BOOK: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York : Henry Holt and Co, 2014), 336 pp.

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Kolbert has done any radio interviews and podcasts about her new book, including for NPR, Slate, New Books in Environmental Studies, and the American Museum of Natural History.

On a similar note – a new documentary, 6 the Movie:

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Watch “Your Inner Fish” from PBS online!

PBS just finished airing a three-part documentary based on paleontologist Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, which he hosted. For anyone interested in evolution and how humans are related to the rest of the animal world, this is a must-see. It’s very well done, visually and with content. You can watch each of the episodes through the PBS website, Shubin tells me, for up to two weeks following the air date for each episode (thus, 4/24 for episode 1, May 1 for episode 2, and May 8 for episode 3. It’s April 25th today, and as of early this morning PST, episode 1 was still viewable. Just click on any of the three images below to view an episode!

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Episode 2 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is all about evolution

You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about or seen the first two episodes of the reboot to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (originally aired on PBS in 1980), Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (on FOX and National Geographic networks). While all of it so far has been a treat to watch and Tyson is charming in his enthusiasm for science, the first episode (FOX/Hulu) came under fire largely by historians for its cartoon depiction of how Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition in 1600 for his cosmological views (painting him a martyr for science and perpetuating the long-discredited “conflict thesis”). If you wish to dive into this discussion, see these posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4). Luckily the second episode, all about evolution, steered clear of myth-making in the history of science and presented a solid treatment of evolution (thoughts from PZ Myers, Larry Moran, and Steven Newton/NCSE about the episode).

You can view episode 2 of Cosmos, “Some of the Things Molecules Do,” through FOX or Hulu. Enjoy!

HHMI DVDs about evolution, DNA, and dinosaur extinction

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is known for offering to educators free DVDs and other resources about various biology and health topics, such as human evolution, disease, biodiversity and medicines, stem cells, and cloning. They are now offering three new DVDs: The Origin of Species, The Double Helix, and The Day the Mesozoic DiedThe Origin of Species consists of three separate videos telling the story of Darwin, Wallace, and evolution and action. The Double Helix covers the history of the discovery of the structure of DNA, and thankfully does not leave out Rosalind Franklin. My son has already watched the one on dinosaur extinction, and at 7 years old, was fully engrossed in the narrative.

If you are a teacher or educator in some other capacity, or perhaps run a discussion group, these are great resources to have. The ordering page is here (select “DVD” on the left to narrow down the selections).

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Third Annual Portland Humanist Film Fest, October 26-28

Next weekend is the 2012 Portland Humanist Film Fest:

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Sylvia Benner, Chair
Portland Humanist Film Festival
503-515-4409
SMartinaBenner@gmail.com

A Challenge To Religion, Alternative Medicine, And Other Superstitions At Local Film Festival

The Portland Humanist Film Festival focuses the camera lens on the harm caused by religious superstition and unproven medical treatments, and advocates for evidence-based thinking.

Portland, OR—October 15, 2012—The Portland Humanist Film Fest (PHFF) will put a strong focus on reason and critical thinking during the last weekend in October.

Now in its third year, the Festival will feature documentaries that directly challenge alternative medical practices, such as homeopathy, that enjoy great popularity in the Portland metro area, but are not supported by scientific evidence. These and other films will model skepticism, critical thinking, and an effort to understand what makes a believer believe.

Portland Humanist Film Fest, the largest freethought film festival on the West Coast, is presented by Center for Inquiry–Portland with major support from the Humanists of Greater Portland. Throughout the weekend, audiences will have the opportunity to watch engaging films and learn about the growing cultural importance of secular humanist thought.

Highlights of this year’s PHFF include:

  • Kumaré – The true story a false prophet. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi impersonates spiritual leader Kumaré and gathers disciples in the United States. In the process, he forges profound connections with people from all walks of life and is forced to confront difficult questions about his own identity. At the height of his popularity, Kumaré unveils his true identity to a core group of disciples who are knee-deep in personal transformation. Kumaré, at once playful and profound, is an insightful look at faith and belief. Film Maker Vikram Gandhi was recently interviewed on the Colbert Report.1
  • Let’s Talk About Sex takes a closer look at American attitudes about sex. It was partially filmed in Portland and other Oregon locations. The film compares approaches to sex education in the US and Netherlands, and highlights solutions that lead to better health outcomes. Producer Neal Weisman will attend the Festival and is available for media interviews by contacting portland@centerforinquiry.net or            503.877.2347      . Information about the film can be found at http://www.letstalkaboutsexthefilm.com/about.html.
  • In God We Teach, a documentary film that follows the “separation of church and state” controversy played out in a very public feud between high school student Matthew LaClair and his history teacher in Kearny, NJ. Information at http://ingodweteach.com/. Director Vic Losick will be in Portland for the film festival weekend and is available for interviews.  He can be contacted BY phone at            212.580.3366       or by e-mail at vic@losick.com.
  • 12 Angry Men. The 1957 film classic starring Henry Fonda, which remains one the best demonstrations of practical skepticism in movie history.
  • Flatland 1 and Flatland 2, a charming animated exploration of mathematical concepts in an engaging story about a girl named Hex, who dares to think outside the box, based on the 19th century classic novel by Edwin Abbot.
  • Contagion, Chocolat, The Dish and other major studio films addressing themes of science, reason, and humanism.

Why host a Humanist Film Festival in Portland? According to several recent surveys, the Pacific Northwest is one of the least-religious regions of the nation. A Pew Forum report released October 9, 2012, confirms that atheists and the religiously unaffiliated make up a rapidly increasing segment of the population.2 CFI–Portland is at the forefront of this expanding movement. (For an in-depth look at the Pew report and the population it reveals, watch the upcoming PBS Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly series, “None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated” Sundays at 4:00 p.m. on OPB.)

Dates:  October 26-28, 2012
Times:  Friday: 5:00–11:00 pm; Saturday 2:00–10:30 pm; Sunday 2:00–10:00 pm (times approximate)
Location:  Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209
Admission:  $28 weekend passes; $8 or $13 one-day passes. $ 5 off for early ticket purchase. 

More information at www.humanistfest.com

1 http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/416832/july-23-2012/vikram-gandhi

2 “’Nones’ on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, October, 9, 2012 www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Unaffiliated/NonesOnTheRise-full.pdf                                                                        

Center for Inquiry–Portland is a community of secular humanists working to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. More information can be found at www.centerforinquiry.net/portland or www.meetup.com/cfi-portland.

Humanists of Greater Portland is a nonprofit organization and recipient of the 2008 American Humanist Association Chapter of the Year award. HGP welcomes you. Visit portlandhumanists.org.