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


27 April 2014

“Your Dog Doesn’t Love You” and Other Soundbites


Hi Mia,

Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Olomouc — which I learned to pronounce like ‘all um oats’ — the 6th largest city in the Czech Republic. I was there to participate in Academia Film Olomouc (#AFO2014, Trailer, Twitter/Facebook), an international science film and science communication conference in its 49th year! AFO blew me away and left me wanting it to be 2015 so I could go back already!

AFO featured science communication galore with international and short documentaries as well as panels and talks between scientists, government and the general public. I arrived and immediately caught a great panel on 'What is Science Communication' with Jack Lewis (Twitter), Karl Byrne (Twitter), and Jennifer Gardy (Twitter) -- who has the most entertaining website I’ve ever seen.

Film awards went to More Than Honey, a story
about decimated bee colonies and its implications, Monthlies, a coming of age story about teen girls facing a “new period” of their lives (menstruation), and a number of other films. I am now obsessed with the Canadian program The Nature of Things, and I recommend that everyone check out two of their episodes: Lights Out!, exploring how the type of light we are exposed to at night can cancel the benefits naturally triggered by the absence of light, and Wild Canada, featuring wildlife photography at its best (with bears doing bear-things that only a mindful photographer could capture).

I gave a presentation following a screening of the 2010 Horizon program, The Secret Life of the Dog (online here). I think this was one of the first programs to look at the growing field of canine science, and since then many other programs have covered the many studies in our field (like the NOVA special that aired recently, Dogs and Super Senses).

In the presentation, I cautioned that media outlets often oversimplify canine research findings. Instead of reporting, “This is what the research found,” the media often puts a spin on the findings that doesn’t necessarily follow from the research itself. I gave an example of this oversimplification and mis-selling of research over at Dog Spies in the post, ’Don’t Sell Your Dog Short.’

You and I often have this conversation because at Do You Believe in Dog? we try to walk the line between simplifying research, but not oversimplifying or misrepresenting. What concerns me the most about media oversimplification, is that the conclusions they draw tend to reify stereotypes about dogs, and it’s almost as if the research were never done.

The comic Science News Cycle (via PhD comics) that you shared with me is a great example of what we're talking about. It shows how research findings can gets twisted and convoluted through the process of translation and dissemination. In the comic, the researcher finds that, “A is correlated with B, given C, assuming D and under E conditions.” These findings are then interpreted by the media and news organizations, and ultimately the researcher's grandma in the cartoon ends up wearing a particular hat to “ward off” A. The takeaway: research translation can spiral out of control, and the resulting "content" might have no bearing on the research itself. Not good!

(PhD Comics, Copyright Jorge Cham)
I’m looking forward to hearing from our next guest blogger later this week who will present her new study on a highly contentious topic that is often oversimplified by the media. What could it be??? ;)

Till later!


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