Weather Science

Our tepid Yuletide, by the numbers.

It’s easy, whenever there’s a seemingly radically different year or month’s worth of weather to start talking Climate Change. The truth is: climate and weather are very different things.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson had an interesting illustration of this in his Nova series. The whole episode is below for you to enjoy. But climate is like a man walking a dog, which is weather. The dog can bound from one side of it’s master to the other, sniffing back and forth, or higher and lower for the purposes of our discussion. But the master defines the range in which the dog can move.

Similarly, we can experience great shifts of temperature, year over year, without them affecting the overall climate. Even more importantly from the perspective of planet-wide climate: one region’s weather does not a climate make.

Still, this past December was extraordinary. It’s one thing to have a “Brown Christmas,” of which every Rochesterian is acquainted. It is quite another to experience 70 degree temps for Christmas!

So, here’s a quick summary of the muddy Christmas of 2015, so you can really tell your grandkids. Someday..

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You could train a baboon to work at a dollar store: U of R and SPZ study

In still more primate news for this week, it now turns out that yet another tenet of human arrogation goes up in a huff of baboon fur. It turns out that, given the choice of more or less treats in a cup, Seneca Park Zoo olive baboons proved they understand numbers just fine.

The baboons were given a choice of two cups, each containing a random selection of one to eight peanuts, to choose from. Based on their snap assessment of which cup had the greater number of treats, the baboons got to keep their booty. And after 54 trials with eight baboons, the research revealed that they were able to come up with the right answer 75% of the time:

Count on it: Baboons ‘know’ numbers

The baboons’ choices clearly relied on the “more than” or “less than” cognitive approach, known as the analog system. The baboons were able to consistently discriminate pairs with numbers larger than three as long as the relative difference between the peanuts in each cup was large.

Research has shown that children who have not yet learned to count also depend on such comparisons to discriminate between number groups, as do human adults when they are required to quickly estimate quantity.

So yeah. The next time you think the clerk at the Dollar General may have gotten the count wrong of your items despite having picked each one up, maybe you realize the reason is that they’re using the same cognitive appraisal technique as babies and your buddies in the new expansion of the SPZ.