Led by the Nose

New research shows that African wild dogs, bless them, use sneezing to vote.

At least, that’s kind of what it shows. As usual, a few details are finessed in the jump from scientific journal to popular science press …

What the research really found was a strong correlation between “audible, abrupt exhalations of air through the nose”  and pack decisions to get off their butts and do something. It was hard to tell who was sneezing, so researchers only counted the number of sneezes.

African Wild Dogs
Lycaon picturs

But it also makes a big difference who has the idea in the first place. Top dog status is tricky to measure among Lycaon pictus, so researchers used their priority-of-access-to-carcasses metric as a proxy. Let’s call that PAC: when the PAC leader says it’s time to stop cotching and go grab some wildebeest …

[…] we found that the likelihood of rally success increases with the dominance of the initiator […] with lower-ranking initiators requiring more sneezes in the rally for it to be successful […]

Don't forget to Lycaon share
Pepper Rally

So not a perfect democracy then. I’m imagining accusations of prides of lions influencing the sneeze tally with their hacking coughs …

But then: who are we to judge? African wild dog, we are not so different, you and I. We applaud, we nod, we “hear, hear,” we twinkle our fingers. A quorum of yawns toward the end of a long meeting may prompt a pack of Homo sapiens to just pack it all in. Sometimes it’s a clarion of borborygmus-in-chorus that tells us it’s tea time, as the herds of quorn mince spaghetti majestically traverse the Serengeti.

Anyway, voting by sneezing seems like an excellent idea, and I’ll definitely be proposing the BSFA adopts it in time for the 2018 BSFA Awards.


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