Now in the “Do As We Say, Not As We Do” Dept.

In 2004, Richard von Sternberg was editor of a journal that published a paper by “intelligent design” advocate Stephen C. Meyer. The society that published the journal issued a statement saying that the paper’s inclusion had been a mistake, and that they would tighten up the review and acceptance process. Afterward, Sternberg would complain that he was a victim of religious discrimination. Since then, ID advocates have made much of the alleged poor treatment of Sternberg, turning his name into a verb: to be “sternberged”, in their view, is to be stripped of “academic freedom”, the ability to take unpopular stances and express edgy and even antisocial opinions without fear for one’s job and other elements of normal day-to-day living.

That makes it sound like ID advocates are taking a stand for a principle.

But that would be the wrong impression.

“Academic freedom” is just a piece of convenient rhetoric so far as ID advocates are concerned: useful when they feel an ID advocate needs some cover, and trampled on whenever someone in academia says something that they don’t like.

Or is claimed by another ID advocate to have said something that they don’t like.

And so we come to the unfolding case of U. of Texas professor Eric Pianka, who seems to revel in inflammatory rhetoric concerning the earth’s human population and how the indications are that we are due for a “crash” — the sudden (ecologically speaking) death of most of the population. Pianka gets graphic in his talks, and speaks about the Ebola virus and its 90% mortality figures. He speaks of the likelihood, or even inevitability, of the high-mortality strain of Ebola, which currently is only transmitted under restricted forms of contact, to mutate into a strain that has airborne transmission. Pianka believes that this event is likely and will turn into a global loss of 90% of all human life.

So, based on the principle of academic freedom, one would predict that ID advocates would be fully behind Pianka in saying unpopular, perhaps even unkind things. One would be wrong, and have to cough up that bottle of single malt scotch or whatever wager one might have on the matter, lest one be considered a welcher by one and all.

Enter Forrest M. Mims III, electronics gadgeteer extraordinaire (he wrote the various guides you can buy at Radio Shack with the circuit diagrams), who got to hear Pianka hold forth at a meeting of the Texas Academy of Sciences. Mims is now convinced that Pianka is doing more than describing the likely whimper of the end of the world: Mims claims that Pianka is encouraging scientists to build a pandemic agent and purposely unleash it on the world. Yes, that’s right, Mims is saying that scientists can’t be trusted because they may be involved in a personal biowarfare program whose aim is to depopulate the earth of humans.

Pianka has told Mims in correspondence that Mims has completely misunderstood his remarks. This has not satisfied Mims.

Mims has reportedly filed two petitions with the TAS over the incident.

Enter William A. Dembski, bigtime ID advocate. Did he pause for a moment to consider whether Mims, a fellow who has exagerrated things before, might have the wrong end of the stick? Did he consider that academic freedom was something that applied to people he didn’t agree with? What we do know about the possible answer here is that he reports this as his action in the matter:

As soon as this is posted, I’m going to have a chat with the Department of Homeland Security. [Called them — They are aware of it; it will be interesting to see if they do anything about it.]


Hey, way to support academic freedom! You go, Bill!

So the next time one of the ID advocates gets in your face about “academic freedom” as if they think it means something, just say, “Remember Pianka?”

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

44 thoughts on “Now in the “Do As We Say, Not As We Do” Dept.

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  • 2006/04/03 at 7:06 am

    Mr. Dembski underscores the complete impotence of his gods – lowercase plural since Christianity has so many different ones with distinct powers, they just share a name – by resorting to something having real power: secular law. Dembski chooses secular law over his god’s impotent enforcement capacity in this instance, just as he does in attempting to have secular law enforce his religious dictate, intelligent design. In both cases, Dembski proclaims his deep faith in the demonstrated power of secular law to triumph over the impotence of any of the Christian gods.

  • 2006/04/03 at 11:23 am

    Hi, I was also at Dr. Pianka’s talk at the Texas Academy of Science meeting and came away with a very different impression of his talk that did Mim’s. I think my impression was in the majority judging by the standing ovation given to Dr. Pianka by ~400 fellow scientists. Following is an email I just received asking for my support in censuring Dr. Pianka. I am amazed by the vitriolic intensity of this letter and I would like to emphasize that Mim’s has blantantly and dishonestly mischaracterized Dr. Pianka’s statements.

    —– Forwarded Message —-
    From: Keith Arnett

    Sent: Sunday, April 2, 2006 5:22:25 PM
    Subject: Dr. Pianka’s FINAL SOLUTION

    While Heinrich Himmler’s “final solution” was limited to exterminating the Jews, Dr. Eric R. Pianka promotes a FINAL SOLUTION for 90% of earth’s population. In accepting the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award, Heir Pianka was interrupted with applause and received a standing ovation.

    “Soylent Green is people.” And the way cinema’s futurist society dealt with over population was through the “Renewal Ceremony”, where the inductees were secretly turned into FOOD for the remaining citizens.

    AT LEAST THEY WERE TURNED INTO FOOD! Unleashing the Ebola virus on humanity, as publicly advocated by reptilian advocate Dr. Pianka, would result in billions of excruciating deaths and rotting corpses in the streets. Does such a position increase the esteem of the Texas Academy of Science? Is the Academy deem such a colleague as a visionary, exemplar, & eloquent representative?

    THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! For a scientific community, however provincial, to recognize Dr. Pianka sublimates wholesale genocide. His advocacy of the extermination of most human life on the earth flies in the face of natural selection, and is so patently absurd as to defy logical challenge. The Texas Academy of Science, her directors, fellows, and members, is DIMINISHED through close association with, and its elevation of, Dr. Eric R. Pianka.

    If the Academy is to maintain public and professional credibility, it must censure Dr. Pianka and rescind his “Distinguished” status. Please use your personal and professional influence toward that immediate end.


    Keith M. Arnett
    Keller, TX

  • 2006/04/03 at 11:53 am

    Thank you, Kathryn, for the first-hand report. Do you know of other attendees who might drop by and enter their recollection of the event, and whether they think Mims was mistaken in his interpretation of Pianka’s talk?

  • 2006/04/03 at 12:28 pm

    You might recall that a certain Ted Kacszinki projected a 99% reduction in the number of humans as having the optimal effect on evolution.

    Pianka likely only approached the level of thinking going on right now in the blacker divisions of future war games. Like sending an infected, but not yet symptomatic believer to the hajj in Mecca, to swirl around the cube and stone the devil and infect a few thousand people, who would be asymptomatic until two weeks after they returned to their home countries. Not advocating, all information from

    Post this incident on and see what else is associated with it.

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  • 2006/04/03 at 1:14 pm

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

  • 2006/04/03 at 2:29 pm

    One can only hope that the Department of Homeland Security is bright enough to see who is the threat in their report, the guy who warned of the danger, or the crackpot who claims that the messenger is the danger.

    Dembski’s action is irresponsible, reckless, and should be prosecuted as a false alarm. Punk kids who call the cops when there is no emergency, just to see the cops scramble, are subject to prosecution. Dembski’s action, no less punk, perhaps more juvenile, should not be exempt.

  • 2006/04/03 at 4:08 pm

    I don’t think Pianka was saying anything that has not been said or modeled by the epidemiologists. A large scale pandemic sweeping through the human population is a real possibility. The last major pandemic was 1918 although the mortality rate was not on the order suggested by Pianka. It would seem that many suffer from the “privileged planet” syndrome when it comes to Homo sapiens sapiens Pianka is pointing out that humainity is the little blue dot.

  • 2006/04/03 at 6:08 pm

    What, did the righties forget that rainbows are God’s promise not to ever again wipe out almost all of mankind ever again? What are they worried about?

  • 2006/04/03 at 7:11 pm

    Dembski’s action is irresponsible, reckless, and should be prosecuted as a false alarm. Punk kids who call the cops when there is no emergency, just to see the cops scramble, are subject to prosecution. Dembski’s action, no less punk, perhaps more juvenile, should not be exempt.

    If Dembski has done so then he is an idiot. But I doubt he can be prosecuted. For such a prosecution to be successful one will have to prove that Dembski knowingly made a false report. The reason is that if Dembski thought that there was a possibility that Pianka really was encouraging such an action then Dembski would legally in the right to report Pianka. If one honestly thinks there is even a tiny chance that someone might be criminally involved with some form of mass terrorism, one is legally required to report it. Unless Dembski screws up and leaves evidence that he knows Mims was full of it, I don’t see how a federal prosecutor can PROVE that Dembski knew he was making a false report.

    Of course only an idiot would think that Pianka is suggesting such an action. By all applause there was a great deal of applause. No proposal to wipe out 90% of the human race would get such that. What will probably happen is that eventually someone in Homeland Security will check this out and file a report that says that Mims claims are baseless. (Prior the 9-11 this would have probably been immediately filed as a crank without investigation, but I think that no one will dare not investigate even idiot claims in today’s climate which is probably a good thing so long as the idiot claims are not so many in number that they prevent more urgent investigations.)

    Now it very possible that Dembski has knowingly made a false report. But then again, he might just be actingly like an idiot — it is hardly something new for him. Creationists often have a near pathological need to see scientists as evil. There is also a third possibility: Dembski is mere grandstanding but has not called Homeland Security. Do we have anything besides his word that he has actually done so? After all it is not a crime to merely lie on one’s blog.

  • 2006/04/03 at 11:53 pm

    I’m surprised you didn’t identify Mims as a Creationist.

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  • 2006/04/04 at 4:33 am

    # ChickenLittle Says: The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

    That’s an incredibly apt metaphor for the actions of Mims. Good call. Chicken Little experienced something that she completely misinterpreted; the acorn hitting her head was real, but her insistence that this meant that the sky was falling was a complete invention. Chicken Little convinced her friends to panic, all based upon her own erroneous account of events. And here we have Mims in a clue-deprived state running around doing his best to promulgate panic. I stand in awe of your perspicacity.

  • 2006/04/04 at 4:59 am

    Dembski’s first reaction: “Would “Dr. Doom” be conceivable apart from evolutionary theory?”

    Thomas Malthus described 1798 what could happen: “The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.”

    Darwin and Wallace wrote their paper 1858.

    So yes, it isn’t only conceivable, it happened. Does Dembski know anything about population theory and evolution?

  • 2006/04/04 at 6:00 am

    It seems that if Richard von Sternberg can be “sternberged,” then it is only fair that Pianka should be similarly honored. Is that piankad, pianka’d, piankaed, pianked? Maybe we could then see which term ultimately evolves to a dominant position in the lexicon!

  • 2006/04/04 at 7:08 am

    This is disgusting and utterly irresponsible. I don’t know where to wretch first, on this very blog or the idiot who reported a scientist to Homeland Security for expressing his oppinions!
    This entire ID movement will be the doom of rational thinking, free speach, and the expression of independant thought.
    I’ve said too much already, :) The `Gubmint knows I’m vocal now!

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  • 2006/04/04 at 9:54 am

    To be fair, I think it comes as no surprise that uninformed people incapable of critical thought would freak out when certain key words were spoken by members of an establishment they view as “evil”. Also, it surprises me not one bit that other similarly handicapped individuals would buy into this.

    What worries me is that, in the quest for sensationalism, we have irresponsible journalists failing to check out a story (in even the most basic manner) and then printing it as fact.

    Ironically, Pianka might have a much stronger libel claim against anyone claiming to be a reputable news outlet that picked up this story, rather than the IDiots who started it…

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  • 2006/04/04 at 5:26 pm

    “What, did the righties forget that rainbows are God’s promise not to ever again wipe out almost all of mankind ever again? What are they worried about?”

    Naw, rainbows are Abrahamic God’s promise not to /flood/ the earth ever again. See, next time is fire and all that other fun apocalyptic fun stuff.

    Remember, God loves you enough to realize the only way to save your world is to destroy it.

  • 2006/04/04 at 6:40 pm

    Does anyone care to guess what year will be the first one where some IDiot _doesn’t_ believe that Pianka was calling for mass planetary genocide? I’m guessing that 2100 might not be distant enough for such a guess.

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  • 2006/04/04 at 8:44 pm

    Don’t you all remember, from about 2 months ago, when Dembski was offering cash money to people who willfully violated a law against teaching ID as if it were science?

    Someone else who wants to bother can find the post, complete with bidding by other IDiots to increase the reward.

    I just don’t even -look- at Uncommon Descent.

  • 2006/04/04 at 9:57 pm

    I can’t believe that you guys on left just don’t get it. In right wing culture, when someone who is trustworthy says there is a problem, that means, go and do something about immediately, in the simplest and most brutal possible way.

    To wit, Bush said there was a problem with Islamic terrorists, so we on the right supported the invasion of the middle east. It’s automatic.

    So, when you on the left say that the earth is overpopulated, and that, ebola is going to wipe out everyone, but, it would be a good thing, the only logical conclusion would be that the person is calling for action, implicitly, because, stating a problem is in and of itself a call for action.

    This isn’t an issue of academic dissent, this is, someone calling for the extermination of the human race. That’s an entirely different ballgame.

    PS. ID should be rejected because its crap.

  • 2006/04/05 at 5:00 pm

    This isn’t an issue of academic dissent, this is, someone calling for the extermination of the human race. That’s an entirely different ballgame.

    Stop lying. He never called for the extermination of the human race. In the end, all you nutjobs will accomplish is to help Pianka sell more books.

  • 2006/04/05 at 7:48 pm

    ID isn’t science or scientific. Therefore, IT DOESN’T FUCKING BELONG IN A SCIENCE CLASSROOM.

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  • 2006/04/06 at 7:03 am

    this shows how far some right wingers will go .join Aclu and other civil liberty groups.reason saves!

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  • 2006/04/06 at 12:06 pm

    Here in Scotland we’ve got our first confirmed case of H5N1 bird flu, in a dead swan, only twenty miles (as the infectious crow flies) from my house.
    As Bruce Thomson says, a pandemic may be on it’s way.
    Are the creationists over there worried about bird flu `evolving’ into an airborne strain?
    Dembski is being malevolant. There’s no way he could honestly believe that a scientist planning to unleash an artificially created disease would announce the fact at a conference! That’s like Doctor No/Doom/Drakken announcing his master plan to James Bond/Fantastic Four/Kim Possible, giving time for them (and William Dembski) to come up with a counterplan.

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  • 2006/04/09 at 2:44 pm

    Does anyone care to guess what year will be the first one where some IDiot _doesn’t_ believe that Pianka was calling for mass planetary genocide? I’m guessing that 2100 might not be distant enough for such a guess.

    Actually, MikeGene at TelicThoughts has retracted his earlier stance joining in on the denunciation of Pianka.

  • 2006/04/10 at 10:44 am

    “Are the creationists over there worried about bird flu `evolving’ into an airborne strain?”

    Exactly! Dembski does not believe evolution exists, therefore Dembski must believe that Pianka is mistaken about the possibility of Ebola evolving to an airborne form. Even if he believes Pianka would attempt to kill off 90% of humans using airborne Ebola, he must also believe that it is scientifically impossible (according to his ‘science’).

    Hence he is a big liar if he says he honestly believes Pianka is a threat. He’s either lying about believing in the threat, or lying about his stance on evolution.

  • 2006/04/14 at 10:04 am

    Dembski and Mims may be kooks, BUT if what Mr. Pianka was so innocuous and scientific, why was it necessary to turn off the video so that we can never be sure exactly what was said?

  • 2006/04/14 at 3:06 pm

    BUT if what Mims says about Pianka wanting people to deliberately make and release a pandemic agent is so accurate, why don’t some significant fraction of the attendees remember it that way?

    We used to think that accusations should withstand scrutiny. Well, some of the population here used to think that way. It would be nice if it became that way again sometime soon.

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  • 2009/06/19 at 10:06 pm

    “This is the sort of political behavior that we want to remove from the country, not to replace one set of practicioners with another!”

    Excuse me, but we exactly want to replace one set of practitioners with another. It is all about the right people taking power away from the wrong people. If you don’t think the right wingers currently in control are the wrong people, why are you on this blog??

    We are not engaged in a contest to see who can score highest on a high school microsoft test.

  • 2009/09/01 at 2:49 pm

    Hi everyone. I prefer the company of peasants because they have not been educated sufficiently to reason incorrectly.
    I am from Guinea-Bissau and learning to write in English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “At the life of the stance is a young negah that is made the scalp.”

    Thanks 8). Mahesa.

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