Patrick Bateson

11 08 2017

Screenshot 2017-08-11 11.15.27My former PhD supervisor Pat died last week. He was 79, and had had a heart condition for a while. But he had remained so incredibly intellectually active (writing books and papers, and being involved in Royal Society activities), that I always assumed I’d see him again at some meeting or other. So, it hit me hard.

As an actual PhD advisor, he was frankly over-stretched: Paul Martin had just left Madingley to become a spy (or so the legend went), leaving Pat with 14 students to look after. And with me doing my own project (on, guess what? – stereotypic behaviours of course, first aspiring to work on zoo animals, then using mink as a model), I was basically left feral: quite alarming (although ultimately good for me). My scattered memories of him from that time include that, absurdly, it took me well over a year to call him “Pat” like everyone else (I’d been in his undergrad classes the year before, and in that context he was most definitely “Professor Bateson”); how supportive and kind he was (e.g. coming out to visit the mink farm when I first contacted the farmer, and bowling them over with charm); his great advice when I was (ridiculously) worried about sharing ideas (“If you work with your office door open, more comes in that goes out”); and getting introduced to his wonderful daughter Melissa.

But it was really in the years since then that he became more important as a friend and colleague. It’s not just that he was an intelligent, left-wing, atheist cat-lover (what’s not to love about that?), nor that he was always supportive and enthusiastic. We shared interests in play and the effects of early experience (I just had a flashback to the IEC in Rennes, where he was appalled to discover that outdoor-reared piglets often end up in indoor intensive systems, and another to the IEC in Newcastle where he was enthusiastic and lovely with my student Jamie). He also became really interested in the scientific study of animal welfare. He did great work, for example, on the hunting of deer, on cost benefit assessments for research animals, and on pedigree dogs’ health issues.  And I always loved watching him in action as Chair of the ZSL Animal Welfare Committee: he was so adept.  I really am very, very lucky to have had him as a mentor, and still can’t quite believe he has gone.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sir-patrick-bateson-obituary-cbvxc5cjf





The Hen Whisperer

10 08 2017

Summer student Anna Garland has done a great job these last couple of months training 12 hens (half from control environments, half from enriched) to learn that a white lidded dish meant mealworms (so, they should flip it for a treat), but a black-lidded dish would, if touched, trigger a nasty airpuff.  The hens were trained in a box, and monitored by video, with the dishes being slid in via a slot, all designed to avoid Clever Hans effects. Most hens reached criterion in under 5 days (with around 20 trials a day), making our previous failures with mice and mink look even more pathetic. Some also developed fascinating superstitious responses to the black dish, retreating to a corner, facing away from it or even freezing stock still, as if to avoid being even tempted to touch it.

Once trained, the real aim of the work could start: to present them with intermediate dishes — Shades of Grey (couldn’t resist it) — to see whether they’d be “optimistic” and flip them or “pessimistic” (avoiding them), and in turn whether this judgement bias would be affected by housing. Because we already know our enriched hens are in positive states thanks to the resources they have, a housing effect in the expected direction would validate this novel judgment bias task for poultry (Misha’s Bristol attempts being another noble failure).

Though a bit too early to peek, as Misha another 12 hens to go, Anna had a to make a poster for her summer research course, which forced us to analyse the data. And so far there is a trend, with enriched birds tending to positive-skewed biases….

1Garland Final Presentation





Papers papers papers

10 08 2017

Minor revisions only (unheard of!!) for a paper with Anne Lene Hovland:Screenshot 2017-08-09 21.50.41

Me and Becky‘s boredom replicate study is now back in, improved after one referee’s feedback (the other’s? No comment):

Screenshot 2017-08-09 21.53.15

And last but not least, I can stop nagging Aimee about lichens!

Screenshot 2017-08-09 21.49.29





Jonathan’s special invite

9 08 2017

In Jonathan‘s Inbox this morning:

Screenshot 2017-08-09 18.22.27





Fame for Lukey!

9 08 2017

Luke‘s younger self (I’m guessing captured by Carole) is one of the ISAE webpages’ banner pics!

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 5.19.55 PM





Perseverative chatbots

2 08 2017

This is being touted as sinister, but honestly they just sound like perseverative messes to me! Maybe i i i i i i  just miss something.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/facebook-artificial-intelligence-ai-chatbot-new-language-research-openai-google-a7869706.html

https://thenextweb.com/artificial-intelligence/2017/06/19/facebooks-ai-accidentally-created-its-own-language/#.tnw_Wuo5kORk

 





New research on antibiotic resistance

27 07 2017

A new and iconoclastic analysis of antibiotic resistance got a lot of media coverage today.

And it reminded me of one of my very favourite scientific stories of all time. At the start of WWII, a team of Oxford biologists were working as fast as they could to extract and characterize the anti-microbial compound they had discovered in some moulds.  The very day that they finally had their first real breakthrough, finding that this compound could actually keep bacteria-infected mice from dying, team member Norman Heatley’s diary mainly focused on…

…the fact that he was working so hard, he’d accidentally come to the lab with his underpants on back to front.