50 & 100 years ago

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    50 Years ago

    Phoenix Re-born. By Dr. Maurice Burton — For many years anting in birds has held considerable fascination for students of bird behaviour. So, too, has the myth of the Phoenix, and when Maurice Burton saw a tame rook disporting himself on a heap of burning straw it led to an association of ideas which was ultimately responsible for the production of this book ... Burton carried out experiments with his tame rooks and a pet jay to determine their reactions to certain substances and to heat ... Eventually [he] reached certain conclusions which show a clear connexion between Herodotus's account of the Phoenix and the anting of birds. One thing is common to all the substances which cause the anting posture: this is heat or the impression of heat ... Burton comes to the conclusion that anting must be regarded as a posture adopted in moments of unusually intense excitement ... Ant-bathing and thermophily are also shown to be closely related to anting proper and all these are related to such habits as the self-anointing of hedgehogs, the effects of catmint and other odorants on carnivores, as well as numerous idiosyncrasies of behaviour among individual birds and mammals.

    From Nature 29 August 1959.

    100 Years ago

    Inaugural address by Prof. Sir J. J. Thomson [to the British Association] — The constant need for thought and action gives to original research in any branch of experimental science great educational value even for those who will not become professional men of science ... I have always been struck by the quite remarkable improvement in judgement, independence of thought and maturity produced by a year's research. Research develops qualities which are apt to atrophy when the student is preparing for examinations, and ... is of the greatest importance as a means of education.

    From Nature 26 August 1909.

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    50 & 100 years ago. Nature 460, 1090 (2009) doi:10.1038/4601090a

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