October 6, 2013 by Beatrice Marovich
Yesterday, the New York Times published an opinion piece by the neuroscientist Gregory Berns, “Dogs Are People, Too”. He stresses, particularly, the resonance between the caudate nucleus region in both dog and human brains. And, he emphasizes that the research was aiming for dog consent:
“From the beginning, we treated the dogs as persons. We had a consent form, which was modeled after a child’s consent form but signed by the dog’s owner. We emphasized that participation was voluntary, and that the dog had the right to quit the study. We used only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer.”
Justin E.H. Smith has published a biting critique of this piece, arguing that it is a “fine example of an obnoxious genre” that:
“… always presents the evidence for animal emotional intelligence as something new and controversial. This journalism presents what was already perfectly obvious to paleolithic humans (even without the help of MRI’s!), but denied for the past few centuries, as if it were an exciting new debate still to be had. In fact this is a way of deferring change in the way people relate to animals, not of initiating it.”
I think he makes a good point. Though, perhaps, what’s more interesting about the piece is the method that Berns was using: aiming for a form of informed consent. What’s less interesting are his speculative claims about what research in neuroscience might mean for dog rights.