Peter Ward (paleontologist)

Peter Ward (paleontologist)

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Peter Douglas Ward is a paleontologist and professor of Biology and of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

, Seattle, and has written popular science works for a general audience. He is also an adviser to the Microbes Mind Forum.

Life and work

Peter Douglas Ward was born in 1949. His parents, Joseph and Ruth Ward, moved to Seattle, Wa following World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Ward grew up in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, attending Franklin High School, and spent time during summers at a family summer cabin on Orcas Island
Orcas Island
Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands, which are located in the northwestern corner of Washington state in San Juan County, Washington.-History:...


Ward's academic career has included teaching posts and professional connections with Ohio State University
Ohio State University
The Ohio State University, commonly referred to as Ohio State, is a public research university located in Columbus, Ohio. It was originally founded in 1870 as a land-grant university and is currently the third largest university campus in the United States...

, the NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 Astrobiology Institute, the University of California
University of California
The University of California is a public university system in the U.S. state of California. Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the University of California is a part of the state's three-tier public higher education system, which also includes the California State University...

, McMaster University (where he received his PhD in 1976), and the California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering...

. He was elected as a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences in 1984.

Peter Ward specializes in the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, the Permian–Triassic extinction event, and mass extinctions generally. He has published books on biodiversity
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions...

 and the fossil record. His 1992 book On Methuselah's Trail received a "Golden Trilobite Award" from the Paleontological Society
Paleontological Society
The Paleontological Society, formally the Paleontological Society of America, is an international organisation devoted to the promotion of paleontology. The Society was founded in 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland and was incorporated in April 1968 in the District of Columbia...

 as the best popular science book of the year. Ward also serves as an adjunct professor of zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

 and astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...


His book The End Of Evolution published in 1994. In it, he discussed in three parts, each about extinction event on earth.

Ward is co-author, along with astronomer Donald Brownlee
Donald E. Brownlee
Don Brownlee is a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and the principal investigator for NASA's STARDUST mission. His primary research interests include astrobiology, comets, cosmic dust, and porsche evangelism....

, of the best-selling Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe
Rare Earth hypothesis
In planetary astronomy and astrobiology, the Rare Earth hypothesis argues that the emergence of complex multicellular life on Earth required an improbable combination of astrophysical and geological events and circumstances...

, 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, Ward's book Future Evolution
Future Evolution
Future Evolution is a book written by paleontologist Peter Ward and illustrated by Alexis Rockman. He addresses his own opinion of future evolution and compares it with Dougal Dixon's After Man: A Zoology of the Future and H. G. Wells's The Time Machine.According to Ward, humanity may exist for a...

was published, featuring illustrations by artist Alexis Rockman
Alexis Rockman
Alexis Rockman is an American contemporary artist known for his paintings that provide rich depictions of future landscapes as they might exist with impacts of climate change and evolution influenced by genetic engineering. He has exhibited his work in the United States since 1985, including a...


According to Ward's April 2007 book, Under a Green Sky, all but one of the major extinction events in history have been brought on by climate change — the same global warming that occurs today. 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.

Medea Hypothesis

The Medea Hypothesis is a term coined by Ward for the anti-Gaian hypothesis
Gaia hypothesis
The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.The scientific investigation of the...

 that multicellular life, understood as a superorganism
A superorganism is an organism consisting of many organisms. This is usually meant to be a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialised and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods of time. Ants are the best-known example of...

, is suicidal
Evolutionary suicide
Evolutionary suicide is an evolutionary mechanism where adaptation at the level of the individual results in a situation where the entire population goes extinct...



Peter Ward was featured in the PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

's Evolution Series to discuss the evidence for evolution in the geologic record and has appeared on NOVA scienceNOW
NOVA scienceNOW
NOVA scienceNOW is a newsmagazine version of the long running and venerable PBS science program Nova. Premiering on January 25, 2005, the series was originally hosted by Robert Krulwich, who described it as an experiment in coverage of "breaking science, science that's right out of the lab, science...

He was also one of the scientists on Animal Planet
Animal Planet
Animal Planet is an American cable tv specialty channel that launched on October 1, 1996. It is distributed by Discovery Communications. A high-definition simulcast of the channel launched on September 1, 2007.-History:...

's Animal Armageddon
Animal Armageddon
Animal Armageddon is an American paleontology-based documentary television miniseries that originally aired from to on Animal Planet. All the prehistoric scenes are created 100% in Lightwave...

. In fact, out of all of the scientists, he was the only one to appear in every episode of that show.

Selected works

External links