What's climate change ruining now? Baby penguin edition


Maybe we can preserve them in a zoo. And then when they are two years old, with no new pool of genetics, we can kill them, chop them up, and feed them to seals.

I am getting all sorts of red flags on these stories we keep seeing pop up in the media about cute animals in danger from climate change …

  • If the change occurred over a number of years, wouldn’t the penguins simply adapt?

  • I’ve seen graduate students warning about the way in which research topics are being selected today for funding, but I don’t see many science journalists actually paying attention to these warnings. For instance, stuff like this:

As many PhD students don’t truly get to choose their research topic, they are forced to adopt what their advisors do …

I cannot help but get the impression that the majority of us are avoiding the real issues and pursuing minor, easy problems that we know can be solved and published. The result is a gigantic literature full of marginal/repetitive contributions …

(5) Academia: The Black Hole of Bandwagon Research
Indeed, writing lots of papers of questionable value about a given popular topic seems to be a very good way to advance your academic career these days. The advantages are clear: there is no need to convince anyone that the topic is pertinent and you are very likely to be cited more since more people are likely to work on similar things. This will, in turn, raise your impact factor and will help to establish you as a credible researcher, regardless of whether your work is actually good/important or not. It also establishes a sort of stable network, where you pat other (equally opportunistic) researchers on the back while they pat away at yours.

Unfortunately, not only does this lead to quantity over quality, but many researchers, having grown dependent on the bandwagon, then need to find ways to keep it alive even when the field begins to stagnate. The results are usually disastrous. Either the researchers begin to think up of creative but completely absurd extensions of their methods to applications for which they are not appropriate, or they attempt to suppress other researchers who propose more original alternatives (usually, they do both). This, in turn, discourages new researchers from pursuing original alternatives and encourages them to join the bandwagon, which, though founded on a good idea, has now stagnated and is maintained by nothing but the pure will of the community that has become dependent on it. It becomes a giant, money-wasting mess …

  • Also, there is something a little bit red-flaggish when it comes to any cute animal. Cute animals tend to engage the irrational mind through the feelings which they evoke, which raises a question: Are there any ugly animals that are in danger of climate change? If so, why are we not talking about them too?

Maybe Maggie is repulsed by baby penguins.

No, this is the usual disingenuous argument of noting that nature changes and ignoring the rate. Magellanic penguins live 15-20 years, so we are talking about changes on the scale of a few generations; at that speed all the adapting you can really do is culling the species down to some portion who happen to be better suited to the new conditions. If there are enough in that portion to keep it going.

That’s possibly because you’re looking at journalists who talk about what has been found rather than what gets funded. I mean, does the question of whether money should go to studying penguins at all change what we learned about them? Or is this just another excuse to change the topic to how plasma physics might somehow overturn the overwhelming evidence for global warming and against all odds prove Velikovsky right?

I don’t know what you count as ugly, but there are lots of less charismatic animals to choose from. The various sorts of invertebrates - corals, zooplankton, starfish and so on - come to mind. As I recall, lots of people have mentioned them too, so this is a pretty weak objection too.

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If all organisms were infinitely adaptable there would be no extinct species.

This is a testable hypothesis. As it turns out, more than 99% of all species that ever lived on earth are extinct. Therefore, the hypothesis that all organisms are infinitely adaptable is false. From this, we can conclude that there is some probability greater than zero and less than one that penguins will go extinct rather than adapt given some environmental stressor.

It’s not clear how this is relevant.

Invoking “the irrational mind” is problematic. All moral values are in some sense irrational – due to Munchausen’s trilemma coupled with the fact that an “ought” can’t be derived from an “is” one simply cannot justify moral principles rationally. (Any attempt will be circular, inconsistent, or depend on unjustified axioms.) However, without moral values human beings would never engage in any sort of “rational” cognition in the first place – you have to actually care about something before you spend time thinking about it.

Since no one can have a rational reason for caring about anything (OK, you might be able to rationally justify a sociopathic survival-based ethos) then it stands to reason that caring about the ugly animals would be just as irrational as caring about the cute animals. If that’s the case, then why not focus on the cute animals since, as a matter of empirical fact, people already care about them more? Again, that it’s “irrational” is irrelevant. Caring about anything besides your own survival is irrational.

(And as chenille pointed out, plenty of people are talking about less charismatic animals. This is a one-off blog post by a science journalist. The idea that you can criticize all discussion of climate change by pointing out that this blog post doesn’t address the full scope of concerns about climate change is a little…hrrm, what’s the word…“irrational”?)

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I’ve been following this and created a baby penguin character for my comic strip, www.AlteredHabitat.com. The baby penguin, Angry Egg, refuses to hatch into a screwed up world.

this is nothing, dont you know there’s a mass extinction going on RIGHT NOW? 200 species a day a going extinct. dont believe me, google it.

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