Bad Science.

Not long ago I finished a book which treats social trends as epidemics and fleshes out the implications. The book, should any of you have a few hours to spare, is Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Reading it fits nicely with my new year’s resolution. Even more than that, it’s helped me to frame an after-school math program. You can read and critique what I’ve come with [rehashed and stolen] in glorious PDF here. Bear in mind that it is what it claims to be — a skeleton — and nothing more. It’s almost vague, but still specific enough to be useful, I hope.

Whoever is in charge of fate must’ve be working overtime today. For he must’ve directed me to this bizarre and terrifying article in the Citizen Scientist. Now I blog a lot [for me] about the terrible misappropriation of science by nefarious and sneaky groups all around the world. But it is seldom that I have the opportunity to strike out against scientists who misuse science. For the most part, the self-regulated, moderating nature of professional scientific investigation keeps scientists from going to far astray from the reason. But not always.

Today let’s take a impromptu trip to [surprise!] Texas. No, we’re not condemning stem cell research or homosexuals bent on abortion of good, Christian babies. Many of you have forgotten that today is Opposite Day. According to the article, Professor Eric Pianka of the University of Texas at Austin is concerned that humans are over-populating the planet and have been at an increasingly alarming rate since the Industrial Revolution. His specialty lies in environmental and conservational studies, and he loves lizards. It is only natural that he’d be concerned. After all, he studies the problems first hand. And like many other scientists, it’s not suprising that he happens to be personally invested in the subject he’s spent decades to pursue. So, during the 2006 Texas Academy of Science Distinguished Scientist of the Year award lecture, its recipient, our friend Professor Pianka outlined the problem as he sees it and a very novel solution.

Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.

He then showed solutions for reducing the world’s population in the form of a slide depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War and famine would not do, he explained. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved.

…After praising the Ebola virus for its efficiency at killing, Pianka paused, leaned over the lectern, looked at us and carefully said, “We’ve got airborne 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.”

That’s right: he wants to knock out about 5.9 billion people with Ebola.

Pianka doesn’t want to uphold the sanctity of life. He’s extreme. He’s conversative. And he gives an illustrative example of the diversity of forms fundamentalism can take. Religion is getting a bad rap. Crazies, it seems, can come from any where at any time. The religious fundies just happen to be the best organized and most popularized group of extremists in the States. Of course, crazies acting under the guise of patriotism have emerged more recently, too. We should do well not to underestimate any of them.

The article continues to explain that Pianka has a following. One student even publically wrote that he worships the man. And as Pianka notes, just one passenger on a plane to Europe could wipe out the entire continent. That one passenger could be a former student, who, after graduating, goes on to med school. After some training, a few accolades, and community respect, the incog crazy could get near to the virus. My college roommate Alex used to work in an Ebola lab at the Harvard Medical School. As far as I know he still does. Alex worked with the most unholy mix of Ebola, rat cancer, and glow-in-the-dark jellyfish genes. Of course he didn’t have clearance to work with a live strain. It’s hard even to get parts of the beast. And the rat cancer was thrown in actually as a precaution. [I hear that it’s hard for humans to catch rat cancer.] Alex isn’t crazy. But all it takes is one crazy to sneak in to do serious harm.

That’s the point of the Tipping Point. Large, sweeping gestures aren’t always necessary to effect tremendous change. All you need to do is know which nut to unscrew in a big machine in order to cause it to come crashing down.