Here’s what we should ask everyone who makes a claim about anything: “How do you know that?”
I’ve followed a few online discussions recently that focused on topics ranging from canine nutrition, to the link between behaviour and thyroid health, and whether or not “no-reward markers” are effective in training.
All very interesting topics.
In each of these discussions, conjecture and anecdotes reigned. Genuine requests for data or evidence were met with angry retorts that “science isn’t everything”, and “I know it because I saw it with my own eyes”.
When it comes to evidence, though, science kinda is everything. At least, it’s the best thing we humans currently have at our disposal to answer our questions about stuff.
Everyone has a story about how a particular solution solved their problem, about how something “worked”. That’s great! Who doesn’t like a solution that works? I am always interested in finding out why it worked. And to know this, I need to understand how it works, and whether it can work again in the future.
We should all take the time to learn about the scientific method. Even if it’s uncomfortable and likely to lead us away from something we deeply believe. It doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to form an opinion about something. It just means that our opinion remains an opinion until we can back it up with evidence.
Published research studies are often complicated and difficult to decipher for the average person. They are not always perfect, and no… they’re not always conducted in a lab (in response to a favourite retort that “a lab doesn’t reflect what happens in the field”).
I usually turn to trusted sources to break studies down for me and help me grasp the relevant info and take-away. Here are my favourite bloggers who do a fabulous job at helping readers understand science-y stuff:
- Eileen Anderson at Eileen and Dogs
- Linda Case at The Science Dog
- Dr. Jessica Hekman at the Dog Zombie
- Dr. Brennen McKenzie at Skeptvet
In fact, one of my favourite books on how to think critically and how to understand the scientific method as it relates to dog stuff is Linda Case’s “Beware the Straw Man”. Read it. It’ll make you smart.
The purpose of “discussion” is unfortunately often lost on social media threads. Those commenting on a hot-button topic tend to try to win a debate by shutting it down. True, the answers we have at our disposal might be valid today, and disproven tomorrow. But they’re what we’ve got and they’re usually an excellent starting point for more questions.
And lucky for us, there is always someone out there asking lots and lots of questions, and others like the bloggers I’ve listed who take the time to share some of the answers in a painless way.