"A widespread misconception maintains that the Farm-Fox Experiment started with wild foxes and recapitulated the entire process of domestication. Belyaev himself accurately described the founders as fur-farm foxes, but by referring to the unselected population as ‘wild controls’, contributed to this misconception. In reality, the experiment started with a fox population from eastern Canada that had been captive and purpose-bred since the late 1800s, something Belyaev and his colleagues may have been initially unaware of."
The hypothesis under test was something like "expression of tameness is genetically linked to expression of physical characteristics, such as spotted fur and floppy ears". It's quite valid in that context: Belyayev started with a population with a low (perhaps non-zero) level of domestication, ended with a moderately domesticated population, and observed the physical differences.
"The history of the Farm-Fox population undermines the commonly repeated narrative that a suite of domestication syndrome traits emerged solely as a result of selecting on tameness. There is no temporal link between most of the syndrome traits, which first appeared in Prince Edward Island (PEI) fur farms, and the later behavioral selection in Russia."
On the spotted fur :
"The farm-fox breeders of PEI intentionally selected for white spotting and other unusual coat patterns (Figure 3). They noticed that crossing two white-marked foxes occasionally resulted in animals that held their heads askew, a phenomenon Belyaev would later describe in his population, suggesting shared genetic etiology. White spotting was more common in Belyaev’s selected than unselected populations, but has not been associated with less fearful behavior in individuals (Figure 2D)."
On the floppy ears :
"The farm foxes of PEI occasionally had floppy ears, even as adults (Figure 3C). In the Farm-Fox Experiment, ‘delayed ear raising’ was noted (ears floppy past 3 weeks of age, but not necessarily into adulthood). While slightly more common in the selected population, the trait is extremely rare, and no association between delayed ear raising and less fearful behavior in individuals has been described (Figure 2D)."
"The Farm-Fox Experiment selected for a behavioral trait that already existed in the population (Figure 3), essentially recapitulating a selection experiment performed on numerous occasions with dog breeds. [...] The change in the critical period of socialization in the selected foxes is more like the difference between more and less easily socialized dog breeds than between dogs and wolves."
You can check for yourself how the foxes brought to the US behave on Youtube!
Also, the similar study with mice by the same Russian Institute seems to have had even more striking results.
The rebutal seems to be using only theoretical objections, without any new original, empirical findings, to counteract tangible evidence that had been accepted by (and astonished) numerous other researchers who actually came into contact with the animals.
"Dr. Frank, among other things at Montreal, had a pair of tame foxes lead about on the main streets, driven around in automobiles and taken to a public dance, where the girls did the fox trot with these foxes around their necks, and all this was photographed, moving pictures taken, etc., and to cap the climax Dr. Frank hired two airplanes, took up a pair of foxes in one and from the other airplane a photograph ground out several reels to be shown in the movies in the near future."
How common these traits were is another difficult question. But given that there was prior selection for tameness and that Belyaev specifically looked for those tame foxes to include in his experiment , it does not seem so surprising that this trait very quickly became more common.
are we domesticated our-self? how does society (morals, e.g.) acts as Belyayev selection?
The changes manifested by the tame foxes over the generations, moreover, were not only behavioral but also physiological, just as Belyayev had expected. The first physiological change detected in the tame foxes was a lower adrenaline level. Belyayev and his team "theorized that adrenaline might share a biochemical pathway with melanin, which controls pigment production in fur", a hypothesis that has since been confirmed by research. As they became tamer, more and more of the foxes began showing "signs of the domestication phenotype"; Trut later recalled that in the early 1980s "we observed a kind of explosion-like change of the external appearance." After eight to ten generations, the tame foxes began to develop particolored coats, a trait found more in domesticated animals than in wild ones
Belyayev's experimental animals and their descendants have been said to "form an unparalleled resource for studying the process and genetics of domestication". Brian Hare, a biological anthropologist, wanted to study "the unusual ability of dogs to understand human gestures". Hare "wanted to know if dogs' powerful rapport with humans was a quality that the original domesticators of the dog had selected for, or whether it had just come along with the tameness, as implied by Belyaev's hypothesis". He discovered "that the fox kits from Belyaev's domesticated stock did just as well as puppies in picking up cues from people about hidden food, even though they had almost no previous experience with humans." In a 2005 paper for Current Biology, Hare suggested that selection for tameness "may have been sufficient to produce the unusual ability of dogs to use human communicative gestures" and that the inability of wild wolves to pick up human cues is caused by their fear of humans. While Belyayev and his team "didn't select for a smarter fox but for a nice fox", Hare said, "they ended up getting a smart fox." Belyayev's research, Hare further argues, has implications for the origins of human social behavior: "Are we domesticated in the sense of dogs? No. But I am comfortable saying that the first thing that has to happen to get a human from an apelike ancestor is a substantial increase in tolerance toward one another. There had to be a change in our social system."
The way that we behave in a corporate setting seems closely related to domestication. It would be worth examining the traits associated with animal domestication and compare them to human behavior in a variety of contexts.
It's not really a happy thought that we're domesticated, but power structures exist, and it's in most of our genetics to serve. It's often possible to trace certain types of ambition to a young age, for example. It would be neat to see a more rigorous exploration of whether it's true that humans are domesticated, and if so, how much, and what it means in a precise way.
With domesticated animals, often a stud is selected and can have hundreds of offspring. For example, all border collies are related to a single dog (Old Hemp). There's no comparison to humans.
For me, the question of human domestication goes beyond breeding choices. We are often a product of our genetics. But once we have those genetics, what then? Can societal structures influence behavior in the same direction of animal domestication? And if not, what’s the crucial distinction, since animal domestication seems closely related to many human behaviors we see today?
Even today, prisons and mental institutions are filled with non-conformist, anti-social people who in many cases are not allowed to reproduce.
-- B F Skinner