Feeney and Langmore on Campbell Park research on wrens and cuckoos

To: Iliana Medina Guzmán <>, "<>" <>
Subject: Feeney and Langmore on Campbell Park research on wrens and cuckoos
From: David Rees <>
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2015 15:03:33 +1000

Thank you for your assessment of my translation.  So, are you implying that a 'general audience' needs plain English to understand things and 'scientists' do not?

If something is 'learnt' then it is 'learnt', and it is a good idea simply to say so.  Then one could say something like '......'species X' can quickly learn and then use several ways/methods/strategies to defend it's nest(s) from cuckoos (species XWZ) '. Such English will stand the 'test of time' in the written record of human progress.  Shakespeare would have understood something that, given that he clearly knew one species of parasitic cuckoo, but probably not too many 'brood parasites' except perhaps the offspring of various 'girlfriends'!  

Technical terms, for example 'a gas-liquid widget (model XWZ 123b) was used to... ', are fine as they are descriptors.  Why do 'scientists' need words that 'imply' when plain English words that 'state' are available?  When I look at a document to help me to do something new I don't want to see words that 'imply' I want to see words that tell me what to do. 

If they have not done so already, may I suggest researchers have a read of this classic -  Very British and a bit old fashioned now, but in my view some of the clearest English ever written was produced in and about 1940. There was a reason for that, lives and freedom depended on clarity.  Winston Churchill did not 'imply'.   Go to the bit on jargon generators, its a military example, given the 'defence portfolios' mentioned in the paper in question it may be appropriate.  However, these days there are online jargon generators - here is one - amusing and sadly possibly useful. It's random output is strangely familiar, having spent just a small part of my working life in higher education research funding.

Perhaps for many people, the best English they will write would have been when they were about 11, before they learn too many 'big words'.  By age 18  ...........!

Kind regards, hope that is of use


On Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 12:25 PM, Iliana Medina Guzmán <m("","medina.iliana");" target="_blank">> wrote:
Dear David,

I would like to clarify that although your translation of the sentence in the abstract is correct for a general audience, it lacks other important information that scientists need to know, in order to replicate or compare this study with other studies.

For example, by mentioning the word 'plastic' the authors imply that these behaviours are learned, not genetically transmitted. By using the word 'portfolio' they imply that is not just one but several types of defenses. 

Given the very limited space on scientific journals we need to convey as much useful information as possible in one sentence. But there are several scientists (like Will and Naomi), that write the same findings but for a general audience, here is an example:

Best regards,

On Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 8:41 AM, David Rees <m("","dprbirdlist");" target="_blank">> wrote:

I'm sure the work is fine, but reading such an abstract it is clear to me what gives so much modern science a bad name.

As an example, why don't we have a competition to replace '...have a plastic defense portfolio that can be acquired rapidly and deployed facultatively' with something that approaches what one might call English!  The military would have been proud of those words, these are fairy wrens!  

How about  '...wrens can quickly and flexibly change their behaviour to defend their nests from Cuckoos' .

I am sure others can do better.



On Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 7:33 AM, Robin Hide <m("","robin.hide");" target="_blank">> wrote:

This new paper reporting Campbell Park research may be of interest to some list members-


Feeney, William. E. and Naomi E. Langmore (2015). “Superb Fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) increase vigilance near their nest with the perceived risk of brood parasitism.” The Auk 132(2): 359-364.

Abstract: Brood parasites typically impose costs on their hosts, which select for host defenses. However, where defenses are costly, hosts can benefit by facultative _expression_ of defenses in relation to the risk of parasitism. The results of our model-presentation experiments show that Superb Fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) mediate vigilance around their nest according to their perceived risk of brood parasitism; when the risk of parasitism is high, they increase the time they spend in the vicinity of their nests. In combination with previous studies, these data suggest that Superb Fairy-wrens have a plastic defense portfolio that can be acquired rapidly and deployed facultatively to prevent parasitism while minimizing wasteful investment in defenses in the absence of parasitism.


William E. Feeney1,2* and Naomi E. Langmore1

1Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

2Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom


*Corresponding author:


Robin Hide


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