Dogs Will Be Dogs

Wow, scientists “discover” something that anyone who’s ever had a dog would think is painfully obvious.

What’s next? New study reveals, unexpectedly, that when dogs are startled or angry they make a sort of barking noise?

7 Responses to Dogs Will Be Dogs

  1. Gabriel December 12, 2008 at 7:03 pm #

    I didn’t know dogs experienced all those emotions. Guess that means dogs are close enough to people to have the right not to be killed or hurt…

  2. scineram December 13, 2008 at 4:17 pm #

    Only if we grant it to them.

  3. Z. M. Davis December 14, 2008 at 12:22 am #

    Roderick, you’re an anarchist. Don’t you hold a few beliefs that most others would consider “obviously” false?–painfully so, even?

    Human feelings of obviousness are just not that reliable. Better to do a rigorous study to confirm what’s right in front of our noses, than to get hosed when it turns out not to be.

  4. Administrator December 14, 2008 at 12:14 pm #

    But what I was relying on was not a “feeling” of obviousness. It was familiarity with dog behaviour. All this study did, though no doubt at greater expense, was to record the very same behaviour that I and just about every other dog owner had already observed; it didn’t add anything new.

  5. Z. M. Davis December 14, 2008 at 1:34 pm #

    What I’m saying is that it can be good to formally double-check what people think they already know. Even if nineteen times out of twenty, the studies come back consistent with what we already believed (as we would justifiably expect them to), that surprise on the twentieth time is important to pay attention to—and you can’t know in advance what the surprise is going to be.

    It’s unnerving to contemplate, but sometimes intimate familiarity with a topic just isn’t good enough. As a human living in human society, you’d expect to know all about what people are like–and yet people disagree all time about what people are like! To take just one example, there are those who say, “Men are like (this) and women are like (that) and this is innate from birth, as is obvious to anyone who’s raised children.” Others, including many parents, disagree vehemently. To find out what’s actually the case, we’re going to need something better than familiarity with human behavior—we need to design clever experiments at great expense, and do all sorts of complicated statistics, and have smart people study the problem for years—and even then, we still might be wrong.

    Now, of course not all knowledge is scientific. Dog owners are perfectly justified in forming beliefs based on their experiences. But I’m also glad that some people take the time to investigate the obvious at length—just in case it turns out not to be true.

  6. Z. M. Davis December 14, 2008 at 5:06 pm #

    Actually, on further reflection, I realize didn’t choose a good example. I was saying, essentially, “Everyone’s familiar with human behavior, and yet, people disagree about it. There’s only one reality, so not everyone can be right. Therefore, familiarity is not a reliable source of truth.” Which is fine as far as principle goes (I currently think), but in the specific case of dogs, Roderick is arguing that people who are familiar with dogs do agree, so it could be that in that specific domain, familiarity is a sufficient guide to truth. Of course, it would be nice to check if dog owners really do virtually all agree on the subject of canine emotions—but that would be another study in itself …

  7. Administrator December 15, 2008 at 9:08 pm #

    can be good to formally double-check what people think they already know

    Fair enough. But that’s not what happened in this case — the scientists were surprised by the results. They weren’t confirming what they already knew. Which suggests that either they’ve never had pets themselves or were extraordinarily unobservant.

    I also think there are some cases where, when science apparently reports something contrary to common belief, the rational thing to do is reject the science. The so-called “Fundamental Attribution Error” research seems to me like a good example. There’s a limit to how far science can correct common sense, because at some point such “corrections” undermine the very intelligibility of other people to the point where if we bought in, we’d no longer have reason to trust any human endeavour, science included.

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