February 23, 2013

"In the military they have $5.2 million they spent on goldfish — studying goldfish to see how democratic they were..."

"... and if we could learn about democracy from goldfish. I would give the president the authority to go ahead and cut all $5 million in goldfish studies."

Said Rand Paul, and Princeton professor Iain Couzin protests.

It's not goldfish, it's golden shiner fish. And: "Our work aims to understand the principles of collective control in animal groups and what this can inform us about collective robotics. It has nothing at all to do with human politics."
"If you think about it, schools of fish have been on the planet for much longer than we have and they’ve evolved to find solutions to problems. They can sense the environments in ways that we simply didn’t know how to do that.... From ant colonies to schooling fish, it’s not that complicated but the feats they can achieve are extraordinary. The collective of a whole can solve problems in ways individuals cannot."
I'm glad he mentioned the ants, because if there is one tag that I love to get the opportunity to use on a blog post, it's "insect politics." The tag is based on the 1986 movie "The Fly," in which a scientific experiment — which I doubt Rand Paul would vote to fund — merged a scientist with a fly. Toward the bitter end, the fly/scientist — played by Jeff Goldblum — started raving about insect politics:
Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects... don't have politics. They're very... brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can't trust the insect. I'd like to become the first... insect politician. Y'see, I'd like to, but... I'm afraid, uh...
But now, apparently, the human politicians are funding not just insect politics but fish politics (and robots!). I'd love to see a movie called "The Fish," in which Jeff Goldblum does a science experiment that turns him into a crazy, raving Goldblum/Goldfish* and rants about fish politics.

Or... oh, wait!... was that already a movie with Don Knotts? "The Incredible Mr. Limpet"! Knotts is a little man who tries to enlist in the Navy in 1941. Rejected, he wanders down a pier, falls into the water, and turns into a fish. As a fish, he's able to join the Navy, and he helps locate and torpedo Nazi submarines. How do you like that, you doubter of science, Senator Paul?

Ah, but Mr. Limpet was a heroic individual superfish, and Professor Couzin is interested in fish because of the way they act in the collective. Typical left-wing elite university ideology. The value of studying fish is that they've evolved past individualism. They give us a way to look at how the collective of a whole can solve problems in ways individuals cannot. But this has nothing at all to do with human politics. This is about collective robotics. Nothing to worry about here. The collective. Robots. Nothing to do with humans.
___________________________

*Yes, I know. It's not goldfish, it's golden shiner fish. That makes me think of a movie too.

72 comments:

Mark O said...

Feeling a little rage?

ricpic said...

Fish can "find solutions to problems?"

William said...

Let he who is without fish cast the first fly.

Synova said...

The relationship of flock or schooling behavior related to programming robots is very interesting and likely useful... but that doesn't mean that it should be paid for with tax funds we don't have when we don't have them.

There is this odd odd belief system people have where anything worth doing is worth doing by government.

Not true.

Lauderdale Vet said...

One of the next big frontiers in modern warfare is swarm/collective robotics. I can see why they're interested in studying effective group based decision making.

Freder Frederson said...

The relationship of flock or schooling behavior related to programming robots is very interesting and likely useful... but that doesn't mean that it should be paid for with tax funds we don't have when we don't have them.

The government does a lot of good basic research, which might appear silly to idiots like Rand Paul, but is vital to advancing the society and knowledge.

Schorsch said...

I work with some roboticists who get money from the government for similar projects. My own paycheck has at times been drawn from the DoD, to tell them interesting, possibly useful things about biology.

Two points:
1)Neither the scientists, nor the DoD, is particularly interested in collectivism. The only goal is that the robot proletariat be designed to perform tasks for us, the human Commissars.

2) Very smart Generals decide what research they want, and very smart scientists compete to get contracts to give them to them. Give the DoD whatever budget you like, Mr. Paul, but don't presume you have a chance of understanding every detail of what they need. I would think a conservative would balk at second-guessing every decision of the military.
2b) An ophthalmologist who can neither accurately report the details, nor understand the actual purpose of the research, is the last person who should make these decisions.

DADvocate said...

Maybe they should be studying goldfish instead of gold shiners. Lake Tahoe has a giant goldfish problem. I suspect this could become a very serious problem.

Consider that it's not that fish have evolved past individualism, but that they are yet to reach it. This would be heresy to a leftie, but collectivism may not be the pinnacle of evolutionary development.

Ann Althouse said...

"The government does a lot of good basic research, which might appear silly to idiots like Rand Paul, but is vital to advancing the society and knowledge."

Fine, but the research was done at Princeton, which isn't the government. Let's get that straight. The government didn't do this research. I know it seems like the government does everything, but we're not that evolved yet, unlike the fish, who behave not as individuals, but as a collective.

sydney said...

Jeff Goldblum would make a good fish.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim maguire said...

The research may have legitimate potential, Mr. Frederson, but you can be sure it wouldn't cost five million dollars if those five million dollars weren't coming from the government.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freder Frederson said...

but you can be sure it wouldn't cost five million dollars if those five million dollars weren't coming from the government.

How can we be sure? Do you have access to the budget for this project? Where was the money wasted? How could it have been done for less cost.

Like Rand Paul, you are just talking out of your ass.

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Synova is mostly correct. I would add that there's a lot of stuff government should not be funding even when we do have the money available.

Creative people can do quite a lot, often with very little money. Take, for example, some of the most important -- and beautiful -- research into ant architecture, accomplished by pouring molten aluminum into ant colonies and retrieving it (carefully) after it cooled.

Magnificent work by a retired entomologist. We should be making much better use of our retirees' skills and passions.

EDH said...

I'd love to see a movie called "The Fish," in which Jeff Goldblum does a science experiment that turns him into a crazy, raving Goldblum/Goldfish and rants about fish politics.

"They took my penis. They took my penis!"

gk1 said...

It is high time we have another senator to take up Senator Proxmire's "Golden Fleece award" beat. Perhaps if we were more solvent financially I would have an appetite for such research. So it would seem we can not cut anyplace in the budget then, right?

Hagar said...

What Tim said, plus, we do not know that "the generals" requested this; they may well have been ordered to do it by some New Jersey congress critter with some input from Princeton.

Michael K said...

"The government does a lot of good basic research, which might appear silly to idiots like Rand Paul, but is vital to advancing the society and knowledge."

Rand Paul realizes that idiots like Frederson have no idea of how governments go broke.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Proxmire was not always on target. Sometimes he was just going for cheap publicity (I know, we're all shocked.) For instance, one of his favorites for a while was a study on mosquito sex - who could ever need to know about that, right? It's not like they are a major disease vector, or that they BREED at all, right?

AprilApple said...

The left are obsessed with wasting money. check.
The left are obsessed with the collective and brainwashing. Check.

What's your problem, Rand Paul.

Coketown said...

Are they even talking about the same study? Every detail seems to in contention: the species, the rationale behind the study, the cost, the source of funding. Was Rand Paul talking about something else?

If the scientist wants to understanding the principles of collective control in animals, he should study Fleetwood Mac instead of fish.

That second quote is an odd formulation. "If you think about it, fish have been on the planet for much longer than we have." And if you don't think about it, have the fish still been on the planet longer? If and when are not interchangeable, Mr. Scientist. There's stupidity enough for both parties. Politico seems to have found its niche: reporting on people's stupidity and documenting the "you're stupid," "no, YOU'RE stupid!" exchanges that follow.

Rhiannon is a bizarre song.

Anyway, the principles of collective action in animals may be an important thing to study for robotics, but it concerns me that any time even the smallest-but-still-expensive expenditure is proposed as a candidate for cutting--I mean holy mackerel, or golden shiner fish, whatever, we're talking about $5.2 million dollars studying the decision-making process of fish--someone immediately cries bloody fucking murder about it.

$5.2 million. When the Obama deficits haven't been under a trillion even once. Glad we're taking this problem seriously.

edutcher said...

If Charlie Rangel had gotten his way and we had a draft and everybody 18 - 60 (or whatever), including women, had to go, I could see this making a bit more sense.

(I know, weird...)

Rob said...

Some may despair that they're studying golden shiners. Seeing the glass as half-full, I'm just gratified they're not studying golden showers.

O Ritmo Segundo said...

Let's get that straight. The government didn't do this research.

So what? Are you saying that research grants aren't important? Why would outsourcing only supposedly "work" when not applied to a public entity?

Right-wingers are fans all the time on government outsourcing every manner of thing, from mercenaries to public services. Why not research dollars?

I'm having trouble making sense of the objection.

Bruce Hayden said...

How can we be sure? Do you have access to the budget for this project? Where was the money wasted? How could it have been done for less cost.

Sure, that was a generality, but if you play statistics, most government projects cost much more than they would if Uncle Sugar weren't paying the bill. A lot of reasons for this, including the reality that government funded projects invariably have bureaucratic requirements that non-government funded projects don't. Can't have anyone ripping off the government (at least, not unless they are big DNC/Obama donors).

The government does almost nothing well, and most everything much more inefficiently than the private sector, and this includes contracting for research.

Tom said...

Research completely worth borrowing from the Chinese...

furious_a said...

Fish can "find solutions to problems?"

Q: Why are fish so smart?

A: Because they swim in SCHOOLS.

"SCHOOLS" -- ha-ha! Get it?

EDH said...

The actual policy suggestion Rand Paul made was to give the president authority to cut the study, among with other expenditures, rather than impose across the board program cuts.

“I would give the president the authority to go ahead and cut all $5 million in goldfish studies.”

Isn't that a "comprise" in itself. Not the higher taxes the Obama wants, but letting him exercise discretion over which programs to cut?

Palladian said...

My ideal solution would be to keep funding research and cut everything else. Do you have any idea how much research we could fund by deleting the Department of Education, or Housing & Urban Development?

Palladian said...

Or Homeland Security?

edutcher said...

That's a great idea.

Which is why it will never be adopted.

Paco Wové said...

I notice that none of Freder's sneering and insults ever address the core of what Synova says:

[The research] is very interesting and likely useful... but that doesn't mean that it should be paid for with tax funds we don't have when we don't have them.

virgil xenophon said...

Gotta agree w. Ritmo here, and Fred Drinkwater hits on something most people should REALLY dread, i.e., the EXTENSIVE Russian research in an attempt to meld HIGHLY infectious and HIGHLY TOXIC mucho deadly Tularemia (Rabit Fever--so named because first discovered in Tulare County, CA)) with Mosquito DNA--a REAL potential biological warfare nightmare of the first order..

Bob_R said...

Freder - I don't have to see the budget to tell you where some waste is. It's called overhead. Currently 61% at Princeton.

virgil xenophon said...

Palladian is right on tgt--unfortunately so is edutcher..

Synova said...

"The government does a lot of good basic research, which might appear silly to idiots like Rand Paul, but is vital to advancing the society and knowledge."

That's pretty much irrelevant, Freder, as well as being the point I was trying to make.

The question isn't, and shouldn't be, "is this useful or valuable" in order to command funding. There is no end to what is useful and valuable, even "vital". There has to be a different standard before government pays for something.

Take the classic $10K NASA toilet seat, for example. It's the JOB of Congress to keep the oversight stringent, even if what seems outrageous (toilet seats or goldfish) is necessary and justified. If someone is allocating millions of dollars of their budget to something or other they need to be able to defend it, not just as useful in some way (and I'm unsure that the word "vital" means what you think it means) but that it's the *best* use of those funds.

If we don't have the money, and we don't, what is *vital* is to cut expenditures and every single last one of those cuts is going to be someone's extremely important priority... like Big Bird (who has grown up and is 100% financially independent but still living in Uncle Sam's basement rent free.)

Chip Ahoy said...

I'm fascinated by this too. I wanted to do this with fish, my first idea was paper fish, then rubber fish like the talking bass, or plaster or ceramic fish. The idea is a about 100 or so fish maybe more that fill two walls with a corner. To do a total fake out on a dead area by filling it with models of life to apparent infinity.

I decided on three sizes of the same fish, with three different modes of attachment.

1/6 total attached by their heads and curved so their tails are off the wall, and 1/6 attached by their tails and curved so their heads are off the wall. The remaining 2/3 attached securely by their bodies but they're still all full-bodied models no matter their size or style.

The placement of the fish requires they be mixed large and small, but compressed at one end and stretched at the other to suggest shoaling movement.

Or stretched at both ends and compressed at the center. Or compressed at the edges and stretched at the center. Maths! Or I'd rather use intuition, trial and error rearrangement.

The fish and birds sheep are sensing pressure around them and behaving accordingly, they're trying to get robots to do the same thing. Reading that made me see swarms of flying robots behaving like starlings. They want them to communicate in order to organize to get things done. That was the first nano quadrotor swarm video that I pulled, I've seen others much longer but I'm too lazy to look.

Chip Ahoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia said...

tim maguire said...
The research may have legitimate potential, Mr. Frederson, but you can be sure it wouldn't cost five million dollars if those five million dollars weren't coming from the government.

Yep.

I used to do grant administration work for researchers at MIT way back in the 1980s.

You have no idea how they padded the money requests in their federal grant applications and how willingly and without question the grantors approved them. Heck, they often threw in extra money.

Carnifex said...

@Freaky federson

I can pretty much state as a fact that it doesn't cost $5 million to buy a fish tank, and some shiners. And why golden shiners? Whats wrong with just plain minnows? They school...they are fish...

Perhaps fraky would like the government to fund more shrimp on treadmills?? That was money well spent.

Retard.

Rabel said...

"It has nothing at all to do with human politics,” Couzin said.

That seems to be in conflict with the good professor's statements in this report on the research.

Chip Ahoy said...

I wondered how double posts happen in comments I see all the time. I know that I touched publish once but it made two. So now I'm compelled to review my judgement of those and forgive everybody who I was imagining were all careless.

Carnifex said...

@ coketown

Rhiannon is the mare goddess of celtic mythology. I find that disturbingly arrousing. :-)

AllenS said...

Seriously, I've often wondered how many millions or billions that they have spent trying to figure out how men with a limp wrist would react to a confrontation with golden shiner fish in a combat situation.

You know they did the study. The exploded national defense spending is caused, not by national defense, but by studying absolutely bullshit like this. A small sample of the whole outlay of the national deficit problem that we have, and have had for quite a while.

We could cut defense spending by quite a bit, but those that would be furloughed would be liberal employees.

Carnifex said...

All I can say is thank GAWD for Rand Paul. You all know you want one just like him, but he's OURS!!!!!! You have to make do with fake conservatives like Mittens, and Rubio.

R. Chatt said...

Send in the drones! A squadron of self synchronizing drone robots would be much more effective than single drones. See Self Organizing Systems Research Group at Harvard. The Kilobot Project

jr565 said...

Freder wrote:
"How can we be sure? Do you have access to the budget for this project? Where was the money wasted? How could it have been done for less cost.

Like Rand Paul, you are just talking out of your ass."


I don't know and I don't care.
Since we're more than a trillion dollars in the red any year any dollar of that huge expenditure is waste. So, if you were to go to the military and say, we need to cut the amount of money govt gives you this year so we're leaving it up to you to cut some less essential programs or projects, how likely do you think this would be one on the chopping block?
If you can find an even less essential program then bring it up for discussion.
This is the conversation that govt should be having at every agency, by the way.

jr565 said...

Carnifex wrote:
All I can say is thank GAWD for Rand Paul. You all know you want one just like him, but he's OURS!!!!!! You have to make do with fake conservatives like Mittens, and Rubio.

Except how much is he like his dad on foreign policy? If so, then he is a far lefty, and I don't want him.

DADvocate said...

"It has nothing at all to do with human politics,” Couzin said.

That seems to be in conflict with the good professor's statements in this report on the research.


Great link, Rabel. According to the article and Couzin's statements therein, it seems to have everything to do with human politics. Interesting that they're focusing on "uninformed individuals," i.e. the Democrats largest voting bloc.

jr565 said...

Obama lies (as per usual) on the sequester deal:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/bob-woodward-obamas-sequester-deal-changer/2013/02/22/c0b65b5e-7ce1-11e2-9a75-dab0201670da_print.html


"My extensive reporting for my book “The Price of Politics” shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors — probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government.

Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.

Nabors has told others that they checked with the president before going to see Reid. A mandatory sequester was the only action-forcing mechanism they could devise. Nabors has said, “We didn’t actually think it would be that hard to convince them” — Reid and the Republicans — to adopt the sequester. “It really was the only thing we had. There was not a lot of other options left on the table.”



Liar liar pants on fire.

jr565 said...

In fact:
The final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made."



No indeedy, do. So, with the sequestration in mind, the one pushed by Obama and which he agreed to, since the military will need to cut some stuff, perhaps the goldfish project might be a good first step.

Thanks Obama! We were counting on those fish saving us from all that we would learn from their ways.

rhhardin said...

Fish tend to prefer the same things, so a universal solution satisfies everybody about as well as it can be done.

People's collective action has to work off of disagreement rather than agreement.

Specialize and trade.

rhhardin said...

According to Imus's Dagen Mcdowell, the postal service is going to introduce a line of postal service clothing.

So if you're tired of playing shepherd and milkmaid, she says, now you can dress up as mailman and housewife.

Will a mass market for this exist.

A fish study is needed.

DavidD said...

It irks me when people use the term "evolved" so cavalierly. The schools of fish did not evolve. They're still schools of fish.

Ann Althouse said...

"They took my penis. They took my penis!"

Oh, my lord!

I had never seen that before.

If Hollywood does stuff like that, how can anyone ever go to prison for obscenity (like Ira Isaacs in that other post today).

Wow. That was really shocking/funny.

estevan contreras said...

what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Aridog said...

Althouse said ...

Fine, but the research was done at Princeton, which isn't the government.

And that comment is disappointingly deceptive. No where in the article linked does it say that the project is not government funded...it says somebody got it wrong, but did not say what was wrong or deny the government funding. Trust me, after my career I can assure you if DoD or the government is paying for something, that something is done for government as if by government. DARPA financial predations would astound ordinary mids, which is why you get very little information about that outfit.

Sooo....Just what IS the source of funding for studying fish behavior as if B F Skinner never did anything in his career?

tiger said...

At the first poker game scene:

Oscar brings out sandwiches and is asked 'what do you have?'

Oscar says: 'I have green sandwiches and I have brown sandwiches.'

Murray the cop (I think): 'What are the green sandwiches?'

Oscar: 'Either very new cheese or very old meat.'

Still makes me laugh.

Michael McNeil said...

That second quote is an odd formulation. “If you think about it, fish have been on the planet for much longer than we have.” And if you don't think about it, have the fish still been on the planet longer?

Fish haven't “been on the planet for much longer than we have,” because we are fish — sarcopterygian (lobe-finned) fish, like modern coelacanths and lungfish (while most water-dwelling fish species these days are of the competing so-called ray-finned fish group).

A bit over 400 million years ago a fellow sarcopterygian living in the sea invented the basic set of features/body plan that we (and most other descendant tetrapods: i.e., four-legged land animals) still use today — jawed head on top of a segmented backbone, four limbs (2 fore and 2 aft) hanging off of that, jointed as ours are, with five fingers/toes at the end of those. Yes, we (most of us) walk on land and breathe air nowadays (though, notably, our cousins the lungfish, still living in the sea, also breathe air), but the basic body plan has remained fundamentally unchanged for the bulk of tetrapods, including we humans ourselves.

As sarcopterygian fish, our now-human lineage is precisely as old as any of the other fish swimming in the (figurative) sea — no more, no less. Indeed, in the same way we humans are also direct representatives of the most ancient lineage of life on this planet — by now more than 3 billion years old. Wear that heritage with pride!

(Somewhat similarly, the English language represents the oldest human speech lineage there is… it's as old, that is, as all the rest.)

Aridog said...

Freder sez ...

Where was the money wasted? How could it have been done for less cost/

Asked and answered, see R Chatt's comment...

A squadron of self synchronizing drone robots would be much more effective than single drones. See Self Organizing Systems Research Group at Harvard. The Kilobot Project

In other words, it is NOT new research, nor relevant to actual drone management. B F Skinner did this shit long ago.

And, as former military, I don't think what is implied by collective robotics is what you really want in combat. Of course, wonks that have never faced such things postulate otherwise.

Aridog said...

Michael McNeil....how dare you mention science in conversations such as this?! :-))

Matthew Sablan said...

I wonder how many homeless and poor people the government could have taken care of if tax dollars that were spent studying things like this went to direct needs instead.

That's the problem with funding grants like this; our government has too many immediate needs to justify each and every one, and frankly, golden shiners are very low on the list.

Aridog said...

Speaking of government non-governmental waste...e.g., private outfits funded by government , check out National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) ...you just gotta love it.

Bob said...

We used Golden Shiners as bait for Largemouth Bass when I was a boy in Florida. They're called "golden" because the male shiners' scales change to that color during spawning season. The rest of the year they are silver.

Ann Althouse said...

As if precision doesn't matter.

I made exactly the point that I made and nothing more.

I even said "fine."

EDH said...

Remember, that was the fat kid in "Stand by me".

EDH said...

In the movie he's a jerk emulating the Girls Gone Wild guy, so it's supposed to be poetic justice.

Nichevo said...

Oh, I'm sorry Ann, was there a point under all that? You magpie-hummingbird brain. Shiny! Look, squirrel!

Aridog said...

Ann Althouse said...

As if precision doesn't matter.

It does, and your comment ...

Fine, but the research was done at Princeton, which isn't the government.

... was imprecise.

My response was precise ...

... if DoD or the government is paying for something, that something is done for government as if by government

... emphasis added. You should really explore the work of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ... aka DARPA ... and how they manage the results of the research they sponsor, whether by DoD employees or contracted organizations, such as universities.

All I can say is that my opinion on the subject is based upon career experience. As AllenS has indicated, DoD spends millions/billions on stuff unrelated to defense per se. Although I've witnessed defense related spending, none-the-less I've experienced nothing to contradict what AllenS said.



MCD said...

I'm with Synova and Bob_R. Not all useful research is useful enough to be funded by the federal government, and federally funded research is particularly expensive because it is funded by cost-plus payment that works against efficient protocols

MCD said...

Count me in with Synova. Not all useful research needs to be funded with federal money. Bob_R explains part of why this is so: federally funded research, at least that funded by DARPA, is funded on a cost-plus basis that encourages large administrative burdens and discourages spending efficiency.