Science has reared its ugly head. Yep, once again those guys and gals with the lab coats and odd affection for Bunsen Burners are weighing in on important issues.

Science has reared its ugly head.

Yep, once again those guys and gals with the lab coats and odd affection for Bunsen Burners are weighing in on important issues.

What’s it this time?

Global warming?

The effects of overpopulation?

Disappearing species?

Nope, this time they’re bringing to bear the so-called “scientific method” and empirical analysis on something really important.

Namely, which animal is smarter, the dog or the cat.

It’s an age-old debate.

I think it was Aristotle who once posited that while his dog, Rascal, was able to obey simple commands, his kitty, Socks, seemed more contemplative, and too preoccupied by deep thoughts to retrieve a stick, or extend a paw on command.

“It’s a tough one,” he told his students. “But the thing I like about cats is you don’t have to take them for a walk. Maybe that doesn’t make them smarter but they’re less of a hassle, particularly since the leash hasn’t been invented yet.”

Down through the centuries, the argument has largely depended on anecdotal evidence. And, frequently, these arguments have been colored by the biases found on either side of the dog-vs.-cat smarty-paws debate.

And those preconceived beliefs tend to promote an overzealous justification for one’s point of view, if not outright lying.

In one passage from a manuscript dating back to the Middle Ages, the monk Barthelmous claims that his dog, Rover, can play the lute. He further claimed, in fact, that the animal could not only cover many of the hits of the day, but had composed a number of his own ballads, as well. Still, when asked to allow Rover to play in public, Barthelmous was famous for demurring with the phrase, “Um, not this time – maybe next week.”

Cat fanciers through history have also been accused of exaggerating the intelligence of their charges.

One of the lesser Medici claimed in a recently recovered document that his 14th century Florentine cat, Whiskers, had perfected a proof of Euclid’s fifth geometrical postulate. Once again, however, when asked to provide evidence, the gentleman was evasive. He claimed that Whiskers became nervous among strangers, and couldn’t be coaxed out from underneath the couch.

At any rate, this new scientific research has been seen as supporting the viewpoint that dogs are smarter than cats. The study’s authors note, however, that they did not study the animals’ behavior and were not making claims about their respective intelligence.

No, instead, they researched the animals’ brains and discovered that dogs have about twice as many neurons in the cerebral cortex as cats do.

Neurons are the brain’s “information-processing units,” and those animals with more of them are presumed capable of more complex and flexible behavior.

The researchers note, for instance, that humans have twice as many cortical neurons as gorillas.

And humans are able to drive a car, whistle and learn card tricks while gorillas generally are unable to perform these actions.

The researchers point out, however, that while dogs may have the additional neurons, they might not be using them to their utmost advantage. Instead of studying or attending school, dogs might be more comfortable chasing stuff and barking.

Perhaps cats are using their fewer neurons to better advantage. While sitting in the sun in between naps and feedings their brains could very well be wrestling with deep issues, like the age of the universe, how to surpass the speed of light, or what is it that makes the Kardashians so popular.

Perhaps we will never know for sure which animal is truly smarter despite the prattling of scientists preoccupied with facts and evidence.

Perhaps there are just things man was not meant to know.

Editor Frank Mulligan can be reached at fmulligan@wickedlocal.com.