Discussion by: SoundGuyLuke
In June, I was delighted to read an article posted here about the language of prairie dogs, and how researchers are decoding their yelps and calls through contextual data. I was enthralled. As a fan of The Hitchiker's Guide, it occurred to me to check in on where modern science was with dolphin language. (If they give the call to evacuate, I want to hear it.) Adams gently pokes fun at the pseudoscience that infected dolphin study in the seventies; a trend I thought was long gone.
In my brief research into the topic, I found a great Ted talk featuring Dr. Denise Herzing. Her visual aids in the lecture include spectrographs and simple charts featuring visual representations of recorded dolphin sounds, with frequency displayed across the x-axis and amplitude on the y. A z-axis, time, would have been cool. Nevertheless, I recognised these charts as the tools of a competent acoustician.
Unfortunately, any low-brow google search led me to the fine folks at the Speak Dolphin project. Their "research" is described as innovative because of the use of a "new" device called a cymascope. This device is the acoustic equivalent to observing metal filings on a piece of paper to reveal the field of the magnet underneath. Their web page makes very high claims concerning the device's ability to reveal the true nature of dolphin speak, as well as the true nature of sound. A search of the Cymascope's creator, John Suart Reid, leads only to more new age tripe and pseudoscience. Reid claims that his device shows the viewer a cross-section of an actual sound "bubble," and that sound doesn't really travel in waves, as previously thought. While a sound's directionality is dependant on its frequency, to call it "beams and bubbles" seems to be an infantile misunderstanding of wave propagation, even in a liquid medium like water. Also, I would argue that the device shows the viewer nothing, except what pretty shapes the measured sound induced onto the Cymascope's transducer.
I wouldn't be bothered by all of this bunk, but Reid is selling his device, and the SpeakDolphin people are accepting donations on their site, soliciting money from those who can't sift through the science.
Does anyone know of any published material refuting the claims made by Reid and his marine snake oil salesmen? Or am I missing something? Am I just misunderstanding the science? I teach a university class about commercial audio, I should be kept aware of any changes made to physics.