A University of Texas biology professor has been targeted by talk radio, bloggers and vitriolic e-mails – including a death threat – after a published report that he advocated death for most of the population as a means of saving the Earth.
But Eric Pianka said Monday his remarks about what he believes is an impending pandemic were taken out of context.
“What we really need to do is start thinking about controlling our population before it’s too late,” he said. “It’s already too late, but we’re not even thinking about it. We’re just mindlessly rushing ahead breeding our brains out.”
The public furor began when The Gazette-Enterprise of Seguin reported Sunday on two speeches Pianka made last month to groups of scientists and students about vanishing animal habitats and the explosion of the human population.
The newspaper’s Jamie Mobley attended one of those speeches and also interviewed Forrest Mims, an amateur scientist and author who heard Pianka speak early last month before the Texas Academy of Science.
After the newspaper’s report appeared, it was circulated widely and posted on “The Drudge Report.” It quickly became talk radio fodder.
The Gazette-Enterprise quoted Pianka as saying disease “will control the scourge of humanity. We’re looking forward to a huge collapse.”
The professor weighed the killing power of various diseases such as bird flu and HIV, insisting neither would yield the needed results.
“HIV is too slow. It’s no good,” he said. He went on to discuss how an Ebola pandemic could wipe out a significant chunk of the human population.
Pianka said he was only trying to warn his audience that disease epidemics have happened before and will happen again if the human population growth isn’t contained.
He said he believes the Earth would be better off if the human population were smaller because fewer natural resources would be consumed and humans wouldn’t continue to destroy animal habitats. But he said that doesn’t mean he wants most humans to die.
But Mims, chairman of the academy’s environmental science section, told The Associated Press there was no mistaking Pianka’s disdain for humans and desire for their elimination.
“He wishes for it. He hopes for it. He laughs about it. He jokes about it,” Mims said. “It’s got to happen because we are the scourge of humanity.”
David Marsh, president of the Texas Academy of Science, said in a statement that Pianka’s comments have been “severely misconstrued and sensationalized,” although in a separate e-mail to the newspaper he said its account was not sensationalized. Marsh said the professor simply applied commonly accepted principles of animal population dynamics to humans.
No recording or transcript of either that speech or another delivered Friday at St. Edward’s University in Austin was available for review by the AP. The Gazette-Enterprise said it reviewed a transcript of the original speech, which was provided on the condition that it not be distributed.
Allan Hook, a St. Edward’s biology professor who heard both speeches, said Pianka “wasn’t so perhaps adamant in his own personal views of what he thinks might happen” in his second lecture.
But Hook declined to elaborate on what Pianka said in the earlier speech, which Pianka delivered while being honored as the academy’s 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist.
University of Texas officials don’t plan to take any action against Pianka, university spokesman Don Hale said.
“Dr. Pianka has First Amendment rights to express his point of view,” Hale said. “We have plenty of faculty with a lot of different points of view, and they have the right to express that point of view, but they’re expressing their personal point of view.”