Research Shows Pit Bull Owners are Psychopaths
A piece of sophomoric tripe study recently published by The Journal of Forensic Sciences states that owners of “vicious” dogs are more likely to commit crimes and exhibit primary psychopathic tendencies than people who don’t own such dogs are.
Is this proof that we need breed specific legislation to save us from drug dealers, rapists and baby killers? Hardly. This bit of junk science has more holes in it than all the dog bite victims in America stitched together.
In his landmark work Sociological Methods Denzin stated that three properties must be demonstrated to prove a causal relation in sociological studies:
The researcher has to show that the cause is tied to and leads to the effect.
The researcher has to show that the cause occurs before the effect.
He also has to demonstrate that other causes, catalysts or intervening factors don’t produce the effect.
Note: This is part of that boring and annoyingly time-consuming work of eliminating unworkable solutions and collecting additional data to test the potentially workable ones. Our friends at WVU get an F on this part of their work. They simply handed a stack of questionnaires out to undergraduate students; compiled the answers; did some basic statistical evaluation — and then committed the cardinal sin of statistical studies by confusing correlation with cause.
And that’s just the start of it. Here are a few of their most glaring errors:
Propaganda as hypothesis: The first, big, ugly mistake in this farcical creation sttudy is that the researchers start right out with an erroneous – and highly emotionally charged – assumption (rather than a group of facts). To wit: that Akitas, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinschers, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and “Wolf-mix” dogs are inherently vicious. They don’t provide any evidence that these breeds of dogs are vicious, and in fact, they don’t even define what they mean when they use the term “vicious”.
Studies have also shown (hopefully more rigorous studies than this one!) that research on emotionally-charged issues has an unfortunate tendency to be affected by the researcher’s own biased opinions on the subject. So, if the WVU group believed that the subject breeds of dogs were vicous before they even started their work (and they do indeed, state that this is so in the published article), they were much more likely to find and use data to support this hypothesis.
Collecting data to fit the hypothesis: A mastiff-sized hole in the study is the fact that the researchers started out with a fixed hypothesis — and then went on a witch hunt fished for data to support it. I’m not a social scientist. My education is in the hard, or physical sciences. The standard there is to collect data and use multiple working hypotheses to evaluate it by a process of eliminating the unworkable solutions and then collecting more data to test the potentially workable ones. I *know* that that’s a lot of work – but c’mon folks, good science (and – I think – good sociology) requires a lot of work.
Using potentially inaccurate data: To add further fuel to my fire they made absolutely no effort to verify that the dogs that were reported on in the study were of the alleged “vicious” breeds. Breed identification is a notoriously difficult exercise. Unless you’ve got papers, ask two veterinarians, dog trainers, groomers or animal control officers what breed(s) a given dog is and you are more likely than not to get at least two different answers.
They also didn’t even bother to ask if the dogs had exhibited any kind of aggressive – or “vicious” – behavior!
Next, the subject of their study were undergraduate students for crissakes. The questionnaire on dog ownership asked them about all the dogs they’d owned. I’ll bet that most of these kids included every dog that their family has owned since they were born in their answers. So, do the results reflect their preferences in dog ownership – or their parents’? Further, just how accurate is that self-reported data?
I’ll bet that the “Illegal Behavior Checklist” was prepared by the WMU group. This was a 22 item self report questionnaire that addressed four types of “illegal activities” that included questions like “Have you ever been in a fight?” Of course, they don’t define what a “fight” is. So – I wonder how many students who had never been in anything worse than a shouting match answered “yes” to that one and were subsequently labeled as violent criminals?
Collecting data from a nonrandom, non-representative population: A vital part of interview studies like this one is ensuring that a random sample of a representative population has been selected to participate. The folks at West Virginia University failed this vital step when they simply selected a population of undergraduate students willing to fill out questionnaires for credit. I’m just an ignorant dog trainer, but I have a nagging suspicion that this group isn’t a representative sample of American dog owners. I’ll go a step farther and posit that this particular sample of dog owners tends to be a lot more impulsive and irresponsible than the much larger group of us who aren’t currently dog-owning undergraduate students.
Temporal aspects were not evaluated: Even if it could be demonstrated that the ownership of allegedly vicious dogs was truly correlated with criminal behavior or psychopathy (and it most definately was not) – did the psychopathic tendency lead to pibble ownership or does owning a pibble make you a psychopath?
Alternative hypotheses were not considered: Nope. Not at all. Too much work (or not enough grad students) to bother with that I suppose.
This “study” (and, yes – I am using the term loosely) was so poorly designed and executed, that frankly I’m shocked it ever saw the light of publication in a “peer-reviewed” journal.
I’m not just a scientist, I’m a person who is in head over heels love with science. But the thing that really disturbs me about the publication of a total piece of crap like this isn’t that it represents a complete and utter failure of the peer review system — it’s the sad fact that politicians and special interest groups will use junk science like this to justify the passage of oppressive, draconian laws and regulations that will punish the innocent.
This is truly a sad day for science.