Quicklinks: crows, climate and computers

There’s an interesting story about crows from the BBC (found via io9) about a girl who regularly feeds crows. That wouldn’t be so remarkable if the crows weren’t now giving her gifts in return. We probably shouldn’t be too surprised. Crows are highly intelligent and have long term memory of people. There are wild animals that can think and feel and reciprocate a person’s gifts. If people had more interactions with animals we would probably hear more such stories. At the moment they tend to be limited to pets.

One of my recent quicklink posts (well… December) mentioned both the need to reduce consumption of meat to reduce (drastically) our impact on climate change and the strong opposition that meets such proposals. In a heartening, though non-binding, move, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have released their 2015 scientific report to the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services which explicitly mention reducing consumption of meat due to the effect on climate change. This is covered in Slate.

In the world of computing it seems like we are gradually winning the fight against unnecessary and invasive internet surveillance. Not necessarily because everyone has been convinced but because the people fighting surveillance are a cohesive movement. And then there’s also an interesting piece on how discussion about security vulnerabilities in code can be prevented laws. The main feeling of the article is frustration at how laws prevent important ethical discussions.

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Eureka! Canny crows figure out water displacement to get noms

Rather than rewrite everything myself I will just reblog this post on a new study of crow intelligence that I found on WEIT. For what it’s worth, I believe there was a paper a year or two ago that found human children performed about the same in these tasks as crows did. I will have to go reread it before I can say for sure though.

Why Evolution Is True

In the Aesop fable “The Crow and the Pitcher,” a thirsty crow manages to get water out of a near-empty jar by dropping pebbles into it, raising the water level so he could reach it with his beak. The moral was “Little by little does the trick.”

That fable is a title reference in a new a new paper in PLoS ONE by Sarah Jelbert et al. (reference and free download below), showing that crows can not only displace water this way—in this case to get a treat, not a drink—but also understand some principles of water displacement: use heavy rather than floating “stones,” avoid hollow objects, use vessels where the water level is higher rather than lower, and—it doesn’t work with sand.

The authors used six wild New Caledonian Crows (Corvus moneduloides), a species already known for its smarts and its ability to use tools (see…

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Animal Intelligence

In my recent post on plant ethics I said that animals were of ethical concern because we have good reasons to believe that, like us, they are capable of thinking and feeling and so are able to suffer. In this post I want to share some of those reasons and hopefully convince you, if you aren’t already convinced, that animals are far more than just unthinking, unfeeling machines. Since we are so closely related to other primates I’m going to ignore those examples and rather focus on two other animal groups, dolphins and corvids (ravens and crows). Continue reading