[Link] 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.
To briefly review, DR Pianka of the University of Texas has been giving lectures on population dynamics and speculating on possible agents of pandemic. Some person or persons, at least one of which has since had a change of heart, picked up on this and somehow came to the erroneous conclusion that Pianka was advocating or actively engaged in engineering deadly pathogens to kill up to 90 percent of the world's population. One even bragged that he had reported Pianka to the Department of Homeland Security as a possible terrorist threat.
Now, several members of the TAS have told me they've been getting strange and threatening e-mails. One member said s/he had received 'death threat e-mails' and that it was getting 'way out of hand'. Here's a short excerpt of one of the more polite e-mails received by a TAS member to give you an idea of the tone and mindset:
[PZ has the full text] 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.
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?
Bear in mind: These alleged e-mails are not directed at Dr. Pianka, but to other scientists who have little relation to his work. I don't know exactly what's going on here but I'll take an educated guess: Some conservative Internet muses jumped online and blogged or sent out highly misleading reports about Pianka full of alarmist rhetoric to a bunch of people who were unable or unwilling to perform the most basic fact checking, some of whom in turn sent on intimidating mail to TAS members. If so I have some advice for them: The instigators and participants had better get on that cyber grapevine awful damn quick and issue a cease fire and a correction.
At least that way they'll be able to show good faith when and if they get a knock at the door from the FBI. Because these e-mails are being reported to the authorities; if any death threats went across a state line that might make it a Federal crime; depending on the details or what ends up happening, this episode could even qualify for prosecution as terrorism or conspiracy to commit same.
Update [10:01 AM EDT]: Hat Tip Nick Matzke at The Panda's Thumb. Pianka makes a statement:
[KXAN-- Austin] "I got a really great death threat," Pianka said. ... This is not over. Pianka said he'll be on two cable talk shows Tuesday including MSNBC to try and clear his name.In addition several biology professors from central Texas have mentioned to me directly that Pianka is, if anything, on the conservative side. These nitwits may have smeared one of their own.
[2:15 PM EDT] Kossack Grand Moff Texan adds his own take as well.