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For ethologists: Observation does not trump molecular biology

Posted on March 1, 2011 by jim.

During the past few years, the moderator of the human-ethology group has repeatedly made assertions that observation of behavior is more important that either animal models of behavior or theories of behavior that are based on animal models.  Although most scientists probably do not share the opinion of Jay R. Feierman, the 70 year-old moderator, he nevertheless continues to assert that his approach is an accurate approach to the study of animal behavior. I have cited quotes from three of his statements in this regard, and provided links so that they can be viewed in context.

An observation trumps a model.

If you want to be a bio-behavioral scientist, rather than a philosopher, you need to accept one of the cardinal principles of science – observation. Observation trumps theory.

There is another principle in science that says, “observation trumps theory.”

I’m posting this information here to exemplify confused thoughts about the biological basis of animal behavior, including human behavior. Two new articles became available today that help to eliminate such confusion. They are significant to the concept of social selection as it is driven by olfactory/pheromonal input in other animals (my theory, which is not trumped by observation).

1. Social selection for the mother’s odor: Olfactory Marker Protein Is Critical for Functional Maturation of Olfactory Sensory Neurons and Development of Mother Preference. Anderson C. Lee, Jiwei He, and Minghong Ma J. Neurosci. 2011;31 2974-2982

2. An animal model of the neurophysiological mechanisms involved in social selection: Mushroom Body Output Neurons Encode Odor-Reward Associations. Martin Fritz Strube-Bloss, Martin Paul Nawrot, and Randolf Menzel J. Neurosci. 2011;31 3129-3140

As is typical given the fundamentals of molecular biology which are used in advancing theories that incorporate olfaction and pheromones, observation of the behaviors that are exhibited does not trump theory. I hope to eliminate the bias that Jay R. Feierman continues to incorporate via his moderation of a group in which I participate. So, I have asked him: “…what observation trumps the theory that adolescent male human preference for large-breasted women is based on olfactory/pheromonal conditioning of hormones associated with visual input?” Desmond Morris proposed a fleshy buttocks mimic theory based on his observation of similarities in the shape of the pendulous breasts and buttocks (e.g.,as observed during rear-entry copulations). Is that an example of observation trumps theory?

Obviously, I’ve incorporated some sarcasm into my question above. Sometimes, I just can’t seem to avoid being sarcastic, especially in cases where I think others are making ridiculous comments on topics they know nothing about. I’ll post Dr. Feierman’s answer, if I get one.



Retired medical laboratory scientist

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