March 24, 2009

Merritt Clifton list: updated, still with chox-mix goodness

The latest version [as far as I know] of Merritt Clifton's list of selected dog attacks has been posted here, at Scribd, by someone who sucks at Photoshop.

The chox mix is still listed, along with the buff mastiff, the Dauschund, the East Highland Terrier and the Weimaeaner. The Australian cattle dog, the Australian blue heeler, the Blue heeler and the Queensland heeler are still listed as separate breeds.

One big change: the Analysis section of the report has been removed. And in his brief introduction, Clifton adds a paragraph defending his numbers. Click for big:

Seriously, I could beat my head on rocks. Merritt Clifton has no idea how many dog attacks there are each year by any given breed. No one does. The last time I checked, not one state kept track of dog attacks by breed. We do know that over 6,000 people were hospitalized as a result of dog attacks in the US in one year:
From the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Of an estimated 333,700 patients treated for dog bites in emergency departments (EDs) in 1994, approximately 6,000 were hospitalized.
For the record, Clifton's latest report states that "Pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, and their mixes" were responsible for a total of 1894 attacks "doing bodily harm" in the US and Canada from 1982 to 2008. Clifton still lumps every sort of mixed breed with "purebreds" [while stating that "only attacks by dogs of clearly identified breed type or ancestry are included"]. This approach has no basis in science or anything else.

Related — I think:
Law enforcement officials classified the dog in the Jan. 3 attack as a pit bull, boxer and black lab mix.

One magazine editor simplified this classification of dog.

“It’s a mongrel basically,” Wash.-based Animal People editor Merritt Clifton said.

He also said insurance representatives and dog wardens will often classify the dog by what type of dog it looks like. This classification has little to do with genetics, he said, because often shelter operators are simply attempting to determine the risk the dog will fight with other dogs.

Though some might label pit bulls as aggressive, Clifton said pit bulls are often reactive because of the fact they were originally trained to hunt rats on ships. However, because of their size and their inability to pull large amounts of cargo from ships, they were not considered apt for either job and instead began being bred for dogfighting on the docks.

This rat-killing, he said, has made them more reactive.

He also talked about the head-shaking mechanism pit bulls would use to kill the rat, which in bites causes the tearing of skin, causing more damage than other dog bites. However, he said this can be combated by pushing the arm or other appendage further into the dog’s mouth, which will force a release. [Source]
Inconceivable. Really. Big hat tip to the most excellent Caveat for the link to that, er... fascinating article.


Anonymous said...

I'm still mystified by Clifton's belief that his "statistics" are even somewhat valid.

If we use the 6000 hospitalizations as an average per year, we are looking at 150,000 dog attacks over the 25 years of his study. Now, if we're talking "hospitalizations", I feel safe in saying that most of these attacks would be fairly severe. And yet, in Clifton's "study", he covers a mere 2524 attacks over that same 25 year period. So, he's covering 1.5% of the total number of "maulings".

Even if his data was based on completely random samples, it sould be questionable about whether this information would be statistically valid. However, it's not even random samples -- it's based 100% on media articles (which we know isn't an unbiased source). So as a conclusion, he could draw that the MEDIA reports 'pit bull' attacks at a greater frequency than bites by other breeds -- which would be an accurate conclusion. But to suggest that his data is somehow all-inclusive or statistically valid doesn't even come close to meeting the BS sniff test.

YesBiscuit! said...

I like the spicy Chox Party Mix!

Caveat said...

When will Clifton face it - he's a twit who is trying to fit a half-baked personal belief into pseudo-scientific clothing.

He's good for laughs, though, and we need those right now. You are the best at mocking Clifton. I mean, other than the man himself :>)

Anonymous said...

Pit bulls were bred to hunt rats on ships? WTF??? Seriously, I KNOW a lot about rats and ships. I used to build boats for a living, have written more than a little about rats and terriers, etc. Whatever Merritt Clifton is smoking, will he share? This is invented whole cloth. You get rid of rats on ships with traps. Period. Simple, cheap, and not a damn thing to feed. They do it the same way now as they did it 10 years ago, 200 years ago, 400 years ago. Nothing has changed, has it? Really good rat traps have been around forever. I used to have a collection. I know rat traps, and I know ratting dogs, and I know terriers. Most of all, I know nonsense. Merritt Clifton is spreading a bit of it here.


Anonymous said...

The CDC stopped tallying breeds of dogs involved in dog bite reports, since they found that there was no credibility in the breed identification and that people were taking their statistics and trying to use them to justify breed specific legislation. The CDC specifically says "A CDC study on fatal dog bites lists the breeds involved in fatal attacks over 20 years (Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998). It does not identify specific breeds that are most likely to bite or kill, and thus is not appropriate for policy-making decisions related to the topic. Each year, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs. These bites result in approximately 16 fatalities; about 0.0002 percent of the total number of people bitten. These relatively few fatalities offer the only available information about breeds involved in dog bites. There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."

People who have an agenda will always cook numbers to make their case.

Anonymous said...

I'm dazzled by the wealth of knowledge displayed on this report which has the following footnote:

Doberman: One miniature pinscher apparently joined two pit bull terriers in attacking a child.

For those not familiar with the breeds, Dobermans and MinPins aren't at all related beyond the fact that both are breeds of dog.

Anonymous said...

Merritt Clifton is delusional. As a lawyer, I can you that if he was an expert for the opposing party the jury would laugh at him. The man totally engages in "junk" science and relies on "stale" data from old newspapers. It's maddening that anyone would hire him to write any articles at all!

WAG said...

Dear Editor:
I would like to present my expert analysis of a recent article by the Whidbey News Times entitled: Girl, 12, mauled by three pit bulls in Oak Harbor | Corrected

I am an expert in that my professional credentials equal (or possibly exceed) those of Animal People editor Merritt Clifton:
1. I, too, have no degrees in statistics or law.
2. I do, however, have a degree in Telecommunications and minor in Journalism (I am not sure where Mr. Clifton obtained his degrees). The paper has never established his credentials except as the editor of a self-published newsletter.

Mr. Clifton’s “studies” have never been peer-reviewed. In fact, his type of methodologies have been dismissed by the National Centers for Disease Control in that media accounts and police reports are notoriously unreliable sources of baseline data.

"Finally, it is imperative to keep in mind that even if breed-specific bite rates could be accurately calculated, they do not factor in owner related issues. For example, less responsible owners or owners who want to foster aggression in their dogs may be drawn differentially to certain breeds.
Center for Disease Control's Special Report on breeds involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998, September 2000.

(After 1998, the CDC stopped identifying dog breeds involved in fatal attacks, since data is usually based on media reports from untrained eyewitness accounts. There is no centralized, reliable way to collect such information, making meaningful, reliable data collection impossible.)
As a former reporter with The Atlanta Constitution, I covered the National Centers for Disease Control, one the nation’s most respected sources for disease-based data. The CDC quit trying to maintain statistics re: dog attacks by breed because there is too much confusion and misinformation about dog breeds. Pit bulls, for example, are not a breed of dog, but a type of dog. Many dogs are mistaken for pit bulls (boxer mixes, etc.)

"There are 25+ breeds that are commonly wrongly identified as pit bulls. Those of us who have been involved with the breed for years have trouble identifying them 100% of the time, so, we certainly can’t expect inexperienced people to be able to properly ID a dog. That said, it leads us to believe that many of the bites that claim to be from pit bulls are in fact, inflicted by other breeds."
Al W. Stinson, D.V.M.
Director of Legislative Affairs, Michigan Association for Pure Bred Dogs, and the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, and a Member of the Board of Directors of the American Dog Owners Association

"A fatal dog attack is not just a dog bite by a big or aggressive dog. It is usually a perfect storm of bad human-canine interactions -- the wrong dog, the wrong background, the wrong history in the hands of the wrong person in the wrong environmental situation."
Malcolm Gladwell, "Troublemakers - What pit bulls can teach us about profiling," The New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2006.

"What exactly is a pit bull? Defining it has proved to be a formidable legal hurdle because the pit bull is not a specific breed. Rather, it is a kind of dog, a generic catchall like hound or retriever."
E.M. Swift, "The Pit Bull: Friend and Killer. Is the Pit Bull a Fine Animal, As Its Admirers Claim, Or Is It a Vicious Dog, Unfit For Society?" Sports Illustrated, 07-27-1987, pp 72.

Although Mr. Clifton is celebrated as an expert on Whidbey Island by our local media and sheltering provider, his “studies” have been rejected nationally. Off island, in the rest of America, he is considered a controversial figure. “Google” Merritt Clifton.

Barbara Moran
"Leader of the Pack"
WAG said...

Merritt Clifton left Animal People departed Animal People at the beginning of 2014 to produce his Animals-24/7 blog and website. The board of directors of Animal People, Inc. does not stand by Merritt Clifton's statements and statistics on pit bulls and has never supported breed bans as policy or in editorial statements. Animal People NEVER had a position in favor of breed bans, though Merritt Clifton may have given that impression in what he said or what he wrote in personal emails. At the most, Animal People would favor breedING bans for the reasons that pit bulls and related dog breeds are the most abused dogs, the most likely to be used by dogfighting rings, and the most likely to end up homeless. With a breedING ban, the worst that could happen to a dog would be spaying or castration; none would lose their homes. As an animal rights organization, Animal People does not favor the breeding of any animals for human purposes and does not support the pet industry.