Environmentalist Doomsayer Paul Ehrlich Attacks NAS President

Ashley Thorne

In July NAS president Peter Wood published “A Culture of Evasion” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, casting a skeptical eye on Penn State’s internal accountability mechanisms. He wrote during the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal: 

The underlying culture that made this heedlessness possible among the senior officials extends to quite a few topics that have no direct connection to the Sandusky scandal. 


Then there was the Michael Mann case, the well-known advocate of the theory of man-made global warming, accused in the wake of the Climategate memos in 2009 of scientific misconduct. Penn State appointed a university panel, headed by the vice president for research, Henry Foley, to investigate Mann. According to ABC News Foley’s committee asked: 

whether Mann had 1) suppressed or falsified data; 2) tried to conceal or destroy e-mails or other information; 3) misused confidential information; or 4) did anything that “seriously deviated from accepted practices” in scholarly research.

The committee exonerated Mann on the first three and punted on the fourth. Make of this what you will, but a review by the university’s vice president for research, who oversees grant-funded projects, does not have exactly the same standing as an investigation carried out by the former director of the FBI. Penn State has a history of treading softly with its star players. Paterno wasn’t the only beneficiary. 

Following the publication of Dr. Wood’s article, a blogger named Scott Mandia, a professor of physical sciences at Suffolk Community College, launched a campaign to get Dr. Wood fired from the Chronicle. His letters, however, were unsuccessful, and the Chronicle’s editor-in-chief defended Dr. Wood’s opinion articles, noting that publication by the Chronicle does not imply endorsement. Mandia, it turns out, is a staunch apologist for Michael Mann and his scientific claims. 

Mandia did not give up after the Chronicle’s polite reply denying his request. Yesterday in a guest post at Desmogblog.com, he published letters by other apologists for global warming, who also petitioned the Chronicle to make atonement for its supposed error in publishing Dr. Wood's article.

The most notorious author in this batch of letters is Paul R. Ehrlich. Ehrlich, a Stanford entomologist who once had a career studying butterflies, is best known as the author of The Population Bomb (1968). NAS’s Glenn Ricketts described the book in his article “The Roots of Sustainability”: 

Ehrlich’s 1968 neo-Malthusian tract, The Population Bomb, was frantically shrill and apocalyptic, attributing environmental destruction to worldwide overpopulation and forecasting horrific consequences for the near future, especially mass starvation: 

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, 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. At this late date, nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…population control is the only answer.  

Ehrlich placed the “population bomb” at the core of every aspect of the environmental crisis, which, beyond his anticipated food shortages, augured widespread mortality and suffering. 

Ehrlich is also famous for losing a bet with the economist Julian L. Simon over the future prices of five commodities chosen by Ehrlich (copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten.) Ehrlich, believing that earth was running out of resources, bet that prices would rise from 1980 to 1990. He lost decisively.  

Here is his letter to the Chronicle

Dear Dr. Semas,

I was appalled and disgusted by the screed by Peter Wood, “A culture of evasion” in the July 20 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The attempt to associate Michael Mann, an extremely distinguished climate scientist, with the Sandusky affair was worthy of Rush Limbaugh, but not of any real journalist.  Even the most simple exploration would have revealed that Mann has been “cleared” of the preposterous charges against him in several venues much more noteworthy than Penn State, and that he retains the admiration and respect of his scientific colleagues despite the abuse launched at him for daring to publish the results of his excellent research.  The Chronicle should be ashamed of itself, apologize publicly to Mann, and assure that hacks like Wood are free to publish their nonsense in climate-denier and anti-evolution blogs, but not in a respectable and admired journal. 


Paul R. Ehrlich
Bing Professor of Population Studies
President, Center for Conservation Biology
Department of Biology, 371 Serra Mall
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020

Ehrlich’s characterization of what Peter Wood wrote is inaccurate; Dr. Wood did not “attempt to associate Michael Mann” with the Sandusky affair. Rather, he drew conclusions about Penn State’s willingness to self-scrutinize fairly. He was calling the university out for “treading softly with its star players,” not equating Mann and Sandusky. 

When he read Ehrlich’s letter, Dr. Wood said, “The sensitivities of some of Michael Mann’s supporters are extraordinary. It has become an article of faith that Mann is an exemplary scientist besieged by people of ill-will who want to undermine him by fair means or foul. This claque of supporters goes after even imaginary slights. The truth is that Mann has stonewalled numerous requests for data that he drew on in some of his scientific publications, and he has responded to criticism with the threat of lawsuits and actual lawsuits. He does not exactly model the behavior of a scientist dedicated to intellectual transparency.”

He continued, “The indignant letter to the Chronicle from Professor Ehrlich adds a note of mordant irony to this drama. Ehrlich is one of the most discredited figures of the twentieth-century environmental movement. His witness on behalf of Professor Mann somehow seems fitting.”

Dr. Wood also added, “The National Association of Scholars takes no position on the substance of claims for or against anthropogenic global warming. We have consistently held to the position that these are questions that will have to be resolved by good scientific research. Our oft-stated concern from the beginning of the ‘Climategate scandal’ has been to protect the integrity of scientific inquiry and peer review. Since then we have grown alarmed at the phenomenon of the bullying of critics and the use of pressure tactics to silence or censure dissenting voices. The response from Dr. Ehrlich underscores the point.”

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