Porsolt tests going well (at least for the humans)

30 01 2014

Carole and her excellent assistants, Laura Harper and neuroscience undergraduate Kathryn Reynolds, started Porsolt tests on the mice yesterday (managing to test 18 whole cages): another way to see if our non-enriched animals show depression-like changes akin to learned helplessness. Here is the room ready and waiting. In the background are the water baths, where the mice are placed for a few minutes to see how long they take to stop trying to escape and instead float passively. The temperature of the room is ramped right up so that the mice can dry off quickly after their enforced swims (the team — wearing skimpy summer clothes under their lab coats to cope with the tropical heat — give all the mice Cheerios afterwards too, even non-enriched mice who we usually do not treat, since there is no doubt that this test is stressful for them). The sucrose consumption tests are over now, and showed that the non-enriched mice are not anhedonic: so, another cool hypothesis bites the dust. The question is now, will the Porsolt tests likewise suggest they are not depressed? And Laura and Kathryn’s behavioural data show that the time-budgets of these deprived animals are, compared to enriched mice, dominated by stereotypies and a sort of pointless standing still doing nothing … so if they’re not depressed, then what are they?

Porsolt tests going well (at least for the humans)





Course evaluations for ANSC*4090 (Applied animal behaviour)

29 01 2014

My course evaluations came in this week and they were good: overall score 4.47 (out of 5), which for a class of 100 is pretty great.  Here are some highlights from the written feedback: 

“I have been looking forward to taking this course for a couple of years now, and I can gladly say it lived up to my expectations… this was probably one of my favourite courses throughout my entire university career”; “Professor Mason is a brilliant woman” (if I got that as a tattoo, would that be tacky?); and “Not every course has me wishing that classes would never end”

Mike, Carole, Jamie, Maria, plus MSc coursework student Lucinda Glenny, all gave guest lectures this year and that went down well too. No snarky comments this time either, though one student did point out I shouldn’t get annoyed with students who are late when I, ahem, was sometimes late myself. Ok, yes … err… *bluster* but if they are even later than me, isn’t that bad??





More “women in science” stuff, but less gloomy this time

29 01 2014

I’ve just emailed the editors of Animal Welfare and Applied Animal Behaviour Science, as promised to my group, to ask why they don’t have double-blind peer review and see if they’d consider adopting it. What I didn’t tell these editors is that one study apparently suggests that double-blind peer reviewing seems to improve womens’ chances just because womens’ chances have got better over time anyway, i.e. an order effect acts as a confound (which only shows up if you track non-double blind journals over the same period). So that is cautious good news! It’s clear the jury is still out on this though, and this study doesn’t not speak to the issue of “institution bias”, so I still suspect double-blind is best.

And this new story, while not exactly good news as it does highlight the sexism of men, does identify a way to tackle one problem: the paucity of invited female speakers at conferences. The solution: have at least one woman on the organising committee, and then the % women being invited goes way up (from 25% to 43% in this study). 





Int. J. Comp. Psych proofs arrive

27 01 2014

Our “trends in welfare science” paper is well on its way: proofs arrived last week! Int. J. Comp. Psych proofs arrive





Outrageous –

27 01 2014

– if they ban Twiglets too, I’m leaving.

Screen shot 2014-01-26 at 10.52.18 PM





Guelph’s automated voice recognition system

19 01 2014

The UoG switchboard has a voice recognition system that can’t always handle British accents. This, I swear blind, is an exchange between me and it on Friday morning:

Pre-recorded robot lady: How many I direct your call? Please give the name of the person or department you wish to contact.

Me: Tina Widowski

Pre-recorded robot lady: I’m sorry, I do not recognize that name. Please say it again.

Me: Tina Widowski

Pre-recorded robot lady: I’m sorry, I do not recognize that name. Please say it again.

Me: Tee-nah Wid-ow-skee

Pre-recorded robot lady: I’m sorry, I do not recognize that name. Please say it again.

Me: TEEN-NAH WID-DOW-SKEE

Pre-recorded robot lady: Maybe the person you want is not in our system.

Me: TEEN-NAH WID-DOW-SKEE

Pre-recorded robot lady: Maybe the person you want is not in our system.

Me: GAH!!!!!!!!! You stupid f***ing B*TCH!!!!!!

Pre-recorded robot lady: You’re welcome.

 





Why money doesn’t buy happiness…

19 01 2014

… and why the French are les miserables: good BBC interview with French economist Daniel Cohen:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01pnzjf

Actually, searching for more information, I realise that summary is not right. France may not score well for a developed country, but it’s the poor countries with low life expectancies where happiness is really low. Money may not buy happiness, but the lack of it definitely causes misery. Canada, interestingly, scores very highly – only just behind Denmark, the world leader in well-being.





Implicit bias and academic decisions

17 01 2014

Screen shot 2013-12-22 at 7.15.26 PMOur ‘Philosophy Bites‘ podcast this week featured the philosopher Jennifer Saul, on how biases we are often totally unaware of shape the confidence we have in people and sources of knowledge. Click here for the podcast, and here for more about her work. Much of the information on this re-emphases the depressing obstacles that women are faced with: their CVs, for example, are judged weaker than identical CVs with a mens’ names on. Professor Saul’s interest in this was first fuelled by the way philosophy is so very male-dominated, something the guest-list of Philosophy Bites illustrates well (though this made us discuss whether minorities in fields are always minorities because of exclusion: could other factors be at work, like self-selection?). That we are white and straight (and some of us male) cheered us up somewhat, until we heard that another stumbling block to fairness is where you come from: long-published academic papers from prestigious universities that are resubmitted with fictitious authors from lowlier universities are suspiciously likely to be rejected. This made all of us go a bit quiet. (I do miss the way saying “I’m from Oxford” was like donning – no pun intended – a suit of armour). Fairness aside, what’s troubling about such findings is that they suggest that the best people, and the best work, may not always be promoted, which holds simply everyone back.

To lighten the gloom, I promised to Do Something. I’m going to ask the editors of Animal Welfare and Applied Animal Behaviour Science if they’ll shift to double blind peer review. It’s about time. So, that’s on my things-to do list for next week.





Do Canadian consumers care about animal welfare? Hmmm…

16 01 2014

We had our first Behaviour Group meeting of the semester on Wednesday. Rob Anderson, a guest speaker from the College of Management and Economics, gave us a really thought provoking presentation on whether Canadians eating at restaurants care about the lives of the cows, chickens and pigs that yielded their meals. Most (75%) don’t care at all, his survey data reveal … but the 25% who do turn out to be young, so maybe things will yet change? McDonald’s, Chipotle, Tim Horton’s and others are slowly but steadily upping their welfare standards (beyond what guidelines like the Codes require), so let’s hope that’s because they see this as the future.

Click here for similar (but cheerier) data from Europe.





A porcupine who likes his corn

16 01 2014

This semester I’m teaching a grad class on the assessment of affective states in animals. Think I might try and weave this in: how would one validate this furious (yet cute) muttering as a sign of negative affect?