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Dear Anthropocene Working Group (about that Comment in Nature)

Submitted by on December 8, 2016 – 4:52 am

ellis_etal_nature_comment_2016In the interests of transparency and to clarify that my critique of the Anthropocene formalization process is not a critique of the people of Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) of which I am a member, I’ve decided to post my email to the AWG informing them of my recent Comment in Nature. I’ve edited very slightly:

Dear Anthropocene Working Group,
I am sending the attached as advance notice of a Nature Comment to be published today.

Scientifically, I hope the comment speaks for itself, though I am very glad to discuss further with you any of the issues it raises.

But I also want to make sure that all of you know and understand my intentions in writing this.

Even though this comment could be seen as just a pure criticism of AWG’s efforts, that is absolutely not my intention.

I am proud to be part of AWG. I continue to admire and respect the high level of scientific collaboration and collegiality on constant display in AWG. The Anthropocene proposal has come so far – and it could not have done so without AWG and its fine leadership. Be sure that the concerns I’ve raised do not in any way represent a diminution of my respect for AWG. Even while it has become clear that I am an outlier in the group in many of my views, I’ve always felt welcomed as a colleague and I hope that this feeling will continue. I did include text relating to this in early drafts- but of course the Editors edited that out…

I wrote this as a call to move forward in Anthropocene formalization with substantial participation by social scientists and with a more archaeological, social-process-oriented approach. The emergence of human systems, shaped by social and cultural processes, are driving planetary change and leaving stratigraphic evidence. I am convinced that AWG and the Anthropocene formalization process will benefit by including a robust scientific understanding of human social processes and their stratigraphic records at regional to global scales. I think that can only come by including a very substantial number of social scientists, especially archaeologists, in AWG/Anthropocene formalization.

I have raised similar concerns within AWG earlier- but like most groups, this level of structure/process change is rarely possible through internal discussions alone. And it is also clear that many archaeologists and social scientists have opted not to engage with AWG or Anthropocene formalization – just avoiding this entirely.

So- I felt that more effort was needed to help move the Earth sciences and the social sciences closer together to embrace human sociocultural processes as Earth system processes in their own right, and to include the stratigraphic evidence of major shifts in these processes at the center of the Anthropocene formalization process.

In the end, the goal is a more robust, inclusive, open AWG/Anthropocene formalization process that is properly backed up by substantial and sustained institutional support through greater funding and other resources.

And Jan and Colin are still my favorites as leaders for such an expanded effort.

I think there are actually some real opportunities to fund this.

Either way- I hope that the Comment will stimulate a whole new level of productive scientific work on the Anthropocene by AWG and others.


Here are some news items relating to the Comment:

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