Bad Science Reporting

This is the kind of reporting that winds me up – I’m sure there is probably some good science behind it, but this isn’t it.

OK, so we see the birds (rooks – crows are pretty intelligent) raising the water level to reach their morsel of food by displacing the water with stones, selecting the larger stones to do it. But just look at the archive link to tool-using rooks – these birds have simpy been trained to drop rocks on white targets to receive rewards of food. There is no “thought” of displacement as a means to raise floating objects. There is no “innovation” in their thinking – they simply repeat the learned behaviour at the first attempt when presented with the new situation – the very opposite of innovation. Jeez.

4 thoughts on “Bad Science Reporting”

  1. Ian, If the researchers are using the same birds in both experiments and conducting the experiments in the same order as they were reported, I could agree with your gripe somewhat. But what about the other experiments involving hooks, multiple steps, and tubes with water vs sawdust? In aggregate, don’t these experiments support what the researchers claim: that the degree of innovative thinking that is happening in these birds is only rivaled by great apes?

    And are you really bothered by the reporting, or the science being reported?

  2. As I said Glenn, I can only guess about the science itself – it may be fine – but we can’t see either the detail or the full picture without deeper research and what the researchers themselves actually claim. My “gripe” is with the reporting – as I said – innovation vs learning. I took the sequence as reported – the ealier tube / stone tricks, and the displacements trick “at the first attempt”. I don’t see any innovation or creativity – it worked because the trick already learned worked. (As I also say crows are highly intelligent in learning tricks, even multi-step tricks, if rewarded.)

  3. But don’t you think the experiment with the hooks, that required multiple steps to solve, is indicative of creative problem solving?

  4. I think I’m saying “I guess it could be” … ie I don’t doubt it … but the (latest) reporting doesn’t connect the right points to draw that conclusion. (Clearly investigating the research more deeply is an option … one not many will take up … my beef as you correctly spotted is with this kind of reporting as a source of “knowledge”.)

    I have nothing against crows either 😉

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