Do you kind of wish Pokemon cards had REAL creatures not FAKE creatures?

If so, you should join this facebook group.

Here’s part of what started this group: a friend of mine passed on this “letter to Santa:”


It quite nicely demonstrates an issue with advocates of biodiversity – that is, what 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.

Right now, we have plans to release the website proper in March 2010, but are in the process of getting general word out, as well as asking artists to begin participating through submissions of their artwork (this, you can start to see happening here)


The main idea is that it addresses the striking observation that children are really really really good at identifying Pokemon creatures, whereas they are really quite terrible at recognizing the plants and animals in their own proverbial backyards.

The study in question that showed this was even published a few years back in Science (Why Conservationists Should Heed Pokemon, Science. 2002 Mar 29;295(5564):2367), and its lead author, Andrew Balmford, has graciously allowed my lab to (so to speak) “have a go.”

At the site, there is a link to a pdf which has a more fleshed out description of the aim of the project, but all in all, it is an exercise in web dynamics.

Consequently, we’re well aware of the cautionary comments about the utility of such things. However. it is one of the luxuries of web projects, in that while the resources sunk in are relatively minor, the results can be quite amazing if the Gods of the Web are happy with what is going on.


The general idea is to have a web hub that can act as a focal point for a variety of different communities to weigh in. Essentially, we hope to have a community of illustrators who are keen (or at the very least, not opposed) to submit a piece of artwork (and at fairly small dimensions to try and guard against unwarranted use – i.e. we really only need a small image for the card aspect, 360 x 225px)

Secondly, we have folks from the scientific community who will be more or less in charge of trying to figure out what type of content is presented on the card. Here, I have quite a few folks lined up to get this ball rolling from a Vancouver, British Columbia perspective. This is where we hope the scientific literacy angle can come into play.

Thirdly, (and in tandem with what the science folks are doing), we’ll have the gaming community weigh in. This is actually the group I have the least connection with, but from previous mentions about the project (I’ve blogged occasionally on the idea), they tended to be (by far!) the most vocal, so I’m optimistic that there will be some keen contributions there.

Overall – the project flowchart is:

1. we collect interesting images (that can hopefully engage both the artistic community and the children who will ultimately play with the cards)

2. provide content on the card (that fulfills the biodiversity community’s literacy criteria, as well as being rich and fluid enough for gamers to work with), and

3. present mechanisms for gameplay design where the type of games can be quite diverse (i.e. from basic trumps to pokemon-ish rules, where maybe even specific game scenarios are put forth, climate change, habitat encroachment, etc) as well as easily shared.

4. all with a mind that everything is essentially open access, and set up so that card production can easily occur at home – i.e. all free.

Finally, if all goes well, I’m very connected to the local education community to try and test some of these games out (see if the kids like them, are coming away actually learning about organisms, ecology, etc). Currently, also chatting with some education academics to see if any are keen to look at this in a very detailed manner.

For now, the pragmatic goal is to see if we can built a set of at least 50 or so interesting pictures in the next two or so months, but obviously are hoping that people will think this is a cool idea in general and participate to produce a larger set of images. I should also add that the website is being programmed to run on wordpress, so it’ll also be open source for download, etc, in case others want to create a hub they can manage in their own locality.


Anyway, what do you think of this project? Comments would be greatly greatly appreciated, and it would also be wonderful if you had the means and the will to also spread, spread, SPREAD the word.

Do you think it will help to build a meme around this post? Something like “think of your five favorite organisms and why, suggest it for the Phylomon art community and pass it on?”

Here, I’ll go first. In no particular order:

Starling – because I am always amazed how so few people know what this bird is, despite having had contact with it (they’re everywhere in Vancouver, and indeed most of the temperate climate world!)

E.coli – as a molecular biologist, me and E.coli go a long long way.

Cat – I’m a cat person. Well, right now anyway – my kids really want a dog, so I’m sure this will change.

Daffodils – have always had a soft spot for this flower. Maybe it has something to do with Wordsworth.

Blue Whale – literally, the reason why I started a career in the sciences. That mental picture in my head of when I first saw the life size model of the Blue Whale at the Natural History Museum in London is still awe inspiring!

O.K. you’ve been tagged…

Related Topics


David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at