The promises made by the biosensor leadership at the outset of the program were many and the propaganda leaked to the media was filled with predictions of imminent success. This success was not to be, but it’s interesting to see how this program was pitched to the public.
In a press release from 1971, the chief at the Edgewood Arsenal made a bold prediction:
By 1980 we will have a remarkably superior dog. If you think the second generation pups are something, then come back in a few years and we’ll show you a truly superior dog.
The following year, Popular Mechanics ran this puff piece about the biosensor “super dog” operation:
The Popular Mechanics article wasn’t the only “media buy” used to promote the program. They invited the national news in for a featured story, but the plan backfired:
Incidentally, NBC Nightly News with John Chancellor did a 2 minute spot highlighting the early stress program. It showed the “tilt-a- whirl” device. The show started out with Chancellor saying something like, “We’ve just learned that the Army has spent 3/4 of a million dollars over the last 6 years centrifuging puppies and putting them into refrigerators.” You can imagine the congressional and presidential inquiries after that one. As I recall, that was the main reason we stopped using the early stress program before data could be developed.
– Dr. Jeffrey Linn, DVM, Deputy Commanding Officer of the Army Biosensor program
This public perception disaster was also noted by Dr. Eldin Leighton, who was a research geneticist with the biosensor program and later was the Director of Canine Genetics for The Seeing Eye, Inc:
An area TV station wanted a tour of the place and Col. Castleberry showed them around. They video taped the 4 puppies in separate compartments in a wash tub being spun around at 45 rpm and then being put in the refrigerator. The voice over said “….and those puppies that survived the centrifuge were then put in the freezer…”
This aired on one network and then the others picked it up and it resulted in presidential and congressional investigations which resulted in that project being closed down. Papers also picked it up. For awhile, that project held the record for generating more publicity than any other unit of government.
It’s not by chance that the biosensor program used centrifuges and refrigerators to stress the puppies, both of these techniques were stolen from the Russian space dog program of the previous decades which were employed to evaluate and expose Laika and the other astromutts to the conditions they would likely face during launch and in orbit.
In that application, the “tilt-a-whirl” and refrigerators have a direct applicability to the desired use of the dogs. There is little common sense in subjecting neonatal puppies to centrifuges and refrigerators as a means to make them smarter or socialize them to experiences they are likely to never have (orbiting the earth, rocket liftoff, reentry, etc.).
Captain Arthur J. Haggerty of the Super Dog program confirms both the inspiration for the inane protocol and its ultimate failure to produce results:
There was a certain amount of publicity in the general press in the early 70s. The best source of information that I would suggest is the Russian tests that were conducted probably in the sixties or earlier. The tests were bizarre including putting new born whelps in a centrifuge and exposing them to cold temperatures. The US Army did attempt to replicate these tests without the results claimed by the Russians.
I contend that the impetus for the “super dog” program and non-sequitor methods initially used to condition the puppies were a direct result of American scientists inferiority complex and anxiety regarding the success of the Russian space program to capture propaganda coups when they launched satellites, animals, and humans into space before the Americans.
In the context of a space launch, centrifuges and freezers make sense. In the context of producing bomb sniffing dogs, the protocol is clearly derivative, inappropriate, and sickeningly sycophantic of the Russian program.
This makes the entire endeavour bad science and it’s crystal clear why the public, and even the President, had serious issues with the super dog program and its treatment of puppies. The whole program would eventually fail for the same reasons: no clear focus, undocumented results, poor judgment by the research team, and a lack of concern for the objective of actually producing well adjusted usable animals.
PhD Battaglia insists that this program “developed a method that still serves as a guide to what works” when the truth is that it failed both conceptually and practically. It didn’t demonstrate the efficacy of neonatal stress, its bizarre protocol offended the public. It didn’t serve as a guide to what worked, it’s a clear example of a government program that failed spectacularly. Not only did it not produce super dogs, it didn’t even produce well adjusted, fearless and healthy normal dogs.
All posts in this series:
Bio-Sensor is Bad Science: Quackery
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