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  • The Doomsday Professor

    So I was browsing Digg this afternoon and came upon this story:

    Meeting Dr. Doom

    And a follow up on CNN.com

    Doomsday Professor

    Edit: This article as damage control maybe:

    http://www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=4720390 (with a video)
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2...eric_piank.php

    They are stories about an Ecology professor, Eric Pianka, at University of Texas who uses the advocacy of a self-inflicted mass human extinction (via an airborne strain of the Ebola virus) to drive home the point that humans are driving the world dangerously close to total ecological and biological failure.

    His main focus of research (aside from ways to kill humans) is Herpetology (lizards). Check out his web site and read his course information, manifesto, obituary, and some student evaluations for his Biology 357: Ecology course (really enlightening):

    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/
    http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~varanus/Everybody.html
    http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/bio...aluations.html

    Aside from completely ripping from the plot of Rainbow Six for a doomsday scenario, I’m slightly perturbed that this guys outlandish solution to the problem human overpopulation is given so much accolade in the ecology community. Maybe he is doing some outstanding research in this regard on lizard populations etc. and upscaling that to people, but really, I can’t figure out why some people are enthralled with his (perhaps Modest) Proposal.

    There may be data to support his point of view; that humans are overextending their resources and a face a population implosion (catastrophic vs. reverse population growth is highly debatable). There is no doubt that human population is growing. But there is real scientific debate as to where that growth will lead. Are we experiencing the pains of overpopulation right now? Will we soon? Most scientists who are involved in this field of study would admit they aren’t sure.

    There is the added complication of being human and studying human ecology/sociology. E.g. are changes in cultural and social behavior related to changes in ecologic situations (look at Chinese gender ratios as an ecologic response to societal variables)? How are human population variations related to population variations in non-sentient, unconscious, or non-social organisms (lizards, birds, apes, trees, fungi, virii)? Is it practical or scientifically valid to compare human population growth (positive and negative) to a Petri dish culture? We know what happens when bacteria run out of food (they never saw it coming so they ran out of food and died) but is responsible science to mark humans for the same fate? I don’t think so.

    There are even harder questions that the science can’t answer but seems to invariably be influenced by: Is there equilibrium or is there only flux? What defines a better world—Eden (little to no human footprint) or our Brave New World? Does it matter?

    It is an extremely complex field of study to say the least and very quickly touches on many philosophical views about humanity and our planet. Much more quickly than say, chemistry. I guess I could say it too easily touches these views. It appears that Pianka has left his role as a natural scientist and has become a philosopher speculating on the future of humanity and conjuring our demise. And in the process advocating “culling humans” – if only as a speaking point. It is extremely irresponsible and personally repugnant, it’s something I would expect to hear in Nazi propaganda (yes, I reserve the right to rebut Godwin’s Law by bringing Nazi’s into play in the OP):
    "Smarter people have fewer kids." He said those who don't have a conscience about the Earth will inherit the Earth, "...because those who care make fewer babies and those that didn't care made more babies." He said we will evolve as uncaring people, and "I think IQs are falling for the same reason, too."
    This man’s is not motivated by science, but by a fanatical hatred of humanity. Plus he’s almost 70 year’s old so his inability to perform the act of human reproduction himself may have made him one sandwich, a basket, a blanket, and an imaginary world short of a picnic :). All the signs point to Crazyville, and I’m just as disappointed as Forrest Mims at the members of Texas Academy of Science who didn’t recognize this. Mims article is an eerie observation of this guys world-view (which may be slanted by his own perception of reality)...

    Edit: There is quite a bit of back-tracking and finger pointing in the blogosphere about the context of these articles:

    Mims is a creationist with a grudge against evolutionary biologists and is not a natural scientist. That much appears to be true.

    Regardless, as a natural scientist I reaffirm my belief that Pianka’s approach to discussing his research conclusions (even on his website) is scientifically irresponsible and wholly unethical. Even if he was “joking" and even if a creationist crank spun it wayyy out of context.
    Last edited by Rincewind; 04-04-2006, 10:41 PM.
    ~~ Veritas simplex oratio est ~~
    No matter how far a wizard goes, he will always come back for his hat. --T. Pratchett

    <---- You know you're getting old when you rely on your forum meta-data to remind you how old you are.


  • #2
    Re: The Doomsday Professor

    Dude, you forgot your link.

    http://www.sas.org/tcs/weeklyIssues_...e1p/index.html

    Edit: Ah, I see that you've edited the post. Nevermind me then.

    [drill][medic][conduct][tg-c1][tpf-c1]
    [ma-c2][taw-c1]

    Principles of good Sandbox Etiquette:
    Assume good faith - Be polite, please! - Work toward agreement. - Argue facts, not personalities. - Concede a point when you have no response to it, or admit when you disagree based on intuition or taste. - Be civil. - Be prepared to apologize. In animated discussions, we often say things we later wish we hadn't. Say so. - Forgive and forget. - Recognize your own biases and keep them in check. - Give praise when due.

    Treat others as you would have them treat you

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: The Doomsday Professor

      I'm taking all my info from your post, not from the article or anything, but as far as I'm concerned he can say whatever the heck he wants. Like you mentioned, we already got that in Rainbow 6. Whether or not someone actually does it, it's not going to matter that some 70 year old didn't like humanity much. As far as I and just about everyone else is concerned, killing everyone isn't anywhere near a viable solution to anything except what to do with all these nukes we have lying around (and there might be some disagreement about that last bit :D )

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      • #4
        Re: The Doomsday Professor

        Nutty Professor aside, The Hot Zone is an interesting, scary, and true book.

        IMO, and I hate to say this, a devastating disease a la airborne ebola/west nile/bird flu/marsburg, etc., may very well happen but is most likely to do the most damage in the portion of the planet who live in squallor. Those of us who live in the industrialized world will do, on the whole, just fine.

        It would be a bummer for a quarter or two, then the revenues would rebound nicely. Then profits would soar. I wonder if Professor Doom can envision the vast wealth his future will generate for the Halliburtons of the world.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: The Doomsday Professor

          Dr. Pianka was the professor of my Ecology and Diversity class in 2002. He's quite an eccentric character, and he's shared very pessmistic views about human behavior (and ignorance); however, I believe he has been misquoted and his views exaggerated by the press.

          That humans are damaging existing ecosystems is quite obvious. I doubt that he hates humanity; rather, he wants to ensure that our species doesn't wipe itself or any number of other species integral to ecosystems out.

          I wanted to take BIO357 with him, but he didn't teach the semester I took it :\



          TacticalGamer TX LAN/BBQ Veteran

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          • #6
            Re: The Doomsday Professor

            Originally posted by leejo
            IMO, and I hate to say this, a devastating disease a la airborne ebola/west nile/bird flu/marsburg, etc., may very well happen but is most likely to do the most damage in the portion of the planet who live in squallor. Those of us who live in the industrialized world will do, on the whole, just fine.
            The industrialized world would probably be threatened as well considering the ease and frequency in which humans -- and human goods -- move around the world.

            The damage done by such an epidemic will be limited within an area by 2 main factors:

            1. Population density: More people there are in an area, the greater the number of chances for the disease to spread.

            2. Evolution: Disease-causing agents that quickly kill the host eventually lose some of their virulence. Those that don't kill their hosts quickly have higher fitness. However, if there are multiple diseases acting within the same population then each disease will evolve higher virulence due to resource competition.



            TacticalGamer TX LAN/BBQ Veteran

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            • #7
              Re: The Doomsday Professor

              Originally posted by TychoCelchuuu
              as far as I'm concerned he can say whatever the heck he wants.
              I agree. It's his right.

              Tau I was wondering if you had a class with him :)

              I wouldn't disagree with his prognosis, but his method of presenting his beliefs (especially since he's presenting them as an esteemed scientist) definately needs some work. He needs to seperate his facts from speculation, something that's lacking even in his course notes by the looks of it. Of course, it's hard to be a judge of his talk as we're obviously given a biased view of it. It's much easier to be a judge of what he's published on his own web site.
              ~~ Veritas simplex oratio est ~~
              No matter how far a wizard goes, he will always come back for his hat. --T. Pratchett

              <---- You know you're getting old when you rely on your forum meta-data to remind you how old you are.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: The Doomsday Professor

                Originally posted by tau_neutrino
                The industrialized world would probably be threatened as well considering the ease and frequency in which humans -- and human goods -- move around the world.

                The damage done by such an epidemic will be limited within an area by 2 main factors:

                1. Population density: More people there are in an area, the greater the number of chances for the disease to spread.

                2. Evolution: Disease-causing agents that quickly kill the host eventually lose some of their virulence. Those that don't kill their hosts quickly have higher fitness. However, if there are multiple diseases acting within the same population then each disease will evolve higher virulence due to resource competition.
                Sure that's the theory, and yet it's always the third world poor who actually die in droves.

                The population density is only part of the equation. Access to information, hot water, soap, good diet, vitamins, and antibiotics don't hurt.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: The Doomsday Professor

                  I agree leejo. The current thinking is that the more that humanity becomes integrated (globalization)--and we're doing that at an astonishing rate-- the easier it is for pathogens to be communicated. There is little doubt that rich industrialized communities would be affected by a global pandemic, and even less doubt that the poorer industrialized (high density) areas of the world will bear the brunt of a pandemic (including such areas inside the U.S.).

                  I think it's debatable that the death of humanity on such a large scale would be benificial to multinational corporations. Of course, I don't think anyone has seriously researched it or would find the money to research it.
                  ~~ Veritas simplex oratio est ~~
                  No matter how far a wizard goes, he will always come back for his hat. --T. Pratchett

                  <---- You know you're getting old when you rely on your forum meta-data to remind you how old you are.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: The Doomsday Professor

                    Originally posted by leejo
                    Sure that's the theory, and yet it's always the third world poor who actually die in droves.

                    The population density is only part of the equation. Access to information, hot water, soap, good diet, vitamins, and antibiotics don't hurt.

                    Yep. And the fact that most poor third-world people are don't have the means to leave their country.



                    TacticalGamer TX LAN/BBQ Veteran

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