Interviewee: Dr. Marc Schmidt, Professor of Biology, University of Pennsylvania

Interviewer: Hope Merens, PhD Student in the Biological Sciences, Harvard University

Have you ever wondered how a songbird knows the song that it sings? How successful are different songs at attracting female songbirds, and how do females decide what songs they like? What are the neurological underpinnings of these amazing behaviors, and how are scientists studying them?

Join our Pint-Sized Science episode today as we attempt to answer these questions with Dr. Marc Schmidt, a professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, who specializes in the study of songbird behavior and neurobiology. After listening to this episode, please check out sitn.hms.harvard.edu/science-by-the-pint/ for upcoming episodes and series updates.

One thought on “Pint-Sized Science: How do songbirds learn their songs?

  1. I am so grateful for your invitation. Science can only profit from Seance. By that I mean that it is really only a means of NEGATION and can only be imposed as a kind of ECCLESIASTIC PRIVILEGED INSIGHT. I have read 600+ CoV2/Covid19 related articles and wonder: WHERE THE HELL DOES CDC/FDA GET THE BALLS TO SAY SOME OF THE CRAP THEY SAY? Alas, my field of academic involvement is neuroscience but my clinical involvement stretches me rather thin. Last time I had an advanced virology course was in the 1980s. But Science to the Rescue had never seemed as “Trumpish” as it does now. It is that way because grantsmanship has turned scientists into Leibniz “monads,” each one married to the partner (ie. grant application) that brought him/her to the dance. To now give us a place where we can play dumb on anything– but each event rationally structured– is a brilliant idea because, like the three blind Indian men, we are all palpating different parts of the same colossus. So when something interesting, especially if exciting, we all throw together an impression of how it fits on the whole of the elephant we probably will never get to palpate, and then we’re stuck defending it because if we can’t we end up defeated and branded as ignorant slobs. Our minds were never wired for us to know the essence of everything, so we each pick a patch and feel it until the other blind men doing the same with either the same or other patches, as if our academic preparation certified that we are trained to FEEL THE TRUTH. My own are seems somewhat like a Jesuit order, you do academic research, but at the same time you fit it into a theological order as advance man for the Pope. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that as the readings go to flat-line, I do believe the patient’s soul goes to Heaven. But that’s not science, that’s Faith. On the other hand, the current Global Science System seeking to deal with the CoV2 pandemic, seems not much different from Trump’s “press conferences.” Medicine has become statistical in a desperate effort not to get all tangled in the “causality” philosophical debates. In my prime, scientists were so widely funded that the task was to become a guru in your own narrow area. Egos were the pistons that drove science. But today, if you have a big ego, then you’re like the Great White Shark: a most ferocious and overwhelming impression, but, as you all know, they are disappearing because all sorts of little people are killing them off as trophies. A scientist today, to survive, has got to learn how to avoid giving a stupid answer to a stupid question. If you find yourself doing that, maybe you should have gone into marketing instead of science. Let’s face it, neurosurgeons probably never took more than first year college physics. Yet, electricity is the basis of their trade. But it is a tool and a theory for them. For example, I never had a colleague who could cogently answer my dilemma: How the hell is ionic current at the presynaptic level transformed into chemical transmission, causing neurons to faithfully transmit information? Of course, we only “suck” and “cook” away bleeders and leave it to neuroscientists who spent a quarter century to be “qualified” and then really abandoned that question to computer scientists to “model.” I may be exaggerating, but the distinction between a priest who prays with you to God to make you well and a neurosurgeon who lays a wire in your Subthalamic Nucleus attached to a subcutaneous battery pack that the patient taps whenever he feels a tremor is coming on, isn’t much different in terms of sheer, “gee I HOPE….” than a priest or a race track booky!

    600+ articles on Corona later, I called CDC “scientists” in May worried about CoV2 and bugs. I asked them what’s the protocol for a wasp, mosquito, tic, or any other insect bite. The answer was succinct: “You don’t know the protocol for insect bite!” Challenged as unqualified in the practice of healthcare, I clarified that I meant relative to CoV2, to which the response NUMEROUS TIMES was “Oh, we have no indication of insect bite transmitted CoV2 so don’t worry about it!” So, I asked, “Why can’t you just say you don’t know?” To which the answer repeatedly was: “I didn’t say that, I said that we have no indication, so don’t worry about it!” So, I waited another three months and expecting that someone wight have set up some experiment like that on transmission through a mask, and the answer was the same. Ditto for deer feces, desiccated by the sun and aerosolized by the sun, though deer to get infected. Science, it seems, gives us crisp “modeled” answers to all out fear ridden questions about the CoV2 pandemic, but for those with an insect bite, “don’t worry about it.” Well, I think now all scientists and clinicians kind of realize that, despite the free PDF’s of journals submissions, We’re trying hard to stay just between “I Don’t know” and “I know,” leaving it to an orange orangutan to give the answer. “There’s seems to be a failure to communicate,” is a term all Dept of State FSO wanna be’s learn to say convincingly whenever we get into a war they never anticipated. But what do you call it when scientists and clinicians are having food fights on Cable TV News? Perhaps: “I DON’T KNOW” is a damned good place to start when you want the confidence of all those “little non-PhD people”out there whose taxes fund your academic lab in the sky. As the balance tilts between scientists who are funded by the people and those funded by “:entrepreneurs”– a pejorative French term meaning “taker in the middle”– it’s pretty clear that science and medicine, side by side, don’t seem to be able to punch their way out of a paper bag. But before ya’ all had your PhDs and MDs or MES degrees, you all were “little people” too. You spoke “plain speech” and you were wondering or fearing just like the “little guy” who DID NOT read 600+ papers on Corona Virus. That the “little people no longer “give a s–t” about what the 600+ papers on Google Scholar said and are now going back to their “kissy, kissy” lives with abandon is an indictment on the Science/Healthcare Community. Dr Fauci– my hero of the bad old AIDS days when some thought that HIV might pass through latex surgical gloves and so if you had a tiny cut on a finger that you didn’t know about you might suffer the same fate as the poor nurse that got a puncture wound in the ER, his reassuring “we’re getting there, we’re getting there” kept us in the game– seemed rather “Trumpy” when he called the Korean and German CoV2 tests “sub-par,” as what NIH came out with was junk! And he’s still at Evangelical pronouncements as Dr. Birx is with her ritualistic models of faith. Science seems to have done little beyong that of the scientists in Wuchan!
    So, now that we’re established as angles with clipped wings and revoked flying licences, perhaps we can now be more modest and seek to plug -in the very public that lost faith in science and just wants the “lock-down” over so they can go to church and try praying in desperation as in the ’50s movie “War of the Worlds.” Let’s see if we can make them understand the quest and appreciated the effort so that they, the taxpayers, insist that the dubious search for truth be fully funded. We all like to take kids into the lab so we can talk them into working hard and become our grantsmanship competitors (surely we’ll all be securely retired by then). Alas, were not sociable herbivores but competitive to the death carnivores, conferences and tutorials notwithstanding. Perhaps in learning to talk to eachother we might just learn how to talk to the public. And then, it will be damn generous with us, failures and all! Science is sociology, just as smaller animals are a meal for carnivores. We just have o learn to be more social, more pedagogic ( not like teaching assistants with a “sink or swim” attitudes towards undergads) so as to show CARING for the orientation of our benefactors that will keep us hopeful and searching doing research until we drop. Stalin once said, “If I could control Madison Avenue, I could rule the world.” The motto of scientists should be: the better I explain the problem to the people, the better their faith in me and support for my work.” The more scientists become the whores of “entrepreneurs,” the sooner the day when scientists find themselves on the end of pitchforks and in burning fires. Don’t let Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Ticktock fool you. Unless beloved of the public, scientists are just whores. I pray that this site becomes a sunrise for public understanding of how scientists grope about blind but still stumble into so many amazing things that gathering crumbs and giving these to them so they can stay alive is a wonderful thing!

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