The Badass of the Week.

Eric Pianka

"We are doomed.  The microbes are going to get us.  We are a great big immerging substrate just waiting for microbes to grow on us, and even though we are still homo sapiens — you know what sapiens means, it means smart — I'd say we're not.  I'd say we're dumb because we're letting our population grow just like bacteria grow on an agar plate until they've reached the limits;  and that's dumb."


Eric Pianka is a respected herpetologist and evolutionary ecologist.  He specializes in lizards from all over the world, but he focuses mainly on those from the desert.  He also is an important evolutionary theorist.  He was one of the originators of the ideas of r-selected and k-selected species (in terms of population characteristics and adaptations to either life history strategy).  These were the original reasons why he became a famous ecologist.  Later, I will get to why he became infamous.

Eric Pianka’s badassitude began when he was a child, growing up in the mountains of Northern California.  He lived near an army base, or proving ground or firing range or something, and he and his brother would go collect spent shell casings, and other cool things when the army dudes were finished.  One day they found the holy grail of firing range leavings: an intact bazooka shell.  As all boys would, they thought this was the coolest shit ever, and went around their neighborhood showing anyone who would look.  Eventually they made it home, whereupon he dropped the shell and it exploded his leg off.  He was seen by all of his town’s doctors, who rebuilt most of his leg - they found all of it but 10cm of tibia.  However, that became gangrenous, and he required many more surgeries before he settled back to normal life.  However, his leg never fully healed and it led to severe, spinal scoliosis and other assorted problems, in addition to the constant pain he felt walking on a jigsaw leg.  He says it would have been better for him in the long run if they had just amputated it.

Many people, when suffering a crippling injury such as this, might give up on the idea of becoming a field biologist.  Field biologists often have some of the most physically and mentally challenging work in the world.  They must travel to remote locations, deal with poisonous and ferocious animals, all the while obeying the Prime Directive.  A badass like Pianka said “fuck you” to pain and “fuck you” to danger, and hobbled his broken-ass leg out into the most terrifying deserts in the world with just his walking cane and a big bag for all the reptiles that he planned on catching.  He hiked into such deserts as the Great Basin, Mojave, and Sonora Deserts in North America;  the Kalahari in Africa;  and the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia.  While he was there, he caught the most poisonous snakes on earth and bagged the most pissed off lizards.  I am fairly certain he did most of this alone and for weeks at a time with no supplies except a Bowie knife.

So "The Lizard Man" built up all this badass cred, and used that to leverage himself a sweet set-up at the University of Texas, Austin.  As he settled into life as a college professor, he decided he needed some hobbies.  He looked at all the hobbies that his contemporaries were using to pass their free time and realized that none of them lived up to the danger and awesomeness of vast open deserts, so he invented a new one:  Bison wrasslin’.  He went out to the prairies of the western US, and herded his own herd of Buffalo.  The biggest and meanest (and thus his favorite) was christened “Lucifer”.



"We really need to take control and be stewards of this planet rather than conquerors and rapists."


Apparently at this time he also took up falconry and chess.  I imagine the reason for this is that he wanted to prove his skills in strategy and controlling the birds in the sky.  Not bad.

I was privileged to be a part of a group of scholars who invited Pianka to give a presentation as part of a distinguished lecture series.  When researching his past for the visit, I came across his website (which unfortunately has been cleaned up a lot since then).  It is a sprawling, endless tangle of cross references and links, which provided hours-worth of great reading, including such topics as a first hand account of his bazooka injury, an obituary that he wrote for himself, should he ever die (not likely, for this tough old bastard) and many, many angry rants against many different entities (including politicians that de-fund the sciences;  they should be afraid.  Very afraid).

The best thing he has now is a rant against the world population, in which he proposes that the Earth would be better off if he could get a bio-engineer to develop an airborne version of the Ebola virus that would be highly contagious and 90% lethal.  He believes that this is the best way to reduce the impact of humans on Earth and thus save the planet.  Keep in mind there are two things this man does not do:  joke or cry.

He presented a lecture version of this rant to our academic department.  As he finished, there was an awed hush amongst the crowd.  Here we were an elite group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists that expected one of the founders of the field of evolutionary ecology (and author of a textbook of that name) to give a coherent, logical and scientific talk.  Instead he gave an insane rant and advocated for global goddamn pandemic.  A great mind seemed to have been lost to madness.  This was a major subject of conversation among us even before it made the news.  A few months after his visit to my department, he gave apparently the same lecture to the Texas Academy of Sciences.  The erupting controversy was broadcasted widely among the creationist and anti-science crowd as an example of the way Godless scientists think and behave.  Pianka did not back down, however, despite being reported to Homeland Security by his critics and having his name dragged through all kinds of shit-mud by the ass-hats at Fox and Friends and the like.  He stood right up to their ugly faces and told them that he meant it and that he hoped they were the first infected.

Eric Pianka is a tough old bastard who didn’t let the obliteration of his leg stop him from kicking the asses of all the reptiles in the desert.  He is now a crazy old lunatic who advocates global pandemic.  He is the most badass scientist I have ever met.




"You need to hone your survival skills.  The first thing you should do when you go home tonight is get a real tarp, one that's made out of canvas that's waterproof.  Don't get one of those dumb plastic ones - they deteriorate too fast.  Start packing it with the absolute necessities that you think you have to have for life.  That would include a blanket and some sharp knives and some string and some twine.  I'm not talking toothpaste.  I'm not talking a lot of things.  Wrap it up and figure out how you can carry it on your own two shoulders because you are not going to be able to take public transport or drive your car when the time comes.  Then you want to get as far away as you can from any other human being, and try to snare a rabbit, if there is still a rabbit out there.  I can give you some other tips on your survival kit, but I don't have time."


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