A summary of findings by ScienceNews about the influences of genetic similarities between dog breeds on behaviour
In this article for ScienceNews, Jonathan Lambert is reporting on a study looking at the genetics of different dog breeds regarding certain dog behaviours. The original study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and aimed to look at a larger, more diverse range of dog breeds than previously studied. The original study was conducted by a team at the University of Washington, to investigate the extent to which breed differences in behaviours can be attributed to genetic similarity among 101 breeds. The researchers identified 131 genetic variants called SNPs (single-nucleotide polymorphisms) associated with differences in 14 behaviours among breeds. Some behaviours they investigated were trainability, aggression towards strangers, and various others. They did find these variants within genes expressed in the brain involved in neurobiological functions and developmental processes, though none were found to independently cause a specific behaviour.
Lambert does a good job of reporting the main results and claims from the study accurately. He is respectful and accurate in his reporting of the scientific method and the objective of the research, highlighting information regarding past studies done and the limitations of this study as identified by the researchers. Lambert presents the main findings of the study without linking correlation to causation; he explains behaviour is not a result of one specific genetic variant, but rather a multitude of different genes and associated interactions between with environment, which was a major conclusion of the research.
Lambert effectively uses commentary from some of the authors of the study and from experts in the field not involved in the study. This provides multiple perspectives on the importance of the findings and their contribution to future research, while also providing credibility to Lambert’s reporting.
Though the article is very well written, the title of the article can be slightly misleading. It is suggestive that behaviour is a direct result of breed genetics when the original study emphasizes that their results only show that breed genetics may contribute to behaviour, but it is more complex. Additionally, Lambert does not explicitly define some jargon used such as genotype, and genetic variant, making it more difficult for someone with a more limited scientific background to understand. Lambert’s contact information, social media, biography, and other publications are publicly available. However, the original research article is paywalled which may make readers less willing to pursue the topic further.
Jonathan Lambert’s ScienceNews article reports on new research regarding dog behaviors in relation to breed. The original research—published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B--is novel in that it covers the most diverse range of dog breeds in comparison to previous research. The team from the University of Washington investigated whether shared behavioral traits between dogs can be attributed to their genetic similarities between breeds. The researchers found 131 genetic variants significantly linked to breed behavior, but none of these variants was found to be responsible for causing a behavior.
Lambert reports accurately on the intent of the research, the scientific method, and the claims and results obtained. He does not selectively report findings to paint a false narrative, and he maintains the distinction between causation and correlation. For example, the link between shared behavioral traits and breed genetics is rightfully not portrayed as causative, as the study reinforced that behavior is the result of complex interactions between both genetic and environmental factors. Lambert maintains a neutral tone and provides multiple perspectives on the value of the findings from various independent sources. These independent sources include Clive Wynne, an animal behaviorist at Arizona State University, and Carlos Alvarez, a genomics researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The inclusion of independent sources ensures the credibility of the reporting.
However, the news story did have a few shortcomings. Jargon is mostly left unexplained (genetic signal, genetic variant), making the article less accessible to readers with minimal scientific background. Additionally, while the original research paper is linked at the end of the news story, it is not available to the public without a fee, so readers will be less inclined to further explore the reported information.
The views expressed by the reviewers for this article are not endorsed or shared by SciFeye. The interpretation of the review of the news story using the SciFeye Index was done independently by two SciFeye reviewers. We encourage you to conduct your own evaluation of the accuracy and quality of the news story using the Index.