Pure political smear from Walter Williams, or is there any factoid to back his claim?


Walter Williams wrote a column a dozen years ago in which he made some wild claims about Stanford population biologist Paul Ehrlich.

Stanford University Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich - L A Cicero image

What did he really say?  Stanford University Prof. Paul R. Ehrlich – L A Cicero image

Williams wrote:

Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, widely read on college campuses during the late sixties.  Ehrlich predicted that there’d be a major food shortage in the U.S. and “in the 1970s . . . hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”  He forecast that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980 and 1989, and that by 1999 the U.S. population would have declined to 22.6 million.  Ehrlich’s predictions about England were worse:  “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

Walter Williams, More Liberty Means Less Government:  Our founders knew this well, Hoover Institution Press Publication No. 453, 1999, p. 134

Recently Williams revived that claim for another column, and the revived claim is all over conservative sites.

Steven Goddard, who appears to be making a living on screwing up references to the work of others, though had restricted most of his error to sciency issues like climate change denial, put up a post repeating Williams’ claim.

I imagined Ehrlich might have said something like that, but most likely in one of his “scenarios” like the three much different disaster scenarios he proposed in his 1968 book Population Bomb So I asked Goddard for a reference (pollution and economic scarcity, disease, and food shortages, were the three apocalyptic horsemen Ehrlich wrote about then).

It didn’t occur to me that the quote attributed to Ehrlich was wholly fictitious, but in more than a week of searching, neither Goddard nor Maurizio Moribito commenting at Goddard’s site can find anything even close to what Williams claimed.  I’ve pored through my old copy of Population Bomb, and it’s not there that I can find, not without a much more thorough reading I don’t have time for right now.  (My copy of Ehrlich’s Population, Resources and Environment is buried somewhere here in my bookshelves — that was the textbook Ehrlich wrote, a book used in a population and ecology course I took in the Biology Department at the University of Utah way back when.  It’s also a favorite book for conservatives to quote mine, wringing fantastic mischaracterizations from the early edition or a later one where Ehrlich and his wife were joined by John Holdren, now an adviser to President Obama.)

Dear Readers, help me out:  Did Ehrlich say anything like what Williams via Goddard claims he said, or did Williams pluck this smear from a some unlighted private library?  Was Williams just playing fast and loose with the truth (again)?

Did Ehrlich ever “predict” 65 million deaths from starvation in America in the 1980s?  Can anyone source the quote?

More, strings to follow:  

Even more stuff on the topic:

60 Responses to Pure political smear from Walter Williams, or is there any factoid to back his claim?

  1. […] Pure political smear from Walter Williams [on Paul Ehrlich] (Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub) […]

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  2. [...] Pure political smear from Walter Williams [on Paul Ehrlich] (Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub) [...]

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Also, Scott, there is the reading necessary. I asked about the claim that Ehrlich “predicted” 65 million deaths by starvation in the U.S.

    Yes, he did predict starvations in Africa and Asia, and he was perilously close to being right on both scores there, on the fact of starvation and the count of the millions.

    But Ehrlich did NOT predict 65 million starvations in the U.S., nor does the quote you found get close to that.

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    So, Scott, accuse Ehrlich of using hyperbole. But don’t claim he was grossly in error, when the only way we avoided the calamity he warned of, was by heeding his warnings. Once again, put it in context. Ehrlich was right on the science. He was right on the predictions qualitatively, but wrong qualitatively ONLY if we ignore the fact that his warnings caused people act.

    It’s like predictions of a flu epidemic when there is no vaccine. Some company derives a vaccine, does a miraculous job of production, and millions take it — and the epidemic is thwarted. Don’t stand by and say “the prediction was wrong and we should never listen to medical doctors again.” Listening to medical doctors just saved millions of lives.

    Listening to Ehrlich saved millions of lives. What’s your kick?

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  5. ScottPM says:

    Ed, except you forgot that he claimed that NOTHING could be done.
    I do find it hilarious that people would not have responded except for his warning.

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  6. ScottPM says:

    Another thought. Since it was so easy to find a reference in the book itsel, who really is committing the political smear?

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Again, Scott, Ehrlich was writing assuming nothing would be done. He did not account for the Green Revolution, nor could he. Perhaps more salient, no one was more happy to be in error than Ehrlich himself. You know, as anyone who reads Ehrlich, that his concern is to preserve human life and preserve the ability of the planet to support a good life for the billions who live here.

    So we didn’t lose 100 million to famine in the 1970s? Good.

    Still, we lost way too many, and these are only those famines for which we have solid estimates of lost lives:

    Years /Location /Dead /Reason
    1968-1970 /Nigeria (Biafra) /1,000,000 /Conflict
    1969-1974 /West Africa (Sahel) /101,000 /Drought
    1972-1973 /India (Maharashtra) /130,000 /Drought
    1972-1975 /Ethiopia (Wollo & Tigray) /200,000 to 500,000 /Drought
    1974-1975 /Somalia /20,000 /Drought, and government policy
    1974 /Bangladesh /1,500,000 /Flood, and market failure
    1979 /Cambodia /1,500,000 to 2,000,000 /Conflict

    (Hope you can figure that out.)

    This chart does not include the 30 million deaths in China from the Cultural Revolution, nor the famines in Angola, 1974-1976, nor Zaire, 1977-1978, where deaths due to military action cannot be cleanly separated from pure starvation.

    With the possible exception of that chapter 1, Ehrlich was always up front about the qualifications and assumptions he made. The fact is that Ehrlich’s warnings were timely, and because so many heeded his words, the famine deaths were prevented.

    That is cause for celebration, and it is great cause to pay attention to Ehrlich and others like him today. When the Coast Guard puts up a storm warning, and people stay off the treacherous waters and therefore survive, we hold a dinner celebrating the great work of the Coast Guard rather than threaten to cut their budgets because too few people died.

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  8. ScottPM says:

    Just ran across this column and I looked up Ehrlich’s book on Amazon. On page 3, he states “… a minimum of ten million people, most of them children, will starve to death during each year of the 1970s.’ So he actually claims 100 million people or more. I guess Dr Williams was being a little generous when he said that Ehrlich only predicted 65 million.

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks, Alex. Great legwork.

    Always go back to the original sources. It looks as though you’ve found the piece not so radical on either side, which we should have expected. But, it’s more interesting on several points than it would have been as a simple declaration that the world was coming to an end.

    In the meantime, we discover that we’re all still here despite Harold Camping’s warnings that his particular Jesus was supposed to come to start wreaking revenge on the unsaved.

    Predictions. It’s hard to get predictions right, especially about the future — who was that, Casey Stengel? Yogi Berra? Lincoln and Einstein together in their book: War: It’s all relative?

    In any case, Alex, you’ve done a great job of digging stuff up and sticking to an issue to run it to ground. Thanks again.

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  10. alexjc38 says:

    Ed, everyone, I now have a copy of the essay in question by Paul Ehrlich in front of me – it was indeed written for The Progressive magazine to be published in spring 1970 and later that year in a paperback edition, along with articles by Ralph Nader, Gaylord Nelson and others, and it’s the paperback edition I have (The Crisis of Survival, publishers Scott, Foresman and Company, 1970.)

    This is an article entitled “Looking Backward from 2000 A.D.” and it actually reads more like a very short science fiction story, in the format of an annual and confidential report written to the President of the USA on 1st January, 2000 by L. Page Kennedy, Secretary of the Department of Population and the Environment.

    It describes an America recovering from a worldwide ecological catastrophe that has decimated the population, and which is not described in detail but seems to have several different elements. Firstly, there has been an event called the Great Die-Off, which appears to have been global in scope, and climatic in nature, with mass extinctions of plants and oxygen depletion in the atmosphere; the cause can be traced to “jet stream shifts” in 1978-84, which are not fully understood.

    The article starts with summaries of the US population’s size, quality and health. “The 1999 midyear population of the United States of North America was estimated to be 22.6 million, with a standard error of 3.2 million” (p.238.)

    Later, Kennedy explains the reasons for this, which include widespread famine and an epidemic of “Marburgvirus B”, a highly virulent form of the Marburg virus. “Famine has been estimated to have been directly responsible for sixty-five million American deaths in the decade 1980-1989″ (p.239.)

    However, not all the deaths were attributable to disease or famine, but could be linked more generally to a polluted and degraded environment. “Remember that although 125 million American deaths were attributed to Marburgvirus B during the Great Die-Off, it is clear that as many as sixty million of these would not have occurred if the population had not been weakened by environmental deterioration. Therefore the estimate of ten million deaths due to environmental problems other than famine and disease is undoubtedly too low” (p.240.)

    Later, some optimism (!) about energy. “It is now estimated that Deuterium-He fusion will be operational, producing pollution-free power by 2050, which will allow about fifty years to complete the transition to all-electric power” (p.241.)

    However, the report ends on a warning note. “The Department urges you to remind our citizens that all of the trends leading to disaster were clear twenty years before the end came, and that we and the rest of mankind did nothing substantive to avert it. As a single example, the vulnerability of the world population to epidemic disease, due to large population size (overcrowding), hunger and environmental deterioration was repeatedly pointed out by scientists. No substantial action was taken to correct the situation by a nation addicted to economic growth and the limits of technology.”

    “The cost of inaction, apathy and unwarranted optimism has been the payment of near four billion human lives over a fifteen year period – and we are still paying. We cannot permit a repetition of such a disaster. Mr President, it is imperative that this generation and those to follow be kept mindful of mankind’s recent history” (p.245.)

    It’s actually rather an interesting (although highly improbable) article, and reminds me of a 1980s SF novel I read once called Nature’s End by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka. I’d have to say, in this instance, that I don’t think it was meant to be a sober and measured prediction of something that the author thought certain or even very likely to happen, but more of a scary worst-case fictional scenario written to evoke a reaction from readers and policymakers. So – if someone put a gun to my head and told me I had to classify it either as a “prediction” or a “scenario”, basically I’d choose “scenario”.

    (Just to add that if anyone would like more information about this article or others in the book, I can be contacted via my blog/Twitter, etc.)

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  11. James Hanley says:

    For all the scenarios, with the exception of that first sentence in the prologue, Ehrlich notes that action could save the day.

    Respectfully, where do you find him noting that? I have the book on my desk as I write, and I do not find him anywhere suggesting that the day can be saved (but of course I might have missed it). The closest I see him coming is in the section “Realism and International Aid” in chapter 4, when he says, “So far I have talked primarily about the strategy for easing us through the hazardous times ahead.” But his “easing through” never suggests a true “saving the day,” but just “triaging” the problem; for example figuring out which countries are doomed and letting them starve so we can use our scarce remaining food resources to try to help the ones that have a chance to become self-sufficient. Even here he’s assuming there’s going to be mass famine in some countries.

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  12. James Hanley says:

    Ed,

    I think you’re being overly generous to Simon in saying he only portrayed scenarios, and comparing him to health care workers warning us about how many people might die if we don’t do anything.

    In the bit I cited from The Population Bomb, he categorically stated hundreds of millions are going to die, no matter what we do right now. That doesn’t sound like a mere scenario to me. And in the final chapter, where he asks, “what if I’m wrong,” he casually refers to stabilizing the population “after the time of famines,” again treating mass famine as a fact, not just one of multiple possible scenarios.

    And in the first paragraph of the second section of chapter 1 (“Too Little Food”), he unequivocally states, “In fact, the battle to feed humanity is already lost, in the sense that we will not be able to prevent large-scale famines in the next decade or so. It is difficult to guess what the exact scale and consequences of the famines will be. But there will be famines.” (Emphasis in the original.)

    Only after that, in chapter 2, does he lay out three scenarios. But they’re scenarios about the different possible ways disaster might play out, not scenarios of whether disaster will occur. Scenario 1 is nuclear war (which is related to overpopulation and famine in a fairly weak “just so” story); scenario 2 is a rather incoherent fantasy about Chinese sponsored communist revolutions in Latin America that spark U.S. interventions, and somehow it all occurs at the same time as mass food riots and an outbreak of bubonic plague, and killer smogs in L.A. that kill 90,000 people, and–again–nuclear war–it plays out far more like a Tom Clancy novel than serious scientific thought; scenario 3 is the only one that actually has much internal coherence, basing its argument primarily on just population outstripping the food supply, but with governments (and the Catholic church) responding by promoting birth control and ending food exports so they can feed as many of their own people as possible. It’s both the most plausible and most optimistic scenario, but even it assumes “the death by starvation of perhaps as many as one billion people…”

    So I do think you’re incorrect to say Ehrlich was only discussing scenarios, not making predictions. His scenarios are possible futures which are all based on his prediction of hundreds of millions to a billion or more people starving. On the point of mass famine he was unequivocal–it was not a scenario but a prediction.

    And on that prediction he was simply wrong–we didn’t do what he said we needed to do, population did continue to increase, nearly doubling by 2010, but in fact most of the world’s population is better fed (and housed, and educated, and receiving better–if still too frequently inadequate–medical care now. I just don’t think there’s a real argument that he wasn’t fundamentally categorically wrong. Not in his concerns about pollution, of course, but in his major prediction.

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  13. Nick K says:

    Heretic, what do you think would have happened if dwarf wheat hadn’t been invented?

    What do you think would have happened if the Clean Air/Water acts hadn’t been created? Or if the EPA never existed?

    Because this is what you’re in effect arguing:

    If Scientist A warns of a massive tsunami about to strike the coast, saying that hundreds of thousands will die and the government listens and evacuates the people in the effected area so that only a few dozen die when the tsunami hits…that scientist should be attacked and pilloried for being wrong.

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  14. Ed Darrell says:

    Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the Earth Day (April 22) 1970 issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

    Right. So, as I have noted repeatedly, Ehrlich said his scenarios are not predictions.

    You ignore Ehrlich’s warning, and label them predictions, and then say he was in error.

    But his scenarios — and there are three main ones in Population Bomb — often contradict. In one, disease runs rampant because of overuse of pesticides and/or antibiotics. In another, a drought produces the tipping point, food production collapses, and millions starve.

    Often the scenarios are mutually exclusive.

    For all the scenarios, with the exception of that first sentence in the prologue, Ehrlich notes that action could save the day.

    Americans, and Europeans and Asians and Africans, listened to Ehrlich and acted.

    Ehrlich laid out the consequences of failing to act at all. That’s not a prediction.

    If we do not vaccinate kids against measles, if we don’t maintain herd immunity, at some point some kid catches measles and a few thousand die. If we avoid that catastrophe for along enough, and the unvaccinated numbers swell more, we may get hundreds of thousands or millions of deaths.

    So, there’s your warning. In fact, it’s the warning given by health care officials to the Reagan administration and Congress in 1981, when they considered dropping the $3 million a year to eradicate measles. Congress eliminated the funding.

    In the early 1990s a measles epidemic struck the U.S. A few thousand died, but fortunately vaccine companies had anticipated the problem and had a small stockpile they could rush to certain locations to vaccinate kids quickly. It cost several times the amount of money saved, but the epidemic didn’t kill more than 10,000 outright.

    Should we say those health workers were “wrong?” They predicted an epidemic would occur, and they were right. They predicted how many would die if nothing was done — but something was done.

    Should the health care workers get medals for saving lives with their timely warning?

    Ehrlich warned of the dangers of population booms without care to environmental protection, and without knowledge of the pending Green Revolution. Fortunately, we got the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and a dozen other conservation and anti-pollution measures, and Norman Borlaug’s experiments worked. We dodged a bullet.

    Now you think we should criticize Ehrlich for telling us we needed to dodge the bullet?

    I don’t grasp your logic.

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  15. Ed Darrell says:

    You get mad at the “sidewinder” Goddard, and so you stop discussing here?

    Or is something else up?

    You just discovered you can’t verify it either?

    Yeah, that’s what I’ve been saying.

    Ed

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  16. James Hanley says:

    Ed,

    In the prologue to The Population Bomb, Ehrlich wrote:

    The Battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people will 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…

    So he did predict, categorically and without qualification, that hundreds of millions of people would starve to death in the 1970s. I have a pdf of the relevant page, and would be happy to email it to you (contact me at jhanley at adrian [dot] edu if you would like it).

    Whether he ever made predictions that 65 million Americans would starve, though, or have massive population decline, or that Britain would not exist by 2000, I can’t say.

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  17. Heretic says:

    Darrell
    I, too, see the discussion on Goddard’s blog. I am not prepared to continue a conversation with a sidewinder who conceals the very evidence which disproves the case he argues. I laugh no longer. You confirm my impression of believers – no tactic is too low for them. Consider this discussion terminated.

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  18. Heretic says:

    Ten minutes with Google/Bing:

    Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the Earth Day (April 22) 1970 issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

    For the first Earth Day in 1970 (April 22), Ehrlich, in an article entitled ‘Eco-Catastrophe’ in The Progressive magazine, offered a scenario in which four billion people would starve to death between 1980 and 1989, 65 million of whom would be Americans.

    But of all this you are aware. Remember that the Internet never forgets.

    Any verification (or otherwise) from the image of the actual magazine is your problem. Lie (again) and be assured, the lie will find you out (again).

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  19. Ed Darrell says:

    If Goddard quotes someone quoting Ehrlich that’s much more convincing than your hand-waving.  Believers.  Pah!

    He hasn’t done that.  He quotes people paraphrasing (I’m being charitable here) what Ehrlich said, and then those he quotes can’t tell where they paraphrase from.

    It’s how hoaxes start, you know? 

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  20. Ed Darrell says:

    1) Goddard usually (mostly?) has a scan of his source. He always at least identifies/mentions a source. I note you quote Olson on Ehrlich. Hearsay? OK when you do it.

    No, he doesn’t. Especially, he didn’t here:
    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/ehrlich-1968-65-million-americans-to-starve-during-the-1980s/

    So I asked, and he claimed I’m a nut for wondering. He doesn’t have the goods, and he’s not scientist enough to say “oooh! I got hoodwinked! How interesting.”

    Nor, it appears, are you.

    Goddard tried in several attempts to make a case that Ehrlich is inaccurate as a prognosticator, and some sort of troll. Both of those claims are false — but you can’t even really debate them if the claims are based on fictions, can you?

    So I asked for the source. In over a week, in more than 50 tries to bluff, neither you, nor Goddard, nor anyone else, has been able to come up with a source that checks out. You offer the first sentence of Population Bomb, but that’s not it, is it.

    So, you want a pass for being in accurate because . . . why?

    2) The ‘evil and incorrect anal orifice’ has always been wrong in his predictions (you weasel ‘scenarios’). False prophets, remember?
    Please quote me, not some straw man of your devising. Your hand-waving only causes the laughter to bubble up.

    You’re right in your quote of the first sentence of Ehrlich’s most famous book. That doesn’t support the claims against Ehrlich, nor does it make the case that he is not accurate nor a good source of warnings whom we should heed.

    If you want to make a case that Ehrlich is inaccurate more than the once, make the case. One example, warned not to be taken as a prediction in that same chapter and often throughout the book, doesn’t make your case.

    You’ve never read Ehrlich, I suspect, and you make a bad critic when you argue from ignorance. Bluffs are not arguments. Bluffs don’t lead to wise policy.

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  21. Heretic says:

    Quote:
    ‘Ehrlich has probably been at this longer than you’ve been alive.’
    Only if the ‘schmuck’ started ‘this’ at the age of 9.

    If Goddard quotes someone quoting Ehrlich that’s much more convincing than your hand-waving. Believers. Pah!

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  22. Heretic says:

    Eddie, dear boy, you still can’t read.
    Would you mind quoting the comment(s)where I claimed/said:
    – 65 million, restriction to America, in a time frame.
    I commented only on the fact that:
    1) Goddard usually (mostly?) has a scan of his source. He always at least identifies/mentions a source. I note you quote Olson on Ehrlich. Hearsay? OK when you do it.
    2) The ‘evil and incorrect anal orifice’ has always been wrong in his predictions (you weasel ‘scenarios’). False prophets, remember?
    Please quote me, not some straw man of your devising. Your hand-waving only causes the laughter to bubble up.

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  23. Ed Darrell says:

    Heretic, either you can’t read, or you think bluffing will win in academia. That quote, interestingly in error as it is, is not in question.

    Goddard said Ehrlich firmly predicted 65 million Americans would starve between 1980 and 1989. Compare that prediction with the quote you give us:

    • No mention of 65 million.
      No mention or restriction to America.
      No time frame.

    Don’t complain about my reading comprehension when it’s yours that troubles you.

    Or, are you saying that Goddard was making things up? It’s beginning, more an more, to look like Ehrlich critics are making things up about him.

    Which is patently absurd. He said much that can be criticized and criticized fairly. What sort of craven liars would make stuff up to complain about?

    You didn’t bother to actually read the book past the opening two sentences, did you.

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  24. Heretic says:

    Eddie, dear boy, you can’t read:
    ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will 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.’
    Ehrlich, Paul R. (1968). The Population Bomb. Ballantine Books.

    No hint of conditionality (i.e. no ‘if you/we don’t…’), not a warning of something that might happen if you/we heed not my/a warning. A flat-out declarative prediction.
    As always, wrong. But what would one expect to issue from ‘an evil and incorrect anal orifice’.

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  25. Ed Darrell says:

    Eddie, my boy, read my 5:08p.m. again. No hint of conditionality (i.e. no ‘if you don’t…’), not a warning of something that might happen if you heed not my/a warning. A flat-out prediction.

    I’m not your boy. I don’t know if you use that with ignorance of the racist overtones, or just what sort of infantilizing you think it does. But stick to the facts.

    Can you point us to the language of the prediction?

    No.

    Can you copy for us the prediction?

    No.

    You’ve got third-hand hearsay at best. It works in schoolyard bullying, perhaps — but it’s not appropriate for an academic claim that Ehrlich was wrong.

    If you are familiar with Ehrlich, you know that he said clearly and forcefully that he hoped none of his scenarios came to pass. It’s cheap and petty of you to claim his scenarios were predictions he’d gambled to win, when he cast them as warnings he hoped would not come true. That Wired article gets us no closer to a good citation to back your case. It is hearsay. It is rumor. It is gossip.

    It’s worse when you claim him in error, when his correct information has save the lives of millions of people and improved the lives of billions.

    And for all of that, you don’t have the courtesy to check out your sources to see whether they are accurate in slamming the man.

    Petty, cheap, careless and wrong. I didn’t realize there was such a thing as a quadfecta.

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  26. Heretic says:

    Eddie, dear boy, I know my frequency of posting irritates you, but I thought I’d share:
    Regis, Ed (February 1997). “The Doomslayer”. Wired 5 (2). http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/5.02/ffsimon_pr.html.
    “All of (Ehrlich’s) grim predictions had been decisively overturned by events. Ehrlich was wrong about higher natural resource prices, about “famines of unbelievable proportions” occurring by 1975, about “hundreds of millions of people starving to death” in the 1970s and ’80s, about the world “entering a genuine age of scarcity.” In 1990, for his having promoted “greater public understanding of environmental problems,” Ehrlich received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award.” (Simon) always found it somewhat peculiar that neither the Science piece nor his public wager with Ehrlich nor anything else that he did, said, or wrote seemed to make much of a dent on the world at large. For some reason he could never comprehend, people were inclined to believe the very worst about anything and everything; they were immune to contrary evidence just as if they’d been medically vaccinated against the force of fact. Furthermore, there seemed to be a bizarre reverse-Cassandra effect operating in the universe: whereas the mythical Cassandra spoke the awful truth and was not believed, these days “experts” spoke awful falsehoods, and they were believed. Repeatedly being wrong actually seemed to be an advantage, conferring some sort of puzzling magic glow upon the speaker.”
    Doesn’t prove a thing, but interesting. I love the reverse-Cassandra effect. Don’t you?

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  27. Heretic says:

    Eddie, my boy, read my 5:08p.m. again. No hint of conditionality (i.e. no ‘if you don’t…’), not a warning of something that might happen if you heed not my/a warning. A flat-out prediction.
    As always, wrong.
    ‘Ehrlich …. an evil and incorrect anal orifice’.
    You said it, chum! Possibly your only correct statement in this whole thread.
    Frantic defence of a failed prophet is enough to make a dog laugh.

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  28. Heretic says:

    Hey, Nicky, my lad, see my 5:08p.m..
    I suppose he didn’t write the book?
    lol.

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  29. Ed Darrell says:

    Nine posts from “Heretic” telling me I’m an idiot — none of those posts can point to a source of Ehrlich making the statement Goddard and Heretic claim.

    Nonsense, not science.

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  30. Ed Darrell says:

    I know this is taxing your resources, time, and brain, but you said:

    In a 1971 speech, he predicted that: “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

    Where was that speech? To whom? On what occasion? What was the context of his wager?

    In short, what changed to make that “prediction” fail?

    If you don’t know, how can you say he was in error? If you don’t know what you’re talking about, how can you be so cock sure you’re right about something the topic of which you don’t even have a clue?

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  31. Ed Darrell says:

    Williams + Simon + Bailey = ‘fast and loose’

    That’s a good summary. Can you show us where Ehrlich said what Goddard claimed, Goddard relying on Williams + Simon +Bailey?

    No? Then I guess you’re right: Williams + Simon + Bailey = ‘fast and loose’

    There’s a warning there. Did you catch it? Don’t rely on Williams, nor Simon, nor Bailey: Do your homework, do your own research.

    And now we know, don’t rely on Goddard, either.

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  32. Ed Darrell says:

    You amuse me more and more.
    You deal in minutiæ.

    Your amusement must be nervous. You appear to be as unfamiliar as Goddard with the work of Ehrlich, and the effects of that work.

    But, yes, I deal with minutiae. I deal with the silly, stupid errors of people who claim Ehrlich to be an evil and incorrect anal orifice, when he has been right so many times, when his warnings when heeded have pointed us to better policy.

    I point out that you are wrong in the small stuff, as is Goddard — and consequently, you’re wrong in your conclusions on major things as well.

    God is in the details, van der Rohe noted. You disbelieve — but in science, belief does one no good. It’s the facts that matter.

    And your slanders of Ehrlich show you to be petty. I’m merely pointing that out. Is that minutiae?

    Don’t know. How big is your ego, undeservedly?

    The world goes on.

    Thanks to policy changes prompted by Ehrlich’s timely warnings, yes. No thanks to you or his other, ill-informed and increasingly ill-tempered critics.

    Ehrlich’s predictions (you may call them scenarios :)) were comprehensively wrong.

    Many were — as he had hoped. The scenarios were indicators of what could happen absent action to fix problems. Among great problems of the 1960s and 1970s were air pollution in general, especially particulate and acid-causing gas pollution, gross abuse of pesticides (the abuse of DDT bred mosquitoes resistant to it, killing an ambitious campaign by the World Health Organization to rid the world of malaria, for example; Ehrlich helped rein in such abuses with his warnings), and agricultural policies which ignored much of reality such as the methods of production outside of industrialized nations, gross abuse of water, erosion of land, and lack of attention to providing crops that actually fed starving humans.

    Population Bomb alerted generations of policy makers to the interconnections of the world in such policies, and the need to pay attention to real human needs and real carrying capacity limits of the planet itself.

    Ehrlich warned that if people kept on abusing DDT, kept on polluting the sky, kept on polluting water, kept on wasting farmland and causing dustbowls, disease and famine would bring down mankind.

    People listened, and we changed our ways. In the U.S., for example, we completely changed the way we regulate all pesticides. We changed land use policies to preserve topsoils. The Rockefeller Foundation funded the great work of Norman Borlaug to make crops that could be grown with manual labor in third-world nations with increasing yields to feed billions more. The Clean Air Act cleared the skies of the U.S. of much of the pollution that hampered health and economic growth (opening the path for greenhouse gases to cause big problems, but that’s just a later part of the story of ignoring scientists, isn’t it?). The Clean Water Act provided money to clean up sewage effluents across the U.S., leading to the recovery of entire river systems like the Susquehannah, and the recovery of Lake Erie, and dramatic improvements in the Mississippi, among at least a hundred other waterways. The National Environmental Policy Act provided a thoughtful process for development with preservation of a quality environment.

    Due to the warnings of people like Paul Ehrlich, much of the world awakened to the need for careful planning of development, and the need to plan for population expansion in the future, rather than just dealing with the issue haphazardly.

    Because people listened to Ehrlich and others, we changed the inputs to the disaster scenarios, and we averted disasters.

    There’s a moral there, but morals and morality don’t seem to be the strong suite of the reactionary climate change denialists and yammering yahoos of pseudo-science and crank science.

    You breathe and drink today because Paul Ehrlich wasn’t wrong, but because his warnings were heeded.

    A hypothetical: A person hits the trauma center with severe arterial bleeding. The trauma physician tells a nurse, “put pressure on that wound so this patient doesn’t bleed to death.” The physician adds emphasis; she says: “Quickly! Or this person will bleed to death.” The nurse puts pressure on the wound, the bleeding is stopped temporarily by the nurse’s finger, long enough that the physician can suture the artery, and the wound. The patient makes a recovery, and walks out of the hospital in a couple of weeks to resume her life.

    Later, in grand rounds, the nurse criticizes the physician. “She was wrong. She predicted the patient would die. But the patient didn’t die! She’s an incompetent, foolish physician, like Paul Ehrlich is accused of scientific incompetence by Steve Goddard!”

    There’s a moral there, too. Can you find it?

    Requiring chapter & verse for each word is silly, counter-productive and destroys your credibility.
    Why quibble?

    Steve Goddard devoted an entire post to claiming Paul Ehrlich is wrong, in an implicit but clear attempt to indict Ehrlich and all scientists — based solely on Goddard’s repeat of gossip that Ehrlich had “erroneously predicted” that 65 million Americans would die from starvation in the 1980s. Goddard doesn’t know whether any Americans died of starvation in the 1980s, but he’s pretty sure it wasn’t 65 million.

    When we press Goddard for a source of the quote he claimed came from Ehrlich, so we can see whether there was any context, any qualification, or any error in reporting, it turns out Goddard can’t verify any part of the quote. He can’t tell us where Ehrlich said it, whether in a paper, a book, an interview, a speech, whether as part of a scenario of what might happen if no action is taken, or as part of a hard prediction of what will happen. Goddard doesn’t know when Ehrlich is alleged to have said it — 1969, at one of the darkest times in America’s environmental crises, or in 1980, one year away from the period Goddard claimed.

    Goddard has no idea whether Ehrlich ever said it, what Goddard attributed to him. Goddard hasn’t read Ehrlich, hasn’t studied Ehrlich’s work, and he criticizes Ehrlich from a position of extreme ignorance, a dilettante critic at best, if not wholly wrong.

    That’s irresponsible. It helps lead to bad policy.

    But of course, I had no idea just how utterly in the wilderness Goddard was on this issue when I started out. I just wanted to see what Ehrlich actually said.

    Since then, Goddard’s done a series of posts claiming Ehrlich’s a troll, for reasons I don’t know. What is this obsession you guys have for Paul Ehrlich, and why are you opposed to the good work of a guy who has been so influential for good for the past 45 years?

    Ehrlich has probably been at this longer than you’ve been alive. You may well be alive because of the work of Paul Ehrlich. Have you ever read his work?

    Ehrlich has been promoting doom and gloom for 40 years. Live with it.

    Ehrlich’s been sounding warnings against stupid and destructive policies for 45 years at least. We are alive because of it.

    What sort of ingrate are you to characterize that as “doom and gloom?” Because of Paul Ehrlich’s work, we can have hope.

    Non-fools can have hope. Have you ever studied Ehrlich’s work? I see no signs of such study. You appear to pull random quotes stripped of context, and in this case, accuracy, with no acknowledgement of his good work on pesticides, food production, clean air and clean water.

    Which of those areas galls you? Are you in favor of air so dirty it kills dozens at a time? Are you opposed to clean drinking water and clean recreation waters? Do you favor starvation as a policy of population control or something? You think we can stop malaria if we just poison Africans to death?

    I do not understand what you’re trying to say, or if you’re trying to say anything useful.

    Can you explain?

    Like

  33. Ed Darrell says:

    The Chukr said:

    Ridiculous – Goddard shows actual newspaper articles where Ehrlich made his doomsday (and wrong) predictions.

    Terrific! Can you show me the publication which Goddard posted the citation to in which Ehrlich claimed 65 million Americans would die in the 1980s? You’ve seen it?

    I can’t find it. It’s up to you, Chukr. Show us.

    Like

  34. Heretic says:

    I go to bed.
    Still laughing.

    Like

  35. Heretic says:

    Oh, these people who defend him, but don’t acknowledge what Ehrlich has said (and, BTW, is still saying – with a different end date). They only became disciples because of his earlier predictions. The predictions have failed, fail, and will fail.
    Do you believe in anything?
    The cup of amusement is full, and floweth over.
    Persist not, I beg – my ribs hurt.

    Like

  36. Nick K says:

    So, Heretic, it’s a valid source if someone says someone else said something?

    Okay then. So when I say that you said that Hitler was a great guy and that we should finish the Holocaust because the Jews deserve it.

    That means that someone can come here, use this blog entry I just wrote as a source to prove that you actually said that about Hitler right?

    Or would you like to get off your high horse and acknowledge the point that just because Person B said Person A said something doesn’t necessarily mean that Person A actually said that thing?

    Like

  37. Heretic says:

    Williams + Simon + Bailey = ‘fast and loose’
    How many more?
    The amusement bubbleth over.

    Like

  38. Heretic says:

    ‘One frequent criticism focuses on Ehrlich’s allegedly alarmist tone and sensational statements. Ehrlich has made a number of statements or “predictions” in a variety of settings that have turned out to be false. Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine has called him an “irrepressible doomster … who, as far as I can tell, has never been right in any of his forecasts of imminent catastrophe.” On the first Earth Day in 1970, he warned that “(i)n ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.” ‘
    In a 1971 speech, he predicted that: “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” When this scenario did not come to pass, he responded that “When you predict the future, you get things wrong. How wrong is another question. I would have lost if I had had taken the bet. However, if you look closely at England, what can I tell you? They’re having all kinds of problems, just like everybody else.” Ehrlich wrote in The Population Bomb that, “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.” ‘
    Only Wikipædia, I know, but William M. Connolley has kept it on (his version of) the ‘truth’.
    Hey. You still defend his predictions scenarios? ROTFL.
    BTW, he did take a bet. Lost.

    Like

  39. Heretic says:

    Oh, it was only a scenario.
    See first line of my 3:08p.m.

    Like

  40. Heretic says:

    ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will 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.’
    Ehrlich, Paul R. (1968). The Population Bomb. Ballantine Books.
    Justify.

    Like

  41. Heretic says:

    Williams + Simon = ‘fast and loose’.
    In your dreams.
    ROFLMAO.

    Like

  42. Heretic says:

    And he was wrong.
    As he will continue to be as time marches on.
    Next year – wrong.
    End of the decade – wrong.
    After 20 years – wrong.
    etc. – but always, wrong.
    The progression of time kills him (& you).
    ROTFL.

    Like

  43. Heretic says:

    You amuse me more and more.
    You deal in minutiæ. The world goes on.
    Ehrlich’s predictions (you may call them scenarios :)) were comprehensively wrong.
    Requiring chapter & verse for each word is silly, counter-productive and destroys your credibility.
    Why quibble?
    Ehrlich has been promoting doom and gloom for 40 years. Live with it.

    Like

  44. Ed Darrell says:

    “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

    – Paul Ehrlich, quoted in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 35.

    Most rational people would STFU at this moment.

    That’s Julian Simon making a claim about what Ehrlich said. I’m not sure you understand that’s not a citation to prove any point about what Ehrlich actually said. That’s called “hearsay evidence,” and it’s admissible in court under certain conditions, but never in science, and never in journalism.

    What did Ehrlich say? Can you quote us the paragraph in which Simon makes that claim, and give us a context to determine what’s going on?

    This may be where and when we determine whether Goddard and his followers are rational people.

    Like

  45. Ed Darrell says:

    I’m amused. Goddard usually (mostly?) shows a scan of the relevant article, giving date &c.
    Whether Ehrlich said it or no, the record shows the way the press took it.

    Goddard is no scientist, then, is he. Nor is he a journalist. Accuracy is key in both professions.

    Goddard’s spent several posts slamming Ehrlich as a fool. Turns out Goddard’s claims can’t be verified. What is one to make of that?

    Read Ehrlich’s writings. Please.
    He’s always been wrong.

    I’ve read much of Ehrlich’s work. He’s usually been right.

    You disagree? Quote us the error. Not broad generalizations that you dimly remember from a newspaper article you think you may or may not have read 20 years ago — show us the goods.

    Otherwise, you’re just promoting a slander, aren’t you.

    I live in England. What did he predict for the 2000 British Isles?

    I don’t know. Got a reference? Can you back it up?

    We’re all from Missouri. Show us.

    Like

  46. Ed Darrell says:

    ‘Scenario’ seems to mean a deniable prediction.
    Goddard references each and every claim to a source. It may be a newspaper, but it has been printed.

    What Goddard has printed is Walter Williams claiming Ehrlich is a schmuck, with claims that Ehrlich predicted 65 million Americans would starve in the 1980s. Goddard claims that’s gross error on Ehrlich’s part.

    What Goddard has been unable to do is show any place that Ehrlich actually said that. Goddard hasn’t found any place that claims Ehrlich ever said anything about starvation in America, or that 65 million people would starve, or that such a disaster definitely would happen in the 1980s.

    In short, Goddard is promoting a falsehood. I don’t care how many copies of Walter Williams column Goddard can produce, a repetition of a false claim remains false.

    I find it troubling that so many defend Goddard’s slanders, as if repeating slanders makes them noble.

    Like

  47. Heretic says:

    “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

    – Paul Ehrlich, quoted in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 35.

    Most rational people would STFU at this moment.

    Like

  48. Heretic says:

    I’m amused. Goddard usually (mostly?) shows a scan of the relevant article, giving date &c.
    Whether Ehrlich said it or no, the record shows the way the press took it.
    Read Ehrlich’s writings. Please.
    He’s always been wrong.
    I live in England. What did he predict for the 2000 British Isles?

    Like

  49. Heretic says:

    ‘Scenario’ seems to mean a deniable prediction.
    Goddard references each and every claim to a source. It may be a newspaper, but it has been printed.

    Like

  50. Ed Darrell says:

    Ehrlich DID say this:

    For decades, right-wing commentators have heaped abuse on Paul Ehrlich. He has been derided as a “stupendously bad prophet” by the Wall Street Journal, “always wrong” by Investor’s Business Daily, a “doom-monger” by the Hoover Institution.

    When I repeat some of these characterizations to Ehrlich over lunch at a Palo Alto cafe, he laughs. “I don’t give a shit what people like Ann Coulter think of me,” he says. The opinions that he cares about are those of his fellow scientists, and they are, fortunately, far less caustic. “They might say, ‘Ehrlich is more pessimistic than I would be,’ or ‘Ehrlich has not valued the green revolution as much as I would have,’” he says. “But I don’t think I’ve seen a single scientific review of something I’ve written that says, ‘This is wrong.’”

    The late Seed magazine, August 4, 2009, “Knowing How to Pick a Fight,” by Steve Olson.

    Nice article, good discussion of the role of science in pushing public policy. Especially critics of Ehrlich ought to read it (but they won’t).

    Like

  51. Ed Darrell says:

    Peter, what is the “blue steam” quote?

    Like

  52. Ed Darrell says:

    Alex said:

    Ed, as some internet sources link the “65 million Americans” comment to Paul Ehrlich’s 1970 article in The Progressive, I’ve now ordered this (paperback edition) from Amazon, and hopefully will be able to track down the citation, if it’s there.

    Thanks. If it’s there, I’d like to know the context. As I’ve pointed out at Goddard’s site and other places, Ehrlich often offered differing scenarios for disaster, based on different assumptions, and most often on the assumption that the hard-headed opponents to doing something to prevent eco-catastrophe would win, and nothing would be done in time.

    Fortunately, in the 1960s and 1970s, even the hard-core, hard-line conservatives listened to what Ehrlich said, and if they had no good, science-based rebuttal to his warnings, they went along with policies that tended to avert the disasters. So it was that we got the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, tougher clean water laws in the Clean Water Act, tougher clean air laws in the Clean Air Act, a revision of FIFRA to better regulate pesticides to protect human health better, etc., etc., etc.

    It’s not that Ehrlich had a faulty crystal ball, in other words. It’s that Ehrlich was right on the science, and wise policy makers acted on his warnings.

    Anyone care to bet which way Ehrlich goes in the Progressive story?

    Like

  53. alexjc38 says:

    Ed, as some internet sources link the “65 million Americans” comment to Paul Ehrlich’s 1970 article in The Progressive, I’ve now ordered this (paperback edition) from Amazon, and hopefully will be able to track down the citation, if it’s there.

    Subscribers to The Progressive can also access its online archive, which might also have this issue, so someone may well beat me to it.

    Anyway, will let everyone know – whichever side of the debate we stand, I think it would be good to know what Paul Ehrlich actually wrote and the context in which he wrote it.

    Like

  54. Peter Ellis says:

    The original of the “blue steam” quote is in the NYT, August 10th, 1969. You have to pay a couple of dollars to get access to it in their archives. It’s a reporter quoting something Ehrlich said “during a coffee break at his laboratory”. Assuming the report is true (and I see no reason to think it’s not), it’s hyperbole rather than a formal prediction.

    Like

  55. Nick K says:

    Mr. Goddard writes:
    Nonsense. I’ve provided dozens of references for Ehrlich’s predictions on my site.

    Then you should have no problem in providing the original sources here. Meaning what Mr. Ehrlich actually said…not what others said he said.

    To be blunt, Mr. Goddard…put up or shut up.

    Like

  56. Ed Darrell says:

    Unintentional humor from Mr. Goddard? Back at his site, he quotes part of my post above, then mentions Holocaust denial:

    This is the identical behaviour of Holocaust deniers – refusal to accept the historical record.

    Yes, dear reader, your irony meter nearly blew out — my apologies for not warning you.

    My response, there:

    Steve, if you are not in fact a Holocause denier, don’t join them in trying to create a false record against Ehrlich, and denying what the record really says.

    Willis Carto’s great sin was refusing to look at the historic record — I’ve challenged you to look at Ehrlich’s writings, and give us a citation, but you’ve refused, like Carto. David Irving’s great sin was creating a new, false record. You cite Walter Williams creating what appears to be a new, false record.

    Tu quoque, much?

    Stick with the history, and quit denying it. Don’t make stuff up.

    Or, were you merely noting that your behavior here is identical to Holocaust deniers’ use of evidence in other venues? The antecedent to your last line is sadly, ambiguously unclear.

    It’ll be intriguing to see whether any of his readers know Willis Carto and David Irving. I fear some of his readers may be big fans of them.

    Like

  57. Ed Darrell says:

    Nonsense. I’ve provided dozens of references for Ehrlich’s predictions on my site.

    None of which names a publication that carries the quote, none of which mentions even a page number.

    Can you prove Ehrlich said it? Where’s the citation? Each “actual newspaper article” is based on Walter Williams 1998 column, which has never been verified, but only repeated. In those places where Ehrlich is quoted as saying he made erroneous predictions, this “65 million dead” prediction is not listed.

    If Ehrlich said it, why can’t you tell us where? Page number? It’s been over a week now. You’ve got the internet, a half-dozen people to look, Google Books, and a lot more time than I have.

    I have Population Bomb, and it’s not there.

    How much of the rest of Goddard’s rants are based on 3rd- and 8th-hand hearsay, rumor, and ugly gossip?

    Like

  58. thechuckr says:

    Ridiculous – Goddard shows actual newspaper articles where Ehrlich made his doomsday (and wrong) predictions.

    Like

  59. Nonsense. I’ve provided dozens of references for Ehrlich’s predictions on my site.

    Like

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