There’s a new brick in the wall of Antarctic knowledge

I was reading this article on CNN, and was amazed at the ending quote by Stefano Schiaparelli, a mollusk specialist at Italy’s National Antarctic Museum in Genoa. I realized that mollusk researchers are not always the most loquacious, but really, a new brick? That’s the most painful thing I’ve heard in awhile.

Anyway, the article on the International Polar Year (IPY) was fascinating. Apparently the whole thing is part of a massive study being done in Antarctica and environs this year by many countries in a variety of areas. The goal of the study is to track possible negative environmental impacts on the Antarctic caused by pollution. I am perfectly content with this type of study. However, I’m a little unclear as to why the studies could not be done for the purpose of simply expanding scientific knowledge. Is there simply more funding available for environmental concerns after the whole Nobel Prize hoopla? Is it a fad? What’s the real motivation here, and will it skew the research that is done?

To find out a little more, I wikipediaed the study, the International Polar Year program. But there was really very little information about what was going on, what specific research targets were for this particular IPY (2007-2009), and who was carrying out various studies. However, it did make clear that the IPY would focus on both polar regions, not just the Antarctic. The website gave more information: 200 projects, 60 nations; physical, biological, and social research topics, an extreme outflow of information and studies. Four ‘urgencies’ were identified as key to the IPY: changing snow and ice, global linkages, neighbors in the north, and discovery. So it seems that environmental change is the basis for the first two, people are the third, and scientific knowledge expansion is dead last. I was gratified to see from the framework documents, however, that some anthropological study of the polar regions was also to be included. The framework document, if you’re interested in a little more background, is here.

Lastly, the original article did have some other fun things to say – mainly, giant fields of sea lilies. Ahh. Sea lilies. That sounds beautiful. SO I checked them out. Maybe not so beautiful. You decide. Anyway, I think the name ‘feather-star’ is less misleading. And crinoid, the name from your fossily childhood, says very little about beauty. But still – a whole field of them, stretching for miles, waving their little feeder arms gently, wiggly-woggly. They can have such a wide range of color and variation too, they are almost like a flower. Almost.

feather-star-1.jpg feather-star-2.jpg sea-lily.jpg 180px-crinoide_carbonifere_8127.jpg 180px-crinoids.jpg


  1. Alex said,

    March 21, 2008 at 11:25 am

    The vast majority, if not all, of science funding in the US comes from special interest groups (like foundations) or the government. So, all funding is given to projects that are aimed at (or claim to aim at) something that those things care about. The government cares about global warming. People do not, in general, care about the basic expansion of scientific knowledge, especially when that involves covering the cost to send people and equipment to Antarctica. On a similar note, a visiting professor told us a story about one of his students who was studying dieters. The student couldn’t get the grant, but in feedback from a reviewer it suggested that she get promiscuity measures somehow, because sex is always big. She added some bit of bull to her application and had to run an extra study, but she got the grant.

  2. Alex said,

    March 21, 2008 at 11:26 am

    To expand on my long comment, I can also assure you that virtually every memory researcher right now ties their work to aging and Alzheimer’s.

  3. April 30, 2008 at 8:23 am

    […] depths of the ocean – the Kraken, which we now think is a giant squid, the sperm whale, mondo-big sea lilies – all that stuff.  Anyone who reads dragon books has to love the dragons of the deep.  But it was […]

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