RSSCategory: Science

Measuring intelligence in animals

April 3, 2013 | By | Reply More

In this article in the Wall Street Journal, Frans de Waal cautions us that we need to properly test animals before declaring that they lack intelligence. He gives several examples, concluding that scientists need to take the time to think like animals when designing experiments for animals.

A growing body of evidence shows . . . that we have grossly underestimated both the scope and the scale of animal intelligence. Can an octopus use tools? Do chimpanzees have a sense of fairness? Can birds guess what others know? Do rats feel empathy for their friends? Just a few decades ago we would have answered “no” to all such questions. Now we’re not so sure.

Experiments with animals have long been handicapped by our anthropocentric attitude: We often test them in ways that work fine with humans but not so well with other species. Scientists are now finally meeting animals on their own terms instead of treating them like furry (or feathery) humans, and this shift is fundamentally reshaping our understanding.

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Meta-cognition documented in chimpanzees

April 3, 2013 | By | Reply More

Humans are not the only animals capable of meta-cognition: the ability to think about their thinking. A recent article in Science Daily demonstrates that chimpanzees are capable of meta-cognition:

[C]himpanzees named items immediately and directly when they knew what was there, but they sought out more information before naming when they did not already know.

The research team said, “This pattern of behavior reflects a controlled information-seeking capacity that serves to support intelligent responding, and it strongly suggests that our closest living relative has metacognitive abilities closely related to those of humans.”

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Why believe in the scientific method?

April 2, 2013 | By | Reply More

Richard Dawkins succinctly explains why one should follow the scientific method.

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Early human-neanderthal ancestor remains identified

April 2, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

This is an incredible story. Scientists have identified a 30,000-40,000 year old hominid ancestor whose DNA indicates that it is part Human, part Neanderthal.

If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.

Those were amazing times in Europe, where humans and Neanderthals co-existed. One wonders whether this co-existence was at all peaceful. Regardless, apparently I (along with many people of European and Asian ancestry) carry some Neanderthal genetic coding.

When I am asked about my “race,” I have sometimes (when I would not receive any sort of benefit or privilege for doing so) indicate “African.” I’ve previously argued that we’d all be better off declaring that we are African, because the categories or “race” are as scientifically deficient as they are culturally divisive. But now, thanks to this new finding, I have the option of indicating that my “race” is Part-human, part Neanderthal, out of Africa via Europe, currently living in the U.S. Or something like that.

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Monochrome snow

March 24, 2013 | By | Reply More
Monochrome snow

We had a big snowfall in St. Louis today. In the middle of it, I visited the Missouri Botanical Gardens to capture a series of color photos that certainly don’t look like color photos. Except check out the final photo, in which a blue heron is notable.

IMG_9336 Snow MBG - evv

IMG_9321 Snow MBG - evv

IMG_9319 Snow MBG - evv

IMG_9342 Snow MBG - evv

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Here’s where to sign up for a one-way trip to Mars

March 16, 2013 | By | Reply More

According to this plan, there will be a rocket leaving for Mars in 2013. Before signing up, you need to know that you’ll only get a one-way ticket.

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Sorry, wrong homework

March 13, 2013 | By | Reply More

This is a pretty cool story that has stuck with me. It’s from the obituary of George Dantzig (Published in the Washington Post in May, 2005):

George B. Dantzig, 90, a mathematician who devised a formula that revolutionized planning, scheduling, network design and other complex functions integral to modern-day business, industry and government, died May 13 at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. The cause of death, according to his daughter, was complications from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Dantzig was known as the father of linear programming and as the inventor of the “simplex method,” an algorithm for solving linear programming problems.

“He really created the field,” said Irvin Lustig, an operations research software consultant who was Dr. Dantzig’s student at Stanford University.

Dr. Dantzig’s seminal work allows the airline industry, for example, to schedule crews and make fleet assignments. It’s the tool that shipping companies use to determine how many planes they need and where their delivery trucks should be deployed. The oil industry long has used linear programming in refinery planning, as it determines how much of its raw product should become different grades of gasoline and how much should be used for petroleum-based byproducts. It’s used in manufacturing, revenue management, telecommunications, advertising, architecture, circuit design and countless other areas.

. . .

In 1939, he resumed his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, studying statistics under mathematician Jerzy Neyman. An incident during his first year at Berkeley became a math-world legend.

As Dr. Dantzig recalled years later, he arrived late for class one day and saw two problems on the blackboard that he assumed were homework assignments. He copied them down, took them home and solved them after a few days. “The problems seemed to be a little harder to do than usual,” he said.

On a Sunday morning six weeks later, an excited Neyman banged on his student’s front door, eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics.

“That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them,” Dr. Dantzig recalled.

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Bill Nye’s frustration with deniers of evolution

March 11, 2013 | By | Reply More

Bill Nye says that we need scientifically literate people–let’s not ruin our children by shoving evolution down their throats:

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The most astounding fact about the universe

March 10, 2013 | By | Reply More

Neil DeGrasse Tyson recounts the most astounding fact about the universe in this short video. How can anyone who listens to these words with an open mind not feel a sense of awe?

And yes, this idea tracks the words of Carl Sagan, who pointed out that we are made of star-stuff:

I plucked the Tyson video link off of a light-hearted look at the life of Tyson.

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