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Extinction Distinctions revisited



Perhaps I should have continued my thoughts about the past as a place the 
other day. This is some stuff that I've just started rethinking and 
challenging. [Dinosaur seems to be a great forum to toss out ideas and 
take some lumps.] Let me fill in the context in which my previous 
thoughts about prehistoric overkill fit.

Steve Gould has written extensively on the history of science with an 
emphasis on placing science within its social context. In one essay he 
wrote "Scientific discovery is not a one-way transfer of information from 
unambiguous nature to minds that are always open. It is a reciprocal 
interaction between a multifarious and confusing nature and minds 
sufficiently receptive (as many are not) to extract a weak but sensible 
pattern from the prevailing noise." Scientific minds opporate within a 
culture and reflect that culture in a recursive manner. The culture of a 
scientist can be inferred, in part, from the "sensible pattern" that he 
or she perceives from the data. It is from this foundation that I try to 
examine theories and conclusions. 

I suppose that I lofted my overkill critique too hastily and it came out 
backwards. Let me put it this way: the prehistoric overkill hypothesis is 
based more on correlation-as-causation and an outdated man-the-hunter 
paradigm than on the data available or the more current paradigm. (I would 
say that the current evolving paradigm is a rejection of determinist or 
reductionist explanations with an eye to combining detailed and well 
controlled small scale studies into an environmental overview.) The stuff 
about the past being a place where it is "natural" for humans to cause 
the extinction of other organisms serves as evidence for the cultural 
biases being injected into the theory. It's standing the evidence for 
such biases on its head but it didn't come out very clearly.

The whole man-the-hunter (m-t-h) picture of human prehistory has been pretty 
well shot down. Hunting was very important, but m-t-h attempted to 
explain the evolution of the line Homo and all resultant culture. It was 
clearly a much more "multifarious" process. 

I just resist determinism in 
most of its forms. That includes the bolide discussions. No doubt they 
happened and no doubt they were devestating to ecosystems. I think we'll 
learn more about the impacts, and extinctions in general, by looking at 
the survivors more than looking at the losers (a approach that does not 
affirm nor deny much about prehistoric overkill).

Mickey Rowe brought up a point that I don't understand: "the fact that 
something happened before should have no bearing on the ethics of it 
happening again." I know that I muddied the argument earlier with using 
the justification or "precedent" (thanks Mickey) example, nonetheless 
there is clearly great significance _if_ human behavior, decisions, and 
actions are involved. Ethics connote good decision making by people. 
Precedent is often an initial basis for ethical decisions. If human 
mediated extinction exists as a precedent it paves the way for very poor 
decisions in our immediate future. The ethical implications of the 
overkill hypothesis have no bearing on its veracity, but serve as an 
example of its origins. 

It's been 
great to tap into the flood of information and opinions. I'm kind of new 
to the paleo world and I'm exposed to only a limited set of opinions at 
school. 
 
Lets get out of this Quarternary and human stuff and get back to dinos! :-)
I just went out and got a Toronto Raptors t-shirt. Pretty cool.

                Erik


Erik Pauls
erik@uclink.berkeley.edu
P.S. I don't want to bog everyone down with my pet pieve but I'd welcome any 
comments directly to me at the above address. I'll be unsubscribing for 
the summer in about a week so that'll be the only to get a hold of me.