Warp and woof

James Gorman stirs the pot on dog domestication, by comparing the new review article by Greger Larson and colleagues Larson:dog:2012 with Pat Shipman’s American Scientist piece Shipman:eyes:2012 (“What-If and What-Is: The Role of Speculation in Science”). This is a complex story, and Gorman lines the two papers in opposition to each other – the data-focused paper by Larson and colleagues, which ultimately has an ambiguous conclusion, opposed to the speculative paper by Shipman, with relatively little empirical data and a strong prediction.

I won’t go into the whole argument, which you can read at the link, but it boils down to whether the archaeological evidence shows early dogs or not.

If dogs were watching us too, that would have added survival value to having a partly white eye and thus played a role in our evolution. Fair enough, but the dogs had to be there at that time when humans and Neanderthals overlapped. I asked Dr. Larson about Dr. Shipmans essay, and I confess I expected he might object to its speculative nature. Not so. I love speculation, he wrote back, I do it all the time. And, he said of Dr. Shipmans essay, its a lovely chain of reasoning.
But, he said, it begins from the premise that the late Pleistocene canid remains are dogs. And they are not.

I rather like the new Larson paper, but there are some weak points. Dog domestication was a complex process and ultimately we will need a lot more genetic data from zoo archaeology to sort it out.