Ebola: A Scientist Misquoted on Ebola and Overpopulation

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Ebola’s spread through Africa and threat to the U.S is a painful reality. Yet a professor who received the Distinguished Texas Scientist Award in 2006  suggested this could happen. Dr. Eric Pianka, a professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas, discussed this scenario in his controversial speech that aroused the ire of the conspiracy theory blogosphere and started a flurry of articles that misquoted the scientist on Ebola and overpopulation.

Dr. Pianka’s speech highlighted his concerns about overpopulation. This speech included a hypothetical  “vanishing book of life” that included many species that have gone extinct. Dr. Pianka asserted that humanity has overstepped its boundaries through a lack of concern about what the species is doing to the earth.  According to Dr. Pianka many species are going extinct, but humans  do not believe the same thing could happen to them. Pianka discussed a checklist circulating on the Internet from Genesis 1:28 that instructed mankind to procreate and subdue lower species. Pianka felt that in this checklist mankind ignored the instruction to care for all living things and keep them replenished.

Pianka made statements about the Earth’s carrying capacity of humans being limited, pointing out that humans occupy half of the Earth’s land and that their needs for water and resources for housing and food are putting a strain on the planet’s ecology. He used China as an example and showed a picture of an overcrowded high-rise there. Pianka then asked the audience if they wanted to live like that.

Overall, in Pianka’s speech he gave his vision of what could happen if steps were not taken to curb and reduce population growth. The scientist used the Ebola virus as an example of how a  population could be reduced naturally and that is when conspiracy theorists attacked and misquoted his statements about Ebola and overpopulation.  Pianka addressed this issue in a paper refuting the statements and claims that had been written about him. Pianka reiterated that his speech was an appeal to humanity, and not a doomsday wish. Pianka also noted that two of the people who attacked his view were members of  a group named the Discovery Institute and quoted the institute as saying they wanted to start a cultural war.

In this rebuttal paper, Pianka wrote of the goals of the Discovery Institute, which has on their website three phases of their “Wedge Strategy,” which includes research and publication of their theories, reshaping public opinion and confronting and renewing scientific culture. Pianka feels this group is a thinly disguised religious organization and that they were attempting to destroy his reputation due to their creationist agenda.

Pianka spoke of receiving thousands of emails from people against his ideas, but stated that after the  conspiracy media groups were seen as frauds, he received some apologies as well. He said one man reported him to the Department of Homeland Security and that he was interviewed by the FBI as a result.

In Pianka’s paper the scientist refuted a claim that was made five years after his speech by an author he says misquoted him about Ebola’s spread and overpopulation. He reiterates that he has never supported genocide or mass extinction. He makes an appeal at the end of his paper to his audience saying that if humanity cannot control themselves, viruses such as Ebola will do it for them. Pianka also said he had received death threats from people who were Christian, and that people should not believe everything they hear. To him, Ebola’s spread is a painful, possible reality.

By Adrianne Hill


University of Texas
Discovery Institute
University of Texas-Controversy

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