Friday, May 29, 2009

Photo Phriday: Omelette

This turkey egg was lying just like this in the middle of the gravel road at the State Gamelands where we trained last week.

The nature of the shell breach suggests an avian diner, as does the spillage left behind.

But how did a crow or other feathered nest-robber get the intact egg to the middle of the road without breaking it?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Photo Phriday: Pasture

Goat tractor -- from concept to full execution in like two weeks!

Thanks, Sarah!

And I did tell you that the Princesses were well-schooled in the ballet, did I not?

BTW, they've earned the non-fairy-princess names of Patsy and Edina.

The 100 McNuggets, the four Cartmans, and the replacement layers have moved out of the barn and onto "range." AKA, the very legume-heavy patch of pasture just south of the barn.

The fence is electro-net. Its main purpose is not to keep the birds in, but to keep everyone who thinks they taste like chicken out. Later, if the birds figure out about going home to roost in the evening, I'll open it up during the day and only charge it and close it up at night. The lump on the right is an over-engineered range shelter/chicken tractor, which I haven't actually used yet. Their main shelter is the easily-moved 10x10 picnic canopy. Since taking the picture, I've dropped it as low as it can go.

I thought the birds would be frightened by the move into the big wide open, but not a bit! They immediately checked out their perimeter.

And went to work emulating wild jungle fowl. They eat a lot of grass and clover. Feed consumption has been just about halved in the few days they've been out.

At night they make a chicken carpet.

They don't seem to get the concept of getting under cover at night, and just plop down in a mass at some random spot. We've moved the canopy to them, which worked, but is kind of stupid. The weather has been fine, the electro-net is good ground security, but we worry about owls.

Last night we heard a shrieking and carrying-on outside, probably about three in the morning. The dogs went straight to DEFCON 1. I jumped up and ran to the chicken pen -- the three English shepherds all charged down into the buttcrack. (Spike and Sophia sleep in crates at night, so they weren't there for the charge out the door, and I didn't go back up to let them out.)

The chooks were fine -- miffed at me for waking them up. The shrieking was raccoons down by our creek. Pip and Rosie stayed down there barking at them -- at getting shrieked at -- for some time. Moe came up and patrolled around the duck house, then the barnyard, then waited with me on the deck for the girls to come up.

I didn't call them in for some time, since it was obvious they had the coons treed, and I figure a thorough hazing would get our point across. We have a lot of foxes on the farm, but I've never seen raccoon sign. Our little spring-fed creek is too small for fish or crayfish, so there isn't a lot to draw them out of the valley lower down. They may be here going after turkey eggs, since we have a lot of wild turkeys, and they'll be laying now.

If they've come for our chickens, they are in for a shock.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Three Hybrids

Heterosis is the term for what we laymen usually call "hybrid vigor."

In brief, it's the generalized positive effect on growth, healthy, longevity, fertility, immunity and general thriftiness that one sees in an animal or plant whose parents were unrelated. It is the effect of the animal being heterozygous for most of the variable alleles in its genome; this is a general effect, and not the same as just "avoiding deleterious recessives" by the practice of inbreed and purge.

Despite the protestations of ornamental animal breeders seeking that perfect feather crest or flawless dime-sized spots, the biological reality of heterosis is not in question. Those who scoff at it -- I knew a mutt that died at age five of cancer! -- are in the company of those who disbelieve the biological reality of evolution via natural selection because those wicked scientists are always arguing with each other, so obviously they don't really agree except when they are feeding us Good Christians into the maw of the savage Darwin.

In fact, a robust manipulation of heterosis is the basis for almost all modern industrial agriculture.

Now, an ordinary animal breeder* can utilize the power of heterosis in both purebred populations and in crossbreeding. The least troublesome way (to registries and others who fret about purity) is to simply select breeding partners that are less related than the average within the "pure" registered population. Another way, sanctioned by many livestock registries, is to "grade up" mixed breed herds by utilizing purebred sires for a number of generations (3-7, depending on the breed/species), after which the youngest generation is considered "purebred." Yet another way is to simply crossbreed, selecting for production characteristics and ignoring fancy points.

When you are eating a steak, do you really care whether the steer it came from had a white face or was all black?

Virtually no dog registries have actual grading up programs**, and it is anathema to the kennel clubs that exist to perpetuate dog pageants. But the recent lemming-run popularity of "designer breeds" and the historic practice of crossing for performance (e.g. for lurchers or Alaska huskies for race teams) are both, in part, attempts to capitalize on heterosis.

On an industrial scale, the use of heterosis is much more sophisticated.

Highly inbred parent strains of animals are closely-guarded and coddled corporate assets. In poultry, male strains (all females born are culled) and female strains (converse) are crossed to produce the production animals. Production animals generally have truly impressive economies; they will not breed true, so the farmer must continue to pay the corporate overlords for grow-out stock. And because of the extreme selection practiced on the parent strains, the effects of heterosis are more targetted than that provided by Nature when two normal unrelated animals reproduce.

Here are three hybrid birds, on their four-week birthday:

They were all hatched within a day of one another, and are all commercially-bred from highly selected parent strains. They are all representative of their respective genetics, brooded together, and all well-fed.

The chick at left is a golden comet pullet. The golden comet is a hybrid cross specialized for egg-laying. It is one of the varieties known as a "sex-link," which has the great virtue of segregating by color along gender lines. It is easy to tell the cockerels from the pullets among newly-hatched chicks -- females hatch out a reddish tint, males like yellow marshmallow peeps. They are a cross of silver-factored white rock hens and New Hampshire red roosters, and are produced mostly for the private small flock owner.

If I wanted to breed my own golden comets, I could lay my hands on the purebred parent stock of the appropriate breeds and start makin' em. Comets have normal lifespans, normal immune response, normal growth rates, high egg production, early maturity, and hardiness.

The chick in the center is one of the 100+ colored range broilers, or "Freedom Rangers," that I'm raising for meat this year. I know virtually nothing about the parent strains, which would certainly qualify as commercial, without perhaps crossing the threshold into "industrial." These birds are engineered for medium-fast growth (slaughter weight in 9-12 weeks), good feed-conversion rations, and the ability to thrive when raised on pasture -- outdoors, unheated, uncooled, and with natural green things as a major part of their diet.

Some people keep a few of these hybrids past the normal slaughter age, adding them to their regular backyard flocks of laying hens and hobby birds. And they do fine. They live normal lifespans, and the hens are decent layers of very large eggs.

I did not weigh the chicks, but the range broiler is easily twice the body mass of the same age golden comet. Today we had one of the range broilers die in a freak neck-snapping accident, and we heard the commotion and found him right after he died. I dressed him out to eat. Whole -- with blood, feathers, head, feet and corn-stuffed innards -- he weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces at 4 1/2 weeks. Dressed, 1 pound 6 ounces, which is exactly the weight of a supermarket "cornish game hen." A small meal for two people, but a meal. One of the comets wouldn't even be a mouthful.

The chick on the right is a Cornish x white rock industrial broiler. Every chicken you buy in a grocery store is one of these. I got four of them at the feed store in order to compare them to the range broilers. These are generally called Cornish crosses, or just Cornish x.

The front view photo doesn't really fairly portray the difference in size between the ranger and the Cornish x. The ranger is very slightly forward of the Cornish, which skews the perspective, and he's also standing up straight, so he looks bigger. But here's a top view of the same three chicks:

All four of the Cornish x chicks are named, but they all have the same name: Eric Cartman. Ken thinks they have passed the "big-boned" stage long since, and are now Chickie-the-Hut.

The naked parts are not because he's got some horrible feather-loss disease or parasites or is being picked. None of the above. His feathers are just fine -- it's just that he's growing so fast, they can't come in fast enough to cover him. You'd think he'd want a little chicken sweater, but in fact, he's often too warm in a stall that is cool for the other chicks. The Cartmans feel like squishy oversized hot potatoes when I pick them up. At the county fairs in late summer, one can often see the regular chickens, including large and very fluffy ones, looking perfectly comfortable, while the Cornish x entered in the 4H "meat pen" competition are nearly expiring from the heat.

He's at least 2/3 larger than the range broiler chick, has possibly three times as much flesh in his breast, and check out those feet. Notice that in the top view he is lying down. It was the very devil to get him to stand for the front view photo. Despite having feet and legs like Greek pillars, Cornish x have a hard time standing much, and do a lot of lying around.

A "Cornish game hen" is nothing other than this bird, slaughtered at this age.

This bird is designed to live 6-9 weeks. There is a decent probability that he could drop dead of congestive heart failure before reaching that milestone. Or he could "go off his feet" and be unable to lift his own weight, making it necessary to cull him. To slow down the growth a little, I follow the common practice of restricting feed from the Cartmans; at night, these four little piggies go into a dog crate, where they are kept away from the food for 12 hours. (It was the door of this crate that killed the range broiler today; I've fixed the issue.) If you don't restrict feed when raising Cornish x, you are much more likely to have a lot of birds go DRT before their time. The woman I bought my goats from had two Cornish chicks that she was restricting even more drastically, feeding only twice a day; they looked like real chickens to me. Their feathers nearly covered their whole bodies.

If someone keeps a Cornish x past about 11-12 weeks of age, the probability that it will go off its feet or go spurs up for no apparent reason in the next couple months approaches 100. If the bird doesn't actually die that soon, it will suffer quite a bit from the imbalance between its body mass and its skeleton and circulatory system. This is the messy fate of too many Easter chicks -- Cornish x are cheap to buy, and are cute, fat, and yellow as day-old peeps.

This chick is the offspring of a male from a closely-guarded, highly inbred proprietary sire strain, and a female from a different, closely-guarded, highly inbred proprietary dam strain. These strains are quite different from the Cornish and Plymouth Rock breed chickens that are available to regular farmers and hobbyists. The breeding stock do not gain weight the way the hybrid offspring do, but they still must be kept under a regimen of severe feed restriction if they are to be kept alive long enough to breed.

Farmers who produce chickens for roasting and broiling buy Cornish x chicks from enormous hatcheries. If a farmer raises a standard breed or a DIY hybrid instead of buying Cornish x, she'll be at a significant competitive disadvantage, as they will take much longer to grow to a smaller size eating more feed. There's no practical way to create one's own hybrids on a small scale. Their ubiquity is an unstoppable economic force; they are the Microsoft of feathers.

As grotesque as the Cartmans are, and as much as I loathe the industrial "proprietary" nature of their origins, I do see the point in a bird that goes from egg to freezer in only two months. The labor savings of such a bird are significant. And their feed-conversion ratio is nothing short of astounding, with industrially-raised birds turning 2.5 pounds of feed into a pound of flesh. I could certainly see raising a batch of them in the Fall, say, in some short nook of time before weather got bad and we just needed some more chicken in the freezer. But I'd feel guilty about them; not about slaughtering them, but about keeping them alive.

I'm fascinated with these three ways of exploiting heterosis. But the Cornish cross chickens show that it's not an unalloyed blessing for the animal. A "random" mutt -- meaning, a mutt whose parents practiced selection for themselves -- of any species is more likely to be vigorous, long-lived, fertile, disease-resistant, and cancer-free than is an inbred individual of the same species. But human selection for extremes, and human selection for traits that are burdensome or frankly cruel to the animal born with them is not limited to the deranged inbreed and purify practices of fancy breeders. In the hands of those who view animals as widgets, not beings, a fanatically controlled and organized hybridization program presents the same assaults on the welfare of the "genetic material."

*Plants are more complicated to view as a group, since the option of self-pollination in some species and the wide variability of different species in re heterosis makes generalizations almost invariably invalid. But suffice it to say that there is no benefit to you, the home gardener or consumer, or to the planet, from planting or eating a hybrid tomato -- just plenty of benefit to the industrial seed company. Corn, different story. Fruits, whole 'nother ball of wax.

** The ESCR's "Step-In" program is close, but it is explicitly limited in scope to animals considered "purebred" English shepherds, but from unregistered bloodlines. In a former age, the found of one of the commercial registries that served ES, the Animal Research Foundation, had a program to mix in various other breeds -- including Beauceron and curs --to engineer a dog for his own purposes. The descendants of these mixes are inextricable in the English shepherd gene pool.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spoke too soon


They are not goats.

They are pretty, pretty princesses who have fallen under the spell of an evil enchantress, and cursed to caprine form.

Things I learned today about goats fairy princesses:

They are made of delicate spun sugar, and will surely melt if touched by vulgar raindrops.

Their tender hoovesies silken slippers are defiled if they touch dirt, shavings, straw, or a thick bedding of fresh wood chips. Fortunately, all fairy princesses are well-schooled in the ballet, so dancing along on the edges of landscape timbers, tops of doghouses, etc. is no problem.

Similarly, princesses can feel a dead mouse the cat buried single pea under a ten inch layer of soft clean shavings, so it is much more satisfactory to sleep in a miserable curled ball on the bare concrete in front of the stall door.

One does not touch a princess without permission. Permission is not forthcoming. One also does not turn one's back on a princess and walk away without being given leave. The princess will bleat most plaintively and stamp her foot if one is so indecorous to attempt this.

Things goats princesses do not eat:

Ground ivy
Anything growing close to the nasty dirty ground
Anything that has fallen, been dropped, or pulled down onto the nasty dirty ground
Anything that has been stomped with delicate hoovesies ballet slippers
Wholesome fresh goat feed coated in molasses

Things goats princesses do eat:

Fresh wood chips
Sawdust, as long as it is adhering to the side of the stall and not on the nasty dirty ground
Hay that I thought was only suitable as bedding hay, but what do I know
Mineral block
Russian olive (maybe)
Raspberry bramble
Multiflora rose

Given these last two items, I can tolerate everything else about them.

Could they come along on SAR tasks, munching a swath ahead of us?

Got Goat?

Well, that was fast.

Actually, it's goats. You really don't want to try one goat.

No names yet.

Here's what we know about them:

They are twin sisters, eight weeks old.

They are 3/4 Saanen and 1/4 Nubian. These are good dairy breeds.

They are naturally polled and heterozygous for this trait (dominant trait; their sire is horned), and they both have wattles.

They've been wormed and vaccinated and were weaned last week. They were raised by their dam, not on artificial milk.

Their mother is Buttercup, a Saanen/Nubian cross:

The udder shot is standard when looking at dairy goats, no matter how strange it feels to point one's camera phone at a goat's ass. Her udder is actually much more symmetrical than it seems from the picture, which is not straight-on.

and their father is George, a Saanen:

His horns are scurs. Rosie thought his pee-midden was a wonderful rolling opportunity. Another reason to forgo owning a buck, at least for the immediate future.

The kids were not handled a lot, and are quite convinced that I'll most likely eat them in the morning. But it's also unacceptable for me to leave them entirely alone. They are less afraid of a human standing on the other side of a stall door than they are of a human lying down on a chaise lounge.

They can easily jump a dutch door. They can also rebound off fencing at least 5' off the ground, in the manner of Xena, Warrior Princess running around the walls of a room, but without the aid of wires and stuntwomen. They do not require a run-up for any of this. Thus, my decision to soft-release them starting in the foster dog pen, with its 6' kennel panels, was prescient and nearly insufficient. And gave me time to go construct the necessary stall modifications.

Any blade of grass outside the dog kennel is far more delectable than the one growing a centimeter away from it inside the dog kennel from the same plant. I did not know this. Also, the sweet feed I got as a bribe is either poison, or OMG, it's that kind of candy that creeps use to get little kids like us into their vans.

They are not identical. Pink collar girl has longer hair, a prettier face, and has (I think) nicer dairy conformation. Purple collar girl is whiter and has a shorter face and stockier build, though she is two pounds lighter. (34 v. 32 pounds) Pink collar girl is the boldest, the most vocal, and appears to be dominant. Purple collar girl has a cut under one eye, apparently the result of her objecting to weaning last week by sieving herself out of a pen.

There was a wether who was also for sale, but he was rather small, as was his dam. Since one of the possible jobs for a wether would be as a pack goat, I think I'll hold out for a nice big guy who could carry a lot of gear.

I've got some ideas for names, but am open to suggestions.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hole in the Bucket

I swear I haven't forgotten about the more involved topics I've promised for this blog, including the forthcoming detailed reviews of research papers. This I will do when my brain works again.

Spring has become an infuriating exercise in juggling contingencies and also, not sleeping.

Will I be able to go back to Montana? When? For how long? So much depends on developments in the legal melodrama over which we have no influence.

When my SLOH elected to become worse than useless for a month or so, during the busiest time of year on a farm -- because he did not want to miss any of the putative cross-country ski season earlier in the year -- that did not improve the situation.

When I found that I had been demoted from invisible house elf to unpaid rush-hour chauffeur, and that this four-day assignment dragged on for three weeks, sucking up a tank of gas every other day and four hours every single workday -- four hours of prime daylight time, two of them out of the very middle of the productive day -- I was getting very close to violently offing someone from a short list that includes, but is not limited to, Yours Truly and the SLOH.

Did I mention that I've been having intermittently severe back and neck pain, and paresthesia in my hands, for over a month? Pain and paresthesia that becomes highly troublesome when I must drive, and excruciating when I'm jerking around in Pittsburgh* traffic? Pain and parasthesia that my new, now former, PCP declared didn't exist, since there was "nothing wrong" in my neck radiographs.

Am I sounding a bit cranky?

As of today I've quit the chauffeur gig, and this week finally visited a chiropractor who fixes backs -- as opposed to curing the common cold and/or diddling around and sucking the insurance and my bank account dry -- and got my head popped like a champagne cork. The temptation to barricade the driveway and cut the phone lines remains.

Cannot get sheep and goats until fences are in. Cannot get fences in until fence lines are clear. Cannot clear brush from fence lines with power tools because of tangled crapfest of six generations of broken, drooping, never-maintained, rusted, grown-into-trees fence wire. Cannot get to the crapfest of wire because of the brambles. Hole in the bucket.

I keep breaking and losing parts of Tractor-San, leading to further nesting hole-in-the-bucket scenarios. No sooner do I replace a missing turnbuckle on the right lift arm than I have to find and repair a fuel-tank leak. A tiller cannot be found for the beast for love nor money, so I paid a couple guys to plow and then till a 50' x 100' garden, which will be enough for this year.

On the poultry front, there are the 105 meat bird chicks, the 13 new eggers (straight run, so I've no idea how many will be the pullets I seek), still sixteen ducks. I would prefer fewer ducks. The guineas have all gone elsewhere -- the last of them traded for Delaware chicks. Henery Hawk the rooster is splinted up in sick bay with a distal fracture of his tib-fib.

And finally, Thursday night, Buffy II, Mother of The Brood, started hatching chicks:

She hatched out 7 of 11 eggs, which is okay for a first-timer. Sadly, only two of the blue Ameraucana eggs hatched -- all the failures were Ameraucanas, all the brown eggs hatched. Two of the non-hatchers that I rolled down the groundhog hole today exploded on the way down. Bwaa haa haaa haaa.

We know who the Baby Daddy is, but it's anyone's guess who da Momma is for any given chick. I was tickled to see the little coal-black ones, which I didn't expect. How they will feather out is a complete mystery.

I am absolutely delighted to watch her teach them what to eat, and call them to come nest in her voluminous feathers. So far she seems to be a good Broody, except that when she was setting the eggs she ate virtually nothing (despite food and water within reach) and she did not leave the nest to poop. This unsanitary habit may account for the failure of some of the eggs. If she fouls the nest on a second brood, I'll probably retire her from that role.

Right now the family is in the indoor portion of the dog kennel, a clean box stall with fresh wood chips on the floor. I'll set them loose to free-range with the rest when the chicks can move around well enough to negotiate the pop door.

On the dog front, first, Happy Birthday to Rosie and the Pistons. They are two years old today. This is something like an eighteenth birthday in dog terms. It's the age to start radiographing hips and thinking seriously about breeding a year or two from now, if that's an option on the table at all. It's the age at which one starts to think "Well, this is pretty much the dog that I'm going to have."

In the case of Rosie -- I can live with that. The crabapple doesn't roll very far from the tree.

Adorable Spike has entered adolescence -- as evidenced by his now constant notarized requests that Moe please kill him immediately -- and was abducted by aliens last week and returned sans huevos. I've had a couple applications on Spike, but they have not panned out -- he is looking for a great home.

* Land of civil engineers who graduated in the 10th percentile of their classes.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Clean, fed, vetted, warm, dry -- and in limbo for another two months.

The trial of Linda Kapsa has been continued until July.

News report here.

You can link to the defense motion and the prosecution's response (as a PDF) from the Billings Gazette page. (I can't say enough about the caliber of the coverage that the Billings Gazette has provided. These guys are shoring up my faith in the Fourth Estate.)

Two more months of institutional life for the 250+ English shepherds (and the three pugs, the mongrels, the cockatiels, chickens and cats).

While this is not great for the adult dogs, most continue to make behavioral progress because county custody is so much better than their former lives. For the puppies -- it's all bad. Because the puppies could have had totally normal lives if they'd been released so they grew up in foster care and were placed in permanent homes at the appropriate age. Instead, they cannot be taken out of the perimeter that contains them as living evidence. Volunteers must work with them as well as they can in an environment that can only be varied so much.

For the volunteers and county workers charged with doing their best for these sentient beings qua items of evidence -- well, imagine running a marathon through rain, snow, mud, and abuse by the spectators on the sidelines, and just as you approached the finish line, depleted, exhausted, sobbing, but exhilarated -- a race official pops out of nowhere and moves the line ten miles down the road. (Oh, and there will be heat and bugs and elevated invective for the rest of the race.)

Update -- HT to Vikki in Sweden -- As if two more months was not enough: Today's Billings Gazette

And more, here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The New York Review of Each Others' Books

Over a decade ago, a colleague gave me an anthology of academic animal behavior papers dealing, allegedly, with issues of interest to companion animal trainers and owners.

Two editors. Two dozen or so contributors, including nine writing solely on cats, primates, or horses. The two editors are authors of twelve of the thirty papers.

And then there are the citations. Wilhelm cites Bertha who cites Inga who cites Wilhelm who cites Inga who cites Bertha. A regular Polish firing squad of citations.

Very cozy little club there.

See, here's how it goes in the darker corners of some universities. (And in private practice in certain fields, as we'll see.)

You submit your third-rate research to a third-rate, low-circulation journal in your tiny little area of specialization.

Make sure you copiously cite the work of the editor of the journal, as well as the work of every possible reviewer. Since the field is so small and unpopulated, and the whimsy of the editors is pretty easy for an insider to discern, it's not hard to guess who the reviewers will be.

The reviewers and editors have a vested interest in goosing their own cite stats. The editor needs to fill four issues a year of journal that may have fewer readers than contributors. That paper is gonna get published. Sure, a megalomaniac editor or reviewer may effectively re-write the thing, but it gets published with your name on it. And cited in the next round. The journal becomes a little credentialing vehicle in the battle for tenure, or just another semester's appointment as part-time visiting adjutant lecturer of thus'n'such.

And don't forget to cite yourself -- everything you've ever published. And one or two of the ponderous "classic" texts in the larger field that technically encompasses. The citations can be as gratuitous as you like. No one will check.

And what do you get in the end? A couple of dozen (at most) sub-sub-field insiders sitting around vigorously agreeing with one another, without having to perform any really original or difficult work, apply the scientific method with rigor, or meet broad peer review standards that are, well, standard in the scholarly world.

I can't tell you how many current and former academics, in fields ranging from the hardest sciences to the squidgiest humanities, have read what passes for a "paper" in the field of "companion animal behavior" and bitterly proclaimed themselves to have chosen the wrong discipline. Why did we sign up for all that hard work?

Case in point: the single paper in the anthology mentioned above that I found wildly interesting, provocative, rigorously designed, and potentially useful in a practical way is also the one whose author doesn't cite the editors or any of the other usual suspects in the rest of the volume, and is not cited in any of them. It seems to be well-embedded in a larger and more results-oriented field. (Though the author does rather copiously cite his own previous publications.)

Which brings me to the present-day, and what passes for "research" in the politicized world of "companion dog behavior modification."

This used to be called "dog training." Some hominids (2) still cling to this quaint terminology. (1542 -- "subject to discipline and instruction for the purpose of forming the character and developing the powers of, or making proficient in some occupation." Some hominids own the compact OED.) Its practitioners were judged by their success in "forming the character" and "making proficient," sometimes in formal tests and contests.

Such outcomes are now proclaimed irrelevant. Dog training has become politicized in the last decade to an extent that is unbelievable to an outside observer -- most particularly, the interested outside observer, the dog owner who just wants some advice on getting the damned dog to come when he’s called/pee outdoors/eschew leg-of-postal-worker. One large faction of the self-proclaimed revolutionists (let’s call them the Judean People’s Front) has taken up the mantle of “science.” Some of them even have university affiliations and postgraduate degrees in fields such as veterinary medicine and the sexual behavior of lizards.(3)

Why is this important? Because real dogs, and real owners, are looking for help. Because pseudo-science -- ideology cloaked in the vestments of science, but without its substance -- is being aggressively promoted as the only way for them to get that help, while the grunting empiricist hominid trainers are discounted by both pseudo-scientists and the media. Because the outcome of not getting effective help ranges from the tragedy of a dog whose full potential for achievement and dignity is squandered, to a dog who is killed because of training omissions, to a dog who seriously hurts a human because of training omissions.

The conclusions made by the researchers are not hiding away in those dark corners of universities and moldering in the pages of the seldom-read journals, as they would be if they dealt with, let’s say, philology. Because they purport to be directly relevant to human relationships with their pets, huge numbers of ordinary people are keenly interested in what they “prove.” An army of journalists, veterinarians, and non-academic “trainers” filter the conclusions in progressively simplistic ways before proclaiming Truth to their pet-owning clients. Most never read the original paper; those who do are frequently complicit in concealing the essential inadequacies of the “data” that allegedly supports the widely-reported conclusions.

Studies show ...

Rather than justifying their academic appointments or private practice fees by rigorously measuring the results of their interventions and objectively demonstrating the efficacy of their methods, (y'all can do that, right?) the Clan of Three Letters (PhD, DVM, JPF) now goes a huntin' for "data" that discredits the grunting, OED-reading, leather-leash-wielding, suspected Mexican hominids.

But the habit of intellectual sloth fostered by the ongoing sub-field circle-jerk means that the published "studies" don't hold up to even casual scrutiny from outside the circle. Not that alleged journalists, including "science" journalists, bother with even that in those few instances where the propaganda comes to outsider notice. Ralphing up a press release as "news coverage" is so much easier than reading the paper, much less applying basic logical analysis to the study design(4), methods, data analysis, and conclusions.

Hey, the journal already did all that, right? Dis here is peer reviewed.

See above.

In the next few months, Raised by Wolves will scrutinize a variety of papers and pronouncements from researchers and professional bodies that claim to provide solid data about dog behavior and how to change it through training. We’ll read and analyze the papers themselves, not the press releases or the gormless media buzz. We’ll hold the authors to the standards of objectivity, rigor, and evidence that any scientist should expect and welcome.

And we’ll always remember that This was in a journal, it must be credible is not a valid argument.

(1) Not that I am not positively oozing sympathy for the plight of any young academic seeking his or her sinecure, or just a paycheck for the next semester. You do what you gotta do, and geniuses must dance the dance with the hacks. The publish or perish two-step mentioned here is not one-one-hundredth as humiliating as the ass-kiss limbo. That said, it is just as much work to produce and publish crap as it is good stuff.

(2) Some hominids also cling to the word “hominid,” which we are now told is more properly “hominim.” Which is a homonym for homonym. Which is just too much for our tiny stone-chipping brains. And my spell-checker still rejects it, so there.

(3) No, I am not mocking the achievement of earning a degree in veterinary medicine, nor am scoffing at basic research into animal behavior. I am not a Republican, I totally get it about the volcano monitoring and fruit flies. But neither credential speaks to the problem of “How do get my dog to stop doing the things that drive me crazy, and consistently do the (reasonable) things that I expect of him?”

(4) I was forced kicking and screaming to take a class in methods (aka sadistics), despite the fact that my own post-graduate field of study was dangerously close to “humanities” rather than the “social science” that would be named in the degree -- which I did not complete. The professor for the class was mediocre, but his assistant was fantastic, great teacher. That methods class is the single most useful positive lesson I took away from six years of hazing.