I came across this news item in the i newspaper (page 13 of the 29 August 2018 edition, a short article by John von Radowitz). The article reports on a study in which “Scientists showed 20 goats unfamiliar photos of the same human face looking happy or angry;” they found that “goats preferred to interact with the smiling face.”
It sounds fun, it sounds odd, it almost sounds improbable.
Two things struck me immediately. The first was that phrase, “unfamiliar photos.” When you’re a goat, who’s to say whether a photo is familiar or unfamiliar?
The second was a memory – a memory of the academic paper Feline Reactions to Bearded Men. You might remember it: the researchers claimed to have held cats in front of photos of bearded men and observed their reactions. The paper suggests that ” Cats do not like men with long beards, especially long dark beards.”
The cats “paper” was first published in 1999, maybe earlier. It is frequently used in website evaluation exercises to make students aware of web pages which look authentic but could be big hoaxes.
The name of the site – Improbable Research – is claimed as a warning signal (though as this is the site responsible for the annual Ig Nobel Prizes, a very real event, one might not be so sure). The biggest giveaway in the cats paper is probably the bibliography, which includes entries for Pat Boone, Madonna, Yul Brynner, Sinead O’Connor, Mary Quant, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the if-only Dr Seuss (responsible for the paper “Feline Responses to Hats”). How much of a giveaway, 20 years on, might be questionable; many of the names are probably unknown Continue reading