Pokémon Go Is All the Rage, But Where's the Science?

By Jennifer Ouellette on at

The Pokémon Go craze is still going strong, as players scamper about the great outdoors trying desperately to catch ‘em all. And amid all the accompanying media frenzy, there’s one burning question on everyone’s mind: where’s the science?

Yes, there is a science of Pokémon—specifically, a 2012 satirical study that appeared in the humorous journal, Annals of Improbable Research entitled, “A Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Pokémon.” The authors—then a group of budding young entomologists at the University of California Davis—traced the evolutionary history of the 646 fictional species of “pocket monsters,” even creating an impressive 16-generation phylogenetic or evolutionary tree.

Why do this at all? Well, the paper itself cites the need to document all the species because they are “threatened by the Pokémon fighting rings that are growing rapidly in popularity, particularly among urban youth.” But really, it was just a fun side project.

“I had a lull in my dissertation research and decided to spend the weekends and downtime making this phylogeny,” lead author Matan Shelomi said at the time. “It took at least a month to actually collect all the data, which I did manually by scrolling through Pokémon websites.”

Considering the creatures are entirely made up, the tree turned out surprisingly well, although a fierce debate over possible errors raged on Reddit when the tree was first published. It was also a fitting tribute to Pokémon’s creator: Japanese video game developer Satoshi Tajiri, who collected insects in his childhood and once considered becoming an entomologist.

You can see the full-scale, high resolution image of the evolutionary tree here. [Annals of Improbable Research]

Image: Ivana Li, Shelomi et al/AIR