Friday, January 15, 2010

BBC Horizon: The Secret Life of the Dog


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Aired January 7, 2010 on BBC Two
We have an extraordinary relationship with dogs - closer than with any other animal on the planet. But what makes the bond between us so special?

Research into dogs is gaining momentum, and scientists are investigating them like never before. From the latest fossil evidence, to the sequencing of the canine genome, to cognitive experiments, dogs are fast turning into the new chimps as a window into understanding ourselves.

Where does this relationship come from? In Siberia, a unique breeding experiment reveals the astonishing secret of how dogs evolved from wolves. Swedish scientists demonstrate how the human/dog bond is controlled by a powerful hormone also responsible for bonding mothers to their babies.

Why are dogs so good at reading our emotions? Horizon meets Betsy, the world's most intelligent dog, and compares her incredible abilities to those of children. Man's best friend has recently gone one step further - helping us identify genes responsible for causing human diseases.
(via RichardDawkins.net)

9 comments:

  1. "for decades science dismissed dogs as being unworthy of legitimiate study" Hahah!! LOLwut?!? See, this is my problem with Horizon and Nova and the like, they've become so hell-bent on presenting everything as the One True paradigm exploding breakthrough and everything we ever knew before is bullshit but now we see the light and weren't we SO STUPID and bla bla bla. It makes me think the producers don't understand how science works very much at all. Oh well, anyway there were a few interesting findings I hadn't heard before, so it was good luchtime viewing.

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  2. I'd put my faith and trust in my dog any day over some god. 

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  3. I got as far as the bit where the dogs, who have an INCREDIBLE sense of smell and can be seen sniffing the air, are 'following the eyesight of the human' to find an object under a pot...  Let's just forget that the dogs can smell all manner of stuff - and the direction it's coming from - a hell of a lot easier than humans could tell which pot, say, a steaming turd was located beneath.

    Woo-mendous.

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  4. <p>@ Blake - To me your real problem with Horizon, Nova and the likes seems to be your own interpretation. I haven't heard anyone saying in the documentary that all we've known before is bullsh*t. Your comment makes me think that you yourself don't understand very well how science works nor how to produce a documentary, but I could be wrong.
    <p>The fact that dogs use the same trick to read human faces as we do ourselves, or finding genes in dogs which cause human diseases I think are more than just a interesting finding suitable for lunchtime viewing, I think those findings are pretty awesome. Of course we don't have to share the same amount of enthusiasm about stuff like that (though I won't mind having lunch doing so either).
    <p>@ AC - Let's just forget the fact you haven't actually seen the documentary.
    <p>For people whom do have appetite and the attention span for more, you might find this interesting as well: Smart Sea Lions and Talking Walruses.

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  5. Yes, that is my own interpretation, because I know how good science is done, I work with laser and plasma physicists every day. In fact, I co-authored a paper on sol-gel antireflection coating performance under terawatt ultraviolet laser irradiation just this week. I am afraid that it's largely fluff science on these shows now Walrus. The majority of what is presented as incontrovertable fact seriously lacks rigor and is horribly controlled (notice how, in addition to the scent objections raised by AC, we see the Max Plank researcher using a visual shield when testing the chimp and no such shield in use with the dogs - the viewer is simply left to assume some kind of blinding was utilized). Though I'll grant that this show was somewhat of an exception to the rule for these programs of late and some rigorous science was shown, note for how long that genetics and disease section lasted, about a whopping 3 or 4 minutes, in which a extremely superficial explanation of the science was presented. Ben Goldacre explains the woeful state of TV science on his Bad Science blog and in his radio 4 interviews much better than I can here. Also, while we're at it, note how the viewer is given no detail at all about how the fox tameness selection - coat mottling experiment was actually carried out. It is again left to the viewer to simply assume the selection was somehow sufficiently insulated from subjective slector bias so as to ensure subconscious bias didn't actually produce the coat mottling, floppy ears and so on. This is the CORE of how good scientific inquiry is performed and it is routinely totally ignored in these TV science shows. Like I said, it was a fun, moderately interesting show that made for some nice relaxing lunchtime viewing and I thank amb for posting it.

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  6. <p>"Yes, that is my own interpretation, because I know how good science is done, I work with laser and plasma physicists every day. In fact, I co-authored a paper on sol-gel antireflection coating performance under terawatt ultraviolet laser irradiation just this week."
    </p><p>Ok, I stand corrected.
    </p><p>"I am afraid that it's largely fluff science on these shows now Walrus. The majority of what is presented as incontrovertable fact seriously lacks rigor and is horribly controlled…"
    </p><p>I think bad science and properly done science are easily being mixed together in documentaries like this because such productions are being made by several people (and sometimes even several crews) with of course their specific knowledge on film making and such, but most of them are no scientists. So the knowledge about science will differ a lot between all those crew(s) members ending up with more inconsistency in quality of the presentation and reliableness of the presented facts within the same documentary. Of course the same can be said among such shows in general, quality does differ a lot yes. It would be a good thing when producers, journalists, tv-show and documentary makers are more companioned by scientists when doing these shows. 
    </p><p>"(…notice how, in addition to the scent objections raised by AC, we see the Max Plank researcher using a visual shield when testing the chimp and no such shield in use with the dogs - the viewer is simply left to assume some kind of blinding was utilized)."
    </p><p>I have to agree those experiments by Kaminski seem quite wobbly, and the following part with the Border-Collie Rico which is able to bring toys on command by word or picture is presented in such way it could've easily been faked within the montage as well. One continuous shot showing both rooms at once at the same time could have taken away most of that doubt. Apparently Rico performed in a German show called Wetten, dass..? but I can't find that particular video yet, maybe that performance gives a better indication wether it is real or not? If anyone does have a link to that video or another one showing Rico's <span>abilities,</span> I'd appreciate you post it here.
    </p><p>"Though I'll grant that this show was somewhat of an exception to the rule for these programs of late and some rigorous science was shown, note for how long that genetics and disease section lasted, about a whopping 3 or 4 minutes, in which a extremely superficial explanation of the science was presented."
    </p><p>These shows try to focus on a broad audience which might cause several constraints not being handled well. More thorough explanations on different sections would be nice to many (including myself) indeed, but finding the right balance in showing as much data possible/available to provide a better insight almost is a science on it's own, specially considering maximum time spans, viewer-ratings and sometimes killing deadlines in tv-world. Are such shows on top of the game? No, but it's been worse too and there's a lot more crappy stuff out there for sure, but I get the idea that shows like Horizon or NOVA on pbs usually aren't doing too bad.
    </p><p>"Ben Goldacre explains the woeful state of TV science on his Bad Science blog and in his radio 4 interviews much better than I can here."
    </p><p>Ok, I should visit his blog more often.
    </p>

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  7. <p>"Also, while we're at it, note how the viewer is given no detail at all about how the fox tameness selection - coat mottling experiment was actually carried out."
    </p><p>Part4 - 8:50 - "We approached the animals in the cages and recorded their reaction to us. We could see that some of the foxes showed aggressive behavior, others were frightened, but only 1% of them showed neither signs of fear or aggression. This 1% was selected to become the founding generation of a new population of foxes. At every generation the selection process was repeated with only the tamest foxes allowed to breed." etc..
    </p><p>Part5 - 4:50 - "Just a few generations into the experiments scientists began to notice a curious phenomena, the normal pattern and the silver colour of the coat changed dramatically in some of the tame foxes, their tales often became curly instead of straight, some young foxes kept their floppy ears for much longer than usual, and their limbs and tales generally became shorter than their wild counterparts."
    </p><p>"It is again left to the viewer to simply assume the selection was somehow sufficiently insulated from subjective slector bias so as to ensure subconscious bias didn't actually produce the coat mottling, floppy ears and so on."
    </p><p>Wether biassed or not they did do something within that experiment which produces tame foxes with those changes while that doesn't happen with the wild ones. Of course I might wrongly assume they've documented the process some time during those 50 years and done proper science, but being deceived doing so. More information would have given a welcome better insight on the broader picture, sure. You and I can think of a lot more questions I bet, and there lies the 'problem' with science shows (even bad ones) too, they raise new questions.
    </p>

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  8. interesting documentary. thanks for sharing! and i just don't know how people can be cruel to dogs.

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