Polly-math

BBC: Parrot's oratory stuns scientists (26-Jan-04)
The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short. The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

Oh good grief! Why do people insist on anthropomorphising pets like this?

Don't get me wrong, I like talking parrots as much as the next person (who is currently Jen on the adjacent sofa), but let's not go over the top. It's an undoubtedly well-trained parrot, yes, but:

  1. its "remarkable abilities" do not "include telepathy" [because telepathy is impossible]
  2. it is not "one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world" [because these are at least 6 billion other animals, myself included, who are considerably more advanced]
  3. even though it "has a vocabulary of 950 words" and only "about 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English", it simply does not follow that "if N'kisi could read he would be able to cope with a wide range of material" [because being able to use 950 words is not the same as being able to understand and parse them in different sentences and contexts—a skill which human beings are uniquely skilled at]
  4. its owner uses "aromatherapy oils" [clearly demonstrating that they have no concept of reality]

Parrots and cheese shops in the same week. Think it's time I went for a silly walk.


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