Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Cornell University – World’s largest natural sound archive now fully digital and fully online.   Leave a comment

World’s largest natural sound archive now fully digital and fully online.

“In terms of speed and the breadth of material now accessible to anyone in the world, this is really revolutionary,” says audio curator Greg Budney, describing a major milestone just achieved by the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All archived analog recordings in the collection, going back to 1929, have now been digitized and can be heard at

via Cornell University – World’s largest natural sound archive now fully digital and fully online..

Posted January 22, 2013 by arnoneumann in Research, Science

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The best medicine: The power of laughter – Healthy Living – Health & Families – The Independent   Leave a comment

According to other studies, apes are not the only animals to display laughter-like characteristics. Dr Jaak Panksepp specialises in studying animal emotions at Washington State University. Using high-frequency detector equipment, he recorded rats and discovered that they produce ultrasonic chirps, particularly when they appeared to be playfully interacting with each other. The more he studied the rats’behaviour, the more he began to ponder whether the chirping sounds had a purpose. Then he had an idea.

“One morning I came in and I said to one of the grad students: ‘Let’s go tickle some rats’,” he explains. “I picked up a rat and began to tickle it, moving my fingers rapidly all over the animal’s body.” As he did this, he recorded the sound the rat made. It was the same noise as the chirps he had recorded previously but was louder and more consistent with a familiar, dynamic rhythm. “I thought, ‘My God, what if that sound is laughter?’,” says Panksepp. He repeated the experiment with several rats and each time the noise he recorded was the same. And on several occasions, when the tickling stopped, the rat followed his hands, as if wanting more. Although the sounds the rats made showed all the characteristics of laughter, Panksepp is careful not to label it as such. “A lot of people don’t like that word. Giving human qualities to animals is a no-no, since we are closer to the angels than the other creatures of the world,” he says.

This reverential view of the humanness of laughter is mirrored in Aristotelian philosophy. The ancient Greek scholar believed that it is not speech, conscious thought, culture or opposable thumbs which separate us from the beasts; it’s laughter. He wrote that when a baby emits its first laugh, it is transformed from a human into a human being, describing the process as “human ensouling”.

From those first baby giggles, we begin to use laughter until it becomes a communicative Swiss Army knife which can be utilised to berate others or make them feel good. It can be used to make us popular and it can be used as an emotional release mechanism. While we are born with the physical ability to laugh, the capacity to utilise it as a social tool is something we learn. And in order to do this, we need to develop a sense of humour.

Stephanie Davies, the author of Laughology: The Science of Laughter and a behaviourist, is one of the country’s pre-eminent laughter experts. A former stand-up comedian, she studied the science of laughter and founded Laughology, a unique enterprise which teaches individuals in the public and private sector how to enhance their potential through laughter and humour.

She explains the distinction between the two: “Laughter is a response; it’s usually the outward manifestation of humour but doesn’t always have to be about something which is funny. It can be used to fit in to a social situation or it can be a way of coping with a situation.” Humour, she says, is simply a system for processing information – so it changes in us all the time, depending on factors such as age and situation. “Different factors impact on how people develop a sense of humour,” Davies says. “A child knows that laughter is positive and learns that actions which get a laugh are positive. He or she will repeat those actions or mimic them from other people and start to develop an awareness of humour based on the reactions of those around them.”

And while laughter has altered through evolution, humour has also evolved and continues to do so through cultural change. What was funny 30 years ago isn’t always funny today, because our understanding of the world changes over time. In the Seventies, the casual racism of television comedies such as Mind Your Language and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was perceived as funny because casual racism itself was acceptable. People were allowed to laugh at it. Today, society has evolved to understand that racism is not funny, so we are less likely to laugh.

For such an integral facet of humanity, the academic study of laughter and humour is still a relatively new field. Increasingly, however, experts are beginning to investigate the personal and social benefits of laughter.

via The best medicine: The power of laughter – Healthy Living – Health & Families – The Independent.

Posted January 14, 2012 by arnoneumann in Research

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Motivated research : Article : EMBO reports   Leave a comment

Motivated research

Antoine Danchin1

AMAbiotics SAS, Evry, France.


Three years ago, a senior politician attended his country’s Annual Congress for the Advancement of Science to give the introductory lecture. He asked the attending scientists to make science and research more attractive to young students and the general public, and asked his countrymen to support scientists to address the urgent challenges of global climate change, energy needs and dwindling water resources. It was neither a European nor a US politician, but the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who made this speech about the relationship between research and its practical applications. This is such an important topic that one might think it deserves appropriate attention in Europe, yet we fail to address it properly. Instead, we just discuss how science should serve society or contribute to the ‘knowledge-based economy’, or how ‘basic’ or ‘fundamental’ research is opposed to ‘applied’ or ‘industrial’ research and how funding for ‘big science’ comes at the expense of ‘little academic’ research.

This dichotomy between the research to generate knowledge and the application of that knowledge to benefit humankind seems to be a recent development. In fact, more than 100 years ago Louis Pasteur avoided this debate altogether: one of his major, yet forgotten, contributions to science was the insight that research and its applications are not opposed, but orthogonal to each other (Stokes, 1997). If Niels Bohr ‘invented’ basic academic research—which was nevertheless the basis for many technological inventions and industrial applications—Pasteur developed what we might call ‘motivated’ research.

How is research motivated and by what? By definition, scientists are citizens and members of the general public and, like the public, they are motivated by two forces: on the one hand, in Rudyard Kipling’s words, “man’s insatiable curiosity”; on the other hand, a desire for maintaining and improving their well-being. These are not contradictory to one another; curiosity nourishes dreams of a brighter future and leads to discoveries that contribute to well-being.

Pasteur understood that it is essential to take account of society’s demands and desires; that science must be motivated by what people want. Still, there are severe misgivings about the nature of research. These stem from the mistaken but popular assumption that the scientists’ main task is to find solutions to current problems or to fulfil our desires. Problems and desires, however, are not enough, because finding solutions also requires creativity and discovery, which, by their very nature, are unpredictable. Often we do not even know what we need or desire and it is only through curiosity and more knowledge that we find new ways to improve our well-being. Motivation by itself is, therefore, not enough to lead to discovery. Motivation simply helps us choose between many different goals and an infinite number of paths to gain novel knowledge. Subsequently, each path, once chosen, must be explored using the scientific method, which is the only way to new discoveries.

Motivation helps us to ask relevant questions. For example, why do wine and beer go sour without any apparent reason? Pasteur set out to design experiments that showed that fermentation is caused by microorganisms. A few years later, silkworms were suddenly dying of a terrible disease in the silk factories of southern France. The French government called on Pasteur for help, who eventually found that a parasite had infected silkworm eggs and proposed solutions to eradicate the disease. The original question therefore led to germ theory and bacteriology, helped to develop solutions to infectious diseases, and eventually created the whole field of microbiology.

Motivation leads to conceptual and experimental research, which generates discoveries and new technologies. Discoveries, in turn, are the basic resource for the creation of general knowledge and the development of new products, services and other goods that fulfil public demands and generate jobs. The study of the ‘diseases’ of beer and wine also led to the development of fermentation processes that are still in use today. The same motivation that drove Pasteur in the nineteenth century now enables us to tackle current problems, such as pollution, by studying microbial communities that make compost or thrive in garbage dumps. Motivated research therefore reconciles our curiosity with the creation of knowledge and enables us to address pressing needs for humanity.

Because it is strongly inspired by—even rooted in—society’s demands and desires, motivated research also raises accompanying ethical, legal, social and safety issues that should be compelling for all research. As mentioned above, scientists are members of the public who share the same concerns and demands as their fellow citizens and therefore participate with a general, public intelligence that, too often, is absent from academic research. This absence of ‘common sense’ or societal expectations generates the misunderstandings concerning research in biology and the development of biotechnology. These misconceptions—whether about the purported risks of genetically modified organisms or the exaggerated expectations for cancer therapies—can create real suffering in society and inefficient allocation of limited resources. It is therefore advisable for researchers to listen more to the public at large in order to find the motivation for their work.

via Motivated research : Article : EMBO reports.

Posted October 13, 2011 by arnoneumann in Research, Science, You Tube

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