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YouTube video ‘Planet Bob’ uses humor to magnify focus on biodiversity

October 24, 2007

“Planet Bob,” a joint video production from Arizona State University’s International Institute for Species Exploration and Media Alchemy Inc., uses humor to draw attention to the serious subject of biodiversity and the science of taxonomy.

Combining live action, state-of-the-art animation, and the vocal talents of venerable TV host Hugh Downs and others, “Planet Bob” presents the mysterious, exciting – and surprisingly funny – side of taxonomy.

Taxonomy – the science of species discovery, description and classification – has made spectacular advances, but “the challenge is to accelerate the workflow to meet an exploding need for taxonomic information,” says professor Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist and taxonomist who established ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration to expand a new field of study: cybertaxonomy.

Using the Internet, 21st century research tools, and “a new spirit of global collaboration,” cybertaxonomy allows taxonomists to more efficiently explore and document Earth’s species for ground-breaking studies on the environment, food production, even the health of the planet.

“Frankly, the speed at which species are becoming extinct is alarming,” says Wheeler, who also is vice president and dean of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Web site and the video “Planet Bob” represent new ways to present this topic, in a creative fusion between academia and popular technology.

Posted on YouTube, ”Planet Bob” is the brainchild of Erik Holsinger, executive producer and president of Media Alchemy Inc., an award-winning video production company based in Seattle.

“One of the best ways to tackle difficult subjects is with humor,” Holsinger says. “Quentin’s passion for taxonomy was a great inspiration for our video. Now, with ‘Planet Bob,’ we can present an important, but difficult academic subject in an entertaining light.”

Wheeler notes: “Our knowledge of Earth’s species is incomplete and fragmentary. Our best guess is only 10 percent of living species are known to science.

“People are often surprised to learn how little we know about the millions of species who share our planet. Cybertaxonomy will usher in a new era of exploration and discovery, expanding knowledge about evolutionary history and creating a legacy for future generations,” Wheeler says.