About Science

last revised April 9, 2017

Horse and rider anatomy.1

The problem with dogma is that the facts it asserts are sometimes correct. So how do we sort out fact and fiction in our beliefs? Science is ready to rescue. Scientific research could help us determine which beliefs are true, and which are false, and fill in the gaps where we know we don’t know. Where our beliefs prove to be correct, science could help us understand better the why. Our observations assure mares and their foals love each other. But only science can provide us with a certain explanation to replace our plausible conjecture.

But science hasn’t rescued us yet. That is partly because the language of science is filled with words unknown by laymen, and its findings are buried in scientific journals not found in your local library.

But even if science sometimes lets us down, we need to use it as the foundation of our understanding. Question is the only alternative to accept. Research is the only alternative to “just believe.” If understanding is important to you, you’ll need to spend less time on Twitter and Facebook and more time in Google Scholar.

Good Science

Good science is not a method, but an approach to life.  We can’t say that science starts with a hypothesis as they told us in high school because there would be no hypothesis without many observations and inferences. There is no evident beginning of good science.  But there are some principles that all good science must embody: observation, inference, faith, and suspicion. As we think about our observations, we will likely form and reject hypotheses. In this book, I have tried for good science. I hope you will be open minded, and try for good science too, when you come upon challenges to your beliefs. That includes challenging me whenever you think your alternative facts are better.

Comparative Biology

Good science is comparative. Because horses are hoofed herd animals, they have much in common with cattle and deer. Because they are mammals, they have much in common with raccoons and dogs. They are animals and so have much in common with octopus, birds and fish. Our lineage defines our form, but our behaviors can often be traced far back on the family tree. When we find common behaviors across different twigs of the family tree, we can know that we have found an ancient behavior and can often learn about one species by looking carefully at another. When a sandpiper, baby raccoon, or horse threaten, they all bend down, assume a snowplow position with their heads, and move forward. Surely animals have been threatening each other for eons. New species do not bother to invent new behaviors when the old ones work perfectly well.

Researchers have not studied horses on every single topic that interests me. So if I can find a study that seems to answer my questions by studying Equus ferus caballus (the domestic horse), I’m happy.

If I can find a study of feral horses, I’m happy, because the behavior of our animals at the farm — chickens, pigs, cows and calves — closely resembles that of wild horses in many ways.2

If I can’t find a study of feral horses, but can find a study of the Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalski — the only wild horse that is left), I’m happy. I’m happy because we still have a few wild Przewalskis horses, and no longer have any wild domestic horses (mustangs in the American west are feral domestic horses, not wild. They were once domesticated, and have experienced the selection pressures of domestication), and so can learn about some horse social behavior that could not have been affected by domestication. Researchers find that these two species show very similar social behavior when reared under typical domestic conditions and allowed a period on pasture.3

If you find yourself wondering how humans are different than other animals, spend time wondering how they are the same. The similarities and differences between species can inspire and correct inference and help us discover the appropriate bounds of extrapolation.  Since so many of our books on nature take the condescending approach of the author as better than the subject, and difference as proof of this, I prefer to focus on similarities, and usually like to leave our own species out of my thinking.  The world of bears, turkeys, and raccoons is large enough for me. But a book about horses must also be a book about humans. Horses can no longer exist without coexisting with humans. And research on humans can provide great insight into horses, helping us know what a blast of oxytocin feels like or what learned helplessness feels like.

Good Science is never Anthropocentric

Anthropocentrism is the notion that we are the center of the universe, that the galaxy revolves around us. I don’t share suffer from this particular insecurity4.  Our problem with animals comes from not knowing how they are similar, and not knowing how they are different. Did you know that even single-celled organisms sleep?5 Even plants sleep!6 Did you know that ants7 and fruit flies dream?8 That mice, rats, meerkats, horses and probably all mammals are ticklish, and if they are already in a good mood when tickled, that they laugh?9 Animals have more in common with us than most of us imagine. Those animals include the horse, which is very much like you underneath. Horses are ticklish when touched just right by someone they are comfortable with, when in a good mood. Can you make your horse laugh?

When we ask how we are better, we change the rules as we play the game. Our enormous brains have allowed us to develop a huge population and overwhelm the planet, but I don’t consider this a good thing. Our verbal skills may have allowed us to speak truth to power, but also to speak power to truth. We aren’t better at what we do than other animals are better at what they do. We don’t have any special characteristics that are not shared, to some extent, by some other species  — except perhaps for the notion itself that we are better. Other animals seem to have more modesty.

Believing we are better is the foundation for all sorts of prejudice and trouble. We do a disservice to those at both ends of the telescope or microscope when we think this.

Good Science is Often Anthropomorphic

Anthropomorphism is an innate tendency to attribute human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-humans. Anthropomorphism is good when done right, but it may be rare that it is done right. Remember that there is a lot of “rash” in “rational”. When I get angry at a tangled power cord, suspecting that it tied itself in these knots, I know that I am overstepping. So when do we overstep, when to we understep? When can we be safe in our anthropomorphism?

I think that the honest answer is “never”. We’ll never know if we’ve gone too far, or not far enough. But I can tell you that on average we have not gone far enough in assuming that other animals are like us.

Horse behavior is often described in pejorative anthropomorphic language. Those who have fallen into this gully might say that their horse is lazy. That he doesn’t want to work. Or maybe he’s stubborn. Doesn’t respect the whip. Such language doesn’t move the discussion forward. They simply slander the horse without recognizing that the problems noted are probably of their own creation, or of their own misunderstanding of horses. Feral horses don’t seem to like to run, for instance. Almost all of their movement is done at a walk. Why should we expect a domesticated horse to behave differently? Words like “lazy” and “stubborn” and phrases like “doesn’t respect the whip” simply don’t move the discussion forward.

I will be anthropomorphic when I consider many aspects of the horse. A horse can be happy, in exactly the same way that we can be happy. He can be lonesome. Scared. Bored. He can suffer just as we can. He has hopes. He dreams, sometimes happy, sometimes not so. I will be anthropomorphic when I think of the life of a race horse locked in a stall for 23 hours a day. To be anthropomorphic is to realize that a horse does have human characteristics.


Can you guess how this rat is feeling?10

We need to split hairs. We need to have science-based knowledge of how horses are like people, and how horses are not. With that knowledge, we can begin to choose our words carefully. Wise selective anthropomorphism is what we need, in which we often assume the horse is just like us, though not always. Our prayer should be “Lord, let me walk a mile in my horse’s shoes, so that I may accept him for who he is and know that he is much like me, and grant me the wisdom to know when there are differences.”

Those differences, by the way, are not always in our favor. While you may be better with the trombone or the keyboard, your horse sees better than you do, has better hearing, a far better sense of smell, and is quite a bit fitter. He is willing to go for an hour with you on his back. I bet you can’t do the same.

Science is Misunderstood

Give yourself a little test, and see how well you understand science. Each of the statements below is either true or a myth. See if you can spot the myth(s).

  1. Hypotheses become theories which become laws;
  2. A hypothesis is an educated guess;
  3. A general and universal scientific method exists;
  4. Evidence accumulated carefully will result in sure knowledge;
  5. Science and its methods provide absolute proof;
  6. Science is procedural more than creative;
  7. Science and its methods can answer all questions;
  8. Scientists are particularly objective;
  9. Experiments are the principle route to scientific knowledge;
  10. All work in science is reviewed to keep the process honest.

To score your work, tally the number of statements that you believe to be true.

Finished? How did you score? The correct score may be found in a footnote.11

Science is Better than Magic

With magic, the connection between cause and affect can occur through supernatural forces. There are some that will tell you that what you do doesn’t matter, that it only matters how you feel.12 One trainer tells her students to “ride with your mind”, but over the course of six books, doesn’t leave us understanding what this means. But I’ll assume that it is better to ride with your mind than without it.

In fact, horses are not psychics. They don’t read minds. Your feelings, emotions and all the other soup inside your head affects your horse only through your behavior and your horse’s perception and interpretation of that behavior. Period. So if you think you should make a right turn up ahead, your horse won’t be going right until your body gives a hint of what you are thinking. This hint can be very subtle. An observer might not see it. You might not be aware of it. But your horse must perceive your request through one of his physical senses, or you won’t be turning. Maybe we need a book about “ride with your body.”

Clever Hans (see later) proved that a horse can respond to very subtle cues. But the cues you give your horse should be detectable by both you and your horse. They should be consciously given by you. And if they don’t have the exact intended effect, then they should be consciously refined.

When we attend a clinic, we are likely to see how the clinician does something. We are likely to hear their (incomplete) explanation of how they did it, or why they did what they did. But we are not likely to fully learn any of the mechanisms that produced the result. For instance, the clinician takes this problem horse, puts his own brand of magic halter on, and suddenly the horse is quietly following him. Holy crow! A Horse Whisperer! (And, we learn, these miracle halters are for sale after the show.) But did you notice the knots on the top of the nose? Did you notice that the halter is connected to the trainer with a 9/16” double braided yacht rope, held in his leather glove? Did you see that the clinician gave the rope a bit of a yank when the horse first refused to follow? Do we learn why the horse is following? Could the clinician have explained that he just caused great pain to the delicate nose, and that the horse lowered his head and moved forward to try to avoid further pain?13 It might be that this is a great clinician, who loves horses. Or it might be that he is a fraud, who loves to control horses.

Science is Imperfect

The problems of science are inevitable.

  • To know much about something, we must focus– and set aside other interests as we focus.  As science has developed, the focus of research projects became narrower and more specialized.14 I think we need more comparison in all science: how does this differ from that, and where, when, and how are they similar? You’ll see references to octopus and zebras and many more species here as I try to get my arms around a topic.
  • To be a “good scientist”, we had to get results. Sometimes that happens, and our reports get published, but regularly we can’t replicate what we or others have found.15
  • To earn a living doing science, we needed to turn it into a profession, with a peer recognition system, norms for obtaining recognition, and accepted procedures for everything.  In the process, we both impressed and alienated mortals, who were not wise to our ways. I think we need to involve backyard naturalists and nature writers in our profession, as our agents and publicists and key data sources.
  • To generate more work, we needed to doubt everything (except our own results).  The guaranteed last sentence of every published study seems to be “Further research is required”, because a problem solved is a research specialty lost. I think we should be more relaxed, more trusting, more comfortable when we don’t know something. And it wouldn’t hurt to be less equivocal when speaking to Congress or a reporter.
  • Since the public would not support us if we were to proclaim our findings on street corners, we had to get someone else to fund this: either the public (through taxes and grants) or the public (through products purchased from the companies for whom we worked) or the public (through sending students to our classes to hear disinterested derivative reports on what was happening in our general field some years ago.)  Getting the public to pay directly for what we know — perhaps by being paid by Smithsonian or Popular Science for a submitted article — is difficult: we never learned to write in a way that was readable by mortals.  And an entire career’s learning can often be summarized in a few column inches. I think academic freedom needs academic responsibility, forcing us to take on important topics and — when we have reached conclusions we trust — to move on.

Good science should seek multiple ways of confirming or qualifying our previously conclusions.  Can a bird fly upside down? Google Images will answer this question for you. If you search for “bird upside down flight” you will see Snow Geese, Bald Eagles, gulls, hummingbirds, and an Elegant Tern all flying feet up.  Can a bird fly right-side up, with its head upside down?  Again, Google images will show you a White Ibis with its head rotated, preening a feather in flight.  When a bird is trying to land on a short runway, and chooses to whiffle (rock back and forth or even roll upside down), do we know that an inverted wing would pull a bird or airplane down, rather than up?  Try flying an airplane upside down, without changing the angle of the flaps. [No, don’t try this above your home.]

Current Science is Not Enough

Much of the science of horses treats them as passive objects in an unfeeling world of instincts. Traditional ethology — the study of animal behavior — was a stirring departure from — and improvement upon — the meager thinking about animals that preceded it. In an earlier world, back when the world was flat, humans were the only animals with language, with reasoning, with feeling. We suffered from pain, whereas (other) animals merely responded to it. We had souls. Animals did not. Humans were eligible for heaven. My dog was not.

For me, years ago, the thrill of ethology came from the action: to study animals behaving was so much more exciting then dissecting them, as if the secrets of life would be learned from studying the dead. Never mind that early ethologists were caught up with “fixed action patterns”, “sign stimuli”, and “releasers”, and that they never got very far beyond learning that male sticklebacks attack a model fish with a red belly or court an artificial model with a swollen belly. Horses are far beyond the feeble grasp of early ethologists, who never went very far beyond some instinctive behaviors in fish and birds.

In fact, it was only recently that scientists have even tried to understand horses. As of 1970, of 1,350 studies of animal behavior, only three looked at horses, and none of them at wild horses.16 Even more recently, scientists find the horse ponderous to explore and many will quickly choose a rat or jellyfish over a horse as a subject. Considering some of the terrible things that are done in the name of science, this might be for the best.

The earth is no longer flat — except in parts of Kansas — but the thinking about living things has changed little in the last few hundred years. Bit by bit, we’ve learned that animals are brilliant, that they are sensitive, that they are much like us. But we have failed to set aside the notion that we are a special species. Some people even think that they are the best of our species, living in the best of the world’s countries. This land was made for you and especially me, and heaven will be waiting just for us.

You can do Science

Observation is another way we can learn about our horse’s behavior. Once when I was hand grazing my horse, I lay down on the grass next to him. In no time I found that he and I were different. I would have selected the tallest, greenest stuff. He wandered forward, sampling here, skipping there… Among the other things I learned: his favorites are not what I would have picked; much of the green stuff in that part of the pasture was not his first choice; he had no evident preference for tall grasses; he didn’t seem to put a priority on cramming his mouth as fast as possible. Very odd, I thought. But maybe he knew what he was doing.

There are many ways to observe animal behavior:

  1. surreptitiously observing the animal in the wild, with binoculars, telescope, microphone, tracking collar, or other means.
  2. raising a domesticated or wild animal in captivity and keeping it captive
  3. capturing a wild animal, making it captive, and studying it while a captive
  4. raising a wild animal for an interval in captivity, allowing it to imprint, but then as soon as the animal reaches the appropriate life stage, releasing it and accompanying it where it goes
  5. taming a wild animal, and allowing it to remain wild.
  6. reading about any of the above, watching a video, or otherwise vicariously observing an animal.

Most readers will have a preference for one of these methods of observation and will have strong opinions that their method is best. Many of this book’s readers have chosen to learn about horse behavior by methods 2 and 6. In the end, it may not matter what method we use, if we use it well.  But I believe that all methods, in combination, provide the best opportunity to combine observations and to generalize in our inferences.

Once we have used one of these observation methods for several species, we may be able to refine what we think we’ve learned. For example, any horse owner knows that a horse pins its ears back when it is angry.  Any dog owner knows that dogs do this. And readers of  “Among the Bears”17 will know that bears do this.  It would not be hard to infer from these three sets of observations that animals pin their ears back when angry. Reflection takes us further. Birds don’t ever pin their ears back because they don’t have pinna18, or external ear flaps. Snakes don’t either.  So our conclusion becomes a bit more cumbersome: Animals with pinnae may pin them back when angry.

I also believe that every one of the observation methods listed above can be improved.  Consider the bird watcher, using method 1.  Most birds are heard before they are seen, and while most birds can be heard, few will be seen at all, even by a reasonably patient observer.  There are alternatives to missing all of the action.  Bird watchers could more regularly carry directional microphones connected to earphones (an auditory equivalent of the spotting scope) and to a recorder (an equivalent to the camera.) They could improve their chances of seeing more by being seen less: bringing a comfy folding chair and a portable hide or blind19.  Tradition seems to have defined the methods of birders as firmly as it defines the methods of traditional, formal science.

Each observation method can provide a vast body of information about the critter.  But it is not until we have used two or more observation methods, and observed two or more species, that we move toward a trustworthy position for broader inference.  For instance, Joe Hutto20 discovered that other wild animals seemed to lose their fear of him when they found him in the midst of (normally very timid) wild turkeys.  And Ben Kilham reports that wild bears are much more comfortable approaching when they find him socializing with other bears (that he has fostered.)  I have found that I can squeeze as many as 20 raccoons onto my patio when I’m hand feeding one or more of my raccoon buddies.  These three reports come from two different methods: method 4 for Hutto and Kilham, and method 5 for myself.  They come from three different species.  And so it might be safe to infer that [some] wild animals will [sometimes] sense the emotional state of other wild animals of the same species (raccoons and bears) or very different species (turkeys), and assume that same state.  The feeding of the raccoons provides assurance that there is food and that it is safe to come and get it.  Sitting against a tree with a turkey can relax nearby deer and squirrels; sitting with a bear as a companion can relax an approaching bear.  Each observation method can serve to validate or refute a conclusion from some other method. Each species observed can help us extend or narrow a generalization.

Good observation is critical to good science. Good science should be responsive, answering questions that someone is asking. Good science should consider costs and benefits. What does it cost to come up with an answer?  What benefit does it convey?  We don’t have time or resources to use science to answer every question.  As a result, “I don’t know” is usually a perfectly good answer to a question. “We’re working on it” is not as good. Where possible, good science should be something that everyone can do. Good science should identify some more relaxed rules for inference.  In some cases, we should be able to infer something from a sample of one observation.

Some ideas are testable. Testing doesn’t prove a theory is right, but when results aren’t expected, we know that something is amiss. I will test my ideas with my own horse and mule, and let their feedback further correct my thinking.

Learning what Science has Learned

Hundreds and hundreds of scientists are now busy learning more about horses, about their lives, their capabilities, their diseases. They’ve been doing it for a long time.

Anatomical engraving from Handbuch der Anatomie der Tiere für Künstler’ – Hermann Dittrich, illustrator.21

Scientists are collectively producing a tidal wave of research that, properly assembled, could produce a very respectable review of the horse. But scientific reports are not written for the public or even for other researchers. With no intended audience, it should be little surprise that the average scientific paper goes unread. But if science is not successfully given away, then it serves no purpose.

Enter the science writer. This person takes on the assignment of understanding science and understanding some audience and attempts to straddle this chasm. Science writing is difficult, but, if done well, it can help make science useful.

To understand a horse, the science writer must understand how grass grows, how things are learned, how the nervous system works, how animals communicate. Sometimes there has been no research on a particular question, so we must use reasonable extrapolation from research on other animals: cows, dogs, fish, grasshoppers. Of course most extrapolation is not reasonable, so we must be wise and careful when we do this. To read the science of horses, you must read the wide array of topics you will find in the end notes. The writer must be able to question, explore, analyze, synthesize, translate and weave together the results. Good science writing is not an easy thing to do.

Fortunately, science writing has recently become a whole lot easier, thanks to Google, Google Scholar, Sci-Hub and YouTube.

  • Google searches allow a writer to see what others are saying. Want to know about “cow whisperer”? Google can lead you here. Your old card catalog won’t. Want to know if horses close their eyes when sleeping on their sides? Google images of sleeping horses will allow you to look at hundreds of sleeping horses to decide on an answer. Find it here:
  • Efficiently finding an article of interest is important but so is retrieving the article. Google Scholar usually links to sites where the article has been stored. But many such sites think that they can charge you for the scholarship of others. Elsevier, for instance, charges $31.50 or $35.95 for each PDF you want to read. Some universities will pay such fees, and some research grants will do so, but no self-financed researcher can afford this. For the number of references cited in the end notes of this book, my fees would have been astronomical. Such a money-grubbing approach devalues researchers and academic editors (they are not paid by Elsevier), thwarts a researcher’s efforts to serve the public and denies them access to the research of colleagues, crippling the forward progress of science. Sci-Hub has changed that. Founded by Alexandra Elbakyan, Sci-Hub is the first pirate web site to offer public access to tens of millions of scientific academic papers. Litigation by Elsevier has blocked use of some of Sci-Hub’s domains, but Sci-Hub keeps running by choosing another domain name. (As I write this, you may find it at The “.cc” is the Internet country code for Cocos Islands, an Australian territory of 5.4 square miles.) I applaud Ms. Elbakyan for her efforts to help in the distribution of scientific knowledge. And I don’t think much of publishers who use paywalls to bilk the world.
  • Google Scholar blows my mind. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I spent hundreds of hours in the library, bouncing between the card catalog, the stacks, bibliographies and scientific journals. I’d always arrive with rolls of dimes, to pour into the copiers so that I could study my treasures back at my desk. And I’d always need to fill out special requests for volumes at the interlibrary loan desk. Today, Google Scholar can find more, in a fraction of a second, and order it by relevance. The good old days were good. But I could have written 20 dissertations if Google Scholar had been available. Find Google Scholar at
  • YouTube is another modern miracle for the science writer. Want to know how a horse grazes? Lies down? Approaches a jump? Just watch a few videos on YouTube. Freeze frame and study. Back up and repeat. The image quality of a YouTube frame is poor, but the efficiency of seeing half a dozen horses doing something in the span of 3 or 4 minutes cannot be beat.

Consistency is no hobgobblin.22 I will try to fit the information together until a consistent picture emerges. The elements of a large, consistent picture are possibly facts, providing they square with other elements. When two studies lead to different conclusions, we don’t just need a third study, we need a theory on why the discrepancy and we need research to test that theory.


1 Image source: Durand, Rene. “Quand un Fragonard peut en cacher un autre !”!

2 McBride, G., Parer, I.P., Foenander, F., 1969. The social organization and behaviour of the feral fowl. Animal Behaviour Monographs 2, 127–181.; Newberry, R., Wood-Gush, D.G.M., 1985. The suckling behaviour of domestic pigs in a semi-natural environment. Behaviour 95, 11–25.; Jensen, P., 1986. Observations on the maternal behaviour of free-ranging domestic pigs. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 16, 131–142.; Lidfors, L., Jensen, P., 1988. Behaviour of free-ranging beef cows and calves. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 20, 237–247

3 Christensen, Janne Winther, Tatjana Zharkikh, Jan Ladewig, and Natalja Yasinetskaya. “Social behaviour in stallion groups (Equus przewalskii and Equus caballus) kept under natural and domestic conditions.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 76, no. 1 (2002): 11-20.

4 See my rant here.

5 Sleep in single-celled organisms is seen when the organism shows a rhythm of rest and activity, responsiveness and unresponsiveness. This has been documented by many authorities. Consider Aschoff, Jürgen, ed. Circadian clocks: Proceedings. North-Holland Publishing Company, 1965; Moore-Ede, Martin C., Charles A. Czeisler, and Gary S. Richardson. “Circadian timekeeping in health and disease.” N Engl J Med 309.8 (1983): 469-476.

6 Wohlleben, Peter and Tim FLannery The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World. Greystone Books (September 13, 2016)

7 Cassill, D. L., Brown, S., Swick, D., & Yanev, G. (2009). Polyphasic wake/sleep episodes in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. Journal of insect behavior22(4), 313-323. When ants dream, instead of rapid eye movement, they have “rapid antennal movement” — RAM sleep.

8 In many species, REM sleep is accompanied by rapid eye movements or rapid antennal movements. In humans, vivid dream mentation is frequently reported during REM sleep. We can’t have such reports from other species, but critical aspects of sleep in humans are shared by all species.

9 For videos of rats laughing, see A laughing meerkat is here:

10 This is a happy rat. Photo from Griffiths, Sarah “How do you make a rat laugh? Just tickle it, say scientists (and if you don’t believe them, watch their bizarre experiment)” Daily Mail Online, November 10, 2016.

11 None of these 10 statements is true. All are myths. But don’t take my word for it. Read McComas, William F. “Ten myths of science: Reexamining what we think we know about the nature of science.” School Science and Mathematics 96.1 (1996): 10. Online at

12 I don’t want to rant here. Maybe you could tell me what this means: “Riding is all about feel. The feel of connection between you and the horse, the feel of a soft and supple connection through the reins, the feel of your hips freely following the horse’s movement, the feel of a firm back delivering a well-timed half-halt…the more we grow our attention to these feelings, the more harmonious and joyful riding becomes” Emily (no last name). “Ride with Feeling”

13 “With any piece of tack, the broader the area that touches the horse the less discomfort it will cause and the less readily it can be used in the negative reinforcement paradigm. This is why horses can be easily trained to pull against harnesses, breast-plates and collars used on well-muscled areas, such as the shoulders and pectoral regions, but are reluctant to fight pressure from bits in the mouth…” from McGreevy, P. D. (2007). The advent of equitation science. The Veterinary Journal174(3), 492-500.

14 So as it developed, science learned more and more about less and less.  It didn’t take too long in this procession for scientists to shift from studies of everything to studies of almost nothing.  In the past decades, we’ve shot past the goal of understanding everything.

15 Negative results usually find their way to the file drawer, and it is mostly the positive findings that get published. Belgian researchers report on their problems in getting anything to happen with intranasal administration of oxytocin: after conducting 8 studies involving 453 subjects and trying to get their findings published, they decided to do an analysis of all of these findings. Their conclusion: “The aggregated effect size was not reliably different from zero… Our initial enthusiasm on intranasal oxytocin findings has slowly faded away over the years and the studies have turned us from ‘believers’ into ‘skeptics’.” Of their 8 studies, 5 were published, and 4 of them showed significant results; the others, showing null results, were submitted many times, and never published. This disturbance in the force is magnified here, where I assemble highlights of research that has been published, and try to assemble it into a summary of the truth. I wish we could know what is behind closed drawers, too.

16 Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Irenaus. “Ethology: The biology of behavior.” (1970).

17 Kilham, Benjamin, and Ed Gray. Among the bears: raising orphan cubs in the wild. Macmillan, 2003.

18 see

19 see for examples.

20 Hutto, Joe. Illumination in the Flatwoods: A season with the wild turkey. Globe Pequot, 2006.

21 Image source:

22 Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgobblin of small minds” in “Self-Reliance”. See Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-reliance and other essays. Courier Corporation, 2012.


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