Thursday, February 24, 2011

How gifted is that doggie in the window?

Reading is a wonderful thing.

Through the magic of the printed (or pixelated) word, a person can go from being ignorant to being informed; unlearned to knowledgeable; not even knowing what it is you don't know to knowing something you never even knew you didn't know.

An article by Jesse Ellison in the February 21 issue of Newsweek has, like Paul Simon said in "Sounds of Silence," planted a vision in my brain that still remains.

The bad news is, the vision is not all that attractive. But first, the info, and I quote:

Labs [as in Labrador Retrievers] can detect colorectal and bowel cancer with 98 percent accuracy by examining stool samples, according to a recent study. The current technology is correct only 10 percent of the time.
I'm just...I mean, I really...when the farnsworth has it been determined that Labradors can do that?!!?

Firstly, if the current technology can only correctly detect colorectal and bowel cancer with 10 percent accuracy by examining stool samples, how could we determine the dogs' accuracy? "Hey, Melvin, Fido here says the donor of this sample has cancer. Better run it through our technology again...not that we can trust it the second time any more than we could the first time."

Secondly, how does one go about training a dog to know the difference between a stool sample from a cancer victim and a stool sample from someone without cancer? How many years of medical school (and boxes of Beggin' Strips) does that take?

Thirdly, how does Doctor Doggie communicate his or her findings? It brings to mind the comedy sketches skewering Lassie...

Bark! Bark-bark!

Lassie! What is it, girl? What's wrong?

Woof! Arf-arf! Yalp!

What?!!? Timmy fell in the old, abandoned well and has multiple cuts and contusions, with a possible hairline fracture of his right femur?

Fourthly, think about how dogs sniff each others' hind parts when they get together. All this time we thought they were greeting each other or trying to determine if they had met before. In reality, they're just performing medical screenings for each other.

Fifthly, maybe the high percentage of accuracy stems not from the superiority of a canine's diagnostic skills as contrasted to a computer's, but the superiority of the canine's methodology of examination. Maybe we humans could be just as accurate if we "put our noses to the grindstone," so to speak.

Which leads me, sixthly, to revealing that the title of the article quoted above is "Are Dogs Stealing Our Jobs?" and answering the title's question with a question of my own: Who would want that crappy job, anyway?

For the record...pun intended.

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