Dr. Doom Strikes Back!

… or at least his minions do. See the interesting article at Inside Higher Ed about the Eric Pianka/Forrest Mims controversy. Mims has claimed that Pianka "enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth's population by airborne Ebola" in a speech to the Texas Academy of Science last month. The IHE article begins:

Environmental scientists haven't been the top targets of intelligent design advocates, who have generally focused on attacking evolutionary biologists. But an outspoken environmental scientist at the University of Texas at Austin — whose research focuses on the damage modern society inflicts on the Earth — has found his work suddenly under scrutiny from unexpected sources.

The article goes on to link Mims to the Evil Forces of Intelligent Design. And it quotes numerous people to the effect that Mims has "severely distorted" Pianka's views; that Pianka "intended no such thing". Pianka himself refused comment.

It's somewhat smelly that the major effort here seems to be the trashing of Pianka's critics, and a lot of words expended on what Pianka didn't mean. OK, what did he say? Mims asserts that someone attempting to videotape Pianka's speech was prevented from doing so. Quotes from the other attendees are a mixed bag. For example:

"We would like to state … that many of Dr. Pianka's statements have been severely misconstrued and sensationalized," David S. Marsh, president of the academy, said in the release. "The purpose of his presentation was to dramatize the precarious plight of the human population. He did nothing more than apply commonly accepted principles of animal population dynamics to humans; an application not unique to this presentation and one that can be surmised by any student of ecology."

So Professor Pianka was simply bemoaning the "precarious plight" of humanity? Hey, nothing wrong with that! But contrast:

John Hanson, a biology instructor at Texas Tech University who attended the speech, said that at no point was Pianka literally arguing that "humans are bad and we need to go away." "Rather, he was talking about human impacts on the environment," said Hanson. "From a nonanthropomorphic point of view, it probably would be best for the planet with less humans."

No precarious plight seen there. It's all about what's "best for the planet". And Dr. Doom Pianka wasn't literally advocating mass human extinction. Really. It's just that the planet would be better off afterwards.

It all sounds much like the blind men expounding on the nature of the elephant. Except everyone's yelling at the one guy who's got hold of the trunk.


Last Modified 2012-10-24 4:14 AM EST