Konrad Lorenz was a very famous scientist, and he loved his dogs. You probably know him for basically inventing the field of ethology, the study of animal behaviour. Most famously, it was he who discovered that nidifugous birds, i.e. those that leave the nest early, imprint upon the first moving object they see. He was very proud of this discovery and so can be seen in many a picture, playing Mother Goose to a gaggle of birds who are convinced that uncle Konrad is their rightful guardian. Yes, Lorenz certainly knew a thing or two about animal behaviour, and he loved his dogs.
Konrad was also something of a pioneer when it came to green issues. In his 1973 book Civilised Man’s Eight Deadly Sins, he wrote:
“All the advantages that man has gained from his ever-deepening understanding of the natural world that surrounds him, his technological, chemical and medical progress, all of which should seem to alleviate human suffering… tends instead to favor humanity’s destruction.”
In fact, so convinced was Lorenz of the threat of ecological collapse posed by overpopulation that, in his later years, he joined the Austrian Green Party. So I think it is fair to say that he was no lover of the human project when it came to its ecological impact. But he loved his dogs.
Boy did he love his dogs! Here are just a few of the things he is on record as saying regarding Man’s best friend:
“The fidelity of a dog is a precious gift demanding no less binding moral responsibilities than the friendship of a human being.”
“There is no faith which has never yet been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog.”
“The bond with a dog is as lasting as the ties of this Earth can ever be.”
“Just thinking that my dog loves me more than I love him, I feel shame.”
All these pearls of wisdom came from his animal behaviour studies and his reflections upon how the bond between man and dog may have developed over the ages. These were documented in his book So kam der Mensch auf den Hund, which literally translates as “How Man Ended Up With Dog”. You can still buy it on Amazon under its modern title Man Meets Dog. However, be warned that not everyone was impressed. Take the following review, for example:
“When I read Man Meets Dog, I had no way of knowing that the caraway seeds in Konrad Lorenz’s sauerkraut had fermented and addled his brain. He put forth a theory that there are two races of dogs: Der Dogg, and Der Überdogg.”
Oh dear, that does sound a bit jackbooty clickety. And things get worse when one discovers that Konrad was one of those scientists who thought there was such a thing as a Jewish dog, i.e. a dog that can be discerned by dint of it having a Jewish owner and sharing its owner’s traits. Yes, dear reader, it is my sad duty to inform you that, during the Second World War, Konrad Lorenz was a fully paid up member of the Nazi Party.
Having emerged on the losing side, Lorenz was understandably keen to play this down, and for many years he denied ever signing up with Hitler’s happy gang of Übermensch. But the fact is that he couldn’t wait to enrol, and he signed up just as soon as Austrian citizens were allowed. Furthermore, he wasn’t in it just for the übercool uniforms. Lorenz was actually a central figure in the development of the pseudo-science that underpinned the Final Solution. That’s not just me saying this; in his application letter Konrad wrote:
“I’m able to say that my whole scientific work is devoted to the ideas of the National Socialists.”
True to his word, Lorenz made a number of practical contributions to the Nazis’ pursuit of racial hygiene whilst in his capacity as a member of the Office for Race Policy. In 1942, he participated in a study of 877 offspring of mixed German-Polish marriages to determine their potential for assimilation into German culture. Those considered asocial or of inferior genetic value were sent to concentration camps, while others were sent away to be “Germanized”.
And it wasn’t just in his professional life that Lorenz let his anti-Semitic feelings be known. In private letters to his mentor, Oscar Heinroth, his ornithological observations included the “ugly Jewish nose” of the shoveler duck.
But he loved his dogs.
The problem with all of this is, of course, that none of it got in the way of him becoming one of the most highly respected scientists of the 20th century. Okay, so some of this can be put down to his own lack of candour when it came to reporting upon his earlier scientific work, but a lot more has to be put down to a distinct lack of concern on the part of his scientific colleagues. After all, he wasn’t alone in his scientific musings on the dangers of inbreeding, domestication, and lack of racial purity. The father of modern statistics, Ronald Fisher, comes to mind as another bastion of science who harboured some pretty dodgy views on the subject. Rudyard Kipling was also a fan. In fact, one has to keep in mind that eugenics did not always have the bad press that it receives nowadays. Even so, the idea that someone who gave his practical support to genocide should be subsequently honoured as a Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine does leave a bad taste in the mouth.
All of that said, we have to learn to compartmentalize. Just because Lorenz was a very bad boy during the war, that doesn’t invalidate his scientific achievements in ethology. Similarly, just because Dr Phil Jones got up to some dirty tactics when trying to fend off criticism of his work, that doesn’t mean that his central ideas regarding the existence of anthropogenic climate change are any the less valid. Countless ‘independent’ enquiries have attested to this view and one has to take this on board — just as one takes on board how easy it was for the scientific community to sanitize the reputation of Konrad Lorenz.
I wonder if Phil Jones loves his dogs. I’m sure he does.