Mims-Pianka controversy: Wikis


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In early March 2006 the Texas Academy of Science (TAS) honored University of Texas biologist Eric Pianka as its 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist during its 109th Annual Meeting at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. In a March 3, 2006 lecture at this 109th Annual Meeting, Pianka argued that overpopulation since the onset of industrialisation was destroying the planet[1] and that the Earth would not survive unless its population was reduced to one tenth of the present number. He suggested that the planet would be "better off" if the human population were to crash, and that a mutant strain of Ebola (which has up to a 90% mortality rate) would be the most efficient means. After he finished his address Pianka was given a standing ovation. According to science writer Forrest Mims "some even cheered. Dozens then mobbed the professor at the lectern."[2].

In response to Pianka's speech, Mims states in the Society for Amateur Scientists Ezine The Citizen Scientist that Pianka had "endorsed the elimination of 90 percent of the human population" through a disease such as an airborne strain of the Ebola virus. This report was also covered by Shawn Carlson, also in the The Citizen Scientist,[3] and also widely propagated through blogs including William Dembski's "Uncommon Descent" and "Telic Thoughts" (another pro-intelligent design blog which has since recanted its original report[4]), Drudge Report and the Discovery Institute[5]—the hub of the intelligent design movement and at which both Mims and Dembski sit as fellows.[6] Dembski has also said that he has reported Pianka to the United States Department of Homeland Security.[7]

The March 3, 2006 talk given by Pianka is one that he calls his "doomsday talk". A recording was made of Pianka's delivery of his "doomsday talk" at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas, and a transcript of this talk later was made public.[8] Both Mim's original report[9] and the TAS response statement of April 4, 2006[10] were based upon the March 3, 2006 instance of Pianka's "doomsday talk". The TAS statement said that "many of Dr. Pianka's statements have been severely misconstrued and sensationalized". No public record exists of Pianka's full March 3, 2006 lecture; Mims says that an academy official asked the video operator not to record Pianka's speech.[11]


Threats to Pianka and the Texas Academy of Sciences

As a consequence of the controversy, Pianka and members of the Texas Academy of Science have received death threats.[12][13] According to Pianka, "His daughters are now worried about his and their safety, and says his life has been turned upside-down by 'right-wing fools.'"[14]

William Dembski and the Department of Homeland Security

On 2 April 2006, prominent intelligent design proponent William A. Dembski stated on his blog that he reported Eric Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security because he and fellow Discovery Institute affiliate Forrest Mims felt that Pianka's speech fomented bioterrorism.[7] Dembski claims that the Department was already aware of Pianka's statements.[7] Subsequently, Pianka was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Austin.[14] On 5 April Dembski offered a wager concerning Pianka:

"I'm willing to wager $1000 with David Hillis that sympathy not just nationally but at UTAustin for Pianka will take a nose dive once his TAS speech goes public. Of course, we need to set the terms of this wager more precisely. But it's a wager easily settled — Pianka needs merely to make his speech before the TAS public (the actual speech — not a bowdlerized version of it)." [15]

Response to criticism

Pianka has appeared on NBC-affiliate KXAN Austin[16] and "be on two cable talk shows Tuesday ... to try and clear his name". At this time, a transcript of Pianka's initial comments is unavailable; however, no one who was present at Pianka's talk has stepped forward to back Mims' claim. Pianka has posted an explanation on his University of Texas website (excerpt of longer statement):[1]

"I have two grandchildren and I want them to inherit a stable Earth. But I fear for them. Humans have overpopulated the Earth and in the process have created an ideal nutritional substrate on which bacteria and viruses (microbes) will grow and prosper. We are behaving like bacteria growing on an agar plate, flourishing until natural limits are reached or until another microbe colonizes and takes over, using them as their resource. In addition to our extremely high population density, we are social and mobile, exactly the conditions that favor growth and spread of pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes. I believe it is only a matter of time until microbes once again assert control over our population, since we are unwilling to control it ourselves. This idea has been espoused by ecologists for at least four decades and is nothing new. People just don't want to hear it... I do not bear any ill will toward humanity. However, I am convinced that the world WOULD clearly be much better off without so many of us... We need to make a transition to a sustainable world. If we don't, nature is going to do it for us in ways of her own choosing. By definition, these ways will not be ours and they won't be much fun. Think about that."

University of Texas faculty and students were also supportive of their colleague and professor:

"Those roaming the corridors at Patterson Hall on the UT campus were very supportive of their teacher and colleague. Fellow professor David Hillis said most people were sympathetic of the nationally renowned professor's plight. "There's a strong anti-science sentiment in the country right now," Hillis said. Pianka "has such a passion for life and diversity. How anyone could paint him as pro-death is unbelievable."" Doctoral student Tracy Heath, who has studied under Pianka, says ""He's just trying to make waves to get people to think."[14]

According to the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise news report on the incident:

"Responding to these very questions, Pianka said, “Good terrorists would be taking [Ebola Reston and Ebola Zaire] so that they had microbes they could let loose on the Earth that would kill 90 percent of people.”"[17]


  1. ^ a b Pianka, Eric R. What nobody wants to hear, but everyone needs to know University of Texas at Austin--Varanus : the Pianka lab page
  2. ^ Scientist calls for death to humanity News Weekly April 15, 2006
  3. ^ Dealing with Doctor Doom The Citizen Scientist April 2, 2006
  4. ^ Gene, Mike. "A Promise". Telic Thoughts (blog). http://telicthoughts.com/?p=633. Retrieved 2007-12-06.  
  5. ^ Witt, Jonathan Eric Pianka: Disease "will control the scourge of humanity" Center for Science and Culture
  6. ^ Fellows of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture
  7. ^ a b c Dembski, William Eric Pianka: The Department of Homeland Security needs to interview you Uncommon Descent (Blog)
  8. ^ Doomsday: UT prof says death is imminent by Jamie Mobley The Gazette-Enterprise April 2, 2006
  9. ^ The Citizen Scientist - "Meeting Dr. Doom"
  10. ^ "Texas Academy of Science statement on Pianka". The Panda's Thumb. http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/04/texas_academy_o.html. Retrieved 2006-04-08.  
  11. ^ Mims III, Forrest M. "Meeting Dr. Doom" The Citizen Scientist
  12. ^ Associated Press (2006-04-04). "Professor criticized over comments about impending pandemic". KTRK Houston, TX (ABC). http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=state&id=4051760.  
  13. ^ Myers, Paul Z. "Texas Academy of Science getting death threats over Pianka" Pharyngula (blog)
  14. ^ a b c "Professor's population speeches unnerve some". American Statesman. 2006-04-05. http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/04/5PIANKA.html.  
  15. ^ Dembski, William [UPDATE:] $1000 reward and $1000 bet — Pianka again Uncommon Descent (blog)
  16. ^ "UT Professor Clearing The Record On Speech". NBC. 2006-04-03. http://www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=4720390.  
  17. ^ "Doomsday: UT prof says death is imminent". The Gazette-Enterprise. 2006-04-02. http://seguingazette.com/story.lasso?ewcd=751d52c8fcce3017&page=all.  


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