By Marian Stamp Dawkins
Very good booklet for individuals engaged on the interface of habit and ethology. It offers excellent information on the way to do experiments and looking at.
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Extra info for Observing Animal Behaviour: Design and Analysis of Quantitive Controls
With several prairie dogs huddled together in one burrow, suffocation could become a serious issue and so a regular supply of fresh air is essential. Somehow the air has got to be made to flow in the burrows. Vogel et al. noticed that the entrances to the prairie dog burrows were built in a rather curious way. At one end, the entrance was surrounded by a steep-sided crater mound sticking a few centimetres above the ground (Fig. 4). Why should all the burrows have mounds at each end and why should the mounds be of different shapes?
You know it could work, whereas a vague verbal hypothesis might be full of contradictions or inconsistencies that you were not aware of. Your machine or physical model might not do things in exactly the same as an animal does, but your model will generate some quantitative and testable predictions—such as the precise size and shape of mounds, or the precise frequency of vibration of feet—so that you will be able to see how closely it matches the behaviour of real animals. You know the model is not breaking the laws of physics and you know what to do to test it.
Do not take it as a sign of failure if you propose a hypothesis that then turns out to be wrong. What matters is how you have gone about formulating your hypotheses and whether your test of it is robust. In fact, vulnerability to being disproved by how real animals behave is the hallmark, not of a bad hypothesis, but of a good one (Chapter 8). The key to a good research project is to collect some new facts that no-one has thought of collecting before, so that you either expose the weakness of a hypothesis because it does not fit those new facts, or you add to its credibility because it can explain what happens in a new set of circumstances.