Skeptical burst #2 – Lukas the smart horse, continued.

Previously I discussed a recent phenomenon known as “Lukas the smartest horse in the world.” I attempted to bring a skeptical eye to something that most people wouldn’t observe critically. My aim is never to completely disenchant or jade anyone. My intent is to inform, and arm people with a few of the skills and tools I have picked up along the way in an attempt to see the world as clearly, and truthfully as possible.

Why the hell am I starting with some horse if my aim is to generally inform? Well, a couple reasons come to mind. First, I saw the video and was spurred immediately to react to it. If something seems to good to be true, it most likely is. That’s not cynical, it’s just a little more realistic than people would like to admit. Secondly, why not start with this horse? Skepticism doesn’t start and stop with religion, science or ethics. Skepticism is an attempt to rub your eyes and see the world for what it really is. It’s hard to do, and requires constant effort, but that’s for another post.

So in my continuing attempt to explain away Lukas I watched part 2 of 7. This time the video depicts Karen Murdock (the trainer, who will be referred to as Karen from here on out) using numbers instead of letters. The first video had 5 tiles, one for each letter of Lukas’ name. This video has 5 tiles arranged in the same way.

Right away a red flag is rearing its ugly, informative head. If the horse could identify letters and numbers, why must they be in the EXACT same formation for each test?

Besides that, the Clever Hans effect seems to be on full-blast in this video. All one has to do is observe one simple and very telling fact. Karen’s hand motions are INDEPENDENT of her speech when she is feeding Lukas. She continues to speak as if Lukas understands what she is saying.

It’s inconsequential, but her speaking as if Lukas understands all she says is almost a bigger claim than the ones being made in the videos.

Returning to her hands, Karen speaks to Lukas and tells him to hit the numbers. Okay, to this point, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately for Karen, her downfall comes at the point where she attempts to further prove her horse’s abilities.

Karen rearranges the tiles, but again they are in the same “X” pattern of 5 tiles. Why not throw them randomly on the table or ground? At least the randomization would go to prove Lukas’ intellect, would it not? Randomization, and blinding are paramount in scientific proof (again, a topic for another day).

The biggest tell again comes from her hand movements. If you missed it, watch the video again. She uses the exact same hand movements for each tile’s POSITION, not each tile’s VALUE. That is critically important. She is claiming that lukas understands the values on the tiles and is selecting them based on this and this alone. It seems clear to me that this is bull-pucky, to quote Maddow.

Each tile has a very specific hand motion associated with it. Watch especially the tile closest to her left hand, and the tile on Lukas’ close right side.

You can see when Karen wants Lukas to select the tile close to her left hand, her hand seems to disappear behind her back, because she doesn’t want the horse to stray far from that area. The horse understands this to mean the tile in that POSITION, not the VALUE.

The most obvious Clever Hans offense is the tile to the horse’s right (the 5 tile for a portion of the video). Watch as Karen flagrantly pushes Lukas’ face in that direction. Her arm comes out so far as to expose her elbow.

My main point is this: each tile’s position has a specific hand motion associated with it. Since these tiles never change position, it is easy for the horse to remember what each motion means. Lukas has not learned to understand 5 numbers, 5 letters, and human speech to the extent that he can interpret Karen’s words and discern some sort of order. No. Lukas has only memorized 5 hand motions associated with specific positions of tiles on a table. When you combine this with an edible reward, it becomes obvious what is happening here.

This is nothing less than the Clever Hans effect, plain and simple. The feats being performed by Lukas are NOT scientifically valid, and I’m sure they would fall flat under any sort of rigorous testing.

Again, I stress, I do NOT want to jade or disenchant. I simply want to inform. Karen Murdock is making scientific claims about an animal that are easily testable. It is easy to fall into believing things based on face value, but just dig deeper, and you will be amazed with what you find…the truth.

(Look out for my next post examining the next part in the Lukas saga. Hopefully it won’t be explained away by the exact same phenomenon, but I’m sure if you read on, you’ll learn a little something).



~ by humanmoves on April 16, 2010.

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