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Dogs Orient to the Earth’s Magnetic Field When Pooping?????
Posted: 06 January 2014 03:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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A colleague of mine had some comments on the paper which I think are useful. Apart from the problem of multiple post-hoc comparisons, it doesn’t seem there is any sound, a priori rationale for the particular analyses done. Rather, when the primary outcome showed no effect, many other possible ways of parsing the data were employed rather indiscriminately in order, apparently, to find at least some statistically significant result. Not an unusual problem in scientific papers, unfortunately.


Short-term variations in the Earth’s geomagnetic field are caused by processes in the upper atmosphere – the ionosphere and the magnetosphere.  Movements of charged particles in these layers of the atmosphere create large electric currents, and those electric currents necessarily produce magnetic fields that summate with the geomagnetic field, resulting in small changes in both intensity and declination (the difference between magnetic North and true North) of the local magnetic field measured at a point on the Earth’s surface.  These short-term variations occur over minutes to hours rather than seconds and are very small – which is why when you look at a compass (away from interfering human artifacts) you do not see the needle moving around.

As the authors state, the overall data in their paper show no evidence of North-South orientation (their ‘surrogate measure’ for detection of a magnetic field) at all.

The authors then go on to do a post-hoc analysis = ‘data dredging’.  They state very clearly in the Methods section that is what they are doing, but presumably do not realise the statistical problems inherent in doing so.  They divide the data up in ways that were not specified a priori, e.g., by time of day or intensity of magnetic field variation or rate of magnetic declination variation, etc.  (The rate of change of declination should be expressed not in % but in % per unit time.)  For each they did a statistical test to see if the confidence interval around the average vector overlapped the N-S orientation.  Note that, after each such dividing up, the numbers of dogs in each category are quite small, mostly in the few tens, and so the confidence intervals are correspondingly wide. They do not state how many such tests they did, but it is clear that it was quite a few.  Because they did a lot of tests, there is a reasonable chance that at least one would orient close to N-S such that its confidence interval overlapped the N-S orientation, and so be statistically significant.  Indeed, one of those tests (the one for measurements made when the rate of variation of magnetic declination was 0%) came up statistically significant, i.e., the average vector was more-or-less N-S.  They concluded that (1) dogs can detect the Earth’s magnetic field but (2) only when the local magnetic field is not showing (tiny) fluctuations in declination.

If one were to take the findings seriously then, strictly, results of such post-hoc analysis should be treated as ‘hypothesis generation’.  Thus, this study has generated the hypothesis that dogs can detect the earth’s magnetic field but only when it is stable and not showing tiny fluctuations in declination, and somebody can now test that prediction (any takers, anyone?).  It is not implausible that dogs could detect Earth’s magnetic field because other mammals, e.g., the subterranean mole rats, certainly can (although it is easy to see good reasons why detection of the geomagnetic field could be evolutionarily useful for animals that spend pretty much their entire life underground).  However, given that the Earth’s magnetic field declination fluctuates only a very small amount and does so for a lot of the time it would be very peculiar if dogs had evolved to be able to detect it only when it is not undergoing those tiny fluctuations!  It is also difficult to think of a reason why dogs should use any such ability to orient themselves N-S when defaecating…

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Posted: 06 January 2014 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Maybe they just don’t give a sh*t.

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Posted: 06 January 2014 05:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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I.J. Abdul Hakeem - 06 January 2014 10:10 AM

I had just finished reading Technopoly by Neil Postman a couple weeks back when I was visiting UAE.
http://www.amazon.com/Technopoly-The-Surrender-Culture-Technology/dp/0679745408

This thread reminded me of one of his contentions that scientific investigation has been misused and has moved toward completely pointless aspects of our lives.


I had many cats when I lived in Saudi Arabia and I can tell you their orientation in the litter box would have had no impact on my life whatsoever.
(or anyone else’s for that matter)

I dunno, if it turned out facing a litter box in one direction ensured that cats were more likely to use it, than something like the furniture, I’d think that would have an impact on some people’s (and cats) lives.

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Posted: 25 January 2014 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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This idea is clearly full of what the dogs are getting rid of.

If dogs truly did align with Earth’s magnetic field is such a way, humans long ago would have noticed and used them as natural compasses.

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Posted: 26 January 2014 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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It looked like a poorly done ‘study’. At any rate, my dogs forgot to read it, they poop in any old convenient direction.

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Posted: 28 January 2014 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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This seems like it belongs in my old Research into the Pointless thread.  Wherever it is.  What a waste of time.

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Posted: 01 July 2014 02:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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I have two dogs. One 3 years old, one 4. I’ve never noticed them facing the same way when they crap in tandem. What I have noticed, is that they sometimes sleep in exactly the same orientation and position. Sometimes like two letter “c"s. Sometimes stretched straight, at exact matching angles—their backs, paws, legs, necks, extremities—everything matching spatially. Like two identical magnets on a refrigerator. As if an artist positioned them that way to make a statement. It isn’t all of the time, in fact it’s maybe only ten percent of the time. Half the time, they choose different rooms entirely. When they do sleep in the same room there’s usually no pattern. But then there are these instances, when they’re EXACTLY paired, and it’s crazy. And oddly calming. When you see it it seems like they’re synched up on some physical level, in terms of their orientation, independent of their surroundings, and everything around them is chaotic and random, while they carry on this invisible unity.

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