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Meeting Doctor Doom - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Nov. 9th, 2008

07:38 pm - Meeting Doctor Doom

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Meeting Doctor Doom

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.

After praising the Ebola virus for its efficiency at killing, Pianka paused, leaned over the lectern, looked at us and carefully said, “We’ve got airborne 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.”

[EDIT: see Pianka’a web site for his side of the controversy, as well as a copy of the speech he gave at the conference.]

Original: craschworks - comments

Comments:

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From:radiantsun
Date:November 10th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
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Um Scary.

Any cures for ebola? Vitamin C?
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From:spoonless
Date:November 10th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)
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"Then came the question and answer session, in which Professor Pianka stated that other diseases are also efficient killers. The audience laughed when he said, 'You know, the bird flu's good, too.' They laughed again when he proposed, with a discernable note of glee in his voice that, 'We need to sterilize everybody on the Earth.'"

If he's serious, then obviously this is horrible. But I find it a lot more likely that this "science reporter" was just the only one in the audience whose sarcasm meter wasn't working. Why would an audience give a standing ovation for that? His story just doesn't make sense.

Also, I seem to remember seeing a rebuttal to this (or an earlier version of this?) online somewhere. Where they explain what he actually said, and why he was clearly not advocating mass homicide.
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From:jhogan
Date:November 10th, 2008 05:15 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I had the same thought. This story just seems too weird, and his interpretation is all based on hearsay.
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From:crasch
Date:November 10th, 2008 05:30 am (UTC)
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It may be that Mims lacks a sarcasm-o-meter. Perhaps Pianka's speech was simply a tongue-in-cheek Swiftian exercise.

Unfortunately, there's no recording of the speech, allegedly due to Pianka's insistance that all recording devices be turned off (according to Mims). So it's a case of he-said/she-said.

However, distaste for humanity, and a desire to scale back the human population drastically is common among environmentalists. Human's are commonly referred to as a virus, a cancer, or a blight in environmentalist literature. Is it that implausible that some environmentalists would advocate taking active measures to restore human populations to sustainable levels?


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From:crabbyolbastard
Date:November 10th, 2008 10:45 am (UTC)
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See vid below...
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From:nasu_dengaku
Date:November 10th, 2008 03:28 am (UTC)
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Heh. It's like that time I was playing SimCity as a kid, and there was a scenario where you had to reduce traffic in the city by 50% in 10 years or something like that. I won by bulldozing all the power plants so that everyone moved out.

I really wonder what Earth this guy thinks he's saving. On geologic timescales, the Earth can recover from just about anything we throw at it, from nuclear war to catastrophic global warming. We won't fare so well though.
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From:reichart
Date:November 10th, 2008 03:53 am (UTC)
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I'm not sure what he means by the use of "Earth".
And, I'm not sure what your use was either...

Because I don't agree this planet can "recover" from just about anything. Simple things can destroy life as we know it, (aside from humans being gone, most plant life too). Small changes in biological organisms could create a chain reaction that is beyond our comprehension.

That all aside, it would be a LOT easier for the remaining people if 90% just "went away."

Much like the black plague, when suddenly this wealth of resources (or rather, less people using resources made by their peers and parents) allowed for the remaining people to flourish, take time to indulge in the arts, etc.

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From:nasu_dengaku
Date:November 10th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
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When I said "The Earth can recover", what I mean is that genetic diversity would not be seriously impacted in the long run. The biosphere recovered from the meteorite 65 million years ago, as well as worse disasters. From what I understand of nuclear winter or global warming scenarios (the two most likely disaster scenarios I've heard voiced), the biosphere would be doing fine again within a million years. (Civilization, on the other hand...) I have heard that a Venus-style global warming scenario is fairly unlikely.

What are these catastrophic biological chain reactions you refer to?

It is true that the Earth's resources would be less taxed if we had 90% fewer people, but any methods of bringing that about are simply not ethical or politically practical. We need to get out of our current resource overuse problem through a combination of conservation measures and new technologies.
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From:fishsupreme
Date:November 10th, 2008 04:08 am (UTC)
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As science progresses, the extinction risk from a lone nut like this grows greater. Right now, a skilled scientist with access to the equipment of a moderate-sized research university could probably engineer an airborne biological weapon of significant power, given a couple years. However, 30 years from now it'll likely be possible to essentially "print" a genome directly into a virus or bacterium, making creating biological weapons essentially a software challenge. At that point, a determined and smart misanthrope might well kill millions of people. One who's also lucky could potentially kill all of them. And that's not even getting into other ways to evolve a superior organism -- such as using a multipart general assembler to create a nanotechnology-based whole ecology that could grow to supplant our own. We could avoid it, but without the Earth's supply of plants and animals and bacteria and such, we'd die out pretty quickly.

What I can never figure out is what people like this posit as their alternative measure of morality. If people are not important, and killing all of them is okay, why is anything else on Earth important? If it's all right to wipe out 90% of us, why give a damn about the spotted owls? It's not like the animal kingdom is full of little furry saints with halos on their heads -- they all eat each other, too, but somehow it's moral when they do it and not when we do? I guess I'm looking for some internally-consistent rule by which everything humans do is bad, and wiping them out is okay, but the rest of nature is somehow exempt from this all-encompassing hate.
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From:crabbyolbastard
Date:November 10th, 2008 10:44 am (UTC)
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US military did a study back before 9/11

100K
Lab in the desert inside of a motor home

They cooked up some nasties (simulated) within two months.

Yep... spooky.
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From:blueadept
Date:November 10th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
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He's the epitome of the reason we need to start colonizing space/other planets/etc. ASAP.
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From:crabbyolbastard
Date:November 10th, 2008 10:43 am (UTC)
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Uh yeah, he needs some public speaking lessons as well as the Carnegie coursework...

As to Ebola Reston, well, it only at present is lethal to lower primates. We are mostly immune to it. It only causes a minor flu with humans. Someone at Ft. Detrick changes that and we would be fubar.

And for the record, it is a fast mover. Ebola transmisses by touch/fluids now, and kills within days to a week. The final stages being the bleeding out which is torturous. However, it is contained often because it kills so fast and epidemics burn themselves out.

Yeah... scary shit this guy.. Seems a bit angry no? Lets hope he is not a virologist with a BSL4 lab somewhere....
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From:crabbyolbastard
Date:November 10th, 2008 11:09 am (UTC)
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Watch his vids from UT... I'd be yanking his tenure right quick.
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From:paniolo99
Date:November 10th, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC)
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Um. Wow. I guess I'm glad I tested out of BIO 304, the class he teaches at UT Austin?

Yikes...
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From:mercyorbemoaned
Date:November 14th, 2008 07:51 am (UTC)
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This was covered by World Net Daily at the time. I remember quite a few of his students coming on to evangelical blogs and debating whether he means it or no. General agreement was that yes, he means it. I think it's completely ridiculous that he gets a pass from anyone about such a horrible thing in an environment where you get the stinkeye for saying "niggardly." If there is any debate, I am going to err on the assumption that the guy's a psycho.
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