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Lawrence Krauss - The LHC, going to Mars, and the US Presidential campaign

Studying the fundamental structure of the universe won't replace studying climate change and other
important areas as has been suggested recently. Lawrence Krauss says sending people to Mars is
crazy as so much of the venture is spent on keeping the astronauts alive rather than from doing
science. Too little of the US presidential campaign mentions science, says Krauss, considering its
importance.

Robyn Williams: So the LHC and CERN duly opened to enormous fanfare and now it's shut again. The
big collider in Geneva is on hold, no God particles like the Higgs Boson until next year at the
earliest. What does Professor Lawrence Krauss from Arizona State University think of this
embarrassment?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, it's unfortunate but in the grand scheme of things it's just two months, and
it's such a complex machine, probably the most complex machine humans have ever created, so it
would have been very surprising if there weren't a few problems. Happily it doesn't threaten
anyone, and it's unfortunate for us scientists because we'd really like to get on with the answer,
but I think we can wait another few months.

Robyn Williams: When it is working, is it just one experiment? In other words, you find the Higgs
Boson, you have a party and that's it, it's over?

Lawrence Krauss: No. And, by the way, it will delay it a little longer because something people
don't realise I think is that what determines when it's running is the cost of electricity in
Geneva. So in fact they have to shut it down during the winter a lot of the time because the cost
of electricity is too great. But to get back to it, no, there's a lot more than one experiment.
It's opening a new window on the universe and we don't know what's going to be seen there. There
are, first of all, four major devices designed to look at different aspects of the fundamental
structure of matter, but the likelihood that we'll just see a Higgs Boson and go home is just
almost zero. It's much more likely that we will see things we never expected that will change our
picture of the fundamental structure of the universe and perhaps affect our understanding of the
origin and ultimate fate of the universe.

Robyn Williams: But for an experiment that is looking for the Higgs Boson, if they do a run and
they see something that looks like the aftermath of such a beast...because you don't actually see
the Boson, it's not sitting there saying 'Hi, you've found me, it's me, I'm coming out', what you
see is a sign of its having been there for incredibly small amounts of time. Is that something that
then means you shut down that experiment or do you keep doing it again?

Lawrence Krauss: If we are lucky enough to see the residue of the Higgs Boson early on, there's
still a host of questions we need to understand because in fact it would be surprising and very
disappointing if we just saw the Higgs Boson because if it's the only thing that's there then the
theory is very, very strange. We can't really understand why it would be there and nothing else. In
fact we're talking about a whole new symmetry of nature called super symmetry. So the very first
thing you want to learn about is the properties of the Higgs Boson because it's probably
responsible for giving mass to you and I and everything in the universe. But we also want to
understand why it's there and not somewhere else, why we can see it at the LHC, and those questions
involve a host of open puzzles, including why the universe is made of matter and not antimatter and
other fascinating issues.

Robyn Williams: Last week in The Science Show Dr David King, who was the chief scientist in Britain
and is now the head of a major school in Oxford, said that the world is facing such difficult
straits with environmental problems, with climate and so forth, that we should invest what we've
got in tackling them rather than billions of bucks on things like the LHC. What do you say to him?

Lawrence Krauss: I don't think it's either/or. It may seem like a lot of money, but I have to say,
in my own country we spend more than a billion dollars a day on a war in Iraq that we shouldn't be
in. Ten billion dollars spent over a decade is just not going to bankrupt the United States or
England or Australia. I think it's very important that we tackle the important pressing social and
technological issues like climate change, it's vitally important, but studying the fundamental
structure of the universe is not ultimately going to get in the way. And, moreover, you never know.
That's the key point.

Science at its best is done by planting many seeds, and you never know where the important results
are going to come that are ultimately going to have technological implications. So I think it's
really disingenuous to argue that somehow the LHC is stopping us from solving the problems of
global warming or inventing new energy sources. First of all, the amount of time, energy and money
that's going to be involved in those things is huge and it dwarfs really the amount we spend on
fundamental studies in particle physics or astrophysics. So I think it really is disingenuous to
suggest it's either/or.

Similar arguments have been made through history. In the 1960s I remember people were saying we
shouldn't go to the Moon because we have so many problems to solve. I generally think the thing
that gets in the way of solving problems is not the money we spend on fundamental research.

Robyn Williams: Would you go to Mars though now?

Lawrence Krauss: Right now? Well, I have some commitments!

Robyn Williams: Well, there is a limited science budget in every country, and that's a big one and
it doesn't necessarily have clear results that benefit science.

Lawrence Krauss: I agree with you, I think this notion of sending humans to Mars is just ridiculous
in the near term. First of all, it's impractical. We don't know how to get them there and have them
survive because of the cosmic rays, but the amount of money required...and it's a 40-year project,
and in fact human exploration of space is really overplayed. I have no problem with it for
adventure, but for a scientific purpose it's useless. The important science that's done is done by
not sending humans into space but by sending un-manned vehicles, the Hubble Space telescope or even
the rovers on Mars, because if you're sending humans into space you have to spend 99.9% of the
budget to get them back alive and leaving a very small percentage to do actual science. So, one
should never justify the human exploration of space on scientific grounds because it really doesn't
provide scientific results that are significant. The reason to explore space is adventure, and I
have nothing against it. In fact I think our long-term future involves space, living in space. But
what we learn by sending humans into space is how to keep humans alive in space and we basically
don't learn anything else.

Robyn Williams: Huge questions; climate, space, our future; how much are these being debated in the
presidential election in the United States?

Lawrence Krauss: Not enough. And as you know I've been spending a lot of time trying to get
questions of substance, and by that I mean questions related to science and technology debate, and
it's not for parochial reasons. If you think about all the major issues facing the next president;
economic innovation, climate change, energy, national security; they all have a scientific and
technical component and they haven't been discussed. So we have been trying to get a debate among
presidential candidates. That's been unsuccessful. But just a week or two ago I'm very excited that
we did get both of the major candidates to answer 14 questions on science and technology, to give
their responses, and you can go to www.sciencedebate2008.com and see their answers, and just today
we put on a vote...you can vote to see who gave the best answers.

Robyn Williams: Let's take them individually. What about McCain? What's his stance on science and
the broader questions involved?

Lawrence Krauss: You know, the interesting thing is that McCain on the whole in the past has been
both a supporter of science and also a supporter, importantly, of scientific integrity which is
something that's been lacking in the Bush administration. He's spoken out against censoring
information and appointing incompetent people onto review panels. Interestingly enough he's
moderated his talk, as he has in almost everything during this election, and I've been a little
disappointed by that because he seems to be backing off on a number of areas.

If you read his responses they're reasonably good but they're mostly...well, he finesses issues of
climate change, for example, which he says we need to address but he never actually agrees therein
that human industrial output has already impacted on climate. He says it might. And I suspect he's
under great pressure to step back from the truth, and I of course therefore am disappointed by
that.

He also in some sense has the problem that he has a sidekick now who doesn't believe in global
warming and as far as I know doesn't believe in evolution, and therefore it's going to be
interesting to see how he can balance trying to pretend or trying to be upfront about the
scientific issues and have as a vice-presidential candidate someone who clearly denies most of
modern science.

Robyn Williams: Well, if she's in the White House denying modern science, won't that have an
impact?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, that depends on what kind of vice-president she is. I'm hoping she won't be.
Policy is made by the president, and so one hopes that in the unfortunate eventuality that John
McCain...we're in Australia so I guess I can say that in the unfortunate eventuality that John
McCain becomes president, one hopes that the campaign rhetoric is just rhetoric to get elected and
he'll revert back to more sensible positions. The big concern of course is his health et cetera. He
has a tradition, I have to say this, of being at least pro-science and more importantly pro
scientific integrity, and one hopes that somehow that tradition will come back.

Obama's positions are much more carefully articulated, at least in the response. But the main thing
is to realise that sound public policy depends upon sound science, and as long as both candidates
recognise that then from the point of view of addressing these important issues it really doesn't
matter who's elected.

Robyn Williams: I see. Back in Arizona, where you come from, you work with an ex-colleague of mine,
Pauline Newman, and Paul Davies who used to be in Australia and comes back very often. What's your
job there at the State University of Arizona setting up a new outfit?

Lawrence Krauss: Yes, I'm very excited to be there with Paul and Pauline as well. I've gone there
to direct something called the Origins Initiative, which is going to be a new university-wide
initiative to explore questions ranging from the origin of the universe to the origins of life, the
origins of humans and cognition and culture. It's going to be both a new research institute and a
new way of trying to teach students as well as reach out to the public and we're going to have an
exciting event next April (which maybe you'll come to, I hope) which will be a meeting of
scientists to talk about these issues, accompanied by a public symposium which will have Stephen
Hawking, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Craig Venter, Brian Greene, me, and a bunch of other
people talking to the public all in the same day about...

Robyn Williams: No girls?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, in fact we're trying to...that's a good question...we're actually trying to
broaden it and we've asked, for example, Jane Goodall to come and I'm hoping she'll come. We're
trying to broaden and diversity, so stay turned. And in fact we'll have some cultural figures that
may surprise you as well.

Robyn Williams: Like Steven Spielberg, for instance. Name drop heaven. Professor Lawrence Krauss is
at Arizona State University in Phoenix, and his local senator, by the way, is John McCain.

Measuring sea level and the Earth

The Earth isn't a sphere. It is flattened at the poles. These days, the Earth is measured from
space. Sea level is measured by radar altimetry. The level of the sea changes by different amounts
in different places. Some areas of Sumatra have seas which are rising at a rate of 30mm/year. Other
areas in the Pacific are dropping by 20mm/year. A new mission, to be launched in October 2008 aims
at measuring the Earth's gravity field from space in very fine detail. This will provide a
reference point from which future changes can be measured.

Robyn Williams: Arizona is of course lumpy. Plenty of red sierras, mountains and hills, with
two-metre high cactuses all over. But can the sea be lumpy, and even be higher in some places than
others? Sounds daft, doesn't it! A bit like having hillocks in your bathwater or swimming pool.
Marek Ziebart from University College London is here to tell us what's going on and why. A new
mission is being sent off shortly to measure the surface variations.

Marek Ziebart: Actually go back to the time of Newton when a number of expeditions were made to
Greenland and South America to try to measure the shape of the surface of the Earth, and it was
that time when we realised that the Earth, rather than being spherical is in fact more flattened at
the poles somewhat. These days we're concerned with much finer resolution to understand the shape
of the Earth to use that as a reference surface against which to measure changes in the planet.

Robyn Williams: How do you measure that?

Marek Ziebart: There are many ways of doing it but the big revolution in the last, say, 20 years is
to measure the Earth from space by using probes in orbit that send down radio waves which bounce
off the surface and then we look at the pattern of those radio waves and from that we can
understand the shape of the fluid surface and the shape of the land masses.

Robyn Williams: Some people find it difficult to understand that the sea level might in fact be
different in different places. We assume that sea level is just that, universal. But how much does
it change?

Marek Ziebart: Over the last 12 years, using a technique called radar altimetry, we've been able to
measure changes in the oceans at very, very fine resolutions and over most of the ocean bodies.
Most people may have heard that we think sea level rises on average by about 1mm to 2mm per year,
but that's not true. In different places it changes very rapidly and by different amounts. I'll
give you an example. If you go to a place like Sumatra then our current estimates of sea level rise
there is about 30mm per year. In other places, in the Pacific for example, it could be dropping by
as much as 20mm per year. So the 1mm to 2mm per year is the average of all those effects, but the
signals in certain regions are very different.

Robyn Williams: Why doesn't it just reach the universal low level? Is it gravity?

Marek Ziebart: The shape of the surface is driven by the things that are pulling it. We have a mass
distribution within the Earth and that drives the shape of the fluid surface, but on top of that of
course is a dynamic system. The ice caps are melting, water is locked up in dams and in reservoirs,
so the whole thing is very dynamic.

Robyn Williams: So what is this new expedition that you're going to mount fairly shortly?

Marek Ziebart: The mission that we're talking about here is a mission called GOCE. The aim of this
mission is to measure the Earth's gravity field from space in unprecedented detail, and it has some
revolutionary technologies on board the spacecraft. It's the first time that we've attempted a
mission of this kind.

Robyn Williams: Tell me about it. When is it going to happen, and how?

Marek Ziebart: It's going to be launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome which is about 800 kilometres
north of Moscow. It will go into what we call a polar orbit. So it will go continually over the
poles of the Earth, and as the Earth turns beneath the spacecraft it will gradually sample the
gravity field from all the way around the Earth.

Robyn Williams: How long will it operate?

Marek Ziebart: It's scheduled for about an 18-month lifetime, but it could go on for longer. Some
of these missions can go on for years if the instruments keep working.

Robyn Williams: You paint the picture of this experiment having extraordinary implications for the
future of virtually everybody. Is it that big?

Marek Ziebart: It is that big, and the reason for it is because what this mission in particular
enables us to do is to understand what the energy transport mechanisms are in the ocean. The ocean
carries huge parts of the energy budget of the planet around the ocean, and so as that changes, as
climate changes, then it's going to affect everybody. Here in the UK everyone is aware of climate
change these days and our climate is very affected by changes in the Atlantic. Most of our weather
is driven by the moisture and the winds and the energy transport mechanisms from the Atlantic.

The difficulty we have at the moment is that although we know the shape of the surface of the ocean
from space, what we don't know is the physics of it. We can't model the physics of it because we
haven't got a reference surface against which to measure these changes in height in the ocean. What
this mission will enable us to do is to define that reference surface very clearly. So then we can
say because that reference surface is at such a height, then the water is flowing in such a way and
it's driven by such forcings and such energies.

Robyn Williams: Okay, so once you know the differences and you've got this immense accuracy, what
can you tell the policy people about what to do next?

Marek Ziebart: It gives us two things really. First thing is that there are many operational
missions working now which monitor the ocean continually. Once they've got the reference surface
defined very clearly, then we can say what the changes actually are. At the moment it's really hard
to say this is exactly what the changes are, and to a certain extent we owe it to the politicians
and the policy makers to be clear about what our predictions are. At the moment, because of the
uncertainties in the inputs to our climate change models, people can play a game on that. They can
say, 'Oh it's not really happening,' or it's this uncertain or that uncertain. We owe it to the
world's people and certainly our economies to try and iron out those uncertainties.

Robyn Williams: What's Australia's role in this, big or small?

Marek Ziebart: Australia has a very big role in this area of science, and actually invests
responsibly and heavily in the area. Australia has several observing systems that they support on
the Australian landmass, they have big networks of GPS receivers, satellite laser ranging
facilities and very long baseline interferometry, and it plays a key role in contributing to the
world observing system.

Robyn Williams: The question about Tuvalu, some people have suggested that the sea levels are
rising and Tuvalu is in danger. Others say that like any volcanic system, once it's coming up it
then sinks again. So it's sinking of its own weight rather than anything else. Will your experiment
show one way or the other what's going on?

Marek Ziebart: We'll provide a reference system and against that we can measure these changes very
accurately. So if anything, like Tuvalu, for example, let's say it's changing in height...we ask
the question 'how do we know?' And missions like GOCE will enable us to have a very clearly defined
reference system so we're actually looking at the geophysical signals and what they infer for
everybody.

Robyn Williams: And that launch is planned for October 5th, European time. Marek Ziebart is
Professor of Space Geodesy at University College London.

Genetic anomaly could explain severe difficulty with arithmetic

Most Australian Aboriginal languages are deficient in words for numbers. Brian Butterworth sought
out children who were monolingual in such a language. He set them tasks involving numbers and
counting involving spatial strategy. The children completed the tasks as well as children who grew
up with English. This finding is important as there is debate as to whether you can enumerate when
there are no counting words in your language. The suggestion is that numbers are wired into the
human brain and perhaps a genetic anomaly explains why some children have severe difficulties with
arithmetic.

Robyn Williams: Could you count the numbers of apples in a bowl or coins in your hand if you didn't
have names for numbers? Well, Aboriginal kids can somehow. Here's Professor Brian Butterworth.

Brian Butterworth: Well, if you read books of Australian linguistics like, for example, the great
book by Bob Dixon, then you find out that probably all Australian languages are very deficient in
number word vocabulary, they don't have counting words. So you try and find a group that's large
enough to have a decent number of kids still, kids who've been brought up just in that language,
monolingual in one of the Australian languages.

Robyn Williams: So you went to which particular groups to do your studies?

Brian Butterworth: We went to one group who speak a language called Walbiri in a place called
Willowra which is north-west of Alice Springs out in the desert, and another group that speak a
language called Anindilyakwa on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria. We had a number of
tasks, only some of which we've reported so far. First of all we wanted to find children who were
brought up mono-lingually in one of those two languages, and of course we can't ask them questions
like, 'How many dolls are there on the mat?' because they don't have a word for 'how many' and they
don't have a word for the answer if there's more than two. So we had to ask them different sorts of
question, and so it took some ingenuity to develop a proper battery of tasks.

One of the ways in which we did it was like this; we would put out some objects on a mat in front
of us and the child would have a mat and we'd say, 'Make your mat the same as our mat,' and we'd
make it clear that the exact arrangement of the objects on the mat didn't really matter. What
mattered was how many things there were on the mat. So that was one way in which we did it, and we
had a number of variations on that.

A further way in which we did it would be I put some things out on my mat or our local assistant
because we had to speak to these kids in their own language by a native speaker in that language,
so she would put out a mat with some things on it, then she'd cover it up. We would then ask the
child to remember what was on the mat and put some things out on his or her mat. Then the assistant
would add something under the cover so the number of things on the mat would change and then the
child would have to put out a number of things on his or her mat which corresponded to the number
of things on the assistant's mat.

But of course those tasks can be done just by remembering what the objects were and more or less
where they were on the mat. In fact we did an analysis in which we looked at this kind of spatial
strategy for doing the task and comparing our Northern Territory kids and our comparison group of
kids in Melbourne. The Melbourne kids never used that, they used presumably some kind of verbal
strategy, they would go 'one, two, three, four, five' and then put out five things. But because the
Northern Territory kids couldn't do that, they used a spatial strategy.

But we had some further tests which couldn't rely on that strategy and this is a task we called
cross-modal matching. So we take some sticks and we'd bang them together a certain number of times,
and the child had to put out on his or her mat a counter for each time we hit the sticks together.
Here you have rather abstract matching; you're matching a sequence of auditory events with a set of
objects on a mat. So it's really quite an abstract representation of the number of both the sounds
and the objects on the mat. Again, we found that the children in the Northern Territory who didn't
grow up with counting practices or with counting words did just as well as the kids in Melbourne.

Robyn Williams: What did the kids think of the experiment? Did they think this was boring nonsense
or tremendous fun? Did they muck about?

Brian Butterworth: Particularly in the central desert where they seemed to not attend all our
sessions, we called them 'special games' and I think the kids quite enjoyed it. It made a change
from what they did normally, so I think they had quite a good time doing it.

Robyn Williams: And presumably the Melbourne kids were Aboriginal as well.

Brian Butterworth: Well, certainly had some Aboriginal antecedence, so there's a special school in
Melbourne for children of indigenous parents and we tested those as well.

Robyn Williams: So you're saying that the kids responded as well, even though they may not have had
words for 'one, two, three, four, five, six, seven' but they could clearly count, nonetheless.

Brian Butterworth: They could certainly enumerate. They weren't counting using words, they were
counting in some other way. This actually is an important finding because there's a fundamental
theoretical debate that's raging in the literature between those who think that you can enumerate
exactly without having counting words and those who think you can't. There were a couple of studies
published four years ago with Amazonian groups who also spoke languages which didn't have counting
words, and the findings from there were that these people didn't do as well on exact number tasks
as...well, where there were controls, they were French people. So they didn't do as well as French
people.

But we think that there were some problems with that study. For example, in probably the better of
the two studies they used computerised tasks, and I think maybe that creates an extra problem,
whereas we tried to use tasks that were culturally appropriate and also developmentally
appropriate, because our kids were four to seven years old, so you have to have something that kids
of four to seven can do and would actually want to do.

Robyn Williams: Were the findings consistent in high numbers? Because I can imagine an awful lot
of...well, even animals can work out 'three, four, five' but once you get to double figures you
tend to have a problem.

Brian Butterworth: The research that we've reported so far only goes up to nine. The theoretical
boundary is between sets that you can enumerate without counting in a glance and the limit there is
about four rather than five. The question is was there a discontinuity between performance up to
three or four and performance from five to nine. And we didn't find that discontinuity. So we think
that whatever it was the children were doing, they were doing more or less the same thing for all
the numbers between one and nine. Of course it gets more difficult as you get larger numbers and so
there were more errors for lager numbers, but basically we think they were doing the same thing.

Robyn Williams: Did you ever ask the kids how they were doing it? Did you say, 'How did you know?
What were you doing in your head to work out what the numbers were?'

Brian Butterworth: We didn't do that exactly but what we did was we recorded the way in which, for
example, they would lay out the counters in the task which required them to do that. So we could
see whether they were using some kind of spatial strategy without actually asking them. You know,
you ask a four-year-old 'What strategy did you use to do this task?' and you probably wouldn't get
a terribly useful answer. But we could observe. For example, if we laid out four in a perfect
square and the child laid out four in a perfect square we'd say, well, this child is using spatial
strategy. If the child, in Melbourne for example, is going 'one, two, three, four' we say they're
using a verbal strategy. So we did do careful observation of what the children were doing so we
could figure out what kinds of mental processes seemed to underlie their performance.

Robyn Williams: Of course the significance of this is to say that numbers are somehow in our heads
in the beginning, irrespective of a whole number of things, and now including language. So if the
numbers are wired in, you can tell which groups by some sort of mishap have missed out as a result
of some sort of genetic anomaly. Is that more or less the story?

Brian Butterworth: That's certainly our story, and we think that the kids who do have the severe
problems learning arithmetic, these kids we call dyscalculic children or dyscalculic learners, and
we think that they do indeed have a genetic anomaly which means that their brains have developed in
an atypical way and the particular circuits in the brain needed to do just these simple number
tasks on which the rest of arithmetic is built, that seems to be abnormal and therefore doesn't
provide the basis for learning arithmetic. That kind of genetic anomaly seems to be fairly
prevalent. In studies that we've done and other people have done, it's about 6% or 7% of the
population. That's a lot of people, and as far as we can tell it persists into adulthood. So we've
been testing quite a lot of very high functioning adults who nevertheless have great difficulty
even enumerating quite small sets of objects.

Robyn Williams: And it's irrespective of language, as you've just shown.

Brian Butterworth: It seems to be, yes.

Robyn Williams: Professor Brian Butterworth is at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in
London, and his colleague at the University of Melbourne is Professor Robert Reeve.

Magic helps children's confidence

Richard Wiseman teaches children magic - basic tricks, but they still require a lot of practice.
Anyone can learn magic tricks. It's a matter of discipline. Learning magic assists in self-esteem,
confidence and sociability.

Robyn Williams: Magic...now that would turn on the kids in the classroom, wouldn't it. You have
conjurers at children's parties, but here's the point; are magic tricks a useful educational tool
as well? Richard Wiseman says yes. He's a psychology professor and he's been teaching children
magic for months.

Richard Wiseman: Pretty basic tricks but still ones that require quite a lot of practice. So we
were asking them, for example, to predict a choice that their friends had made by placing one of
three coloured blocks into an envelope. Also to cut and restore rope, to find selected cards and to
make coins vanish. So all sorts of things.

Robyn Williams: How long does it take to train them to do that?

Richard Wiseman: To show them how the trick is done will take you about five or ten seconds. To
actually show someone how to do it, how to stand up in front of other people and fool them, that
takes about an hour, even for maybe one or two tricks. So we are teaching children magic properly,
we're not just exposing tricks.

Robyn Williams: I've just watched you make a red handkerchief disappear and it was phenomenally
convincing and also making a coin disappear because you've got wonderfully lithe, long hands. Are
they kind of restricted because they're not as big and supple?

Richard Wiseman: You know, I think anyone can learn magic. Some of the world's greatest magicians
have actually had rather small hands. It's really a question of self-discipline, it's a question of
shutting yourself away and thinking, okay, if I need to do this sleight of hand, it looks like I'm
cutting the cards or shuffling them up when I'm not really, you just need to do it again and again
and again. It's not really about the size of your hands, it's about the ability to sit down and
practice. Of course that's a core skill for whatever you want to do in life.

Robyn Williams: You took 60 kids, 30 of both groups. What was the point?

Richard Wiseman: We were comparing the changes in self-esteem and confidence and social abilities
learning magic tricks and a kind of standard self-esteem lesson they would receive in British
schools. What we could see is that taking them to magic school, teaching them these tricks, getting
them to perform for their friends and family was actually a very effective way...in fact more
effective than a standard lesson enhancing self-esteem.

Robyn Williams: Well, of course, it's show business, they get all this attention. What's it got to
do with standard lessons and the kind of discipline that you need to get on in school?

Richard Wiseman: You know, in order to do anything successfully, whether it's English or maths or
whatever, you need to be self-disciplined, it's as simple as that. You need to either take work
away with you and be prepared to do it or you need to sit in class and listen to what you're being
told. That's a fundamental skill and it's a skill that sometimes children struggle with. But if you
can teach that skill with magic, if you can say, look, if you're able to do this you can fool your
friends and family and be the star of the party. Well, maybe that will motivate some kids and get
them to learn that core skill.

Robyn Williams: Of course it was an experiment, so what did you actually find as a result of this?

Richard Wiseman: Well, it's a pilot study, it's the first time it's been conducted. What we found
was that kids going to magic school not only walked away with enhanced self-esteem and confidence
but they are actually even more confident than if they'd gone to a normal self-esteem lesson. So
our argument is that this could be incorporated into schools, you could have kids doing magic
tricks and getting really excited about themselves and the world rather than sitting in lessons
absolutely bored.

Robyn Williams: It couldn't train them for a life of crime, could it?

Richard Wiseman: I hope not, and most magicians I know are not involved in crime. But certainly
what we're saying here is you're deceiving someone else but you're doing it for their enjoyment, so
it's a benign deception, it's entertainment.

Robyn Williams: How did you get on with the authorities, the headmasters and headmistresses and the
people in education? Were they a bit leery about the whole thing at first?

Richard Wiseman: Absolutely not. Everyone we worked with was very positive about the whole thing,
and the kids really enjoyed the lessons, they wanted more, and that's kind of unusual. So if you
can take some kids, you can give them a good time, you can get them excited about the learning
process, I suspect that's no bad thing.

Robyn Williams: And I suppose make them really sceptical. Of course the Great Randy, the magician,
is one of the leaders of the Sceptics and you're involved in the Sceptics as well. And if you've
got a mind that's trained to see the sleight of hand, then maybe you can have a kind of built-in
growing bullshit filter.

Richard Wiseman: One would hope so. Whenever you see a magic trick you're trying to think, okay,
how was this done? And that's critical thinking skills. Or you're thinking, hold on a second, I
don't have the answer but there is an answer, it doesn't mean there's anything paranormal going on.
So if we're instilling that at a young age, well, maybe they won't be victims of con games or fake
psychics when they grow up.

Robyn Williams: Were there any stars who seemed to be so bloody good at it that they're committed
for life?

Richard Wiseman: There were, I was amazed. In each group there was one or two kids that got very
excited, instantly understood the principles, and were up there performing in front of their
friends. I was thinking, my goodness, you've got something, you're the kid that's going to become
the professional magician or end up on the stage. So that was exciting to see, the way they
naturally realised that, okay, you need to take the attention away from the audience at this point,
and just did it in a very natural, convincing way. It was stunning.

Robyn Williams: And what next? How are you going to follow it up?

Richard Wiseman: I think there's all sorts of things we can do. First of all a larger number of
children, we can take our measures over a longer period of time, but also roll this out across
schools and say to teachers that there's a really interesting idea here, let's take kids to magic
school.

Robyn Williams: Can I have my wallet back, please?

Richard Wiseman: Okay.

Robyn Williams: Yes, he's very good at the sleight of hand. Richard Wiseman, Professor of
Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire.

Birds - use of tools and photography in flight

Lucan Buff and Christian Rutz have developed technology to photograph and study the behaviour of
wild birds. Birds are trained to carry harnesses which carry cameras. The cameras are just 13
grams. Recent photographs show New Caledonian crows using tools including hooked tools of cerated
leaf edges. They also craft hooks by nibbling leaves.

Robyn Williams: Betty the crow caused a sensation around the world four to five years ago when she
showed she could make tools out of wire to get food out of glass tubes. The experiment was in
Oxford, and that's where a Swiss and an Australian zoologist are together trying to film crows in
the wild doing similarly clever things with tools. You get the birds to film themselves. How on
earth do you do that? Let's join Christian Rutz and Lucas Bluff in Balliol College.

I always thought that cameras that were attached to birds as a matter of routine...because if you
saw David Attenborough's films, there you are flying alongside the pigeon or the eagle or whatever
it is, that was possible then. How did they do that?

Christian Rutz: These camera were attached to trained birds that were trained to carry harnesses to
which these little camera units could be attached for the very brief duration of a video shoot, and
then later retrieved. The main challenge was to adapt these camera systems for deployment on wild
birds that cannot be fitted with the sophisticated harnesses.

Robyn Williams: I see. So where did you start? How did you go about getting this sort of equipment?

Christian Rutz: We got in touch with the wildlife cameraman who worked for David Attenborough
actually and for other documentaries on the BBC, and he helped us to refine the technology he
already had. The smallest cameras he had were in the order of 25 to 30 grams, which was still far
too large for the species we are studying, the New Caledonian crow, so we then started to shave off
gram by gram until we had units which were sufficiently small to be carried by our birds. We can
now build camera units which are in the order of 13.5 grams.

Robyn Williams: So Lucas where did you come into this? You're from Australia...as an ornithologist
or as an electronics wiz?

Lucas Bluff: As someone who's interested in bird behaviour, but I've also had a lot of experience
in electronics and I pulled apart the household appliances when I was young and electrocuted
myself. So this is just a logical extension, I guess.

Robyn Williams: Okay, so when you shave the equipment down and down so it was all the size of a
quarter of a matchbox, pretty tiny, how did you decide where to put it on the bird?

Lucas Bluff: We have a captive population of birds here in Oxford and we used them to trial out
different mounting systems. Our first thought was to attempt to do what the wildlife cameramen had
done on the pigeons and other birds with a harness, and we found that that just doesn't work for
crows. So the next option was to mount it on the tail feathers, and that works surprisingly well.
The camera pokes through the bird's legs and you get a shot of its head. Whenever it bends down to
eat something or to use a tool, you see what it's doing with its beak. So that's an excellent angle
for watching foraging behaviour, and there's the additional benefit of the natural release
mechanism in feathers, they moult every year, so you can get your camera back and redeploy it on
another crow.

Robyn Williams: Yes, but the crow wasn't angry at having that thing attached to its back and start
pecking it, trying to remove it?

Lucas Bluff: No, they're much happier with it on the feathers than they are with a harness on them.
They do try and pull it off when you first put it on, but they calm down very rapidly, and actually
you can see, when our camera triggers after a delay of 24 hours or 48 hours, you can see they're no
longer bothered by it, it's become part of them.

Robyn Williams: And you don't lose anything by having it shooting there under the belly because you
get pictures as they peck at the ground, you get wonderful pictures, I'm most impressed, but you
don't miss out on what goes on up above.

Lucas Bluff: I guess you can only ever see part of the world, and you do see a bit of the bird's
belly in the top of the clip, but for us we're mostly interested in foraging because these birds
are tool users and that's what's special about them. So it's a good means for us to collect data,
and we also can hear what's going on around the bird because we have a microphone there as well.

Robyn Williams: Okay Christian, so you're out in the field, but have you captured these crows or
are they the ones in your laboratory which you've released into the wild?

Christian Rutz: No, they are wild birds and that is very important. So we developed this technology
for studying the behaviour of wild birds.

Robyn Williams: So to catch them, how do you do that?

Christian Rutz: We use offal, just pieces of meat which we put on the ground, and we use whoosh
nets which are large nets which you can shoot over the birds. So we will pre-bait an area and make
the crows comfortable to come to the ground and take this meat. Then after a few days we will fire
the net, hopefully trap two or three of these birds, and then fit them with our video tags, release
them, and, as Lucas just mentioned, the camera systems have a little timer chip that delays the
transmission of the video signal for up to 48 hours. So we let the crows go and the video tag is
silent, no video transmission for the time being. But then after a specified time period it
switches on and we are on air.

Robyn Williams: Lucas, it's quite stunning to see, yes, there are tools. This was thought to be
quite rare but now you've shown...is it here in Britain with British crows or with New Caledonian
crows? Which kind have you had? Because that sort of tool use was not supposed to happen.

Lucas Bluff: There's two answers. The first is that corvids are a bit special in that they are
known to use tools. Individual birds across the corvid family can innovate and use tools, but
across species that's very rare and sporadic. The unique thing about New Caledonian crows is that
they all use tools, as far as we know, in the wild, and they do it on a regular basis. But it's
very, very hard to observe that. They're quite isolated birds, they're scared of humans, and to
observe them using tools without the aid of technology like we've used is very difficult. We've
radio tracked them for almost 1,000 hours now and only had a dozen or so observations of that sort,
whereas in a few hours of video footage we've managed to accumulate more than that.

Robyn Williams: What were the tools used for?

Lucas Bluff: They use them for foraging. The particular ones that we videoed, they used them on the
ground, which was a surprise. We know they used them in the canopy, they used them in rotting logs,
for example. What we discovered using these cameras is that they probe in the ground, possibly to
get ants or snails and small invertebrates from the ground itself.

Robyn Williams: If we go back to your laboratory a few years ago, round the world of course the
story of Betty the crow came out, which had a piece of wire left over from an experiment where the
males had had hooks to get their dinner out of tubes, and of course Betty...the film just went on,
I suspect, when you'd all left the building, and there you had the shots of Betty actually making a
tool for herself. What I didn't realise until I went to the forest in New Caledonia is that the
crows there actually strip the edges of leaves which are serrated like razor wire and dangle that
down to fish out caterpillars. Was that well known?

Christian Rutz: That's right, and that was actually a discovery made by a New Zealand based
research Gavin Hunt, and he described that in a paper in 1996. So we knew that these birds do make
use of hooked tools in the wild, the serrated leaf edges you've jut mentioned, but they also
actually craft hooks from pieces of stick, little twigs, where they nibble the ends until they form
a nice little hook and they use those for fishing for insects. But what wasn't known was what they
actually understand about the functionality of hooks. Maybe that is just a very sophisticated
adaptation, but maybe they don't understand really about the physical principles underlying the use
of hooks, the properties of objects. That was why we started these experiments with captive
subjects, including Betty, to see whether they can, for example, modify their tools when they face
a novel task.

Robyn Williams: Yes, but the problem is that when you've got such sophisticated behaviour as
bending a straight piece of wire to make a hook of exactly the right sort of angle...I know that
birds build nests like a sort of automatic robot, supposedly, but what you're describing seems to
be sophisticated behaviour, adaptive behaviour to the occasion. In other words, innovating.

Christian Rutz: That's right, and that is why it's very important that you conduct these controlled
experiments in captivity where you present problems that the birds can not have encountered in the
wild. Maybe they are just very good at what they are doing, and that is using tools, including hook
tools, but what is important is to see how they respond to novel situations, such as the use of a
piece of wire. There is no wire available to wild New Caledonian crows, and so the result of this
particular experiment was surprising, but we need much more of these experiments to probe the
cognitive capacities and see whether they can actually adapt their behaviour appropriately.

Robyn Williams: What are you going do next then?

Christian Rutz: We've finished a series of experiments where we looked at whether these crows can
use tools in a sequence. That means use a tool to obtain another tool which is then suitable for
solving a task. That is something that is considered to be indicative of very advanced cognition
and is extremely rare in the animal kingdom and even the great apes struggle in these experiments.
And our crows do it, they actually use up to three tools in a sequence to complete an extraction
task.

Robyn Williams: Lucas, you're going back to Australia, we've got plenty of crows of course, are the
Australian crows that different from the New Caledonian and are you going to make use of them?

Lucas Bluff: I would definitely like to investigate the Australian corvids. I don't know how many
reports there are in the literature of them using tools in the wild. I just heard an anecdote of
crows around the Perth university campus using tools a couple of weeks ago, so there are
interesting things there and I would like to investigate it further in Australia.

Robyn Williams: But what about the surprise of those birds...I've often said this before on The
Science Show, that the corvids and the parrots, anyone who's watched television would have seen the
Australia: Land of Parrots film with the black cockatoos up in the Cape drumming, the males
drumming the females using drumsticks which they then shred to make nests. There's a hell of a lot
going on amongst those big corvids and those big parrots, isn't there.

Lucas Bluff: Definitely, and you probably also know the story of Alex the parrot, Irene
Pepperberg's parrot...

Robyn Williams: Alex just died.

Lucas Bluff: That's correct.

Robyn Williams: It's the only bird I know to get a full page obituary in The Economist.

Lucas Bluff: Yes, that's right. It's sad that Betty also didn't get that when she died, but they
can't all be equal.

Robyn Williams: So Betty is dead?

Lucas Bluff: Yes, unfortunately she died of natural causes in the lab a couple of years ago.

Robyn Williams: Lucas Bluff, who hopes to get to Canberra and the Australian National University
next year. He was with Christian Rutz in Oxford. Their work on those brilliant birds is published
in the journal Science and in Cell.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a Bronze Age monument. But was it a burial site, an observatory, or something else?
There are large animal bone deposits nearby. Jane Evans suggests the people who used the structure
came from thousands of kilometres away.

Robyn Williams: Was Stonehenge a burial site, an observatory or a healing shrine? Jane Evans in
Nottingham has been looking more broadly at Stonehenge and its associated ancient sites, and found
whoever went there came from a very, very long way away.

Jane Evans: Stonehenge is a Bronze Age structure. It's associated with a lot of what they call
Beaker people burials, and these people are buried with a beaker, and they're thought to have
replaced the indigenous population of Neolithic people or they're clearly different from the
previous Neolithic people. There's a lot of interest about whether perhaps they brought the
technology of building megalithic structures to Britain. There's a lot of work and digging and
modern pipelines going in, car parks being built, and Wessex archaeology on occasion is pulled in
to examine a burial that's been found during excavation.

My involvement with Stonehenge started when one of these burials was discovered and it became known
as the Amesbury Archer because this was the richest Bronze Age burial that had ever been found in
Britain, and so there was an interest in finding out something about this man. We looked at both
strontium isotopes and oxygen isotopes in his teeth and notably found in the basis of oxygen
isotopes which tell you something about the climate that somebody was raised in, that he couldn't
have been born in Britain, that he had to have come from further east in Europe, possibly into the
alps. So this was quite a startling discovery, to consider that this magnificent burial was of an
individual who'd travelled since childhood probably from an alpine area to Britain and it raised
speculation as to what his interaction or his relevance to Stonehenge itself was.

Robyn Williams: Yes, that's 4,000 years ago, and that's an awful lot of travelling for those times.

Jane Evans: That's what struck me, it's a lot of travelling. It suddenly opens up the concept of
how long it took these people to travel and how common such migration movement was. I think this is
what's developing out of these kinds of studies is probably a sense that there is much more
movement in the past that people used to think, let's say, 20 years ago.

Robyn Williams: So it's implying that Stonehenge is a kind of site where lots of stuff went on,
they didn't just possibly look at the stars and hang about. What they had there was a major burial
site for themselves and also possibly for animals.

Jane Evans: There are a number of burials in and around Stonehenge and whether or not these are
particularly significant individuals...but the fact that unusual burials such as the Amesbury
Archer and later what's referred to as the Boscombe Bowman which is a multiple Bronze Age burial
we've found, does suggest perhaps that these people were not just run-of-the-mill but had some
association with Stonehenge. The animal bones, the large caches of animal bones, have been found
slightly to the north-east of Stonehenge in a structure called Durrington Walls which is more a
system of earthworks, a huge earthworks circle of slightly older age, the Neolithic age.

Robyn Williams: When you say 'a number of animal bones', how many? And what kind of animals?

Jane Evans: Predominantly cattle and pigs, and I think from the archaeological descriptions they
say 'large quantities', and I have to say I can't go beyond that in quantifying it.

Robyn Williams: Here's the mystery, if that is a site where large quantities of animals were
buried, one wonders if there was a camp there or whether your techniques using isotopes can
indicate where those animals come from.

Jane Evans: I think, again, the archaeological suggestion to start with is that these were probably
the remains of major feasts, that explains the large number of bone deposits. So what we've been
doing is looking at the isotopes in these teeth to determine whether, for instance, it was an area
of very local feasting or whether if people came to the area that it was supplying local meat for
the festivals or whether in fact the animals were brought, and therefore brought by people arriving
in the area.

What our isotopes studies have shown is that there is a huge diversity of isotope signatures in
these animal's teeth, which do suggest that they came from considerably diverse and distant places,
probably within southern Britain. So immediately we can move from a pit of bones to the fact that
we've got animals and therefore people bringing those animals from places as far afield probably as
Wales.

Robyn Williams: That's an awful long way for primitive people, so to speak, to try to bring their
creatures. If I was a primitive person and I went to Wales, I'd probably stay there and set up shop
there and have my meals there and that would be it. What do you think was going on?

Jane Evans: I suppose one option is that Hereford is good for beef now and Hereford was probably
good for beef then. We know, for instance, that drovers were moving cattle as late as the 1800s
from Wales to London, so it's not uncommon to drive cattle considerable distances because basically
you're keeping the meat fresh by keeping it on the hoof, and in the Neolithic presumably there was
no other method of preservation and it's very difficult to carry that amount of dead weight if
you're off for a couple of months.

Robyn Williams: And so they bring it to this special site, which seems to be a sacred site or was
it just a place where they lived?

Jane Evans: I think from an archaeological point of view this is getting into the realms of
speculation, but it seems that they came to this area and it's thought that they did set up camps.
I believe there are different areas that can be designated as perhaps different groups of people
and that the animal debris is presumably the remains of these people living and staying but for a
short period of time. I don't think it's considered to be a long-term encampment or a fixed
settlement. It seems to be primarily a feasting site.

Robyn Williams: How accurate is your isotope detective technique? Can you pin down the place where
people came from almost infallibly?

Jane Evans: What we're good at is telling you where they didn't come from, as a starting point. The
next point of saying where they did come from, to a certain extent the precision we can get depends
on the nature of the geology. If you've got a rare type of rock and you get a signature in a tooth
that is indicative of that rock type, then we can pin things down quite tightly. But on the other
hand, certain rock types are relatively common, at which point we're never going to achieve the
same accuracy.

Some of the animals we've got out of Durrington Walls have signatures in them that really place
them as coming from somewhere where the rocks are old in Britain, and by 'old' I mean greater than
350 million years. And that pushes them into somewhere like Wales which is the closest possibility,
but doesn't exclude places like Scotland and the southern uplands on isotope criteria, but it may
do perhaps on archaeological criteria.

Robyn Williams: They really did get around amazingly far distances, didn't they.

Jane Evans: I do think we're starting to think about these populations and these people moving far
more than perhaps was assumed in the past.

Robyn Williams: Jane Evans at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham, and she was at the
British Festival of Science. And my question for next week's Science Show is this: What happened at
the British Association meeting in Cambridge in 1834 involving the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge
that has since affected every scientist on Earth. The answer next week.