Backyard Brains: The newest d-bags in science let you control a live cockroach with your iphone! »
Good god, people are unbelievable. Backyard Brains, some sort of think tank that does “neuroscience for everyone!” has come up with a super way to torture cockroaches. Enter the RoboRoach! A “fun” kit that allows you to turn a living cockroach into a cyborg you can control with your iPhone. I’m not kidding. Ecorazzi breaks down the delightful process for you:
The instructions for the procedure including “anesthetizing” the roaches by placing them in ice water for 2-5 minutes or “until they stop moving,” then using sandpaper to remove waxy coating on the pronotoum or the shell of their head. An electrode connector and electrodes are then superglued on. It gets worse…their instructions continue with placing the roach back into ice water, then sanding the shell on their head with sandpaper to allow electrodes to be superglued on, and then using a needle to poke a hole in their thorax and inserting a wire. Their antennae are then cut, and electrodes are inserted. A circuit is attached to their backs, and signals are received via an app, allowing users to control the roaches’ left and right movements.
Who in their right mind would ever think this was acceptable? But don’t worry guys, Backyard Brains totally recognizes that this might upset people. Let’s travel to a wonderful world of non-answers and scientific tap dancing known as their ethics page:
The use of animals for human benefit is a complex philosophical field, with some feeling we can do whatever we will with animals and others feeling that even having animals as pets is inhumane. While biology demonstrations “for fun” should obviously not be done, given that our demonstrations are to teach science/physiology in an interactive way, we believe the animal experiment is of benefit. We acknowledge this is a controversial claim.
Thanks scientists, I’m so glad you have condescended to acknowledge that this is a controversial claim. What a superfluous non-statement. It’s like the classic “I’m sorry if you’re upset because you don’t understand.” And they aren’t actually making much of an ethical argument. Here, let me try!:
Some people think women should be subservient slaves and some amazon warriors think we should keep all the men in breeding pens. We also have an opinion. You might not like it.
I’m so good at science!
To be clear: I dislike cockroaches. They scare the heck out of me. But I also dislike republicans and they also scare the heck out of me. So can we make RoboRepublicans?! RoboRepublicans would be way more beneficial to society than cyborg cockroaches! It’s ok, I totally acknowledge that this is a controversial claim.
How to find the rarest dog in the world: On the trail of the New Guinea Singing Dog »
Why is the New Guinea Singing Dog so special? Why should we be trying to save its dwindling wild population?
The Highland Wild Dog of the Island of Papua is considered by many to be the rarest dog on the planet. NGSDs exhibit many unique behaviors found nowhere else in any other breeds of dogs. NGSDs are considered [to be the] link between the first dog—wolf—and today’s domestic breeds. Isolation has kept them pure, but encroaching villagers, accompanied by their domestic village dogs, threatens their continued genetic purity. Little is known about the captive needs and behaviors of NGSDs, but nothing is known about their natural history in the wild. No scientific estimates of the wild population can legitimately be made. Education, scientific captive management, and habitat and species protection are just some of the measures that need to be taken if the NGSD is to survive.
Becky Crew of Running Ponies continues the story of “the rarest dog in the world" with an interview with field zoologist James McIntyre of the Southwest Pacific Research Foundation, who is leading an expedition to find and study the dogs in the wild.
[photo of captive New Guinea Singing Dogs by Nathan Rupert via Flickr]
The Brain Scoop
Episode 17: PANGOLINS
I’ve been fascinated by pangolins (Order: Pholidota) ever since I first learned about them, and moreso after I realized they are basically real-life Pokémon. I am asked frequently about my favorite specimen in the museum so when I opened up the option to decide between a few other animals - without any additional context - I was thrilled that the masses chose ‘pangolins’. As a side note, if you’d like to get involved with crowd-inspired shows in the future be sure to stay tuned to my Twitter or our Facebook page!
Speaking of pangolins, let’s learn all about them (a single animal can eat up to 70 million ants every year! their tongues are so long they have muscles in their pelvis!) from science queen Emily Graslie and The Brain Scoop!
Yes, your dogs is smiling: Humans can recognize emotions in other animals »
"Classifying dogs’ (Canis familiaris) facial expressions from photographs," a study by Tina Bloom and Harris Friedman published in February in scientific journal Behavioural Processes, has shown that people can correctly identify emotions in dogs’ faces. It used a series of photographs of one dog’s face (meet Mal the Belgian shepherd!) and involved 50 human volunteers of varying degrees of experience with dogs, who were asked to identify the dog’s emotional state in each photo. The results?
Both groups [“people experienced and inexperienced with dogs”] were able to read the dog’s emotions. Paradoxically, experienced people were less accurate reading aggressiveness. Experienced people were better identifying behaviorally defined situations.
With only one dog and 50 volunteers, it wasn’t exactly a rigorous study, but … you totally know when your dog is happy or ashamed or surprised, right? And now science totally supports your claims.
[Photo from Casa-Rodríguez Collection via Flickr]
The Brain Scoop
Episode 16: Horns vs. Antlers
We get a lot of requests to fulfill common queries about the odd animal world - differentiating between horns and alters is one of them. Certainly there is a lot more that can be said on this subject, but here’s your basic bite-sized rundown of similarities and differences. Someday soon we’ll be discussing the freakshow exceptions to the rules: rhinoceroses, the American pronghorn, the common raccoon.
Get down and educational with Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum and Comparative Skeletal Collection! I love some light science, don’t you?
Cosmetic animal testing banned in the European Union! »
That’s right! As of March 11, “the marketing, import, and sale of animal-tested cosmetics and their ingredients will no longer be legal in the EU.” Congratulations to PCRM, who did a lot of work lobbying for the ban, and here’s to passing a similar ban in the U.S. Cosmetics don’t need to be tested on animals any longer. Science has moved beyond it; here’s hoping we can move society beyond it, too.
[Photo by Ahmad Hashim via Flickr]
What, we’ve wrecked wild bees now, too? »
Two fun studies show that bees are having more troubles thriving in the age of modern agriculture than we thought.
First, honeybees aren’t the best crop pollinators; per a study published in Science, they get a lot of help from bumblebees and carpenter bees.
Second, wild bees hate monocultures, and don’t like to pollinate in single-crop areas.
Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author of the first study in Science, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.
The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It’s a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that come here from all over the country.
"But for the rest of the year, there’s nothing blooming," she says.
That means there are no bees. “In fact, in places where we have very large monocultures of almond, we don’t find any native bees anymore,” Kremen says.
So what does that mean for us? Will the fact that large-scale monoculture is bad for bees force us to change the way we farm? Is smaller-scale, more diverse farming financially feasible for modern farmers?
Home gardeners, at least, could learn to plant a variety of flowers and food plants together. As for commercial agriculture, we’ll see.
[Photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr]
Tons of mice die needlessly for health testing. Thanks, science »
It’s no secret that loads of mice (literally hundreds of thousands) have been sacrificed to science for “research” purposes to help cure all kinds of human ailments. This has always been a tricky subject for vegans, because, you know, it’s medical ethics, duh. But it turns out that a new study recently reported in the New York Times suggests that all those mice very likely died in vain.
The bottom line of the study is that billions of dollars have been wasted and, like, mice cancer and heart disease is different from people cancer and heart disease. I know the precautionary principle is a moot point when it comes to mice when you’re a big fancy scientist being backed by a big fancy drug company, but I strongly believe that we shouldn’t just kill mice before we’re, you know, sure about this stuff. And it turns out people weren’t. At all. And now those mice are looking down on us from mouse heaven except there is no mouse heaven and oh I’m crying now so just excuse me while I leave out some peanut butter for the neighbors’ mice.
[Photo by Andrew via Flickr]
Your Precious Backyard Chicken Eggs Are Lead Bombs »
Listen up, Alanis: Here’s something actually ironic. Those fancy New Yorkers who keep chickens in their yards because the eggs are so much healthier might be poisoning their unsuspecting children with that scourge-of-paint-and-pipes, lead. BUMM-er.
The New York Times has the full scoop, but I’ll save you the carpal-tunnel of having to click and save myself the effort of having to write by copying and pasting the nut graf right here:
Preliminary results from a New York State Health Department study show that more than half the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike store-bought counterparts.
Now, I don’t wish lead poisoning on anyone, and I am also of the opinion that eating eggs from backyard chickens is about a zillion times more humane and less environmentally devastating than eating factory-farmed eggs. Nevertheless, go ahead and add this to your quiver of arguments as to why it might be just the bestest most best idea to the leave the eggs alone. Drop it! Drop the egg! Now walk away and no one will get poisoned!
Rejoice! Looking at cute animal photos is good for you! »
Good news, everyone! Time to go find kittens, puppies, and bunnies online!
Wired Science reports on a new study that suggests looking at cute animal pictures can improve your concentration. The research was done in Japan, where cute overload is basically the national condition.
Cute baby animals help you concentrate, but they don’t help you just generally be smarter, though, so probably better to use kitten flashcards while studying but not while at cocktail parties. Though that would make you popular in other ways, so go for it! Bring kitten flashcards!
[Photo via cute overload]