ed hardy womens clothes
ed hardy womens shirts
ed hardy clothes
swimwear in an austere tone proposal combines the exclusive tailoring,
wimwear this summer to become the mainstream trend. Cool down, sunshine fair,
ed hardy outerwear
ed hardy womens
ed hardy womens jeans
green MOISTURE, attractive red no other elements,
together with the unique thwart-buckle create worn, immediately show a charming beauty.
ed hardy bags
ed hardy winter boots
ed hardy t shirts
Whether it is sexy bikini, or cross-quantity g-star
trunks intended to reach new heights with this dynamic.Enjoy yourself on Ed Hardy Bikini Swimsuit please!
ed hardy bags
ed hardy winter boots
ed hardy t shirts
The desired redden of this type
of bag, but once again the label that ed hardy and the Christian Audigier Brand Manage
Louboutin at MAGIC in August 2009.
ed hardy t shirts for men
ed hardy mens jeans
ed hardy mens shoes
The total spectrum of Audigier Brand Management lifestyle brands and crop will be
including ed hardy shirts, Christian Audigier, SMET, Crystal Rock, C-Bar-An and R
ed hardy mens shoes
ed hardy womens hoodies
ed hardy mens tees
food ranging from ment and woment garb, accessories, footwear.

nike said...

Rubber. Rubber is widly used in the outsole of the athletic shoes.
cheap puma shoes
cheap sport shoes
discount puma shoes
It has the advantages of durable, skipproof, flexible, elastic, extensive, stable and proper hardness.
But the rubber is weighty and easy to be frosting, nonrecoverable.
nike shox torch
nike tn dollar
cheap nike shox
PU. PU is a kind of macromolecule polyurethane materials
cheap nike shox shoes
nike shox r4
puma mens shoes
Sometimes, it is also used in the outsole of casual shoes.
PU is durable, strong hardness, upstanding flexbility and more important,
cheap nike max
discount nike shox
cheap puma ferrari shoes
The disadvantage is also outstanding. Strong hydroscopic property, go yellow easily,
EVA. Ethylene –Vinyl Acetate Copolymer
nike mens shoes
nike shox nz
discount nike running shoes
which is usually used in the midsole of the running shoes and casual shoes.
EVA is quite lightweight, elastic, flexible and suitable to a variety of climates.
discount nike shoes
nike shox shoes
cheap nike shoes
Just as the rubber, it is also nonrecoverable and go dirty easily.
PHYLON. Phylon is the product of the EVA after the second processing.
nike sports shoes
puma running shoes
puma sneakers
The midsole of running shoes, tennis shoes and basketball shoes in the world is made of the PHYLON.
nike air max tn
puma cat
puma shoes
The upstanding hardness, density, traction and extension make it favorite by the manufacture.
Besides, the lightweight and good flexibility could prolong the life of the shoes.
nike running shoes
wholesale nike shoes
nike shoes
Just as a coin has two sides, Phylon is nonrecoverable and easily shrink under high temperature.
nike shoes kids
nike women shoes

aiya said...

Office 2010
Microsoft Office 2010
Microsoft word
Office 2007
Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office 2007
Office 2007 key
Office 2007 download
Office 2007 Professional
Outlook 2010
Microsoft outlook
Microsoft outlook 2010
Windows 7

Peter said...

nice share thanks a lot :)

download free pc games
affiliate review

atom said...

nICE POST
Games ISO