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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 14:29 GMT 15:29 UK
Scientists criticise Hawking 'hype'
Hawking predicts terrestrial doom and gloom
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Professor Stephen Hawking's latest fears for the future of humanity have been criticised by academics for being contradictory and little more than hype for his forthcoming book.

The famous physicist said that the human race was likely to be wiped out by a manmade, doomsday virus before the millennium was out, unless we set up colonies in space.

I am surprised Professor Hawking didn't mention the danger of an asteroid impact which is inevitable sooner or later

Sir Arthur C Clarke
He told a UK national newspaper that genetic engineering could be used to "improve" human beings to meet the challenges of long-duration space travel. Professor Hawking's comments came in advance of his new publication entitled The Universe in a Nutshell.

But Dr Benny Peiser, from Liverpool John Moores University, UK, was highly critical of the reported remarks. He told BBC News Online that Hawking's predictions of terrestrial disaster had become increasingly wide-ranging and unreasonable in recent years.

And space visionary Sir Arthur C Clarke told BBC News Online: "I am surprised Professor Hawking didn't mention the danger of an asteroid impact which is inevitable sooner or later. Admittedly, this is most unlikely to wipe out the human race, but it could send us back to the Stone Age."

Finding remedies

Leading British anthropologist Dr Benny Peiser described the comments in the Daily Telegraph newspaper as "regrettable hype".

"Over a year ago, he warned that the Earth was likely to get hotter and hotter as a result of manmade CO2 emissions 'until it will be like Venus with boiling sulphuric acid'... Now, drawing on the dread of bioterrorism, his latest doomsday prophecy foretells our certain self-destruction as a result of biological research."

Benny Peiser
Benny Peiser: "Regrettable hype"
He added: "Apocalyptics typically exaggerate the possible dangers we may face in the future while ignoring or underestimating the probability of finding a social, technological or medical remedy for the predicament."

Dr Peiser said that humans and our hominid ancestors had survived more than five million years of recurring onslaughts from ice ages, impacts from space, and global plague epidemics.

"Technological and societal evolution has now reached a level of complexity that renders the probability of human survival for the next 1,000 years drastically higher than at any previous stage of our long history.

"There is no reason to believe that our generation or [any in this] millennium will be the last one on Earth," he added.

See also:

16 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Colonise space or die, says Hawking
15 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Hawking's briefer history of time
15 Mar 99 | Set99
Hawking predicts 'GM humans'
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