Stormy weather and turbulent dreams

13 04 2013

We’ve had crummy weather all week, culminating in an ice storm on Thursday night. Agata, visiting family in Chicago, had three return flights cancelled (one a day for three days) before managing to get back here yesterday (this is failed flight No. 3: she was allowed on briefly… before being kicked off again); and Thursday night was restless for several of us. I found myself correcting abstracts in the small hours (woken up at 4am by our flat roof cracking with ice, and branches repeatedly falling on it), since this week has been all about getting abstracts in to the IEC, OE3C and CSAW’s Research Symposium; and later on Friday morning I got this hilarious email from Jamie: “I just woke up from a dream in which I’d waited till ~45 minutes before the CCSAW deadline to open your feedback on my play abstract, which turned out to be super long, filled with references I should go read (including some on autism), and hard to dechiper: you’d divided a long list of words that referred (ambiguously) to different parts of the abstract into 3 parts – “fruit”, “fruiter but somewhat fraudulent”, and something else I just didn’t have time to read”.

Does she look happy because she is?

12 04 2013

This is Sylvie, the rescue kitten, now about a year old we think. She’s having her regular midday snooze on the couch, interspersed by gazing at me while I work. I am convinced that cats have a contented facial expression that reflects positive affect: relaxed eyes, upturned corners of the mouth…. Maybe I’m just being anthropomorphic (seduced by apparent ‘smiling’), but I can’t shake the hunch that it’s real. I’m truly hoping someone will work on this as a future project

Does she look happy because she is?

Birthday group meeting

11 04 2013

Since it’s my birthday week (47 today in fact), we had a special group meeting at the Red Brick Cafe, with tea and cakes. Clockwise from left is Jamie (or his shoulder), Maria, me (clutching birthday goodies), Walter, Mike, Jeanette and Carole. (No Agata because the poor woman is trapped in Chicago). Thanks to Alexandra for the pictures!

Red Brick April 10 Happy Birthday Georgia IKEA bag lilis stereotypic cat

Induction, deduction, & time to phone a philosopher?

10 04 2013

Two weeks ago we revisited induction and deduction, since our last discussion had left us a little disturbed. Alexandra found this good video (still below), and Walter this slightly eccentric paper on using induction and deduction in science (great at the start, a self-indulgent ramble by the end), and of course Thinking from A-Z remained our bible. We became clearer on how deduction uses principles, ideas or rules, while induction uses examples. Deductive arguments are true when their premises are right, and valid when their structure is…er… valid (and true plus valid = sound: our gold standard). Inductive arguments can’t be true or sound in the same way, but that doesn’t make them rubbish – they can be strong and likely (versus weak/unlikely) when the generalisations they rest on are reasonable (rather like the difference between a strong and weak analogy). So far so good, but what type of reasoning are we using when we conduct an experiment? We think we’re using induction to come up with hypotheses, and when we extrapolate from our results to similar populations, and somehow using deduction when we make predictions that test our hypotheses… However, it’s definitely now time to phone a philosopher: I got in touch with Andrew Bailey and he’s going to find us some tame philosophy of science graduate students to help us get to the bottom of this once and for all.

Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 11.34.21 AM

Stuck in a herd

7 04 2013

Stuck in a herd

Our attempt to get to the GTA Cognition Reading Group meeting on group decision-making was completely foiled by traffic on Thursday. But at least Alexandra, Carole and I did get plenty of time to discuss the papers in our 2 hour jam, and we all had great evenings in Toronto. I also got to meet with Jeanette on Friday AM in a nice cafe on Dundas West, for my third Mesquite lesson.

Happy birthday blog!

7 04 2013

In the year since I started this blog, it’s had 2,356 views, from 30 countries! That’s not the same as visitors (which will be lower) but still, not bad going. More than half (1,542) were from Canada. The 76 from France, 33 from Poland and 19 from Spain are obviously from people trying to find out what Carole, Agata, Walter and Maria are up to (they’re doing well, European visitors!). There’s a surprising no. of visits from Switzerland (hey, is that you Hanno?!), and also an interesting uneven-ness in views from Scandinavia (165 from Denmark, but hardly any from Norway, Sweden or Finland), which presumably reflects the distribution of mink… And “Hot mink boobs” remains, hilariously, one of the most visited posts (apologies for any disappointment caused, guys … ).

Happy birthday blog!

A life worth living for lab mice?

7 04 2013

Three weeks ago our new mice arrived from Charles River, and half of them were set up in superb enriched cages created by Mike, Agata and Carole. These cages have a choice of two running wheels, as well as the usual nesting material and house; they also have a ‘Mezzanine’ area made of wire mesh, mainly there to ensure they can reach the water bottle (these are rat cages, and our mice are still young and very tiny) but with the bonus of giving them an extra level. On top of this, they have a tube that doubles up as a handling device, tissues to shred, a Honey Nut Cheerio once a day, and a hammock to sleep in. In the dark phase, under red light, these cages are simply hives of busy-ness. Our non-enriched cages are regular mouse cages with a house and nesting material (some would consider even that enriched, but not us; we feel sorry for them). The mice are in three strains (black C57s, brown DBAs and white BALBcs: a rodent rainbow nation); and we are exploring whether mixing strains affects their phenotypes (hoping not, since this is potentially a method for creating much more powerful experimental designs).

A life worth living for lab mice?

Is a “life worth living” a concept worth having?

7 04 2013

We discussed this incredibly thoughtful, thorough & analytical paper on Wed. at Behaviour Group. It reviews & expands FAWC’s recent call for captive animals to be given lives worth living (LWL), not just lives free of the worse welfare problems. It essentially asks us to apply the same standards to farm and lab animals as we do to our pets. It had a wonderful suggestion that animal-derived food should be labelled according to whether it came from animals with “lives worth living” or animals with “lives not worth living’: what a storm that would create! (Though, confusingly, maybe it’s better to be responsible for the death of an animal whose life was not worth living than one whose life was?). One section considered the merits of creating non-sentient animals (lives without experience, LWE). This idea got us quite worked up, although we recognise a paradox: that we like the idea of anaesthetising animals to avoid short-term suffering, but we don’t like the idea of permanent unconsciousness as a way of avoiding lifelong suffering (partly because it seems a perverse solution to welfare problems, partly because we’re not sure that it would work practically). The paper also raised very interesting questions about how good and bad experiences combine to affect overall welfare: how does the maths work, & does anyone know? Definitely a PWR (paper worth reading).

If only we could give these to mink…

7 04 2013

Excellent find from Jamie:

Sex, parasites and penis bones

3 04 2013

I forgot to write that last month one of our collaborators, Albrecht Schulte-Hofstedde, gave a good talk in IB: “Sex and parasites in wild mammals.” It was entertaining, and peppered with enough wild mink and bacula to keep us happy, but best of all as hanging out with him, and his spending time with Maria to discuss the PCA analyses she needs to do next on her “mink mate choice” data. Thanks Albrecht! The below is taken from his “40 under 40” award interview. albrechtSchulteScreen shot 2013-04-03 at 9.29.41 AM