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Why do Some People Reject Science?


Why do Some People Reject Science?

Why do some people still believe in theories about dogs and dog training that have largely been disproved by science?  It turns out that it may have something to do with how children learn.  I hope that my readers will take a moment to read this article by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bloom07/bloom07_index.html. 

In a nutshell, this statement synopsises the article: “In sum, the developmental data suggest that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging, intuitive expectations. This resistance will persist through adulthood if the scientific claims are contested within a society, and will be especially strong if there is a non-scientific alternative that is rooted in common sense and championed by people who are taken as reliable and trustworthy. This is the current situation in the United States with regard to the central tenets of neuroscience and of evolutionary biology. These clash with intuitive beliefs about the immaterial nature of the soul and the purposeful design of humans and other animals — and, in the United States, these intuitive beliefs are particularly likely to be endorsed and transmitted by trusted religious and political authorities. Hence these are among the domains where Americans’ resistance to science is the strongest.”

Could this be why people persist in notions about “pack theory” despite new research that shows dog don’t live in rigid packs?  Could this be why people persist in thinking that punishing dogs is crucial to their training?  It’s “common sense” after all to punish those who misbehave.  Or, is it?  What if it isn’t the right thing to do?  What if positive reinforcement does work, scientifically and without the fallout of punishment?  Why can’t we get people to believe it, even if it’s true?  This is one of the most frustrating things about being a force free trainer.  The almost constant question we get is, “How do I get my dog to stop ___?”  Rather, we would want people to ask, “How do I get my dog to (name the skill)?”  

To make matters worse, just when we were making at least some headway in convincing people to move toward positive training (which is supported by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior), Oprah Winfrey unleashed Cesar Millan on the public, and his regressive, dominance-based methods took on a charismatic, if archaic, life of their own.  The masses, who think that “I got spanked and it never hurt me,” had no ability to think rationally about whether it DID hurt them or not.  One, because they have no idea how they would have turned out had they not been spanked, and two, because criticizing one’s own parents and their beliefs is often considered disrespectful, both Biblically and in our society.  

If religiosity and politics can influence the rejection of science, refreshingly, it can also uphold the tenets of science.  I urge my readers to grab a copy of Kathy Sdao’s new book, “Plenty in Life is Free,”  in which she outlines her personal spiritual journey, and its alignment with her scientific knowledge of dogs and behavior, in a wonderfully written little tome that may make people rethink their rejection of science in favor of an acceptance of it as the great gift that it is on our way to better understanding of ourselves and our dogs.

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21 responses »

  1. Excellent articulation of why some people persist in their outdated beliefs about dogs.

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  2. Fantastic. Thanks for writing this.

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    • Adogtrainerandrescuer

      And I WAS spanked and NO, it DIDN’T help me. It never taught me what how to deal with the situation that made me misbehave. All it did was it either suppressed a behavior (and a new one usually developed) or made me continue the behavior and try harder not to get caught. It also made me too angry and upset to think and it made me distrustful of my parents. To this day, they STILL don’t have my respect.

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  3. Did you intend for this article to make sense or were you stoned when you wrote it?

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  4. Why do some people think pop psychology is science?

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  5. Science says theorize, observe, test thesis, then conclude. It’s obvious that using all 4 quadrants of the operant conditioning model produces permanent behavioral changes, and it’s obvious that Millan uses perfect timing to implement any or all of the 4 quadrants depending on the particular situation, and it’s been demonstrated 500 times on his show that the owners are grateful for the positive change in themselves and their dogs after his involvement. What’s not obvious is why folks such as yourself promote limiting yourself to using just one quadrant, why you falsely claim that to do otherwise is ‘unscientific’, and why you turn a blind eye to the fact that what he teaches works, that the dogs are happier having successfully had their behavior modified, and that the owners are effusive in their gratitude and praise for the man and his results. Science is clearly on Millan’s side.

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    • We don’t disagree that all four quadrants work. What we disagree with is using the ones that cause pain or fear when you don’t have to. That’s a matter of ethics. Apparently,many people who have legitimate credentials in animal behavior do not agree with your assessment of Cesar Millan’s skills, and when he stops asking people to sign non-disclosure agreements before handling their dogs, we might be able to know what his clients really thought of his interventions.

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  6. HeathenTrainer

    Why do people who “believe in science” not get that we don’t need another religion? Why don’t people who pray at the Church of Miller/Sdao/Dunbar/Yin/etc. in the Archdiocese of Donaldson understand that what we Heathens of Balanced Training already get the results we’re looking for and have not, indeed, ruined the dogs. Why would a trainer set out to ruin a dog? Think we make money and get recommendations through word of mouth because we ruin dogs? Science works for balanced trainers, too. We do not reject science. Science is an ever-evolving entity which is constantly being disproved and refined as time goes on. Science once held that “pack theory” was, indeed, correct. Now it proves it doesn’t? You cannot pick and choose which parts of “science” you agree with. The laws of nature are what they are. Neither you nor I are famous, charismatic, intelligent, resourceful, or influential enough to change “science”. Genuflecting at the altar doesn’t mean you understand what balanced trainers do. Spend a day with a good balanced trainer who gets good results and you might just crack open that prejudice of yours. Or not. Either way, good luck.

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    • Science is a progressive discipline. The fact that we once believed in pack theory is similar to our once having believed that the earth was flat. I think what you don’t realize is that many of us, myself included, were once “balanced trainers” – with knowledge came greater skill at not having to use tools that make life unpleasant for dogs, yet we are able to get the same results. I’ve spent many a day with good balanced trainers over the years, and learned a lot from them, both about what to do, and, frankly about what I did not want to do. I find that many so called balanced trainers do not bother to learn how to use clicker training properly and then they state it doesn’t work, think that they can use a clicker and still use a shock collar and wonder why it doesn’t work, think clickers are only good for tricks not realizing that tricks are just behaviors like any other, think you can’t teach a proper recall without shock, all of which is, of course, pure bunk. Getting recommendations and making money are not the only yardstick by which I measure success. I get those, too. But, at night, I can look my dogs in the eye knowing I have not hurt them to train them. And my clients can have the same faith in me that my own dogs do.

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      • HeathenTrainer

        Just so you don’t confuse my eventual silence with agreement, I will offer one last analysis of your comment.

        You wrote:
        Science is a progressive discipline. The fact that we once believed in pack theory is similar to our once having believed that the earth was flat. I think what you don’t realize is that many of us, myself included, were once “balanced trainers” – with knowledge came greater skill at not having to use tools that make life unpleasant for dogs, yet we are able to get the same results.

        My response: You admit to making life unpleasant for dogs. I admit no such thing. Your use of tools does not necessarily equate my use. I have used a clicker before. It’s not rocket science. It’s not the end-all. Neither is an ecollar. Neither is a pinch collar. They are options. Nothing more. Just because I can get results that doesn’t mean you cannot. I didn’t assume you could not. I resent my training being labelled as “unpleasant” for dogs. Rather loaded insinuation, wouldn’t you say? I resent you making the assumption that you “once did” what I do. Have you ever watched me work a dog? What is my knowledge base? Do you know? Don’t assume I need more knowledge. Those are brave words. Would you like a public challenge at off-leash control? Obedience? Recall under massive distraction? I welcome the opportunity to show you what I can do.

        You wrote:
        I’ve spent many a day with good balanced trainers over the years, and learned a lot from them, both about what to do, and, frankly about what I did not want to do. I find that many so called balanced trainers do not bother to learn how to use clicker training properly and then they state it doesn’t work, think that they can use a clicker and still use a shock collar and wonder why it doesn’t work, think clickers are only good for tricks not realizing that tricks are just behaviors like any other, think you can’t teach a proper recall without shock, all of which is, of course, pure bunk.

        My response: You have not spent one minute with me. Do not lump me in with people you’ve met. Do not assume you know how I work. I am one of those aberrant weirdos which you have not met yet who actually is quite fluent in 2Q training. But you wouldn’t know that because you’ve never met me. You actually sound really defensive about clicker training: like it needs to be justified or something. Why? Do other people who don’t use clicker training bother you somehow?

        You wrote: Getting recommendations and making money are not the only yardstick by which I measure success. I get those, too. But, at night, I can look my dogs in the eye knowing I have not hurt them to train them. And my clients can have the same faith in me that my own dogs do.

        My response: I never said “getting recommendations and making money” were the only yardstick I measure my success with. What makes you think I did? Again, an assumption. You really need to watch that. I sleep very well at night, too. My conscience is not bothered by how I train. My dogs are not damaged from their training. Why do you even bring that up? More assumptions. My way is not your way and therefore is wrong? You might be surprised.

        Have fun.

      • Same old tired arguments, but never let it be said that I didn’t give you your say. You have fun, too. While you’re at it, think how much fun the dogs are having, and make sure they have some fun training as well. Bye.

  7. I’m not afraid to say the way my parents raised me didn’t do me many favours, but for me now, it’s interesting to see the way my young nephews behave “for the grandparents” against how they behave “for auntie”.
    The grandparents are still using the same techniques, must punish the child, must shout, must scold, etc.

    I’m not, and they are so much better behaved for me!

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    • Sam, I had the same result with Mike’s kids. They were always respectful of me, and still are (both are in their 20’s now). I never spanked them, they were someone else’s children, after all. But, my own mom taught me – say what you mean, mean what you say, just don’t say it mean.

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      • Your mom is a very insightful, wise woman. I never heard that saying before and I can see myself using it in a lot of situations!

  8. wonderful article would it be ok to translate to portuguese and publish with links and obviously reference to author? Claudia Estanislau

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  9. “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.” Tolstoy

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  10. Pingback: The Week in Tweets – 21st June | Some Thoughts About Dogs

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