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Old 05-01-2017, 04:44 PM
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The Alex Foundation

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I finally got around to reading Dr. Irene Pepperberg's book "Alex and Me" this week. I expected some light reading to fill in the outline of what I'd casually picked up over the years. Instead I learned something more.

Yes, there were fascinating details about Alex's progress and personality and myriad examples of his creativity in mastering concepts on his own, without being specifically taught the. But I did not expect to hear all the difficulties in getting funding, finding lab space, or gaining the respect of peers in the scientific community.

Even after the groundbreaking results of the study completely revolutionized how we view avian brains - for that matter, how we view the evolution of cognitive abilities in ourselves- Dr. Pepperberg still has to struggle for funds to continue the research. They are down to two parrots, having lost Alex to coronary disease and Wart to ABV. They don't have the army of assistants and students who gave Alex so much attention. Less than ten percent of their funding comes from federal grants, and that is likely to decrease further in the current anti-science climate.

I was absolutely shocked. I had imagined a large, well-lit, spacious lab with teams of eager researchers. I suspect that part of the problem is that Dr. Pepperberg is female in a field dominated by men, and her results are dismissed as not hard science. I suspect the some resist the idea that a non-human creature with a brain the size of a shelled walnut can perform feats of cognition humans have long reserved for ourselves. We like to think we are special and that our ability to think and reason sets us apart from the brute beasts of the animal kingdom. The idea that a one-pound featherball can master words...color...shape...can ask for something it wants..can understand the concepts of same vs. different, understand numbers and even do some math...can develop, on its own, a concept of "zero" ....is impossible for many scientists to accept because it challenges their basic assertions about what it is to be human.

The Alex Foundation has a Facebook page and a website (Home - Alex Foundation). The website is better - you can read about the birds and find copies of all the scientific publications. Bios of both the parrots, Griffin and the much younger Athena, are available. I learned that Griffin is much shyer and hesitant than Alex...he doesn't speak as clearly and hadn't the same star quality that plays so well for the camera. But he is just as astounding. He recently demonstrated the ability to recognize 2D, printed representations of the 3D objects he's been trained on, which is unique for non-humans.

Anybody with an interest in how parrots think will be well rewarded by checking out the Foundation page. The Alex Foundation provides about 90% of the funding for the research, the lab and the birds. Some of the most important research being done today on avian intelligence is funded almost completely by donations! I can't believe it. They are having a spring fundraising drive, and up to $15,000 of donations will be matched by a generous supporter but only if the revive at least $10,000 by July 5th. I wish I could give them the whole amount...i wish they had a small army of Greys and of researchers. Failing that, I will at least spread the word about this wonderful, valuable work. If you appreciate it, do the same - let people know about this fantastic project. It didn't end with Alex. Let's keep it going.
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Last edited by Kentuckienne; 05-01-2017 at 06:11 PM.
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