Monday, July 14, 2014

Nature Fakers and Dog Fakers

I posted a short bit about Ernest Thompson Seton yesterday.

Seton, of course, went on to write Wild Animals I Have Known (1898) and was later attacked by John Burroughs in an essay in Atlantic entitled  "Real and Sham Natural History."  

Burroughs called people who wrote sentimental and anthropomorphic animal stories, such as Seton, "nature fakers" and the ensuing controversy between romantic and science-based natural history was pretty fierce until Teddy Roosevelt ended it by siding with Burroughs.

What's particularly interesting about the battle between Burroughs and the Nature Fakers is that the Nature Fakers believed instinct played a relatively small role in animal behavior and that most animals gained knowledge by training and experience. Does that sound a bit like B.F. Skinner?

Burroughs, of course, was not having any of it:

The crows do not train their young. They have no fortresses, or schools, or colleges, or examining boards, or diplomas, or medals of honor, or hospitals, or churches, or telephones, or postal deliveries, or anything of the sort. Indeed, the poorest backwoods hamlet has more of the appurtenances of civilization than the best organized crow or other wild animal community in the land!

Burroughs summed up the Nature Fakers in his description of William J. Long, noting that Long's book, School of the Woods:

... reads like that of a man who has really never been to the woods, but who sits in his study and cooks up these yarns from things he has read in Forest and Stream, or in other sporting journals. Of real observation there is hardly a vestige in his book; of deliberate trifling with natural history there is no end.

Well yes, but how is that different from what we see today in the world of dogs?  Not a whit!  

1 comment:

jeffrey thurston said...

Anthropomorphizing is a problem in the observation of animal behavior but so is what I call the "no fun in science" attitude of Burroughs and many scientists. Thus we had the lumbering almost dead giant squid which inhabited scientific texts and the writhing monster of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". When filmed for the first time ant squids turned out to be the writhing monster version! In fact today animal behavorists are finding a lot of learned behavior in birds and mamals. Emotion is real in animals and in fact the all instinct evolutionary striving automoton view of an animal is outdated. There obviously is much instinct in animal behavior but we're finding that there is a lot of learning and even proto-culture also. BTW- I love this blog. I have two JRTs which don't do any work but still manage to embody all the stuff you wirte about and I fantasize about. Thanks for your good work- JLT