1 Comment »Posted on Wednesday 1 April 2009 at 6:05 pm by Jacob Aron
In Biology, Musings

Today is of course April Fool’s Day, and both the media and internet in general just love to get involved. The Guardian claims to be switching from print to Twitter, whilst Youtube have flipped all their videos upside down.

During my daily science news read, I was sure to be on the look out for any potential shenanigans. When I came across a BBC story headlined “Baby chicks do basic arithmetic” I was certain I’d found a Fool, but after further digging I’m not so sure.

The story, which was also reported by The Telegraph, The Guardian and others, says that Italian scientists have show that newborn chicks can do basic sums.

Chicks are known to try and stay close to objects they are reared with, and will go towards groups that contain the most familiar objects. Exploiting this trait, known as imprinting, Prof. Lucia Regolin and Rosa Rugani designed an experiment to see if the chicks could count. I’m linking to their university pages to prove that they actually exist, and seem to have done research in this area in the past.

Using the little plastic containers found in Kinder eggs, which do bear some resemblance to chicks, the team hid differing numbers of containers behind a screen whilst the chick was held watching in a transparent box. Once released, the chick headed for the screen that hid three objects as opposed to two.

Even moving objects from one screen to another didn’t phase the chicks. They were able to count the difference as the containers were moved, and still pick the screen with the largest amount.

Is there any doubt then that this is real research? It would be quite unusual for multiple outlets to run the same April Fool’s Story, unless they themselves had been duped. My only concern is that the findings were supposedly published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and yet the journal webpage makes no mention of the work. It could be that they’re just slow to update.

Let this be a lesson to scientists: if you’ve spent a long time working on something that seems even slightly wacky, perhaps it’s best not to announced it until April 2nd?


  1. One Comment

  2. Glad I wasn’t the only one to think this was an April Fool’s joke originally! I was sure the journal title was a made up name only to discover it did actually exist.

    By ChloƩ on Friday 3 April, 2009 at 9:51 am

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