Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama's population bomber

Yuval Levin points out that Barack Obama's science advisor John Holdren included in a 2007 speech a respectful reference to Paul Ehrlich's utterly discredited 1968 book The Population Bomb. He might as well have referenced phrenology or necromancy.

The Population Bomb -- named one of the worst books of the 20th century by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute -- began with one of the most infamously mistaken prophecies ever published:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970's the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.
Wrong. The mass famines never happened. World population, which was about 3.5 billion when Erhlich wrote that, is now about 6 billion, and humanity has never been more well-fed than it is today. Far from a population "explosion," what the world now faces -- especially in industrialized nations -- is a population implosion. In Europe, birth rates in recent decades have been disastrously below what demographers call the replacement rate (2.1 average lifetime births per woman) needed to maintain a stable population size.

Yet many people (Ted Turner notoriously among them), continue to pretend that Ehrlich's misguided warning that "mankind will breed itself into oblivion" was accurate, and to push programs based on Ehrlich's 1968 ultimatum:
We can no longer afford merely to treat the symptoms of the cancer of population growth; the cancer itself must be cut out. Population control is the only answer.
To speak of population growth -- i.e., people having babies -- as a "cancer" reflects an almost genocidal misanthropy. That Obama would choose as his science adviser Holdren, a believer in such malevolent hokum, is a disgrace.

UPDATE: Via Memeorandum and Ross Douthat, I learn that I'm arriving a little late to this dance. John Tierney is all over the Holdren appointment, revealing that Obama's advisor was one of the "experts" consulted by Ehrlich in his ill-advised bet with the late Julian Simon. Reason magazine's Ron Bailey has even more on the consistently wrong Dr. Holdren.

One global-warming fanatic recognizes Holdren as a kindred spirit: "Obama is dead serious about the strongest possible action on global warming."

I hate to pick a fight with the Obama administration over science. After all, I'm hoping to get federal funding for my own research.

UPDATE II: Obama makes it official. And in his radio address, he declares:
"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. . . . It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology."
This eye-rolling is giving me a headache.

Here's video of Obama's speech:


  1. One, I'm glad I did my part having 5 kids. Two, this reminds me of the global warming idiots. I am sure they will find a way to combine all the hysteria's into one. May be it'll be called Global Warming-Famine-Gun Eradication-War On Poverty-Blame the Rich eco-terroristic economic populist mantra BS where the only way out is for everyone to be taxed by at least 50%.

    If it were me, I'd choose Michio Kaku just for his overly simplistic explanations, but Richard Feyman would have been the choice if still alive.

    Robert, if you really want to throw Obama a curve, let's start badgering him about UFO disclosure. It might be fun.

  2. Did you READ the speech citing Ehrlich? He didn't endorse the book's many incorrect predictions and projections. He did refer to "the key insight..." in The Population Bomb. And if you've read the book you realize that there WERE many accurate insights (along with many that proved totally wrong). But when one speaks of a "cancer" as he does in the speech, it refers to uncontrolled growth of a certain set of cells, not the whole body.

    In that sense, the analogy used in the speech is apt. Europe is shrinking while other continents are exploding. That is an astonishingly dangerous situation. If The Population Bomb is only right in 30% of the world, we're looking at serious danger and instability.

    Also, questioning a man's competence based on the citation of a single book and author is a mighty thin reed. Remember crazy Albert, who didn't believe in quantum mechanics? It turns out he was TOTALLY wrong about that. So anyone who quotes that E-MC^2 thing is a fool.

    Oh, and it might be good to mention that the "Intercollegiate Studies Institute," which you cite as proof of Ehrlich's complete failure, has a distinctly conservative tilt (a classic Argumentum ad verecundiam).

    Here are a few of the OTHER books on that list of the centuries worst books (thanks for turning me on to them):

    John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (1956)

    Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

    The Pentagon Papers as Published by the New York Times,
    Based on Investigative Reporting by Neil Sheehan (1971)

    Alfred Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)

    Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Our Selves (1976)

    Harvey Cox, The Secular City (1965)

    John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)

    Anyone notice a pattern?

    In a note of irony (or error?), The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965) appears in both the Best and Worst lists - now, THAT I like.

  3. JFK didn't write Profiles in Courage, Ted Sorensen did. JFK did get the pulitzer prize though.

  4. Right, common knowledge, but that doesn't make it one of the worst books.