I have a varied selection of stories for you today. I’ll begin with one that doesn’t involve politics, racism, murder, woman-hating, or any other depressing topics. A new study released yesterday provides additional evidence that Dolphins may see each other as unique individuals. From BBC News: Dolphins ‘call each other by name’
It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.
Previous research found that these calls were used frequently, and dolphins in the same groups were able to learn and copy the unusual sounds.
But this is the first time that the animals response to being addressed by their “name” has been studied.Dr Vincent Janik University of St Andrews
To investigate, researchers recorded a group of wild bottlenose dolphins, capturing each animal’s signature sound.
They then played these calls back using underwater speakers.
“We played signature whistles of animals in the group, we also played other whistles in their repertoire and then signature whistles of different populations – animals they had never seen in their lives,” explained Dr Janik.
The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.
According to Janik,
“(Dolphins) live in this three-dimensional environment, offshore without any kind of landmarks and they need to stay together as a group.
“These animals live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch.”
Although humans start naming things almost as a matter of course during early development, the process of creating and using a name is actually quite complex. Scientists refer to names as learned vocal labels, meaning vocalizations that refer to specific objects. Both parrots and dolphins have used learned vocal labels while in captivity, and researchers had no reason to believe that the animals couldn’t do the same in their natural environments. Now biologists Stephanie King and Vincent Janik from the University of Aberdeen have found that, indeed, wild dolphins use the equivalent of a human name to address each other.
What’s interesting to me is that if these dolphins can recognize each other as individuals and recognize their own names, this suggests a level of self-consciousness that is seen in very few animals other than humans. Even human children do not develop the ability to recognize themselves (PDF) in a mirror or on film until they are at least 18 months old and the development of true self-consciousness and awareness that others have similar thoughts and feelings (theory of mind) takes much longer.
The Washington Post reports on a depressing, but not surprising, poll on attitudes toward the Trayvon Martin case. Zimmerman verdict poll: Stark reaction by race.
The not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman has produced dramatically different reactions among blacks and whites, with African Americans overwhelmingly disapproving of the jury’s decision and a bare majority of whites saying they approve of the outcome, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll….
The new survey underscores not only the gap between whites and blacks, but also how passionate many African Americans are about the case. Among African Americans, 86 percent say they disapprove of the verdict — with almost all of themsaying they strongly disapprove — and 87 percent saying the shooting was unjustified.
In contrast, 51 percent of whites say they approve of the verdict while just 31 percent disapprove. There is also a partisan overlay to the reaction among whites: 70 percent of white Republicans but only 30 percent of white Democrats approve of the verdict. Among all whites, one-third say the shooting was unjustified, one-third say it was justified and the other third say they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.
It figures that Republicans would be driving the results among whites. Republicans have truly become the party of white males who hate anyone who isn’t white and male. You have to wonder why any African American or any woman would choose to be a Republican. Unfortunately the poll didn’t break down the results by gender and geography. Would more women have disapproved of the verdict? It was an all-woman jury, but also a Florida jury. A more complex analysis would have been helpful.
Republicans–at least the ones who watch Fox News–are old too. It’s hard to believe, but even though Fox leads the other cable news channels in viewers, the average age of Fox viewers is 65-plus! From the NYT:
Fox News declined to make executives available for comment, but several recent signs — including changing personalities for some of its weekday programs — suggest the network may have decided the time has come to confront the issue of age.
Just how old is its audience? It is impossible to be precise because Nielsen stops giving an exact figure for median age once it passes 65. But for six of the last eight years, Fox News has had a median age of 65-plus and the number of viewers in the 25-54 year old group has been falling consistently, down five years in a row in prime time, from an average of 557,000 viewers five years ago to 379,000 this year. That has occurred even though Fox’s overall audience in prime time is up this year, to 2.02 million from 1.89 million three years ago….
“The numbers indicate they haven’t been replacing the younger viewers,” Mr. Moffett said of Fox News. Many of the loyal viewers the network has always had are simply aging up beyond the 54-year cutoff for many ad buyers. The result is an audience edging consistently above that 65-plus number.
News audiences always trend old, and the viewers of Fox’s competitors are hardly in the full flower of youth. MSNBC’s median age for its prime-time shows this year is 60.6; CNN’s is 59.8.
In terms of the rest of television, Fox News also is quite a bit older than networks considered to have a base of older viewers. CBS has frequently been needled for having older viewers, but at 56.8, its median viewer is far younger than Fox News’s. (Viewers at Fox News’s sister network, Fox Broadcasting, have a median age of 50.2; at ABC, the median is 54.4; at NBC, it’s 47.7.)
Speaking of old-fashioned viewpoints, I posted this in the comments yesterday, but it’s worth a closer look. Yesterday, Margaret Sullivan the NYT Public Editor posted a remarkable column about Nate Silver: Nate Silver Went Against the Grain for Some at The Times. Sullivan speculates that Silver may have decided to leave the Times for ESPN/ABC because his fact- and probability-based methods of writing about politics didn’t jive with the attitudes of some other Times journalists. She based her analysis on a number of conversations with Silver and “about him with journalists in the Times’s newsroom.”
* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.
His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.
His approach was to work against the narrative of politics – the “story” – and that made him always interesting to read. For me, both of these approaches have value and can live together just fine.
* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.
A few reactions to the Nate Silver story:
JM Ashby at Bob Cesca.com: Revenge of the Nerd
Politico: How ESPN and ABC landed Nate Silver
Business Insider got Silver’s own reaction to the Sullivan column: ‘The Culture Stuff Was Not A Big Factor’ In Me Leaving The New York Times
I’ll wrap this up with a some Edward Snowden updates. It’s very clear at this point that Snowden is being controlled by Russian intelligence. We don’t really know where he is, and his spokesman is an “attorney” who is in charge of PR for the Russian FSB. We also don’t know what Snowden has given the FSB in return for their help. Geoffrey Ingersoll at Business Insider:
Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena — who also happens to be the head of public council for the Federal Security Service (FSB) — has announced that Edward Snowden may leave the Moscow airport on Wednesday.
That’s right, he’s likely not going too far.
We also know that Snowden supposedly said he has no plans to travel to Latin America because at this time, he thought it too dangerous to travel.
How do we know that? Well, Kucherena said Snowden said it, of course.
Not only does Kucherena run the FSB’s public council, but it seems he runs Snowdens public relations as well — he “helped” Snowden apply for temporary asylum, he relayed Snowden’s “promise” not to hurt the U.S. anymore, and he announced Snowden’s (very own) idea about possibly applying for Russian citizenship with the intent to stay for a while and “learn Russian culture.”
And here’s Michael Kelley, also from Business Insider: The Intel In Snowden’s Head Could Be More Damaging Than The Material He Leaked
National Security Agency whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong carrying “four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets,” raising the concern that data could have been compromised in China or Russia.
But the information in his head may be more valuable, and accessible, than highly encrypted files.
Beyond trying to acquire information about the 10,000 NSA files Snowden accessed in Hawaii, a U.S. adversary would want to learn from Snowden’s expertise of internal NSA processes — such as its recruiting and vetting processes — to gain insight into America’s decision loop.
“Snowden understood exactly how far he could push [the NSA],” Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider. “That, coupled with his successful exploitation of our entire vetting process, makes him very dangerous.”
There’s much more of interest in the Kelley article, including a timeline of Snowden’s activities. Highly recommended.
I have several more Snowden links that I’ll just list for anyone who’s interested to click on:
The Voice of Russia: US communicates concerns over Snowden to Russian gov’t – ambassador
Atlantic Wire: Edward Snowden Has Everything and Nothing