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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Science: Behind the scenes

I’ve collected a few weird stories from the world of science that are interesting. They’re not science stories about discoveries and research but they’re science stories about what goes on behind the scenes.

Spam and mailing lists

Let’s start with an amusing tale. We’ve all got spam before and scientists are no exception. Fed up with the constant spam from one particular journal, Dr. Peter Vamplew submitted a fake article, originally written by David Mazières and Eddie Kohler, that expressed his frustration. The article was 10 pages long and merely consisted of the sentence, “Get me off your fucking mailing list” repeated throughout. Continue reading

Is there life after a mistake?

It’s a question worth thinking about due at least one story in the news. Ched Evans was convicted of rape, sentenced to five years in jail and released after serving half of it. He is a football player who is once again training with Sheffield United and that has caused a certain amount of drama. A television presenter resigned as a patron of the club, followed by two others, as well as a sponsor threatening to leave, and an Olympic medallist says she will want her name removed from the stadium if he is re-signed. Is that the right course of action? Continue reading

Quicklinks: Dogs and fish

This first story concerns the intelligence of dogs and the perception of dog owners’ about the intelligence of dogs. As per the io9 article title, people think their dogs are a lot smarter than they actually are. The closer people are to their dogs, the more they overestimate their dog’s intelligence.

This second story is a bit concerning. It started as a great story about a 12-year-old girl’s science fair project which made ecologists stop and think about an invasive fish. Now it’s taken a darker turn and appears that the project was not as original as the media attention made it out to be and the credit should actually be going to a young scientist. It turns out that the girl’s project is based on work that this guy had already done and published and that the girl’s father is friends with the young scientist’s former supervisor. While it’s still great for the girl, it’s not fair that the scientist is now being ignored and losing the credit.

Animals in zoos

White Bengal Tiger at Cougar Mountain Zoo.

In a sense this post serves as a follow up to one of the links in a previous post of mine. I linked to a piece that argued that animal captivity was not inherently wrong and which detailed a number of ways in which captivity might actually be better for the animal. I would agree that there are occasions when captivity is ethical and/or necessary but I got the feeling that I would find much fewer occasions than the author would. I want to now draw people’s attention to an article published last month in Slate which looks at how zoos are bad for animals. Continue reading

Some good news

About a month ago, I wrote about the case of Cornealious Michael Anderson III, a man who was convicted but never sent to jail. He managed to turn his life around and start a family but was re-arrested 13 years later and was going to have to serve that time. I am pleased to say that, a few days ago, he was released from prison and given credit for his entire sentence.

“You’re a good man, and you’re a changed man, and that makes a huge difference in my decision today…. You’re not the man you were fourteen years ago,” said Brown. “I believe that continuing to [incarcerate you] serves no purpose” — here there were gasps and tears from the Anderson family — “I think it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. I think it would unnecessarily punish an obviously rehabilitated man.”

What is the point of the justice system?

This story is totally ridiculous. The entire point of a justice system should be to reform criminals so that they can return to society. Now I’ve heard of story where a man, due to an error, was not sent to jail. In the meantime though, he hasn’t been out committing crimes. He started a family, started businesses, made no attempt to hide and has essentially been a model citizen. When he was going to be released, they realised he wasn’t in jail and arrested him. Now they want him to server his 13 year sentence. More details available from the Riverfront Times here and here. That is totally pointless! It’s pure retributive “justice” that seeks only to punish. It’s ethically indefensible and serves absolutely no practical purpose.

There is a Change.org petition for his release.