It’s hardly a stretch to say that the near-extermination of humankind isn’t a popular idea among the public. If any politician ever dared to dismiss humanity as “fat, human biomass” and advocated the destruction of 90 per cent of the world’s population from the dreaded Ebola virus (an 80-90 per cent lethal disease, which inflicts horrible suffering upon its victims, whose internal organs eventually liquefy), he or she would immediately be hounded out of public life. Today, the only fans of such an apocalyptic future are on the margins of society: a few neo-Nazis, the followers of Osama bin Laden, and – it would seem – the Texas Academy of Science.

Speaking at the 109th meeting of the Academy at Lamar University in Beaumont Tx. on March 3-5 of this year, biologist and lizard expert Dr. Eric Pianka delivered a frightening lecture in which he claimed that humans are “no better than bacteria” and that the Earth’s ecosystem would not survive without the near-extermination of humanity to just 10 per cent of its present number.

According to computer expert Forrest Mims III, who attended the lecture and took copious notes, Pianka claimed the AIDS virus was too slow for such a job and stated a preference for airborne Ebola, although he added: “You know, the bird flu’s good, too.”

In an online article titled, “Meeting Doctor Doom,” at The Citizen Scientist, Mims writes that Pianka made his points with a slide show that included an image of “human skulls towering on the screen behind him” and told his audience, “We’ve got airborne 90 per cent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.”

Pianka also praised Communist China’s one-child policy, on the grounds that “smarter people have fewer kids” than the ignorant masses and suggested that “we need to sterilize everybody on the Earth.”

But far from being dismissed as a nutty professor, Mims added that Pianka actually received “loud, vigorous and enthusiastic applause” from the assembled scientists at the end of his speech and later took a plaque that recognized his being named the Academy’s 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist.

Unlike other presentations at the conference, Pianka’s presentation was not videotaped and Pianka made a point of saying that he does not generally share his views with the public, adding: “I speak to the converted.”

In spite of the good doctor’s desire for secrecy, however, word of his speech quickly leaked out to the media and Pianka found himself talking to local FBI officials. “Someone has reported me as a terrorist,” complained Pianka. “They think I’m forming a cadre of people to release the airborne Ebola virus into the air, that I’m the leader and my students are the followers.”

Was Pianka entirely serious when he issued his call for human extinction or was it merely a poorly conceived attempt at Swiftian satire to express his concerns about perceived overpopulation and other environmental issues? For that matter, does he feel any lingering guilt over the birth of his children, given his views? These were two of the questions The Interim posed to Pianka in an e-mail sent to his University of Texas address. Pianka evaded both queries with a terse reply: “Please do some research on the web. All your questions are answered out there. Also, check out my website.”

With an unkempt white beard and a website that contains his very own “obituary,” Pianka would strike many individuals as an odd duck. In a section on the site titled, “What nobody wants to hear, but everyone needs to know,” Pianka offers unusually mixed messages about his basic worldview. On the one hand, he assures the reader that, “I do not bear any ill will toward humanity” and he talks about how he wants his two grandchildren to “inherit a stable Earth.” On the other hand, he adds: “I am convinced that the world WOULD clearly be much better off without so many of us.”

While Pianka has made it clear to the media that he personally does not favour bio-terrorism, some worry about his intellectual influence within the scientific community and the possibility he might inadvertently push an impressionable student into action. Mims noted that a student evaluation of a 2004 course he taught at the University of Texas showed the majority of reviews were favourable, with one even saying: “I worship Dr. Pianka.” Another biology student who heard Pianka’s March remarks became a “Pianka disciple,” in Mims’ words, and now publishes an online blog that seriously supports Pianka’s arguments.

Mims believes that while Ebola is unlikely to threaten the world outside of central Africa, scientists have recently regenerated the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50 million people and some believe that smallpox could some day return.