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  • July 11, 2013
  • 06:26 PM

Dog training: Do you get the timing right?

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Do You Believe in Dog? is approaching our one-year anniversary (Wow! Yay!!!), and in the coming months, we will be opening up the blog to guest posts from other researchers exploring canine behaviour, cognition and welfare. Give a warm welcome to our first guest, Clare Browne from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Hi Mia and Julie,As you both know from the last Canine Science Forum, my PhD investigates dog-human communication and how this communication affects dog training.(source)I would like to claim that everyone is New Zealand is a fantastic dog trainer and we all communicate brilliantly with our dogs, but alas, we’re just like everyone else. It turns out that when people give feedback to dogs during training, we’re often a bit slow. Let me explain...You’re no doubt aware that if we want to increase the likelihood that a behaviour occurs again, positive reinforcement (AKA “rewarding” -- adding something to keep the behaviour going) will achieve this. The types of positive reinforcement that are most commonly used in everyday dog training are verbal praise, food, and patting/petting. My PhD studies investigated two things: a) how fast are dog owners delivering positive reinforcement to dogs; and b) does it matter if owners are slow in providing dogs with reinforcement?Not really Clare's gumbootsTo answer the first of these questions, I put on my gumboots and spent many evenings at my friendly local dog clubs, filming owners training their dogs in beginner classes. I collected 1,810 instances where commands were given to dogs. I then went slightly mad and spent months watching videos of people training their dogs. Figure 1 shows how all the dogs responded to their owners, and 44% of the time, dogs did not respond to their owners at all. This one result made me feel like I wasn’t wasting all these years of my PhD – there clearly is a need for research into the efficacy of dog training!I used some fancy computer software and measured very precisely (down to 25 frames per second) the time between when the owners said the command and when the dogs performed the behavior, like laying down or sitting. I found that owners varied a lot in the time it took them to deliver positive reinforcement to their dogs. Some owners were almost instantaneous with their praise and then the treat followed quickly, whereas others took ages – the longest time was over 6 s! (That might not sound long to you, but try imagining that you’re a Labrador and having to wait 6 s for a treat, all of a sudden it’s a much more serious situation.) But does this even matter? Had I gone mad watching videos in my darkened office for no good reason?... Read more »

Browne Clare M., Starkey Nicola J., Foster T. Mary, & McEwan James S. (2013) What dog owners read: A review of best-selling books. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8(4). DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2013.04.040  

Browne Clare M., Starkey Nicola J., Foster Mary T., & McEwan James S. (2011) Timing of reinforcement during dog training. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 6(1), 58-59. DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2010.09.058  

  • July 11, 2013
  • 12:45 PM

Getting Science Right: Sun Signs and Marriage

by Katja Keuchenius in United Academics

Do Virgos and Capricorns or Leos and Libras match?

Ok, let’s get it over with. There are so many people believing in matching sun signs, sometimes even seeming to have a point stating that the influence of the sun and stars can not be underestimated, that it’s time to put it to the test. Luckily David Voas, researcher at the University of Manchester, did so already in 2007.... Read more »

David Voas, Cathie Marsh. (2007) Ten million marriages: A test of astrological ‘love signs’. Centre for Census and Survey Research. info:/

  • July 11, 2013
  • 09:11 AM

More Exercise, Less Digital Rectal Examination

by Patrícia Fonseca Pedro in United Academics

It is stated that men could benefit from 60 minutes of aerobic exercise, even if they have not been active in a regular basis their whole life. It is as simple as this: during exercise, certain molecule levels will fluctuate, which will result in an adverse environment for prostate tumor development and progression.... Read more »

  • July 10, 2013
  • 10:04 AM

Feminine Woman Is More Attractrive to Taken Man

by Anouk Vleugels in United Academics

Women’s facial features can determine length of relationship, researchers found. ... Read more »

  • July 10, 2013
  • 08:22 AM

Crocodiles Have Highly Armored, Yet Sensitive Skin

by Alex Reis in United Academics

A new study shows that the entire body of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) is covered in hundreds of scales, each with a tiny spot full of nerve endings. During embryo development, these spots start forming in the head but eventually reach the whole body. Each spot reacts to touch, as well as changes in temperature and pH. “We used molecular techniques and, to our great surprise, found clear expression of not only mechano-receptors but also of chemo- and thermo-receptor channels”, said Prof Michel Milinkovitch, biologist and lead author in the study.... Read more »

  • July 9, 2013
  • 01:29 PM

How is gender bias in science studied? I. Surveys and interviews

by Terrific T in Science, I Choose You

Bias: [mass noun] inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair – Oxford Dictionaries This is part 1 of my 4-part series about gender bias in science. It is not a surprise that I am interested in gender issues in science. As one who has gone through graduate school […]... Read more »

Ecklund E. H., Lincoln A. E., & Tansey C. (2012) Gender Segregation in Elite Academic Science. Gender , 26(5), 693-717. DOI: 10.1177/0891243212451904  

  • July 9, 2013
  • 12:00 PM

Fish Oil Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

by Alvin Lin in United Academics

In a meta-analysis of 21 prospective cohort studies published less than 2 weeks ago in the British Medical Journal, the authors arrived at a rather interesting conclusion: while fish – and alpha linolenic acid (ALAs) for vegans – consumption was not linked to breast cancer risk, total intake of marine omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) was inversely linked to breast cancer, such that every 0.1g/d of fish oil was linked to 5% risk reduction in breast cancer.... Read more »

  • July 9, 2013
  • 10:16 AM

Keep Calm and Carry On Exercising, It Relieves Stress

by Elisabeth Buhl Thubron in United Academics

Another work deadline is fast approaching and, yet again, you’re starting to feel the pressure. Need a permanent stress fix? Hit the gym and make it a regular habit. A new study conducted by a research team at Princeton University gives valuable insight into the contradictory links between physical exercise and changes to brain regions involved in anxiety.... Read more »

  • July 9, 2013
  • 10:11 AM

Lonely Lemurs Heed Warnings of Fellow Forest Creatures

by Michael Parker in United Academics

While not the brightest of primates, one species of lemur has shown it can still learn a trick or two, staying safe from predators by heeding the alarm calls of other creatures in the forest.

Of all the species of lemur living on the island of Madagascar only one, Lepilemur sahamalazensis, has been found to exhibit this trait. The solitary, nocturnal creatures were found to respond to the alarm calls of the blue-eyed black lemur, and to those from several different species of bird.... Read more »

  • July 8, 2013
  • 05:32 AM

Explainer: How Can We Build a Heart?

by Guillaume Cote-Maurais in United Academics

Tissue engineering is an extraordinary research field aim to engineer entire new organs from single cells. Not only would it resolve the problem of organs availability, but it would also annihilate the risk of graft rejection from the immune system.

The complexity of such process arise not only from a complex single organ cellular diversity, but also from the necessity of having the right cellular organization and complete networks of blood vessels to keep these cells alive. This complexity is particularly true for the heart, which has intricate networks of capillaries. Therefore, regenerative-medicine researchers are trying to reuse what biology has already created.... Read more »

  • July 6, 2013
  • 05:40 AM

Cunnilingus-Assisted Orgasm May Not Be a Big Mystery

by Rob Brooks in United Academics

This week I’ve been wrestling with a particularly large writing project which has kept me away from posting in this column. But, staring into my Twitter feed in procrastination, I spotted much outrage about a paper on the adaptive basis of cunnilingus-assisted orgasm. I had to head over to the journal Evolutionary Psychology to take a look.

The authors, Michael N. Pham, Todd K. Shackelford, Yael Sela and Lisa L. M. Welling, all of Oakland University in Michigan report the results of a simple survey they administered to 243 men in committed, heterosexual relationships. They predicted that, in their own words:

among men who perform cunnilingus on their partner, those at greater risk of sperm competition are more likely to perform cunnilingus until their partner achieves orgasm (Prediction 1), and that, among men who ejaculate during penile-vaginal intercourse and whose partner experiences a cunnilingus-assisted orgasm, ejaculation will occur during the brief period in which female orgasm might function to retain sperm (Prediction 2).... Read more »

Pham MN, Shackelford TK, Sela Y, & Welling LL. (2013) Is cunnilingus-assisted orgasm a male sperm-retention strategy?. Evolutionary psychology : an international journal of evolutionary approaches to psychology and behavior, 11(2), 405-14. PMID: 23744718  

Puts DA, Dawood K, & Welling LL. (2012) Why women have orgasms: an evolutionary analysis. Archives of sexual behavior, 41(5), 1127-43. PMID: 22733154  

  • July 5, 2013
  • 05:09 AM

Who’s a Clever Cocky, Then?

by Dyani Lewis in United Academics

With complex problems, we’re often told to break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. By tackling these smaller tasks one at a time, our distant goal will eventually be reached.

Researchers have discovered that the Goffin’s cockatoo, a type of parrot native to Indonesia, can solve a sequence of five problems in order to obtain a treat.

The researchers, from the University of Oxford in the UK, the University of Vienna in Austria and the Max Planck Institute in Germany presented 10 cockatoos with a box containing a tantalizing cashew nut locked behind a see-through plastic door. A series of five locks needed to be unlocked in turn for the birds to reach their treat. The cockatoos needed to remove a pin, then a screw, then a bolt, then turn a wheel and then slide a bar sideways before the door to the cashew could be opened. The locks were interlocking – each lock was unable to be unlocked without the lock before it also being unlocked.... Read more »

  • July 5, 2013
  • 04:09 AM

Doing Arnie Impressions Can Activate Your Brain

by Carolyn McGettigan in United Academics

The voice is an important tool which we use to communicate and express ourselves. But our voices convey so much more than the words we say. Just a few words can reveal clues about someone’s gender, age, place of birth and mood.

The voice is also extremely flexible in its expressiveness. It’s under constant vocal modulation – one minute whispering in a library then involved in conversation in a noisy pub. There are also vocal changes that happen less deliberately when we speak, such as when we start to pronounce words in the same way as our friends or flatmates. This reflects friendship and mutual approval.... Read more »

  • July 4, 2013
  • 05:24 AM

Imprisoned Because of Bad Statistics

by Kate Blanchfield in United Academics

The name Lucia de Berk will always be associated with a huge miscarriage of justice in the Netherlands. Accused of murdering patients at the Juliana Children’s Hospital where she worked as a nurse, De Berk was arrested in 2001 and found guilty of seven counts of murder in addition to three counts of attempted murder that were added to her rap sheet in 2004. The case relied heavily on bad statistics that were wrongly interpreted, eventually leading to a life sentence.... Read more »

Ronald Meester, Marieke Collins, Richard Gill, & Michiel van Lambalgen. (2006) On the (ab)use of statistics in the legal case against the nurse Lucia de B. arXiv. arXiv: math/0607340v1

M. Zegers, M.C. de Bruijne, C. Wagner, L.H. Hoonhout, R. Waaijman, M. Smits, F.A. Hout, L. Zwaan, I. Christiaans-Dingelhoff, D.R. Timmermans, P.P Groenewegen, G. van der Wa. (2009) Adverse events and potentially preventable deaths in Dutch hospitals: results of a retrospective patient record review study. Qual Saf Health Care. DOI: 10.1136/qshc.2007.025924  

  • July 3, 2013
  • 11:28 AM

Long Solo Car Trips As Bad As Air Travel

by Matteo Gagliardi in United Academics

Air travel has the biggest impact on the climate per trip, but travelling long distances alone by car could be just as bad for one’s carbon footprint, a new study has found.

The study was conducted by researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) and published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The researchers compared the climate impacts of different forms of transport for a travel distance of between 500km and 1000km, typical of business or holidays trips.... Read more »

Jens Borken-Kleefeld, Jan Fuglestvedt, & Terje Berntsen. (2013) Mode, Load, And Specific Climate Impact from Passenger Trips. Environmental Science. DOI: 10.1021/es4003718  

  • July 3, 2013
  • 09:33 AM

What’s the Best Moment to Buy a Plane Ticket?

by Simone Munao in United Academics

A Japanese economist has studied the mathematics used by air companies to set the prices of flights. According to his research, eight weeks before departure is the ideal timing to buy a travel ticket.

The best moment to book a flight is eight weeks before leaving. Dr. Makoto Watanabe is a Japanese economist, currently Associate Professor at the VU University Amsterdam, and he has just developed a mathematical formula to predict the best moment to buy airplane tickets. His research, published on the Economic Journal may help million passengers ready to fly to save up some money before leaving.... Read more »

  • July 3, 2013
  • 05:20 AM

Egypt Uprising: More Than Just a ‘Twitter revolt’

by Paul Reilly in United Academics

These days all you need to be a revolutionary is a mobile phone and a grievance. Some see what is happening on the streets of Cairo as the ultimate expression of democracy – millions of people using social media to express their unhappiness with their government.

Others see it as the exact opposite – and forecast that Egypt’s 12-month experiment with democracy, after 30 years of dictatorship, will have been cut off in its infancy if the army carries out its threat to intervene in order to stop events spiralling out of control.... Read more »

Tufekci, Zeynep; Wilson, Christopher. (2012) Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square . Journal of Communication. info:/

  • July 2, 2013
  • 12:00 PM

Super Intelligent Machines Aren’t to Be Feared

by Tony Prescott. in United Academics

Fear of machines becoming smarter than humans is a standard part of popular culture. In films like iRobot and Terminator, humans are usurped. Throughout history we can trace stories about humankind overreaching through a desire to understand and copy ourselves, from Ancient Greek mythology to Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shelley’s Frankenstein. Today’s Prometheans are supposedly scientists working on artificial intelligence (AI), who run the risk of creating machines intelligent enough to supercede us.... Read more »

  • July 2, 2013
  • 08:26 AM

#SPARCS2013: The Aftermath

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Oh Julie! How great was #SPARCS2013? SO VERY, VERY GREAT! I love the buzz that comes from hearing presentations by experts in the various areas of canine science and what the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science achieved over 3 days, AND SHARED GLOBALLY FOR FREE, was just phenomenal!I love that we hung out in little parties in our respective parts of the world - with dogs present! I spent one morning (Australia time, end of a SPARCS day) with my colleague, Kate Mornement (and her dogs, Archie and Joseph!). The other days I spent waking up early and loving hearing from the likes of Adam Miklosi, Monique Udell and Clive Wynne. It was just FABULOUS. I hope everyone who enjoyed SPARCS2013, remembers to donate and/or become a SPARCS member so that this initiative can continue in the future. SPARCS parties around the world! Something that was also interesting to me, was watching the twitter-sphere light up in response to the #SPARCS2013 event hashtag. Seeing the canine science communication get further afield (through the free live streaming over the web) than it would usually in a regular scientific conference was interesting, entertaining and above all - BRILLIANT.Monique Udell breaking down canine cognition There was one thing I found particularly interesting, which was how exchanges of what I would call 'scientific discussion', for example, such as:"You're wrong!""What's the source of that data?""It's OK to not have all the answers""We should all be careful of over-generalising our results""I'm not interested in repeating your experiment, because I'm not interested in testing that hypothesis"were sometimes perceived as "silo" (divisive) attitudes, rather than people just expressing a professional difference of opinion or seeking further information. I think it's really important that when we communicate our science to a broader audience, we also take time to explain the scientific process and how scientific rigour operates as a self-correcting process, over time. Always advancing our understanding and moving towards the best grasp of concepts that we can have. This process doesn't do a disservice to "the dogs", each other, or our work. It is how we ensure we do the best by the dogs, each other, and our work. Sometimes in science, entire premises can get flipped on their heads, and initially, that can feel uncomfortable, or ridiculous, or really, very right.We're not fighting! (Flickr:JesseGardner)Clive Wynne acknowledged this toward the closing of his final presentation, when thanking the SPARCS2013 organisers. He said that it is good for the discipline of canine science to have a forum like SPARCS, where the experts can come and speak, listen to each other, discuss, perhaps even argue, because that process - provided we all stay open to the odd premise-flipping idea - drives our field forwards in a healthy direction for the future.Thank you #SPARCS2013, to the conference planning team for making this available for free, the live stream tech' team for being so responsive and ensuring we were all able to experience this amazing forum, the Twitter community who participated in the online discussion and to the scientists who shared their ideas and understanding with the world.&... Read more »

  • July 1, 2013
  • 11:24 AM

‘Mental Illness’ Isn’t all About Brain Chemistry

by Mary Boyle in United Academics

Do you believe ‘mental illness’ is all about brain chemistry? It wouldn’t be surprising if you did, because this is the message we regularly receive about various forms of troublesome feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

The publication of the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) reinforced this picture. David Kupfer, chair of the manual’s taskforce, declared:

In the future, we hope to be able to identify disorders using biological and genetic markers that provide precise diagnoses that can be delivered with complete reliability and validity.... Read more »

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