Today I was passed along a link to a blog post with the warning that the sender had not read through the post, but thought that it was a topic I would be interested in. The topic was great dane coat color genetics and specifically the harlequin family. You bet I'm interested! The post got me thinking about a lot of things and got a fire under my bottom to write a post myself about reading things critically. It's something that I've meant to do several times when various studies or topics have come up and people have posted links to various articles or posts. I just haven't gotten around to it, but I now I will!
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of what I want to talk about, I want to preface this post with a few things.
1) If you are interested in great dane coat color genetics (and it's really a fascinating topic!), I recommend that you go to JP Yousha's page discussing it. Coat color genetics is a very involved field of study and there are literally volumes written solely about it, but I think she does a good job of summing things up.
2) I work in the field of biological research as a research assistant. Through many lab meetings centered around reviewing academic journal articles and critically assessing them for scientific validity, I tend to lean more towards the cynical side when I read some things that are purported to be of a more scientific and factual basis.
The blog post in question is titled Something is Rotten in Harlequin Great Danes. Nice way to start things out, eh?;0) I will start off by giving the author props on writing a very educational post. Just not educational in the means that he intended! I think this blog post is an excellent example of how you have to be careful with what you read and how much you trust. So lets tear this post apart a little, shall we?;0)
For starters, I'm always leery of anything "factual" or expose like that is written about a particular breed by someone who is not actively involved in the breed. There are all manner of nuances, little known truths, and gray areas that are best known by those in the trenches, so to speak. It is much easier to paint the public a picture that is black and white (pun intended!), as opposed to going into the very difficult task of explaining the various shades of grey and why they are so. It can take breeders decades to figure these out. How can you expect someone outside of the breed to get that kind of understanding with just a casual investment? The take home message is beware of those who are obviously willing to trash other breeds when they themselves have very limited to no experience with it.
Next up, stating that the result of a harl to harl breeding is 7 lethal: 5 undesirable: 4 harlequin. These are theoretical numbers based on the likelihood of how the genetics will work out, not cold hard facts of how every single harl to harl breeding will in fact turn out. This statement is also incorrect, but I'll explain that in just a second. Just because the genetics should theoretically work out that way doesn't mean that they will. Do you know how many harl to harl breedings there are that do NOT have these kind of genetic break downs? If this really were the case, back yard breeders would never breed harls because their profit margin would be so much better with other color families.
Following in the foot steps of this incorrect ratio is a punnett square illustration of the phenotypes that are expressed with these genotypes. The so called undesirable colors are highlighted in yellow. The problem here is that three mantles are highlighted. Mantles are in fact a desirable coat coloring and one of six coat colors accepted in the official breed standard. Oops! Looks like that's a blatant piece of incorrect information! Should have been a little more careful with that one.
The next item is really more of a pet peeve than anything. I prefer that if you're going to talk about coat color genetics and you're going to give the abbreviations for the genetics that give the phenotype, you should give a little more background and be a little more all inclusive with the other genetics that play into it. Understandably, harlequin genetics are tricky and there are a plethora of modifiers that effect things. So being so cut, dry, and incomplete is not okay with me. You're leaving out critical information that people unfamiliar with the topic should have in order to better assess if you as the author are full of BS or not. Basically, tsk, tsk.
Next up is another instance of blatant misinformation. This time around, he included a link, that if the readers follow, they will hopefully come to realize it doesn't say what he is claiming it says. The statement is "the Great Dane Club of America not only permits the breeding of Harlequin to Harlequin and Merle." The link he gives is this one. If you follow this link, you will find that NO WHERE on that page is the merle coloring even mentioned let alone encouraged as breeding stock!! For crying out loud, if you're going to include a link to a page that is supposed to support your statement, it would be a good idea to make sure that it actually does! Obviously in this case, it does not. Please do not put words into someone else's mouth. In this case, it makes you look like a douche.
And in the interest of not turning this into a super long post with me getting more riled up, I'm going to leave things there because I think I've given a few good examples of why it's important to read things online with a critical eye. The author obviously wants to bash great dane breeders and specifically those who specialize in harlequins. Breeding is not an easy job regardless of the breed. Until you have put some serious time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears (and freaking research!) into the breed, you really have no place to judge. There are just too many things that you don't know. And with an attitude like that, I'm not sure why anyone with the knowledge would waste their time on someone who so obviously has already made their mind up.