Monday, October 17, 2011

Some wise words from Steven Pinker.....

"I think that a failure of statistical thinking is the major intellectual shortcoming of our universities, journalism and intellectual culture. Cognitive psychology tells us that the unaided human mind is vulnerable to many fallacies and illusions because of its reliance on its memory for vivid anecdotes rather than systematic statistics. Yet pundits continue to hallucinate trends in freak events, like the Norwegian sniper (who shot all those young people on an island) and make wildly innumerate comparisons, such as between Afghanistan and Vietnam, or between today's human trafficking and the African slave trade. It's a holdover of the literary sensibilities of our science-flunking intellectual elite, who would be aghast if someone didn't know who Milton was, but cheerfully flaunt their ignorance of basic science and mathematics. I lobbied – unsuccessfully – for a course requirement at Harvard in statistical and logical reasoning."--Steven Pinker.

He is utterly correct on the failure of communication between the arts and the sciences, and as one who has been positioned pretty evenly between them, I must say that I think those in the sciences tend to be far more intellectually fluent in the arts, than vice versa.

The quote comes from an email interview by John Naughton in The Guardian about Pinker's new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes. It's on my list!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Parasites and art: Tommy Leung

One of my favourite blogs is Parasite of the Day, cowritten by Tommy Leung. Tommy lectures in parasitology and evolutionary biology at the University of New England (NSW, Australia). What I didn't know is that Tommy is also an artist who paints and draws various biological creatures, real and imaginary, exploring biological concepts. He's just been profiled in the Scientific American blog Symbiartic: the science of art and the art of science.

Symbiosis Tree, by Tommy Leung

I can just see some of these images on my office wall.

So, Tommy, when's the exhibition?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Superb Lyrebird mimicry: recording!

I've previously posted about the Superb Lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) in our garden, with the promise that one day I'd upload audio. Today is that day!

Since we've been living here, the lyrebirds have become increasing common and less fearful. Their increased abundance is probably due in part to cat and fox baiting in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park which anecdotally has increased populations of a range of other native fauna, including the Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), the endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus obesulus) and the Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami), all of which visit our place. I suspect that the lyrebirds are particularly attracted to our garden because I do a lot of mulching, grow only native plants, and avoid the use of pesticides, so there are plenty of leaf litter invertebrates for them to feast on.

Foreground: a juvenile male.
Background: a female.

A male.

This is a recording I made this morning using my phone. Since then I've been fiddling about, converting the sound file to an .mp3, finding a host to upload it to, and sourcing a widget. I hope it plays okay on your computer. It does on mine (huzzah!).

All the sounds you can hear are the lyrebird's song, mimicking other species, with the exception of the "dock" sound, which is the call of a Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) in the pond. Among the birds it's mimicking are an Eastern Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus) and a Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). At 18 seconds is a sound in the repertoire I haven't been able to identify. It doesn't sound like a bird....