Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Let’s End STEM

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

It seems like not a day goes by that I don’t see an article published in all fields promoting the need for our education system to focus on Stem – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Teaching critical thinking is for sure something we must do and hopefully a good science and engineering education will do that.

However, I truly believe we need to forget STEM and concentrate on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.

I can’t enumerate the number of technical graduates I have met in my long career who have a very narrow field of interests, mostly if not exclusively technology. Place them into a social setting and if the conversation doesn’t come around to technology they soon become silent. What I have found is that the most creative of technologists I have met are well rounded people with broad interests, studying the liberal arts not only makes them interesting people to be around it appears to boost their creativity in their highly technical fields.

So, let’s try to drop that extra letter “A” into STEM and go full STEAM ahead with the next generation of creative technologists.
Keep soaring … Sid.

Without a shadow of a doubt – really?

Monday, May 18th, 2015

“It’s a scientific fact, without a shadow of a doubt!”

Well how many times do you read that and think one of two things; “rock solid truth” or “really?” If you really understand what science is and how its practitioners work you should have answered “really?”

This may surprise some readers given that I am a really strong proponent of using a science based approach to teaching and training both our fellow humans and the animals we share our lives with. The strength of the scientific method is not that once a fact is proven it is incontrovertible and set in stone forever. It is this “set in stone” perception that I believe has caused many previous supporters of the scientific method to begin to question it. How many remember when scientists announced that eggs and butter were bad for our health only to later reverse that position? If one were in the camp that said scientific facts are set in stone I am sure it would rock (pun intended) one’s faith in science.

What science presents is the best knowledge to date on a particular subject. That knowledge is based upon carefully conducted experiments with methodical collection and analysis of the resultant data.

The scientific method depends upon several crucial points:

  1. Peer review of the testing process, results collection, and of the methods used to evaluate a hypothesis.
  2. Repeatability of the experiment by independent researchers.
  3. Ongoing openness of the participants and scientific community to challenging established “facts.”

The first two points act as a cross-check of not only the premise of the test scenario but also the methodology used to collect and analyze the results. There have been several cases in the popular press that demonstrate these two points in action, e.g. the attempt to link vaccination with autism.

However it is the third point that in my opinion truly drives knowledge forward. If once a theory was established it was set in stone there would be little progress towards new knowledge in the area covered by the theory. The major force for advancement of knowledge is a skeptical reader, someone who when they read a new theory asks themselves “really? Is that really all there is to it?”

It is this last point that I feel should be taught in our schools, all our schools from pre-K onward. In fact I feel so strongly about this being a driving force for our society’s future I believe it should be a prime objective of parents to instill a respectfully questioning mind in all our children.

You may be wondering why this subject popped up on a bird training blog? The fact is that I was inspired to write it while reading a bird related post online today where the writer used the “without a shadow of a doubt” phrase. It is becoming one of two pervasive approaches to information; either because a researcher establishes a position it is set in stone or science is always wrong so discard it. What we need in all aspects of our lives is, not surprisingly, somewhere between the two. What we need is “respectful skepticism.” This will lead to new discoveries and to growth of the human knowledge base.

Keep soaring,

The Instant Expert

Friday, May 24th, 2013

I have a new post over on the Companion Bird World Blog … just a short one. Hop over and take a look.



Extinction Defined

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

One often hears about this procedure in connection with undesirable behaviors such as excessively loud vocalization by companion parrots. It is also a term that is often used incorrectly so here is a short discussion of extinction.

In operant training, the procedure of withholding the reinforcers that maintain a behavior.
Paul Chance – Learning and Behavior.

While this is fairly simple to understand there are a couple of challenges with the use of this procedure. First it requires that the trainer really knows what the reinforcers are that are maintaining a behavior. In addition to this the trainer needs control of those reinforcers and sometimes the reinforcers are not in our control, making the application of extinction just not possible.

There is one more term that is worth discussing here with extinction and that is the extinction burst.

A sudden increase in the rate of behavior during the early stages of extinction.
Paul Chance, Learning and Behavior.

This effect of the extinction procedure is one that can set the caretaker of the parrot up to end up reinforcing a higher level vocalization just because they cannot stand the extinction burst level and they reinforce the higher level by reacting to it. This reinforcement, because it is not delivered after every vocalization is what is called intermittent reinforcement. A term to be discussed in a future article. For now the important part of understanding intermittent reinforcement is that it builds behavior that is more resistant to extinction. This serves to make the effective application of an extinction procedure even more difficult.


Training and Behavior Terms – Punishment

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Welcome to the second in this series of short articles about training terminology. If you missed the first installment you can find it here.

All of the definitions used in this series are taken from “Learning and Behavior” by Paul Chance. Anyone who is interested in getting good solid information about behavior science should seriously consider purchasing a copy of this book.

Let’s take a look at one of the most emotive of all the behavior science terms and one that is probably the most misunderstood and sadly among the most common of strategies used for behavior change in our society.


The procedure of  providing consequences for a behavior that reduce the strength of that  behavior.
Learning and Behavior, Paul Chance.

Once again, like reinforcement, punishment is a procedure and not a tangible object or thing. It is the process of applying or removing a stimulus immediately after a behavior and observing that behavior reduce in strength or frequency in the future. What punishment is not is something the bird deserved or “had coming.” There is no judgment involved in punishment from the behavior perspective.

I have seen it written that if behavior reduces then punishment must be the procedure being used. This is not absolutely true and in a future article we will discover other procedures that while they may reduce a behavior they do not involve the use of punishment.

It is worth noting here that using punishment is a strategy that brings a number of unwanted side effects. These side effects not only undermine the relationship between bird and caregiver they also may have profound effects upon the bird and its future behavior.  In our hierarchy of choices of strategies for behavior change punishment falls well below reinforcement.

I hope you enjoy these short articles, if you have a term that you find confusing or would simply like better defined and explained please feel free to email me.

Keep soaring,