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Whooping Cranes, Ravens, Peregrine Falcons are Celebrities of Sky in Eyes of Americans: Study

The ruffed grouse or purple martin? They're like friends you might chat with. The wrentit and the Abert's towhee are like the neighbors you don't talk to much

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whooping cranes
FILE - An adult whooping crane, a critically endangered species, is seen in captivity at the Audubon Nature Institute's Species Survival Center in New Orleans, June 21, 2018. VOA

Whooping cranes, common ravens and peregrine falcons are among the celebrities of the sky in the eyes of Americans, even those who’ve never laid eyes them.

The ruffed grouse or purple martin? They’re like friends you might chat with. The wrentit and the Abert’s towhee are like the neighbors you don’t talk to much. As for the Hammond’s flycatcher and the Brewer’s sparrow, Americans don’t care much about them at all.

That’s the word from a new study that aimed to define “a range of relationships between people and birds” across the United States, said Justin Schuetz, one of the authors.

Results appear in a paper released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Schuetz, a biologist and independent researcher in Bath, Maine, did the work with Alison Johnston, who’s affiliated with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

whooping cranes, ravens
Birds classified as “neighbors,” whose few Google searches were confined to where they live. VOA

The project included studying Google searches performed from 2008 to 2017 to learn about what Americans think about 621 bird species. Researchers knew where each search came from. They also knew the natural range of each species and how often it is sighted in specific places, based on a national database.

One key question was whether the Google data revealed more interest in each species than one would expect in various locations, based on how often it is sighted in those places. Another question was how much the interest in each species was limited to its natural range, or spilled out beyond it.

So birds in the “celebrity” category are those that attracted more Google attention than one would expect from how often they’re seen, and whose popularity extended outside of their natural range. They have “a reputation beyond where they live,” Schuetz explained.

Next came the “friends or enemies” category, which included species that get more Google attention than expected, but mostly in the states where they live. As with the other categories, the researchers couldn’t tell whether the searchers’ opinions of these familiar birds were positive or negative.

Then came birds classified as “neighbors,” whose few Google searches were confined to where they live. Finally there were the “strangers,” birds that got little Google interest anywhere.

whooping cranes
Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, called the study “a fascinating framework for trying to understand how people are relating to birds.” VOA

The research also turned up other insights into what makes a species popular. Bigger bodies, colorful plumage and regular visits to birdfeeders helped. Species that served as mascots for professional sports teams reached celebrity status, but it wasn’t clear whether being a mascot encouraged popularity or the other way around.

The results also turned up some surprises. “People seem to have an inordinate fascination with owls we couldn’t account for entirely in our analysis,” Schuetz said. Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, called the study “a fascinating framework for trying to understand how people are relating to birds.”

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“I hope they’re able to use it to help people appreciate what’s right in their own backyard,” he said. “Most of us just aren’t keyed in to what is literally at our doorstep. “David Ringer, chief network officer for the National Audubon Society, also found the work interesting.

“It’s great to see how much we know and love some species, and it’s provocative to see how much we still have to discover,” he wrote in an email. “I hope that many bird `strangers’ will become `friends,’ and `neighbors’ will turn into `celebrities.” (VOA)

Next Story

Tech Giant Google Secretly Gathering Health Information of Millions of US Citizens

According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing

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Google, smart compose
The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

Google is reportedly gathering health information of millions of US citizens — without informing them or their doctors — to design an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven software, the media reported.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “Google is engaged with one of the US’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states” and at least 150 Google staffers may have access to the data.

St. Louis-based faith-based healthcare organisation Ascension is sharing lab results, diagnoses and hospitalisation records — as well as health histories complete with patient names and dates of birth — with Google, the report claimed.

“The initiative, code-named ‘Project Nightingale,’ appears to be the biggest effort yet by a Silicon Valley giant to gain a toehold in the health-care industry through the handling of patients medical data,” the report said.

The crunching of health data is the next big frontier for tech giants as Apple to Amazon and Microsoft are aiming big to infuse data findings into their devices and solutions in the burgeoning healthcare space.

The New York Times later wrote that “dozens of Google employees” may have access to sensitive patient data and some may have downloaded that data too.

As part of “Project Nightingale”, Ascension uploaded patient data to Google’s Cloud servers.

In a blog post, Google tried to clarify its partnership with Ascension.

privacy, google
FILE -Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 7, 2019. VOA

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” said Tariq Shaukat, President, Industry Products and Solutions, Google Cloud.

Google said it has a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Ascension, which governs access to Protected Health Information (PHI) for the purpose of helping providers support patient care.

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data,” said the company.

Ascension also issued a statement, saying it is working with Google to optimise the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care.

“All work related to Ascension’s engagement with Google is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant and underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling,” said the healthcare company.

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According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing.

“This is one of the reasons we used a code name for the work — in this case, Nightingale,” it added.

However, neither Google nor Ascension directly replied to the WSJ report.

In 2017, Google partnered with the University of Chicago Medical Centre to develop machine learning tools capable of “accurately predicting medical events — such as whether patients will be hospitalised, how long they will stay, and whether their health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure.” (IANS)