Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward







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Recent Posts


The psychology of Greta Thunberg’s climate activism

Scott Koenig writes: In September 2019, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage activist, excoriated world leaders for their ongoing failure to address the climate crisis. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said at one point during her speech at the United Nations. Thunberg has been galvanizing public support for climate action since rising to prominence with her school strike about a year ago, and

We taught bees a simple number language – and they got it

Maybe the differences between human and non-human animals are not as great as we might previously have thought. from By Scarlett Howard, Université de Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier; Adrian Dyer, RMIT University, and Andrew Greentree, RMIT University Most children learn that written numbers represent quantities in pre-school or junior primary school. Now our new study shows that honeybees too can learn to match symbols and numerosities, much like

Green monkeys borrow vervet monkeys’ eagle warning call when threatened by drones reports: Some 40 years ago, scientists discovered that East African vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) produce distinct alarm calls when they encounter their three main predators: leopards, snakes and eagles. Their cousins in West Africa, green monkeys (Chlorocebus sabaeus), are also known to cry out at the sight of leopard and snakes, but for some unknown reason, they don’t seem to emit a unique call for birds of prey. A

The empathetic humanities have much to teach our adversarial culture

By Alexander Bevilacqua, Aeon, January 15, 2019 As anyone on Twitter knows, public culture can be quick to attack, castigate and condemn. In search of the moral high ground, we rarely grant each other the benefit of the doubt. In her Class Day remarks at Harvard’s 2018 graduation, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the problem of this rush to judgment. In the face of what she called ‘a

Macaques take turns in conversation

Science News reports: The researchers analyzed 64 vocal exchanges, called bouts, between at least two monkeys that were recorded between April and October 2012 at the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan. The team found that the median length of time between the end of one monkey’s calls and the beginning of another’s was 250 milliseconds — similar to the average 200 milliseconds in conversational pause time between humans. That

The value of well-crafted language

Greg Laden writes: Twenty five centuries ago, long before the start of the common era, the written record about the spoken language began. The ancient Greeks were not likely the first to study speech and communication, and they certainly were not the first to write stuff down, but among the early writers, they were probably the first to write about how we construct messages and stories with words. Joe Rom’s

How emoji are changing the way we communicate

Wired reports: Two years ago, Sanjaya Wijeratne—a computer science PhD student at Wright State University—noticed something odd in his research. He was studying the communication of gang members on Twitter. Among the grandstanding about drugs and money, he found gang members repeatedly dropping the ⛽ emoji in their tweets. Wijeratne had been working on separate research relating to word-sense disambiguation, a field of computational linguistics that looks at how words

To communicate with apes, we must do it on their terms

Rachel Nuwer writes: On August 24, 1661, Samuel Pepys, an administrator in England’s navy and famous diarist, took a break from work to go see a “strange creature” that had just arrived on a ship from West Africa. Most likely, it was a chimpanzee—the first Pepys had ever seen. As he wrote in his diary, the “great baboon” was so human-like that he wondered if it were not the offspring

The way humans point isn’t as universal as you might think

The universal sign for ‘Look over there!’ isn’t so common in some cultures. Helena Ohman/ By Kensy Cooperrider, University of Chicago Octopuses have long arms and plenty of smarts, but they don’t point. Nor do chimps, gorillas or other apes, at least not in the wild. Humans, on the other hand, are prodigious pointers. Infants use the gesture before they can talk, often around 1 year of age. By 2,

Pistachio trees ‘talk’ to their neighbours, reveals statistical physics

Philip Ball writes: The number of nuts on pistachio trees in any given year could be explained with a model from statistical physics that is normally used to study magnetic materials. That is according to researchers led by Alan Hastings, a mathematical ecologist from the University of California, Davis, who have used the “Ising model” to analyse the yields of pistachio trees in one particular orchard in California. Their work