Alexander Pyron, a professor of biology at George Washington University, recently wrote an inflammatory op-ed for the Washington Post, entitled “We don’t need to save endangered species. Extinction is part of evolution.” The post outraged many, among them an awful lot of scientists. Needless to say, the piece is a seriously misguided bit of poor reasoning and inaccurate science, particularly with regards to extinction. Myself and colleague Luiz Rocha, also at the California Academy of Sciences, wrote our own response, published several days ago in bioGraphic. Regardless of your opinion on species conservation, Pyron’s article cannot be used as the basis for sound argument, because it is a collection of fundamentally flawed arguments. You can read our own reasoning here: Betting on Conservation.
The image, by the way, shows the fossilized burrows of tiny marine snails in sediments dating to about 250 million years ago. The fossils are from a geological exposure in the mountains of Hubei, China, and is some of the earliest evidence there of the biosphere struggling back from the devastating end Permian mass extinction of 251 million years ago. There are no guarantees in the History of Life.
I’ve edited this post to add a little addendum: While I disagree strongly with Pyron’s opinions, I cannot agree with or support the personal attacks which have been leveled against him by others. The core power of rationalism and modern science is open and free discourse. I think that his science in this case is wrong, and I disagree with his moral stance, but I would not place this in the same category of, for example, charlatan climate change deniers who have alternative and exploitative agendas. So let’s keep the discussion civil.