Everyone is talking about the New York Times piece exposing how utterly wrong, willfully blind, and insanely dangerous Paul Ehrlich is, and has been, for the last forty-seven years. There’s video, too.
This is great, I guess.
Of course, it’s been obvious that Ehrlich was not just misguided, but an actual charlatan, since the 1970s. The late economist Julian Simon spent most of his career exposing Ehrlich’s errors. You may remember the Ehrlich-Simon wager. In 1980, Simon bet Ehrlich $1,000 that over the course of the following decade the price of a basket of commodities—any resources Ehrlich chose—would drop, as proof that Ehrlich’s ravings about the relationship of population to scarcity was wrong.
Simon was correct. Ten years later Ehrlich sent him a check, with no note. Never prone to either civility or introspection—he frequently called people he disagreed with “fools,” “idiots,” “clowns,” and worse—Ehrlich later told the Wall Street Journal, “If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity.” Hell of a guy.
Other people caught on to Ehrlich over the years. In her book about sex-selective abortion, Mara Hvistendahl has a long, devastating interview with Ehrlich in which she probes his errors, pushes him for accountability, and reveals him to be a doddering, foolish, old man wedded to a political ideology and with no interest in science, demographics, or even basic math. And Hvistendahl is a progressive feminist in good standing. (I spent a good deal of time on Ehrlich in my book on demographics, too.)
And it’s not just economists, feminists, and conservative hangers-on who knew Ehrlich was wrong. Just about every serious demographer on the planet has spent the last 30 years examining the phenomenon of declining fertility rates, which may lead to population contraction. Don’t take my word for it, go ask the United Nations.
But here’s the thing: Even in the face of all of this, the elite caste has showered Ehrlich with awards and honors.
In 1990—the same year he lost his bet with Julian Simon—Ehrlich was awarded a million dollar MacArthur “genius” grant and was simultaneously feted across the Atlantic with Sweden’s Crafoord Prize, which was worth just about half a million. In 1993 the Heinz Family Foundation bestowed on him its first Heinz Award. This little trinket came with $100,000 in cash and the most delusional praise possible, claiming that Ehrlich’s “perspective, uncommon among scientists, has made [him and his wife] the target of often harsh criticism—criticism they accept with grace as the price of their forthrightness.” Which is a peculiar way of explaining that Ehrlich was completely wrong and that he responded to all such evidence with ad hominem attacks. Five years later, in 1998, he was awarded the Tyler Prize, which comes with $200,000. The money train kept on rolling.
And it wasn’t just dumb philanthropists. “Serious” organizations continued to honor him. In 2001, the American Institute of Biological Sciences gave Ehrlich its “Distinguished Scientist” award. In 2009, the World Wildlife Fund featured him as a guest lecturer in their flagship speaker series. In 2012, he was inducted into London’s Royal Society, which is Britain’s nearly 400-year-old national academy of science. There is more. So much more.
Paul Ehrlich’s entire career stands as a monument to the ideological imperatives of the world’s elites and the extent to which they exist not just independent from, but in actual opposition to, both science, evidence, reason, and good faith.