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Links With Your Coffee - Thursday

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Science is about disproving hypotheses, and no matter what the armchair conspiracy theorists tell you, torpedoing cherished ideas is a very good way to make a name for yourself in academia. Here are two fun ones from the literature this month. Firstly: are sniffer dogs for real? Animals respond to humans, after all, and especially domesticated animals: that's the point of them. This is why the placebo effect is so wonderfully effective in animals, and of course in children.



I'm disappointed with Ben Goldacre on this one - as are, it seems, some of the readers as indicated by the comments. I refer you to my comment at the end of the 'Links with your Coffee Tuesday" regarding experimental design.

Did you see the Feb 21 Newsweek article "Are Dogs Stealing our Jobs".

It notes a Beauceron trained to sniff out gluten to protect people with celiac disease, and Labradors trained to detect Colo-rectal and bowel cancer with a 98% accuracy by sniffing stool samples. (the current technology is correct only 10% of the time.)" Also this article said that German Shepherds do much better at detecting roadside bombs when compared to technology, and Jack Russel Terriers can sniff out bed bugs with a 95 % success rate, 3 times better than mere site detection..

A Dog's nose is 100,000 times more sensitive than a human's. what with these new examples plus service dogs flagging epileptics when a seizure is imminent, I'm inclined to agree that in the case of the "only cheating yourself" report, the experimental design was defective.

I would be more skeptical about sniffing dogs that search for lost people than those which search for drugs.

So, this study didn't find out whether sniffing dogs could sniff drugs when there are drugs. But as one commenter over there said, a false positive rate could invalidate searches when law enforcement doesn't have another legal reason to search the car than "the dog thinks there are drugs in there".


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