Mark Twain said that “Truth is stranger than fiction.” The Chinese have a curse: “May you live in interesting times.” I’d say we certainly do live in interesting times, and here’s some very strange truth that bears that out. A University of Texas herpetologist went completely off his rocker and called for the eradication of 90% of living humans.
Generally, I try not to devote too much time to talking about insane wackos who need to be locked up in white padded rooms. But this particular insane wacko drew the ire of one of my childhood heroes, and is drawing praise from almost every confused college student who hears him speak.
Forrest M. Mims III is a name I remember well from childhood. It was from his books that I learned the basics of electronics. In fact, they’re still in print and he regularly updates them. And from Radio Shack I got various electronics kits and parts and had lots of fun putting together my own circuits. I haven’t heard his name in many years, until this week.
Among many other things, Mims is the editor of The Citizen Scientist, a biweekly publication of the Society for Amateur Scientists (what I was in the last paragraph). And what he wrote this week almost made me lose my lunch.
Dr. Eric Plianka, a University of Texas evolutionary ecologist and lizard expert, was named the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist by the Texas Academy of Science. And in his speech, he told the 400 assembled scientists that the human population had gotten too large, and 90% of us need to die, preferably through a fast acting airborne disease.
Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.
He then showed solutions for reducing the world’s population in the form of a slide depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War and famine would not do, he explained. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved.
Pianka then displayed a slide showing rows of human skulls, one of which had red lights flashing from its eye sockets.
AIDS is not an efficient killer, he explained, because it is too slow. His favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world’s population is airborne Ebola ( Ebola Reston ), because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years. However, Professor Pianka did not mention that Ebola victims die a slow and torturous death as the virus initiates a cascade of biological calamities inside the victim that eventually liquefy the internal organs.
When Pianka finished his remarks, the audience applauded. It wasn’t merely a smattering of polite clapping that audiences diplomatically reserve for poor or boring speakers. It was a loud, vigorous and enthusiastic applause. — The Citizen Scientist
You really should read the whole thing and get a complete sense not only of the depth of Plianka’s insanity, but the depth of enthusiasm that almost everyone who heard him expressed for his idea.
In an evaluation of Pianka’s course — performed anonymously in keeping with university policy — one student offered:
“Though I agree that conservation biology is of utmost importance to the world, I do not think that preaching that 90 percent of the human population should die of Ebola is the most effective means of encouraging conservation awareness.”
. . . Most of Pianka’s former students are bursting with praise. Their in-class evaluations celebrate his ideas with words like “the most incredible class I ever had” and “Pianka is a GOD!”
. . . Brenna McConnell, a biology senior, said she and others in the audience “had not thought seriously about overpopulation issues and a feasible solution prior to the meeting.” But though McConnell arrived at the event with little to say on the issue, she returned to Seguin with a whole new outlook.
An entry to her online blog captures her initial response to what’s become a new conviction:
“[Pianka is] a radical thinker, that one!” she wrote. “I mean, he’s basically advocating for the death for all but 10 percent of the current population. And at the risk of sounding just as radical, I think he’s right.”
Today, she maintains the Earth is in dire straits. And though she’s decided Ebola isn’t the answer, she’s still considering other deadly viruses that might take its place in the equation.
“Maybe I just see the virus as inevitable because it’s the easiest answer to this problem of overpopulation,” she said. — Seguin (Texas) Gazette
Update: The Seguin Gazette may have taken Plianka out of context.
After doing a bit of research, I found that McConnell’s Blogger blog apparently no longer exists. What appear to be some excerpts from the entry in question are available, though. The excerpts seem to be real, and the blog was apparently available through Wednesday, and was removed sometime after that.
Anyway, the point is, there is no overpopulation problem. Sure, we have a lot of people. But the world is quite up to the task of feeding them all, and then some. Just ask Norman Borlaug. His research into wheat genetics won him a Nobel Prize and saved a billion people. That’s right, one guy’s work feeds one-sixth of the world’s population. And we have plenty more people like him working on the food supply. The situation certainly bears watching, but the real food supply problem right now is corrupt governments who keep food from their people.
Ronald Bailey from Reason points out that people have been making these stupid overpopulation claims for a long time.
Professor Pianka is apparently a brilliant herpetologist, but like brilliant Stanford University entomologist Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb nearly 40 years ago, he is completely ignorant of economics and demography. Pianka might start alleviating his ignorance by reading some of the analyses by Jesse Ausubel, head of the Human Environment Program at Rockefeller University. Relying on human creativity and wealth creation, Ausubel foresees the 21st century as the beginning of the Great Restoration of the natural environment. — Hit and Run
Finally, somebody talking some sense.
I really should call up Penn Jillette and tell him to look at overpopulation on a future episode of Bullshit!
Update: This has turned into one hell of a controversy. Keep up with it at Wikipedia.