Commentary Type

Open Commentary


Safina’s fascinating series of fifty separate feuilletons tries to bridge a painful Methodenstreit in contemporary ethology mainly by an accumulation of anecdotes. Some deal with his own dogs, but most derive from reading or conversing with observers of a wider range of social mammals including elephants, wolves, apes, and whales. In spite of the many interruptions by travesties of the academic lifestyle and its literature, there is a point to be made, concerning the centrality of evidence about cooperative behavior styles, especially aspects of child-rearing, for the understanding of “what animals think and feel.” But Safina’s argument would be a lot more persuasive, at least to this outsider, if he were more aware of his own methodological preferences and the restraints they impose on the rhetoric of scientific persuasion. In spite of my skepticism, I sketch a possible application of his ideas to human neuroteratology.

Author Biography

Fred L. Bookstein is Professor Emeritus of Statistics at University of Washington and retired Professor of Life Sciences, University of Vienna. His research is on the foundations of scientific inference, especially in the sciences of complex organized systems such as living creatures (Measuring and Reasoning, 2014). http://www.anthropology.at/people/faculty-and-staff/fred-bookstein