Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Fun with Gravity

No, I'm not talking about the downtown crane!

This is a map of the earth. It's from the Goce satellite, which maps the actual gravity on the planet. The earth isn't a sphere, but a bumpy potato shaped thing that's thick in some parts, thin in others, and the earth's crust varies between big and not as big depending where you dig.

I have a a new fitness idea? Want to lose a few pounds? Move to the south of India!

Sadly, if you want to lose mass, my fitness plan is not for you.

You can read more about the project here!


Tuesday, 29 June 2010

But you started out so well!

ResearchBlogging.orgWhat colour is the colour for little girls? Well, if you were raised in a "Western" context, the answer is really simple. It's pink, duh. But if you think about it, there's no reason why pink should be for little girls per se, or why boys have blue. Why can't girls have brown, and boys have tangerine? It's just as logical as pink for girls, blue for boys. And I like the colour tangerine. And the fruit isn't half bad, either.

If the colours are arbirary, have they ever been different? Well, it turns out, yes, in fact they have:
The Sunday Sentinal, an American newspaper, in 1914 advised mothers: “If you like the color note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention” (March 29, 1914).
Similarly, Ladies Home Journal informed: “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl” (June, 1918).
Alas, no tangerine for boys, but Pink is definitely a manly colour. Who can argue with logic such as theirs? And note the dates: 1918 was not a very long time ago, in the grand scheme of things.

As you can probably guess, I'm quoting from a paper on the subject, which started out so great as it goes into the history, and the flip-flop somewhere in the early-mid 1900s. Oh, but it started out so great, ends in a great big wallow in Evolutionary Psychology. Evo-Psych can be a good tool for exploring behaviour, when employed properly, and in a comparative context. It tries to explain human behaviour in an evolutionary (often adaptive) context, bringing examples from our past.

But often, when it's implemented, it's vacuous nonsense. There's nothing to it. It's a lovely story that sounds great, but is ultimately untestable. They're sometimes called "Just So" stories, echoing a bit of the lack of rigour to them (and referencing a child's book). Why do humans sneeze when they go out into the light? Because it helped to clear our noses in our cave days. It's just so. This pseudoscience is rightly derrided. And Frassanito and Pettorini dive into it deep:

A recent argument proposes a biological basis, connected to evolved sex differences in specialized visual pathways that allows females to better discriminate red wavelengths. The hunter–gatherer theory proposes that female brains should be specialized for gathering-related tasks and is supported by studies of visual abilities [13]. Tricromacy and the second red–green system (L–M opponent channel) are “modern” adaptations in primate evolution thought to have evolved to facilitate the identification of ripe, yellow fruit or edible red leaves embedded in green foliage [12]. It is therefore plausible that, in specializing for gathering, the female brain honed the trichromatic adaptations (and developed more the P-cell pathway of vision), and these underpin the female preference for objects reddish. Research on foraging in contemporary nonhuman primates [5] supports this hypothesis. Whereas discrimination of red wavelengths appears to facilitate identification of plant food, a preference for red or pink appears to have an advantage for successful female reproduction. This preference for reddish-pink is thought to exist because infant faces compared to adult ones are reddish-pink, and red or pink may signal approach behaviors that enhance infant survival [7]
Where do I begin with that? First of all, it assumes a sexual segregation in hunting/gathering. Did women gather more than men? I'll dispute this in a moment, but let's assume for a moment that they did. So selection would favour females who had a red-preference. But. There is no down side to males inheriting this preference too. There's no reason for it to become sex-linked. This is good, because it may be highly difficult for such a behaviour to become sex linked! It would need to become tied to some sexually differentiated system, and this adds an additional layer of complexity. No one would deny that sex based differences in the male and female brains exist, but most of the big ones are older differences (such as mate preference).

And that assumes there was sexual segregation in labour! I had the good fortune of studying under Dennis Bramble for a short while, and he'd reported that in his studies of human adaptation to cursoriality (running), he found no sex differences for the middle percentiles. The elite athletes have a sex difference, but athletes are, by definition, weird. They're not normal. He reported to his class there was no sex difference human running energetics until some point deep into pregnancy (I don't recall the exact point, but it surprised me). As cursorial mammals, there is a minimum of sex-based differences. So much for evolved sexual segregation of labour!

It's worth nothing that [5] doesn't actually support their hypothesis AT ALL. There is no mention of sex based differences. At all. Anywhere. How does that support them? They might argue "Well, human (American) males don't show the preference! Ergo, there has been differentiation." Yes, but how many human males in America actively forage? The trait is superfluous, so if it is under cultural control, it could vanish without anyone being harmed. In fact, the sexual dimorphism in "Westerners" suggests that it is not an evolved characteristic, in light of our primate relatives!

So, where the heck is their evidence?

Frassanito, P., & Pettorini, B. (2008). Pink and blue: the color of gender Child's Nervous System, 24 (8), 881-882 DOI: 10.1007/s00381-007-0559-3

Monday, 28 June 2010

Make me smile, make me frown.

I woke up this morning and read about how Verison was charging a soldier's widow an Early Termination Fee on the deceased Marine's cell-phone contract, and it almost immediately left a bad taste in my head. Luckily, there was a story in the Tundra Drubs that made me smile just a bit:

Now, he's dishing up salmon-head soup, smoked smelt and Eskimo ice cream made with white fish, berries and Crisco, called akutaq.
And of course, almost every day is fry bread day.
"If we go a few days without that, we're getting complaints," he said.
The wild-food deliveries -- allowed under a state exemption for the hospital -- are a hit.
Usually, anyway.
A couple elders turned up their noses at roasted ptarmigan -- shot by Callahan during a snowmachine outing this winter. They'd apparently lost their liking for the bird.
Story here. I always find the description of akutaq funny - well, yes, it sound weird when you put it like that. But how would you explain meatloaf? :)

Here's a bird from this weekend, telling me where I can go stick my head:

Friday, 25 June 2010

From the "You can't make this up" Files

I recognize that keeping good public relations and education is important for carnivore conservation. After all, ranchers don't like their cattle being eaten, joggers don't like being mauled by bears, and that lady who was mobbed by eagles was kinda unhappy at the time.

But honestly, can we admit that sometimes, the public is kind of stupid? This woman is suing the province of Alberta:
A woman just west of Grande Prairie, Alta., says the province's wildlife officers could have prevented her two miniature donkeys from being killed by a grizzly bear in May.
Christie Olesen discovered the bodies of donkeys Tabasco and Jewel on her property on May 13.
"[The bear] basically ripped them open, ate their organs out and just left their bodies there," Olesen said Tuesday.
Olesen said officers from Alberta Fish and Wildlife knew the bear was in the area and should have warned her.
Read more:

Her argument - that the Province should have let her know that there was a collared bear in the area - makes sense right up until you put some thought to it. 
First you're left with the problem that no one is monitoring collar data 24x7 if it's a GPS collar, and if it's a radio collar? Well, you know where the bear is even less often. 
And it'd be difficult to warn everyone about all the collared bears, everywhere.

And there's the fact that this woman wasn't even taking common sense precautions to protect her valuable livestock, despite the fact that she lives in BEAR HABITAT. You know, like putting the valuable animals in the barn for the night as a matter of course. So they don't get eaten by any of the uncollared bears. Or wolves. Or coyotes. Or, depending on their size, the aforementioned eagles. Or wolverines. Or feral dogs. Or cougars. Or... well, you get the picture.

Aside from that, her argument is great. 

Donkey Lady:
Hat tip to

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Moose management - it works, sometimes

ResearchBlogging.orgWell, I finished reading "Science and Values Influencing Predator Control for Alaska Moose." It was actually a very good read, with excellent cadence, even if I had heard all of this at conferences before. I've got a few general comments on this, but first I'll lay out the review a bit.

It comes in four five.
First, it reviews the relative effects of predation to other factors for moose. After all, if it's mostly nutrition limiting moose, additional rounds of predator control will not bolster moose populations, or will only do so slightly. Their arguments are old-hat to anyone who's been on this ride for a while, but it's worth repeating:
  • Most moose in AK are at low density.
  • Moose at low density are primarily limited by predation.
  • Moose in some areas experience effects from high density.
  • Moose in high density areas are not very effected by predation.
  • Everyone is effected by random "bad winters" (Winterkill).
  • Most moose predation mortality is in juvenile moose.
The second section dealt with manipulative studies - that is to say, our previous experience with Intensive Management. Here there's eight cases laid out that I won't go into exhaustive detail on. The best evidence, by far, is GMU 20A, or the moose south of the Tanana river and north of the Alaska Range. McGrath has potential to be a more important finding, but as of yet it is a weak-moderate finding. I am very unconvinced by data from 20D, but others might consider the data from that unit good. In general, the pattern of predator manipulation (which wasn't always IM) was followed by improved moose censuses. Some of these have thus-far been sustained (20A), others less so (Kenai).

The third, and shortest section, is on sustainability of the increases moose counts. This is the shortest section, since the data is the newest (or in other cases, the weakest). Again, the best data comes from Unit 20A, where there's been a sort of accidental experiment going for a while now. Important factors in the long term-sustainability of these populations seems to be a) carefully monitoring nutritional status b) doing habitat improvement when possible (this includes allowing burns to proceed, or doing controlled burns) c) allowing larger cow moose hunts to keep the population short of carrying capacity (overshooting K is a Bad Thing™).

Next comes the sustainability of wolf and bear populations in interior AK. The evidence for sustainability is very firm, and although I'm sure some people could twist it, in general most people can recognize that the situation is fine. The areas involved are vast, getting people involved in bear harvest is actually very hard, wolves and wolves do an exceptionally good job compensating for high harvest, and IM areas only seem large until you consider how big the state is, and how many and how large non-IM areas are. This is the section from my earlier quote. 

Lastly, there are some general comments on the sociology and public opinions around IM. It discusses logical fallacies employed by both people for and against it, and seems to suggest reconciliation is unlikely because either user group starts with fundamentally different premises and values. I think this is an overly grim view of the situation, and have hope that open communication can bring the public to some sort of consensus. This section had  a great table which I'll repost here.

In general, the message is that "Intensive Management Works*" Where there's a footnote that would read "*Under some models, in some conditions, some of the time." Which I think most biologists would be willing to concede. A large part of the problem over IM is the perception of conflicting values, which is an inherently non-scientific issue. I know that some Scientists would reply that the HD equilibrium is inherently unstable, and it's the LD "dynamic" equilibrium that's the most stable state. I'm not sure there is good ways to argue for or against that right now, without, say, 20 more years of data that doesn't exist.

Okay, here's my thoughts, in no particular order:
Caribou are generally a less-reliable prey than moose because seasonal distribution is more clumped and unpredictable, and voids exist in caribou distribution in inland Alaska.
I agree with the latter part of the sentence, but the former really needs a citation. I can't just let that pass. Where caribou are abundant, they have the potential to be a substantial part of wolf diets, potentially lowering the number of moose. I can illustrate this with a model, but I don't have data to back this up. However, neither do they.

It seems like Winterkill is often ignored as a major factor moose population trajectories. And it's hard to react to stochastic severe winter events fast enough to change management. This is the biggest lesson I take from the Fairbanks winter of 1971 (though I take others as well). We need a better manner of accommodating severe winter events.

Given the invasion of White Tailed and Mule Deer from the Deep South™, should our management objectives change from managing for high density populations to managing for low density? LD populations have two big advantages - first, contact between moose is lower, so disease transmission is reduced. Second, moose are in better nutritional status, which correlates strongly with the ability to mount immune responses to the emerging diseases. On the other hand, LD moose populations have declining recruitment as population declines due to diseases, whereas in HD moose populations, recruitment increases.  I don't know the answer to this question. Science is needed, because CWD and Winter Tick are coming to AK whether we like it or not.

IM for bears could probably be highly refined. Bears are even more cultural than wolves are, and in one instance less than 50% of killed 72% of calves. You could probably get away with just removing, or killing, the better predators. I think we need to start viewing bears as people long-ago did - as human in their cognition. But I'm a big proponent of the idea that bears show strong cultural evolution, so take that with a grain of salt.

Boertje, R., Keech, M., & Paragi, T. (2010). Science and Values Influencing Predator Control for Alaska Moose Management Journal of Wildlife Management, 74 (5), 917-928 DOI: 10.2193/2009-261

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Things I did not know

Animals raised in captivity under optimum conditions -- Caribou (McEwan and wood, 1966), black-tailed deer (Woods et al. 1962), and whitetailed deer (French et al. 1955; Magruder et al. 1957) -- still underwent a reduction in food-consumption during the winter months, with the retardation of growth in young deer and the loss of weight in adults.
That's from Ronald Skog's 1968 Thesis, which I'm re-reading portions of. My immediate question is... why? Why should animals under nice, warm conditions being fed ad-lib lose weight? Is it because they turn off their digestive track? If so, why eat? Very curious


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Sentences worth pondering

Currently, the primary practical factors ensuring that Alaska predator populations remain sustainable include 1) lack of tradition and interest in harvesting wolves and bears relative to harvesting moose or caribou, and 2) the greater challenge and cost associated with harvesting wolves and bears because predators are elusive, particularly in forested areas, and usually occur at low densities compared with moose or caribou. A substantial, long-term change in ≥1 of these factors will warrant a reexamination of whether sustainability of predator populations is adequately ensured.
This from Science and Values Influencing Predator Control for Alaska Moose Management in the new issue of JWM.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Beer Notes on an unlikely beer

Quick note: What the heck is with Blogger not posting my posts? this one got saved as a draft, and not posted like it should have been. This is not the first time...

Pabst Blue Ribbon, by Pabst Brewing Company
Oh poor maligned Pabst Blue Ribbon, how times have changed. It used to be drinking you made one elitist, and a snob. Now, it makes one common, and unrefined. Time has not been kind to you, Blue Ribbon, and your red, white and blue can, while elegant in its simplicity, has become much derrided. I applaud you for not slipping into becoming mindlessly hip, as others have tried to do.

You're fine in your can, but when you're sold for 3 dollars a glass on Tap, you really shine. Fresh, clean, with a clear filtered liquid, it's easy to see where the comparisons to urine came from, but this is the derision of mob which has turned against you. You smell of sweet grain, faint and not overpowering. This is where your can fails you, as it isolate our nose from the drinking experience.

Your light body compliments most food one would eat in a bar perfectly, from the burger, to the chicken strips. A joy of my own is using you to cook noodles, an idea that came to me when I had too little water to finish a dish. You have not given in to the hops-ridden madness that is in vogue today, and instead you focus on having a pure grain taste, with a light body and a crisp mouthfeel. The yeast leaves just a slight feeling of bread. You do not overwhelm, but complement. You are the coda of a symphony. You are the perfect session drink, capable of being consumed for hours, both to your lighter alcohol content, as well as your other qualities. Raphael's masterpiece you are not, but you are worth for what you aspire to be. 3.5 out of 5. B-

Friday, 18 June 2010

How screwed is the polar bear?
Even deniers like Akasofu wouldn't argue that the planet isn't warming. He just casts the blame elsewhwere, in a probably incorrect manner. It's the naïve who say that global warming is a hoax because "it snowed a lot last winter" (and so are those who believe in global warming because it's hot today, but for different reasons), that or the ideologues who view this through a partisan lens. Let there be no mistake, creatures like polar bears are adapted for conditions that won't occur again until the next ice age, and things are only going to change more as time goes on.

That's not to say we know everything about polar bears. The problems are not trivial - logistics are massive, the creatures elusive, and weather is ever your foe. It's difficult to get a reasonable trend on the species, in whole or in part, because counting is easier said than done. That's where morphemetrics supposedly can come in. The idea is that we can measure things, take masses, count the cubs, and figure out from there how well everyone is doing. In some respects, this has many advantages over census, where populations can be high, but unwell and ready for a massive decline.

And so, Dr. Rode, Dr. Amstrup and Dr. Regehr, all three Forest Service or USGS here in the state, have published a paper collating 28 years of morphometric data from polar bears in the southern Beaufort sea, which spans from midway between Point Hope and Wainwright, to somewhere just west of Nunavut's western most continental extreme. Thankfully, the spell out their study aims very nicely:
Specifically, we addressed the following four questions:
(1) Is reproductive output, quantified as litter mass, associated with maternal condition? If so, what measures of female stature/condition (condition indices, body mass, skull size) are most closely related to reproductive output?
(2) Did body mass, skull size, or condition relate to interannual variation in available ice habitat?
(3) Did body mass, skull size, or condition of polar bears exhibit a trend between 1982 and 2006?
(4) Did reproductive output (litter mass and cubs per-female) exhibit a trend between 1982 and 2006? Was it related to interannual variation in available ice habitat?
The study is deceptively simple in terms of field methods - they flew out in a helicopter oppertunistically tracking polar bears in May when polar bears are aggregated on the continental shelf, or in a few years in the Autumn when they're more on the shorefast ice or land. They would dart the bear, jab any cubs, and then take some basic measurements including skull width, body length, mass, they would age the bear (which can be done from the teeth), and quantify the cubs. In all, they captured between 5 and 152 bears a year

For the ice, things became more... mmm... abstract, we'll say. Instead of taking satellite measurements of ice, they use collar data to generate a resource selection function - which is to say, where the bears prefer to be. They called the top 20%, where 70% of the bears dwell, optimum habitat, or "Ice." From there, they dive into what I can only call model-mania, which is typical of a paper of this nature. They compete different models to see which are the best, and generate many tedious tables that all but the most interested individuals find themselves nodding off during. Don't get me wrong, the information of these models can be highly informative, as can their weights, but they're incredibly dry. I've sometimes caught individuals trying to use this fact to their advantage in sneaking through poor data and hoping people nod off after a hearty meal of model stew. I'll spare you the details of the growth curves, but suffice to say they broke the bears up into 2 age classes for each gender, and 1 for cubs which included all but bi-yearlings.

The answer to question (1) appears to be an unqualified yes, with high probability. Sow mass influences cub mass, and not inconsiderably. This is true of cubs of the year in both autumn and spring, and yearlings in just the autumn. This is unsurprising, but it's good to see that their variables are measuring what they think they're measuring, for purposes of our future analyses. The answer to (2) is also yes, but only for some age groups. Curiously, a trend over time is only evident if you look at age classes  (7-11yr olds), but there appears to be a simple explanation for this - lighter weight bears tend to die more. This leaves only the older bears, for whom there is no trend over time. They would be left at a reduced number, if this was the case. The best trends appear to come from skull width for females and "Ice", and Skull width and body length for both sexes early in life. This is curious, since neither variable acts fast. Bone is a slow growing (though dynamic) tissue, and you would expect it to react slowly to yearly variation of ice. This is to contrast with mass, which can change quite rapidly as conditions worsen. An explanation why it's a major factor for fast growing polar bears is that this is a key stage in their development, and environmental stress is getting 'recorded' in their body. An older bear just needs to pile on the pounds, and care for cubs, whereas a younger bear needs to do this as well as continue to grow larger and larger. As anyone who has been around teenagers know, this takes a lot of food.

Question (3) is a yes - there were trends over time in female skull width, body length, and some fewer variables in males. I'm less interested in this fact than I am in the trend in reproduction, where litter mass is trending down over time (while being positively associated with "Ice") at the same time that yearlings are trending down over time, with the same positive association with "Ice." This suggests there is a "Double Whammy" - not only are there fewer cubs, but lighter cubs. Recall that mass is good for survival, so these lighter cubs will be more likely to die earlier, and sire or whelp fewer cubs of their own. This is a real matter of concern, and should highlight how important it is to keep a close watch on the SB sea polar bears in the future.

They discuss the variance and trend in their "Ice" variable. As "Ice" doesn't truly measure ice, I'm hesitant to draw too much from this. What the graph I've put to the right really shows is that in some years, bears are more clustered than others, and over time the clustering is increasing. There are many  factors that could lead to this pattern, including decrease in true ice coverage, changing patterns of seal availability, and increased human related disturbance. The arctic is a changing place, and it is becoming a busy place, and I saw no attempts to disentangle their "Ice" from this. We don't actually know that true ice declines lead to any future trends we see in this paper, we only know that an increase in bear density (or a decrease in habitat selected) does. This is this paper's strongest weakness, and makes all further "Ice" models slightly weaker, in my mind.

Can be density increasing? If the population is declining, then a decrease in habitat selected could maintain the same density of bears. However, there is no statistically robust trend of bear population for the SB sea. The problem is that measurements in the 80s had a large deal of imprecision associated with them. I generally suspect bear census is declining, but as a properly skeptical scientist, I must point out this has not been well demonstrated. Discarding that hypothesis, density would increase, leading to many of the downstream
 findings that I've previously discussed. We know that density is bad for survival (males kill cubs), increases stress, and can decease resource availability to any given bear. Additionally, it can lead to an increased transmission of disease. The authors rightly discount selective hunting for large bears driving the trends (polar bears are shot opportunistically), and argue that contaminants are just as unlikely to be a source for a decline. But given the poor support for their "Ice' variable, we can equally argue that what we're seeing is density dependant effects from some other factor that might not stem from ice per-se. I am a fan of keeping my datasets simple. If I wish to measure ice's association with polar bears, I would prefer to measure the ice.

Rode KD, Amstrup SC, & Regehr EV (2010). Reduced body size and cub recruitment in polar bears associated with sea ice decline. Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America, 20 (3), 768-82 PMID: 20437962

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Not in the job description

I've been trying to figure out what I want to write about today that doesn't depress me so much it makes me want to hide under a blanket on my couch and never come out. Gulf Oil Spill? It's bad, getting worse. The Unimak caribou situation has turned into a political fight by both sides. I could comment on how I like the rain for putting out so many of the fires (I can breath!), but I'd be just stating the obvious.

Part of my lack of inspiration has come from the fact that usually, I have at least a little time to read over new papers and try to chew over them. But the last month I've been so busy with clearing out two research projects in advance of the fiscal year. "In advance of thewhowhatnow?" you might ask. That's about my reaction to it too. What's a fiscal year, and why the heck do they end at the end of June? And why do I have to clear out several grants before then?

Here's what they don't tell you in college: They spend all this time stuffing your head with bits of science and technique, and even bits of art and history on the side (since every degree has some general education requirements). Most people leave their undergrad with this feeling that at all you need to be a good scientist is the ability to do good science. This is a lie; it is a sin of omission. What you need is not the ability to do science, but to be an Accountant. In fact, the best academic scientist in the world must, by my reasoning, be a great accountant because so much of our time is lost in mindless accountancy. Balancing budgets, tracking cash flow, coding things to account, submitting logs with attached invoices, applying for new money, negotiating overhead, budget related expenditures, and god forbid if you're going to travel. I hope you kept your receipts from sneezing.

It's maddening. Pure madness. It's like you spend 50% of the time begging for money, 50% accounting for the money they gave you, and less than 0.1% of the time making science go forward. I exaggerate a little for effect, but there's a kernel of truth there.

And in all of the learning we do at university, not one day of our science courses is given to how to do any of this stuff. I envy the naturalists in the 1600s, where they were either people with life-long sponsors, or they were nobility. No reporting agencies, no paper trails. All you had to do was avoid getting strung up by angry peasants.

Monday, 14 June 2010

A very dangerous precedent

Usually, any argument in academia is limited to just a few letters back and forth, buried away in some journal. Sometimes, it's elevated to the level of "Cold Stares," and then in a few rare cases, a shouting match outside a Hotel at a conference after too many drinks. They can get quite personal; I once heard a respected emeritus tell a scientist that he shouldn't be allowed near students, he was so wrong. But so far, the US's habit of suing over everything remained out of science.

Until now.

According to the New York Times, A paper published this week in the American Psychological Association's journal titled "Is Criminal behavior a central component of psychopathy?", and it is a scathing review of the standard system which individuals use to evaluate whether individuals are psychopaths, and likely to commit crimes again. The authors, Skeem and Cooke, argue that the evidence suggests that psycopathy and criminal behaviour are simply correlated, and there isn't a causal relationship between them. This is the very essence of a scientific argument, where one side attacks the other over construct validity (that is whether their scientific concept is valid), they make predictions, all in a dry and technical format. The paper was prepared for publication in 2007, and accepted. But then the person they were criticizing caught wind of a draft.

"The main issue here is that these authors misrepresented my views by distorting things I said," he said in a telephone interview. "I have been doing this work for 40 years and never seen anything like it."
Dr. Hare immediately threatened Skeem and Cooke with a lawsuit if they went forward with publication, effectively throwing the breaks on the whole thing. The APA didn't publish until 2010, claiming that it had to "All legal claims." There were three years of reviews, legal correspondences, and revisions while the damn thing dragged on.

To me, this is positively outrageous. The idea that science should be decided through legal means is somewhere between absurd and incredibly absurd. You can't litigate reality. Either a set of authors are correct in their criticisms, or they're incorrect. I can't even think of a situation where a scientist could be criminal, merely putting forward an idea. They can be disastrously wrong, but if this is the case, the peer review process, where other scientists critique work before it is accepted for publication, will sort those papers out. If you feel someone misrepresents your work, write a paper criticizing their construct of your work. And, here's a crazy idea, show experimentally why your construct is correct, and why theirs is crap.

That said, while I'm shocked by this legal battle which delayed publication for years, I half expected to see its ilk. I didn't think I would hear about it in Psychological research, but in environmental science, where some company sues some author over research which curtails oil and gas development, or something of that nature. Conservation science has become a battleground over which any random person will have an opinion, and I half expect this race to the bottom to result in lawsuits towards scientists at some point. It's for that reason I'm disgusted by the precedent this whole mess has set. Dr. Hare has done us all one massive disservice.

Dr. Hare:

Friday, 11 June 2010

The BP coffee spill

This video is funny because it's true, but would be even funnier if it wasn't quite so true.

Has a little not-safe-for-work language in it (someone says the F word)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Beer Vs. Cosmos!

This is a cool tool! It's called '' Of course, the first thing I have to do, is find out who drinks what, where!
Oregon sure loves their beer! Not surprisingly... they have some of the most microbreweries of anywhere in the country!

Monday, 7 June 2010

The island of Drunk Monkeys

This is too cute to not pass on. It's a clip from a BBC documentary, that talks about St. Kitt Island, where some primates have a booze problem, and it's not the Humans...

I think the cool kids would call everything the monkeys are doing at the end a "Party Foul." Which is not to be confused with a Party Fowl.

You have the right to not prove your statements?

There's been an article making the rounds at various news sources, and I think it's worth linking here: Are Cameras the New Guns? I very strongly encourage you to read it.

The problem is simple. With cameras being everywhere now, it's becoming easier and easier to record people doing things they shouldn't. People catch pickpockets and shame them on YouTube, or record those teens on their lawn to hand over to the police. No one seems to mind those... But the problem arises when people record the police themselves. You see, people have been using videos to show that, well, not all police officers follow the law. Some of them outright lie about how events transpired, and presumably have been doing so for years. But now, people can show this with video. Naturally, Police don't like this. At all. And they're fighting back to make recording their doings a crime.

Police are like everyone else. It's easy to fall into saccharine sophism and talk about how they're doing their patriotic duty, and all that nonsense, but honestly, police officers are like everyone else. There's many good, and many bad individuals. It's irrational to think that the police force is immune to the same mix of competence and incompetence that other places suffer from. No one denies not all shop clerks are helpful, polite, or will give you a fair deal. Why would we insist that all police are any of those things? Humans are inherently a mix of good, bad and ugly.

But. We shouldn't tolerate the ugly.

Alaska needs a law that says that people can be recorded in places where they don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy. In your home, you have an expectation of privacy. At work, too. That's fairly reasonable. But it seems unreasonable that making a recording outside on the road would be illegal. After all, nothing prohibits there being a second person there, who would see the whole event. The officer has no expectation of privacy there. The effect, either in recording or having a third party observer, would be the same.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Why we love baby moose, and our relation to baby chimps

Puppies. Who the heck doesn't like one? I tend to view dogs as animals that should do something for you, and even I think some of them are kinda cute. Juvenile dogs are wolves that are highly evolved to highjack the brain of humans in a very specific way, making us gooey and weak in the knees with glee. You can squash mosquitos all day and not feel even the faintest twinge, and it's hard to feel sympathy for the captured crab. Most fish look somewhat alien to us gas breathing terrestrial mammals, and few people have second thoughts about killing them; even PETA tends to approach the well being of fish as a more intellectual exercise. What is it about puppies that renders all but the sociopath subject to their charms? In a word, neoteny.

Neoteny is a concept in developmental biology, whereby the development of an organism is delayed, maybe indefinitely. It will continue to progress into a reproducing individual, however. Where before, a wolf would have progressed through its youth and grown up into a proper bitch or dog (allegedly, dog is the term for a male hound or wolf. You learn something new every day!), the selective pressures put on the proto-domesticated wolf lead to animals of increasingly delayed development, in all but reproduction. The maturation of a wolf leads to a closed social circle; some breed owners are familiar with this, where some animals such as many Karelian Bear dogs are eternally suspicious of outsiders. A domesticated animal should, in general, be flexible as to its social environment, and should have a much longer learning and socialization period than their wild counterparts.

Additionally, the proportions these baby animals hijack our human brains as I'd previously mentioned. The reason is simple - neotenic animals have the same sort of exaggerated features, generally, and humans need to look after their babies. Therefore, the same traits that make humans fawn over babies, and give them the attention those human babies need, lead to us fawning over fawns, kittens, puppies, and so forth. They highjack a vital mental pathway required for our own care of our young, in a very inadvertent way. Even many hunters who intellectually prefer the taste of calf meat have a hard time shooting calf caribou or moose. One person described a recent photo as `somehow being cute, and making him be hungry all at once.` What phenomenally contradictory thoughts! On one side, they adore the helpless reindeer calf, but simultaneously existing with his view of reindeer as something intrinsically food. This isn't merely the luxury of softhearted modern humans, as the impulse has been around for probably as long as there has been humans, if not a little before.

The actual evolutionary mechanism is fairly simple. Delay, delay, delay. It's apparently easy to move the date of maturation back almost indefinitely, as it's happened so many times, and in so many species. Humans are incredibly neotenic apes - if you compare our facial dimensions to that of a foetal chimpanzee, you'll find the comparison more than somewhat disquieting. A favourite professor of mine once stated that humans are just extra-uteral foetuses, lumbering about on our way. The reason why this is in humans is similar why hounds have had their development pushed back - learning and socialization. Humans are some of the most intensely social primates, with general monogamy (although genetic monogamy is another issue, as Jerry Springer is a testament to), and we're intensely intelligent primates... well, Jerry Fallwell aside.

In order to accommodate this brainy super-sociality, we've needed to extend our brain developmental period for nearly two decades, and after two decades our brains are constantly breaking down and forming new connections as we learn. Apparently, one of the easiest ways to this state was to push back our total maturation, making our adults more and more like large versions of chimpanzee foetus. In fact, our development in the womb is so long that a large chunk of it needs to be done outside the womb. It's all human babies who are born premature (although some more than others).

It's not just mammals that use neoteny as a trick to jump on new and clever evolutionary trajectories. Some amphibians are permanently juvenile, never losing their gills, or developing lungs. Instead, the species retains a permanent presence in the water as a new young would have. Large flightless birds have been noted have many of the portions of a chick of flighted species. And domestication and neoteny seemed to be tightly coupled, as the tame silverfox experiment resulted in rather neotenic foxes. Neoteny is a powerful evolutionary too, employed time and time again when the Peter Pan approach appears the wisest - sometime it's best never to really "grow up."

The photo of the Chimpanzee is from 1926 study by Adolf Naef.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Baby moose!

If you love pictures of cute fuzzy things, check out the ADN gallery of Baby Moose.

In general, moose-human incidents spike this time of year, as momma moose do what one of my Air Force friends calls "Monkey Stomp the Crap out of people." This is not technically true, as they moose stomp people, not monkey stomp. Thus, moose calves are best enjoyed from a safe distance, on the other side of a wall, or via internet pictures from photographers brave enough to take pictures. :p