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The Sciences

Popular Misunderstandings of Evolution, Take Twenty One

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJanuary 20, 2006 8:52 PM

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I went and saw a movie the other night, and in the process also wound up seeing an ad that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. It's for Coca Cola, and it involves cute penguins and surprisingly benign polar bears getting together to enjoy fizzy beverages at the North Pole. Now, the conceit of polar bears and penguins being buddies--rather than the former devouring the latter--is ridiculous enough. But let that pass; this is, after all, a cartoonish ad campaign obviously aimed at kids.

What troubles me more, though, is the blatant ignorance the ad both embodies, and spreads, about biogeography. At the risk of sounding pedantic, let's face it: Polar bears only inhabit the Arctic, while Emperor Penguins (which appears to be the species in the Coke ad) live in the Antarctic. And even if the Coke ad isn't using Emperor Penguins, but rather some other species, that still won't fly: Penguins only live in the Southern hemisphere, having probably originally evolved in that region. In nature, they would never cross paths with a polar bear.

So the Coke ad is evolutionarily and biogeographically impossible, but you can bet that the ad's creators weren't bothered by this one little bit. And that's the problem in my mind. If people knew more about evolution in this country, I suspect they would find this advertising campaign completely, laughably ridiculous. But they don't, and so Coke comes along and spreads nonsense to millions--many of whom, I suspect, don't suffer from any cognitive dissonance at all when they see penguins and polar bears chilling together.

Now, I know, I know--it's just an ad. Still, at the very least Coke passed up a teachable moment. And at the very worst, it helped foster still more ignorance about evolution.

Granted, I'm more than willing to be convinced that I'm getting too worked up over this.

P.S.: The flaws in the ad were originally pointed out to me by a friend, who knows who he is, and who gets credit for inspiring this blog posting.

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