Thursday, 27 February 2014

Am I biased?

P. B. Medawar said “Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth”. I feel like I have to write something off my soul that bothered me for quite some time. It has not been long ago that people involved in a project called me biased in favour of Heck cattle against some primitive breeds and projects working with them. I think this is unfair because I really pay a lot of attention that my blogposts are as balanced and objective as possible. It is also awkward because I actually spent a lot of time in making the web presence of the southern primitive easily accessible, mostly on Wikipedia and German forums, and also looked for a lot of qualitative photos. I tried to fight myths around Heck cattle (like Heck cattle being phenotypically identical to the aurochs and so on) and to point out the differences between Heck cattle and the aurochs – I admit not always in a fair way. Actually I was biased against Heck cattle for about one year, but then I realized my opinion got more and more dogmatic, and dogmatism is the death of scientific working. I started to open my mind and to accept that there are different approaches to reach the goal, and the responsible people always have their reasons for their acting. To claim that only one particular approach was the only legitimate and effective is chauvinistic and baseless. The same goes for horse breeds – all of them have their myths. It is zoological commonsense that neither the Sorraia, Konik or Exmoor are surviving wild horses, but this is no reason to exclude them as wild horse-like breeds – on the other hand, they should not be preferred over other breeds because of their reputation.
But apart from that. Which motivation would I have to be biased? I am neither involved in any project nor am I breeder of any breed. I am thankful for the advantage of not having to follow an agenda and not having to defend the acting of certain projects, but being able to actually criticise and scrutinize publicly. Furthermore, it is always interesting for me to reconsider previously held opinions and perhaps come to completely new conclusions, and I hope this is apparent on my blog.

You might wonder why I write so much more on Heck cattle than other aurochs-like breeds then. This has a simple reason: there is simply more to write about. Their history is comparably well-documented, they are highly variable and each herd and lineage differs in looks and aurochs-likeness, many of them are used in conservation projects and one of their populations is in the largest cattle dedomestication process in Europe (the Oostvaardersplassen population). And there are tons of photos of Hecks in the web. Primitive breeds are fascinating too, and the majority of them is much more awesome than most Heck cattle. But they are, respectively, much more homogeneous (ok, this is not true for all of them, but mostly the variation ranges from a “primitive type” to a “derived type"), their history is badly documented or at least hardly accessible, and there are much fewer conservation projects using them (hope this is gonna change soon!). I admit that I like Heck cattle as a breed just as I like the Golden Retriever for instance, and also like their looks even if not aurochs-like, but that goes for the other breeds as wel. All aurochs-like breeds have a unique beauty to me, regardless of their primitiveness, be it the grey in a Tudanca’s coat, the perfectly aurochs-like colour of Maronesa or the slim and tall body of Chianina coupled with their shiny white colour. I should concentrate more on southern aurochs-like cattle in my upcoming posts. Ever since I started to get interested in the aurochs I hoped that spreading information on southern primitive breeds will awake more peoples' interest and maybe help to get a larger number of primitive cattle into conservation and aurochs projects. I think that Heck cattle shouldn’t have this monopoly anymore. I am actually not in favour of breed separation in “rebreeding” the aurochs at all – I prefer a large, genetically diverse metapopulation based on any breeds that contribute useful features. If one herd needs a bull with certain traits, and another herd has a bull of a different breed that displays exactly those features and vice versa, their different identity should not hinder from exchanging those individuals.

But I of course I cannot certify myself that my posts are balanced and unbiased, I’m just saying I try to, but certainly you are the judge. If anyone finds some of my posts to be unbalanced or biased, I’d be grateful if it was pointed out to me.


  1. Well said! I have enjoyed the discussion both here and on Carnivora.The discussions about the old breeds are more interessting to me beacuse becuse of the links to human culture and in some ways they do have more value compered to a reasent creation.And in some way it would be better to just have local primitve cattle preserved in nature reservs insted of a recreations.
    But there are many dimensions to this topic.And of corse we need more wild naure in europe with all the orginal fauna.

  2. Hello all, my opinion is that your posts are quite balanced and with no obvious (emotional) preferences I would be the first one to comment if I would have ever perceived it. It's true that you post a lot about Heck cattle not only because of what you mentioned above but also because of the language access, it's not easy to find interesting material in English about so specific subject like regional and most of the time rare breeds of cattle. About this point if you have a specific need regarding any breed from France, Spain and Portugal just ask me and I will be very glad to help you since i am fluent in all those languages that possibly you are not.
    Thank you for your sincerity and keep up with the great work!
    Best regards