Sunday, 9 February 2014

Control Freak

The BBC has been on a roll  showing some experiments on TV of late - I'll try and cover Horizon's "fat vs sugar" . I stumbled across an even better example yesterday. The show is called "Inside the animal mind" by presenter Chris Packham  (who i still remember as the "really wild road show" presenter from decades ago). I was watching it mainly because i was curious as to see how animals view the world differently - something they achieve quite well. What I wasn't expecting was for them to be conducting experiments and actually explaining the concept of experimental controls.

I'll list a couple of examples

  • When testing whether a wolf or dog has a different hierarchy for responding to visual or olfactory stimuli - they had an experiment where food was present in two cups first then followed up with an experiment where the food was only in one cup. They also conceded the wolf used wasn't truly wild.

  • When testing whether strong magnets deter sharks (due to their magnetic sense) they placed tuna in the centre of a circle of strong magnets. In case the sharks were just apprehensive of black circles they had a circle of bricks (identical in appearance to the magnets) with tuna in the centre. These two circles were side by side - while the sharks repeatedly took tuna from the control circle, they never never took tuna from the magnetic circle.
There were several other neat little experiments where controls were mentioned or limitations clearly pointed out. They also liked to point out that n numbers are vital. The more times you conduct an experiment the more accurate the results become.

Basically my inner control freak was very happy with this show. There appears to be at least one additional episode so I look forward to seeing more experiments.

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