Fish and beer- a nifty trick to dissect scientific articles

There's a really good point that has been brought up many times about scientists. We suck at sharing our results with the public. Or sometimes we share, but in a way that very few people (scientists included) could understand. One of the problems may be a lack of emphasis on the big "So what?" People are much more interested if they understand the relevance of the findings to normal life. I find it helps to relate the concepts to more familiar things in my life.

For example, fish researchers from the University of New South Wales recently published a paper on the effects of small temperature increases on fish behavior. Here's how I translated the results to better understand the concepts presented in the study...

"The idea that fish have personalities may seem surprising at first, but we now know that personality is common in animal populations, and that this phenomenon may have far-reaching implications for understanding how animals respond to ecological and environmental challenges."

Some people are a-holes and some people aren't. This often depends on where they are.

"Our results also suggest that temperature variations are much more significant than we thought in the way they affect the behaviours of individual animals. This needs to be taken into account for scientific studies of other cold-blooded animals, or ectotherms, such as reptiles and amphibians."

At a bar, for example, variations in alcohol consumption can significantly increase a-hole behavior. So far this relationship has only been seen in humans, but don't rule out other species.

"For instance, individual variations in activity and boldness can affect food acquisition, encounter rates with predators and even the likelihood of an individual being captured by sampling or harvesting gear."

For instance, when my a-hole friend drinks a lot, he becomes that obnoxious guy who hoards the pretzels and wants to fight everyone. Then he ends up stuck in the bathroom stall in a puddle I won't describe.

"We observed that most of the individuals in our experiments were very responsive to changes in temperature, dramatically increasing their levels of activity, boldness and aggressiveness as a function of increases of only a few degrees of temperature."

Even small changes in alcohol consumption can result in a-hole behavior in certain individuals. I relate this to drinking whiskey.

The authors' conclusions:
Small increases in temperature can cause fish with certain predispositions to become 30 times more aggressive. This has important implications for the careful control of temperature in studies of behavior. The findings also suggest there may be a correlation between energy metabolism and personality in ectotherms.

My "So what?":
Don't drink with Andrew.

Boom! Real world applicability! Feel free to try this technique next time you read a journal article or scientific news. You will certainly learn something useful.

(To check out this article further, go here.)

And speaking of a-holes, this is too good not to share...


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Even small changes in alcohol consumption can result in a-hole behavior in certain individuals. I relate this to drinking whiskey.