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Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck?

Popular Science

By: David M Raup (Author), Stephen Jay Gould (Introduction By)

224 pages, 20 line illus

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Dec 1993 | #23383 | ISBN: 0192861581
Out of Print Details
Paperback | Dec 1992 | #152409 | ISBN: 0393309274
Availability: Usually dispatched within 7 days Details
NHBS Price: £12.99 $16/€15 approx
Hardback | Dec 1992 | #15723 | ISBN: 0393030083
Out of Print Details

About this book

Scientists agree on the fact of extinction, but science has never agreed on its physical causes. From the traditional theory of climate change to the controversial theroy of meteorites, David Raup investigates each possibility. Questioning much of conventional wisdom, he makes a number of startling new claims.

From the publisher's announcement:

In the geological record, there are five major mass extinctions-the "Big Five." The most famous happened at the end of the Cretaceous Period, when the dinosaurs and two-thirds of all marine animal species were wiped out, opening the door for the age of mammals and the rise of Homo Sapiens. Using this example as a springboard, David M. Raup leaps into an egaging discussion of the theories, assumptions, and difficulties associated with the science of species extinction. Woven is along the way are stories of the trilobite eye, tropical reefs, flying reptiles, and the fate of the heath hen on Martha's Vineyard, a very modern extinction.

This is the first major book to present a comprehensive overview of the current state of extinction studies. At the end of the journey, Raup has put forward the best science of the day to answer the question posed by the title: Bad genes or bad luck?

"An eminently entertaining and informative read."
- Malcolm W. Browne, New York Times Book Review

"A delightful little book about life on this planet and about extinctions, in particular. It is as much about the philosophy and methodology of science as about the downside of evolution."
- Clark R. Chapman, Planetary Science Institute

"David Raup's Extinction will change the way many of us perceive our world. In a style that is both elegant and persuasive, Raup undercuts the popular and comfortable notions that extinction is a mark of failure [...] We are shown a world that is less certain, but in many ways more interesting than the one we imagined we occupied."
-Roger Lewin, author of Bones of Contention


Part 1 Almost all species are extinct:
- is extinction important?
- bad genes or bad luck?
- the nature of extinction
- who studies extinction?
- a word about the word
- species defined
- the purpose of extinction, if any.

Part 2 A brief history of life:
- origin of life
- complex life
- the quality of the fossil record
- 600 million years of fussing
- a stock market analogy
- trilobite eyes
- tropical reefs
- flying reptiles
- human evolution
- living fossils

Part 3 Gambler's ruin and other problems
- gambling
- concepts of randomness
- gambling for survival
- differing extinction and speciation rates
- skewed histograms
- other models
- a note on extinction of surnames

Part 4 Mass extinctions
- the K-T mass extinction
- measuring extinction
- a note on killing
- duration of mass extinctions
- do mass extinctions differ from background
- the kill curve

Part 5 Selectivity of extinction
- Ice Age Blitzkrieg
- selectivity of the Blitzkrieg
- body size and the K-T extinction
- other examples of bias
- other examples of selectivity
- the Trilobites' bad genes
- some implications
- summary

Part 6 The search for causes
- the rarity of extinction
- just so stories
- beware of anthropomorphism!
- the kill curve revisited

Part 7 Biological causes of extinction
- are species and ecosystems fragile?
- the case of the heath hen
- importance of the first strike
- problems of small populations
- competition
- species-area effects
- species-area and past extinctions
- the great American interchange
- the history of tropical rain forests

Part 8 Physical causes of extinction
- traditional favourites
- sea level and climate
- species-area effects
- testing sea level and climate
- the Pleistocene experience
- exotic physical causes
- unheard-of volcanism
- cosmic causes

Part 9 Rocks falling out of the sky
- cratering rates
- destructive power
- Alvarez and the K-T extinction
- periodicity of extinction and nemesis

Part 10 Could all the extinctions be caused by meteorite impact?
- plausibility arguments
- arguments from observation
- extinctions are linked to craters
- extinctions are not linked to craters
- assessment

Part 11 Perspectives on extinction
- how to become extinct
- wanton extinction
- the role of extinction in evolution
- bad genes or bad luck?
- a note on extinctions today

Epilogue: did we choose a safe planet?

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David M. Raup is the Sewell Avery Distinguished Service Professor and a statistical paleontologist at the University of Chicago.

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