According to the authors’ own interpretation, variation of 2 arch minutes of heading per minute of time is enough to destroy the claimed effect. In other words, they’re talking about a 0.03 degree change in direction in the amount of time it takes a dog to poop.
Perhaps you believe dogs are sensitive to magnetic fields, but can you really believe that they are also sensitive to such tiny relative variations in magnetic fields? Much more sensitive than a handheld compass?
I also agree with the general criticisms about p-hacking, but I think it’s worth having some sense of the actual size of the thing the authors are talking about, and how implausible it all is, apart from any details of the statistics.
 See figure 4 in https://frontiersinzoology.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.11...
My suspicious side says that they saw that the overall data showed no strong correlations at all -- and then used variability in declination as a bin to get some result that shows some correlation. I have never heard of variability in declination (on this timescale) as a strong determinant of anything, much less micro sensitivity of a biological physiological phenomenon.
And yes, "arc" minutes is more standard.
This study claims that variations of the earth’s magnetic field direction that are more than 100 times slower than this have measurable effects on the behavior of dogs.
“arch minute” is a term used in the article, but “arc minute” also sounds more standard to me.
Makes sense from a practical viewpoint. You're more vulnerable to attack when you're pooping out in the open, and even moreso if the sun is right in your eyes.
To the extent that more pooping is done near the middle of the day, north-south pooping orientation would naturally dominate. No need for a sixth "compass" sense.
"Dogs, like everyone, don't like the sun in their eyes." would be enough of an explanation for me. Predators even don't like the sun in their eyes, that's why they attack with sun behind them, if they can. Wouldn't make much sense for the dog to turn it's back in the most likely direction a predator is going to attack.
Some people like heated toilet seats. Maybe most dogs like some warm sunhine on their behinds while pooping.
Or maybe they want to face upwind for other reasons.
Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores.
While I have no doubt that predators don't like having the sun in their eyes, they would obviously still prefer to attack with the sun behind them even if they didn't care. It's very advantageous, because the prey doesn't like having the sun in its eyes.
Attacking with the sun behind you is to prey with eyes what attacking from downwind is to prey with noses.
The (linked) article says:
> (...) This calls for necessity to test whether the dog alignment is not actually influenced primarily by time of the day and most probably by position of the sun on the sky. We can, however, exclude this alternative. (...)
Might also be why they come into the bathroom or wait by the door when you're doing your business.
What if it's both? Compass sense helps align them north/south for better vantage even when the clouds obscure the sun at the start of defecation/urination.
I skimmed the study and did not see anything regarding having controlled for day/night/cloud cover.
Typically, the daily declination comprises westwardshifts in the morning and eastward-shifts in the afternoon, while the magnetic field is rather stable at night
[21,22]. This calls for necessity to test whether the dog
alignment is not actually influenced primarily by time of
the day and most probably by position of the sun on the
sky. We can, however, exclude this alternative. First, days
when the magnetic field parameters change erratically
and unpredictably (i.e., magnetic storms) are quite frequent. These changes have been well studied by others
and are described in the literature (cf. [21,22] for reviews). Second, the data collection was not biased to
either morning or afternoon (Table 8). Third, periods of
sampling under conditions of quiet magnetic field were
rather evenly distributed in the course of the day.
Fourth, and most importantly, alignment during excreting was apparent under conditions of quiet magnet field,
irrespective of the time of day or month. Time of day
per se was not a reliable predictor of expression of alignment (Figure 2, Tables 3, 9). Fifth, generally, there are on average 1,450 sunshine hours per year at maximum in
the Czech Republic and in Germany, on localities where
measurements were done. Even if we would assume that
these sunshine hours were evenly distributed over the
daylight period and the year (as our observations were),
there would only be a probability of 33% that the observation was made when the sun was visible. Hence,
with high probability (67%) most walks during the daylight period were made when it was cloudy.
Last but not least, the argument that the dogs might
orient with regard to sun position so that they turn with
their back to the sun in order to avoid dazzling by
sunshine during such a sensitive and vulnerable act as
excretion can be questioned. This argument is not
plausible for urine marking, which is a brief act. We
doubt that a dog that cares of not being attacked would
always make sure to be turned away from the sun. The
dog will likely look in that direction from where danger
can most probably be expected - and this is for sure
not always the direction away from the sun. In contrast
to a human, the dog is relying also on its nose and its
ears (in some breeds even more than on its eyes) when
monitoring its surroundings - so we may expect that
the dog heads with its nose and pinnae against the wind or in the direction of interest. Directing the
pinnae and the nose may take priority over eyes. One
can also often observe that dogs (especially during
defecation) align in a certain direction, which is actually a different one from the direction of interest and
they turn their head then in that other direction. Also
we have to take into account that dogs are smaller than
humans, they look at a different angle over the horizon
and even in situations when we are dazzled, they might
be not. Quite important: note also that the preference
is axial - there are many cases when the dog actually
looks southwards. There is no evidence for shift of the
alignment axis during the day.
Aside from the blatant and unapologetic p-hacking, there are some other flaws of data gathering and analysis that make their conclusions dubious. For example, note that your first paragraph above seems to admit that the actual presence of direct sunlight was not recorded in the raw data. They only figure in a statistical inference based on average hours of sun in a locale.
Rather than copy-pasting myself, here's a better critique from 2014 with good explanations of the study's problems:
High school students, but did make it into a journal ..
Dogs excreted with the body aligned along the North–South axis, but when exposed to small bar magnets, significantly changed their directional positions. The study suggests that dogs are able to recognize MF.
Additional value of this research is that the data were collected by local high school students, which required collaboration with teachers and their parents. We think that this idea has great potential and can be developed at a global scale and to become a citizen-science project involving other high school pupils and their families.
Dogs can be trained to find a bar magnet
We excluded visual cues and used control trials with food treats to test for the role of olfaction in finding the magnet. While 13 out of 16 dogs detected the magnet significantly above chance level (53–73% success rate), none of the dogs managed to do so in finding the food treat (23–40% success rate). In a replication of the experiment under strictly blinded conditions five out of six dogs detected the magnet above chance level (53–63% success rate). These experiments support the existence of a magnetic sense in domestic dogs. Whether the sense enables dogs to perceive MFs as weak as the Earth’s MF, if they use it for orientation, and by which mechanism the fields are perceived remain open questions.
So maybe there is some value in p-hacking, when taken with an appropriate grain of salt? The problem is science journalism and its readers often don't know how to do that.
Oh dear. You mean I didn't approach this topic with the care it deserved?
> High school students...
Good for them! I only glanced at it, but it looks interesting.
> Dogs can be trained to find a bar magnet...
I read this. Right away, I can tell you the authors didn't take nearly enough care to eliminate the dogs' olfactory sense from the data, and the proof of that is that the dogs couldn't locate the jars containing food. Dogs should easily have been able perform that task, as anyone who operates a sniffer dog will confirm. The fact that these dogs couldn't do it means something is wrong, and I'd bet money that the problem was that the jars were handled in such a way that they all smelled of food.
To be fair, this would be quite hard to get right. Dogs have a sense of smell that can seem downright supernatural. When I was in high school, Denver PD had a bloodhound named Yogi who tracked down the body of a murdered child who had been transported ten miles by car. Yes, by car . In training exercises, Yogi was able to track things that had been sunk thirty feet underwater at a local reservoir.
That craziness obviously presents an enormous challenge when designing a study on another hypothetical dog sense, and while this study went to some length to address it, something clearly slipped through the cracks such that the study's "food" arm (which was intended to serve as a control arm) was rendered useless. It also makes me strongly suspect that the magnets were also handled in such a way that there was some olfactory indication of which jars contained them. The paper doesn't tell us how the preparers handled the magnets and their containers, and there's no indication that they took measures to either prevent the transfer of any odor from the magnets to the jars, or somehow ensure that the odor was transferred equally to all jars.
My skepticism notwithstanding, I'm fascinated by the concept of magnetoreception in animals, especially birds, and I think it definitely deserves extensive study.
1 - Look up the Alie Berrelez murder case.
This was a search for a child who may still have been alive, and a suspect still at large. The cops were begging for tip-offs. Why in the fuck would they waste days or even hours with a fake search in order to "cover" for anything? Yogi worked out in the open, and he had an audience. Civilians were involved in the search, and in fact the body was actually found by a group of students who were assisting. People were able to watch the dog repeatedly lose the scent, backtrack, and pick it back up, working his way up into the canyon. That would be one hell of a dirty, dishonest performance by Yogi's handler, who by the way is still active in the K9 community.
Nobody knows exactly how Yogi did it, but given that dogs are to known smell at parts-per-trillion levels, and that there are many ways the killer's scent could be transferred to his own car tires, I don't think it requires an excess of credulity to take the police at their word.
Was this pun intended? If so, well done!
I expect most of the anecdotal 'evidence' to be explained by this. What would compel me is if randomly changing the magnetic field correlates with the observations, which is what this study seems to have done.
I sincerely hope their works will be recognised by the (Ig)-nobel committee.
Also, the point about the sun is good -- maybe they just don't want sun in their eyes. Clearly the very dedicated and obsessed researcher needs to do a similar study but indoors. Can you imagine who has the personal passion to do this data collection?
> The study was truly blind. Although the observers were acquainted with our previous studies on magnetic alignment in animals and could have consciously or unconsciously biased the results, no one, not even the coordinators of the study, hypothesized that expression of alignment could have been affected by the geomagnetic situation, and particularly by such subtle changes of the magnetic declination. The idea leading to the discovery of the correlation emerged after sampling was closed and the first statistical analyses (with rather negative results, cf.Figure 1) had been performed.
Like, am I reading this wrong, or are they straight-up saying "we couldn't achieve statistical significance on our original hypothesis, so we just went fishing for correlations until one of them came up significant, and it turned out to be magnetic declination"?
Having said that, the results smells (pun intended) bad, just because I cannot think of any plausible reason for a non-migrating animal to align with the magnetic field, when defecating or at any other time.
Snow foxes seem to hunt better when oriented in direction of the magnetic north.
(Besides, there's some other oddity there, like that apparently the alignment only matters when the magnetic field is calm)
I got my dog a few years back when she was just a pup. Over the years, she's done things that she was never taught how to do (swim, hunt, bury her food), she just new how to do them instinctually. I believe something like this falls under that category.
And for the record, she took a crap this morning and was pointing directly north/south.
I'd argue the study would only be truly blind if the dogs were blind. If blind dogs also oriented themselves north-south, then that would prove that they weren't using visual cues for alignment, such as the position of the sun.
The only wrong party here is the one that reported the study found something.
Also, the weasel word "truly" signifies deceit.
The statistical significance threshold usually used is p<0.05, meaning that something is (generally, this is beginning to change since the replication crisis) considered to be a real discovery if it has less than a 1/20 chance of being a false positive under the chosen model.
As soon as you start trying multiple hypotheses, then that 1/20 chance of being a false positive begins to become meaningless. If you can just keep rolling d20s until one of them comes up with a critical hit, then you can easily generate false positives that still look very robust.
This is exactly the sort of bad science - p-hacking, fishing expeditions, and the garden of forking paths - that led to the replication crisis. (And that makes sense, as this paper is from 2013, and predates the widespread discovery of the crisis)
It is also why we see repeated, spurious insistence that anti-depressants don't do anything.
Experiment design is a subtle skill.
As other comments have pointed out, once you start testing multiple hypothesis on the same dataset, you cannot apply the same significance threshold that you would if you had just begun with a single hypothesis before observing the data. Instead, you need to apply some sort of correction that takes into account the number of hypothesis being tested:
It'd be awesome to prove this false (if false) as it'd be a very compelling learning study for problem of p-hacking.
My dog spends so much time trying to find the right place. It’s during the day, so it can’t be astrology, so must be leylines or the magnetic field of the earth. Elementary really
She will get a kick out of this article for sure
The researchers also did field studies of deer in the Czech Republic. They found that the vast majority (well over 2/3) aligned themselves along a north/south or south/north meridian .
edit: it seems tomas_aspre found the actual publication .
Mamy who saw dog select a spot are aware of the 'thrice blessed' dance.
I find that there are far more factors that tend to take priority in the direction our dog relieves herself. Oncoming/prevailing wind, rain, whether she was spooked in a particular direction or not, amount of exertion (was she running or walking before the urge hit), ambient noise, presence of echo, presence of other animals and whether or not she feels safe around them.
I mean, it's a nice sample size, and I suppose the data is fun, but a follow up should probably be done taking into account magnetic north is currently hauling ass to the geospatial west and see if dog alignment changes with that.
Furthermore, where are the instances of dogs forming defecation circles around MRI's?
No defecate based outlines of magnetic field lines, no dice in my humble opinion. Yes. I know, I'm a stick in the mud; but if you're going to claim something like this, that's actually a fairly easy way to confirm it. Just head to a radiology clinic with your dog and have them do their business. You should see wildly divergent behavior over time, because they aim to keep those machines operating regularly, which should definitely be able to overwhelm the Earth's ambient magnetic field in close proximity.
Nate says it's simply primal. Eldritch talked about the cognitive bias. Etc, etc. thanks for the critical thinking!! keep up the great work!
and related studies behind it
Basicaly in nearly all Hindu texts, when praying or doing Yoga they tell people to face East/the sun, so that your magnetic field is aligned as unaligning it risks disease.
The team say modern environments would likely interfere with this “sense”, while there is no sign as yet that such a system is linked to human consciousness, or that it influences our behaviour – although the team say it remains a possibility, and are planning experiments to find out.
I wonder if dogs almost feel a need to align with field in the right way to feel comfortable.
Anyway, this is good news? Dogs are more similar to humans, than what birds are, right. Maybe there's a magnetic field sensing dog gene that can be copied to humans? So that at least the future generations won't lose their orientation, as fast as I do, in the streets and indoor shopping malls.
Interesting this happened in only some participants.
Makes me wonder about sensing fields caused by electricity or the very weak fields caused by flowing water (which tends to contain some salt ions / charged particles).
What does "this" here refer to? (Thanks for the reply :- ))
There have been no follow up studies that I can find to replicate this “experiment”.
Searching around just finds lots of duplicate stories in the old echo chamber based on the original paper.
The dataset seems to be robust. Would be even more interesting if reproduced, but I'd be surprised if someone faked nearly 7500 datapoints for the sake of giving dogs a magnetic sense.
Mine almost always face mostly north or mostly south, now that I'm thinking about it.
And I'm pretty sure the dogs out my apartment window face mostly N/S. Will observe. There's a busy road right there so they might face it some
I remember during the tsunamis, animals knew something is gonna happen and got restless. I wonder how much of these intuition and senses humans have lost, by tuning out nature
Anyway if you too want to interact with Earth’s magnetic field in a stronger way you can augment like this -
"For six weird weeks in the fall of 2004, Udo Wächter had an unerring sense of direction. Every morning after he got out of the shower, Wächter, a sysadmin at the University of Osnabrück in Germany, put on a wide beige belt lined with 13 vibrating pads"
I'd like to hear an impartial experience on this, it seems interesting but like putting magnets in your fingers after all that effort people tend to exaggerate the experience. I think a Kickstarter was tried around it.
Also interesting and relevant:
Magnetic alignment contributes to difficulty falling asleep (north-south alignment is best) [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280093617_The_Relat...]
Grazing cattle align on north-south axis [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23700176]
Just looking at table 6 (the only table related to the only association stated significant), the stats for South-North sleepers look noticeably better than the stats for North-South sleepers. I'm no statistician, but just look at it. The South-North sleepers sample, versus the North-South (supposedly best) sleepers, has proportionately three times more people experiencing zero days weekly of difficulty getting to sleep, two-thirds as many people having even one day of difficulty, two-thirds as many people having two days of difficulty... and 50% more people having three days of difficulty, but even then, we're talking only four people each among a group of 47 vs a group of 35. Again, I'm no statistician, but does that last and smallest column overshadow the three much bigger columns with the opposite trend, to the point of being a 1 in 1000 result assuming the null hypothesis?
Furthermore, the sleep measures were self-reported, through the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Inventory (PSQI), which I quote:
>In Iran, Tehran psychiatry institute assessed the validity and reliability of the Farsi version
of this questionnaire with 89.6% for sensitivity and 86.5% for specificity.
Did the math behind this eye-catching <0.001 p-value take into account that the questionnaire used was measured to have a 10.4% false negative rate and a 13.5% false positive rate? I find it hard to believe. But I'd love to see a statistician who actually knows how to interpret these numbers tell me that I'm wrong.
It would be a different sensory system.
It's quite possible.
And people wonder why academia isn't taken seriously by normal people...
> The fact that larger and faster changes in magnetic conditions result in random distribution of body directions, i.e., a lowering of the preferences and ceasing of the avoidances, can be explained either through disturbing or conscious “shutdown” of the magneto-reception mechanism.
again, pages 5-6:
> Even if we would assume that these sunshine hours were evenly distributed over the daylight period and the year (as our observations were),there would only be a probability of 33% that the observation was made when the sun was visible. Hence,with high probability (67%) most walks during the day-light period were made when it was cloudy.
There's wisdom in reading the study before commenting further considering your specific rebuttals have all been addressed in the source material. There were literally nearly 7,500 measurement events factored into this study, the majority of which were likely cloudy given the location.
Please just read the paper. Events were timestamped, aggregated over two years, and took place at all times of day (including well after dark) with the same outcome.
Disengaging. Cheers, friend.
Pages 6-7 (pdf pages 5-6, or just grep 'sun') of the source study (https://frontiersinzoology.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.11...):
> This calls for necessity to test whether the dog alignment is not actually influenced primarily by time of the day and most probably by position of the sun on the sky. We can, however, exclude this alternative. First, days when the magnetic field parameters change erratically and unpredictably (i.e., magnetic storms) are quite frequent. These changes have been well studied by others and are described in the literature (cf. [21,22] for re-views). Second, the data collection was not biased to either morning or afternoon (Table 8). Third, periods of sampling under conditions of quiet magnetic field were rather evenly distributed in the course of the day.Fourth, and most importantly, alignment during excreting was apparent under conditions of quiet magnet field,irrespective of the time of day or month. Time of day per se was not a reliable predictor of expression of alignment (Figure 2, Tables 3, 9). Fifth, generally, there are on average 1,450 sunshine hours per year at maximum in the Czech Republic and in Germany, on localities where measurements were done. Even if we would assume that these sunshine hours were evenly distributed over the daylight period and the year (as our observations were),there would only be a probability of 33% that the observation was made when the sun was visible. Hence,with high probability (67%) most walks during the day-light period were made when it was cloudy.
> Last but not least, the argument that the dogs might orient with regard to sun position so that they turn with their back to the sun in order to avoid dazzling by sunshine during such a sensitive and vulnerable act as excretion can be questioned. This argument is not plausible for urine marking, which is a brief act. We doubt that a dog that cares of not being attacked would always make sure to be turned away from the sun. The dog will likely look in that direction from where danger can most probably be expected - and this is for sure not always the direction away from the sun. In contrast to a human, the dog is relying also on its nose and its ears (in some breeds even more than on its eyes) when monitoring its surroundings - so we may expect that the dog heads with its nose and pinnae against the wind or in the direction of interest. Directing the pinnae and the nose may take priority over eyes. One can also often observe that dogs (especially during defecation) align in a certain direction, which is actually a different one from the direction of interest and they turn their head then in that other direction. Also we have to take into account that dogs are smaller than humans, they look at a different angle over the horizon and even in situations when we are dazzled, they might be not. Quite important: note also that the preference is axial - there are many cases when the dog actually looks southwards. There is no evidence for shift of the alignment axis during the day.
Shoot, they even have pitch-dark measurements on page 8 (pg 7 pdf)
This indicates another reason to be skeptical of the study. If an effect is found in one condition and not another this is a red flag for p-hacking.