Google Scholar gets back to normal. Sigh.

25 06 2013

After I reported that Google Scholar had gone insane, the craziness continued for a couple of weeks. Hundreds of citations were added every day, my total for 2013 became a giant spike that dwarfed all previous years into utter insignificance, and my lifetime total cites topped 11,000. I became slightly addicted to watching it grow, and although this was all was very very clearly an artifact, there was a teeny, tiny bit of me that hoped I had suddenly become insanely famous. But *pop*, it’s all gone back to normal now. Sigh…Screen shot 2013-06-25 at 9.57.27 AM

Postcard from Agata

22 06 2013

After a terrible 24 hour journey home (note to self: never, ever travel with this woman), Agata reached Krackow to find a warm welcome from Bonifacy, her marmalade cat; a proposal from partner Bart; and that her tox lab at Jagellonian University was functioning after all (despite fears of Hanta virus). I’m hoping she’ll now introduce humane end points to Poland (no pressure or anything)…


Saying goodbye to Agata

22 06 2013

On the last day of April we took Agata out for dinner at the Delta and showered her with gifts and Canadian Tire money (long story). She had arrived 6 months ago and was due to fly back to Poland on May 1st. She spent much of that time trying to validate a cognitive bias task for mice (mice who, in all honesty, stubbornly refused to learn a thing). This gorgeous metal print of ?? Fatty?? Crazy?? — one of them anyway — was a gift from Carole.

Neuroscience Day

22 06 2013

The UoG Neuroscience and Cognitive Science group’s “Neuroscience Day” is an annual highlight of academic life in Guelph: it always has a terrific guest speaker, provides a great opportunity to catch up on what’s happening neuro-wise across campus, and at least one of my students usually presents, too.

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 9.53.13 PM
This year, however, I was away (teaching for the RVC, working for EFBA, and presenting at the University of Aarhus), and everyone was too embroiled in experiments to present. Jamie snuck in to hear some of it though, and here are his highlights:

Psych grad student Rachel Driscoll, advised by Mark Fenske, showed a paradigm for the generation of ‘social pain’ in humans. Subjects playing a virtual game of catch are tricked into thinking that the other players are real people, when in fact they are computer-controlled. One player is programmed never to throw the ball to the subject, who quickly learns to avoid throwing the ball to that player. Presumably this is because they feel rejected by that player (the learning is slower if the other ‘players’ are presented as inanimate objects, rather than as other humans). Interestingly, Driscoll said that previous work has shown that these feelings of ‘social pain’ activate the same affective centres of the brain as does physical pain, so she next plans to test whether acetominophen (tylenol) dulls social pain and inhibits learning in her computer task. An interesting set of posters by Mark Fenske’s others grad students also showed that people evaluate various types of stimuli more negatively (they like them less) after participating in laboratory tasks where they’ve had to ignore these stimuli. For example, subjects asked to identify and click on pictures of brunettes while ignoring the surrounding blondes later rated pictures of blondes as less attractive than brunettes, and performed less mouse clicks to make blurry pictures of models in skimpy outfits clearer if the models were blondes than if they were brunettes! The keynote speaker, Stephen Matthews, was pretty interesting too.

How to spot a happy Harris hawk

22 06 2013

Catching up on my “backblog” for April… Ian Duncan and I spoke at the “Animal Behavior Management Alliance” (ABMA) meeting in the middle of this month, in Toronto. The ABMA is for zoo keepers and wild animal trainers who want to keep on learning about animal learning, and also animal welfare.


Although this was the worst-organised thing I have ever been involved with as a speaker EVER (e.g. we ran a workshop, yet aren’t even listed on the conference website), and had both of us in various states of apoplexy/”That’s IT, I’m pulling OUT” in the run up, the day itself was a lot of fun.

We got all these skillful “animal people” to think hard about which species/stages of development they believe are sentient, and why. Candies were handed out for good answers (the group identifying lawyers as beings without conscious emotions won a pile). We then got them to identify what they see as indicators of positive or negative emotion in the species they know best (e.g. Harris hawks: when happy, preens, fluffs up, adopts a relaxed posture on glove; negative emotions – raises hackles, tries to fly away, screams), and again, to think about why they think this. All proved very keen observers of how animals respond when faced with stimuli they want to approach, and circumstances they want to avoid: essentially the same process that welfare scientists go through when validating indicators of affect.

The hubbub of 200 passionate people debating these issues and imitating the animals they know so well was truly a splendid sound.

Millions of US high schoolers graduate today…

22 06 2013

Jonathan and I are in Albany visiting his parents, and it’s graduation day for high school kids. Here’s what the Onion has to say about them:

Maru turns 4!

21 06 2013

Happy birthday Maru!