Jamie and Liana land in California

31 01 2015

They got in safety last night, and here they are with Joe‘s oldest boy Sam.

But where is the sun? The palm trees? The cocktails with mini umbrellas? Never mind, looks like there’s plenty of Play-Doh.


Visit to Texas

31 01 2015

Last week I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in College Station, visiting two Texas A & M philosophers: Gary Varner, an old friend of Jonathan‘s, and Clare Palmer: incredibly from my home town of Kingston-upon-Thames, in the year below me at Tiffin Girls School (yes, it’s really called that), and someone I’d not seen for 30 years. Both have recently written well-received books on animal ethics (Gary’s here, Clare’s here), and they run ‘BLAB‘: a discussion group on animal learning and behaviour.

TAMU view

I gave a couple of talks. The first was on Walter‘s research, investigating whether internal states can be used as discriminative stimuli without awareness (interesting since if not, such tasks potential indicates phenomenal consciousness). Strong opinions flew about afterwards, from people working closely with animals who thought their sentience is just obvious, to Bill Klemm, a neuroscientist who argued strongly that one can never extrapolate from humans to animals (to which I invoked parsimony: who can argue with that?). However, very useful (and positive) feedback also came from Gary, and from Jim Grau, who’s work on spinal rats is a compelling illustration of how learning can occur without consciousness.

Slide1I gave the second the following evening, on the various ways to validate indicators of affective states in animals, and their strengths and weaknesses (the starting point for a book Mike Mendl and I are struggling with). This was more informal — which was just as well because during a visit to TAMU’s new avian centre that morning with Connie Woodman and Ted Friend, I started throwing up and this carried on most of the day. So, I was a little fragile (and had mouthwash and a toothbrush with me, just in case!). But despite that, the discussion was really enjoyable (and very intellectually challenging), with many fascinating comparisons to how human welfare is assessed that I’d not thought about before (note to self: read stuff by Amartya Sen).

Random food poisoning aside, it was a very inspiring and stimulating visit. Came home with a real spring in my step.

And lovely flowers

23 01 2015

for no reason: thanks Maria!!


Lovely invite

23 01 2015


Just got this lovely invite for something at the House of Lords I can’t go to — a shame as the host is clearly an elf.

Proud contributor to urine-omics (and I didn’t even know)

23 01 2015

Screenshot 2015-01-23 09.06.56

How mink want to eat?

23 01 2015

So Maria’s beautiful data, as yet unanalysed but easy to interpret, show that when young mink can pick where to feed from, they choose to feed from a low height. This preference persists even once they’ve reached adult size. It can be seen in their behaviour just after food arrives, and in how much food is leftover 5 hours later.

But maybe that’s just a slight preference, that doesn’t really affect them if they have no such choice? Seems not. If the only food they have is at the highest level, they still take longer to eat it than if it’s placed nearer the floor, and again, that’s even once they’ve reached adult size (below).

I’ve watched farmed mink stand to reach up for food for over two decades now, and I swear I’ve only just realized how different this is from how they’d feed naturally. If there was a practical way of effective this on farms, I wonder if it might improve welfare and enhance growth rates?

Food leaving, no choice

Rainbow ball of death

22 01 2015


Maria had two tough days wrestling with JMP, analyzing a dataset we didn’t think was that complicated, though it did involve double nesting and two repeated measures.

The rainbow ball of death would spin and spin, sometimes spitting out an answer after 45 minutes (but with either way too many error DFs or none at all), and once whirling away for over 2 hours before Maria just pulled the plug on it.

Luckily, the data pass the ‘bloody obvious test’ with flying colours: graphing them, it’s clear as day that all mink, no matter how big they are, want to feed from as low a height as they can.