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Are We in a Sixth Mass Extinction? The Challenges of Answering and Value of Asking

Bocchi, Federica and Bokulich, Alisa and Castillo Brache, Leticia and Grand-Pierre, Gloria and Watkins, Aja (2022) Are We in a Sixth Mass Extinction? The Challenges of Answering and Value of Asking. [Preprint]

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Abstract

In both scientific and popular circles it is often said that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction. Although the urgency of our present environmental crises is not in doubt, such claims of a present mass extinction are highly controversial scientifically. Our aims are, first, to get to the bottom of this scientific debate by shedding philosophical light on the many conceptual and methodological challenges involved in answering this scientific question, and, second, to offer new philosophical perspectives on what the value of asking this question has been — and whether that value persists today. We show that the conceptual challenges in defining ‘mass extinction’, uncertainties in past and present diversity assessments, and data incommensurabilities undermine a straightforward answer to the question of whether we are in, or entering, a sixth mass extinction today. More broadly we argue that an excessive focus on the mass extinction framing can be misleading for present conservation efforts and may lead us to miss out on the many other valuable insights that Earth’s deep time can offer in guiding our future.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Bocchi, Federicafbocchi@bu.edu
Bokulich, Alisaabokulic@bu.edu0000-0002-9406-3904
Castillo Brache, Leticialcbrache@bu.edu
Grand-Pierre, Gloriagpierre7@bu.edu
Watkins, Ajaajawatki@bu.edu0000-0003-0171-8738
Additional Information: Forthcoming in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Keywords: Paleontology, Historical Sciences, Philosophy of Geosciences, Philosophy of Earth Science, mass extinction, biodiversity, paleodiversity, deep time, Data, incommensurability, ecology, fossils, species, genera, taxonomy, timescales, scaling, timefulness
Subjects: General Issues > Data
Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Ecology/Conservation
Specific Sciences > Earth Sciences
Specific Sciences > Environmental Science
Specific Sciences > Historical Sciences
Depositing User: Alisa Bokulich
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2023 19:31
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2023 19:31
Item ID: 21980
Subjects: General Issues > Data
Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Ecology/Conservation
Specific Sciences > Earth Sciences
Specific Sciences > Environmental Science
Specific Sciences > Historical Sciences
Date: 2022
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/21980

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