Forgotten Jonas Salk book on population growth gets update

By DAVID TEMPLETON, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jonathan Salk, in his 20s and eventually headed to medical school, got a call one day from his famous father, Jonas Salk, the University of Pittsburgh scientist whose polio vaccine was celebrated worldwide with its announcement April 12.

Jonas asked his youngest son to help him complete a book he had started years before with no time to finish it.

With Jonathan’s help, World Population and Human Values: A New Reality, was published in 1981 with the Salks as coauthors.

It received good reviews. But suggesting that the pace of world population growth was slowing and describing human values that attend population trends didn’t get much attention in an age concerned about a population explosion worldwide.

What the book portended now appears to be coming true, with a particular message to the millennial generation.

Slowing down population growth will bring balance, reduce competition and nurture cooperation while fostering community values rather than individual excesses.

Jonathan Salk now has updated the book, described as a photographic essay, with new data, graphics and redesign, offering a message to a new generation about population trends and their impact on human values. The original book may have been published ahead of its time.

Dr. Salk, 66, and his coauthor, David Dewane, 36, of Chicago, are seeking a publisher.

But on the anniversary of the Salk vaccine being declared safe and effective, they launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise money to market the book to an audience they think is more willing to embrace its science-based conclusions. Fast population growth breeds independence and competition while population equilibrium and decline brings cooperation and interdependence, for the sake of survival. A self-published version of the book is available at the Kickstarter website provided below.

The book title also has been reversed: A New Reality: Human Values and World Population.

“Climate change and fewer resources push us to develop new strategies for survival and really push us to do what we can to slow down population growth as soon as possible,” said Dr. Salk, a psychiatrist in Los Angeles. “The best method to do that is to improve conditions in poorer parts of the world.” Greater income, research shows, leads to fewer babies.

“The way through this difficult era is to understand its basis and to focus on new values that will be of the greatest benefit both to individuals and humankind,” states the Kickstarter site. “There is an urgency, however, and failure to adapt will result in disaster both for humanity and for the planet as a whole.”

Dr. Salk said we’re out of balance because of fast growth and personal acquisition. “That international way of thinking was appropriate and helpful in time of rapid change, but when we are in (population) equilibrium, societies are more focused on cooperation and interdependence and harmonies with nature.”

The book sat largely unnoticed for three decades and Dr. Salk said he hoped eventually to update it. How that happened “is a great story,” he said, involving Dewane.

The architect/?designer said he learned about the book at a conference and read it in one night. It answered many questions he and his colleagues had been asking in the field of sustainable architecture. The book, he said, speaks to millennials.

“I was totally blown away by it and felt instantly that this was a beautiful, simple framework that not only made sense but was what I was doing intuitively, and I knew it was something my colleagues and friends feel intuitively about the direction the world is moving.”

Dewane found Dr. Salk’s phone number online and left him a message, which was returned. Soon they decided to update the book together. Unique to the book is expansive use of “Sigmoid graphs” featuring an “S” that shows the rise and fall of population levels, always seeking equilibrium, and reflecting population trends through the centuries. The book’s more subjective second half focuses on human values attending these trends with explanations for the current focus on individualism, competition and income inequality.

The current world population stands at nearly 7.5 billion and continues to rise. But the increase, Dr. Salk said, has reached an inflection point where the growth rate begins slowing. Within 80 to 100 years, world population will plateau then begin declining, the book predicts.

Jonas Salk died in 1995, after his vaccine led to prevention of a horrific disease that had killed 23 million people worldwide. Only five cases of wild polio virus have been reported so far this year — three in Afghanistan and two in Pakistan, two countries where the disease has not yet been eradicated.

His legacy, including four books, could continue throughout this century with fresh insights about population change and human values.

“This is a passion project,” Dewane said. “If the original book looked like an assembly manual, the current one is smoking hot.”