Bird boffins get their beaks into the trough

(no longer dictated to Mrs Grumble – Alf has been judged fit to resume his duties)

Stone the bloody crows. Or more usefully, stone the birdbrains _ or is he being unkind? – who have cough up taxpayers’ money for some boffin to study the New Caledonian crow.

Bigger stones should be thrown at them for approving the funding for a bloke to find out what happened to the moa.

This seems pointless, because the moa has been no moa for some considerable time.


Alf brings you his advice about what to do with stones on learning about some of the 100 or so science projects that are sharing a record $66 million of government cash in this year’s round of Marsden Fund grants.

Among the 111 projects, Otago University anthropologist Chris Jacomb got $777,000 over three years for his study on the devastating effects of human settlement on the moa.

He and his colleagues will use shell fragments from moa eggs to get clues about the ancient environment the birds lived in.

Good for them. It should keep them off the streets for a while.

But what exactly is the point?

It was thought moa died out in a 60- to 150-year period, near the end of the 13th century, Mr Jacomb said.

“What we’re hoping to discover is if there was any change in the feeding habits of moa during that period. We know a large amount of the New Zealand forest was burned off, so we’d expect to see a signal of that.”

But we aren’t going to be able to bring the moa back, with our new-gained knowledge. Dunno what other purpose the findings will serve.

Alf accordingly repeats: what’s the point?

Correction. He asks what’s the point, and is it a strong enough point to justify a handsome handout from the public trough?

We could make a beter judgement on that if we knew the details of the projects that missed out.

Alf does not quibble about the biggest grant – $975,000 over three years – going to Professor Alison Mercer from Otago University.

She is planning a study into how memories are formed in the brain.

But Gavin Hunt, from Auckland University’s Psychology Department, is a bit of a worry. He has been given funding of $795,000 to test the intelligence of New Caledonian crow, “famous for their intelligence. Known for their ability to use tools such as twigs to help them gather food.”

Hunt is obviously fascinated with the
creature.

He is the co-author of a study headed “Causal reasoning in New Caledonian crows – Ruling out spatial analogies and sampling error

The abstract says it all.

A large number of studies have failed to find conclusive evidence for causal reasoning in nonhuman animals. For example, when animals are required to avoid a trap while extracting a reward from a tube they appear to learn about the surface-level features of the task, rather than about the task’s causal regularities. We recently reported that New Caledonian crows solved a two-trap-tube task and then were able to immediately solve a novel, visually distinct problem, the trap-table task. Such transfer suggests these crows were reasoning causally. However, there are two other possible explanations for the successful transfer: sampling bias and the use of a spatial, rather than a causal, analogy. Here we present data that rule out these explanations.

The mind boggles.

This Hunt feller should bugger off and persuade New Caledonian taxpayers to pony up with the dosh to satisfy his curiousity about crows. Alf can find heaps of better projects for the spending of almost $800,000.

3 Responses to Bird boffins get their beaks into the trough

  1. Alf Grumble says:

    Great to be back and great to hear from you. Thanks.

  2. […] orgasmic work of the Marsden Fund Alf takes it back. The research into moa and crows he was banging on about yesterday at least is the stuff of what he reckons is proper […]

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