Peter D. Ward studies life on Earth — where it came from, how it might end, and how utterly rare it might be.

Why you should listen

Paleontologist and astrobiologist Peter D. Ward studies the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event (the one that killed the dinosaurs) and other mass extinctions. He is a leader in the intriguing new field of astrobiology, the study of the origin, distribution and evolution of life in the universe.

In his book Rare Earth he theorizes that complex life itself is so rare, it's quite possible that Earth is the only planet that has any. But, he theorizes, simple life may exist elsewhere -- and possibly be more common than we think.

His upcoming book, The Medea Hypothesis, makes a bold argument that even here on Earth, life has come close to being wiped out several times. Contrary to the "Gaia hypothesis" of a self-balancing, self-perpetuating circle of life, Ward's Medea hypothesis details the scary number of times that life has come close to flatlining, whether due to comet strikes or an overabundance of bacteria.

In March 2009, Ward's 8-hour television series, Animal Armageddon, premieres on Animal Planet Network.

In April 2013, Ward published a surprisingly moving essay about his life's obsession: the chambered nautilus >>

What others say

"What are the chances of all the necessary factors coming together to allow the emergence of complex organisms? Not good, unfortunately. As far as we know, it's only happened once." — review of Rare Earth in the Skeptical Inquirer

Peter Ward’s TED talks

Peter Ward on the TED Blog

Earth's mass extinctions: Peter Ward on TED.com

January 27, 2009

Asteroid strikes get all the coverage, but “Medea Hypothesis” author Peter Ward argues that most of Earth’s mass extinctions were caused by lowly bacteria. The culprit, a poison called hydrogen sulfide, may have an interesting application in medicine. (Recorded February 2008 in Monterey, California. Duration: 19:42.) Watch Peter Ward’s talk on TED.com, where you can […]

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Peter Ward on Earth's appetite for destruction

January 11, 2009

Peter Ward spoke at TED2008 about Earth’s mass extinctions (watch for his TEDTalk later this month). You probably know about one of these events, the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction 65 million years ago that ended the age of dinosaurs. In today’s Boston Globe, Ward talks with writer Drake Bennett about the other four extinctions — and about […]

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TED2008: What is our place in the universe?

February 27, 2008

(Running notes from the TED2008 conference in Monterey, California. Second session.) The second session of TED2008 asks "What is our place in the universe?" and it cogently opens with a sneak preview of an amazing piece of technology under development at Microsoft: the World Wide Telescope, a powerful new web-based tool for exploring the universe […]

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