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Scientists Discover Cows Point North 558

Dr Sabine Begall and colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen have discovered that cows tend to point north. The researchers studied deer in the Czech Republic and looked at thousands of images of cattle on Google Earth. The animals tended to face north when eating or resting. "We conclude that the magnetic field is the only common and most likely factor responsible for the observed alignment," the scientists wrote in an article. I guess cows will become the must-have item for long-distance hikers now. Having an edible compass would come in handy if you get lost.


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Scientists Discover Cows Point North

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  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @02:01PM (#24753913) Journal

    I shall call it, "Are You Smarter Than a Scientist?" Just pick any old science type story, read a poorly written summary of it, then 'prove' the scientists in question are idiots who didn't even consider the Most Obvious Thing. All Slashbots are welcome to compete.

  • by courteaudotbiz ( 1191083 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @02:03PM (#24753941) Homepage
    Didn't RTFA, but maybe it's worth asking the questions; are they pointing to geographic or magnetic north pole? Then a better hypothesis could be formulated. And what about the cows at the equator? Where are they pointing? And those in the southern hemisphere?

    I think that asking all those question could give a better overview; do the cows have magneto-sensitive ions in their brain like pigeons? Or do they only want to avoid the sun in their eyes?
  • by MindlessAutomata ( 1282944 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @02:10PM (#24754061)

    You're right. People should never think critically and try to find other, simpler explanations for a supposed phenomenon, not as long as it comes from a scientist, of course. That would be 'proving' they're idiots, and that's Wrong.

    Next time I read something a scientist wrote I'll be sure to keep your advice in mind.

  • by Furan ( 98791 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @02:52PM (#24754629) Homepage

    This article does not make any mention of Cow Magnets [], used to prevent hardware disease [] in cows.

    IANAP but I am curious if it is related.

  • I'm a cow too (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zmooc ( 33175 ) <.ten.coomz. .ta. .coomz.> on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @03:13PM (#24754945) Homepage

    When I was young my bed always used to faced west (as in: my head pointed west when lying in it). Whenever we went on holiday I always woke up facing west as well. Even if the bed was in a totally different direction. I have no idea about the cause, I just stopped doing it when I got older. I'm pretty sure I don't have a built-in compass now though, so I'm a bit sceptical about cows having them;-)

    So, here's an alternative explanation: cows have to keep cool. The hotter the sun is, the less surface they want to expose to it. For a cow, that generally means not to let their sides, which have the most surface, be exposed to the sun. And since there's the most sun at noon, when the sun is either in the south or in the north, depending on the hemisphere the cow lives on, cows tend to either point north or south a bit more than in other directions. Add to that that google maps, on which the research was based, actively selects sunny pictures, thereby boosting this effect, and we'd have an explanation for most cows pointing either north or south. Now add to that that the guys that did the research only selected countries on the northern hemisphere and we have a perfect explanation that does not involve magnets;-)

    Ok, I might be entirely wrong, but at least my explanation is just as good as the explanation in the rather-short-on-details-article;-)

  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @03:47PM (#24755401) Homepage Journal

    I would tend to agree with you, but for one minor problem. Having worked with a number of research docs and having friends who have had similar experiences...

    There are idiots with PhD's.

    There are idiots doing research.

    Most of the docs I know personally are pretty top notch researchers (although the concept of business isn't a strong suit). But many of them have made mistakes, and one smart person making a mistake in front of 10 idiots can result in some really dumb papers.

    They could be on to something, but there is a good bit of detail missing from the article that would help to reinforce their opinion. If the lack of that detail is just due to the article author/editor, so bit it, but if that lack of detail is due to the research, then their work was a waste. All in all, the article is a waste. Maybe their published paper is better, I'll have to see if I can track it down.


  • by CambodiaSam ( 1153015 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @03:47PM (#24755405)
    As funny as the comment is, it's probably the perfect way to scientifically test the theory. You can put magnets on one field and not another. Move the herd back and forth under usual circumstances (like for grazing) and track them. If they orient differently, THEN you can prove something.
  • by bmg68 ( 683984 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @03:53PM (#24755487)
    Cows are actually pointing South, not north.
  • look east, west, or south, and in the northern hemisphere, one or both eyes are being blinded by the sun

    look north, and the sun illuminates your vista from above your backside

    so looking north, driven by nothing more than the sun's transit, is very useful for an animal that is hunted and eaten

    to casually acquire maximum visual acuity by simply orienting north seems to be a simple herbivore survival tactic, driven by nothing more than the sun's transit

  • Re:ObPython (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @05:14PM (#24756579) Journal

    Actually, that's more-or-less right. Ever seen a manatee?

  • by Xemu ( 50595 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2008 @05:23PM (#24756681) Homepage

    They may just like sun on their backs and not in their eyes.

    As most glider pilots can tell you, cows have their backs against the wind. We use them for wind cues during emergency landings.

It seems intuitively obvious to me, which means that it might be wrong. -- Chris Torek