Adventures in Ethics and Science

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that the elder Free-Ride offspring has a fondness (occasionally verging on obsession) for Pokemon cards. This means I had no choice but to involve my offspring in Dave Ng’s Phylomon project:

[W]hat can we do to get kids engaged with the wonderful creatures that are all around them? They obviously have the ability and the passion to care about such things, but it appears misplaced – they’ll spend a ton of resources and time tracking down fictional things, when they could easily do the same with the very wildlife around them. As a bonus, if they do learn a little more about biodiversity, they will hopefully appreciate their surroundings a little more, not to mention the possibility of just being outside a little more.



In any event, this is why I’m please to share with you a project coming out of my lab, that will hopefully do a small part in tackling this challenge. And, with the help of a rather large group of young students, we have decided to call it the “Phylomon Project.”

What is this? Well, the website describes it as follows:

…it’s an online initiative aimed at creating a Pokemon card type resource but with real creatures on display in full “character design” wonder. Not only that – but we plan to have the scientific community weigh in to determine the content on such cards (note that the cards above are only a mock-up of what that content might be), as well as folks who love gaming to try and design interesting ways to use the cards. Then to top it all off, members of the teacher community will participate to see whether these cards have educational merit. Best of all, the hope is that this will all occur in a non-commercial-open-access-open-source-because-basically-this-is-good-for-you-your-children-and-your-planet sort of way.

So, here are the elder Free-Ride offspring’s preliminary thoughts about the project:


* Eating and being eaten: There should be cards for critters that are primarily predators, and cards for critters that are primarily prey. As well, there should be cards for critters that are sometimes predators, sometimes prey, depending on what else is around. This might be the main focus of the “behavioral” information on most of the cards.

*Defensive abilities: How critters (or plants, or fungi, or whatever) defend themselves — whether from being munched, or trod upon, or whatever — is also important to know. This would include blending into the normal habitat, or being stinky, or being drought tolerant, or being poisonous, or looking like something that’s poisonous or yucky tasting.

*Reproducing: It’s not just a matter of having other cards of the same organism in the deck. An organism’s card should say something about how long it takes that organism to produce, and how many offspring it has at a time, and how many usually survive, and how much work that organism has to put into protecting the offspring.

*“Fear factor”: At least for the animals, the cards should say what they’re most and least afraid of (whether it’s something that’s always harmful to them or always safe for them — sometimes you’re afraid of things that don’t actually hurt you, or not afraid of something that can hurt you).

*Get out your dice! If there are two critters competing for the same food source, or two equally matched animals in a fight, you determine the winner by who gets the highest dice roll.

*Environment cards and event cards: In addition to the organism cards, there should be a separate deck that determines the environment the organisms are trying to survive in, and a deck that determines the events that happen within that environment. Some organisms do better in some environments than others, and the events within an environment may effect some organisms positively, and others negatively.

*Invasive species: Maybe you start with a whole bunch of organism cards for just one area (and the environment cards are for particular features and microclimates within that area). But then if you mix up the decks, you may have some organisms that come in from other areas and do much better than the native species. (This might be a way to play with kids from other places.)

For our region, near the San Francisco Bay, the elder Free-Ride offspring suggests:

Predators:

  • Domestic dog
  • Fox
  • Sandpiper
  • Hawk
  • Barn owl
  • Human
  • Bobcat
  • Snake
  • Frog
  • Skunk
  • Domestic cat
  • Turkey vulture
  • Raccoon

Prey:

  • Mouse
  • Sparrow
  • Clam
  • Jackrabbit
  • Turkey
  • Deer
  • Duck
  • Squirrel
  • Cow
  • Insects of various sorts

Plants:

  • Grass
  • Oak tree
  • Pine tree
  • Mustard
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

(If a botanist would like to school my child on the diversity of plant life, that would be fine with me. For some reason, the diversity of animal life seems more obvious to a ten-year-old.)

Events:

  • Pollution
  • Fire
  • Earthquake
  • Blight
  • Habitat clearance

No artwork yet, but I think some may be in the works …

Game on!

Comments

  1. #1 David Ng
    January 15, 2010

    You and your kids are brilliant. Will definitely include in my (quickly expanding) comments about “what should go on the cards.”

  2. #2 brand0con
    January 15, 2010

    Sounds reminiscent of Magic the Gathering only based in a greater level of reality. I would guess elder-sprog hasn’t wandered into MtG territory just yet.

  3. #3 KeithB
    January 15, 2010

    Frogs are ceertainly predator and prey if you add their predators, like storks, cranes or egrets.

    Don’t you have coyotes in your parts?

    What in your predator list have cows for prey? Unless you forgot to include humans as predators. 8^)

  4. #4 Raleigh Flowers
    January 16, 2010

    Here in Raleigh the predators are more like the occasional fox. Can you imagine that fox in downtown Raleigh? Well it’s true we live just inside the city limits and we have deer, fox, racoon and other predators visit almost nightly, so frogs here are rare indeed.

  5. #5 Isabel
    January 16, 2010

    Plants have all kinds of interesting physical and chemical defenses and are often in competition or in symbiotic relationships with animals and fungi, all of which could make things interesting. And there are carnivorous plants, poisonous plants and mushrooms…

    I’ve taught kids about plants through awareness of plant communities, which often define animal habitats.

  6. #6 Uncle Fishy
    January 16, 2010

    After attempting to prey on wild mushrooms a couple of week back I turned over the poison oak card. That one definitely needs to be here. It’s still, um, defending itself.

  7. #7 Uncle Fishy
    January 17, 2010

    After attempting to prey on wild mushrooms a couple of week back I turned over the poison oak card. That one definitely needs to be here. It’s still, um, defending itself.

  8. #8 Peanut
    January 18, 2010

    Given that you live in CA, I offer up six plants for your sprogs, 3 natives, 3 invasives:

    Chaparral

    Bristlecone pine

    Shasta snow-wreath

    Ice plant

    Scot’s broom

    Eucalyptus

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