The Dingo in Australia and Asia: a Book Review

The Dingo in Australia and AsiaThe Dingo in Australia and Asia by Laurie Corbett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars ★★★

The Dingo in Australia and Asia was interesting to read, and is very difficult to rate. There are aspects of the book I would like to give 5 stars, and other aspects I want to give minus 5 stars.

 

Trigger warning: this review is probably a boring read for anyone who is not interested in learning about dingoes or considering to read the book, or who is already well into the topic, because it is very thorough. It is the first time I review a popular science book*. I’ll eventually find out how to do it shorter.

 
Good stuff: dingoes and their role in Australian ecology

The Dingo in Australia and Asia offers a wealth of information from studies of wild and captive dingoes in different regions of Australia and covers a wide range of topics centred around dingoes.

I liked the parts about vocal communication (howling patterns), predator-prey interactions and population dynamics, which give insights into dingoes’ communication systems and how wild animal populations regulate each other.

Another good aspect of the book is the glimpse into the tremendous role of the European invasion and the rabbit introduction in shaping the Australian fauna and landscape as it is today, where rabbits are a main food item on the menu of probably all the larger predators.

There is also a fascinating little glimpse into the childhood history of a litter of wild dingo pups on page 93 – 97 (with a sad ending though).

The layout of the book is excellent, with pleasant type and set-up, illustrations (colour photos, drawings, tables, graphs), quite smooth page texture and best of all: good wide margins to write notes in.

 
Interesting: dispersal sinks

An interesting aspect is how human control activities to remove dingoes impact dingo populations, and not always with the intended effect.

Eradication of dingoes by human control methods creates “dispersal sinks”: vacant territories that attract new dingoes from surrounding areas, when they disperse from their natal packs. Thus, these areas ‘suck’ in dingoes from surrounding areas in a continuous flow, like a sink.

Also, the killing of dingoes tends to fragment large stable family packs into smaller units. Dingoes, like wolves, have a one-litter-per-pack-per-year ‘policy’, so larger numbers of small packs rather than fewer, larger packs result in more breeding dingoes and thereby a net result of more dingoes being produced overall, and thereby the need to kill more dingoes to keep numbers down.

So therefore human control activities to reduce dingo numbers can sometimes increase dingo numbers.

 

Australian dingo, arid landscape
commons.wikipedia.org

 
 
Nuisances

Slightly annoying drawbacks include messy categories at times, some factual inaccuracies (e.g. rabies-free countries in the world, p. 28 – super easy to look up online), and not explaining how he arrives on some conclusions, so it is sometimes unclear whether an opinion of his is speculation.

Moderately frustrating drawbacks include lack of references and in one case (at least) doubtful references. For example on p. 133, it says “In a study of captive wolves… […]”, and the next paragraph starts with: “Other studies of captive wolves have suggested that… […]”, but there is no reference to any wolf studies in that chapter’s reference list at all. In fact, I found only 2 references to wolf behaviour studies in the reference lists for all the chapters, and both were to outmoded captive-wolf studies by Rudolf Schenkel**.

 
Dingo pack ABC

A dingo pack, like a wolf pack, is essentially an extended nuclear family consisting of the parents, called the breeding pair or the alpha pair, and some of their offspring, sometimes called beta. Only the breeding pair breeds, and only once a year – Dingoes are like wolves in that regard, and unlike domestic dogs.

 

dingo with pups with 3-pups, one raising on back legs to nudge the mother's mouth begging

 
 
Most offspring disperse when they reach sexual maturity and if they survive long enough, they’ll find an unrelated mate and breed somewhere else, hence creating their new pack on a new territory and becoming new “alphas” – parents. Offspring that chose to remain pack members of their natal pack don’t reproduce, but help rear their youngest siblings.

That is the basic ABC of dingo packs as well as wolf packs. Corbett mentions it on p. 59:

Packs are essentially extended families, similar to wolves and other canids; they comprise a mated pair, their offspring of the year plus some offspring from previous seasons.

and on p. 91, observing wild packs in a specific location:

Packs comprise a mated pair and their young from previous years […]

But everywhere else, the social structures and behaviours of dingo packs are described with complicating jargon that obscures the family structure. For example on page 35:

In stable packs the most dominant (alpha) female, usually the oldest, tends to come in oestrus before the other females in the pack, and some subordinate females seem to go through a pseudopregnancy.

Since the alpha female is usually the mother, and the subordinate females her daughters, what is the point of mentioning that the mother is usually older than her daughters?

 
Curly’s Mob

The biggest problem with the book is that the important chapter on social dynamics along with Corbett’s general conclusions on dingoes’ social relations, pack formation and structure, breeding suppressing et.c. throughout the book, all build on a doubtful study of a captive dingo pack nicknamed Curly’s Mob. Page 80:

This chapter first describes the structure of a dingo pack in captivity to suggest how wild packs are formed and maintained.

Curly’s Mob was kept in a nature-imitating open air enclosure. A male and a female dingo were inserted in the enclosure at the beginning of the experiment and allowed to breed at will to create a pack. They had pups, thereby becoming the alpha pair / breeding pair of their pack-in-the-making. Their offspring were allowed to breed at will too. They could off course not disperse and go looking for mates somewhere else when they reached sexual maturity, as wild dingoes do, but bred with each other and their father.

The breeding pair did not prevent any of their offspring from mating, and their daughters all fell pregnant sooner or later. Breeding suppression, or the requirement that only the alpha pair (parents) have pups, was met by means of infanticide: the mother (Toots, the alpha female) killed all her daughter’s pups shortly after they were born, sometimes with help from other family members. Her daughters then helped rear her pups.

The experiment ran for 3 years and, if I understand it right, had to stop on ethical grounds after 2 pregnant females were mauled and killed by their family members.

Corbett draws a wealth of conclusions about wild dingoes from the Curly’s Mob study, throughout the book. A frequently repeated one is that dingoes use infanticide as reproductive regulation rather than suppress copulation of subordinate members like wolves do (p. 42 and many other places), although he finds it peculiar that dingoes waste energy having pups that are just going to get killed anyway.

I think the study design of “Curly’s Mob” is mindless, and it seems like a poor proxy for wild dingo packs.

Maybe dingoes do use infanticide as their main method of reproductive suppression, but that is hard to know when Curly’s offspring were prevented from dispersing and finding unrelated mates and have their pups somewhere else (where they themselves would become new alphas)… as wild dingoes do.

Would the alpha female still have killed all her daughters’ pups? Presuming most of her daughters had dispersed and mated and had pups somewhere else (thereby starting new packs and becoming breeding females / alphas), she would probably not even have known they existed.

What about the fact that every one of the killed pups was severely inbred (offspring of sister/brother and father/daughter matings)? The genetic health of the inbred pups would have been sub-average. Some could even have had birth defects and other detectable weaknesses. Maybe that could have played a role too. Maybe infanticide is an incest barrier – Plan B?

Also, the social dynamics of the pack could have been influenced by mating-eager youngsters who could not leave and pursue an unrelated mate, as they naturally would. Could that have triggered some of the incestuous matings, sexual violence and harassment of pregnant females?

Maybe or maybe not. Maybe that is the natural social dynamics of wild dingo packs, or some wild dingo packs, or wild dingo packs under certain conditions, or maybe only of captive dingo packs.

I am not the scientist, but it seems like reasonable sceptical questions to ask. There are too many shady variables, and I would have liked a more cautious and reflective approach from Corbett in his conclusions about wild dingoes based on Curly’s Mob.

 
Conservation fanaticism

Corbett’s tone is rational and impassive all the way through as he comments on the effectiveness of large scale poison baiting campaigns, spices chapters with doggers’ tales, and praises Thai dingo abattoirs for being a reliable source of dingo skulls and other samples for scientific use. Animals are collectibles and population numbers and casualties, not personalities. Fair enough… it is a science book after all, it has to be detached from its subject, I suppose.

That is, until the last chapter, “The Future of Expatriate Dingoes”. From that point the tone converts from dry science to big soap opera scaremongering drama about the threat of extinction of the dingo by… aerial baiting campaigns? Dispersal sinks? No, hybrids.

Corbett estimates that there are few if any pure dingoes left in the southern regions of Australia, and says that the pure dingo populations in the Northern regions of Australia as well as in Asia are under severe threat from hybridisation – which is cross-breeding between dingoes and domestic dogs.

He gives no scientific justification as to why dingoes must be pure and why hybridisation equals extinction… It just is so because when dingoes are not pure, then they are not dingoes.

There are many thousand feral dogs in the Australian outback. A big proportion of the plentiful Australian camp dogs (outback Aboriginal village dogs) are quite likely hybrids. What will Corbett do about that, kill them all? To eradicate hybrids would the ideal scenario according to Corbett, albeit not realistic. He discusses the idea of an island-based pure-breeding programme as conservation strategy on page 176 – 177:

In an ideal world people would own only neutered domestic dogs or dingoes; there would be adequate stocks of live dingoes and ova and sperm stored by dingo breeders, representing dingo diversity from all major Australian (and Asian) habitats; the bush would be cleared of all feral hybrids and feral dogs; stock would be totally protected from dingo predation; and the dream of releasing pure dingoes into the wild could then begin.

“The bush would be cleared of all feral hybrids and feral dogs”… because they are not real dingoes, they are genetic pollution. Conservationism in its most fanatic form.

So, I ended up playing Bullshit Bingo with the last chapter to detach myself from the ‘appeal to emotion’ type of rhetoric and keep my unease at bay. I circled all the epic-drama type of words such as “last bastions”, “alarming rate”, “doomed”, extinction”, “infiltrate”, “purity”, “contamination”, “save”, “admirable” and “losing the war”, as well as normatively loaded words like “must”, “win over” and “should” in connection therewith, such as “hybrid populations that should be terminated”. Then counted all the circles: 56 (in 16 pages). Bingo!***

 
Summary

The book is rich on information / observation data about the dingo’s role in Australian ecology. Its weak aspects are the parts about social dynamics, which are based on a experimental study of a captive dingo pack called Curly’s Mob. The author also has an ideological (conservationist) agenda and looses himself in an appeal to emotion type of rhetoric wherever he talks about hybridisation of dingo populations.

Besides these drawbacks the book is worth reading, albeit I recommend to keep the sceptical reading glasses on and take some of the conclusions with a grain of salt.

 

Skinny dingo standing on beach

  
 
View all my reviews

 
Related stories

 

* Popular science = science news and education for people who are not educated in those sciences. That is the only kind of science news and literature I read.
** Outmoded because newer studies of wolf packs in the wild have shown that the social structure of wild wolf packs differ fundamentally from those of the captive wolf packs, so that the observations can not be extrapolated from captive to wild packs as it had originally been assumed.
*** That is not how Bullshit Bingo is really played.

Advertisements

62 thoughts on “The Dingo in Australia and Asia: a Book Review

  1. Pingback: Book Reading, Routines and the Internet | Mados

  2. gavinpandion

    You have a Trigger warning for boredom with dingoes. But until I backtracked the footnote about bullshit bingo I would’ve guessed (from scrolling too fast to actually skim more than a few words per square foot) it was a more interesting book. Do dingoes not have a sense of tragedy? Their lives sound boring, and they don’t have spots. Also, check out Cry of the Kalahari for a more honest accounting of “study design” in descriptive wildlife biology. It’s called go camping in a wilderness area and try to pet the wild animals, take cute pictures and publish your diary later.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mados

      I don’t think Dingoes are boring, the boredom trigger warning referred to the length and rigour of my review relative to others I have seen … so for anyone without any interest in the area, it may be boring.

      I don’t know if Dingoes have a sense of tragedy… it depends on in which sense.

      I agree their lives sound boring, but that is because they haven’t been studied comprehensively. This author make them sound boring, like collection objects, there is no sense of their personalities, and little grasp of their motivations, bonds, societies.

      I would like to contrast that to the authorship of David Mech, who is the world’s foremost expert on wolves. Although his books are natural science books and extremely rigorous, … all claims have clear and immediate references, all conclusions are presented with caution and alternative potential interpretations, any point is backed up by a range of findings by other researchers – they are in the same time fascinating, thrilling, captivating.

      Mech seems to have a grasp of what it means to be a wolf, and his respect for the animals (including individual animals) flows like an invisible undercurrent under all the stats and numbers.

      That kind of respect and insight was no where to be found in the book this review is about. Not to say the author doesn’t have it, he might… but it is not in his book. There seems to be no connection, only collection:-)

      Unfortunately dingo research doesn’t have a Dave Mech, I wish it did because I would like to learn more about them. I don’t think dingoes are really more boring than wolves, but I felt that way reading the book.

      Like

      Reply
      1. gavinpandion

        What you were looking at in the book’s rhetoric about conservation kind of ties into my misgivings about method and rigor in ecology science too, indirectly. Look at the buffalo hunt fun in Dances With Wolves and the stunt buffalo slide by Oreo the costar of Cisco’s and Two Socks’ working animal roles. North American buffalo ranching is keeping the buffalo out of extinction, and if you want them to look good on the range you have to stage it.

        You go on a wildlife safari on the Masai Mara in Kenya and you can feel the open skies while seeing some wildlife, but many of the biggest, baddest safari experiences out there feel a lot like zoo adventurism (in the big enclosure with the rhino and a lounger of a lion who sits nonchalant for camera while the driver of the tourist hopes and prays no one decides to pop out of the vehicle and try for a close-up). The Samburu Serena lodge in Kenya has a charmer of a tourist safety feature where there’s a ledge for crocodile viewing alongside a river next to the patio area, and if the tourist waits for a chicken hand-out to reasonably lazy local crocs to take good pictures of a wide open mouth, he can’t really lean in for a closeup far enough to get his head in the animal’s mouth for someone else to take the “awesomeness” candid without noticing he just might fall off the ledge, so fewer people try it and chaperoning to keep them back is a little less difficult or obvious, and they still feel like heroes for being there on vacation.

        In places like the arctic and the rainforest and the desert and the coral reef it’s extremely hard to get adequate data to manage a complex ecosystem that you can see at a glance is difficult to sum up in a life’s work of descriptive wildlife biology, but if you paint a portrait of a piece of charismatic megafauna it’s easier to look like a sensible scientist for minimizing the background context while talking about within-family behavior in a dingo pack, But if there was somebody within the land management bureaucracy waiting on an expert opinion about what to do about a more modest question like “can we keep the buggers out of the trash bins in this suburb, away from the chickens on these farms, or from chewing through the last known population of such-and-such flightless marsupial that we suddenly noticed is on the brink” you might never get much help out of a general study of what they appear to be doing when the people who actually think first before interfering with their own predilections as a wild animal noticed here and there once in a while are looking for feedback on the subject.

        So the nature/non-nature dichotomy might be overstated when you try to do wildlife biology without letting the human-wildlife interference effect study focus on the rather obvious pressure point – who thinks this animal is a nuisance where and why, can we humor anyone with a legitimate complaint without killing the brutes, and does a brumby need a bullet here and there because of a drought management problem with horse intelligence not being naturally up to the task of keeping up with the weather as closely as a drylands management expert might be. The book Honest Horses, about wild horse management in the western U.S., scared me with anecdotes from near here (southern nevada) describing horses beating their heads on the ground in distress from prolonged hunger and extreme dehydration dying within view of a road the Bureau of Land Management could photograph them from, while wild horse fans wrote hate mail threatening the careers of politicians hard-hearted enough to kill a beautiful wild animal like a feral horse with bad conformation, worse health, nondescript color and only one talent – getting away from a wild horse roundup intended to save its life by way of captivity and keeping the grazing within local landscape carrying capacity.

        But you can’t glamorize public lands management work easily either, it’s just tempting to wish the scientists would make more of a point of working directly with the challenges posed by a land management policy process that could conceivably interfere with completing a wildlands field work dissertation before it’s even finished, and on that basis miss the chance to consult the dedicated biologist on location about whether their plans for logging or what have you were in fact going to have a serious impact on the health of the wider ecosystem and its denizens.

        Like

        Reply
        1. gavinpandion

          That reply sounds like a rant, doesn’t it? Sorry, probably should’ve just shared a link to the clip from Dances with Wolves I was watching when it occurred to me to add it. Too much fun to watch without thinking to mention it by replying again. Especially since you saw that one video earlier with the cute appaloosa named Hurricane Ike working buffalo under an inexperienced rodeo rider in a corral.

          Like

          Reply
      1. gavinpandion

        You’re right, it’s not so much a science product as a memoire about being naturalists in the field, but what it reveals about the tourist-like approach to observational wildlife research in the field might help explain the lack of rigor typical in this arena of published science. I like the book for its photographs of the researchers socializing with spotted wild dogs and brown hyenas at their campsight. They rescued an ailing lion at one point and rereleased him into the environment after he’d recovered from severe malnutrition-related weakness. No particular compunction about non-interference with the behavior they were observing, but when they took that attitude toward field work into a less remote area to observe interactions between villagers and wild elephants that sometimes raid garden-size homestead crops or injure locals in confrontations, this may have paid off – they weren’t fixated on finding an artificially absolute social distance between humans and animals that could be defended in the name of habitat or endangered species preservation work, and large animals like elephants are hard to accomodate in the wild without allowing them to get around without regard for whether the wildlife sanctuary lines on the maps happen to be drawn.

        Like

        Reply
        1. Mados

          What they did is a fascinating camping project (I would love to have their experiences)… but I don’t agree with this:

          but what it reveals about the tourist-like approach to observational wildlife research in the field might help explain the lack of rigor typical in this arena of published science.

          I don’t know that serious scientists have a tourist-like approach to observational wildlife. Well, I guess to some extend they have to in the sense that when you come from the outside and study animal societies then you’re tourist-like. But I don’t know if there is a typical lack of rigour … Cry of the Kalahari is not really considered a science book, so it doesn’t represent that genre.

          E.g. Dave Mech’s wolf studies are absolutely not lacking in rigour. I think the book that is the subject of this review (The Dingo in Australia and Asia) lacks rigour in a sense: it fails to acknowledge its own limitations. However, I don’t know if that is typical of the arena of science that is observational wildlife studies, or just this particular book. It does appear that dingoes are not nearly as well researched as wolf are today, I haven’t found a book about dingoes of anywhere near the calibre of Mech’s wolf books (yet).

          Like

          Reply
          1. gavinpandion

            I actually did my undergraduate degree in environmental studies before going into a master’s program in public health, and I think my focus within public health on medical malpractice and my disappointment with the quality of research design and evaluations research performance itself within the field gives me rather unusual ideas about what would count as rigorous enough to be reportable in an observational science project. So I’m probably pretty out of touch with the work that really gets done in environmental studies by advanced specialists, but what I’ve seen in a health services science gives me some misgivings about how data gets used to finish a paper or a book or a dissertation. Maybe I can explain why I see the Owens’ work as “descriptive travel writing with a focus on wildlife encounters” more than as a result of successful research experience, but I can see how that’s out of touch with current practices in the field of wildlife biology when you put it that way.

            One, there’s a cuteness alert written all over their interactions with charismatic big game animals in the Kalahari that made it incredibly fun to read but left you suspecting the scientists of having too much fun themselves, but that’s just envy. However, interacting with a wild animal only leaves you with the opportunity to say “it’s not as shy as we expected, but we were too busy interfering with its behavior to figure out what it does on its own time, and it’s hard to spot further from camp going about its own business even in the Kalahari, unless it saunters into your campground and plays with your shoelaces while you’re lounging in the shade on a lunch break.”

            Maybe it’s easier to explain if I tell you what I would expect to worry about if I wanted to build on work like what David Mech has accomplished studying wild wolves instead. Even though I know better than to settle with something like Never Cry Wolf as an alternative (fun Carroll Ballard movie, based on the book by Farley Mowat), I worry that “stating the limitations” of hypothesis tests in contemporary ecology is only a first step in designing a research process that’s rigorous enough to work as a foundation for land management policies that are sensitive to wildlife habitat use and behavior issues. The way the peer reviewed literature really treats a caveat is discouraging, usually you list a polite number of caveats within the discussion section of a paper not more than 3,000 words long after stating a conclusion that you felt confident reaching in spite of those caveats, and the next scientist is more likely to quote the conclusion while in a hurry to test his own hypothesis than to rethink it’s validity first in terms of all those caveats. In fact, when someone can be bothered to quote you on a stated caveat to your own declared research results, they’re usually just trying to rationalize ignoring your conclusions without actually stress-testing the caveat – and if it’s only a caveat you’re supposed to be identifying an area of uncertainty that still needs to be explored further, not saying that you think you’re right but you have a list of excuses on hand in case someone takes you at your word and then gets mad and blames you for something that he thinks happened because you were wrong after all.

            Within a book about such research one could spend more time on each caveat, and then another researcher could find the description of a particular caveat interesting enough (and adequate in detail of why you had to mention it and knew enough about the subject yourself to consider that caveat something that also needs to be studied carefully) to choose it as a subject for doing their own research. The next scientist might even want to study the way you described those caveats in the context of your work experience, and pay attention to whether there are interaction effects between those areas of uncertainty, before deciding how to test a hypothesis about one of the particular caveats that you discussed in your book.

            Maybe your field work on wild wolves and some of their prey animals included data on some radio collared pack members in one wolf pack and you had an idea of where that wolf pack spends its time for that reason, but you also had research time management issues in collecting additional data about the territory the pack has been using according to those records. You can map out their travel paths on a grid if the data from the collars is robust enough, but can you describe the landscape within the grid in enough detail accurately if it’s somewhat of a mosaic landscape, and the prey animals’ use of that mixed landscape is something you only had so much time to study as well?

            For me In the Dust of Kilimanjaro is a favorite book about landscape ecology, by David Western, about how the push-pull impact of cattle and various wild antelope that prefer either brushy grazing or grass to graze that isn’t being invaded by thorny bush thickets with some trees interacts overtime with the interests of elephants in just ripping the occasional tree right out of the ground, and leaving the landscape rather bare to the sun if it had been too shady for tasty grasses before they decided to do that. It’s a very persuasive description of how a shifting mosaic of thorny and grassy plant communities with various grazing animals pressuring the plant community to adapt continuously can experience back-and-forth ecological transitions at the microcosm scale and be stable over longer time intervals if the grazing animal community’s use of it is stable, or the proportions of grazers using the land who prefer to eat different sorts of plants is stable enough to not throw that pattern off altogether.

            But if you realize he didn’t spend enough time there himself or access enough information about the landscape’s past within the previous few decades before he did his field work, you can tell he’s making a leap of logic to go from grazing observational research and descriptive writing about the ground cover in a mixed savanna landscape, to explaining why the landscape looks the way it does now. And that sort of leap in logic is not uncommon – in West Africa there’s been an amusing controversy over whether some rural gardening history within forest pockets in a grassland landscape represents afforestation (the villagers plant their own trees and those present now merely inherited the shady spots) or deforestation (the villagers are the descendants of whoever chopped down all the rest of the trees that presumably used to grow where the grassland is now. I think they recently did the full pendulum swing from deforestation accusations to afforestation congratulations, possibly without even trying to get a straight answer out of a local about whether anyone around there still practices tree planting of that sort or plans to take up silviculture any time soon. But the question originally came up as a piece of rhetoric for evicting locals, removing the remaining trees for timber, and haranguing the natives for having not left more trees standing around casually before the colonial raw materials export service showed up looking for easy pickings.

            And when you’re a wolf wildlife biologist who has both a book about wolf behavior and some peer reviewed papers, there’s probably a wildlife policy middle management deadline for deciding whether or not to allow aerial wolf hunting this year if the caribou hunting quota is getting underfulfilled, and it might just be that there are fewer caribou hunters even showing up for the option to shoot a funny looking fast running deer all the way out in Alaska, but you can’t book a bush plane to shoot at wolves from just anywhere, and somebody in the wolf hunting business knows a politician squeezing a bureaucrat for a reasonable sounding excuse to greenlight the wolf hunt.

            Of course when that happens it looks like it’s just politics threatening the wolves, but if a wildlife biologist felt comfortable publishing a paper claiming (in the short version of his interpretation of the results of his field work, or while briefly citing work like David Mech’s) that there is a straightforward relationship with wolf numbers and caribou numbers in any given wildlife management area, and that the more caribou you hunt the fewer caribou you’ve got, the dismal science of public planning suggest somebody somewhere has an intern willing to use basic algebra to interpret that as an excuse to kill a few more wolves for money and pretend it was completely necessary in order to prevent a caribou migration nonperformance issue with fictitious Alaska safari earnings on Great Migrations tourism, as if that state’s revenues weren’t subsidizing all the hunting chaperone make-work using mineral export revenues (oil and gas). So I get fussy about whether even the hypothesis they were willing to test was too ambitious for the available data, and the available time to map out ways of operationalizing variables that some jerk is willing to use numbers to lie about in what should be a qualitative decision making process.

            Like

          2. Mados

            I actually did my undergraduate degree in environmental studies before going into a master’s program in public health, and I think my focus within public health on medical malpractice and my disappointment with the quality of research design and evaluations research performance itself within the field gives me rather unusual ideas about what would count as rigorous enough to be reportable in an observational science project. So I’m probably pretty out of touch with the work that really gets done in environmental studies by advanced specialists, but what I’ve seen in a health services science gives me some misgivings about how data gets used to finish a paper or a book or a dissertation.

            The way I read it is that you generalise from what you have seen in health service services to environmental studies / science in general, and as a result distrust the rigour of scientific research in general / or environmental studies in particular? That seems like somewhat of a guess…

            Maybe I can explain why I see the Owens’ work as “descriptive travel writing with a focus on wildlife encounters” more than as a result of successful research experience

            As I understand it, that is what it is commonly categorised as, the genre it has been put in.

            The way the peer reviewed literature really treats a caveat is discouraging, usually you list a polite number of caveats within the discussion section of a paper not more than 3,000 words long after stating a conclusion that you felt confident reaching in spite of those caveats, and the next scientist is more likely to quote the conclusion while in a hurry to test his own hypothesis than to rethink it’s validity first in terms of all those caveats. In fact, when someone can be bothered to quote you on a stated caveat to your own declared research results, they’re usually just trying to rationalize ignoring your conclusions without actually stress-testing the caveat – and if it’s only a caveat you’re supposed to be identifying an area of uncertainty that still needs to be explored further, not saying that you think you’re right but you have a list of excuses on hand in case someone takes you at your word and then gets mad and blames you for something that he thinks happened because you were wrong after all.

            (et.c.)

            That is right, it is just “human nature” (well. I guess it applies to all species) to make shortcuts and pick a few key points. It applies to science as well as anything else … There is of course also a cost-benefit analysis underlying all decisions about what to pay attention to (whether conscious or not): like, is it worthwhile? There is always a trade off between rigour VS speed & flexibility. Or details vs big picture… to few details and the big picture is likely to be wrong, too many and the big picture may get so overcomplicated that it just looks like a big mess no one can use.

            I guess the way science works is the best way it can: any science should state his/her point while showing awareness of the caveats, and someone else may chose to spend the energy going into one of those caveats and find something that undermines the conclusion…. and so on, a very slow and cumbersome back-and-forth process, but so far that’s the only way to present scientific research that anyone has come up with.

            As for the last part of your comment, I am not sure if I get what you mean. Ecology is of course very complex to study… everything effects everything (roughly)…. and there are different levels of complexity in the research and understanding. I found Mech’s Wolf book to give an fascinating insight in to the population interplay between wolfs and some of their main species of prey and also some hints of the interplay with vegetation (and with humans), but a lot is left out of course… More complexity gives a more full understanding, but for me it was like a revelation compared to what I have read earlier, and there is also a trade off for an author / scientist between being thorough and actually get to finish the book. Sometimes their conclusions are later disproven by themselves or someone else… but that it how it should be (even though it can be annoying when misconceptions based on outmoded research prevails for decades after they have been disproven…). If no one wanted to publish a book that wasn’t 100% rigourous about everything then there would be no natural sciences books.

            There is no simple relationship between Caribou herds (and other prey) and wolf numbers, and aerial shooting campaigns (et.c) are generally not based on scientific insight in wolf-prey dynamics but on myths and traditions.

            Like

          1. gavinpandion

            I like that article, and really you might find “Eye of the Elephant” more interesting than Cry of the Kalahari (again work from the Owens family, but this time in Rwanda). But what would you say if you tried to read that same article (The Hunted) as satire? Just on tone of voice (even if it seems risque to read sarcasm between the lines throughout), if you had to guess where they were going with the composition in situational ironies with obscurantist humor about the political geography of preconceptions.

            It reminds me of this article I bookmarked a little while ago, about the author of The Plague, but I can’t read it with much insight because I barely finished that novel and don’t know the novelist’s other work or much about Algeria, and I didn’t really enjoy the book enough to remember it very clearly for writing style or how it goes.

            Like

          2. Mados

            Albert Camus in Algeria: the article reads a bit too intellectual/flowerish for my type of reading. I am primarily interested in concise information when it comes to scientific observations, and give up quickly on books and articles that involve too much advanced human politics / fine culture / or epic emotional or political drama et.c. because my time is limited and the world of information is infinite, so I prefer to stay relatively close to my core interests.

            On the same note, I am not really interested in reading about a diversity of wildlife safari observations of different animals in different parts if the world from different perspectives at this stage, because I am already drowning in information on a daily basis… So sort of dog behaviour – wolves – dingoes, and their prey and other highly relevant parts of the ecosystem within their ranges, that is my primary interest when it comes to wildlife observations.

            Like

          3. gavinpandion

            I understand – I’ve been trying to improve my habits in managing “attention economy” juggling challenges (task rotating works better for me than multitasking or full-fledged day planning, but my intuition is still struggling with the applications-adaptation-treadmill features of the internet ecosystem of search and network functions, and that makes my “executive functioning” look pretty lame these days). Didn’t mean to try and get you off on a reading-intensive tangent, I just remembered liking the books the Owens couple published – but those are older titles, and in the sense they don’t look like science writing it may partly be a sign that mass market science publishing on wildlife ecology has gotten more technical over the last couple of decades, and the expectations for field work design have improved. Their Kalahari work really did resemble a safari lifestyle but represented exploratory research methods of a somewhat informal nature, and both their books are more about “skip the details and try to identify the quick and dirty answers” wildlife management ecology in an environment with relatively weak public lands staffing resources and where poaching pressures are especially challenging (not just trophy market driven, but sometimes a convenience bushmeat option in regions with major security problems where heavily armed gangs can get away with nearly anything).

            Like

          4. Mados

            I think naturalists’ personal observations and interactions with wildlife can provide valuable supplements to scientific studies, especially when they take place over many years.

            I have recently read a naturalist wildlife book, namely “Arctic Wild” by Lois Crisler. It is not science, it is the subjective memoir of a lady (Lois) who lived on the arctic tundra for 18 months back in the 50s with he husband, a wildlife photographer who had an assignment up there. The book is about that journey. What it is famous for is it intimate descriptions of the wolf behaviours and personalities of a litter of wolfs the couple raised free range on the tundra during that period. Very little was known about the social behaviour of wolves in the wild at the time (and still… although more now), and it was largely irrelevant assumptions based on studies of captive wolf packs. So the couple’s personal experiences interacting with the wolves as they grew up provided unique insights, especially for the time. Observations from the book are quoted regularly in Dave Mech’s wolf science books (and probably many other).

            Perhaps naturalists can sometimes persevere more than scientist, staying in the wild 24/7 for years, because their focus isn’t on a scientific career that requires them to keep in touch with civilisation to chase tenure, network with important people and present academic papers at conferences (I’m making assumptions here:-).

            Like

  3. gavinpandion

    But the infanticide theory is a weird one. I’ve been reading a historiography of colonial letters from New Zealand that blurs the distinction between infanticide-as-proxy-for-abortion among prostitutes hanging out with alcoholic missionaries, and the only known reports of cannibalism among the Maori from colonists, with some anecdotes about cauldrons carried in procession with arms and legs sticking out for full audience effect, and some hints that theatricality was popular enough in the colonies for protestants and Catholics to change their religions rather abruptly as needed to keep up with the latest fashions in liturgy and ceremony among the locals.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Mados

      But the infanticide theory is a weird one.

      The theory about dingoes’ infanticide is weird, or infanticide behaviour in general? (Since you go on to mention human infanticide in colonial times)

      With the dingoes, it might be right. I am not saying that it is not, just that I think the author’s study design is unconvincing.

      Like

      Reply
      1. gavinpandion

        Both, I guess. But especially for larger social mammals like dingoes, and humans – it’s easier to imagine a stressed out “single parent” type of small mammal cannibalizing her litter if they’re born in a time of severe shortage and it seems unlikely she can raise them. But pack animals and social animals with larger support networks seem overqualified for that kind of reactionary violence – you would have to see them as more like humans in levels of perverse psychological distress responses to make sense of an adult attacking infants when there are other adults in the group who could, in theory, help raise the young. As if maybe the attacker of the litter lacked insight or perspective on the way to balance out stress caused by the new babies’ demands together with other stresses within the group dynamics and difficulties posed by contingencies in their environment like seasonal food shortages or habitat loss.

        Like

        Reply
        1. Mados

          Ah, no… With wild canines the “Law” is that a pack can have only litter per year, that’s all they can handle, and that litter is produced by the pack’s leading couple (the alpha male and female; the parents to all the other pack members, usually). In wolf packs, that order is maintained through breeding suppression – as I understand it, the subordinate wolves (the daughters) don’t come in heat or if they do, their mom will actively prevent them from mating.

          What Corbett says in his book is that in dingo packs, the order is maintained with infanticide instead, so still just one litter per pack is raised, but more litters are being born and killed by the alpha female… basically killing her inbred grandkids. So everyone can mate as much as they like, their litters just won’t survive unless they are the alpha couple.

          That might be right, I just found his study design unconvincing, because in the wild usually most of the offspring disperse and start new packs, whereas the captive “Curly’s Mob” pack he based his theory on was kept in an enclosure. Therefore mating-ready offspring had to stay home or in close vicinity of the pack, they couldn’t leave and start their own packs as wild dingoes would try to do. It therefore seems common sense to speculate if the infanticide-based system could be a distortion provoked by:

          1. offspring being unable to disperse and find mates outside the pack and start new packs (or fail to do so but in any case, no longer be available for mating in the pack where they were born & raised)

          2. all the killed litters were per definition severely inbred pups. Although of course the dingoes don’t know the consequences of that, it is a fact that inbreeding is genetically very unhealthy, and it could also be speculated if there could be something wrong with the pups that the alpha female intuitively detected?

          3. Infanticide could be “Plan B”, if offspring for whatever reason can’t or won’t disperse?

          It is not totally unlikely that the dingoes do use infanticide to control their population… it does seem to have some benefits, e.g. multiple lactating females to feed the pack’s “approved” litter. It still seems quite wasteful though… even when the pups are eaten, so some of the energy is re-absorbed, but who knows maybe it does work that way.

          However, I still think the study design ruins it own purpose by setting a scene that prevents the pack members from following their natural maturation pattern of dispersion once they reach sexual maturity… when the purpose of the study is to explore pack formation and pack dynamics.

          Like

          Reply
          1. gavinpandion

            Those are sensible ways of explaining animal infanticide, I think I was responding to your thread to have some conversation while I was in such a bad mood I was too sentimental to think straight about that sort of violence. Animals do a lot of things that are easy to overthink, and lately all the family dogs here are keeping me frustrated with the temptation to read too much into a “knowing look” that just leaves me feeling condescended to by pets that aren’t doing so great themselves, but are not very keen listeners when I need them to do what I say and give me some peace and quiet “on demand” once in a while. So for now I’m afraid I can’t keep up with the substantive conversation on this topic, it’s still too tempting to substitute dog for dingo when I try to use my imagination, and then lie to myself about how much my own dogs understand and what they wouldn’t do (surely they’re not walking all over me on purpose, or thinking like a cannibal).

            Once you’re in a downward spiral and the pets are bouncing off the walls because it bothers them too, it starts to seem like they’re making it worse faster than anything you know how to do to self-sabotage personally, and you can’t rest well enough to pull out of it. You can tell I wouldn’t dare try to cope with kids around the house, but it’s easy to see them as miniature humans using a height advantage for counterintuitive points of view to feel clever about all the things you do, and also to trip you for dropped food when they’re not climbing all over the furniture to steal a snack you were too tired to finish before you got up to do something else too.

            Like

          2. Mados

            Once you’re in a downward spiral and the pets are bouncing off the walls because it bothers them too, it starts to seem like they’re making it worse faster than anything you know how to do to self-sabotage personally, and you can’t rest well enough to pull out of it. You can tell I wouldn’t dare try to cope with kids around the house, but it’s easy to see them as miniature humans using a height advantage for counterintuitive points of view to feel clever about all the things you do, and also to trip you for dropped food when they’re not climbing all over the furniture to steal a snack you were too tired to finish before you got up to do something else too.

            Are you having problems with your dogs’ behaviours / manners? (like barking, stealing etc)

            Ps. As for infanticide, yes dogs don’t have a “one litter per pack per year” law, that is the problem for remote aboriginal communities, having replaced their traditional dingoes with dogs long ago. Dogs breed prolifically and rely on human resources, so many of the communities are overpopulated with dogs, which are then starving, sometimes roaming around in dangerous dog “gangs” et.c.

            Like

          3. gavinpandion

            The family dogs here are just being difficult because of human stress that’s contagious, I think. The youngest still thinks defecating indoors is a good practical joke, but gets nervous if she couldn’t hold it for a chance to go outside too, because my mother gets too tantrum-prone about house-training her and is too controlling to let me try and do it for her, since she picked the youngest dog out for herself recently at a pet store and considers it hers only, as if they couldn’t bond well if I helped with that sort of thing. But when it gets weird here the dogs are fairly spoiled so their manners are somewhere between a symptom of feeling stressed out and feeling uppity about what they can get away with when the humans look too foolish to take seriously when they say “don’t beg” or “stop reaching for my food while posing to look cute waiting to get caught pretending to try” depending on whether the beagle looks like she likes the food she got to or is hamming it up.

            Like

          4. Mados

            It sounds like you are still living under quite tense living conditions…
            So you have 4 dogs now?

            But when it gets weird here the dogs are fairly spoiled so their manners are somewhere between a symptom of feeling stressed out and feeling uppity about what they can get away with when the humans look too foolish to take seriously when they say “don’t beg” or “stop reaching for my food while posing to look cute waiting to get caught pretending to try” depending on whether the beagle looks like she likes the food she got to or is hamming it up.

            Dogs don’t understand negations and long messages…
            I have read 2 excellent books about dog training and dog language lately, and while I thought I already understood my dog quite well, I came to realise that I have overlooked & misinterpreted a lot of their “dog talk”.

            The first book is On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas. It is a thin, quick read with little text and many photos. It has made me realise things like the big difference in dog language repetoir between our two dogs, with one of them having a massive repetoir of calming signals…. the other dog is extremely people focused and easily get stressed about other dogs and “loose her cool” about them.

            The second is “The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs”
            by Patricia B. McConnell
            , which is an excellent dog training book that focuses on getting the owner to see his/her own human behaviour first, and then use that understanding as a lens to understand, train and interact appropriately with dogs. I like that premise a lot:-) Basically Primate VS Canine perspective, using one to understand the other and vice versa.

            Like

          5. gavinpandion

            Those sound like books I should read if I get the chance. What you said first (“Dogs don’t understand negations and long messages…”) is something that rings true when you put it that way, and would be easier to try and remember for now, so I’ll try to keep those two points in mind. My mother really has given the youngest a hard time with adjusting to the household from the start by using negation too much and with anger and threats and attack gestures, it’s easy to read too much into the dog’s reaction to that sort of confusing human behavior. Like imagining she’s trying to be clever when she responds to scolding as if she had done something on purpose, when you can actually see that the cuteness and alertness in those reaction faces is more a matter of keeping up with an interaction she doesn’t understand but doesn’t run away from because she has nowhere to hide, hence she looks like a competitor for pack leadership even though she’d be what old-school wolf behaviorists call an Omega and my mother the obvious Alpha as the biggest human and the officially in charge one (both parent and sole breadwinner capable of keeping the bills paid).

            Right now I’m having more trouble from the beagle, because I go back and forth on whether I mostly congratulate her on looking cute posing “almost within reach” of food, like a thief but more convincingly like an attention-seeker, and when I’m tired she might need attention more if it’s because of a situation that has us all stressed out and she’d rather touch base than wait to see what happens next. So I end up feeling threatened and crowded by how often she tries to be cute by making a point of getting caught before she’s stolen food. But I think if I had to guess it makes sense because the youngest steals hugs whenever she realizes she can get in on a group hug among the other dogs, and the two of them bicker if the beagle was in my lap first and is jealous that the youngest is trying to attract my attention at the same time. But the youngest hasn’t taken an interest in making cute reaction faces when caught near food for attention, and is less likely to “steal her thunder” if the beagle gets attention that way instead.

            When there’s four of them and they all need a pat on the head per day but the group hugs get crowded like that, it gets a little exhausting. At least one of them is a big sleeper who seems to take nearly everything (including getting left out relative to the others on attention, on average) very graciously.

            Like

          6. Mados

            Precisely, with your dogs behaviour. The dogs competing with humans for leadership in a family can happen, but it isn’t the natural state of things. E.g. using a wolf pack as the “base model”, there is no competition for the alpha role, it is given in advance (given that both of the alphas’s are the pack’s biological parents). A family dog is in a similar position, except the humans are adoptive “parents” instead of biological parents. There is of course sibling rivalry, so rivalry between the “betas” to stay in that jargon, and sometimes (not always) there is an “omega”, which is a scapegoat the other ones treat badly.

            Apparently, in a wolf pack the omega can serve an important role in a time of stress, keeping the pack coherent by letting the pack members take their aggressions out on the poor outsider… This sometimes gets so much too much for the Omega that it leaves the pack and tries to find a mate and start its own pack, thereby becoming alpha… that is how a wolf become an alpha, not by challenging the alpha of its “childhood pack”. Dogs are not only cultivated wolves of course, but there is where most of the alpha rhetoric comes from anyway, so it might just as well be established properly how it works.

            So to return to your mother, based on your description it is highly unlikely the pup is challenging her. It is much more likely its body language expresses “calming signals” (as in the book recommended above) to try to calm her and/or itself. Behaviour like looking away, procrastinating (when called), turning its back on you, licking its lips, et.c., are all calming signals dog use to calm themselves and others down in a situation. Unfortunately often misunderstood because they look like signals human use to express inattention, boredom, and lack of respect. I think the problem is that just like humans tend to assume dogs understand our signals (such as negations and other complex verbal constructions…) dogs also tend to assume that we understand their language:-)

            Like

          7. gavinpandion

            That’s a really helpful explanation for me, thanks for sharing that insight in your own words. Their licking behaviors really do come across as both impulsive (difficult to discourage without seeming ornery in intention) and as confrontational (because they do resemble human strategies for demonstrating disrespect, like lick-smacking and sloppiness over food or drink). The distinction you made between their “calming cue” instincts and human use of nonverbal cues (which is probably more symbolic-operational, roughly speaking – this isn’t jargon I know how to use correctly though, I’m just trying to approximate what it sounds like it would mean from dictionary definitions rather than communication studies). The inability of dogs to make sense of how humans mean “negation” signals is especially counterintuitive to apply for me, but seems like an important point when you’re second-guessing your own efforts to change a dog’s behavior and you can’t tell whether or not they’re trying to dispute a command.

            Like

          8. gavinpandion

            Have you read any Cormac McCarthy novels? His “border trilogy” inspired the movie All the Pretty Horses (it’s an adaptation of the first book) and the third book includes a sequence in which a wrangler is involved in hunting wild packs of feral dogs in rural parts of the borderland with Mexico. The second book (“the crossing”) is my favorite, and ends around 1945 in historical setting of the storytelling, but I don’t remember how large the time interval for the setting is between that and the third. The second also has canid-human relationship themes as a major plot point, focusing on wolves as humans see them when in a romantic frame of mind about nature and the management of marginal lands where ranching interacts with wildlife’s everyday life. The third has a horse in it that keeps kicking a down-on-his luck wrangler in the head or something, but I find it harder to follow than the other two really. It’s called “Cities on the Plain” I think.

            Like

          9. Mados

            No, I haven’t heard neither Cormac McCarthy’s books or the movie, although I have seen the movie “No Country for Old Men”, which I can see is based on another of his stories.

            Like

      2. Mados

        As a rule of thumb, being challenged by the power / the pup trying to dominate you is probably one of the least likely options with most dogs. Generally the alpha/dominance theory stuff is irrelevant to most communication problems in dog ownership. What is relevant is trying to understand the dog on its own terms (not projecting human motives, body language or power struggles onto them), provide clear, simple, consistent, realistic rules so the dogs know precisely how to behave in the human world where they live, and to communicate those rules clearly and unambiguously without mixing emotional assumptions into it in the same time.

        From your descriptions it sounds like your mother has a personality disorder (of course I’m not a professional and I don’t even know her, just based on what you’ve written) and is very much into her own needs and making emotional dramas. I would probably try to shield the dogs against the effects of such dramas as much as I could, by ignoring the projections without getting into a conflict about it, and then try to prevent the situations that cause conflicts. That is easier said than done of course… Perhaps I wouldn’t if I actually had been in the situation for many years, but I know I would want to handle it like that.

        Like

        Reply
    1. gavinpandion

      You’re right, but we’ve been exchanging longer substantive messages than you might usually use in a blog’s comment threads. The topic’s non-fiction book review makes it easier to get frustratable about organizing specific comment for comment to make sure you can follow each tangent linearly for conversation step-wise, plus we’ve been having actual conversation since yesterday and I left quite a few comments all at once. That doesn’t muddle a comments thread on your blog every day.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Mados

        You are right! but it frustrates me. I would like to have a handy forum-like discussion design for the comment tracks, for the inter-activeness is one of the key aspects of blogging. But I feel a bit lost in the jungle here.

        Ps. In long comment tracks on very interactive blogs (e.g. Musings of an Aspie), I usually find the relevant point in the discussion by going “Search” (Command + F) and the write “Mados” in the search field… then click “next” until I land on the right/recent comment… but that doesn’t work when writing lots of comments.

        Like

        Reply
  4. Mados

    Hi, sorry Gavin. I will come back soon and reply. I keep running out of time and then bed time suddenly catches up with me… I’ll be back soon.

    Ps. Do you prefer I use your pen/blog name or real first name?

    Like

    Reply
    1. gavinpandion

      You can use my real first name, I’ve put some thought into how to make sure my blog doesn’t take anonymity for granted so now it’s just a casual screenname option, not a privacy issue.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Mados

        OK I will use your real first name from now on. Although your avatar still says “Gavin Pandion”.

        Ps. I have found a way to avoid having to seeve through the chaos that is the post’s comment track in order to reply to the comments… I just reply in the WordPress comment notification board instead. It is neat and orderly here, and I presume the comments still show up on the post (will check that out… because otherwise it is of course pointless).

        Another option could be to add an uncommon word into each comment in order to quickly find it again using Command (or Control) + F (=Search). For example, if I write the word “Hipposcape” here then I can easily find back to the comment if I put the word in the Command+F search field, because the word sure doesn’t appear anywhere else on the page so it will take me straight there when I go “enter”.

        Just a practical thought…

        Like

        Reply
        1. gavinpandion

          So good to hear from you again, I was wondering whether you’d gotten tied up in other things lately since you hadn’t published a new blog in a few months. Good trick for comment organizing…

          Like

          Reply
          1. Mados

            Thank you!

            Yes, actually that is the case. My husband was unfortunately diagnosed with Leukaemia around Christmas and has been in hospital most of the time since. He is feeling good now and currently home, treatment is going will and he has a very good chance of 100% recovery but needs 2 more rounds of chemo (standard procedure), each lasting about a month. Time wise and work wise this is not hard for me (as people seem to think), but in terms of priorities personal things like this blog has taken a back seat for a while. Although actually the posts I want to post next are almost done, it seems other stuff keep coming in the way.

            Like

  5. gavinpandion

    I’ll have to check out some of the work you’re recommending by David Mech at some point to see what a “gold standard” of ecology field work looks like in book form, and what his scientific research articles look like in comparison. In my experience as a research library user, I get the general impression that book publishers allow a relatively cozy relationship between topical editors and authors that is never heavy-handed about the importance of “full disclosure” (about limitations to validity, methods details, or conflicts of interest). This has an unfortunate effect on the available literature, especially since caveats are treated as embarrassments by scientists instead of as valuable clarifications and future follow-up research questions (of course, science consumers are always impatient to see a “final answer” so one comes across as a commercially weak competitor if one’s research designs don’t lead straight to “the bottom line” in actionable science feedback on a pragmatic question). Books overstate the conclusions even though they have more room to discuss the caveats in adequate detail, and peer review subjects the author to amateur referee work (qualified but unpaid and lightly vetted because willing referees are difficult to schedule on the traditional unpaid basis) that can result in off-base pressures to expand on whichever caveats the available referee happens to know more about, even though the discussion of limitations to validity is typically kept abbreviated, and a more elaborate handling of caveats raises red flags with the journal editor, who generally prefers to reject articles that say more about “uncertainties” than “exciting, newsworthy conclusions” (partly because journals have various conflicts of interest with industries like pharmaceuticals that either advertise with them, or buy reprints in bulk to promote research favorable to their products). Book publishers probably face similar pressures to emphasize a positivist attitude unless they’re focusing entirely on the negative (e.g., an expose on an area of research that the author is systematically attempting to discredit); in any given instance the book’s thesis argument or chapter thesis statements are expected to be “interesting” (not nebulous) and “confident” (not evidence the research work is incomplete or the available methods are inadeq

    Like

    Reply
      1. gavinpandion

        I found some of David Mech’s books at the local library, so I’ll be able to read one soon. They also have “The Other End of the Leash” and I decided to buy “My dog pulls..” in order to work on apartment readiness with my dogs (less barking, walking instead of having access to a back yard, etc.). Looking at short descriptions of Mech’s books and some article abstracts, I can see what you mean about scientific rigor being especially strong in his work. I’m glad you made the distinction between the work of a scientist and the work of a naturalist, I’m not sure a contemporary naturalist would stop short of calling themselves a scientist in general, but it’s a sensible way to explain different kinds of field work. Noticing the way animals mirror and interact with human behavior somewhat when contacted in the wild, out of curiosity and growing familiarity, just like pets who develop similarities with their owners, it’s easy to imagine the work of naturalist-photojournalists would be a poor substitute for the kind of science Mech is doing.

        Like

        Reply
        1. Mados

          Actually Mech’s work is quite “naturalisty” in many ways… That is partly what I like about him, he is not just an academic, he has been out there where real life takes place throughout his career. The highlight of his career was when he managed to befriend a pack of wild wolves in the high arctic and live with them observing how they reared their pups and went about their daily activities close up. He spent 10 summers with that pack, and wrote at least 3 books about it. The first one is The Arctic Wolf: Living with the Pack, which I am quite fond of. The photographer who was with him, Jim Brandenburg, also wrote a book about the pack: White Wolf, which I am also planning to read. Actually I am planning to read all books about that pack, I became quite taken by the first one and want to see it from more angles, as well as what happened with the pack members later.

          I don’t think wild animals would “mirror” human behaviour, and I don’t think interacting with them “pollutes” the data obtained. I think the insight of animal scientists who observe social animals from a distance or only quantitatively and never involve themselves in a relation with their subjects forever remain shut out from developing a deeper, more complex and qualitative understanding of their subject’s social organisation, social dynamics and types of personalities. Both approaches are essential for understanding a live subject thoroughly I think, both a dispassionately observing and counting approach, and an involved, interactive relation.

          Like

          Reply
          1. gavinpandion

            That’s an amazing vision of observational wildlife behavioral research. I would just say that qualitative research methods demand a lot of insightful self-awareness of the researcher, and it takes time to develop the experience needed to accurately recognize the way you, as a researcher, come across in a given research setting, and articulate what interaction effects you happen to be a part of while making observations. At the same time, I think qualitative methods are vastly underutilized in applied science, and doing anything without them is a weak compromise on validity. So bravo for setting a higher bar for research standards in the way you look for excellence in naturalist-scientist field work.

            Like

          2. Mados

            Critical self-awareness is essential for quantitative research too. Even when the survey methods to some extend safeguard against subjectivity in getting the results, then the subjectivity may lay in what the researcher choses to research and how he/she formulates the research question, survey design, selection of subjects for a sample, which prior research is used to interpret the result et.c.

            I don’t think there exists any “pure dry objectivity” in research of living subjects. And I think getting rid of the delusion that pure objectivity exists is a prerequisite for conducting objective research! with the necessary critical self-awareness that safeguard against confusing assumptions for science:-)

            And with biology, field studies are obviously essential … You can’t get to understand wildlife from a desk without “naturalist” field experiences, loads of it (and I don’t think any biologists think so). and in beeing out there with the wildlife, you’ll necessarily impact their behaviour in some way, whether you trap then, put radio-collars around their necks and re-release them… Or kill large numbers of Dingoes over a period of years as “samples” to explore their stomach content. That is a study mentioned & criticised in this book about Dingoes, by Brad Purcell… What’s wrong with it is that Dingoes are pack animals, and each pack is a nuclear family of a handful of related individuals. Packs break up when they loose just a few of the family members thus become too small, and the change in pack structure (for each pack, and for the local Dingo society overall = the inter-pack interaction and distribution of territories), and the changes in pack structure affects the Dingoes diet… I don’t know who undertook that study (Brad Purcell isn’t good at referencing… There is a reference list, but I don’t know how to identify the study) but obviously they thought they were being objective analysing stomach content of killed animals, whereas in fact while they removed those individuals from their social structures, they affected the result in ways that undermine the value of the results. (plus, their methods seem rather unethical…)

            Like

          3. Mados

            I am not sure if qualitative methods are necessarily under-utilised… I guess that depends how they are defined, for one thing. Loosely defined then they are probably often “utilised” informally, acquiring a fundamental intuitive understand of the field, and as a way to get a sense of what’ s relevant to survey quantitatively.

            Personally, I’m not a researcher of course… but I like to read what you could call “lay man science” about animal behaviour by authorities in the fields. It certainly aids my understanding and ability for critical reflection, for example reading the books just discussed, that I have many years of hands on experience with dogs and other animals (including farm animals. and also, I used to have a game licence which in Denmark also requires a wildlife course). I often use behaviour and social dynamics I have seen in other animals as illustrative proxies, contrasts or analogies. I doubt I would be able to relate to it otherwise:-)

            Like

        2. Mados

          Re. Mech’s work, it is worth noting that he has tried to denounce some aspects of his early works, such as his very popular wolf text book “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” published in 1970. Actually he says on his website that it is “currently still in print, despite his numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it” because “Although most of the book’s info is still accurate, much is outdated. We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years then in all of previous history” (quoted from his website). He is particularly concerned about the use of the term “alpha” in relation to wild wolves, which he now considers largely misleading… as he explains in this video:

          That said, and acknowledging that some of the info is outmoded, I still think I have learned a lot about wolves and about ecology more generally (especially predator-prey relations) by reading his “expired” books. I am also fond of the one the publisher keeps reprinting against his will:-) I think it was definitely worthwhile to read.

          Like

          Reply
          1. gavinpandion

            That’s a great point about a role model scientist, someone who isn’t afraid to retract statements that would be misleading in light of what is now known about the subject. He’s very good at explaining the importance of changing the jargon for positions within the pack in straightforward arguments. I can see why you’re impressed with his work.

            Like

        3. Mados

          in order to work on apartment readiness with my dogs (less barking, walking instead of having access to a back yard, etc.)

          Are you planning to move – Have you found somewhere else to move to, or is it just general readiness to be able to succeed in moving when and if the opportunity arises?

          Like

          Reply
          1. gavinpandion

            Just general readiness, my aunt wants me to get my own place by summer if possible, but I’m still looking for work. I’ve decided to try freelancing as well, following some of the leads you blogged about, even though you shared some disappointments with how it all works and I’ve been hearing similar things from other people. Hate to leave any stone unturned at the moment, really.

            Like

          2. Mados

            It is good to hear that you are starting to prepare to move out. Based on your prior descriptions, it did sound like a very mentally unhealthy environment you’re living in.

            Re. freelance work. I think to make a sustainable living from freelance work one needs a well organised “go getter” mindset and have a strongly marketable skill in a trade that is well suited for freelance work and where demand > supply. Even then, it would take quite a while to build up a solid customer base and serious amount of income to pay rent et.c. It would probably be a good idea to try to build that out while you still live at home and if it doesn’t generate any real income (it probably wouldn’t for most people), then you can rule that out in the short term at least and focusing on finding/getting ready for a job.

            Which kind of work can you do/or think you can do, for a living?

            Like

          3. gavinpandion

            Good news, I already got a job! I was just hired yesterday, and I start Monday. It’s part time, but I’ve picked up some data entry work so far that could help (the freelance data entry pays very very little though, so it will be hard to supplement my income that way unless most of my jobs are better priced than the first one I accepted). I decided to apply for a customer service position in an insurance company that works with public sector employees’ labor unions (teachers, police), and was hired to do appointment setting. I think this will be a very good fit for the transitional place I’m in now, because I could move to full time later but for now the schedule is lighter, about 20 hours per week. The appointment setting tasks are very scripted, a straightforward sort of skill to learn by doing, and I’m looking forward to getting to where work feels “a little” boring, apart from the difficulty of keeping up with social cues in customer service to make the script work. That’s my vision of getting good at this job, and getting comfortable doing it. That way my imagination is for my weekends, basically, and I can use my strong interests as creative outlets instead of having a job that doesn’t seem to allow free time because there’s so much opportunity to get lost in the details. Research, for me, is that kind of problem. So I’m using my MPH in the sense that I’m working in the health sector, and graduate school looks good on my resume, but I’m looking forward to a lighter workload than I’ve been used to for the last four years. I think it will be good for me, a chance to recuperate personally from the exhaustion of getting a master’s degree, and the transition of moving to a new region. I’m feeling a lot better about the financial security of having finished the job search already, I can rest easier now that there’s no nagging feeling of having held myself back somehow in the job search, which is how I felt before I was hired, just a generic self-doubt issue with waiting to find a position for which I’d be accepted. I’m really grateful for all the input you shared about freelancing experiences on your blog though, trying some of the freelancing websites you recommended was much easier after looking at the way you described what you’d learned from experimenting with them, and I’m optimistic that I can get closer to having a deposit for moving into my own place sooner by taking some work on the side while I’m part-time at my regular job. Hopefully I can move to full time within a few months. The wage is close to the local minimum wage, but fortunately it’s much closer to a living wage than the federal minimum wage is, so I could conceivably make ends meet even on part time. But that’s supplementing it with public assistance like Medicaid and food stamps.

            Like

          4. Mados

            Great news! I am very happy for you.

            I also think it is a wise strategy to take on a structured, scripted, low key job rather than take on too many challenges at once. Moving and living independently is already a big challenge in itself.

            And I am glad my articles about freelance work have been useful to you:-)

            Like

          5. gavinpandion

            Thanks for reminding me of your review! This is probably a good time for me to get a book like this one, in addition to the dog training book I just picked up on your recommendation. It will probably be a few months before I’ve built back my savings enough for it to make sense to move out, and have enough regular income to cover my monthly bills. I’ll probably also browse around for a title on co-dependent relationships, to try and address lingering issues with habituation to depending overmuch on someone as controlling and abusive as my mother as promptly as possible, the internalized abuse issues that can lead to feeling insecure or unsure of how to be yourself outside the context of a long-standing co-habiting relationship. I’m starting counseling again, this time with a direct focus on PTSD symptoms, and that is an important first in my life – to be in a position where PTSD is medically recognizable because of a recent, official, prosecuted assault case that is clearly relevant to what I’m going through lately. No ifs, ands or buts about whether or not anything traumatic occurred, so it’s finally okay to frame some of my psychosocial adjustment issues in terms of that relationship history (with my mother’s violent behavior, I mean). Just to make sure I find secure footing as a become more fully independent of my family, financially and in other functional areas like transportation and having people to hang out with.

            Like

  6. gavinpandion

    Sorry, that reply was cut off. I was going to say “inadequate to evaluate certain aspects of the research hypothesis.” Saying the methods are “strictly inadequate” would of course be dull and redundant with an encyclopedia of research methods and their uses and limitations, but operationalizing the limitations cogently with a discussion of the practical implications of incomplete answers to certain subtopics of a major research question would be far easier to get away with in a book length manuscript than in an article of 3,000 words or less. But that’s just my idea of a more ideal publishing norm, it doesn’t seem to be a typical practice at all. Authors who are good at expressing uncertainties usually have idiomatic writing tricks for framing limitations to validity and areas of uncertainty in a way that doesn’t announce them as “caveats” very explicitly, a matter of phrasing that is more direct and less expressive of a “let’s allow the research effort to sprawl forward in time indefinitely as we explore the various possible refinements on methods and follow-up tests of hypotheses” pessimism about ever getting actionable answers to research questions. But when the methods or the science process framing conventions are problematic, this skill with reporting for a general audience has the trade-off of not mentioning specifically what the systemic or process obstacles in conventional science methods are in this area. And publishing on methods topics is not done much outside areas like “qualitative research methods” and “statistics” that promote potpourri methodology menus capable of fitting a favorable design feature on any strongly-favored hypothesis, so there is an annoying tendency to ignore ways of refining methods in general use or making better use of conventions, and merely add to a bag of tricks that are not very flattering to the integrity of the sciences in the way they exploit information asymmetry in practice.

    Like

    Reply

Say something!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s