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

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (forthcoming)
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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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Author Profiles

Federica Bocchi
University of Copenhagen
Alisa Bokulich
Boston University
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Citations of this work

Scaling procedures in climate science: Using temporal scaling to identify a paleoclimate analogue.Aja Watkins - 2023 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 102 (C):31-44.
Biodiversity vs. paleodiversity measurements: the incommensurability problem.Federica Bocchi - 2022 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 12 (4):1-24.

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References found in this work

Data models, representation and adequacy-for-purpose.Alisa Bokulich & Wendy Parker - 2021 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 11 (1):1-26.
Principles of Geology.Charles Lyell & G. L. Herrier Davies - 1994 - Annals of Science 51 (1):100.
Save the planet: eliminate biodiversity.Carlos Santana - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (6):761-780.

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