Tuesday, October 8, 2013


We had a follow up veterinary appointment this morning for D'fer and we have had some very, very good news.  What one vet and a radiologist thought was osteosarcoma may in fact be very severe osteoarthritis.  We sought out a second opinion this week, and had a second set of radiographs (the medical term for X-Rays is Radiograph) done today, ten days after the originals were taken.  What this allowed us to do is compare what his hips looked like ten days ago and what they look like now.  By finding out what the difference is we can find out one of two things; either the rate of cancerous growth is really fast and dangerous OR that perhaps the diagnosis of osteosarcoma was wrong and the diagnosis might be something else.  There are no significant changes between one and the other which means that most likely...we are NOT dealing with osteosarcoma.  We also did chest radiographs and there are no scary shadows on the film showing us that there has not been any cancerous spread to the lungs.  Phew!  Never the less, the radiologist did think that there is cancer in the bone, so we cannot dismiss that entirely.  If this is cancer, it is growing slowly enough that D'fer won't likely drop dead at any moment, and if this is not cancer, then we may have some treatment options that we hadn't had before.  And this brings me to the roller coaster metaphore for today.

D'fer with his celebration stick.  That would be the toy you buy when you get a different diagnosis than osteosarcoma.  Still not a great diagnosis, but better than death at any moment.

The injury that led to the osteosarcoma diagnosis was that Deef had been lame for a couple of weeks, off and on.  He had a sore shoulder and then he was gimping along on his left hip and then his right front leg looked a bit off.  Then one night, just about dinner time, I took D'fer out to pee and he asked me to throw his frisbee.  Normal D'fer stuff.  I took it and gave it back to him because he had been too sore to really play frisbee.  Then he trotted around the yard and did his thing, and brought me the frisbee again.  I took it and dropped it in front of him.  He launched himself into the air (much more forcefully than he needed to mind you!) and on his way up screamed in a way I had never heard him scream before.   He landed in a heap on his left hip.  When he got himself up he wouldn't put any weight on his left hind leg.  Off to the emergency room we went and they took a radiograph.  His left hip looked like scrambled eggs.  Not good.  I asked some questions and the emergency vet thought that he had severe osteoarthritis; a degeneration of the bone in the hip and sent us home with pain meds to keep him comfortable.  That vet visit is when we got onto the rollercoaster.

The injury happened on a Saturday evening so on Monday morning I went into my regular vet who looked at the radiograph and gave me the sad news that this might be osteosarcoma; a form of fast growing bone cancer.  He sent the radiographs out to a radiologist who confirmed his diagnosis.  My world fell apart, and I wrote last week's blog about how I was going to approach treating this.  D'fer's pain has been well managed and when his pain is under control, he really is a happy dog.  He is still quite lame, but he is a happy dog.  Even so, I felt like I was falling, falling, falling.

With the encouragement of friends, I sought out a second opinion; the second vet disagreed with the first vet and the radiologist.  Regardless of agreeing or disagreeing, a second set of radiographs would tell us if the image on the film was growing or staying the same.  That leg of the journey has been like the rollercoaster coasting along nicely and politely.  Things don't feel quite so disrupted or discouraging.  I feel quite a bit like I got my life back when I saw the rads today; especially the chest rads that don't show any cancer in D'fer's lungs.

Radiograph number one take ten days ago.  Compare the left and right hip joints; you will notice that one is nice and even and the other looks like scrambled eggs.  Or more technically "the left hip (right on the radiograph) presents with a  moth eaten appearance.  If you know about radiographs, this is a scary looking hip.

Now compare!  Don't worry that the bones aren't in the same exact direction as they were on the first radiograph; you can see that the problem joint is basically the same.  Now if you are like me, you expand this picture and then you look at it with a magnifying lens for fun!  The important part is that the joint didn't change between the first image and the second, even though D'fer was positioned slightly differently the second time.

So now we coast for a bit.  Some things have changed and will stay changed; we still have the radiology report saying that the image on the film looks a lot like cancer.  It still might be.  But it hasn't changed!  The vet cautioned us that we have to remember that it might just be.  Now we have a crate in the kitchen so that if we need to we can easily care for D'fer if he is in pain from his leg.  That will stay.  We are not turning D'fer out with other dogs in the yard because it just wouldn't be a good idea for him to get to running and chasing and rough housing with his friends given the state that his hip is in.  That is a change for sure.  We use the hip helper harness (http://www.hartmanharness.com/) to help him up and down stairs and in and out of the car and over curbs when he is stiff or sore.  Likely we will be using this more and more often as he ages and we are very happy to have it.  Probably the biggest change though is that we know that there will be more diagnostics and possibly more treatments on the horizon.
Happy D'fer on pain meds, with his cancer beating Frisbee and his hip helper.  One of the changes we have made is to make a rule that he cannot come upstairs without the help of his hip helper harness.  So nice to see him smiling again.  Good boy! 

Right now, D'fer's rads are being sent to the surgeon to see if they can remove the head of the femur and alleviate his pain that way.  IF, and it is a very big if, the surgeon thinks that she can successfully remove the head of the femur, then we will consult an internal medicine specialist and see if his heart is healthy enough to undergo anesthesia.  IF it is safe to anesthetize him, then we will work out a plan involving our veterinarian, the surgeon, the internal medicine specialist or cardiologist, and likely and anesthetist to remove the head of the femur.  This is a big hill on the Reprieve Rollercoaster, because a whole bunch of factors have to fall into place in order to be able to surgically help D'fer.  Knowing it is coming is stressful, and not knowing what the hill will surprise us with is even more stressful, but we are going to go up the hill and down the other side in the company of professionals who are educated and who care deeply about D'fer.

There are some important lessons in this experience that are not training related but they certainly do impact training.  The first is that you really need to know a little bit about your dog in order to advocate for him.  I have known for a long time that Deef has been "off" but have not been sure what exactly might be going on with him.  Once we had an injury, I count myself lucky on a number of fronts.  I know a lot about the basic anatomy and organization of the body, and how medicine works, so when the veterinarian wants to do something like taking a radiograph of my dog, then I have a good idea what she is talking about.  Also, I knew the emergency vet really, really well.  Those three things; knowing my dog, knowing a bit about biology and health and medicine and knowing my vet have paid off HUGE dividends this past ten days.  I have been able to talk to the veterinarians, I have been able to identify exactly how D'fer is not "himself", I have been able to ask good questions and I have been able to integrate what is being said so that I can advocate on D'fer's behalf.  When faced with an illness or injury being able to advocate for your dog like this allows you to return to training quickly and effectively.  This is really important.

Another thing to think about is that I had really clear boundaries about what I would and would not do to my dog before I needed to pull them out of my pocket and examine them.  I know that although I might amputate a dog's leg if it was injured or if it would buy him years of time, I am not going to amputate his leg to get a tissue sample (one of the options discussed when we had the osteosarcoma diagnosis).  I know that I will not engage in radical, painful, long treatment if it is not going to get us a great deal of benefit.  That means that for my dogs, although I might allow surgery, radiation or chemotherapy to happen to alleviate pain, or to significantly prolong life, I also know that I won't put being alive ahead of having what I consider a minimum level of quality of life.  I made this decision long before I needed it and I have discussed that decision at length with my veterinarian.  In fact I have decided these things about each of the animals I have responsibility for so that I can be certain that in a crisis I am not held over a barrel to make a choice I may not be comfortable with later.  Make your choices ahead of time where possible and then discuss them with your vet.  Doing so will save you a lot of headaches later on when you are faced with the decision and you already have a plan.

Finally, the most important thing that I did to prepare for the Rollercoaster Reprieve, was to carefully develop and organize a support system for myself.  This network is made up of close friends and family members, of dear and cherished clients, of veterinarians and technicians, of people on the net who have never met me but who have read my blogs and my articles and been to my seminars and who have reached out through this difficult time to help me, John and D'fer.  We are not out of the woods.  We may still lose D'fer imminently; he is after all ten years old with a heart condition.  He may or may not be a candidate for surgery.  He may over do it at some point tomorrow or the next day and fracture the neck of the femur, and we may be right back to where we were last week, when I wrote "IT WILL BE ALRIGHT", but I am confident that it WILL be alright because we have the support we need, we have good diagnostics and we have all the right things happening to help us to survive the Reprieve Rollercoaster and whatever it throws at us.  Thanks everyone; I couldn't have made it through this past week without you!


Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Yesterday was a very hard day.  D'fer, my service dog, my best friend, my best and most favourite dog ever, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.  This means that he will soon die, and likely he will, between now and then, suffer some terrible pain.  This means that my heart will break again and again and again as I face the reality of life without the dog who has meant more to me than nearly any being that I have ever encountered.    The sarcoma is located in the head of his femur, it is fairly advanced, and it is quite possible that there is involvement in the pelvis.  This is a fast growing cancer, and it will likely progress to his lungs within months at the outside.  D'fer has an unassociated heart issue, which means that he is not a terrific candidate for surgery, and the only available treatment would be amputation and chemo, and honestly, the results are not favourable even if we were to do this. Never the less, it will be alright.

D'fer in his prime with the expression I love best.

I am not going to tell you that some spiritual being will save him for me, or that I will see him at the bridge.  I will not tell you what I do or don't believe about the afterlife.  I am going to talk instead about love and leaving and loss and why it will be alright in the end.

Over the years, I have held many special dogs close to my heart.  I didn't think there would be a dog after Buddy who would mean as much to me as he did.  Buddy, majestic and beautiful, smart and strong, taught me about love and caring and change and accepting and working hard and being real with myself.  He accompanied me on endless adventures and trips through learning and things I could not have ever expected.  Buddy sure was special and he carried me through things I did not think I could survive.  And then one day, he could not get up and he lost control of his bladder while I was out.  He was very elderly then.  He had to lie in his own urine and wait till I came to rescue him.  He was too big to lift into the bathtub and he was too sore to get in of his own accord.  The next day I helped him to die, in my living room.  That last day, I double dosed him on pain meds and played ball with him.  I read him poetry.  I napped with him.  And when he died, I thought my heart would break forever. 

I thought there would be nothing that could ever come close to touching my heart the way that Buddy did.  I grieved deeply and long and hard and publicly for Buddy.  I still have pictures of him around the house, and at first every time I looked at them, I would cry.  Now I can look and I smile when I remember the walks, the journeys, and the learning.  I just didn't think then that there would or even could be anything remotely close to the love I felt for Buddy.

Then along came D'fer.  Deef was supposed to be John's dog.  He had other ideas.  He was an annoying and frustrating puppy and adolescent.  He was an accidental service dog.  And over the years, over time, he and I developed a dance together that is unique, that is special.  The dance has etched itself onto my heart and into my head until I cannot think about what is next.  In some ways, D'fer taught me to remember Buddy not with grief but with joy.  Surely, there cannot be anything better than the love that D'fer and I share?  Maybe there isn't.  But maybe there is something else.  Maybe what Buddy did and what D'fer is still doing is not teaching me to be a better trainer, not teaching me to be a better person.  Maybe what they have done is teach me to love better.  While D'fer did not replace Buddy in my heart, he taught me something I have told others in a very profound way.  True love doesn't divide; it multiplies.  Buddy prepared me to love D'fer.  D'fer has prepared me to love other dogs, and maybe, if I am lucky, he will have prepared me to love another dog as deeply as I love him.  Once again, it was alright.

Five or six years ago, I lost my Dad.  He was unexpectedly hospitalized due to a collapsed lung and suddenly without warning we were faced with a diagnosis of bullous emphysema.  Essentially, his lungs had large holes in them, making it impossible for his body to take in enough oxygen to live unassisted.  Over the weeks he was in hospital, I wanted the minutes.  I hoped for the time minutes.  I wanted just a few minutes to talk to my father.  Those minutes were not possible.  Over the weeks he was in the intensive care unit, D'fer took me to visit him.  In one of my dad's few lucid periods he asked who I was.  I told him I was his daughter, Sue, and he looked right at me and said "no you aren't...where is your dog?"  When I showed him D'fer, he relaxed.  He knew me, because he recognized Deef.  D'fer facilitated that last minute with my father, a gift so precious.   That last minute was a gift that D'fer made possible for me.  In his patient way, he showed me that the minutes that counted were the minutes in the moment.  Love is the minute we get.

I don't believe that D'fer is afraid of death.  I know he doesn't like the pain, but we have good chemical control over the pain.  I know that when we take the pain away, the joy and curiosity and intelligence and wonder that make D'fer special are still there.  Last night, after we gave him his first dose of gabapentin, he started to dance around the kitchen where my desk is.  He wanted me to play.  In my grief, I didn't want to play, I wanted him to lie down and rest and not tax his body.  I was thinking about the one more minute attitude; I just want every precious minute with my special boy, and I was crying because I know that there aren't a lot of minutes left.  D'fer is wiser than I am.  He always has been.  He doesn't want one more minute.  He wants to play frisbee.  He wants to go search for things.  He wants to run around.  And really, his minutes are love.  He loves me, he loves life, he loves his frisbee and his friends.  When he is pain free he just wants to be himself, much more than he wants one more minute of time.  His minutes are written in love.

I would give a lot to have one more year, or one more lifetime, but in the coming days, weeks and months, I will work to let go of wanting one more minute of time.  I will work learn and relearn that minutes with D'fer are measured in love.  Living carefully, feeding him only cancer reducing foods, and maybe putting him through very painful treatment  will buy us time minutes, but will not give us even one more minute of love.  Instead, I have to give up looking for minutes and instead, look for love.  This is why I won't be even considering radical treatments, or herbs or a magic wands or crystal balls to address this.  I am going to treat cancer with Frisbees and banana bread corners and his own pieces of pizza and little house searches and visits from friends.

Knowing that I won't have the years, months or days doesn't make this easier or fun.  This is hard, and depressing and sad and terrible and something I don't feel ready to face, but I know it will be alright in the long run.  I know this because I have been through this, as a part of an unbroken chain of the experience of thoughtful beings.  I have faced loss, and in my turn, there are those who will face my loss.  I grieved deeply for my father who grieved for his own father, and presumably, his father grieved for those who were important him when they passed in their turn.  Grief is hard, and knowing that the end is near highlights coming loss, but then I come back to being a part of an endless cycle of gain and loss, of birth and death, and of love for those being who walk beside and before and after me.  I know that right now, this time is an important time not to borrow grief ahead of time, but to cherish what we have together now; not to cherish what we have left, but what we have.

Now that I am facing the minutes, the hours, the days and hopefully the weeks or months that make up the end of D'fer's life, he is teaching me again that when pain is under control, the minutes we have are love.  I will cry often and smile and throw the Frisbee and hide toys, and make sure that my special friend gets time with the people he loves.  The support from my community, my friends and my students are the minutes of love that we get.  And a Frisbee tucked in the bookshelf to find is one of those special minutes, when you cannot make the illness go away.  In the end, when I lose him, I will grieve, and I will cry and then I will probably find his Frisbee and a minute of his love.  It will be alright.

D'fer has told me over and over again throughout his service career that I will be alright.  He is right.  In the long run, it will be alright.

For those who follow my blog, please be patient.  I may not be posting very regularly while I work through these last minutes with my very talented and special chesapeake, D'fer.  I will be back when I can.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.-Albert Einstein

In the last blog I disclosed that doubt is perhaps my best trait and then discussed some aspects of what science is in a general sense.  Now I want to explain how doubt is the most important part of science and for many of us, the most fun.  When we look at experimental science, or research that is done based on direct experiment, we have a formula to use to determine if information is valid or not.  It is called the Null Hypothesis[1].  The quote above sums up the principle of the Null Hypothesis or the “null “quite nicely.  If you can disprove the null, then you have evidence that supports a theory.  If I want to learn something using the scientific method, then I need to make a few notes about what I want to know.  A common statement by force free trainers and clicker trainers is that force free training is the best training.  How could I learn more about that?  Let’s start with how I talk about it.  Notice that I don’t say that I want to prove that force free training is the best, but that I want to learn more about that.  If you try and prove something you can get a lot of supporting evidence but you cannot categorically say that there is never an exception to the rule.  On the other hand, if you state your question in the form of a null, by saying that force free training is not the best way to train a dog and then set out to disprove your null, you have stronger support for your argument that force free is the way to go.

Unfortunately, most dog trainers are not scientists.  They don’t understand that you cannot prove anything; you can only disprove things and achieve any degree of certainty.  As I write this I remember struggling with this idea in university.  I remember that I couldn’t figure out why you had to go through this round about way of determining if a fact was valid or not.  Leaning on science to support what you do can make you feel like you are justified in your actions without a thorough examination of what you are actually doing.  Few dog trainers actually have any scientific training and this means that we are seeing more and more trainers throwing around information and calling it science all the time.  At the moment of this writing, we have no studies that disprove the null hypothesis that force free training is not the best training.  We also don’t have studies to disprove the null that force based training is not the best.  We see a lot of trainers sharing blogs, articles and bits of information to support their pet ideas, but very little evidence to refute the null hypothesis of what they want to do.  This means that although there is a lot of science behind the training and learning that is being done, there is very little understanding of that science and that is a big problem!

One of the popular pieces of information that is making the rounds at the moment is a “study” done by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the United Kingdom about shock collars[2] and why they ought to be banned.  Blogs abound referring to this “study”.  In science, remember that we do research where we formulate a null hypothesis, we develop an experiment to try and disprove the null, and we make a conclusion.  If the conclusion is robust, we send that research off to a relevant scientific journal.  The journal will send the study out to several scientists to read and review and then it gets sent back to the original researcher with questions, and then it goes back to the journal and THEN if the people who read and reviewed the research feel that the information is sound, the study will be published.  In this way there is a series of checks and balances to ensure that the research is sound and the results are reliable.  The next step in the process is that a separate scientist can take the method that the original scientist used and try and confirm or refute what was done the first time.  Science is a process of gathering knowledge and then testing it.  If the results aren’t repeatable, then the results are not terribly robust.  The study done by DEFRA is just that; a study.  It has not been through the process of being submitted to a recognized journal to be juried, so no second set of eyes have looked at this study to find out if it is valid or not.  When a study is done by an individual or a group, but no one looks at the data to see if their conclusions have problems with them, then the study is not terribly credible.  It is at best a data set that can be interpreted various ways.  Never the less people who have an agenda to not use punishment are pointing at this as though it is a great supporting argument against using shock collars.  Until a second set of eyes evaluates the study, it really isn’t valid in terms of supporting or refuting anything.

This information about how science works should help you to follow along some steps when evaluating the information you are given about the science of training.  We now know that science is the collection of knowledge, based on agreed upon definitions that help us to learn facts.  Facts are gathered together to form theories which are observable trends that have been repeated many times.  When a scientist wants to study something, they should form a null hypothesis, develop an experiment, carry out the experiment and then send their results to a journal for a second set of eyes to examine what the first scientist has studied.  If the experiment refutes the null hypothesis we have good evidence that the null is not true and we can use that information to support or refute ideas about the subject matter.  If the null is not refuted, we can say that more research needs to be done, and we need to find another null hypothesis to test to support what we want to find out.  Finally, the study if it is found to be valid is published and other scientists can repeat the research and either get the same results or different results.  When a student does the research in the hopes of getting a masters degree or a PhD, then the process is the same except that usually instead of submitting their work to a journal, they submit it to their university and their advisory council examines them and if their research is valid, they get their degree.

Science is a process.  Perhaps the most important part of the process is the part that people are the least comfortable with; challenging the information they are given.  Doubt.  Doubt is a good and treasured friend to a scientist because it makes you ask important questions about what you are seeing, hearing or observing.  When you are given information that is obviously not true, that you can observe is not true, then doubt creeps in and you start to think about what you are seeing and experiencing.  When what you are being told doesn’t match with your experience, you can start to look at the research itself and see if there are any problems with either the method or the research or the process of review.  In this way, when we are told things that are based on research and studies, then we can analyse the information and figure out if it is actually supporting or refuting what we are being told.

Teasing out validity when you are reading about the science that underlies training is like solving a puzzle.  Approaching all information with doubt, and asking if the source is credible and if the research and if the researcher followed good protocols and if the research actually applies to what you want to know is both an interesting challenge and an important step to perform before you accept information.  Photo Credit: Ashwin Kharidehal Abhirama /123rf.com

Dog trainers use science, but often they don’t use the doubt part of the process very well.  Doubt needs to be your best friend when you are looking for scientific support for the practices you do.  You have to understand the process and a bit more in order to be effective.  The final piece to the puzzle that dog trainers need to learn about is how to evaluate the science they are reading.  Now we have to look at what has been done in a study to see if it is a valid piece of research at all.  Let’s start with the sample size.  If I wanted to know if jackpotting, the practice of giving a reward that is qualitatively better than other rewards in the training session will increase performance.  This is just exactly what was studied by a masters student recently. 

At the University of Texas, Kirsty Lynn Muir studied “The Effects of Jackpots on Responding and Choice in Two Domestic Dogs”.[3]  For dog trainers, this study would be really helpful if it were valid.  Many of us use larger than normal rewards to reinforce especially good iterations of a given behaviour.  Looking at this study we start off with some problems right in the title.  There are only two subjects being studied.  This means that although this research may be true for the two dogs studied, it may not be true for dogs in general.  I doubt that two dogs would be enough dogs to convince me that every dog would be the same.  I have three dogs at home.  Two of them are German Shepherds and one of them is a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.  If I randomly selected two of them and selected both German Shepherds and then extrapolated the data to say that ALL dogs in the world were German Shepherds, you should doubt that this is credible.  When you are looking at a study, you need to make sure that enough dogs were studied to give us a big enough sample size to decide if the results of the study could reasonably be expected to represent the information they are supposed to represent. 

Another problem in this study has to do with the definition of a jackpot.  Most of us use a higher value reward to reinforce better than average iterations of behaviours.  In terms of the study they wanted to standardize the responses so that the research could be replicated.  Instead of using a criteria for better than average, they used a definition of jackpot that doesn’t match how most dog trainers think of jackpots.  The definition they used was “a jackpot is a one time within session increase in the magnitude of reinforcement”.  Hmmm.  This is not how I would define a jackpot.  I would define a jackpot as a “higher than average VALUE of reinforcement paired with a higher than average LEVEL of performance”.  There are problems with my definition from a scientific perspective; I have used words that are subjective, not objective.  When you look further into the study, it turns out that the jackpot was given on a fixed schedule of reinforcement (a well defined term in the world of Applied Behaviour Analysis) and the increase in the magnitude of the reinforcement was not paired with a better than average performance.  Given that the increase in the magnitude of reinforcement was not paired with anything that the learner did differently it would be hard to say that based on the definition, they were studying how I use a jackpot.

When the definitions that are proposed in a paper don’t match the information you want to know, then you cannot say that the study supports or refutes what you wanted to know.  Never the less, this paper has been circulating on Facebook refuting the effect of the use of jackpots in training.  The researcher didn’t study what we all wanted to know, and since few dog trainers are actually reading more than just the abstract (a short paragraph describing the research and the conclusions), then it looks like we might be using science to refute the use of jackpots.  When you find out that you are using a study to refute something, you need to know what they actually studied, and if they studied enough subjects to really give us the information that we want to know.

This sort of study, an experiment, needs to follow rules in order to be useful.  When the sample size is too small, then you won’t get good results.  When the definitions don’t match what you want to know, then you cannot use the information in the study to support or refute what you want to find out.  Then you have to look at the research itself.  In the study cited above, the sample size is too small to be considered robust information, and the definition of what they were studying doesn’t match what most dog trainers are doing.  This means that when a dog trainer quotes this study to tell their readers or students not to do something, they are basing their evidence on some pretty shaky information.  What it doesn’t mean is that jackpotting is a good thing to do or not a good thing to do.  The jury is still out on that one.

After carefully reading through Kirsty Lynn Muir's study on jackpotting we still don't know if jackpotting is helpful or not; her sample size was too small to tell us if what she saw applies to all dogs, her definition is not equivalent to the definition that most dog trainers use when they talk about jackpotting and the way that her experiment was designed didn't associate the reinforcement of greater magnitude wasn't associated with a better than average iteration of the target behaviour.  Scientists spend a lot of time discussing and comparing their interpretation of studies, and this is an important part of good science.  Analyzing, evaluating and then comparing our thoughts to those of others is an important thing to do when you are doing science.  This is becoming an important part of being a dog trainer, and understanding how science works helps people to understand that disagreement is not the same as an attack on the other person's opinion.  Photo Credit: Graƃ§a Victoria /123rf.com

The final thing about studies that we need to touch on here is how to tell if a source is credible.  Just because it is written on the net doesn’t mean that information is valid.  Even THIS blog about science is just my interpretation of what I learned in university about how to interpret scientific information, and I am talking only about how to interpret experimental research; there is much more to the picture than I have included here.  Not only do we need to know if the person who did the research is credible, we also need to know if the journal or University that reviewed the research is credible.  If I do a study, and publish that on my blog, then I have given my readers a starting point, but my blog is not as credible as say an article published in an academic journal such as Nature or the International Journal of Biological Sciences.  When you are being presented with “science” in training, then use doubt to confirm if the information is valid or not, and if it supports or refutes the author’s bias.

Before leaving the topic of how to evaluate research papers, it is important to add that scientists compare notes, disagree and discuss what they are reading all the time.  Evaluating what you read should not be an unpleasant or undesired activity.  It is an important part of doing good science.  

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Null_hypothesis
[2] http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&Completed=0&ProjectID=15332
[3] http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28456/m1/2/