I want to draw your attention to this article: Moscow’s Stray Dogs Evolving Greater Intelligence, Including a Mastery of the Subway, which appeared on Dawkins’ website at the weekend.
Firstly, I don’t know whether Dawkins added this article to his website himself, or if one of his evolved apes did, but it is quite bizarre that anyone could believe the angle to this story, which was reported in Popular Science. It is amazing how people who think of themselves as scientists can believe that ‘evolution’ can explain away everything.
For every 300 Muscovites, there’s a stray dog wandering the streets of Russia’s capital. And according to Andrei Poyarkov, a researcher at the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the fierce pressure of urban living has driven the dogs to evolve wolf-like traits, increased intelligence, and even the ability to navigate the subway.
Poyarkov has studied the dogs, which number about 35,000, for the last 30 years. Over that time, he observed the stray dog population lose the spotted coats, wagging tails, and friendliness that separate dogs from wolves, while at the same time evolving social structures and behaviors optimized to four ecological niches occupied by what Poyarkov calls guard dogs, scavengers, wild dogs, and beggars.
The guard dogs follow around, and receive food from, the security personnel at Moscow’s many fenced in sites. They think the guards are their masters, and serve as semi-feral assistants. The scavengers roam the city eating garbage. The wild dogs are the most wolf-like, hunting mice, rats, and cats under the cover of night.
But beggar dogs have evolved the most specialized behavior. Relying on scraps of food from commuters, the beggar dogs can not only recognize which humans are most likely to give them something to eat, but have evolved to ride the subway. Using scents, and the ability to recognize the train conductor’s names for different stops, they incorporate many stations into their territories.
You have probably noticed the silliest suggestion, i.e. that the dogs are evolving “wolf-like traits”.
Domestic dogs were bred from wild dogs, silly. And with an increased gene pool due to interbreeding, the dogs will be more like their wild ancestors than domestic dogs are, which were bred to favour certain characteristics.
The spotted coats, wagging tails, and friendliness that separate dogs from wolves can be explained by an experiment carried out by Soviet biologist Dmitri Belyaev, who:
…set up a Russian silver fox research centre in Novosibirsk, setting out to test his theory that the most important selected characteristic for the domestication of dogs was a lack of aggression. He began to select foxes that showed the least fear of humans and bred them. After 10-15 years, the foxes he bred showed affection to their keepers, even licking them. They barked, had floppy ears and wagged their tails. They also developed spotted coats – a surprising development that was connected with a decrease in their levels of adrenaline, which shares a biochemical pathway with melanin and controls pigment production.
Biologist Andrei Poyarkov explains,
With stray dogs, we’re witnessing a move backwards, that is, to a wilder and less domesticated state, to a more ‘natural’ state.” As if to prove his point, strays do not have spotted coats, they rarely wag their tails and are wary of humans, showing no signs of affection towards them.
Poyarkov reckons that “dumping a pet dog on the streets of Moscow amounts to a near-certain death sentence” and “fewer than 3 per cent survive”.
So there are tough mutts down there. Wily ones too.
Naturally, the dogs have adapted (not evolved) to their new environment. Poyarkov reckons that the pack leader is “not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but the most intelligent – and is acknowledged as such. The pack depends on him for its survival.” With fewer than one in thirty abandoned pet dogs surviving, we can understand why intelligence is so respected by the other dogs.
It should worry us that such bad science is being perpetuated in the popular media. A lie told often enough becomes the truth. I suggest this describes the Theory of Evolution. If there is so much indisputable evidence for it, why are we presented with such desperate attempts to try and convince us/perpetuate the myth?
The other posts to date:
Richard Dawkins Exposed: Part II – Five Minutes
Richard Dawkins Exposed: Part III – Indoctrination Camp for Children