Saturday, April 08, 2006


The Pianka Fallout

All last week the right-wing echo chamber promised that as soon as transcripts were available of ecologist Eric Pianka's speech to the Texas Academy of Science, we'd have all the proof we needed of the charges against him.

Charges leveled by creationist Forrest Mims that Pianka was plotting to exterminate 90 percent of the human race with a variant of the Ebola virus weren't, as the reality based community suspected from the very beginning, the ravings of the lunatic right. Oh, on the contrary, they were as solid as the scientific evidence for, well, intelligent design.

The charges, which would have set the bullshit meter in a six-year-old ringing like a Las Vegas slot machine, prompted intelligent design theorist William Dembski to call to the Department of Homeland Security and report Pianka as a dangerous eco-terrorist.

Well, now transcripts of Pianka's speech are available. Pianka's colleagues -- those who actually heard and applauded his speech -- are rallying to his side with a petition condemning Mims dishonest mischaracterized of it. The Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, the credulous newspaper that first picked up the ludicrous charges, which Mims happens to write for, has pulled the story from its website. And, Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views and Dembski's Uncommon Descent have suddenly lost interest in the story. Saving the human race from from a mad scientist, suddenly, isn't the pressing issue it once was.

But, let's take a moment to ponder the real world fallout for Dr. Pianka from this little contretemps.

Not long ago, Walter Soehnge, a retired Texas schoolteacher, who had rung up a few too many charges on his JCPenney Platinum MasterCard did the right thing. He and his wife sent in a large payment, a check for $6,522.

After sending the payment, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.

So they called in to find out why. Eventually, they were told that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment and the Department of Homeland Security had to be notified. Their credit limit wouldn't change until the threat alert was lifted.

Dembski has reported Pianka to Homeland Security as a threat. Although no one can be really sure how the FBI operates -- a large number of agents, reportedly, are still without e-mail --we suspect we're not entirely out of line surmising that a charge of eco-terrorism will rank higher on the FBI's threat-o-meter than a credit card payment. The FBI has announced it will question Pianka about the charges, but what other effect will Dembski's ludicrous, second-hand, accusation have on Dr. Pianka?

Will he -- like so many activist who have protested the war -- have trouble when he tries to board an airplane? Will he now be singled out for additional screening when he passes through security? Will his credit card and bank records be examined? It's all a very real possibility.

Mims, Dembski, and the rest of the ID crowd simply wanted to raise morale after a series of dispiriting setbacks for their movement. They way that is done on the right is by picking out a scapegoat for symbolic -- and many times actual -- retribution. Blacks and Jews are passe, for now. Scientists are in. Dr. Pianka was singled out.

The right has moved on now, no doubt already searching out its next victim, for them the story is over, but the injury to Dr. Pianka can't be undone quite so easily. The lives of real people, such as Eric Pianka, mean nothing to the right. To them, we are all simply tools to be used and discarded as necessary to achieve their political ends.

Update: In the comments, a reader has asked for a link to the transcript. The Questionable Authority had posted a link to the Sequin Gazette-Enterprise for the "speech discussed in the April 2nd Gazette-Enterprise article that was picked up by the Drudge report." However, as we reported in the post below, the Gazette-Enterprise has now pulled all its coverage offline, including the transcript.


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