Kevin Daly: We should cry fowl on these bird-brained research ideas
Many years ago I came across a chicken that was waiting for the traffic to clear so it could cross the road. "Don't," I cried, "you'll never hear the end of it!" But the chicken ignored me, and in so doing fuelled a question which has exercised the world's finest minds for decades.
So fiercely has the debate raged that I've often wondered why there hasn't been a grant-assisted study into why chickens traverse our highways. Then I told myself: surely, in these tough times, no one would be daft enough to squander public funds on such trivial chicken-related research, would they?
Which brings us to the revelation this week that £2 million of taxpayers' cash has been given to university groups in order to study the relationship between humans and chickens over the last 8,000 years.
Relationship? What is there to know? As far as I can see, for thousands of years the world has harvested chickens and then eaten them. As relationships go, it's a little one-sided, but it's the reality. Can I have my £2 million now?
FREE WHEATGERM WITH EVERY POND HEATER www.blagdon-water-gardens.c...View details
Protect your pond fish this winter. Purchase the resun 100w pond heater £39.99 from www.blagdon-water-gardens.co.uk and we will give you a pot of Tetra wheatgerm 1l winter fishfood worth £4.99 FREE
Contact: 01934 316673
Valid until: Friday, February 28 2014
I can see that such a sum might be viewed as chicken-feed by those lofty academics who float high above the economic lowlands of austerity in which the rest of us reside, but £2 million could unquestionably be used better elsewhere. Almost every week in this newspaper we read of public funding cuts which slowly strip our communities of vital services and facilities, forcing the elderly and the vulnerable into a lower quality of living. Can you imagine them welcoming such a study?
"Dearie me, Albert, the regular 10 o'clock bus service has been cut."
"Never mind that, love – did you know that, according to paleoclimatic assumptions, chickens were first domesticated in Western Europe about 1,000 years BC?"
"How exciting, dear. Now, if your arthritis is up to it, you'll have to thumb a lift to the hospital."
If a study really needs to be made into the relationship between humans and chickens, perhaps researchers could delve a little deeper into modern methods of poultry farming. They would learn that factory-farmed chickens spend their short lives crammed into windowless sheds, standing on mess-covered concrete flooring with no room to even flap their wings. Artificial lighting keeps them awake and causes them to eat more, fatter birds being more profitable, of course. A high percentage die from bone deformity and heart failure caused by the protein growth food they are force-fed.
With those sorts of findings I suspect the study might just conclude that the aforementioned relationship turned sour a long time ago – it most certainly did from the chicken's viewpoint.
Here's why such bird-brained ideas get to be approved. This particular grant came from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In such cases, applications are usually reviewed by academics. Is it really surprising that these people would wish to look after their own? Feathering their nests, I think it's called.
All that anyone needs to know about chickens can be found on the internet. If the academics really want to be useful perhaps they could concentrate on cracking the road-crossing conundrum (see above). Or maybe that other long standing farmyard mystery: which came first – the chicken or the egg? I've been spitting feathers over that one for years.
I read this week that the polystyrene cups used in high street coffee chains can cost twice as much as the actual coffee beans themselves. Mind you, they often taste better, too, so that makes sense.
I have to say those places aren't really my cup of tea. I see them everywhere, usually while I'm searching for the sort of cafe where I only want to say "Cup of coffee, please."
Well done to Friends of Radstock Railway Land in securing a £10,000 grant which enables them to fund a case for transforming the derelict railway land into a nature reserve and heritage railway.
Getting the idea past Bath and North East Somerset Council-backed Norton Radstock Regeneration Company might prove tricky but, thanks to the grant – from a cosmetic company – they at least have a suitable slogan: Because We're Worth It.