Those are not valid defences

I’m rather fond of Japan. It’s a beautiful country with so many unique features, including its cuisine, architecture, writing, language and culture. Next month, I will even be heading to Japan to interview for a PhD position. However, that doesn’t mean I agree with all aspects of Japanese culture, nor does it excuse them from poorly-argued defences such as have recently been offered to the world in regards to the annual Taiji dolphin hunt.

The controversy was reignited this year by a tweet sent by the US ambassador to Japan. CNN covers the story here and includes some defences offered by the Japanese. There is also an interview with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe where he responds to the outcry. The interview seems to cover other topics as well and a relevant excerpt can be seen here, although I am not sure where the full interview is. The points I address come from both CNN articles and a short News24 piece. Continue reading

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Quicklinks: Miscellaneous

There’s something really odd going on with the cover story for Science. It appears that they’re making a claim by just not testing the alternatives.

Whether dolphins are smart or not, they do not have a special bond with humans. There’s also new footage of a dolphin supposedly thanking fishermen for helping it. I don’t find this particular example very convincing.

Some amazing animal art made from old machines.

Jacques Rousseau has written a great piece on how ridiculous the occult crime unit is. I also advise following the link inside to the SAPS website warning about the occult and read their list of warning signs. Not only have many of them got nothing to do with the occult but a fair number are just wrong. For example, they claim that fantasy games have no rules. Yet here’s a long list of various rulebooks that have been released for Dungeons and Dragons.

Quicklinks: Science

I’ll start with a link that claims dolphins are unexceptional! This article is based on a book that looks at the claims made about dolphin intelligence. I do think they are particularly intelligent so it might be worth buying if I happen to see it.

Also in the ocean is this interesting report of a mutant lobster, now heading to the Maine State Acquarium. It seems to have too many claws on one of it’s arms, however PZ Meyers takes exception to referring to them as claws. I don’t know enough about lobsters to comment but it’s unusual and interesting. It’s unusually interesting.

Cheetah (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s an encouraging story here about using dogs to keep cheetahs away from livestock in Namibia. This decreases the conflicts between cheetahs and farmers, which is important as they are endangered. When I was younger I had the opportunity to stroke a live cheetah at Cheetah Outreach. They have since relocated but it’s still possible to visit and meet cheetahs in the flesh.

I’m a big fan of open source technology. I do think it is the best direction for us and this is an encouraging example of what it can accomplish. A South African man who lost part of his hand learned how to make his own prosthetic with a 3D printer and has released the plans for anyone to use. This drops the cost of a prosthetic hand from US$10 000 to US$500!

The final story is close to home. One of my lab members, Shareefa Dalvie, has had one of her samples be the first human genome sequenced on African soil! This is a huge achievement for genetics, the University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch. Large sequencing projects like this are the future for genetics research and can help us understand the causes of many diseases. In this case, it should bring us closer to understanding the genetic underpinnings of bipolar disorder.

Quicklinks: Borders, dolphins and spying

Garry Davis, a man who renounced his American citizenship and declared himself a citizen of the world died on the 24th of July. His “citizen of the world” idea is quite appealing and it’s interesting how it hasn’t caught on. I see little value in patriotism and it’s hard not to draw comparisons between passports and the pass laws of Apartheid South Africa. The pass laws were based on race but if they were instead based on where one was born, how would they really differ? I think any differences must be minor.

There is a post on WEIT dealing with India’s ban on captive dolphins and public opinion of the issue in Spain and Italy. I also saw a story where an American aquarium was recently denied permission to import Beluga dolphins. Related to both incidents, new research shows that dolphin memories can last at least 20 years! (covered in ScienceNow and Nature News)

Lastly, Edward Snowden has been granted one year’s asylum in Russia. This is excellent news for him considering Bradley Manning is facing up to 90 years in jail. Hopefully these cases, particularly Snowden’s, will send a message that large-scale monitoring and cover-ups of military actions are not acceptable. In the time, here are a number of ways to minimise data surveillance and generally increase your online security.

What do studies of animal cognition mean for ethics?

One of the most-viewed posts that I’ve written was about animal intelligence. I still maintain that the current mainstream view of animals is outdated and needs to recognise that non-human animals are, while not as intelligent as us, more intelligent than usually given credit for and, as fellow sentient creatures, deserving of moral protection. Currently, there is more and more scientific evidence being produced that supports intelligence in a wide range of species. I imagine resistance to these findings comes from a few sources such as many religions making an explicit separation between humans and animals (one which is not supported by biology), a lack of knowledge of studies of animal intelligence and a reluctance to acknowledge these findings as that would necessitate a complete overhaul of how we live our lives. Continue reading

India recognises dolphins as non-human persons

Dolphins (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Dolphins are one of a number of particularly special animals that are widely recognised to be highly intelligent. This makes them an ideal starting point to assign moral rights and personhood to non-humans. Rather than individuals with inherent value, most animals are currently seen as property and the effort to elevate their status has a lot of hard work ahead of it. That’s not to say that no one is trying, people are, although not always successfully. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Bacteria, seafood and dolphins

I’m fairly busy this week so I’m not likely to have time to post anything substantial before Sunday. I don’t like this sitting empty though so I’ve found some more interesting links to share.

You might remember from earlier that I’m rather interested in how we live with bacteria. On that topic I saw two interesting articles lately. The first suggests that the bacteria living in your gut may play a role in your susceptibility to melamine poisoning and the second looks at how the bacteria living on our teeth have changed and what the effects of that have been.

Then there’s a bit about whether seafood feels pain. It’s interesting for me because I became a vegetarian for just those concerns. I’m confident other mammals feel pain and suffer just like us but it’s much harder to say anything about creatures that diverged much further back in time. In the end I decided it was just easier to cut out the grey areas by not eating any animals but it is good to know for certain.

Still in the sea, here are some more entertaining links. 10 reasons why dolphins are undeniably awesome and 10 reasons why dolphins are assholes.