Chapter 1. An Introduction to Brain and Behavior

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Carl Zimmer In recent years, a peculiar sort of public performance has taken place periodically on the sidewalks of Seattle. It begins with a woman named Kaeli N. Swift sprinkling peanuts and cheese puffs on the ground. Crows swoop in to feed on the snacks. While Ms. Swift observes the birds from a distance, notebook in hand, another person walks up to the birds, wearing a latex mask and a sign that reads “UW CROW STUDY.” In the accomplice’s hands is a taxidermied crow, presented like a tray of hors d’oeuvres. This performance is not surreal street theater, but an experiment designed to explore a deep biological question: What do crows understand about death? Ms. Swift has been running this experiment as part of her doctoral research at the University of Washington, under the guidance of John M. Marzluff, a biologist. Dr. Marzluff and other experts on crow behavior have long been intrigued by the way the birds seem to congregate noisily around dead comrades. Dr. Marzluff has witnessed these gatherings many times himself, and has heard similar stories from other people. “Whenever I give a talk about crows, there’s always someone who says, ‘Well, what about this?’ ” he said. Dr. Marzluff and Ms. Swift decided to bring some scientific rigor to these stories. They wanted to determine whether a dead crow really does trigger a distinctive response from living crows and, if so, what the purpose of the large, noisy gatherings might be. To run the experiment, Ms. Swift began by delivering food to a particular spot each day, so that the crows learned to congregate there to eat. Then one of her volunteers would approach the feast with a dead crow, and Ms. Swift observed how the birds reacted. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 21473 - Posted: 10.03.2015

Sara Reardon The brain’s wiring patterns can shed light on a person’s positive and negative traits, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience1. The finding, published on 28 September, is the first from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), an international effort to map active connections between neurons in different parts of the brain. The HCP, which launched in 2010 at a cost of US$40 million, seeks to scan the brain networks, or connectomes, of 1,200 adults. Among its goals is to chart the networks that are active when the brain is idle; these are thought to keep the different parts of the brain connected in case they need to perform a task. In April, a branch of the project led by one of the HCP's co-chairs, biomedical engineer Stephen Smith at the University of Oxford, UK, released a database of resting-state connectomes from about 460 people between 22 and 35 years old. Each brain scan is supplemented by information on approximately 280 traits, such as the person's age, whether they have a history of drug use, their socioeconomic status and personality traits, and their performance on various intelligence tests. Smith and his colleagues ran a massive computer analysis to look at how these traits varied among the volunteers, and how the traits correlated with different brain connectivity patterns. The team was surprised to find a single, stark difference in the way brains were connected. People with more 'positive' variables, such as more education, better physical endurance and above-average performance on memory tests, shared the same patterns. Their brains seemed to be more strongly connected than those of people with 'negative' traits such as smoking, aggressive behaviour or a family history of alcohol abuse. © 2015 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: Brain imaging; Intelligence
Link ID: 21457 - Posted: 09.29.2015

By David Grimm The journal Nature is revising its policy on publishing animal experiments after a study it ran in 2011 received criticism because the authors allowed tumors to grow excessively large in mice. The paper reported that a compound isolated from a pepper plant killed cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Yesterday, the journal published a correction to the study (the paper’s second), which noted that “some tumors on some of the animals exceeded the maximum size … permitted by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.” The tumors were only supposed to grow to a maximum of 1.5 cubic centimeters, but some reached 7 cubic centimeters, according to David Vaux, a cell biologist at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, who first raised concerns about the paper in 2012. (Vaux spoke to Retraction Watch, which first reported the correction.) In an editorial published yesterday, Nature calls the large tumors “a breach of experimental protocol,” one that could have caused the mice to “have experienced more pain and suffering than originally allowed for.” The journal also noted the lapse could have implications beyond the one study, saying that “cases such as this could provoke a justifiable backlash against animal research.” Nature says it will now require authors to include the maximum tumor size allowed by its institutional animal-use committee, and to state that this size was not exceeded during the experiments. The journal does say, however, that it is not retracting the paper, and that the study remains “valid and useful.”

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21418 - Posted: 09.20.2015

James Gorman If spiders had nightmares, the larvae of ichneumonid wasps would have to star in them. The wasp lays an egg on the back of an orb weaver spider, where it grows fat and bossy, and occupies itself with turning the spider into a zombie. As Keizo Takasuka and his colleagues point out in The Journal of Experimental Biology, this is a classic case of “host manipulation.” Using more colorful language, he described the larva turning the spider into a “drugged navvy.” The larva forces the spider to turn its efforts away from maintaining a sticky, spiral web to catch prey, and to devote itself to building a safe and sturdy web to serve as a home for the larva’s cocoon, in which it will transform itself into a wasp. This process was well known, but Dr. Takasuka and Kaoru Maeto at Kobe University, working with other Japanese researchers, wanted to explore how the wasp overlords controlled their spiders. They suspected that the larvae were co-opting a natural behavior of the spiders. Turning on a behavior already in the spiders’ repertoire would be much easier than controlling every step of modifying a sticky web. So they compared the cocoon web to one that the spiders themselves build to rest in when they are molting. It’s called a resting web. The similarities were striking. In both the resting and cocoon webs, the sticky, spiraling threads that make the webs of orb weavers so appealing were gone. Instead, the spokes of the web remained, decorated with fibrous spider silk that the researchers found reflected ultraviolet light. That would be a highly useful quality to warn away birds and some large insects from flying into the web because those creatures can see in the ultraviolet spectrum. The strength of the two silk webs was also similar. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous; Evolution
Link ID: 21403 - Posted: 09.14.2015

By GREGORY COWLES Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82. The cause was cancer, said Kate Edgar, his longtime personal assistant. Dr. Sacks announced in February, in an Op-Ed essay in The New York Times, that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer. As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.) Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing. Describing his patients’ struggles and sometimes uncanny gifts, Dr. Sacks helped introduce syndromes like Tourette’s or Asperger’s to a general audience. But he illuminated their characters as much as their conditions; he humanized and demystified them. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 21361 - Posted: 08.31.2015

By BENEDICT CAREY The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a study supporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters’ behavior because of concerns about faked data. Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction. The vetted studies were considered part of the core knowledge by which scientists understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning and memory. Therapists and educators rely on such findings to help guide decisions, and the fact that so many of the studies were called into question could sow doubt in the scientific underpinnings of their work. “I think we knew or suspected that the literature had problems, but to see it so clearly, on such a large scale — it’s unprecedented,” said Jelte Wicherts, an associate professor in the department of methodology and statistics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. More than 60 of the studies did not hold up. Among them was one on free will. It found that participants who read a passage arguing that their behavior is predetermined were more likely than those who had not read the passage to cheat on a subsequent test. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 21355 - Posted: 08.28.2015

By JESSE McKINLEY ALBANY — In a case watched by animal rights activists and courtroom curiosity seekers, a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan on Thursday denied a request to free a pair of chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, being held at a state university on Long Island. The unorthodox petition — which sought a writ of habeas corpus, an age-old method of challenging unlawful imprisonment — was the latest attempt by the nonprofit Nonhuman Rights Project to establish that apes are “legal persons.” The group argues that chimps are self-aware and autonomous, a contention it has supported by submitting affidavits attesting to the animals’ intelligence, language skills and personalities, among other traits, in several cases filed in New York on behalf of various imprisoned primates. In what the group hoped was a positive sign, Justice Barbara Jaffe of State Supreme Court in April ordered a hearing on whether Hercules and Leo, 8-year-old apes living as research subjects at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, could be released and transferred to an animal sanctuary in Florida. Arguments were heard in late May. But while Justice Jaffe took the case seriously — her 33-page decision cited the long history of habeas corpus and included references to discrimination against women and African-American slaves — she could not quite see Hercules and Leo as people in the eyes of the law. “For the purpose of establishing rights, the law presently categorizes entities in a simple, binary, ‘all or nothing,’ fashion,” the justice wrote, noting: “Persons have rights, duties, and obligations. Things do not.” “Animals, including chimpanzees and other highly intelligent mammals, are considered property under the law,” she continued. “They are accorded no legal rights,” beyond being free from mistreatment or abuse. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21241 - Posted: 07.31.2015

Alexandra Sims Intelligent people are not only smarter than the average person - it seems they could also live longer as well. A study by the London School of Economics found that smarter siblings are more likely to outlive their less clever brothers and sisters, with genetics accounting for 95 per cent of the connection between intelligence and life span. The scientists examined the differences in longevity between identical twins, who share all of their genes and non-identical twins, who on average share half of their genes. Writing in the International Journal of Epidemiology, scientists noted the difference in intellect between the twins and the age at which they died. Focusing on three different twin studies from Sweden, Denmark and the United States the researchers examined sets of twins for whom both intelligence and age of death had been recorded in pairs where at least one of the twins had died. In both types of twins it was found that the smarter of the two lived longer, but this effect was far more prominent in non-identical twins. Rosalind Arden, a research associate at the LSE, told The Times that "the association between top jobs and longer lifespans is more a result of genes than having a big desk.” She added though that the research does not mean parents can "deduce your child’s likely lifespan from how he or she does in their exams this summer”.

Keyword: Intelligence; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 21222 - Posted: 07.27.2015

Emily M. Keeler How smart are you? Would you be smarter if you ate more blueberries, played better video games, learned another language, or read the novels of Proust? What about if you did more crosswords? Took some pills? Electrically stimulated your brain? Or are you smart enough as is? Patricia Marx is, of course, pretty smart already. She’s a Guggenheim fellow, and a New Yorker Staff writer. She’s also funny as hell. Marx was the first woman elected to the Harvard Lampoon, and is a former writer for Saturday Night Live. Her new book, Let’s Be Less Stupid, takes readers on a chatty nosedive into her own neurological functioning, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, we’ll all become a little smarter along the way. The book is the most recent entrant in the burgeoning field of pop-neuroscience, but with a liberal helping of humour. For four months, Marx did everything she could to add a few points to her IQ, including becoming adept with Luminosity, a video game app intended to improve cognitive function, and learning a little Cherokee in the hopes of multilingualism giving her brain a competitive advantage against the inevitable decline. When I called Marx to chat about her brain, she said she was sure her four months of compulsively chasing brain health hadn’t done her much good; in fact, she sheepishly admitted she’d already forgotten most of what she’d learned about the incredibly complex organ folded up inside our skulls. © 2015 National Post

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 21169 - Posted: 07.15.2015

By David Grimm The number of federally regulated animals used in U.S. biomedical research dropped last year to its lowest level since data collection began in 1972, according to new statistics posted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Approximately 834,000 rabbits, nonhuman primates, and other regulated animals were used in research last year, compared with more than 1.5 million in the early 1970s. The use of these animals has been on a downward trend since 1993, with a 6% decrease from 2013 to 2014. Since USDA first started posting its numbers on its website in 2008, total use has dropped 17%. The figures do not include most mice, rats, birds, and fish, which make up 98% of lab animals but are not covered under the 1966 Animal Welfare Act (AWA). “It’s a continuation of a long-running trend that’s showing no sign of slowing down—in fact it’s speeding up,” says Tom Holder, the director of Speaking of Research, a U.K.-based organization that supports the use of animals in research. Animal rights activists are “very pleased,” says Alka Chandna, the senior laboratory oversight specialist at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which opposes the use of animals in research. The use of nearly every kind of AWA-covered animal dropped from 2013 to 2014. Twelve percent fewer dogs were used from 2013 to 2014 (16% fewer since 2008), 11% fewer rabbits (36% fewer since 2008), 11% fewer Guinea pigs (26% fewer since 2008), and 10% fewer nonhuman primates (19% fewer since 2008). The only animals to see an increase were “all other covered species,” which includes ferrets, squirrels, and some rodents (such as sand rats and deer mice) that are not excluded from the AWA. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21153 - Posted: 07.11.2015

Computers built to mimic the brain can now recognise images, speech and even create art, and it’s all because they are learning from data we churn out online Do androids dream of electric squid? (Image: Reservoir Lab at Ghent University) I AM watching it have a very odd dream – psychedelic visions of brain tissue folds, interspersed with chunks of coral reef. The dreamer in question is an artificial intelligence, one that live-streams from a computer on the ground floor of the Technicum building in Ghent University, Belgium. This vision has been conjured up after a viewer in the chat sidebar suggests "brain coral" as a topic. It's a fun distraction – and thousands of people have logged on to watch. But beyond that, the bot is a visual demonstration of a technology that is finally coming of age: neural networks. The bot is called 317070, a name it shares with the Twitter handle of its creator, Ghent graduate student Jonas Degrave. It is based on a neural network that can recognise objects in images, except that Degrave runs it in reverse. Given static noise, it tweaks its output until it creates images that tally with what viewers are requesting online. The bot's live-stream page says it is "hallucinating", although Degrave says "imagining" is a little more accurate. Degrave's experiment plays off recent Google research which aimed to tackle one of the core issues with neural networks: that no one knows how neural networks come up with their answers. The images the network creates to satisfy simple instructions can give us some insights. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Robotics
Link ID: 21149 - Posted: 07.09.2015

By VIRGINIA HUGHES An extraterrestrial dropping into a modern-day hospital might be forgiven for thinking it was run by machines. Against a techno soundtrack of whirs and beeps, sleep-deprived doctors file in and out of exam rooms. They ask patients a series of standard questions, and make a few clicks on a computer to order a blood test or chest X-ray or pain meds. Then they hustle out the door to repeat the protocol on the impossibly large number of other patients under their watch. When their shifts end, some 12 or 18 or even 28 hours later, these zombies in blue scrubs are replaced by others, while the unflappable computers ease the handoff. The tech-centric approach to medicine has its benefits, to be sure. Imaging machines and genetic screening give doctors biological clues otherwise hidden. Computers can make hospitals more efficient, and prevent dumb mistakes. But the practice of medicine cannot be reduced to algorithms, pixels and protocols, as the neurologist Dr. Allan H. Ropper subtly argues in his entertaining book, “Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole.” (Read excerpt.) To Dr. Ropper, medicine is a craft — an art — that depends on the human interaction between doctor and patient. Like an episode of the popular television series “House,” the book presents mysterious medical cases from the behemoth Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The 10th floor holds the neurology inpatient ward, a place where, as Dr. Ropper and his co-author, Brian David Burrell, put it, “the strangest and most challenging cases are sent to be sorted out.” © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 21138 - Posted: 07.07.2015

Emma Bowman In a small, sparse makeshift lab, Melissa Malzkuhn practices her range of motion in a black, full-body unitard dotted with light-reflecting nodes. She's strapped on a motion capture, or mocap, suit. Infrared cameras that line the room will capture her movement and translate it into a 3-D character, or avatar, on a computer. But she's not making a Disney animated film. Three-dimensional motion capture has developed quickly in the last few years, most notably as a Hollywood production tool for computer animation in films like Planet of the Apes and Avatar. Behind the scenes though, leaders in the deaf community are taking on the technology to create and improve bilingual learning tools in American Sign Language. Malzkuhn has suited up to record a simple nursery rhyme. Being deaf herself, she spoke with NPR through an interpreter. "I know in English there's just a wealth of nursery rhymes available, but we really don't see as much in ASL," she says. "So we're gonna be doing some original work here in developing nursery rhymes." That's because sound-based rhymes don't cross over well into the visual language of ASL. Malzkuhn heads the Motion Light Lab, or ML2. It's the newest hub of the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University, the premier school for deaf and hard of hearing students. © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Language
Link ID: 21107 - Posted: 06.29.2015

By Kiona Smith-Strickland Are crows the smartest animals of all? Many scientists think that corvids — the family of birds that includes crows, ravens, rooks and jays — may be among the most intelligent animals on Earth, based on their ability to solve problems, make tools and apparently consider both possible future events and other individuals’ states of mind. “There’s a lot of research that has been done with both ravens and crows because they are such intelligent species,” said Margaret Innes, an assistant curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Even in humans, defining and measuring intelligence is difficult, and it’s more complicated in other species, which have very different body shapes and have evolved for their niche in the environment. However, scientists who study cognition have defined a few measures of intelligence: recognizing oneself in a mirror, solving complex problems, making tools, using analogies and symbols, and reasoning about what others are thinking. For a long time, biologists expected most of these mental feats to be unique to primates. The great apes — chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas — succeed at nearly all of these tasks, from making and using tools to learning large vocabularies of symbols, as well as recognizing themselves in mirrors. A select few other mammals also meet most of the accepted criteria for intelligence. Dogs and dolphins, for instance, are very good at tasks involving social intelligence, such as communication, conflict resolution and reasoning about what others are thinking. Dolphins are also capable of basic tool use — for instance, carrying sea sponges in their mouths to shield their noses from scrapes and bumps as they forage on the ocean floor.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 21086 - Posted: 06.23.2015

By ANDREW HIGGINS WIJK BIJ DUURSTEDE, Netherlands — The hiss of gas, released by a red lever turned by Arie den Hertog in the back of his white van, signaled the start of the massacre. The victims, crammed into a sealed, coffin-like wooden case, squawked as they struggled to breathe. Then, after barely two minutes, they fell silent. Glancing at the timer on his cellphone, Mr. Den Hertog declared the deed done. “Now it is all over,” he said proudly of his gruesomely efficient handiwork, on a gloriously sunny day beneath a row of poplar trees on the banks of the Lower Rhine. Reviled as a Nazi by animal rights activists but hailed as a hero by Dutch farmers, Mr. Den Hertog, 40, is the Netherlands’ peerless expert in the theory and practice of killing large numbers of wild geese. On his recent outing to Wijk bij Duurstede, a village in the Utrecht region southeast of Amsterdam, he killed 570 graylag geese in his portable gas chamber, fitted with two big canisters of carbon dioxide. That brought his death toll to more than 7,000 for the week. “It is not fun, but it has to be done,” he said of his work. The Dutch authorities insist it must be done, too. They pay Mr. Den Hertog to keep a ballooning geese population from devouring the grass of cow pastures and flying into planes taking off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, a major hub in Europe. He is the unpleasant answer to what has become a problem on a grand scale for the Netherlands. Geese populations here have skyrocketed, buoyed by a 1999 ban on hunting them; farmers’ increasing use of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, which geese apparently love; and the expansion of protected nature areas. That combination, plus an abundance of rivers and canals, has made the country a “goose El Dorado,” said Julia Stahl, head of research at Sovon, a group that monitors wild bird populations in the Netherlands. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21048 - Posted: 06.15.2015

By David Grimm In 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a series of lawsuits asking courts to recognize four New York chimpanzees as legal persons and free them from captivity. The animal rights group, which hopes to set a precedent for research chimps everywhere, has yet to succeed, but in April a judge ordered Stony Brook University to defend its possession of two of these animals, Hercules and Leo. Last month, the group and the university squared off in court, and the judge is expected to issue a decision soon. But the scientist working with the chimps, anatomist Susan Larson, has remained largely silent until now. In an exclusive interview, Larson talks about her work with these animals and the impact the litigation is having on her studies—and research animals in general. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Q: Where did Hercules and Leo come from? A: They were born 8 years ago at the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. They were among the last juveniles New Iberia had. We've had them on loan for 6 years. Q: What kind of work do you do with them? A: We're interested in learning about the evolution of bipedalism by actually looking at what real animals do. Over the past 30 years, we've looked at 17 different species of primates, including 11 chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are the best model because they are so close to us. When we compare how they walk to how we walk, we can feed those data into computer models that may help us understand how early hominids like Lucy moved around. The work we're doing with Hercules and Leo is the most important work we've done. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 21040 - Posted: 06.13.2015

Anthony Kulkamp Dias, a 33-year old Brazilian bank worker, performed a Beatles classic for the team of surgeons operating on his brain tumour. The video shot by one of the medical team shows Dias horizontal, strumming on a guitar and singing the Beatles’ iconic song ‘ Yesterday’. The lyrics, “yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…” had added pertinence considering the unique situation Dias found himself in. There was a medical explanation behind the impromptu singsong with doctors keeping Dias awake in order to conduct ‘cerebral monitoring’, which a spokesperson reportedly said is “important to prevent injuries that occur in the sensory, motor and speech areas of the brain.” Through his performance, Dias was able to provide real-time feedback about how the surgery was affecting his brain. ©

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 21019 - Posted: 06.06.2015

John Bohannon “Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.” I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website. Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 20995 - Posted: 05.28.2015

Krishnadev Calamur Two research chimps got their day in court — though they weren't actually present in the courtroom. Steven Wise, an attorney with the Nonhuman Rights Project, told Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe that Hercules and Leo, the 8-year-old research chimps at Stony Brook University on Long Island, are "autonomous and self-determining beings" who should be granted a writ of habeas corpus, which would effectively recognize them as legal persons. The chimps, he argued, should be moved from the university to a sanctuary in Florida. But Christopher Coulston, an assistant state attorney general representing the university, called the case meritless. The Associated Press reports that he said granting chimps personhood would create, in the words of the AP, "a slippery slope regarding the rights of other animals." "The reality is these are fundamentally different species," Coulston said. "There's simply no precedent anywhere of an animal getting the same rights as a human." Jaffe, the AP adds, didn't make a ruling Wednesday but called the proceeding "extremely interesting and well argued." NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reported on the story Wednesday for our Newscast unit. He says: "Past judges have struck down this lawsuit since it was first filed in 2013. But the current judge at the Manhattan Supreme Court is ordering the university to defend why it's detaining the chimps." © 2015 NPR

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20991 - Posted: 05.28.2015

George Yancy: You have popularized the concept of speciesism, which, I believe was first used by the animal activist Richard Ryder. Briefly, define that term and how do you see it as similar to or different from racism? Peter Singer: Speciesism is an attitude of bias against a being because of the species to which it belongs. Typically, humans show speciesism when they give less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than they give to the similar interests of human beings. Note the requirement that the interests in question be “similar.” It’s not speciesism to say that normal humans have an interest in continuing to live that is different from the interests that nonhuman animals have. One might, for instance, argue that a being with the ability to think of itself as existing over time, and therefore to plan its life, and to work for future achievements, has a greater interest in continuing to live than a being who lacks such capacities. If we were to compare attitudes about speciesism today with past racist attitudes, we would have to say that we are back in the days in which the slave trade was still legal. On that basis, one might argue that to kill a normal human being who wants to go on living is more seriously wrong than killing a nonhuman animal. Whether this claim is or is not sound, it is not speciesist. But given that some human beings – most obviously, those with profound intellectual impairment – lack this capacity, or have it to a lower degree than some nonhuman animals, it would be speciesist to claim that it is always more seriously wrong to kill a member of the species Homo sapiens than it is to kill a nonhuman animal. © 2015 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 20990 - Posted: 05.28.2015