Sunday, April 02, 2006

Something to chew on...

Surfing the web, looking for trouble, found some! Via Drudge, I saw this fun story:

AUSTIN: A University of Texas professor says the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead.

"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 [March 31, 2006]. 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.

Dr. Pianka has given his "doomsday talk" before. During the 109th meeting of the Texas Academy of Science, held at Lamar University on March 3-5, 2006, Dr. Pianka delivered his talk to a group of peers and was very well received, according to Forrest M. Mims III:

Immediately [after the lecture and Q&A] almost every scientist, professor and college student present stood to their feet and vigorously applauded the man who had enthusiastically endorsed the elimination of 90 percent of the human population. Some even cheered. Dozens then mobbed the professor at the lectern to extend greetings and ask questions.

For a positive review of Dr. Pianka's talk at Lamar University, go here.

However, Mr. Mims, Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the Texas Academy of Science, and the editor of The Citizen Scientist, was not pleased with the lecture:

Let me now remove my reporter's hat for a moment and tell you what I think. We live in dangerous times. The national security of many countries is at risk. Science has become tainted by highly publicized cases of misconduct and fraud.

Must now we worry 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? I believe that airborne Ebola is unlikely to threaten the world outside of Central Africa. But scientists have regenerated the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50 million people. There is concern that small pox might someday return. And what other terrible plagues are waiting out there in the natural world to cross the species barrier and to which scientists will one day have access?

For now, I'm just going to leave this out here on it's own. I'll come back to this with some more thoughts later this week. Bon appétit!


Pooh said...

Not a new idea, though the cringe factor is pretty high, even if it was presented 'Modest Proposalishly' (is that a word? who cares...), which is how approximately 1/2 of the commenters on the talk have reacted.

Icepick said...

Oh, I've heard the idea over and over again since I was little. What gets me is the speaker (somewhat prominent), the forum (somewhat public and very well educated) and the response (enthusiastic). It's not at all clear how jocular Dr. Pianka was being in his speech, and whether or not he was advocating this so much as saying it would happen.

But this isn't really all that dissimilar (in effect) from Paul Ehlich's prophecies of doom back in the late 1960s. It's just that this guy has a better background to actually propose such things and has chosen a more likely means of death.

Strangely enough, this is something I've been thinking about lately. I will be coming back to this with more later this week. I'm really pumped, because I love this sort of thing!