Science says … a lot of things.

There seems to be an explosion of science circulating through dog training groups, and that is rather exciting.  I started collecting studies over a decade ago.  I am a huge fan of science and seem to have gotten a reputation as a go to person for links.  Often I receive messages that say:

“Do you have anything that proves that…..<insert topic here>.”

The truth is that you could insert almost any topic and I probably have something.  Heck, I could send you study links to “prove” that aliens exist.

Where dog studies are concerned, I have studies that show negative reinforcement is linked to stress.  However, I also have studies that show no increase in cortisol – a stress hormone – in dogs trained with negative reinforcement.  Pick any topic and there will likely be studies that draw very different results.

I can “prove” both sides.

Science is a lot like Lego.  Each block is important.  You can’t see the whole of the structure by looking at just one block.  Research studies are the pieces.  Together they give you a complete structure.  As you stand back, you might see that some don’t fit quite right.  Some pieces for whatever reason don’t work in a given spot.  Sometimes you might even get one of those cheap knock off bricks that doesn’t fit anywhere at all, except perhaps the trash bin.
IMG_8216 copy

There are knock off studies – pay to publish.  Money talks, sometimes a little too much.  Not all research is free from the dilemma of who pays and why.  We live in an era where corporations can hire researchers to “test” their products.  How biased those studies are depends on the construction of the study.

Other times statistics pose problems.  Small or pre-screened samples create a huge margin of error.  Who cares if one or two pre-screened dogs act a certain way?  One proverbial guinea pig is not a large scale study with blind controls and random assignment to groups.  That is rather important if you want to know how the average dog behaves.  That is not to say that small studies are bad.  It is what it is.

Scientists question studies, trying to replicate interesting findings.  If only one research team is getting a particular set of results, we should probably ask why.  It’s not personal, nor is it an insult.  Questions are good.  Researchers do it all the time.

Let’s not forget that mistakes can happen.  Media outlets reported that neutrino particles moved faster than the speed of light (apparently an amazing physics discovery).  Testing and re-testing confirmed the results.  Yet, other scientists kept digging into the controversial finding.  Eventually it was determined that a loose cable caused faulty results.  In the age of the internet, you can still Google the obsolete (2011) results.  Quote it all you like, it’s wrong.

Questioning research doesn’t make one a jealous Debbie downer.  The scientific process is all about throwing stones.

The question is whether we allow our own opinions and bias to determine which studies we blindly accept, and which we evaluate with a critical eye.  Searching for studies is not the same as searching for truth.  Validating our own choices, or heaven forbid our own business product is biased and self serving.

Don’t get me wrong, Google Scholar has a place.  But it’s not really a place where we should hunt down support for our own opinions.  “I knew I was right, I found an obscure abstract, skipped over the flaws and quoted one paragraph that proves my point.”  Of course, no one ever phrases their findings using those words – making the practice difficult to spot.

Instead, we should be looking at all studies with the goal of ascertaining truth.  If we have made an error in our thinking, we can seek to correct it, or wear blinders, plugging our fingers in our ears chanting “na na na na I can’t hear you.”

Our dogs deserve better from us.  They deserve us to care enough that we look for truth.  By doing so, we can see that conflicting studies just give different representations of information that might oddly fit together.

Returning to the negative reinforcement example from the beginning, there really is no controversy.  We know that successful avoidance of aversives can provide temporary stress reduction.  Both outcomes are possibly true under different scenarios.  Conflicting results can support one another.

It’s like saying that I don’t fear spiders in my home because I bug bomb regularly.  Does that make bug bombing is a good strategy in treating spider phobias?  No.  It can reduce my stress levels inside my home until it is time to spray again.  Conflicting results have surprisingly logical explanations.

The goal should be to keep asking questions, discarding pseudo science and disproven theories.  We should aim for the very elusive goal of seeking truth – ever mindful that we all carry a bias.  The antidote to that bias is to kick the studies that appeal to us with just as much ferocity as those that offend us.

That goes double for studies quoted by other people.  Read the studies.  Read the opposing points of view.  Simple truth: If you believe everything that comes with a link, you’re letting other people do your reading and thinking for you.  That is an idea that I just find, unthinkable.

Feb 21st:  Great blog done by another great writer – Eileen – on the subject.  Has some excellent links on assessing the qualify of journals.

20 thoughts on “Science says … a lot of things.

  1. Pingback: Don’t Get Mud on Your Face! Citing Research in Discussions | eileenanddogs

  2. Me too – especially because some people believe that there isn’t science. that anecdotal experiences replace science. When science is replicated starting in the 1920 going all the up through last year, we can reasonably assume, without anything to refute it, that it is good science.

    When a Theory, not a hypothesis, is presented, we can reasonably assume, that until disproved, it’s good to go. Until it IS disproved. Despite kiwis or monkeys.

    And when people can use non-science (meaning no proof) to justify, ummm, non.science, then one has to ask the question “If that’s so, where the science to support your statement?”. Funny, how no concrete answer comes – because that’s how science works.

    Avoidance of the presentation of scientific evidence is not a scientific argument. When evidence for one side is presented, the scientific discussion begins with the presentation of scientific evidence for the other side. Just saying “it’s wrong” doesn’t cut it.

    • Actually, science is not all “good” simply because it’s presented somewhere. There are many less than stellar journals that accept badly designed studies. There have been instances where studies *were* replicated, only to be disproved by later studies because of some factor not taken in to account in the earlier studies. As we progress, more is learned.

      Citing scientific studies, while misunderstanding or leaving out pertinent information, is common among those who want to prove a bias, and thus often renders good science into bad.

      True people of science don’t defend positions, they question them. But they, like anyone else, can have opinions on the ethics of the *applied* version of the science.

      • It’s that kind of thinking that makes way for things like, “Dominance theory.” Note that it is still a theory despite conflicting evidence.
        But paying for full studies not available online is not something you can share without copyright infringement unless you have the author’s permission. Copying large sections of text out of textbooks is copyright infringement.
        If someone is going to go out there and make claims, the onus is on them to support the researcher’s work, pay for the studies and buy the books.

        • Dominance Theory doesn’t exist. Not in the scientific literature. According to James O’Heare, there are at least 18 different dominance theories, none of which are called simply Dominance Theory. And the are very specific to species or types. In other words, the argument is a straw man.

          From “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory”

          “Both scientific laws and scientific theories are produced from the scientific method through the formation and testing of hypotheses, and can predict the behavior of the natural world. Both are typically well-supported by observations and/or experimental evidence. However, scientific laws are descriptive accounts of how nature will behave under certain conditions. Scientific theories are broader in scope, and give overarching explanations of how nature works and why it exhibits certain characteristics. Theories are supported by evidence from many different sources, and may contain one or several laws.

          A common misconception is that scientific theories are rudimentary ideas that will eventually graduate into scientific laws when enough data and evidence has been accumulated. A theory does not change into a scientific law with the accumulation of new or better evidence. A theory will always remain a theory; a law will always remain a law.

          Theories and laws are also distinct from hypotheses. Unlike hypotheses, theories and laws may be simply referred to as scientific fact.”

          So for example, the Affect Theory is such a theory scrutinized through peer review, cited and pragmatically applied. And even expanded upon.

          As to the studies I “paid” for, not available on line, you simply didn’t do you’re homework. I found them all, as I wrote, using google scholar. They are all available on-line. Yes, you can pay for them, but I don’t have to, since I work at a university which subscribes to the journals, all of whom are well respected in the behavioral sciences. And I did conform to the cite-procedures and copyright laws, you really do need to inform yourself as to what those laws specifically are in a university setting and concerned with private use.

          I made no claims – I merely asked questions which lead me to certain answers. Those disputing either my findings OR the results of the scientists I quoted or cited, which include Pavlov should at least say what they are refuting and provide their own counter evidence, instead of making inaccurate suppositions concerning the methods and sources of someone who did actual legwork.

          You would make a much better argument if you used facts instead of fiction.

          And I do want to hear of a single medical procedure that is 100% effective, and/or one psychological method method that works 100% as long as you perform it correctly.

          The problem here is, that science does move on, new (from the 70’s) methods are developed. These are tried, collated, evaluated written up in scientific journals. And they do not always contradict what has been written before. In the case of ROF that is the case. The latest studies show how this can be avoided to a large degree – but you couldn’t be bothered with doing THAT research. I did. and included it. And the research on operant counterconditioning (differential reinforcement) has alos been going on for decades, starting with DRO and including DRA. DRI for what the researchers were looking for in clinical and lab situation was not specifically looked at, but there is theoretically nothing against that. The fascinating this was, there was no ROF there, because of the operantly train behavior filled the gap left by extinction. All well documented.

          So the whole stunk is really about unsubstantiated claims of success without any science backing them up against the science that shows that that itself is relatively unlikely and why. On the other hand, other possible procedures by which the former effects are achieved as a by-product have been documented for their success.

          So if you want to warn people off real science, go ahead. You haven’t presented any yourself. It’s the tactic though. Redirect from the actual argument with such accusations, without presenting any hard evidence yourself, neither of the supposed 100% efficiency (if you just do it right, meaning all those including Pavlov weren’t doing it right) nor any countering the findings by the scientists I cited.

          • Sorry, I’m really confused. It seems you think that I’m talking about you.
            I don’t use Wikipedia except as a general quick reference. It’s a user generated document. I get my definitions from university texts. Those are copyright. I buy new studies – from 2013/2014…newer than the 70’s. It would be wrong of me to share them.
            I’ll make sure to tell all those pesky textbook writers who devote entire books to the scientific process, critical thinking etc that they are “warning” people off good science.
            Will make sure to send them a note saying that that the segment of “Not all theories are scientific theories” is wrong. Freud being a key example of theories that are theories, but not scientific theories.
            I think the idea that theories are damn good proof hold water unless disproven is not always possible or true.
            If you don’t like it, argue with the university psych department heads.

              • Thanks Kim. I have mad respect for all my friends who do actual peer reviewed research. They have mad skills. The effort they put into a study – taking years to do it to the best of their abilities is really outstanding.
                I find it really disrespectful when people think they can do better or interpret better because they googled it. I find that many researchers are very cautious in discussing studies, obviously upset that a body of work is reduced to a clever news story, blog or product sale that grossly misrepresents the whole of their work.

                • Wikipedia!? Using Wikipedia to support ‘science’? That is my laugh for the day! I stopped reading that comment as soon as I saw the poster was using Wikipedia to support his argument. Even grade school kids can’t use Wikipedia as a source for reports. For all we know the poster (or one of his aliases) wrote that in Wikipedia.

            • So still no scientific rebuttal. It’s never come until and it won’t. Redirect never directly address. I’ll wait until you refute Pavlov, Rachman, Grey, Agras, Craske, Rowe, Bouton and all the others. Don’t worry about me. I never claimed to be a scientist. But I do know how to read.

              And if you don’t like Wiki
              http://www.livescience.com/21457-what-is-a-law-in-science-definition-of-scientific-law.html

              http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Scientific_theory

              So also here, there is no rebuttal from, not even “your” favorite definition that refutes that which. is in Wiki. So, now 3 sources that agree with each other – and there will also be no factual rebuttal.

              But as long as you are happy with a very individual definition of science, no matter that it has no basis in fact, more power to you. You’ll need it.

              • biology-online is a wiki – user provided content.
                livescience is part of a group of online companies regarding various topics including “News-a-rama,” where you can read on whether Wonder Woman or Lewis Lane are better for Superman.
                I have the text right in front of me. I could scan the 5 pages on the subject and post it.
                It’s not MY job to do YOUR research for you. It’s up to you to pay the $150.00 for each textbook. It’s up to you to spend $1000 per course.

                As for the rest of the comments, please note that passive aggressive comments are not tolerated here. If you want to say something, say it straight up. Please read the rules. I find the last sentence threatening on a personal level and beyond unprofessional.

                • So thank you for a lesson on your people skills. With that message it’s really the pot calling the kettle black.

                  Admit it, anything I write here you will find a way to pick at it – except to rebut any of the scientists ore premises I spoke to. In all the “discussions” you and your sisters have had with anyone of another opinion, you through the word science in their faces cast doubts upon their intellectual capabilities, their professionalism and their training abilities, but never, ever supply even one piece of empirical data to support your position.

                  So, while you can pick on what a “Theory” is or a “Law”, you have not even refuted the definitions, just the sources as not up to your standards. Funny – people who have degrees have not found it necessary to question those. They can discuss points of view without character assassinations, neither passive nor pointed. But you’ve been witness to that and that must really sting – maybe that’s the reason you find it necessary to inaccurately report on those off board.

                  • I have no idea what you are talking about. I can only express my personal experiences of receiving various PMs that call people names. And I have seen people block and ban posts and links because the person is anti-some protocol. I’ve seen posts removed. I have seen people called haters when they do link to research.
                    That is what I see. I have classes to run and dogs to see.
                    If you think for one second that I’m going to invest time – a very precious commodity – it will be invested into the dogs, their owners and into groups where discourse is not censored.
                    You came here ready to hunt bear and throwing the definitions around. The onus of proof is on you to offer a clear definition that includes the exceptions and limitations. You brought it up.
                    Me – it’s a far more effective use of my time to create a new blog on it.

                    • Well, Yevette, I have a degree in science. I regularly set up experiments for neuro and behavioral biologists. People who do REAL research, not posers who write pseudoscience opinion pieces.

                      I wish more people were fluent in the language of science like you are.

                      I know a lot of the professors and grad students who have had some mad chuckles with me over what has been posing as “research” lately. It is always nice to have some behavioral biologists and neurobiologists around for confirmation that the idiocy out there trying to pass itself off as science is just that, idiocy.

                      The funniest for me was when a neurobiologist read some of this “science”, then, without knowing my position on the topic, turned to me laughing and asked me if I knew that the ‘research” and “science” was nothing but marketing aimed at the gullible. Much of it is less than a Lego set and more like a house of cards. Should not be like that, but I guess as long as laypeople are going to pretend to be scientists, muddying the waters to support nonsense will be the rule of the day.

                      Don’t doubt YOUR ability to interpret the research and experiments, Yvette, doubt the posers and pretenders.

                    • I have many friends that do real research – and the profs I know start the year with “not all research is equal.” It is rather odd that what was essentially a blog spelling out material found in university psych courses is somehow “wrong.”
                      Mad respect to the researchers that search for truth through YEARS of effort on one study.

  3. I am so glad you posted this blog. The idea that we must understand our own biases is the most cogent point made. Additionally, I would argue that we must also take in to account our ethics. Interestingly, many of the studies that have given us information about learning were done by shocking dogs, a situation many of us would find unthinkable today. And, even when we do find that something “works” we must, of needs, compare it to an ethical standard as well. Yes, it works, but do we want to do it to our dogs? Do we have another, less painful, or more positive, way to arrive at a similar result?
    Competency is elusive in this craft at the moment, because modern positive training is young. All of us who want to improve the quality of life for the dogs in our lives, should consider the faith that they have so long put in us, but which we, through carelessness or just through misunderstanding, have not lived up to.

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