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These Art Critics Love to Ruffle Feathers

Professor Shigeru Watanabe from Keio University in Japan, writing in the journal Animal Cognition, says pigeons can use color, pattern and texture to distinguish good paintings from bad.


If you've ever found yourself shuffling through an art gallery thinking, "This stuff is for the birds," it turns out you're not far wrong. Professor Shigeru Watanabe from Keio University in Japan, writing in the journal Animal Cognition, says pigeons can use color, pattern and texture to distinguish good paintings from bad — just like humans and Sister Wendy do.

In the study, watercolors and pastels painted by Tokyo schoolchildren were run past a panel of adults, including the school's art teacher, and judged on the clarity of their images and subject matter. Then the pictures were shown to four birds from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons, in what was, no doubt, a seminal moment in the society's history. The birds had been trained and rewarded with food for pecking at "good" paintings, and when shown the kids' art, the pigeons consistently chose the objectively better images. Presented with grayscales or mosaics, the birds had less success, however, indicating they used color and patterns to discriminate between different levels of quality work.


"Artistic endeavors have been long thought to be limited to humans, but this experiment shows that, with training, pigeons are capable of distinguishing between 'good' and 'bad' paintings," Watanabe said. "This research does not deal with advanced artistic judgments, but it shows that pigeons are able to acquire the ability to judge beauty similar to that of humans."

Prof. Watanabe's next study: whether pigeons can tell the difference between your car and your neighbor's.


The paper "Non-linear Vibration and Dynamic Characteristic of Fish-like Robot Controlled by GMM Actuator" appeared Aug. 1 in the Journal of Intelligent Material Systems and Structures.


When you were a kid, and you dreamed of being a wildlife ecologist, you wanted to be Dr. Dean Ransom of Texas A&M. For four long years, using radio telemetry and studying more than 50 nests, he has ranged throughout the southwestern United States, tracking the elusive, rarely studied, downright meep-meeping roadrunner.

The facts you want to know, should you try to, say, catch one: Roadrunners tend to live near substantial tracts of woods for cover — not, ahem, in the wide-open desert. They can fly when pressured. ("It's not graceful," Ransom reports, "but it works.") And it's difficult to tempt them with feminine wiles; they are monogamous and likely mate for life.

Your best bet to snare a roadrunner? Take advantage of its aggression. The roadrunner tenaciously defends its territory against intruders; to hear Ransom tell it, perhaps a wee bit of ACME whiskey would do the trick.

"We witnessed a five-bird brawl that lasted about 90 minutes in 2006," he says, over what we can only assume was rollicking piano music in the background. "Ultimately, the resident pair was triumphant."

On that evidence, maybe it's a good thing the coyote never caught up with the roadrunner, after all.


The great dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex was nothing but a baby-killer who feasted on weak prey, according to the paper "Feeding behaviour and bone utilization by theropod dinosaurs" in the journal Lethaia.

"Animals such as Tyrannosaurus are often seen as the perfect 'killing machines' with extremely powerful bites, which were able to bring down even the largest possible prey," says Dr. Oliver Rauhut of the — say it all together now — Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie in Munich, Germany. "But the very few fossils that reflect the hunt of predatory dinosaurs on large herbivores tell a tale of failure — the prey either got away, or both prey and predator were killed."

So which is worse, Herr Doctor: eating baby dinosaurs or crushing the hopes and dreams of young Jurassic Park fans everywhere?


The aptly named professor Rachel Pain, introducing her paper "Globalized fear? Towards an emotional geopolitics" in the journal Progress in Human Geography:

"This paper questions the recent recasting of fear within critical geopolitics. It identifies a widespread metanarrative, 'globalized fear,' analysis of which lacks grounding and is remote, disembodied and curiously unemotional. A hierarchical scaling of emotions, politics and place overlooks agency, resistance and action. Drawing on feminist scholarship, I call for an emotional geopolitics of fear which connects political processes and everyday emotional topographies in a less hierarchical, more enabling relationship. I employ conscientization as a tool to inform the reconceptualization of global fears within critical geopolitics, and to move forward epistemological practice and our relationship as scholars with social change."


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