Woo hoo!

29 09 2015

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Animal sentience in the media

23 09 2015

There are moves in Quebec to declare animals sentient. It’s not quite clear which animals are included (insects too?), and some of the coverage makes the scope sound implausibly large: “Also forbidden: submitting an animal ‘to a treatment that will cause death . . . ‘” says the Globe & Mail. So Quebec’s to outlaw killing animals for food, research or pest control? I just doubt it somehow.

But still, anything that helps protects animals that aren’t very well covered by existing laws, and that puts the emphasis on animals’ feelings more than human motives, is a gScreen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.03.16 PMood thing.

I got interviewed about it yesterday (along with others), and here’s the piece on the National Post‘s front page today.

A few weeks ago I was also interviewed on animal sentience, but in much more depth (for an intellectually challenging hour in the university’s radio studio). This was for a forthcoming BBC Radio 4 series created by my brilliant colleague Christine Nicol. Called “Would You Eat an Alien?”, it’ll be reviewing the scientific and ethical issues around sentience, and I think it’s going to be very good indeed.

Making hens feel like they’re in a forest

23 09 2015

For his PhD, Misha plans to test the hypotheses that enriching hens reduces their flightiness, startle reflexes and negative judgment biases, and that these three effects covary.

Having extensively researched the welfare benefits of natural stimuli (e.g. plants and natural views) he wants to try some innovative enrichments too, including this one: an amazing dispenser he made himself, that’s designed to spray a puff of plant-y ‘green odour’ (stress-reducing for rats and humans) whenever hens come near.  (The motion detector cost $10, cannabalised from a Glade “Sense and Spray” air freshener!)


Postcard from Japan

23 09 2015

Maria‘s just back from Japan, after 10 days or so away. Despite crazy jetlag (the time difference: a full 12 hour flip) it sounds like her talk at the ISAE went well (on how mink would like to feed), and even more, it sounds like she loved loved loved Japan.


I heart One Direction

16 09 2015

Well I don’t, but I did love this story about apostrophes.

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Happiness is…

16 09 2015

.. returning home from a good defence to find this (one being the Original Daphne):


Temple Grandin protest: the video

16 09 2015

The activists who protested Temple’s visit have put their interactions with her up on line.

I think we’re going to see more of this, and it raises two very challenging problems to crack: 1) Is it right to kill animals, even if you do it humanely? Most of us in the field are rubbish at this question. 2) How should you engage effectively with emotional adversaries, while being captured on film? (Or should you actually avoid this at all costs?)

A double big day for Heather

15 09 2015

It was Heather‘s PhD defence today!  Here she is giving her presentation, the face of her external examiner, Cheryl Meehan, glowing behind her (in our terrible set-up — which feels like a psychology experiment — the camera through which anyone connecting in sees you is ahead, at the back of the room, but for you to see their face you have to tFullSizeRender-14urn around [at which they see the back of your head]).

Obviously I’ve read Heather’s thesis chapter by chapter, but reading the whole thing these last few days, I was almost shocked at how huge and thorough it is. Her committee member examiner, Dave Barney, actually said it was the best thesis he has ever read! No surprise then that the afternoon went well. Both these two, along with Alexandra, the non-committee member examiner, asked great questions, as did Andy Robinson who chaired the event. Heather handled these with aplomb, and although afterwards she couldn’t say that she’d enjoyed it as such, she did admit that it wasn’t quite as unbearably ghastly as she’d feared.

Here she is below, wreathed in smiles, relief and gifts from Dave (the book, on parrot intelligence, is signed by Irene Pepperberg), as he and Alex congratulate her.FullSizeRender-15

As for the double big day? It’s also her 10th wedding anniversary! “Happy anniversary!!” said Michael as they got up this morning. “Uh .. what??” was Heather’s distracted reply. Hopefully she could finally celebrate that too when she got home.

McDonalds moves to cage-free eggs

14 09 2015

I feel sad for the many researchers who are trying to get ‘furnished cages‘ systems working, as there really is less scope for welfare to go wrong in these than in a poorly run aviary.

BUT at least this is a sign the North American consuming public cares enough to want to avoid conventional battery eggs: so that’s a good thing!

Good piece in NYT here, and a more cynical view from Forbes here. Let’s hope these new pledges are accompanied by inspections and management standards to ensure the cage-free hens don’t peck each other to bits …

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Refugee crisis: Why one boy’s tragedy created a wave of empathy

12 09 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 3.08.37 PMGood article in New Scientist on what helped tip many Europeans’ reactions to muslim refugees from hostility to compassion: the pathetic sight of one tiny drowned 3-year-old. The scale of the suffering in Syria, and in packed boats of misery crossing the Med, is so overwhelming to take in…. most of us can’t process it, and we might even find ourselves avoiding these awful stories. We often just need a name and a single story to make it resonate (for me, it was the teenager who pushed his grandmother in a wheelchair from Afghanistan).

Interestingly we’re not all the same though: a few years ago researchers apparently found that people with larger amygdalae are more prone to being right-wing (the less compassionate, often more anti-immigrant, “I worked hard to be self-sufficient and so can you” form of politics … ), and so perhaps prone to greater fears of threat and change? (Though I really should read the original work before taking it as a gospel).