Scientists to Ugly Endangered Species: Drop Dead

It seems that scientists – those rational, cool-headed creatures – may not be immune to a cute factor in their research. A new study finds that researchers are biased towards cuter animals. “Scientists are people too,” says Morgan Trimble, one of the study’s authors. “And many of them want to work with the big and furry stuff.” Trimble and coauthor Rudi van Aarde found that threatened large mammals get the bulk of the attention; meanwhile, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals receive much less. Furthermore, within animal groups, specific animals received a disproportionate amounts of attention: “For threatened reptiles, some 98% of research studied less than a quarter of species.” Chimpanzees and meerkats, in contrast, have been the subjects of thousands of studies (1,855 and 1,241, respectively). (HT: Maarten Schenk)[%comments]


TK

This is surprising? Not to mention that this has been reported many times previously.

Howard Tayler

This is excellent news for those of us trying to pave the planet. We should be focusing our efforts on exterminating the ugly endangered species first, perhaps by spreading rumors about the virility their powdered bones provide, or maybe by publishing recipe books.

Those scientists can't protect 'em all!

Schantz

So Mr. Trimble has proven the "Leary Theory" established by Dr. Denis Leary during his "No Cure for Cancer" research in 1992?

Malt Yurt

I have tried to bring attention to my organization the Bos Grunniens Worldwide Protection and Appreciation Society. Very few people know that there are only a few hundred wild yaks alive on the entire planet. If you look at a picture of a wild yak you can only be inspired by its grace and beauty. And yet as of this time I have only raised $160 for my planned trip to Tibet to further my research into saving these animals. Please don't let bos grunniens go extinct. Speak to your elected representatives about saving the yak.

Eric M. Jones

Yeh, well. Kittens and puppies get cuter year by year because they get selected by humans for their cuteness. Then the rest of the litter...well my Grandma took them to her washbasin and I never saw what happened. They just disappeared.

But people certainly select people by cuteness, too. But whether this makes humans cuter or not is arguable since the cutest people don't necessarily have the most babies.

People select everything else by cuteness too: Shoes, clothing, cars, aircraft, leaders, bosses...everything.

Lystraeus

The scientific method is rational and cool-headed, not necessarily scientists. I'm not surprised by the study results.

The Alaotra grebe of Madagascar has recently been reported as extinct:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8702000/8702598.stm

Joe

Equal rights for parasites!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_biology_of_parasites

Donald

There are so many reasons for this to be the case, logically.

We study Chimps because they are our nearest living relative. We also tend to find them cute...perhaps because they are so human-like. Which is why we study them.

JS

Perhaps studying cuter animals leads to a higher probability of getting funding?

David L

Is it possible that the scientific focus is objectively driven by factors other than which species are most threatened? For example:

1) ultimately, most research funding decisions are made by someone who is not an expert in the field being studied. Presumably such people would be more susceptible to the cute factor.

2) Scientists, in deciding which species to focus on, understand that public momentum is an important factor, and therefore focus on species that have higher likelihoods of sustaining public sympathy, and therefore generating a higher ROI on their research.

brett

It also bothers me when meat-eating people, who regularly eat cows, chickens, and pork, refuse to eat rabbit, lamb, etc.

Sam Carter

The more interesting question to me would be:

Is this actually rational behavior?

As somebody pointed out "We study Chimps because they are our nearest living relative." Mammals in general are much closer genetically to humans than reptiles (or parasites).

I wonder if the number of scientific studies correlates with the genetic proximity of that animal species to Homo Sapiens.

Wes Sprinkle

This is a great subject to discuss.

Charismatic mega-fauna are, well, more charismatic than molds, spores, fungi, and the like. They are also easier to study than tiny, cryptic, or repulsive species.

Mike W

I was going to make David L's point (#10).

How many politicians ridicule funding that goes towards the uglies?

Doyle

Dear Mister Malt Yurt - there is good reason why Yaks are so endangered - their uncanny similarity to chicken in the Fast-Food Fried-Chicken arena of life. Now we all know this is a very old joke "...tastes like chicken...", but Yaks seem to have evolved to embrace their FFFC-destiny - they positively give their all to the cause - veritable leemings of the deep-fat-fryer, plus they UGGG-LEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dumbagent

I agree with JS. I'm sure a great deal of it is due to the fact that the cuter the animal, the more donations and funding are likely to be involved.

Karla

This is actually quite sad, while scientists are busy caring about all the cute, furry animals we have a lot of ugly guys out there dying off.

Cantelope

People, it gets worse:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/03/health/03ugly.html