Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Monday, February 28, 2011

Meat from chimpanzees 'is on sale in Britain' in lucrative black market

Is this really shocking? We saw last year that huge amount of bushmeat are passing through Charles de Gaul everyday and we know that US stores are serving bushmeat.
this story I recently posted, that shows that just signing your name to a set of guidelines increases honest behaviour, seems like there are already small measures that should be taken to stave off this massive movement of bushmeat to the developed world. When you enter Canada you must sign your name to a statement that states you have no animals nor animal products with you. There is no such form to sign when entering Europe, and its actually very simple to avoid declaring anything when entering the EU. This all seems to be small scale movements of bushmeat, and at least putting up some easy barriers to deter people could be really beneficial it seems. A band-aid measure for now, for sure, but something needs to change fast -MA

From the daily mail

Chimpanzee meat is for sale in restaurants and market stalls in Britain, it has emerged.

Trading standards officials uncovered the illegal bushmeat from the endangered species whilst testing samples believed to be seized from vendors in the Midlands.

The meat, which can cost more than £20 a kilogram, is part of a lucrative black market trade that experts describe as ‘rife’ in Europe.

Last year, the first research on the import of bushmeat into Europe found over 270 tonnes passing through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris alone.

The chimpanzee meat is understood to have been discovered following raids by trading standards in the Midlands.

A Government whistleblower revealed: ‘It is well known this practice is underway in the region but I was shocked to discover the meat that was tested was once a chimpanzee.

‘Dubious meat is often tested, and has turned out to be things like rats and vermin in the past – but chimpanzee is unbelievable.’

It is not known how the bushmeat arrived in the Midlands, but experts believe it was probably flown into the country from Africa, possibly concealed in personal luggage.

Dr Marcus Rowcliffe, research fellow at the Zoological Society of London and an expert on the trade, said at least five tonnes of bushmeat arrives in Europe every week to be distributed across the continent.

He said: ‘I’m not at all surprised that bushmeat is on sale in the Midlands because we know the trade is going on in the UK and that there is a regular flow of smuggled meat into the country.

‘However, it is not often that chimpanzee is found as that is rare even in the markets of Africa, so I am surprised by that.

‘When we carried out our study at Charles de Gaulle airport, we estimated that five tonnes a week was coming into Europe and then being distributed across the continent by traders in Paris.

‘Obviously I believe less than five tonnes a week makes it into the UK, but there is still a significant amount that is brought in and customs officials are very aware of it.’

He said that smugglers often made no attempt to hide the meat and were caught smuggling the meat in suitcases.

This could be because detecting and seizing bushmeat is not a priority for customs officials and the penalties for importing it are low and rarely enforced, he added.

The word bushmeat is used to describe the flesh of wild animals hunted in places like tropical forests in West and Central Africa, but also in Asia and the Americas.

According to the Born Free foundation, nearly 7,500 tonnes of illegal meat products enter Britain every year.

Some is bushmeat, brought in disguised as other meat products such as beef or lamb.

Once in Britain, more than half the illegal meat is distributed through wholesalers or sold at local street markets.

The trade in bushmeat has become big business and although accurate figures are difficult to find, it is estimated that the international trade in wild animal products has a value of more than £2.5 billion.

Dr Rowcliffe’s team predicted that a 4kg monkey would cost around £85 from smugglers in France, whereas the price would be as little as £4 in Africa.

But although some hunters target gorillas, chimpanzees and other primate species, great apes constitute less than one per cent of bushmeat from all species sold on the market.

Dr Rowcliffe added that bushmeat products were not just imported for consumption but also for medicinal purposes or as status symbols, signifying luxury and wealth.

But he warned that imported meat could be carrying infectious diseases such as foot-and-mouth, anthrax, the Ebola virus, TB or cholera.

The bushmeat trade has also had a devastating impact on the numbers of primates living in the wild.

Adina Farmaner, Executive Director of the Jane Goodall Institute UK, said: ‘It is a reality that bushmeat is being sold on the streets of Britain and I am not surprised that is available in the Midlands.

‘From my own experience of Brixton market in London all you have to do is ask for some ‘special meat’ for a ‘special ceremony’ and you will get what you are looking for.

‘The bushmeat trade is a huge problem in certain parts of Africa and is one of the main reasons the population in the wild has been reduced from approximately one million about 50 years ago, to just a few hundred thousand today.’

Study: Facebook is good for your self-esteem

From ZDnet
by Violet Blue via the Violet Blue FB page
Study: Facebook is good for your self-esteem

Feeling down? According to researchers, a visit to Facebook is likely to make you feel much better about yourself.

No, really. Love it or hate it – most of us hate it – and Facebook may give us ulcers about our privacy, but an interesting new study concludes that Facebook actually boosts your self-esteem. You won’t feel better about Facebook, but you may be learning to like yourself more than people who don’t use social networks.

In Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem: Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall (.PDF link here), Cornell University researchers A.L. Gonzales and J.T. Hancock studied the psychological effects of social network sites and self-esteem.

“To our knowledge, this study describes the first known experimental test of how exposure to Facebook impacts self-esteem generally.”

Surprisingly they concluded that individuals reported higher self-esteem after spending time with their Facebook profile than after spending time looking in an actual mirror.

The results of Mirror, Mirror run contrary to many negative impressions about Facebook use

In general, Internet use is a typical whipping post for blame and pronouncements about potential harm to the self.

Your friends might call it “Facecrack” because they joke they’re “addicted” to it, though the negative connotation isn’t all its cracked up to be. And you probably read the headline of this post and concluded that I was smoking some kind of pipe.

Yet mainstream media has always been happy to fluff seemingly limitless dangers about hours of use leading to so-called “Internet addiction,” without making any distinctions about the different types of Internet use – such as spending lots of time on social networks.

Explained in their paper published this month, the Cornell researchers specifically used Facebook to determine whether or not there is a correlation between use of the site and a negative impact on psychosocial well-being.

Mirror, Mirror came to the conclusion that the Internet does not give you a raging case of low self-esteem, and that it makes us aware of ourselves in ways not previously possible:

“Results from an experimental test of the hypotheses indicate that a Hyperpersonal effect, presumably due to selective self-presentation on social network sites, enhances self-esteem. These findings demonstrate that the Internet indeed generates a unique form of self-awareness, which differs from previous, offline stimuli.”

Seeking to understand if obsessing over your profile photo until 4am makes you feel better or worse, Gonzales and Hancock used contrasting hypothesis to argue that Facebook would either diminish or enhance self-esteem.

“The results revealed that, in contrast to previous work on OSA, becoming self-aware by viewing one’s own Facebook profile enhances self-esteem rather than diminishes it. Participants that updated their profiles and viewed their own profiles during the experiment also reported greater self-esteem, which lends additional support to the Hyperpersonal Model.”

Yes, they used actual mirrors

While any study has yet to demonstrate that exposure to one’s own Facebook page changes self-views, most studies prior to Mirror, Mirror suggested a relationship between self-esteem and Facebook use.

But no one had tried to determine if exposure to your own page changed the way you felt about yourself.

“In fact, recent studies in CMC research indicate a relationship between positive self-esteem and Facebook use. Facebook is used by narcissists, individuals with unnaturally high, but unstable self-esteem, to self-promote (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008). Individuals with low self-esteem particularly benefit from Facebook use in building a stronger social network (Ellison et al., 2007). Finally, the feedback that users receive from friends on Facebook influences self-esteem. Positive feedback correlates with high self-esteem and negative feedback correlates with low self-esteem (Valkenburg et al., 2006).”

Proponents of alleged harms of Internet use will probably still like to say that all your social media navel-gazing couldn’t be good for you. It’s easy to think that staring at your own pictures and a record of your behavior, a reflection of yourself, would make you more self-aware and make your self-esteem plummet.

But next time insecurity strikes, you might want to avoid looking in the mirror and take a look at yourself on Facebook instead.

Because the information in your online profile is self-selected, staring into your mirror image on your own Facebook page is actually pretty good for you. As long as you don’t intentionally post photos of yourself that you hate, your Facebook profile acts as a sweetened, groomed selection of the more ideal self you want to project.

People feel that their carefully cultivated profiles – Internet self-presentations – show the more “real” reflections of their identities.

And since these presentations enhance the way other people see you, spending time with it reinforces the things that make you feel good about yourself.

Personally, I’m still waiting for someone to determine and publish the harmful effects of Facebook collecting and selling all your personal information and Internet habits. Our ideal selves might be in that profile pic, but no amount of Photoshop is going to fix the mess Facebook seems to want to do with our data.

So Facebook still sucks, but it’s not actually bad for you. Who knew?

Gonzales AL, Hancock JT (2010) Mirror, Mirror on my Facebook Wall: Effects of Exposure to Facebook on Self-Esteem. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw

Abstract Contrasting hypotheses were posed to test the effect of Facebook exposure on self-esteem. Objective Self-Awareness (OSA) from social psychology and the Hyperpersonal Model from computer-mediated communication were used to argue that Facebook would either diminish or enhance self-esteem respectively. The results revealed that, in contrast to previous work on OSA, becoming self-aware by viewing one's own Facebook profile enhances self-esteem rather than diminishes it. Participants that updated their profiles and viewed their own profiles during the experiment also reported greater self-esteem, which lends additional support to the Hyperpersonal Model. These findings suggest that selective self-presentation in digital media, which leads to intensified relationship formation, also influences impressions of the self.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Questioning morality, right and wrong

hmmm.....I feel like this article sort of works on the premise that the morality we start off with is "correct" (ie: references to "behaving badly") and then we become increasingly bankrupt over time...but isn't it instead that the morality imposed on us is so full of shit that living/experiences allows us to recognize it as such, and the modifications we undertake grant us the ability to live a life not so out of tune with our wants, desires AND logic....?-MA

From the Daily Beast
The Science of Why We Cheat

A lack of morality can lead to bad behavior—but can behaving badly make us lose our morals? Casey Schwartz on how lying, cheating and stealing warps our sense of right and wrong.

Before you hack into your boyfriend’s email account, or sleep with the married guy, or overstate your billable hours, take note: Telling yourself it is "just this once” is an unlikelier story than ever before.

Or at least that is the conclusion of intriguing new research that examines the way our actions influence our beliefs, reversing the traditional direction of cause and effect. In their study, published in the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Lisa Shu and her colleagues at Harvard University found that behaving badly actually altered their subjects’ sense of right and wrong.

Humans are invested in seeing themselves as ethical creatures. We want to believe in the rightness of our own conduct, to see our lives as a series of mostly well-intentioned decisions. And it appears that we'll go to great lengths to feel that way, even if it means warping our own sense of morality to suit our needs.

The famous psychologist Albert Bandura coined the term “moral disengagement” to capture the process by which people pervert their own sense of right and wrong in order to give into a questionable temptation.

Yes I know he’s married, but it’s OK to sleep with him, the logic of moral disengagement goes, because, insert excuse here: I can’t stand his wife. If not with me, it would be with somebody else. This is his moral dilemma, not mine. The institution of marriage is a meaningless concept.

The options are many.

Moral disengagement essentially allows people to behave in ways that, at another moment, in a different mood, that same person would never consider. For years, research has shown again and again that moral disengagement influences how people will behave in a given situation. But now, in a chicken-and-egg twist, Shu and her team have shown that it works both ways: How people behave influences the moral beliefs they have about their behavior. Moral disengagement is the result of unethical behavior, they have now shown, not just the cause.

Shu’s research is based on a string of four related studies, each using a different group of undergraduates as subjects. In one, 138 subjects were asked to read an academic honor code that reinforced in their minds the idea that cheating is wrong. Then they were given a set of math problems to solve, and an envelope of cash that they would be rewarded from, according to how many problems they answered correctly. The subjects were divided into two conditions: one where it was possible for them to cheat by misreporting their own scores, and a control condition where their scores were tallied by a proctor in the room. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the subjects in the first group, who were allowed to report their own scores, inflated those scores in order to get more cash.

Afterward, they were given a questionnaire to fill out that they’d also been given at the beginning of the study, consisting of questions designed to measure moral engagement with a focus on cheating. Shu and her colleagues developed this measure themselves, and tested its validity in other circumstances before using it for the current research. The results? Those subjects who had cheated on the math problems demonstrated a greater degree of moral disengagement in their responses the second time they filled out the questionnaire.

What's more, Shu found that the students who had cheated also had a harder time remembering the academic honor code that they’d been given to read before the task, compared to those subjects who hadn’t cheated. Shu calls this phenomenon “motivated forgetting,” citing it as yet another strategy we deploy to avoid the disquieting recognition that we’ve done something wrong.

In fact, what initially led Shu to this research was her sense that beliefs and values are not fixed, stable traits that we tote with us like a wheelie bag everywhere we go. On the contrary, she believes we bend or break them according to circumstance.

“It didn’t seem intuitive to me that our beliefs never change,” Shu said. “But what really led me to the question was the debate, both in academia and in the business world, about how much of peoples’ dishonest behaviors and bad actions is due to the situation, versus who that person is and how their upbringing was.”

Shu notes that given the “permissive environment” that she created in the lab by allowing one group of subjects the opportunity to cheat, she produced a greater likelihood of cheating—which in turn produced a shift in the way the cheaters thought about cheating.

On the bright side, Shu found that if participants did something as simple as sign their names to the honor code, rather than just passively read it, they were less likely to cheat on the math problems they were given to solve.

As a whole, Shu and her colleagues’ study is further reason to doubt that people have an unbudging, ingrained ethical compass guiding their every action. Indeed, ignoring that compass seems to make us forget we have it at all, at least temporarily.

The implications of Shu’s findings align with the existing research and paint a troubling picture of how morality can easily spiral out of our grip without us even noticing. If both things are true—that attitude influences action and action influences attitude—it becomes easier to understand scenarios of runaway transgressions. You do something you know isn't good, you talk yourself out of feeling bad about it, you become more likely to do it again—and, having done it again, you’re back to telling yourself it doesn’t matter, it’s no big deal, it was just this once…

And just like that, you’ve done nothing wrong.

Wednesday LOL

Fertility and fidelity: relationship maintenance

I don't know how much i buy the conclusions of this study, mostly it seems to be that people in long-term relationships are excellent liars; to themselves and to their partners...and i guess to everyone around them as well...but its stil an interesting read with a great overview of some of the other research in the field. -MA

Thanks to Alex C for the link!

From the NYTimes
The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women

The 21-year-old woman was carefully trained not to flirt with anyone who came into the laboratory over the course of several months. She kept eye contact and conversation to a minimum. She never used makeup or perfume, kept her hair in a simple ponytail, and always wore jeans and a plain T-shirt.

Each of the young men thought she was simply a fellow student at Florida State University participating in the experiment, which ostensibly consisted of her and the man assembling a puzzle of Lego blocks. But the real experiment came later, when each man rated her attractiveness. Previous research had shown that a woman at the fertile stage of her menstrual cycle seems more attractive, and that same effect was observed here — but only when this woman was rated by a man who wasn’t already involved with someone else.

The other guys, the ones in romantic relationships, rated her as significantly less attractive when she was at the peak stage of fertility, presumably because at some level they sensed she then posed the greatest threat to their long-term relationships. To avoid being enticed to stray, they apparently told themselves she wasn’t all that hot anyway.

This experiment was part of a new trend in evolutionary psychology to study “relationship maintenance.” Earlier research emphasized how evolution primed us to meet and mate: how men and women choose partners by looking for cues like facial symmetry, body shape, social status and resources.

But the evolutionary mating game wasn’t just about finding a symmetrical face in the savanna’s equivalent of a singles bar. Natural selection favored those who stayed together long enough to raise children: the men and women who could sustain a relationship by keeping their partners happy. They would have benefited from the virtue to remain faithful, or at least the wiliness to appear faithful while cheating discreetly.

It’s possible that some of the men in Florida were just trying to look virtuous by downgrading the woman’s attractiveness, the way a husband will instantly dismiss any woman pointed out by his wife. (That Victoria’s Secret model? Ugh! A skeleton with silicone.) But Jon Maner, a co-author of the study, says that’s unlikely because the men filled out their answers in private and didn’t expect the ratings to be seen by anyone except the researchers.

“It seems the men were truly trying to ward off any temptation they felt toward the ovulating woman,” said Dr. Maner, who did the work with Saul Miller, a fellow psychologist at Florida State. “They were trying to convince themselves that she was undesirable. I suspect some men really came to believe what they said. Others might still have felt the undercurrent of their forbidden desire, but I bet just voicing their lack of attraction helped them suppress it.”

It may seem hard to believe that men could distinguish a woman who’s at peak fertility simply by sitting next to her for a few minutes. Scientists long assumed that ovulation in humans was concealed from both sexes.

But recent studies have found large changes in cues and behavior when a woman is at this stage of peak fertility. Lap dancers get much higher tips (unless they’re taking birth-control pills that suppress ovulation, in which case their tips remain lower). The pitch of a woman’s voice rises. Men rate her body odor as more attractive and respond with higher levels of testosterone.

“The fascinating thing about this time is that it flies under the radar of consciousness,” says Martie Haselton, a psychologist at U.C.L.A. “Women and men are affected by ovulation, but we don’t have any idea that it is what is driving these substantial changes in our behavior. It makes it clear that we’re much more like other mammals than we thought.”

At this peak-fertility stage, women are more interested in going to parties and dance clubs, and they dress more attractively (as judged by both men and women). Some women’s attitudes toward their own partners also change, according to research by Dr. Haselton along with a U.C.L.A. colleague, Christina Larson, and Steven Gangestad of the University of New Mexico.

“Women who are in steady relationships with men who are not very sexually attractive — those who lack the human equivalent of the peacock’s tail — suddenly start to notice other men and flirt,” Dr. Haselton said. “They are also more critical of their steady partners and feel less ‘one’ with them on those few days before ovulation.” But that doesn’t mean they’re planning to walk out.

“These women don’t show any shifts in feelings of commitment,” Dr. Haselton said. “They don’t want to leave their steady partners. They just want to look around at other men and consider them as alternative sex partners.”

This fits the “good genes” evolutionary explanation for adultery: a quick fling with a good-looking guy can produce a child with better genes, who will therefore have a better chance of passing along the mother’s genes. But this sort of infidelity is risky if the woman’s unsexy long-term partner finds out and leaves her alone to raise the child. So it makes sense for her to limit her risks by being unfaithful only at those times she’s fertile.

By that same evolutionary logic, it makes sense for her partner to be most worried when she’s fertile, and that’s just what occurred in the relationships tracked by Dr. Haselton and Dr. Gangestad. The unsexy men became especially jealous and engaged in more “mate-guarding” during the stage of high fertility — perhaps because they sense the subtle physical cues, or maybe just because they could see the overt flirting.

One safe way for both men and women to stay in a relationship is to avoid even looking at tempting alternatives, and there seem to be subtle mental mechanisms to stop the wandering eye, as Dr. Maner and colleagues at Florida State found in an experiment testing people’s “attentional adhesion.”

The men and women in the experiment, after being primed with quick flashes of words like “lust” and “kiss,” were shown a series of photographs and other images. The single men and women in the study couldn’t help staring at photographs of good-looking people of the opposite sex — their gaze would linger on these hot prospects even when they were supposed to be looking at a new image popping up elsewhere on the screen.

But the people who were already in relationships reacted differently. They looked away more quickly from the attractive faces. The subliminal priming with words related to sex apparently activated some unconscious protective mechanism: Tempt me not! I see nothing! I see nothing!

This is good news for fans of fidelity, but there’s one caveat from a subsequent study by Dr. Maner along with C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky and others. This time, the researchers subtly made it difficult to pay attention to the attractive faces. Both men and women responded by trying harder to look at the forbidden fruit. Afterward, they expressed less satisfaction with their partners and more interest in infidelity.

The lesson here seems to be that too much “mate-guarding” can get in the way of “relationship maintenance.”

“We shouldn’t want our partner to be looking at lots of other people, because that’s bad for the relationship,” Dr. Maner said. “At the same time, preventing them from looking doesn’t help either, and can backfire.” Left to their own devices, conscious or unconscious, they might just manage to restrain themselves.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Alcohol ruins women's sleep

Why Booze Ruins Women's Sleep
from the Daily Beast

From disrupting sleep cycles to improving bone density, researchers are discovering that drinking affects women differently than men in all sorts of unexpected ways.

For the sleep deprived, alcohol is a fickle mistress. A glass of wine may help you go down for the night, but a few too many can send your sleep cycle into a tailspin. But until very recently, what no one knew was that for women, this is particularly true. It's just one more way in which scientists say alcohol affects women differently than men.

The study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research indicates that women's sleep is more easily disrupted by alcohol than men's. Ninety-three subjects were given either a placebo or enough alcohol so that their BAL was .11 (most states consider .08 to be legally impaired), then monitored as they slept. Women reported feeling more tired before they went to bed than men did, and woke up more often during the night and stayed awake for more minutes, says Damaris J. Rohsenow, Ph.D., one of the study's authors. Interestingly, the women did not report feeling sleepier than the men did after their night of tossing and turning. "They had worse sleep quality, but didn't notice," says Rohsenow, an associate director at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University. (The mechanism for why women had more disrupted sleep than men did was not explained.)

Until 15 years ago, very little research had been done on women's response to alcohol, says Elizabeth Epstein, Ph.D. a research professor for the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers. Prior to that, our understanding of how humans processed alcohol—and how we dealt with any subsequent addiction issues—was based on research in men. That was the case for most medical inquiries, which often limited their studies to male subjects both out of centuries-long habit and because women, with their pesky hormones, were viewed as liable to skew study results. At some point, however, the medical community started to realize that the response of half their patients might not be skewed, but significant, and integral to understanding successful treatment options.

When scientists did eventually begin to delve into the differences between men and women when it comes to drinking, they found some interesting differences. First, even when a man and a woman weigh exactly the same amount, a woman only needs 90 percent of what a man consumes to achieve the same blood alcohol level. (How drunk the woman will feel compared to the man depends on her individual tolerance.) The exact reason why this happens is unknown, but it may be because women have less body water. Women also have significantly fewer stomach enzymes that facilitate the breakdown of alcohol than men, which means that "more unmetabolized pure ethanol is going into the organs," says Epstein. "For women, since there's less being metabolized, more alcohol is directly affecting the liver, heart, brain, and intestines." Female alcoholics often start drinking later in life than men, but because of this phenomenon, known as the "telescoping effect," these women often show comparable organ damage to male alcoholics who have been drinking much longer.

Coincidentally, a second study released this week in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that alcohol consumption later in life can have a protective effect on bone density—but what type of alcohol was beneficial depended on one's gender. This is particularly compelling news for women, who lose bone density faster than men do. The researchers followed 862 subjects, all over 50, for two years. They found that in men, drinking red wine correlated with less bone loss, and frequent liquor and spirits consumption was connected with more. Women, however, showed none of these effects. But what women did see was a positive correlation between drinking and bone density if they consumed low-alcohol beer. In this study, quantity may have played a role: red wine is associated with moderate drinking, while liquor and spirits are correlated with heavier drinking.

When it comes to the psychology of drinking and gender, there is much more research. In those cases, however, it's difficult to parse how much of the findings are based on the physiology and brain chemistry versus how many are rooted in external cues. For instance, one study found that after experiencing a stressful or upsetting event, men were more likely to crave alcohol, while women were more likely to report feeling depressed or anxious. "There are certain neural circuitry that are associated with stress and neural circuitry associated with reward…and they might be more closely linked in men," says study author Tara Chaplin Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale school of medicine. On the other hand, "It could also be connected to social pressures that girls and women feel—it's more acceptable to cry or feel anxious about things. Men might be pressured to minimize, so perhaps they turn to drinking."

In her studies of problem drinkers, however, Epstein found that too much depression and anxiety can lead women to alcoholism, while men were triggered by specific stressful incidents, like the loss of a job. She also found that while women respond better to single-sex group therapy and team treatment approaches then men do, women are much less likely to seek help. "They have barriers to treatment that men don't have—childcare, fear of losing their children, and women on the whole are less likely to have medical insurance," she says.

There's still a lot scientists don't understand about alcohol (though Rohsenow and her colleagues found that there's no difference in drunkenness between dark and light liquors, no matter what your mother told you). And there's even less that they understand about how booze breaks down in men vs. women. But the one tried and true rule of drinking was further confirmed by the participants in the sleep study, and it didn't matter whether they were male or female—every subject who'd been given the alcohol reported feeling lousy the next day.

Grandmothering and natural selection

We read this for our lab journal club today and I just really loved it, so well written and such a n elegant study, love it when that happens. - MA

Kachel FA, Premo LS, Hublin JJ (2010) Grandmothering and natural selection. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1247

Humans are unique among primates in that women regularly outlive their reproductive period by decades. The grandmother hypothesis proposes that natural selection increased the length of the human post-menopausal period—and, thus, extended longevity—as a result of the inclusive fitness benefits of grandmothering. However, it has yet to be demonstrated that the inclusive fitness benefits associated with grandmothering are large enough to warrant this explanation. Here, we show that the inclusive fitness benefits are too small to affect the evolution of longevity under a wide range of conditions in simulated populations. This is due in large part to the relatively weak selection that applies to women near or beyond the end of their reproductive period. However, we find that grandmothers can facilitate the evolution of a shorter reproductive period when their help decreases the weaning age of their matrilineal grandchildren. Because selection favours a shorter reproductive period in the presence of shorter interbirth intervals, this finding holds true for any form of allocare that helps mothers resume cycling more quickly. We conclude that while grandmothering is unlikely to explain human-like longevity, allocare could have played an important role in shaping other unique aspects of human life history, such as a later age at first birth and a shorter female reproductive period.

Monday, February 21, 2011

To Stave Off Alzheimer's, Learn a Language

From National Geographic
To Stave Off Alzheimer's, Learn a Language?
Even late in life, picking up a new tongue can slow effects of aging, expert says.

Talk about the power of words—speaking at least two languages may slow dementia in the aging brain, new research shows.

Scientists already knew that bilingual young adults and children perform better on tasks dictated by the brain's executive control system.

Located at the front of the brain, this system is "the basis for your ability to think in complex ways, control attention, and do everything we think of as uniquely human thought," said Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Now studies are revealing that advantages of bilingualism persist into old age, even as the brain's sharpness naturally declines, Bialystok said Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

Bilingual Brains Delay Aging Effects
Bialystok and colleagues examined 102 longtime bilingual and 109 monolingual Alzheimer's patients who had the same level of mental acuity. About 24 million people have dementia worldwide, with the majority of them suffering from Alzheimer's, according to Sweden's Karolinska Institutet medical university.

The bilingual patients had been diagnosed with the Alzheimer's about four years later than the monolingual patients, on average, according to Bialystok's most recent study, published in November in the journal Neurology.

This suggests bilingualism is "protecting older adults, even as Alzheimer's is beginning to affect cognitive function," Bialystok said.

Bialystok is also studying physical differences between bilingual and monolingual brains.

In a new experiment, she used CT scans to examine brains of monolinguals and bilinguals with dementia. All the subjects were the same age and functioned at the same cognitive level.

The physical effects of the disease in the brain were found to be more advanced in the bilinguals' brains, even though their mental ability was roughly the same, Bialystok told National Geographic News.

Apparently, the bilinguals' brains are somehow compensating, she said. "Even though the 'machine' is more broken, they can function at the same level as a monolingual with less disease," she said.

Not Too Late to Benefit From a New Language
Benefits of bilingualism can begin in utero, Janet Werker, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, Canada, told the news briefing.

For instance, Werker and colleagues' recent studies show that babies exposed to two languages in utero do not confuse their languages from birth.

The mental workout required to keep the languages separate may create an "enhanced perceptual vigilance" that has lifelong benefits, Werker said.

"What I'd like to suggest is the kind of advantages you've heard about [in aging] can be established from those first days of life, in [babies] having to keep the two languages apart."

Granted, people born into bilingualism have it a bit easier.

"One of the things babies have is the luxury of time—they get the opportunity to really focus on task at hand," Werker said.

"If we want to learn a second language, [we need to] set time aside to allow that to happen"—and evidence suggests the payoff is worth it.

Even if you don’t learn a second language until after middle age, it can still help stave off dementia, York's Bialystok said.

Being "bilingual is one way to keep your brain active—it's part of the cognitive-reserve approach to brain fitness," Bialystok said.

And when it comes to exercising the brain by learning another language, she added, "the more the better—and every little bit helps."

Craik, F.I.M., Bialystok, E., & Freedman, M. (2010). Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease: Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve. Neurology, 75, 1726-1729.

Abstract Objectives: There is strong epidemiologic evidence to suggest that older adults who maintain an active lifestyle in terms of social, mental, and physical engagement are protected to some degree against the onset of dementia. Such factors are said to contribute to cognitive reserve, which acts to compensate for the accumulation of amyloid and other brain pathologies. We present evidence that lifelong bilingualism is a further factor contributing to cognitive reserve.

Methods: Data were collected from 211 consecutive patients diagnosed with probable Alzheimer disease (AD). Patients' age at onset of cognitive impairment was recorded, as was information on occupational history, education, and language history, including fluency in English and any other languages. Following this procedure, 102 patients were classified as bilingual and 109 as monolingual.

Results: We found that the bilingual patients had been diagnosed 4.3 years later and had reported the onset of symptoms 5.1 years later than the monolingual patients. The groups were equivalent on measures of cognitive and occupational level, there was no apparent effect of immigration status, and the monolingual patients had received more formal education. There were no gender differences.

Conclusions: The present data confirm results from an earlier study, and thus we conclude that lifelong bilingualism confers protection against the onset of AD. The effect does not appear to be attributable to such possible confounding factors as education, occupational status, or immigration. Bilingualism thus appears to contribute to cognitive reserve, which acts to compensate for the effects of accumulated neuropathology.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sea Shepherd Activists Prompt Japan To Suspend Whaling

From the Huffington Post

Japan has temporarily suspended its annual Antarctic whaling after repeated harassment by a conservationist group, a government official said Wednesday.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
ships have been chasing the Japanese whaling fleet for weeks in the icy seas off Antarctica, trying to block Japan's annual whale hunt, planned for up to 945 whales.

Japan has halted the hunt since Feb. 10 after persistent "violent" disruptions by the anti-whaling protesters, said fisheries agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku.

So far, the attacks have not caused any injuries or major damage to the vessels, he said, but the protesters are throwing rancid butter in bottles and once the protesters got a rope entangled in the propeller on a harpoon vessel, causing it to slow down.

"We have temporarily suspended our research whaling to ensure safety," he said. The fleet plans to resume hunting when conditions are deemed safe, he added, but declined to say how long the suspension is planned for.

The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban, but opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.

The Sea Shepherd group has been shadowing Japan's whaling fleet for several years, and its campaign has drawn high-profile donor support in the United States and elsewhere and spawned the popular Animal Planet series "Whale Wars."

Official Sea Shephard Press releases can be found here and here

FAIL: Vending machine for crows erratum

From the NYtimes
thanks to Claudio T for the link! More info at Info Addict about the scam...

Vending Machine for Crows
Published: April 12, 2009

An article in the Year in Ideas issue on Dec. 14, 2008, reported on Josh Klein, whose master’s thesis for New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program proposed “a vending machine for crows” that would enable the birds to exchange coins for peanuts. The article reported that beginning in June 2008, Klein tested the machine at the Binghamton Zoo, that the crows learned how to use it and that after a month the crows were actually scouring the ground for loose change.

The Times has since learned that Klein was never at the Binghamton Zoo, and there were no crows on display there in June 2008. He performed these experiments with captive crows in a Brooklyn apartment; he told the reporter about the Brooklyn crows but implied that his work with them was preliminary to the work at the zoo. Asked to explain these discrepancies, Klein now says he and the reporter had a misunderstanding about the zoo.

The reporter never called the zoo in Binghamton to confirm. And while the fact-checker did discuss the details with Klein, he did not call the zoo, as required under The Times’s fact-checking standards. In addition, the article said that Klein was working with graduate students at Cornell University and Binghamton University to study how wild crows make use of his machine, which does exist. Klein did get a professor at Binghamton to help him try it out twice in Ithaca, with assistance from a Binghamton graduate student, and it was not a success. Corvid experts who have since been interviewed have said that Klein’s machine is unlikely to work as intended.

These discrepancies were pointed out to The Times by the Binghamton professor several weeks after the article was published; this editors’ note was delayed for additional reporting. These details should have been discovered during the reporting and editing process. Had that happened, the article would not have been published.


original article:
Vending Machine for Crows

In June, Josh Klein revealed his master’s-thesis project to a flock of crows at the Binghamton Zoo in south-central New York State. The New York University graduate student offered the birds coins and peanuts from a dish attached to a vending machine he’d created, then took the peanuts away. Klein designed the machine so that when the crows searched for the missing peanuts, they pushed the coins out of a dish into a slot, causing more peanuts to be released into the dish. The Binghamton crows quickly learned that dropping nickels and dimes into the slot produced peanuts, and the most resourceful members of the flock began looking for more coins. Within a month, Klein had a flock of crows scouring the ground for loose change.

Now Klein is working with graduate students at Cornell University and Binghamton University to study how wild crows make use of his machine. Although his invention might conjure Hitchcock-worthy visions of crows stealing the loose change from pedestrians’ pockets and hands, Klein’s conception is more benign. To Klein, the machine demonstrates the value of cooperating with “synanthropes” — animals that have adapted seamlessly to human environments. “Rather than just killing off a species, why not see if they can do something useful for us, so we can all live in close proximity?” he said. To pursue his research, he founded the Synanthropy Foundation this year. Someday, he hopes, similar techniques may allow us to train rats to sort our garbage for us.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Toxic Avengers: Pollution Drove Fish Evolution


Scientists have discovered a strange fish that lives in a soup of some of industry's worst pollutants. The fish, found in rivers in New York and New Jersey, survive because they've evolved to cope with dangerous chemicals. As one scientist who has heard about the fish says, "pollution has driven evolution."

These "toxic avengers" of the aquatic world — tomcod, which look like regular cod but are smaller — live in the Hudson and nearby rivers. The fish are up to their eyeballs in dangerous chemicals — PCBs and dioxins that General Electric companies dumped into the Hudson from 1947 to 1976. By the 1980s, about 95 percent of these fish in some areas had liver tumors.

But toxicologist Isaac Wirgin at New York University found that some populations of the exposed fish were doing OK.

"It turns out that the more we were dealing with these things, it became very apparent that they were very resistant to PCB and dioxin," Wirgin says.

Here's what had happened. In some fish, pollutants entered the nucleus of cells, where they distorted the DNA instructions from one particular gene. So the fish got sick. But some tomcod — just by chance — had a version of that gene that tolerates PCBs and dioxin. So over time, fish with the resistant gene did better than fish without it, and pretty much took over.

Technically they're not mutants — the chemicals just gave one genetic group an advantage over the rest. So some survived.

But Wirgin says there's a downside to that. "Normally, these levels of PCBs or dioxins would kill these types of organisms," he explains, "but here they survive and they're prime prey."

They're prey for bigger fish, which absorb the pollutants in the tomcods and pass them up to whatever, or whoever, eats them. Toxicologist Richard Di Giulio, who studies fish at Duke University, says it makes an important point — that pollution has driven evolution.

Di Giulio says it's happened in North Carolina too, with something called killifish. They evolved resistance to another pollutant, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, from wood preservatives that seeped into the Elizabeth River.

And there's another drawback to the evolution of chemical hardiness: "While they have evolved resistance to the pollution," he says, "they have lost some ability to cope with natural stressors," like low oxygen in the water or abnormally high water temperatures.

So survivors these peculiar fish may be, but a success story it is not.

The research appears in the journal Science.

Isaac Wirgin, Nirmal K. Roy, Matthew Loftus, R. Christopher Chambers, Diana G. Franks and Mark E. Hahn (2011). Mechanistic Basis of Resistance to PCBs in Atlantic Tomcod from the Hudson River. Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1197296

The mechanistic basis of resistance of vertebrate populations to contaminants, including Atlantic tomcod from the Hudson River (HR) to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is unknown. HR tomcod exhibited variants in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor2 (AHR2) that were nearly absent elsewhere. In ligand binding assays, AHR2-1 protein (common in HR) was impaired compared to widespread AHR2-2 in binding TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin) and in driving expression in reporter gene assays in AHR-deficient cells treated with TCDD or PCB126. We identified a six-base deletion in AHR2 as the basis of resistance and suggest that the HR population has undergone rapid evolution probably due to contaminant exposure. The mechanistic basis of resistance in a vertebrate population provides evidence of evolutionary change due to selective pressure at a single locus.

friday LOL: Bored Attenborough says most wildlife were ‘just showing off’

From News Biscuit
(Thanks to Geraldine F for the link!)

Veteran natural history broadcaster Sir David Attenborough announced his retirement from wildlife TV to fellow regulars at The Bears Head public house today, claiming that ‘most wildlife is boring’, and that he’d ‘seen everything rare anyway’.

Taking a break from his normal job at the abattoir in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, the safari-suited legend went on to attack the ‘attention seeking’ behaviour of rare wildlife on TV.

‘Most wild animals live dead boring lives,’ he said over his usual pint of heavy. ‘I can’t tell you how many times me and the lads from the BBC Bristol Natural History Unit have turned up and found birds of paradise or marsupial cats just sitting under a bush, basically doing nowt. But as soon as they see me or Kate Humble turn up, they suddenly start showing off and playing up to the camera, doing all sorts of exotic mating dances, and shit.’

When pressed, the groundbreaking narrator of Life on Earth, The Private Life of Plants, and most recently, Animals Do the Funniest Things, admitted that it wasn’t just the alleged self indulgent behaviour of some rare animals that was behind his plans to retire.
‘I’ve got quite a short attention span to be honest,’ he said after nipping outside for a quick fag. ‘I was quite flattered to get the wildlife TV job in the beginning, and I thought it might be a good way to fill my time between working in the abattoir and being a respected former controller of BBC2, but I just got bored with all that globetrotting in the end. Us Attenboroughs are famous for getting bored quickly you know. Look at my brother Dickie. He loved doing all that classic cinema stuff like Ghandi and Cry Freedom, but he just got hacked off with the constant Oscar nominations and regular film seasons at The British Film Institute. The last thing I heard was that he was going to have a crack at directing The Expendables 2, or maybe some kind of Steven Seagal thing.’

an oldie but a goodie:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ARKive: Promoting the Conservation of the World's Threatened Species, Through the Power of Wildlife Imagery

"Films and photographs are an emotive, powerful and effective means of building environmental awareness - they can bring a scientific name to life, show what a species looks like and why it is special. As such, they are a valuable educational resource and conservation tool. Continued habitat destruction and the rise in extinction rates also mean that for many species, films, photographs and audio recordings may soon be all that remains. They are, therefore, important historical and scientific records of the species they depict."

For more info go to the ARKive website or join their facebook page.

Thanks to Cleve H for the link!

Promiscuous apes make more sperm

(Camilo the bonobo by Carol Deimel - bonobos are not actually described in this study)

from BBC news (Thanks to Geraldine F for the link!)
Promiscuous apes make more sperm

Chimpanzees produce 200 times more sperm than gorillas, the world's largest primates, and 14 times more than orangutans, scientists based in Japan reveal.

Promiscuous ape species have bigger testicles, and the latest discovery finally provides evidence that they also produce more sperm. Scientists previously proposed that chimps have large testicles because several males mate with a single female, and so have to produce more sperm in order to compete. For their research, published in the American Journal of Primatology, scientists studied chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas from zoos in Japan and Indonesia. Analysing samples of testicular tissues at a microscopic level, researchers found remarkable variation between the apes. They found that the sperm-producing tissue lining gorillas' testes was much thinner than that of orangutans and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees were found to produce 14 times more sperm than orangutans and even more than the world's largest primates.

"Our data indicated that a chimpanzee usually produces about two hundred times more sperm than a gorilla," explained researcher Hideko Fujii-Hanamoto. For these three species of ape, the scientists have now proven that testes size is proportionate to sperm production. The researchers claim that these findings also support theories that sperm production relates directly to reproductive competition and mating behaviour.

Previous studies proposed that testes are smaller in polygynous species such as gorillas where one alpha male monopolises mating with multiple females. In promiscuous species such as chimps however, there is greater competition between males as several copulate with one female.

This competition is thought to be the driving factor for sperm production and larger testes are thought to produce more sperm. However, practical limitations meant sperm production in apes was difficult to accurately measure. "It is generally difficult to get semen from the animals even if they [are] kept in zoological gardens," said Ms Fujii-Hanamoto. "Therefore, the testis weight or the ratio of testis weight [to] body weight was used to estimate the ability of sperm production."

Visual observations confirmed that chimpanzees have larger testes compared to their body size than gorillas but it was not clear whether they actually produced more sperm.

Lola Ya Bonobo Movie Trailer (in French)

Thanks to Vanessa W for ther link!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

a little (late) valentine's day romance: A glimpse of Cambodia’s elephants mating for the camera

From Fauna and Flora International
A glimpse of Cambodia’s elephants mating for the camera

Warning: Explicit Footage

Matt Maltby, Projects Officer at Fauna & Flora International’s Cambodia Programme talks about elephants, mating and the challenges of day-to-day conservation in Cambodia.

After spending the last few years surveying and tracking elephants in Cambodia, I never thought getting a photograph of one would be so difficult. The range and distribution of the Asian elephant in the country is relatively well known in terms of the general areas that the animals inhabit.

They live largely in the eastern plains of Mondulkiri province and the rugged and remote Cardamom Mountains in the country’s Southwest. And yet, despite many surveys over the past decade, there are still large swathes of forest that remain uncharted by biologists, where elephants have not yet given up their secrets.
The elusive elephant

Being such elusive beasts with a penchant for damaging crops and property, heading out into the forest armed with a camera and tripod was never a good idea in terms of personal safety or getting results on film.

Deploying motion-triggered camera traps were our only viable alternative, so in 2010 the Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Cambodia elephant team set out to try and capture images and data on a group of elephants that was only rumoured to exist, high on a forested plateau called Dalai.
Last year: into the jungle

Last year in March we travelled for one day by four wheel drive westwards from Phnom Penh to the huge Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, which is over 300 000 hectares in area-we started our first ascent of Dalai on foot.

We were horribly sweaty and dehydrated after a seven-hour hike, six hours of which was spent scrambling up steep overgrown jungle trails. But the hard exercise was worth it.

As we neared the summit we found fresh elephant tracks less than a day old, with fresh gaur prints inside them. To the left of the trail I saw a tree with fresh bear scratches and to top it all off a flock of wreathed hornbills flew overhead as we were scratching our heads trying to estimate the size of the bear that climbed the tree.

Finding this many animal signs in such a short space of time is very rare these days and we immediately realized this mountain and surrounding plateau might be one of the last uninhabited and un-hunted areas in the Cardamoms.

We made camp just off the trail in a clearing next to the only known water source on the mountain – a small freshwater spring forming the head of a stream with a small saltlick nearby. The thought then occurred to me that camping here might not be such a good idea after all if there were going to be any thirsty night-time visitors…

We woke at 5.30am the next morning to a deafening dawn chorus of birds and cicadas and after a hasty breakfast of dried noodles and coffee, found fresh elephant tracks less than 100m from our hammocks!

The next two days were spent carefully selecting the best locations to set up our cameras. Tempting as it is to put cameras all around the tracks we found, some wise words from FFI photographer and camera trapping expert Jeremy Holden reminded me that the cameras needed to be in places where elephants would come to, not necessarily where they had already been.

Several litres of sweat and inordinate amounts of rehydration salts later our cameras were set at a watering hole, a saltlick and across numerous trails crisscrossing the mountain top. All we could do then was to wait.
The first pictures of mating

Now, many trips to Dalai later, we are extremely pleased with the results. Although it took months to get our first shot of elephants – a pair of females – we now have concrete evidence that the population is actively mating.

Through an outstanding bit of luck rather than skill, we were able to capture moments of the courtship and mating process on camera, including the frankly very graphic copulation shots! Had the camera been placed a couple of metres either side of where it was we would not have been so fortunate.

We also captured pictures of a male “tusker”, the first photographic evidence of a male with tusks in the Cardamom Mountains – confirming our belief that poachers had not yet accessed the area and that FFI’s support to the management and protection of the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary remains vital.

The study also turned up some other surprises: a breeding herd of gaur; evidence of sambar deer at over 1000m elevation – which are an important tiger prey species; a muntjac deer; the first ever photo of the coral-billed ground cuckoo in Cambodia; the Asiatic black bear; pileated gibbons; crab-eating mongooses; large Indian civets; long-tailed macaques as well as wild pigs and leopard cats.

We plan to continue camera trapping for a further three months until we have a year of data. It is still unknown where the elephants go between visits to the mountain, and how many more of them there may be. Hopefully the forest and its elephants might give up a few more of their secrets….

Monday, February 14, 2011

the bi-polar ape

From the guardian
The Bi-Polar Ape: Torn between love and war

In this short film sponsored by the Leakey Foundation, psychologist Steven Pinker and primatologists Frans de Waal and Richard Wrangham grapple with human nature. Are we essentially peace-loving, like bonobos, or doomed to continual violent conflict, like chimpanzees?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ebola vaccine testing in chimpanzees

From Science
Entering a Wild Frontier: Testing Vaccines in Apes for Apes

Tomorrow, chimpanzees will take part in a vaccine experiment that, for the first time, aims to help chimpanzees. Researchers at the New Iberia Research Center, a branch of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, plan to inoculate six chimpanzees with a vaccine against Ebola, which is decimating wild ape populations. The experiment will not test whether the vaccine works, which would require injecting the animals with a "challenge" dose of the deadly Ebola virus. Rather, it will simply assess the safety of the vaccine and its ability to trigger an immune response.

Primatologist Peter Walsh, the driving force behind the experiment, ultimately wants to vaccinate wild chimpanzees and gorillas against Ebola, and he hopes this test will help him clear a few remaining hurdles. "The objective is to show the conservation community that the vaccine won't kill chimpanzees or gorillas," says Walsh, an ecologist who worked until recently at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. A study led by Walsh and published in the 8 December 2006 issue of Science documented that Ebola had killed about 5000 gorillas in the area his group studied in Gabon and the Republic of Congo. "Ebola has killed one-third of the gorillas in the world," estimates Walsh.

Walsh has pushed for vaccinating wild apes for several years and says he has met some steep resistance. "Vaccination is scary both in international conservation circles and to many people in Africa," says Walsh. But Max Planck primatologist and great ape conservationist Christophe Boesch, who has worked with Walsh in the past, supports his efforts. "Vaccination of wild apes is certainly a new and somehow contentious notion," says Boesch. "However, pristine nature is becoming rarer and rarer in Africa, and if we want apes to survive in Ebola-infected areas, vaccination is one of the few realistic solutions. Peter has the stamina to bring this very challenging project to completion, and I am happy to see the concrete steps starting soon."

The vaccine the chimpanzees will receive presents little risk. Developed by Integrated BioTherapeutics Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which hopes to develop a product to protect humans against biowarfare, the vaccine contains Ebola virus proteins in what's known as a viruslike particle that cannot copy itself or cause disease. In a monkey experiment published in the 15 November 2007 Journal of Infectious Diseases, investigators from the company and the U.S. Army showed that the vaccine completely protected five monkeys against a lethal challenge dose of Ebola virus. But monkeys are not great apes, and captive chimpanzees were the next logical rung in the testing process, especially given Walsh's desire to conduct vaccination of their relatives in the wild.

New Iberia plans to immunize the chimpanzees tomorrow and then 28 days later. The researchers will collect blood samples from the animals, which will require anesthetizing them. "There's a minimal risk there," acknowledges Thomas Rowell, who heads the New Iberia facility. But he stresses that the potential benefit to chimpanzees and other great apes offsets the risks. The tests will also look for Ebola antibodies triggered by the vaccine in chimp stools, which will mirror what Walsh hopes to do in the wild.

Walsh, who has consulted many experts about how best to immunize wild apes, for safety reasons does not want to anesthetize wild apes. Instead, he plans to use darts that contain the vaccine; similar darting has been used to treat wild gorillas with antibiotics. Collection of subsequent fecal samples should allow Walsh and his team to hunt for vaccine antibodies and to pluck out DNA to identify individuals.

The New Iberia experiment is taking place against a backdrop of increasing opposition to the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research. Researchers for many decades have turned to our closest relatives to test vaccines against a wide range of diseases, including polio, hepatitis B and C, respiratory syncytial virus, and AIDS. But this "animal model" largely has fallen out of favor, primarily because the ethical landscape has changed and costs have escalated. Several countries have banned all invasive biomedical research experiments with this endangered species, and the United States and Gabon remain the only two that house captive chimps for research and allow it.

The debate about chimpanzees in research went to a full boil in the United States last year. First, Congress began considering a bill, the Great Ape Protection Act, that would altogether ban this type of biomedical research. Proponents of the bill—including the Humane Society of the United States and primatologist Jane Goodall—teamed with then-New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and launched a high-powered campaign over the fate of a colony of 186 "research" chimpanzees that live in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and are owned by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists have not conducted studies with these chimpanzees for several years, and when NIH announced that it intended to move them to a facility in Texas that again may use them in research, a furor broke out. At the behest of three U.S. senators, the National Academy of Sciences agreed in December to analyze the current and future need for chimpanzees in biomedical research, and NIH put plans for the Alamogordo chimps on hold. New Iberia's Rowell says the analysis will likely look at the impact such a ban would have on chimpanzee health by slowing development of products like an Ebola vaccine that could help both humans and apes.

If all goes well, Walsh expects to begin tests of the Ebola vaccine in Gabon later this year.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

FTW: Cockfighting bird stabs man to death

From the NYDaily News via Rescue Ink
Cockfighting bird stabs California man, Jose Luis Ochoa, to death: police

Call it murder most fowl. A California man attending a cockfight was stabbed to death by a bird that had a knife attached to its own limb.

Jose Luis Ochoa, 35, of Lamont, died about two hours after he was injured in neighboring Tulare County on Jan. 30, according to the Kern County coroner. "I have never seen this type of incident," Sgt. Martin King, a 24-year vet of the sheriff's department, told the Bakersfield Californian.

Ochoa died of accidental "sharp force injury" to his right calf, according to the autopsy.

Onlookers fled when cops arrived at the scene of the fight, King told the local newspaper. Authorities, acting on an anonymous tip, found five dead roosters and other evidence of cockfighting at the location.

No arrests were made at the fight.

Cockfighting is an illegal sport in the U.S.

Metal spurs are often placed on the specially bred birds' legs and they are encouraged to fight until one is incapacitated or killed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How 'Chimpus Commercialus' Went From Ad Star to Endangered Species

This is REALLY great news!
I am sot of surprised PETA is getting the credit...for as long as I have been following this campaign (since 2000 when i joined the Great Ape Project, GAP) I don't remember PETA really being a main advocate against the use of great apes in ads...I even remember a few years ago sending complaint letters to PETA for having fall out boy as their anti-KFC spokespeople WHILE fall out boy had a music video with chimps and orangs in it on MTV!?!?
I guess it doesnt really matter, results are results, and PETA clearly has had a big advocacy role behind the scenes according to this article, but I think other heros in this fight are certainly Dr. Goodall who has spoken out very loudly against chimps in entertainment, Dr. Hare & Dr. Ross and collaborators who had that great study out in Science about chimps in entertainment , and of course all the people who have been fighting for retired chimpanzees like Carole Noon and Jen Feuerstein at Save the chimps as well as those mentioned in the article below at the Center for Great Apes. I am sure I am forgetting others but that is who pops to mind....
what do you guys think?
my favorite statement in this piece is:
But it's not the treatment of the animals on set that is the main concern from animal-rights groups. Rather, it's the procurement and disposal of apes for acting.
(Thanks to Jen F for the link!)

From Advertising Age
Pressure From Animal-Rights Groups Has Agencies Pledging Not to Use Great Apes for Ad Entertainment

They were once stars. After a rough start in life -- taken from their mothers during infancy -- they found themselves on the national stage, making millions laugh during the Super Bowl. Their careers were short, two or three years at most, and now they've been shunted aside. But they're the lucky ones. Sent to finish out their lives in Florida, the four chimpanzees from the original CareerBuilder Super Bowl ads share a home with Michael Jackson's former pet, Bubbles, at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula. They could have ended up in cages in roadside attractions, or on the nightly news, put down after going on a rampage.

Before this year's Super Bowl, it had likely been years since most Americans had seen a national TV spot featuring an ape. That's because chimpus commercialus and its kin, thanks to pressure put on marketers and ad agencies by animal-rights groups, are on the verge of extinction.

But there are still reminders. After moving away from the use of chimpanzees in its Big Game commercials, CareerBuilder has sparked a minor controversy by reviving interest in the animals that have long been a staple of big-budget TV advertising. CareerBuilder ads in last night's game returned to the theme from the company's memorable efforts in 2005 and 2006: chimpanzees as obstinate, time-wasting cubicle-mates who demonstrate the need for CareerBuilder's online job listings.
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Last night's spot could mark the last for this close relative of the monkey that has ridden on Madison Avenue's back for decades.

Eighteen different ad agencies have agreed in the last few years to stop using great apes in the commercials they produce, the result of an ongoing effort started in 2008 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Among the big firms involved are Omnicom Group's BBDO, GSD&M and Merkley & Partners; Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson, DraftFCB and RPA; Havas' Arnold and Euro RSCG; WPP's Grey Group, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam and JWT; and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett.

"The list is only going to grow," said Julia Galluci, a primatologist with PETA who studies the use of apes in commercials.

Indeed, Omnicom's DDB and TBWA/Chiat/Day, two agencies that work for marketers that have made memorable ads with chimps in the past -- Anheuser-Busch InBev and PepsiCo -- are not yet on the list.

PETA also successfully lobbied several major advertisers to modify or pull ads in 2010 when apes were featured. Pfizer edited out an orangutan used in a commercial crafted by Grey Group for its Robitussin, and decided instead to incorporate a digital image of a chimp. Dodge, AT&T and Travelers Insurance made similar moves after PETA's approach.

For its part, CareerBuilder, which created its ad in-house, said it has treated the animals involved in this year's Super Bowl plans well. "During the production of our ad, we followed the strictest guidelines to ensure our chimpanzee stars were treated well and not harmed in any way. We hired top trainers known to provide the highest standard of care for their animals. We also had a member of an animal rights group, the American Humane Association, on set during the entire filming to ensure the chimpanzees were treated with respect," the company said in a statement. "This was very important to us."

But it's not the treatment of the animals on set that is the main concern from animal-rights groups. Rather, it's the procurement and disposal of apes for acting.

Apes in the wild stay with their mothers for nearly the first decade of life, and typically nurse for the first five or six years, said Patti Ragan, founder and director of the Center for Great Apes, the private sanctuary that hosts those four CareerBuilder chimps as well as Bubbles. But to work on an ad, movie or TV program, a chimp or orangutan needs to be under the age of 8. When they pass that age, she said, "they are too dangerous and strong to work around humans" and are therefore retired. Caring for the animals after they can no longer work on shoots can require something in the neighborhood of $20,000 a year, she estimated.

Heartstring-plucking details such as these are likely not immediately clear to the consumers who thrill to monkeyshines in TV pitches. And even those who protect the chimps admit that there has been no consumer outrage. If it did, the animals wouldn't show up year after year in the Super Bowl, the nation's broadest advertising showcase.

Great apes have appeared in 10 different ads tailored for the Big Game since 2000, according to research from students of Chuck Tomkovick, a professor of marketing at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, who has studied Super Bowl ads for years. There's good reason: Mr. Tomkovick's recent research suggests that placing any sort of an animal in an ad increases its likability.

The ad industry's eagerness to distance itself from chimps and their cousins comes even though capturing consumer attention with TV ads has become increasingly difficult. And it arrives despite the fact consumers are more likely to stop and notice chimps and apes when spotted on the TV screen. Chimps and apes have particular appeal, said Barbara J. King, an anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary, who has studied apes and monkeys in the wild and in U.S. zoos for 30 years.

"They are like us, but they're not like us," she said. "It's exactly that strange paradox that grabs people."

Further, when it comes to convincing consumers that apes need protecting, there is a perception problem. "It looks to me like these commercials are making these animals seem cute and perfectly well-cared for," said Ms. King, the anthropology professor. "It's not clear to me from the surface of it why consumers would necessarily be concerned unless someone tells them the back story."

And PETA has been relaying that story to ad-agency executives to some effect. "The cruelty of separating baby apes from their mothers, the brutal training, and the tragic 'retirement' provide a real incentive not to use them," said Andrew Robertson, president-CEO of BBDO Worldwide.

"They are cute. They behave like humans. They are cuddly," said Tony Granger, global chief creative officer at Young & Rubicam. "But what really does it for me is understanding that the apes are taken away from their mothers. We honestly didn't know any of this."

PETA expects to press its case, Ms. Galluci said. The organization is in early talks with BBDO to create an ad campaign aimed at ad-industry employees and make them aware of the problems with using live apes in ad shoots. "It's the agencies that are writing the stories, writing the scripts for these ads," she said. Once agency executives hear the details about the simians, she added, "they are really quick to agree" not to use them any longer. Whether the entire industry apes the move remains to be seen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why stilettos are the secret to shapely legs

Thanks to Linda V for the link!

Why stilettos are the secret to shapely legs
from the telegraph

From bunions to back pain, high heels are blamed for all manner of ailments but, in a rare piece of good news, scientists say that stilettos can give you more shapely legs.

A new study found that women who wore high heels activated their inner and outer calf muscles more evenly than those who wore flatter shoes, which gave their legs a more symmetrical appearance.

Flatter heels, as worn by half the subjects in the study, caused "lopsided" development, as the inner calf muscles were exercised more and grew larger, according to the findings published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Prof Anna Ahn, of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, said: "Similar to pulling a door closer to its hinge, the ankle must be extended by a greater force when muscles pull closer to the ankle joint with a shorter heel." She said that the thick inner calf muscles were activated for a longer duration to generate these higher forces at the ankle.

In the study, the researchers analysed 10 sedentary people - five men and five women - to ensure athletic training was not a factor in their performance.

In a separate study two years ago, Italian researchers found that moderately high heels could tone the pelvic muscles.

The study involved measuring electrical activity in the pelvic muscles of women when they held their feet at different angles. Those who held their feet at a 15-degree angle to the ground, the equivalent of a 2.75in heel, showed up to 15 per cent less electrical activity in their pelvic muscles.

The results suggested that the muscles were more relaxed when women wore higher heels, increasing their strength and ability to contract.

Ahn AN, Kang JK, Quitt MA, Davidson BC, Nguyen CT (2011) Variability of neural activation during walking in humans: short heels and big calves. Biology Letters. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.1169

People come in different shapes and sizes. In particular, calf muscle size in humans varies considerably. One possible cause for the different shapes of calf muscles is the inherent difference in neural signals sent to these muscles during walking. In sedentary adults, the variability in neural control of the calf muscles was examined with muscle size, walking kinematics and limb morphometrics. Half the subjects walked while activating their medial gastrocnemius (MG) muscles more strongly than their lateral gastrocnemius (LG) muscles during most walking speeds (‘MG-biased’). The other subjects walked while activating their MG and LG muscles nearly equally (‘unbiased’). Those who walked with an MG-biased recruitment pattern also had thicker MG muscles and shorter heel lengths, or MG muscle moment arms, than unbiased walkers, but were similar in height, weight, lower limb length, foot length, and exhibited similar walking kinematics. The relatively less plastic skeletal system may drive calf muscle size and motor recruitment patterns of walking in humans.