Zoos Enrich Our Lives but Cost Animals Their Dignity, Says Bill Nye
Responding to the shooting of a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo, Bill Nye says the treatment of animals in zoos is plainly unethical. Yet zoos do have a role in maintaining the health of ecosystems.
Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life. In Seattle Nye began to combine his love of science with his flair for comedy, when he won the Steve Martin look-alike contest and developed dual careers as an engineer by day and a stand-up comic by night. Nye then quit his day engineering day job and made the transition to a night job as a comedy writer and performer on Seattle's home-grown ensemble comedy show “Almost Live." This is where “Bill Nye the Science Guy®" was born. The show appeared before Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, originating at KING-TV, Seattle's NBC affiliate. While working on the Science Guy show, Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. In between creating the shows, he wrote five children's books about science, including his latest title, “Bill Nye's Great Big Book of Tiny Germs." Nye is the host of three currently-running television series. “The 100 Greatest Discoveries" airs on the Science Channel. “The Eyes of Nye" airs on PBS stations across the country. Bill's latest project is hosting a show on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens." It's about environmentally responsible choices that consumers can make as they go about their day and their shopping. Also, you'll see Nye in his good-natured rivalry with his neighbor Ed Begley. They compete to see who can save the most energy and produce the smallest carbon footprint. Nye has 4,000 watts of solar power and a solar-boosted hot water system. There's also the low water use garden and underground watering system. It's fun for him; he's an engineer with an energy conservation hobby. Nye is currently the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, the world's largest space interest organization.
Bill Nye: So recently a four-year-old kid got into a gorilla enclosure in a zoo and the zoo officials decided in the safety of the kid they had to kill the gorilla. So here was an animal that was in his natural habitat in Africa doing his gorillatical thing. And he got captured and ended up in a zoo. And then the guy got shot because some kid crawled into his enclosure. It’s just – there’s no good thing about this. With that said my life was certainly enriched by going to zoos. I learned that even a giraffe could exist was an amazing thing to me. And the smell of the zoo was or is something I’ll never forget. It reminds me of farms, there’s animal excrement that has to be dealt with. And you see how much you have in common with these creatures. Is it ethical? I think we all agree it would be better no if we didn’t have zoos. If we had a way to interact with animals without causing them such hardship. Now the example from my personal experience which really affects me and affects my judgment on this. There was a guy named Ivan who was a gorilla brought to the United States in the 1960s. My recollection is 1962.
And he lived with a family in Tacoma, Washington. And they hung out. The gorilla was at the dinner table and they did gorilla-human interaction things, played games, did stuff. But the guy eventually got to be the 400 pound gorilla in the room and they had to put him in an enclosure in a cage that was concrete. And you could visit him in the B&I Department Store in Tacoma, Washington. And this is in the Pacific Northwest and this guy was a character, a feature, a tourist attraction. And I don’t know – I’m not a primate expert but I looked at Ivan. I looked him in the eye. We had a little meeting behind the glass and the guy wasn’t angry to me so much as bored. Like this sucks, you know, I got a rubber swing. Humans are interesting but it’s really not my deal. He got transferred to the Atlanta zoo and I visited him in the Atlanta zoo and he had it going on man. He had a big enclosure. He had girl gorillas. And you could just tell by the way he was walking around this does not suck. This is cool. That was my interpretation of Ivan’s emotions. I may be completely wrong about this but Ivan grew up with humans. He accepted humans. Humans were as much his pets as he was our pet. And so there was some crossover there that I found really compelling as a human.
Now there’ s another guy who’s in the Seattle zoo, the Woodland Park zoo and his name is Vip, very important person, Vip. And when you look at Vip he’s looking at you okay human, this kind of sucks. You are a skinny nothing and I could reach in there and I could strangle you and I could break you over my knee right now. And you know what else? I’m a vegetarian. Yet I want to mess you up because he can just tell that something went wrong. His people are huge. They’re living in a forest. They had it going on and now they’re stuck in this glass enclosure. There’s a lot of room I guess. There’s a waterfall or whatever but this is not what I had in mind growing up. So there’s these two gorillas have had a deep effect on my perception. If we had a way to interact with these creatures without causing them hardship it would be cool. And I will say as a kid my life was enriched by visiting zoos. So people have got to think this through and I say right now thinking about it it seems like humane enclosures where the animals don’t have to face predators, don’t have to have their offspring eaten literally by lions or dogs.
That’s not bad. But causing them hardship and shooting this guy, this is really troubling. Should the parents be sued? My brother who has raised four children just rails all the time about parents who are not attentive, parents who leave their kids unattended. So there’s something to that. Should that parent and that child pay the ultimate price for this transgression of the zoo enclosure not being four-year-old proof? Man, there’s not a clear cut answer. But I hope we all learn from this. Make the enclosures robust, the enclosures that exist now. Let us all rethink about the ethics of confining these primates that we’re so close to and let us promote diversity. One of the great things that may come from modern zoos is the ability to reintroduce these animals in the ecosystem. And another example that’s on my mind for everybody, for you to think about before we move away from this topic. Apparently using satellite imagery and park rangers experience walking around on the ground in Yellowstone, park service rangers and officials noticed that there were very few young trees growing along the banks of streams in Yellowstone.
And then wolves were reintroduced from a humane standpoint. Wolves are part of the ecosystem. Why should we always be shooting wolves or catching wolves and killing them and making wolf rugs or whatever we would do. And when the wolves were reintroduced young trees appeared again because the wolves were eating the elk that would eat the young shoots of the trees when the trees would grow along the banks of the streams. You would not think right way if you want more trees, bring in wolves. But that is apparently what happened. Ecosystems are very complicated. So the more diversity we can induce or reintroduce into ecosystems the better. So it is reasonable to me that zoos have a role in reintroducing megafauna, big animals. That’s very reasonable. But the kids getting in the enclosure and shooting the gorilla that is a lose-lose negotiation. I hope we all feel bad about that.
Recent spectacle surrounded a young boy, three years old, who climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo only to be grabbed by a 450-pound male gorilla. Working against time, and the gorilla’s temperament — the crowd’s panic spurred the gorilla on — the zoo’s animal felt the only way to keep the young boy safe was to shoot the gorilla.
"There’s no good thing about this." Says Bill Nye. "With that said, my life was certainly enriched by going to zoos."
Nye debates what is ethical about zoos. He describes Ivan, a famous gorilla that was first raised with a family in Tacoma, Washington, and "hung out" at the dinner table until he got too big. From there, he was transferred to a concrete enclosure in a mall, which wasn’t a healthy environment for him. After his transfer to the Atlanta Zoo, it was visible how much happier the great ape seemed.
"He had it going on. He had a big enclosure, he had girl gorillas. And you could just tell by the way he was walking around, this does not suck. This is cool. That was my interpretations of Ivan’s emotions," Nye describes.
Perhaps it was because Ivan was raised in a human environment. As a result, he was more accepting of humans, being around humans, and coexisting with humans. By comparison, other gorillas, like Vip of the Woodland Park Zoo, weren’t raised this way. They might consider the enclosures as being ‘stuck.’
"If we had a way to interact with these creatures without causing them hardship, it would be cool. And I will say as a kid, my life was enriched by visiting zoos. People have got to think this through."
Nye is for humane enclosures, where we as people could interact with the animals, and the risk of predatory attacks are low to none. We can learn so much from zoos, and they help educate children. Nye hopes everyone can learn from an incident like this, about how to make the enclosures, and the ethics of the enclosures themselves.
Zoos are important, both in helping preserve the endangered animals, and hopefully, getting them back to their deserved ecosystems. One day gorillas such as Vip could go back to their habitats, or the future offspring, if we play the cards right, and could educate us about their lives there.
Nye also describes the most useful role of zoos regarding the environment: repopulating static ecosystems to make them more diverse. Rangers at Yellowstone Park, for example, once noticed there were no saplings growing along the banks. After reintroducing wolves to the area, the young trees began to grow again because the wolves hunted the elk that were eating the saplings.
"It is reasonable to me that zoos have a role in reintroducing megafauna," says Nye.
Younger Americans support expanding the Supreme Court and serious political reforms, says new poll.
- Americans under 40 largely favor major political reforms, finds a new survey.
- The poll revealed that most would want to expand the Supreme Court, impose terms limits, and make it easier to vote.
- Millennials are more liberal and reform-centered than Generation Z.
A 2020 study published in the journal of Psychological Science explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- In 2019, researchers at Stanford Engineering analyzed the spread of fake news as if it were a strain of Ebola. They adapted a model for understanding diseases that can infect a person more than once to better understand how fake news spreads and gains traction.
- A new study published in 2020 explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.
- "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term," researchers on the project explained.
Previous studies on misinformation have already paved the way to a better understanding<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU1NzQ4NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjE2Mjg1Nn0.hs_xHktN1KXUDVoWpHIVBI2sMJy6aRK6tvBVFkqmYjk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C800%2C0%2C823&height=700" id="fc135" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="246bb1920c0f40ccb15e123914de1ab1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="fake news concept of misinformation and fake news in the media" />
How does misinformation spread?
Credit: Visual Generation on Shutterstock<p><strong>What is the "continued-influence" effect?</strong></p><p>A challenge in using corrections effectively is that repeating the misinformation can have negative consequences. Research on this effect (referred to as "continued-influence") has shown that information presented as factual that is later deemed false can still contaminate memory and reasoning. The persistence of the continued-influence effect has led researchers to generally recommend avoiding repeating misinformation. </p><p>"Repetition increases familiarity and believability of misinformation," <a href="https://engineering.stanford.edu/magazine/article/how-fake-news-spreads-real-virus" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the study explains</a>.</p><p><strong>What is the "familiarity-backfire" effect?</strong></p><p>Studies of this effect have shown that increasing misinformation familiarity through extra exposure to it leads to misattributions of fluency when the context of said information cannot be recalled. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620952797#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2017 study</a> examined this effect in myth correction. Subjects rated beliefs in facts and myths of unclear veracity. Then, the facts were affirmed and myths corrected and subjects again made belief ratings. The results suggested a role for familiarity but the myth beliefs remained below pre-manipulation levels. </p>
New research into fake news has uncovered something interesting about misinformation<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ddeac998508e09fb9d1b4691d6c20d28"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bJ5qUx1WOsg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>A 2020 study published in the journal of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620952797" target="_blank">Psychological Science</a> explores the idea that fake news can actually help you remember real facts better.</p><p>Fake news exposure can cause misinformation to be mistakenly remembered and believed. In two experiments, the team (led by Christopher N. Wahlheim) examined whether reminders of misinformation could do the opposite: improve memory for and beliefs in corrections to that fake news. </p><p>The study had subjects reading factual statements and then separate misinformation statements taken from news websites. Then, the subjects read statements that corrected the misinformation. Some misinformation reminders appeared before some corrections but not all. Then, subjects were asked to recall facts, indicate their belief in those recalls, and indicate whether they remembered the corrections and misinformation. </p><p>The results of the study showed that reminders increased recall and belief accuracy. These benefits were greater both when misinformation was recalled and when the subjects remembered that corrections had occurred. </p><p>Researchers on the project <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620952797" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explained</a>: "These findings demonstrate one situation in which misinformation reminders can diminish the negative effects of fake-news exposure in the short term."</p><p><strong>The conclusion: fake-news misinformation that was corrected by fact-checked information can improve both memory and belief accuracy in real information.</strong></p><p>"We examined the effects of providing misinformation reminders before fake-news corrections on memory and belief accuracy. Our study included everyday fake-news misinformation that was corrected by fact-check-verified statements. Building on research using fictional, yet naturalistic, event narratives to show that reminders can counteract misinformation reliance in memory reports," <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620952797" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the researchers</a> explained.</p><p>"It suggests that there may be benefits to learning how someone was being misleading. This knowledge may inform strategies that people use to counteract high exposure to misinformation spread for political gain," <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/afps-rtf101620.php" target="_blank">Wahlheim said</a>.</p>
The theory could resolve some unanswered questions.
- Most stars begin in binary systems, why not ours?
- Puzzles posed by the Oort cloud and the possibility of Planet 9 may be solved by a new theory of our sun's lost companion.
- The sun and its partner would have become separated long, long ago.
If most stars form in binary pairs, what about our Sun? A new paper presents a model supporting the theory that the Sun may have started out as one member of a temporary binary system. There's a certain elegance to the idea — if it's true, this origin story could resolve some vexing solar-system puzzles, among them the genesis of the Oort Cloud, and the presence of massive captured objects like a Planet Nine.
The paper is published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The Oort cloud
Image source: NASA
Scientist believe that surrounding the generally flat solar system is a spherical shell comprised of more than a trillion icy objects more than a mile wide. This is the Oort cloud, and it's likely the source of our solar system's long-term comets — objects that take 200 years or more to orbit the Sun. Inside that shell and surrounding the planets is the Kuiper Belt, a flat disk of scattered objects considered the source of shorter-term comets.
Long-term comets come at us from all directions and astronomers at first suspected their origins to be random. However, it turns out their likely trajectories lead back to a shared aphelion between 2,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun to about 100,000 AU, with their different points of origin revealing the shell shape of the Oort cloud along that common aphelion. (An astronomical unit is the distance from the Sun to the Earth.)
No object in the Oort cloud has been directly observed, though Voyager 1 and 2, New Horizons, and Pioneer 10 and 11 are all en route. (The cloud is so far away that all five of the craft will be dead by the time they get there.) To derive a clearer view of the Oort cloud absent actually imagery, scientists utilize computer models based on planetary orbits, solar-system formation simulations, and comet trajectories.
It's generally assumed that the Oort cloud is comprised of debris from the formation of the solar system and neighboring systems, stuff from other systems that we somehow captured. However, says paper co-author Amir Siraj of Harvard, "previous models have had difficulty producing the expected ratio between scattered disk objects and outer Oort cloud objects." As an answer to that, he says, "the binary capture model offers significant improvement and refinement, which is seemingly obvious in retrospect: most sun-like stars are born with binary companions."
"Binary systems are far more efficient at capturing objects than are single stars," co-author Ari Loeb, also of Harvard, explains. "If the Oort cloud formed as [indirectly] observed, it would imply that the sun did in fact have a companion of similar mass that was lost before the sun left its birth cluster."
Working out the source of the objects in the Oort cloud is more than just an interesting astronomical riddle, says Siraj. "Objects in the outer Oort Cloud may have played important roles in Earth's history, such as possibly delivering water to Earth and causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. Understanding their origins is important."
Image source: Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)/NASA
The gravitational pull resulting from a binary companion to the Sun may also help explain another intriguing phenomenon: the warping of orbital paths either by something big beyond Pluto — a Planet 9, perhaps — or smaller trans-Neptunian objects closer in, at the outer edges of the Kuiper Belt.
"The puzzle is not only regarding the Oort clouds, but also extreme trans-Neptunian objects, like the potential Planet Nine," Loeb says. "It is unclear where they came from, and our new model predicts that there should be more objects with a similar orbital orientation to [a] Planet Nine."
The authors are looking forward to the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory (VRO) , a Large Synoptic Survey Telescope expected to capture its first light from the cosmos in 2021. It's expected that the VRO will definitively confirm or dismiss the existence of Planet 9. Siraj says, "If the VRO verifies the existence of Planet Nine, and a captured origin, and also finds a population of similarly captured dwarf planets, then the binary model will be favored over the lone stellar history that has been long-assumed."
Missing in action
Lord and Siraj consider it unsurprising that we see no clear sign of the Sun's former companion at this point. Says Loeb, "Passing stars in the birth cluster would have removed the companion from the sun through their gravitational influence. He adds that, "Before the loss of the binary, however, the solar system already would have captured its outer envelope of objects, namely the Oort cloud and the Planet Nine population."
So, where'd it go? Siraj answers, "The sun's long-lost companion could now be anywhere in the Milky Way."
Logic puzzles can teach reasoning in a fun way that doesn't feel like work.
- Logician Raymond Smullyan devised tons of logic puzzles, but one was declared by another philosopher to be the hardest of all time.
- The problem, also known as the Three Gods Problem, is solvable, even if it doesn't seem to be.
- It depends on using complex questions to assure that any answer given is useful.