ISAE meeting in Vitoria

2 08 2014

The ISAE meeting in Vitoria finished yesterday, after three intense days. Carole, Maria and Walter all presented to good effect, and I gave a talk on Heather’s results which went down well.

My time there was blighted by a three-day migraine (in its 4th day today: brain tumour?!), but for everyone I know it was a somewhat mixed conference. The applied work really dominates now, and is often superbly done (a couple of talks from Bas Rodenburg and his group were highlights): massive in scale, on working farms, and funded by agencies who will put the results to effect. It’s impressive stuff (a long long way from the dreary, pointless little experiments I used to see when this was the Society for Veterinary Ethology a long time ago), but so system-specific its findings don’t reveal much of any generality, and in the end my first love really is work that helps us understand why animals react and behave in the ways they do.

There were some great talks on these more fundamental lines: Mike Mendl‘s plenary on the relationships between cognition, sentience and welfare research was (predictably!) brilliant, and there were some very nice presentations validating novel welfare indicators (e.g. pain responses in horses by Dirk Lebelt, and tear staining – could it be chromodacryrrhoea? – in pigs by Jeremy Marchant-Forde: one of my favourite talks, partly because he found cool lateralised effects, partly because the work was his daughter’s high school science project!). However, there was also some appallingly bad science too: several varieties of pseudoreplication, circular reasoning, and pathetic failures to operationalise terms all shamefully on display (I’m nearly grumpy enough about this to name names…).

But to end more positively, it was great to swap book recommendations with Joy Mench, learn I’ve converted Mike to Breaking Bad, and catch up with Becky, Carole, Jeff Rushen, Anne Marie de Passille, Hanno Wuerbel, Liz Paul and the many other fabulous people that still make this a great field to be in.