24 February 2019


'A Criminology of Extinction: Biodiversity, extreme consumption and the vanity of species resurrection' by Avi Brisman and Nigel South in European Journal of Criminology (forthcoming) comments
This article explores an issue pertaining to the commodification of nature and related market processes—reviving extinct species. It begins by offering an overview of the aesthetic, economic, scientific and ethical reasons to preserve biological diversity. The article then considers how and why biological diversity is actually being reduced at an unprecedented rate—the ways in which, and the explanations for why, human acts and omissions are directly and indirectly, separately and synergistically, causing extinctions— quite possibly of species that we do not even know exist. From here, the article draws on the growing body of research on resurrecting species — a process known as de-extinction — to contemplate the questions raised about the permanency of extinction, as well as whether we should revive extinct species and the meaning and criminological implications of doing so. 
The authors comment
Significant international work in recent years has drawn attention to “animal abuse,” “wildlife crime” and, more broadly, harms and crimes affecting non-human species (Bayrachnaya et al., 2018; Beirne, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2009, 2014; Gibbs et al., 2010; Maher and Sollund, 2016; Maher et al., 2016; Moreto, 2018; Nurse, 2013, 2015; Pires and Clarke, 2011; Sollund 2011, 2013a, 2013b, 2015; Wyatt, 2013). In some respects, this work has been pioneering. In other ways, it builds on the past work of others and serves as a reminder of the historical complexity of human-non-human relations. Bryant (1979:412) made an early call for the study of “zoological crime”—a term coined to refer to the violation of “animal related social norms . . . [that] may well be among the most ubiquitous of any social deviancy.” Beirne’s (1995) essay, some sixteen years later, was, in part, a frustrated reaction to the failure to respond to Bryant’s proposal. Although Beirne (1995:5) acknowledged that “the field of crimes against animals does not yet constitute a recognized, let alone a coherent, object of study,” he maintained that it would be inaccurate to state that “animals are never present in criminological discourse,” and he noted the wide range of materials involving animals as central figures in relation to “inter alia, the configuration of rural class relations in 18th-century England, the alleged links between crime and human nature, and the behavioral manifestations of children who are likely to be violent as adults.” For example, the American scholar and linguist E.P. Evans (1906/1987) had documented the role nonhuman animals play in human society in The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, while historians such as E.P. Thompson, Linebaugh and others outlined the importance of wildlife in terms of property law, moral economies, class oppression, and social and environmental transformation (Hay, 1975; Linebaugh, 1976; Thompson, 1975). Game laws and poaching/anti-poaching activities and initiatives reflect centuries of human relationships with nature, as have measures aimed at balancing conservation, culling, hunting for sport, and killing for food. Many sociological studies of deviance and leisure have produced descriptive accounts of the recreational pursuit of wildlife, abuse of animals, and breaking of wildlife protection laws (Eliason, 2003; Nurse, 2013).
Hence, although Moreto and colleagues (2015:360) may in general be correct that law enforcement and criminal justice systems have accorded wildlife offences a “low priority when compared to other crimes (Cook et al. 2002),” this is not to suggest they have been ignored completely or have not been regarded as important.
Criminological attention to poaching, trafficking and related animal abuse is now substantial, and encompasses contributions aimed at market reduction and enhancing conservation efforts (e.g., Lee et al., 2014; Schneider, 2008; Shepherd, 2017). While all of this represents a welcome shift, attention to the dynamics of the illegal market for a particular species or the investigation of the scope, extent, and geographical range of the international trade in specific wildlife as live bodies or as harvested “parts and products” has overshadowed—and has perhaps come at the expense of—broader criminological considerations of “biological diversity” (or “biodiversity”) loss, decline and extinction, of which wildlife crime is but one cause (see, e.g., http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2016/12/specials/vanishing/).
In 2016, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report (WWF, 2016: 4) noted that for some decades, “scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life toward a sixth mass extinction” (see also Kolbert, 2014; Mirzoeff, 2014:227 (citing Novoacek 2007)). The data from the Living Planet Index—which offers an indication of the state of global biological diversity, based on trends in the populations of vertebrate species from around the world—show that between 1970 and 2012, the planet experienced a “58 per cent overall decline in vertebrate population abundance” with populations of vertebrate species falling, on average, “by more than half in little more than 40 years … an average annual decline of 2 per cent,” with “no sign yet that this rate will decrease.” This decline of other species is one measure of the magnitude of human impact on the planet stemming from the expansion and acceleration of human activity designed to meet the demands of human survival as a growing global population needs more food, requiring more human engineered change to natural habitats (e.g., deforestation) and contributing to more over-fishing and over-hunting (EEA, 2015).
Along with pollution and global warming, these anthropogenically-induced pressures on the planetary ecosystem are now sending warning signals (Brannen, 2017). Some believe that by responding to these signals now, policy changes and technological developments can help provide remedies; others caution that some change is already irreversible and only drastic reorganization of global economic and consumption systems can slow down species decline and extinctions (for a discussion, see, e.g., Ripple et al., 2017).
This article considers human contributions to the rate of loss of biological diversity, beliefs that science and regulation can control the extent and nature of any consequences (Fukuyama, 2002; Wilson, 1998, 2004), and related efforts to explore the plausibility, viability and implications of reviving extinct species (Wray, 2017). It first provides an overview of the reasons for preserving biological diversity, before turning to an outline of the causes of recent (unprecedented) extinctions. The implications of extinction trends have been explored thoroughly within relevant natural sciences and some areas of the social sciences, but not so far within criminology. This article explores the prospects of species extinction in terms of the merger of conservation and consumerism (e.g., “conservation tourism” (AWF, n.d.; Buckley, 2010)), as well as the bases for denial and deferral of action furnished by faith in the new science of “de-extinction.” It concludes by arguing the case for considering “extinction” as a matter of criminological concern, and for why this is not only justifiable but necessary.
'Ancient Genetics to Ancient Genomics: Celebrity and Credibility in Data-Driven Practice' by Elizabeth D. Jones  (2019) comments 
 The search for DNA from ancient and extinct organisms – a practice now known worldwide as “Ancient DNA Research” – surfaced from the interface of paleontology, archeology, and molecular biology in the 1980s, then evolved from an emergent into a more established scientific and technological practice today. Throughout the decades, this novel approach to the study of fossils has grown under intense press and public interest, particularly as it coincided with and was catalyzed into the media spotlight by the book and movie Jurassic Park in the 1990s. Ancient DNA continues to capture professional and popular attention as researchers have recovered genetic material from extinct mammoths to early humans and Neanderthals in an attempt to refine or even rewrite our understanding of evolutionary history. This practice also captures public curiosity because of speculation – inspired by media reports as well as scientific research – that DNA may one day be used to bring extinct species back to life. Broadly, ancient DNA research is the practice of extracting, sequencing, and analyzing degraded or damaged DNA from dead organisms that are hundreds to thousands of years old. Ancient DNA has been recovered from organisms such as plants, animals, humans, and bacteria, and can be preserved in skins, tissues, and even bone if the bone is not a fully mineralized fossil.  However, it is important to note that the term “ancient” does not necessarily relate to the age of the DNA but to the characteristic damage patterns that occur as DNA breaks down after an organism has died. Given the degraded nature of this genetic material, research into DNA from ancient and extinct species requires specialist skills and technologies. Many researchers are interested in adapting state-of-the-art molecular biological techniques and high-throughput sequencing technologies in order to optimize the recovery of ancient DNA. They are also interested in using this DNA for the primary purpose of studying the evolutionary history of extinct and extant organisms as well as testing hypotheses about evolution, such as the drivers of patterns of genetic variation, regions of the genome under selection, and the migrations of past populations. At the same time, however, the ability to recover DNA from fossils has been closely connected to the idea of using DNA to resurrect extinct species. Since the 1980s, speculation about resurrection has followed the field closely, influencing the development of this practice over a prolonged period of time. 
Drawing on historical and archival material, interviews with scientists, and philosophical literature, this paper presents the search for DNA from fossils, throughout its disciplinary development from the 1980s to today, as a data-driven and celebrity-driven practice. This paper proceeds in three parts. First, I deliver a condensed history of ancient DNA research from the 1980s to today with attention to the role that technology as well as consistent press and public interest played in its growth from a curious idea into a credible practice within evolutionary biology. Second, I introduce interviewees’ memories of their history and analyze their perspectives on the historical and philosophical development of ancient DNA activity as an extended episode of boundary-work. In attempts to make sense of their history as a science in the spotlight, interviewees try to draw a line between their past and present in order to portray the practice as a more question-driven, and therefore more mature, area of research today. Finally, I discuss the role of celebrity and credibility in the data-driven practice of ancient DNA research.