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Archive for 'Arts and Science'

Monkeys Prefer Reality Television [research study]

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

Some humans might prefer to read the entirety of this study, rather than see any summary that we or anyone else would provide:

Monkeys Prefer Reality Television,” Eliza Bliss-Moreau [pictured below], Anthony C. Santistevan, and Christopher J. Machad, PsyAxXiv, DOI 10.31234/, 2021. The authors are at the University of California Davis; Flatiron Health, Inc., New York; and Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California.


Musical Coordination in a Large Group Without Plans or Leaders

Friday, January 15th, 2021

An experiment looked at whether harmony, in its many meanings, might emerge from a tossing together of musicians. This study tells what happened:

Musical Coordination in a Large Group Without Plans Nor Leaders,” Louise Goupil, Pierre Saint-Germier, Gaëlle Rouvier, Diemo Schwarz, and Clément Canonne, Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 20377, 2020. (Thanks to Tony Tweedale for bringing this to our attention.) The authors explain:

“A widespread belief is that large groups engaged in joint actions that require a high level of flexibility are unable to coordinate without the introduction of additional resources such as shared plans or hierarchical organizations. Here, we put this belief to a test, by empirically investigating coordination within a large group of 16 musicians performing collective free improvisation—a genre in which improvisers aim at creating music that is as complex and unprecedented as possible without relying on shared plans or on an external conductor. We show that musicians freely improvising within a large ensemble can achieve significant levels of coordination, both at the level of their musical actions (i.e., their individual decisions to play or to stop playing) and at the level of their directional intentions (i.e., their intentions to change or to support the music produced by the group).”

Just saying ‘No’: citrus juice then, Covid-19 vaccines now

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

When almost any new medical treatment has been proved effective, many people resist using it. Here’s one of many examples. This one is juicy. Andrew J.T. George wrote about it, in The Conversation:

How the British defeated Napoleon with citrus fruit

Everyone knows that Britain’s conclusive victory over Napoleon was at Waterloo. The story of that day – the squares of infantry repulsing cavalry charges, the Imperial Guard retreating under murderous musket fire delivered by a red line of soliders, the just-in-time arrival of Field Marshal Blücher’s Prussian army – is one of excitement, horror and heroism. However, Britain’s biggest contribution to Napoleon’s defeat was much less romantic. It involved the first randomised controlled trial….

The ability of the sailors of the Royal Navy to operate for such long periods at sea was remarkable. For most of the 18th century, ships could only stay at sea for relatively short periods (six to eight weeks), without the sailors developing scurvy….

In 1753, Lind wrote a treatise describing [the] crucial experiment. While others had previously used citrus fruit to treat scurvy, this trial proved its effectiveness….

Delayed recognition
The story isn’t so simple, however. It involved big admiralty egos and political infighting. Lind’s treatise was largely ignored when it was published. It took decades of work by others – notably Thomas Trotter and Gilbert Blane – to fight for the adoption of lemon juice by the navy.

It was not until 1795, after Lind’s death, that his findings were fully adopted. Other countries were also slow to follow the British example. Even though Americans knew that British sailors drank lemon juice (the origin of the slang-term “limey”), scurvy remained a major problem for soldiers in the American Civil War.

One lesson is that it is not enough to do good science and assume any finding will be instantly adopted….


Robot Dance Videos Don’t Just Happen By Themselves

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

Not yet, anyway. This video took a lot of work:

The makers talk (in an IEEE Spectrum interview) about how they went about making it:

How Boston Dynamics Taught Its Robots to Dance
Aaron Saunders, Boston Dynamics’ VP of Engineering, tells us where Atlas got its moves from

…Strictly speaking, the stuff going on in the video isn’t groundbreaking, in the sense that we’re not seeing any of the robots demonstrate fundamentally new capabilities, but that shouldn’t take away from how impressive it is… What is unique about this video from Boston Dynamics is the artistic component, much of which came through a collaboration with choreographer Monica Thomas

We definitely learned not to underestimate how flexible and strong dancers are—when you take elite athletes and you try to do what they do but with a robot, it’s a hard problem. It’s humbling. Fundamentally, I don’t think that Atlas has the range of motion or power that these athletes do, although we continue developing our robots towards that, because we believe that in order to broadly deploy these kinds of robots commercially, and eventually in a home, we think they need to have this level of performance.

One thing that robots are really good at is doing something over and over again the exact same way. So once we dialed in what we wanted to do, the robots could just do it again and again as we played with different camera angles.

(Thanks to Philip Rubin for bringing this to our attention.)


Shipway’s Shipworm Sex Frenzy Film

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

SHIPWORMS’ COMPETITIVE SEX FRENZY CAUGHT ON FILM” is the headline on a press release from the University of Portsmouth.

Below the heated headline, the body of the text begins:

A competitive sexual frenzy in which bigger appendages have the most success of reproducing might sound like the briefing for a porn film, but instead, it’s the finding of a new study examining a clam.

Scientists, led by Dr Reuben Shipway, at the University of Portsmouth, studying the sex life of the giant feathery shipworm may be the first to have witnessed the wrestling and sparring between individuals during copulation.

The shipworm is a gender fluid, worm-like, wood-eating clam common throughout the world’s oceans and notorious for causing billions of pounds in damage by eating wooden ships, docks, piers and sea defences….

Details are in a paper published in the journal Biology Letters: “Mate competition during pseudocopulation in shipworms,” by J. Reuben Shipway, Nancy C. Treneman, and Daniel L. Distel.

The authors are, one way and another, at the University of Portsmouth, UK; the University of Massachusetts; the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology; and Northeastern University. Here’s some of their stimulating video:

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