Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation

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Release Date: 
November 12, 2013
New World Library
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What is the role of popular articles and books about scientific topics? Considering that we cannot all claim scientific training or background that would allow a full understanding about such topics as animal intelligence or theories of the mind, how can an expert in a scientific field make an interested audience of intelligent laypeople aware?

Writing for a wider audience necessarily differs from writing for an audience of experts—language, tone, and form are all altered to a degree. Popularizers may safely dispense with the scholarly apparatus of endnotes and extensive bibliographies, providing a short list of sources the audience can turn to in order to learn more about the subject. In the same way, the dry tone of academic writing would not be effective or appropriate in such popular publications.

But as the work of such writers as Stephen Jay Gould illustrates, writing for a general audience does not mean that the writer must stick to only the most general and superficial level when discussing scientific theories or rely wholly on personal anecdote to make the subject matter comprehensible.

Rather, popularizers have the difficult task of introducing a field of study to an avid audience of amateurs who may, inspired by the introduction such pieces provide, go on to learn much more about the subject,.

Such writers must be able to imagine other perspectives than their own in relation to the topic at hand and must be ready and able to create persuasive arguments for their own view.

When the topic is one that rouses great emotion in the writer, this may be difficult to achieve. That is clearly the case with the author of this work, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, published by New World Library.

Marc Bekoff is an evolutionary biologist chiefly interested in animal behavior and the ethical treatment of animals. He has written many books on the subject and writes a blog for the journal Psychology Today.

His particular territory in the field is as an animal activist, arguing for the protection of animals wild and domestic alike and against “Human Exceptionalism,” the view that human beings’ needs and rights should always be considered before those of the other species that inhabit the earth.

Indeed, this book is composed solely of the blog entries he has written for this journal, which variously respond to and critique articles on his topic the journal has published as well as reviews of books that have recently appeared.

A blog can be a very useful source of information, educating readers who know little about the subject. It can leave them wanting to learn more, and raise important questions that can potentially change the way this audience thinks about the subject.

But if he hopes to reach this audience, as a scientist writing for the general public, Mr. Bekoff must gauge the line between technical material intended for experts like himself and pabulum that says nothing in the name of being accessible. The essays in this book fall at various points on the spectrum between these extremes—often at its far ends.

Sometimes they are densely larded with references to research on the subject, even endnotes, which seem very much out of place in a blog. At other times they merely touch on subjects in a very superficial way.

Although this writer at times raises intriguing questions, like those implied in the book’s title, he does not, indeed cannot answer them in the brief format these weblogs must adopt.

An editor reading this manuscript would probably recommend that the author not think about publishing these brief snippets in their current form, but rather choose some and enlarge upon them, turning them into significantly longer essays still intended for a popular audience, but further developed to give a fuller picture to this audience of the controversies in question.

But even more to the point, that editor would probably advise the writer to attempt to quell his emotional response to what may seem callous views on animal rights.

No one wins arguments merely by repeating his own view and declaring the conflict “a no-brainer.” Rather, he needs to present, in a calm and reasonable tone, the unmistakable evidence that will prove his own view, explaining how and it why it does this, in addition to quoting the testimony of famous and respected experts the audience would recognize and countenance.

Though Mr. Bekoff doubtless has tapped into a subject many of us would like to learn more about, he has not found in this work an effective form of presenting the material.