Face Value: Eyebrows

In Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions, Princeton professor of psychology Alexander Todorov delves into the science of first impressions. Throughout the month of May, we’ll be sharing examples of his research. 

 

Todorov

It is easier to recognize Richard Nixon when his eyes are removed than when his eyebrows are removed from the image. Our intuitions about what facial features are important are insufficient at best and misleading at worst.

 

Based on research reported in

  1. Sadr, I. Jarudi, and P. Sinha (2003). “The role of eyebrows in face recognition.” Perception 32, 285–293.

Todorov

Bird Fact Friday – Harris’s Hawks hunt cooperatively

Credit William S. Clark

From page 190-191 in Raptors of Mexico and Central America:

The Harris’s Hawk preys mainly on mammals, especially rabbits, and birds, but also lizards and insects. They hunt on the wing and from perches. Cooperative hunting occurs more often in winter. Unlike many buteos, they don’t hover. They perch more horizontally than other raptors and are often seen in groups of up to a dozen individuals, especially in winter. They breed cooperatively, often with polygamy and nest helpers. A large stick nest is built in small to large trees and sometimes on power poles and cell towers.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America
William S. Clark & N. John Schmitt
With a foreword by Lloyd Kiff
Introduction | Sample Plate

Raptors are among the most challenging birds to identify in the field due to their bewildering variability of plumage, flight silhouettes, and behavior. Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the first illustrated guide to the region’s 69 species of raptors, including vagrants. It features 32 stunning color plates and 213 color photos, and a distribution map for each regularly occurring species. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, age-related plumages, status and distribution, subspecies, molt, habitats, behaviors, potential confusion species, and more.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the essential field guide to this difficult bird group and the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world.

Dominic Couzens: The extraordinary (and overlooked) water shrew

water shrewAsk most people whether they have heard of a water shrew and they’ll shake their head. If you tell them that there are 1.9 million water shrews in Britain and that they have a poisonous bite, then those same people are likely to raise their eyebrows, amazed they have never heard of it. The water shrew (not a water vole or a “water rat”) manages to keep a remarkably low profile for the extraordinary creature that it is.

Shrews are the mammals that look superficially like mice—they are small, brown and furry—yet are quite unrelated to them. They are flatter-bodied than mice and don’t hop, and have long snouts that move around in a somewhat robotic, mechanical fashion as they seek food. With small eyes (they are related to the almost-blind moles) and small ears, shrews lack the features that give mice and voles an easy identity to humankind. Shrews don’t live indoors or steal our food, either; they subsist on a diet of insects and other small living things. So shrews aren’t exactly on our doorsteps, asking to be noticed.

But shrews cross our paths alright, even if we aren’t looking. They are among the most abundant of all our mammals. Aside from the water shrew, there are 42 million common shrews and 8.6 million pygmy shrews in Britain; a veritable army of voracious insect- and worm-guzzlers living at our feet. They prefer to live in long grass, dense shrubbery, and other places where it’s easy to hide.

And, of course, they choose the waterside, too. The water shrew, the largest and best-turned out of our three common species, with its smart white underside contrasting with business-suit-black above, is the most aquatic of the three. Although it is perfectly at home in undergrowth away from water, its signature hunting method is to immerse in still or slow-flowing water, diving down to depths of 2m or more for up to 30 seconds, to snap up crustaceans, insect larvae, snails, worms, and small vertebrates such as newts, frogs, and fish. It is the only British mammal adapted to tap into this underwater niche of small freshwater life.

As it happens, the water shrew can also tackle prey larger than itself, by means of its remarkable venomous saliva, which immobilizes frogs or fish. The venom is a neurotoxin, causing paralysis and disorders of the blood and respiratory system. It is toxic enough to be a very unpleasant skin irritatant in humans that may take days to subside.

The water shrew has several adaptations to its preferred aquatic lifestyle. The surface of each foot is fringed with stiff hairs, increasing the area of the limb, like a flipper, allowing this mite to swim efficiently. The tail also has stiff hairs on the underside, making it act like a rudder, for steering. The hairs on the body also trap a layer of air, keeping the shrew warm underwater, even in the middle of winter.

Shrews, although small, don’t hibernate. Instead they must remain active throughout the winter, requiring a meal at least every two hours, day and night. It isn’t easy to sustain, and many shrews don’t survive. In fact, almost every adult dies after a single breeding season, meaning that only the juveniles born during the spring and summer survive to the next season—just another extraordinary aspect of this overlooked animal’s life.

Dominic Couzens is one of Britain’s best-known wildlife writers. His work appears in numerous magazines, including BBC Wildlife and BBC Countryfile, and his books include Secret Lives of Garden Wildlife and Britain’s Mammals: A Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Ireland.

Hay Festival: A Literary Vacation

Hay Festival is an annual literature festival that takes place in Hay-on-Wye in Wales. In 2001, Bill Clinton described it as, “the Woodstock of the mind.” This year, Hay Festival takes place 25 May – 4 June, bringing writers and readers together to share stories and ideas in events that inspire, examine, and entertain. Here at PUP, we’re looking forward to seeing many of our highly celebrated authors participate in lectures and panel discussions. Get your tickets here.

Peter Singer
Ethics in the Real World
Saturday, 27 May 2017 2:30pm

Singer

Robbert Dijkgraaf
The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
Saturday, 27 May 2017 5:30pm

Dijkgraaf

Gilles Kepel
Terror in France
Sunday, 28 May 2017 1:00pm

Kepel

Kevin Laland
Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony
Tuesday, 30 May 2017 2:30pm

Laland

Alexander Todorov
Face Value
Tuesday, 30 May 2017 4pm

Todorov

Lawrence Bee
Britain’s Spiders
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 4pm

Bee

Roger Penrose
Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe
Thursday, 1 June 2017 5:30pm

Penrose

Tuesday’s Trot – Belgian

From page 166 in Horses of the World:

5 things you should know about the Belgian draft horse, the most powerful of all draft horses:

1. The Belgian draft horse is tall, very massive, and very muscular. It can easily surpass a ton in weight.

2. The Belgian draft horse is a very ancient breed, and it is the descendant of strong medieval chargers that carried armored knights, notably the horses of Flanders: Ardennais, Brabançon, and Flemish.

3. In the past the breed contributed to the creation or the improvement of other draft horses, such as the Suffolk Punch and Clydesdale. Its power made it the preferred farm horse before the appearance of tractors. By refusing to cross their breed the Belgians succeeded in preserving its specific qualities.

4. It is probably the most powerful of all draft horses. But it is a docile horse, calm and very cooperative.

5. In Belgium it is considered a national treasure, and its breeding is supported by the state.

Horses of the World
Élise Rousseau
Illustrated by Yann Le Bris
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Sample Entry

Horses of the World is a comprehensive, large-format overview of 570 breeds of domestic and extant wild horses, including hybrids between the two and between domestic breeds and other equids, such as zebras. This beautifully illustrated and detailed guide covers the origins of modern horses, anatomy and physiology, variation in breeds, and modern equestrian practices. The treatment of breeds is organized by country within broader geographical regions—from Eurasia through Australasia and to the Americas. Each account provides measurements (weight and height), distribution, origins and history, character and attributes, uses, and current status. Every breed is accompanied by superb color drawings—600 in total—and color photographs can be found throughout the book.

Describing and depicting every horse breed in existence, Horses of the World will be treasured by all who are interested in these gorgeous animals.

Browse Our New History of Science & History of Knowledge 2017 Catalog

Our new History of Science and History of Knowledge catalog includes a fascinating account of the spread of Einstein’s theory of relativity, a timeless defense of the value of basic research, and a new history of archaeology from Eric Cline.

In The Road to Relativity, Hanoch Gutfreund and Jürgen Renn explored Einstein’s original paper, “The Foundation of General Relativity”. Gutfreund and Renn’s new book, The Formative Years of Relativity, follows the spread and reception of Einstein’s theory, focusing in particular on the Princeton lectures that formed the basis for his 1922 book, The Meaning of Relativity. Drawing on Einstein’s letters and contemporary documents, many of which are reproduced within, The Formative Years of Relativity provides invaluable context for perhaps the most important scientific breakthrough of the twentieth century.

The Formative Years of Relativity by Hanoch Gutfreund and Jurgen Renn

In 1939, Abraham Flexner, founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study, wrote an essay on The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge arguing that basic research into fundamental questions has always driven scientific innovation and warning against focusing too narrowly on immediately “useful” knowledge. In a time where pressure is constantly increasing on researchers to apply themselves to practical problems, we are pleased to bring Flexner’s enduring essay back into print, accompanied by a new essay from the current director of the Institute he founded, Robbert Dijkgraaf.

Use

We can think of no better person to present the history of archaeology than Eric H. Cline, author of 1177 B.C. Cline’s Three Stones Make a Wall gives a vivid account of the legendary excavations and the formidable personalities involved in archaeology’s development from amateur’s pastime to cutting edge science. As capable with a trowel as he is with a pen, Cline draws on his three decades of experience on digs to bring the how and the why of archaeology to the page alongside the history.

Cline Jacket

Find these and many more new titles in our History of Science & History of Knowledge 2017 catalog.

Bird Fact Friday – Which vulture’s head color varies with mood?

Lesser Yellow-headed
Vulture. Adult. Credit William S. Clark

From page 95 in Raptors of Mexico and Central America:

The Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures forage for carrion by gliding low over wet open areas and are able to locate carrion by smell as well as by sight. They also spend lots of time perched on the ground or on a low fence post. Active flight is with slow, deep, deliberate wing beats on flexible wings. They soar and glide with wings in a strong dihedral, often rocking or teetering from side to side, rarely soaring high. Adults’ head color varies with mood; the head is redder when the vulture is excited. Cathartid vultures often bow their wings downward in a flex until the tips almost meet.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America
William S. Clark & N. John Schmitt
With a foreword by Lloyd Kiff
Introduction | Sample Plate

Raptors are among the most challenging birds to identify in the field due to their bewildering variability of plumage, flight silhouettes, and behavior. Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the first illustrated guide to the region’s 69 species of raptors, including vagrants. It features 32 stunning color plates and 213 color photos, and a distribution map for each regularly occurring species. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, age-related plumages, status and distribution, subspecies, molt, habitats, behaviors, potential confusion species, and more.

Raptors of Mexico and Central America is the essential field guide to this difficult bird group and the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world.

Face Value: Can you recognize the celebrities?

In Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions, Princeton professor of psychology Alexander Todorov delves into the science of first impressions. Throughout the month of May, we’ll be sharing examples of his research. 

 

Todorov

 

A: Justin Bieber and Beyoncé

 

Todorov

Peter Ungar on Evolution’s Bite

UngarWe carry in our mouths the legacy of our evolution. Our teeth are like living fossils that can be studied and compared to those of our ancestors to teach us how we became human. In Evolution’s Bite, noted paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar brings together for the first time cutting-edge advances in understanding human evolution and climate change with new approaches to uncovering dietary clues from fossil teeth to present a remarkable investigation into the ways that teeth—their shape, chemistry, and wear—reveal how we came to be. Ungar recently took the time to answer some questions about his new book.

Why do paleontologists care so much about teeth? What makes them so special?

PSU: Paleontologists care about teeth because oftentimes, that’s all we’ve got of extinct species to work out details of life in the past. Teeth are essentially ‘ready-made fossils,’ about 96% mineral, so they survive the ages much better than other parts of the body. They are special because they come into direct contact with food, and can provide a bridge to understanding diet in the past. We can tease out the details by studying their size, shape, structure, wear, and chemistry. Teeth connect us to our ancestors, and them to their worlds. I like to think of nature as a giant buffet of sorts. I imagine animals bellying up to the sneeze guard on this biospheric buffet with empty plate in hand. Teeth can teach us about the choices they make; and it’s those choices that help define a species’ place in nature. As the old adage goes, you are what you eat. Teeth are important because they can help us understand relationships between animals in the past and the worlds around them, and about their—and our—evolution.

Why do we have so many problems with our teeth today? Why do we get cavities, require braces, and have impacted wisdom teeth?

PSU: Think about how extraordinary your teeth are. They have to break food, without being broken themselves, up to millions of times over your lifetime. And they have to do it built from the very same raw materials as the foods you are eating. Nature is truly an inspired engineer, and it’s remarkable they last as long and function as well as they do. But they’re not perfect. Most of us today get cavities, and many of us have crooked front teeth, and impacted wisdom teeth. This is largely because of our diets. We eat mostly soft foods, loaded with highly-processed carbohydrates, especially refined sugars. Cavities form by erosion from acids produced by plaque bacteria. Feeding those bacteria diets high in carbohydrates, especially sugars, means more cavities. Also, when we eat soft foods as children, we don’t exercise our jaws enough to stimulate the growth they need to make room for all our teeth. The result is crowded lower incisors, uppers that jut out over the lowers in the front of the mouth, and impacted third molars in the back. It’s not that our teeth are too big for our jaws, it’s that our jaws don’t grow long enough to accommodate all our teeth. Most traditional foragers that eat tougher or harder foods have longer jaws, and so don’t suffer the sorts of orthodontic problems the rest of us have.

Do other species have these problems? If not, why are we so different?

PSU: I’ve seen cavities and evidence for gum disease in some non-human primates, particularly in species that eat a lot of fleshy, sugary fruit, but they’re much rarer than in us. There are very few early human fossils that provide evidence of dental disease in our distant past either. Again, it seems to be a mismatch between our diets today, and the foods that we evolved to eat. Our teeth are not designed for hamburgers and French fries, nor to be bathed in milkshake. If you want to see evidence of that mismatch, just smile and look in a mirror.

What was your motivation for writing a popular science book?

PSU: My PhD dissertation was 654 pages, mostly focused on a quarter of a square millimeter of the surface of some incisor teeth. Most academics are so narrow in their research focus that it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. I wrote this book to give myself the big picture, to give me an appreciation of the larger context into which my own work fits. Also, no more than half a dozen people actually read my dissertation cover to cover, and that includes my mother. Academics often feel like they’re speaking, but no one is listening. I wanted to reach a larger audience. This book at first glance seems to be about teeth – but it’s really about the biospheric buffet, and how environmental change over deep time swapped out items and choices available to our distant ancestors. The take-home message is that large-scale climate swings winnowed out the pickier eaters among us, and drove our evolution. Teeth are our window through which to see it. The most important message here is that climate changes, and species have to change to accommodate or die. That’s why we’re here. It’s a timely, important lesson.

As a scientist who has spent the last three decades studying evidence for the evolution of human diet, what do you think of today’s “Paleolithic diet” trend? And what was the ancestral human diet, anyway?

PSU: I’m not a fan. I like pizza and bagels too much. Still, there’s little doubt that our ancestors did not eat such things; so it makes sense that a discordance between the foods we evolved to consume and what we fuel ourselves with today can wreak havoc on our bodies. Try putting diesel in a car built to run on regular gasoline (actually, don’t). And people do lose weight when they cut refined carbohydrates and processed sugars from their diets. We could well benefit from eating more like our Stone Age ancestors, with menus like those in some popular diet books—you know, spinach salads with avocado, walnuts, diced turkey and the like. I am not a nutritionist, and cannot speak with authority about the nutritional costs of benefits of Paleolithic diets—but I can address their evolutionary underpinnings. Think about it this way. Any diet that drains the body of fat reserves means not meeting daily caloric needs. It is difficult to believe that nature would select for us to eat only foods that don’t provide the nutrients required to maintain the body. In fact, the whole idea of the Paleolithic diet is problematic. Even if we could (and we can’t) reconstruct the glycemic load, fatty acid, macro- and micronutrient composition, acid/base balance, sodium/potassium ratio, and fiber content of foods eaten at a moment in time in the past, the information would be meaningless for planning a menu. All these nutrients varied with food availability over space and time, as items on the biospheric buffet table were swapped in and out, so focusing on a single point in our evolution is futile. We’ve been a work in progress for millions of years. What was the ancestral human diet? The question itself makes no sense.

Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor and director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of Teeth: A Very Short IntroductionMammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity and Evolution’s Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins.

Tuesday’s Trot – Akhal-Teke

From page 302 in Horses of the World:

5 things you should know about the Akhal-Teke, a national emblem of Turkmenistan:

1. The Akhal-Teke is known for its characteristic and particularly striking golden or silver metallic shimmer, a quality rare among other horses.

2. Extremely elegant and sleek, the Akhal-Teke can be recognized at first sight. Its skin is extremely fine. In its country it is often protected by thick blankets which contribute to keeping its hair very short.

3. This breed, among the most ancient, a descendant of the ancient Turkoman horses, was once a fearsome war horse admired for its speed and endurance. The breed has influenced many saddle breeds, notably the Thoroughbred.

4. This exceptional horse probably has the best endurance of any breed in the world. Its uncommon resilience enables it to tolerate the most diverse climates, from extreme heat to extreme cold. This resilience and hardiness, to which is added great longevity, are rare in such a sport and competitive breed.

5. Its nature is delicate and sensitive, and it is best for experienced riders. It is said that it is a one-rider horse.

Horses of the World
Élise Rousseau
Illustrated by Yann Le Bris
Translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan
Sample Entry

Horses of the World is a comprehensive, large-format overview of 570 breeds of domestic and extant wild horses, including hybrids between the two and between domestic breeds and other equids, such as zebras. This beautifully illustrated and detailed guide covers the origins of modern horses, anatomy and physiology, variation in breeds, and modern equestrian practices. The treatment of breeds is organized by country within broader geographical regions—from Eurasia through Australasia and to the Americas. Each account provides measurements (weight and height), distribution, origins and history, character and attributes, uses, and current status. Every breed is accompanied by superb color drawings—600 in total—and color photographs can be found throughout the book.

Describing and depicting every horse breed in existence, Horses of the World will be treasured by all who are interested in these gorgeous animals.