International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-R510
Organized session / standard talks

Markku Oksanen (University of Eastern Finland, Finland)

Bringing extinct species back to life may be possible in the near future. If researchers are successful, this challenges the basic assumption of conservation: extinction need no longer be forever. Terms ‘recreation’, ‘resurrection’, ‘reviving’, ‘resuscitation’ and ‘extinction reversal’ have been used to denote this action but it seems that the new term ‘de-extinction’ has now become prevalent. Oksanen and Siipi have edited a volume The Ethics of Animal Re-creation and Modification (Palgrave, 2014) that includes their and Turner’s contributions. This session will further elaborate the theme by focusing on three interrelated ideas: the concept of irreversibility, de-extinction as a form of selection, and the commodification of de-extinct animals.

De-extinct species as property objects and as wildlife

Markku Oksanen (University of Eastern Finland, Finland)

The paper will examine the clash between commodification and rewilding of de-extinct animals. On the one hand, the re-creation of such animals is likely to be driven by financial incentives: it is easy to picture to oneself how live creatures could be used commercially (in the spirit of Jurassic Park) or some aspects of the re-creation processes could be protected by means of intellectual property rights. On the other hand, as far as de-extinction is used as an instrument for biodiversity conservation, the animals it produces should be classified as wildlife because the original species was never domesticated. Because of the dominance of financial interests, however, the rewilding of de-extinct animals in the proper sense is a highly improbable scenario. The reason for this is that rewilding would mean that one should renounce one’s property rights to those animals.

De-extinction and the finality of extinction

Helena Siipi (University of Turku, Finland)

The fast developments in cross-species cloning have inspired numerous writers to state that soon extinction no longer needs to be forever (see e.g. Rosen 2012; Redford et al. 2013; Sherkow and Greely 2013; Kumar 2012; Phillips 2013). These statements rest on the presupposition that finality of extinction is not necessary but something can be changed by technological development. Yet, differing views have been presented: “Extinct also says something about the future of the class – that once it becomes a null class, it can never come to have members again. It may be claimed that this is what extinct means” (Gunn 1991). In this paper, I examine the possibility of fitting the current technological developments in resurrection science together with the idea of finality of extinction. The following three alternatives are discussed: (1) Animals born from de-extinction procedures fail to members of the original species. Rather, these animals belong to a new human-created species (Garvey 2007) that is a copy of the original species. (2) Animals born from the de-extinction procedures are members of the species that once died out, but despite their existence, the species remains extinct. There are two types of extinct species: one’s that have not been re-created and the ones that have been re-created. (3) Animals born from de-extinction procedures are members of the original species but extinction did not take place before they came into being. Extinction means loss of information necessary for producing an individual with characteristics of the species (see Delord 2014), and in the case of animal re-creation, the original species never went extinct.

De-extinction, biodiversity loss, and artificial species selection

Derek Turner (Connecticut College, United States)

Species selection is an idea that emerged from the work of paleobiologists in the 1970s and 1980s, with prominent advocates including Steven Stanley, Stephen Jay Gould, Elizabeth Vrba, and David Jablonski. Much of the discussion of species selection has focused on (and at times gotten bogged down in) conceptual issues. Although there are a few important studies that put the idea to work, it’s not clear that species selection theory has generated much fruitful empirical research. Nevertheless, the concept of artificial species selection could turn out to be useful in conservation biology. One way to think about the biodiversity crisis is to focus on extinction rates, and to project recent trends forward with the aim of assessing the probability of a mass extinction event over the next few centuries. But this focus on the rates and amount of biodiversity loss overlooks the fact that the biodiversity crisis also involves a species-level sorting process. Lately there has also been a great deal of hype about de-extinction, or the possible future use of biotechnology to reverse recent extinctions. That, too, would be a straightforward case of artificial species selection. Species selection theory can help us to think through the ramifications of de-extinction.