Who let the pseudoscientists out?

We already know that men are pigs, but now we also know that men are the kind of pigs who corrupt the morality of dogs. And how do we know this? Well, scientists have discovered it, and the media are duly reporting it. “Dogs walked by men are four times more likely to bite other dogs,” the Daily Mail tells us. “Dogs walked by men are more aggressive,” says Discovery News. “Study Finds Dogs are More Aggressive When Walked by a Man,” reports, who I assume must know what they are talking about.

These stories relate to a new study published in the latest issue of the academic journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science. The scientists, from Mendel University in the Czech Republic, had their research assistants stand in local parks for weeks on end, watching passers-by walking their dogs; whenever two dogs (and their owners) walked past each other, the research assistants recorded a set of specific observations on a checklist. Now while all that might seem pretty simple, this study was marked by its very large sample size and the strictness of its inclusion criteria. The assistants recorded observations at over 30 locations and amassed data on 935 dog-vs.-dog encounters (i.e., interactions involving 1,870 dogs). Furthermore, they restricted themselves to purely single-dog/single-owner dyads, specifically excluding cases where an owner was seen walking multiple dogs or where single dogs were being walked by multiple owners. (Those research assistants seriously earned their measly stipends.)

Yet again, the subtext here is that the findings must be true because they were discovered by scientists. However, while society might teach us that men are pigs, even when it comes to dogs, I for one smell a rat. Continue reading “Who let the pseudoscientists out?”

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