Referee comment of the week

11 03 2016

In a referee’s report that some of us got back this week, on a paper we’d revised and resubmitted a couple of months ago:

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If it’s driving you crazy….

11 03 2016

IMG_2757…the answer is ‘chicken enrichment’!

It is a clockwork fish feeder. When wound up, over several hours it slowly dispenses a gradual trickle of whatever treats are placed on top of its moving belt (in our case mealworms, raisins and chopped boiled egg; yep, it turns out that hens love egg…).

The balloon? This acts as a curved deflector to make sure treats ping about everywhere, not just falling in one spot to be monopolized by any ‘boss hen’ who gets wise to what’s happening. It’s also cheap and stuck on with duct tape (a lab tradition).

And here is one of our hens, curious to hear what we were talking about.

Art or chicken enrichment?

10 03 2016


Last time it was art. This time??


A day of dancing Ps

8 03 2016

I got sent this link by Mike today: “Dance of the P Values”;

And this text arrived from Maria as about the same time:

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What’s with all these dancing Ps?

Mike‘s writing a chapter for his thesis on estimating power to guide choices of sample sizes …(to help make animal use in research more sensible). This has led him through a maze of literature, some old, some new, on base rate effects, the dubious nature of P values, and many other deeply unsettling topics.

Meanwhile Maria was helping me name a particular fallacy. On Friday, I was vainly trying to remember what it’s called when you mistake evidence consistent with an idea (but also consistent with many other ideas) as proof of that one idea (ignoring all the possible alternatives). It’s “affirming the consequent”!! Yes!!  (“If p then q; q therefore p”.)

All nerdily very pleasing, and the ‘dance’ video is really excellent.

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What the cluck?!

6 03 2016

Behold the ruffled feathers of a hen who’s been placed in a dark box, then exposed to a camera flash. Poor girl, this did make her (and each of her similarly-treated flockmates) jump.

startle 1

But this jump was just what we were hoping for. What she was showing, and what Misha could pick up via the forceplate she was standing on, was a perfect startle reflex. Beginning with a neck retraction (and probably an eye blink, though the videos are too blurred to detect this), within about 300ms she jumps – as beautifully illustrated below, followed by a few ‘aftershocks’.

hen startle

Startle reflexes are potentially valuable in welfare assessment because in humans and rats, they increase when subjects are in states of anxiety or fear. MSc student Elyse Germain had tried to develop a method for hens before, but despite exposing hens to a loud horn found no clear signs of startle. I think her stimulus had too slow and ‘soggy’ an onset time (compared to the near instantaneous ‘step function’ of a flash), and the birds were also too mobile – possibly creating ‘pre pulse’-like inhibiting effects on startle, and definitely making it really hard to see anything. With the flash in the dark box, we knew we were solving the first problem, but through sheer serendipity we also solved the second as well because it made the hens so lovely and still before the startle stimulus.

Next step: can Misha now modify startle by making the hens’ states more positive (for example, by conditioning them to associate the box with treats)? This would really show it’s homologous to what is seen in mammals.



“Move to Canada” searches spike

6 03 2016

Click here for the story, and here for great Drumpf coverage from John Oliver.

Move to Canada

“Craig kept saying ‘Wow!”

3 03 2016

Seems like Craig Bailey was pretty impressed with our mink brains! Here’s a pic from Maria, as she starts to collect optical density data from new regions.