Thursday, August 4, 2011

Read Critically

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.


BorderWars said...

Wow, you clearly missed the point of my post and your critiques are rather baseless as well.

The one criticism that you are correct on is that I mistakenly included "and Merle" in one sentence. That has been removed and listed as a correction.

Everything else? Rather off topic.

Harlequin x Harlequin breedings are allowed and encouraged by the GDCA and done at all levels in the community from the BYB right up to the top winning show dogs.

This breeding strategy produces blind and deaf dogs (among other problems) that don't need to be produced at all to have Harlequin Danes.

Why does no one in your community have the balls to address this issue? Why haven't you?

Lindsay said...

There was more that I could have criticized in your post and I could continue to if you wish it. Your understanding of what goes on in the breed is not complete and I think that is expressed in your post.

Mantles are an acceptable color. You still have them listed as undesireable. That is still incorrect.

I still stand by what I have said so far in my post. As far as addressing harl x harl breeding, this topic does get routinely discussed, but usually amongst those with an actual background in the breed and a better handle on the genetics.

You are very obviously set in your opinion and not much is going to change that. Continuing to argue over this is pointless. If you really honestly want to learn more about this from people who have spent decades of their lives involved in this, then you need an actual harlequin great dane mentor. Period.

Lindsay said...

I just glanced through the more recent comments on your post and for the record, I was not the one who used the identifying name Life With Big Dogs and then posted a link to my post. I have a pretty good idea of who did that, but if I felt like actually commenting on your post I would have with my actual information.

BorderWars said...

> Mantles are an acceptable color. You still have them listed as undesireable. That is still incorrect.

Read my words carefully. I did *not* make any statements about what is allowable in the show ring or in the breed standard. This is what I said:

"That means that if we really really want Harlequins, the best we’re going to get is 25% of potential puppies and less than half of the otherwise healthy ones that are born matching their parents in phenotype."

I listed merle and black (in this case mantle images were used because the Irish white is common in the harlequins too, also desirable for show markings) as undesirable because I stated the goal was to produce Harlequins and they are not Harlequin.

If you want to talk about what's on the breed standard, what is allowed in the ring, and what wins in the ring as our basis for "desirable" then we'd have a very different post.

From my observation it seems like Fawn is by far the most popular color in the show ring, it seems to win the most and more of the top winning dogs are Fawn than any other color.

Also, it wasn't THAT long ago that Mantle wasn't even allowed in the show ring! Why Mantle is now allowed and Merle is not is a mystery to me. If you're going to produce more merle and black (mantle) dogs (combind) than you are Harlequin when you breed for it, why would you not allow those dogs to be evaluated and used in breeding programs? Seems silly.

But again, that wasn't my point.

You criticize my understanding of the genetics and then wish for more detail, but you provide no specifics in your criticism. My chart is accurate and yet you state that it's not, but again, provide no detail or explanation.

I don't have any problem admitting and correcting mistakes, but you give me nothing to go on except vague blanket criticisms.

You also spend a great deal of time with the logical fallacies of appealing to common practice, appeal to authority, appeal to popularity, etc. If you have "experience with the breed" and know the "secret facts" ... then use them to form a logical argument. I'm not going to just take your word that my science is wrong because you own Dane.

And I'm the one who posted the link back here in my comments. Blogger does not send correct pingbacks that get recognized by Wordpress and there's no way to just add a pingback so I add them as comments.

And why wouldn't you comment on my post? If I'm factually wrong about an issue, shouldn't my readers get the chance to weight your argument against mine?