Understanding Animal Communication

Understanding Animal Communication Bat and Hone Bee

We all remember the movie about a man who could uniquely talk to animals. Reports tell us that portable sensors and artificial intelligence may make a form of human-animal communication possible. Unlike that movie and the work of Penny Patterson using sign language to communicate with Koko the gorilla, the research goal is understanding animal communication instead of expecting them to use human language. Researchers use digital bioacoustics to record the animals and artificial intelligence to interpret what they say.

So far, scientists have studied the communication of bats and bees. Using tiny digital bioacoustic recorders, researchers at Tel Aviv University have gathered bat communication at frequencies above the limit of human hearing, over 20,000 hertz. Computers lower the frequency and slow it down to make it audible to humans, and artificial intelligence compiles the data to make it intelligible. Gerry Carter at Ohio State University has determined that bats have individual names, or “signature calls.” They argue over food, and mother bats communicate with their babies.

Understanding animal communication can involve more than sounds. Dr. Tim Landgraf at Freie Universitat in Berlin has deciphered bee communication, which involves both sounds and body movement. He has decoded the signals which tell other bees where to find nectar or warn of danger. Landgraf even built a robot name RoboBee that can enter a hive and control what the bees do. For example, when he put nectar in a place where no honeybee had visited and then told the bees where the nectar was, they went there.

Helping animals avoid pollution and directing them to safe food sources are potential applications of this technology. It is essential to understand the big difference between communication and language. These examples and future research with animals involve communication. Language is far more than communication and deals with culture, morals, and symbolism. As this field of understanding grows, its uses will also increase, and ethical concerns will become apparent.

One has to wonder how Adam and Eve communicated in the garden. They certainly did not speak English. Bat communication is obviously different from bee communication. Understanding animal communication is challenging since every animal is different, but that shows another level of design that science is just now beginning to understand. The more we learn about the creation, the more we have to be amazed at the wisdom of the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “How Scientists are Using AI to Talk to Animals” in Scientific American for May 2023, pages 26-27.

James Watson’s Racial Remarks

James Watson's Racial Remarks
One of the most famous scientists in recent history is James Watson. Watson along with Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, and they received a Nobel Prize for their work. Even though he is 90 years old, Watson has been highly sought after as a speaker. James Watson’s racial remarks have changed things.

In early January of 2019, Watson was interviewed in a PBS documentary titled “American Masters: Decoding Genetics.” In that interview, he said that “genes are responsible for inferior intelligence among blacks.” There are so many problems with this claim that it is hard to know where to start. There are valuable lessons to be learned as well.

The claim that blacks have inferior intelligence is a very ignorant statement. I have a degree in psychometry which is the study of tests and how they are constructed and used. I.Q. tests are loaded with cultural bias, and there are many different types of I.Q. In my early days working under David Segal at Indiana University, I studied the Stanford-Benet I.Q. test and the Otis I.Q. test. As a personal demonstration of the problems with I.Q., my foster son Tim would consistently score 40-50 on the Stanford-Benet test, and yet he would score 90-100 on the Otis. The Otis was a test based on verbal skills. Because we read to Tim regularly during his childhood years, he had average verbal skills. The Stanford-Benet was not verbal but was based on reasoning. Tim was and is mentally challenged in those areas.

Many blacks do score lower on I.Q. tests that were written by upper-class whites in New England. On an I.Q. test written by a black author raised in a profoundly racist geographic area, blacks have better scores than whites. Unbiased testing does not support Watson’s assumption that blacks have inferior intelligence.

Another issue is that there are different kinds of intelligence. Koko, the gorilla trained by Penny Patterson, could use the sign language of the deaf. His I.Q. score was in the 90s, close to normal human values, on a test that measured literary capability. On a test that measured scientific reasoning, the scores were far lower. That test measured a different kind of intelligence.

Because of James Watson’s racial remarks, the laboratory he once led stripped him of honorary titles. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory immediately printed a statement saying Watson’s comments were “reprehensible and completely without a scientific basis and were a misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

The Bible describes humans as created in the image of God, and condemns all attempts to separate humans on any criteria. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Because a man is an expert in one field of study does not mean his opinions should be held superior to others. Watson is an expert on DNA. He is not an expert on racial origins or how our understanding of the function of DNA impacts areas as nebulous as intelligence. James Watson’s racial remarks make that clear.
–John N. Clayton © 2019