Peter Douglas Ward
|Known for||work on the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event|
|Fields||Paleontology, Biology, Astrobiology|
Peter Douglas Ward (born 1949) is an American paleontologist and professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, and Sprigg Institute of Geobiology at the University of Adelaide. He has written numerous popular science works for a general audience and is also an adviser to the Microbes Mind Forum.
His parents, Joseph and Ruth Ward, moved to Seattle following World War II. Ward grew up in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, attending Franklin High School, and he spent time during summers at a family summer cabin on Orcas Island.
Ward's academic career has included teaching posts and professional connections with Ohio State University, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the University of California, McMaster University (where he received his PhD in 1976), and the California Institute of Technology. He was elected as a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 1984.
Ward specializes in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, the Permian–Triassic extinction event, and mass extinctions generally. He has published books on biodiversity and the fossil record. His 1992 book On Methuselah's Trail received a "Golden Trilobite Award" from the Paleontological Society as the best popular science book of the year. Ward also serves as an adjunct professor of zoology and astronomy.
Ward is co-author, along with astronomer Donald Brownlee, of the best-selling Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, published in 2000. In that work, the authors suggest that the universe is fundamentally hostile to advanced life, and that, while simple life might be abundant, the likelihood of widespread lifeforms as advanced as those on Earth is marginal. In 2001, his book Future Evolution was published, featuring illustrations by artist Alexis Rockman.
Ward and Brownlee are also co-authors of the book The Life and Death of Planet Earth: How the New Science of Astrobiology Charts the Ultimate Fate of the World, which discusses the Earth's future and eventual demise as it is ultimately destroyed by a warming and expanding Sun. In this book, Ward and Brownlee depict Earth's long-term future by comparing its lifespan to that of a typical human's, pointing out that its systems that keep it habitable will gradually break down one by one, like organs in a humans as he or she dies. They also predict the Earth's eventual fate by compressing its 12 billion-year-old history to a clock spanning 12 hours, with the first life appearing at 1:00 am, and the first animals and plants appearing at 4:00 am, with the present day being 4:29.59 am; and even though the Earth will be destroyed by the Sun at "high noon", animals and plants will come to an end by 5:00 am. The book actually picks up where Rare Earth has left off, this time it talk about how and why the Earth and its ability to support complex and especially intelligent life is actually not just rare in space, but also in time all because of this. See also Future of the Earth.
According to Ward's 2007 book, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future, all but one of the major mass extinction events in history have been brought on by climate change. The author argues that events in the past can give valuable information about the future of our planet. Reviewer Doug Brown goes further, stating "this is how the world ends." Scientists at the Universities of York and Leeds also warn that the fossil record supports evidence of impending mass extinction. Recently, Ward is slowly starting to shift his interest toward climate change because of his experiences with studying mass extinctions, as well as justifying why intelligent life, including humanity, is especially even rarer than complex life in general in terms of both space and time, as intelligent life only lasts for just a few thousand years before finally collapsing and going extinct, as seen in the book The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps, which documents the effects of ongoing and future man-made climate change. However, in 2014, Ward returned to his roots as a paleontologist with his book A New History of Life, co-authored with Joe Kirschvink, and in his upcoming 2018 book, Lamarck's Revenge.
The Medea hypothesis is a term coined by Ward for the anti-Gaian hypothesis that multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal. In this view, microbial-triggered mass extinctions are attempts to return the Earth to the microbial-dominated state it has been for most of its history. In 2009 Ward wrote a book about this hypothesis under the same name.
Peter Ward was featured in the PBS's Evolution series (2001) to discuss the evidence for evolution in the geologic record and has appeared on NOVA scienceNOW. He was also one of the scientists on Animal Planet's Animal Armageddon (2009).
by Christopher Cokinos, Orion magazine