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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Ask scientific questions about dogs

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Hi Mia!

Glad to hear your meta-analysis pool is filled with data, or better said, 5,000+ salivary cortisol samples, translating to roughly 1.3 gallons of canine saliva. Never did I think I would see a sentence written about that much saliva, from dogs or any other species. 


It's amazing what we can learn just from studying dog spit. Somebody, somewhere had to think to themselves, "Hey! Why don't we examine hormone levels in spit?" And then, they had to create a system for doing so (and now, this field of research has gone so far as to have Spit Camp, where people learn how to collect saliva samples). This all kind of leads into what I've recently been thinking about... 

Science = Questioning
One of the challenges of science is to question what we already think to be true, to challenge what is possible.

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto recently reminded me of this when I was watching his 2012 TED talk. He begins:

TED Talk Science is for everyone

“Perception is grander than our experience. The brain takes meaningless information and makes meaning out of it. Which means, we never see what’s there, we never see information, we only ever see what was useful to see in the past.

Perception underpins everything, our hopes, our dreams. If perception is grounded in our history it means we are only ever responding to what we’ve done before. But that creates a tremendous problem. Because how can we ever see differently?

All new perceptions begin the same way. They begin with a question.”


New perceptions begin with a question.

Questioning is especially relevant in The Age of Dog where so many of us wake up to a dog’s nose pressed into our face, and we spend countless hours telling tales about the dogs in our lives. And outside of our own experiences, we are bombarded by advertisements telling us, “This is who dogs are” followed by, “And this is what they want, so buy THIS product.”

As applied researchers, we ask scientific questions about our perceptions of dogs and the stories we tell about them. To name a few possible questions: Are we able to visually recognize a dog’s dominant breed? What is the welfare of working dogs? What are the mechanics behind dogs drinking water? What does the “guilty look” mean for dogs? Do dogs have paw preferences and if so, what might that mean? Do all dogs share the same rates of behavioral development?

By asking questions, we are trying to unearth dog perspectives and dog storylines.



Video about ScienceOnline Teen 2013
ScienceOnline Teen!
Which is why I am incredibly excited to participate in ScienceOnline Teen on April 13th (connection coming soon).

Beau Lotto reminds us that young people, in particular, are pretty awesome at asking questions, and significant questions at that.

ScienceOnline Teen is an “unconference conference”, where teens and people involved in science and scientific inquiry coming together “to build connections between students & teachers and the online scientific community and discuss how new media is changing the world of science.”

My hope is to remind teens that we can ask scientific questions not just about atoms and cancer cells but also about the species we interact with on a daily basis.


My short presentation at ScienceOnline Teen is Dogs: Science in Your Living Room. Sure, everyone blogs, tweets and posts pictures of cute dogs, but can our interest in dogs be part of an actual learning experience? The session discusses how a well-known and often beloved companion species, the domestic dog, can help everyone learn about science and scientific principles.

Your post last week on meta-analysis of salivary cortisol research is a prime example of the interplay between learning about dogs and learning about experimental design and data collection.

I’m also participating in the Women in Science Panel by Maia Winstock with Hilda Bastian, Krystal D’Costa, Cynthia Duggan, Delaram Kahrobaei, Gabrielle Rabinowitz, and Jayne Raper (Bios found here). Based on my early titrating challenges and fear of fire (and the Bunsen burner), it's cool to see how much can changed.


Do you have a scientific question about dogs?
Which leads to my last thought: people of any age can ask scientific questions. So, people out there in Internet Land. What scientific questions about dogs do you have?

Bye for now!

Julie 

More reading
Cobb, M. 2013. Thinking laterality: steps, jumps and wonder-whorls. DYBID
Cobb, M. 2013. The heat(map) is on... The colours of canine welfare. DYBID
Cobb, M. 2013. Throw another dog in the (data) pool. DYBID
Hecht, J. 2012. . Dog Spies
Hecht, J. 2012. What kinds of dogs are troubled by fireworks & what to do about it. DYBID
McConnell, P. 2009. Podcast report; Breed ban info; MARS Wisdom Panel. The Other End of the Leash

© 2013 Julie Hecht