Bill Nye Talks to Dogs and Explores the Lessons of Canine Evolution

Television Host and Science Educator
Bill Nye the Science Guy returns to Big Think to discuss evolution, this time from a canine point of view. Nye explains how dogs evolved out of an early human-wolf interaction which today benefits both species. He also draws a comparison between dog breeds and the social construct of race, claiming that both are man-made myths not steeped in science. Bill's latest book is "Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation."
  • Transcript


Bill Nye:  I love dogs as much as the next guy.  I talk to dogs.  In preparing this book I spoke with dogs at length.  Maybe I spoke more to dogs than with them.  But they’re all dogs, that’s the thing.  I know we all love our kennel club show we all go there.  We obsess about whether our dog is a pug, Jack Russell terrier mix with corgi overtones and an oaky finish.  An approachable little dog, whatever.  They’re all dogs, okay.  And so the idea of a purebred is just a human construct.  There’s no such thing – in a sense there’s no such thing as a purebred dog.  And that’s – I don’t have a problem with that.  That’s the way it is.  By the way you talk to any veterinarian and they’ll tell you that a mutt is a much healthier dog generally because they have this mix of genes, they’re not inbred, they haven’t made the same gene repeat too many times.  And so it’s funny, it’s charming to me but there’s a great lesson to be learned.  Dogs are a descendent either from wolves or from one ancestor before wolves.  But what you and I think of as a modern wolf may or may not be the direct – what led to a modern dog.

People talk about this as I’m writing the book.  In the next five years it will probably be resolved.  Somebody will come up with a definitive answer to that.  But anyway, apparently these experiments were done with foxes which are just the coolest thing where the foxes that were friendlier, that they were more comfortable around people, they were allowed to approach, they were allowed to use human food.  After just three generations they had floppy scritchable ears and they were much more like dogs.  And it just shows you that dogs are almost certainly a result of a human wolf ancestor interaction.  As we became friends with them they became friends with us and we have a dependency that’s charming.  It’s enriched both the dog lives and the human lives.  It’s really quite an insight and it’s a result of evolution.  The other lesson to be learned from dogs for me is since they’re all dogs it’s just – if you have a dachshund and a Great Dane and they interact, can we say interact on Big Think?  If they interact all you get is a dog.  You don’t get any new thing, new species, you just get a dog.  In the same way if a Papua New Guinean hooks up with a Swedish person all you get is a human.  There’s no new thing you’re going to get.  You just get a human.  Japanese woman jumping the African guy, all you get is a human. They’re all humans.  So this is a lesson to be learned.  There really is, for humankind there’s really no such thing as race.  There’s different tribes but not different races.  We’re all one species.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton