That time the DoD paid Duke U $335K to investigate ESP in dogs. Yes, dogs.

Michael from Muckrock writes, "Government research often pushes the boundaries between science and science fiction. Today, the proud bearer of that mantle is often DARPA, experimenting with robots, cybernetics, and more. But in the sixties, during the height of the Cold War, this research often went into more fantastical realms, even exploring whether ExtraSensory Perception (ESP) was possible. Thanks to FOIA, MuckRock looks back on the paranormal history of American surveillance."


In some circles, this study, performed at the behest of the Defense Technical Information Center, was thought to be one of the first looks into the ExtraSensory Perception in Dogs. Perhaps it served as the genesis for later research into the mysterious power of the mind.

If so, it was quite a humble beginning for the program. The research files were a closely held secret until a FOIA request I filed triggered their release in 2014, but the actual studies appear to be no more than an in-depth look at just how well dogs can smell.

Yes, in 1952 the DTIC gave Duke University's $37,547.00 — or $335,821.78 in today's dollars — to study how good the noses of dogs actually were.

The answer: Very, very good. The scientists mixed the oil of garlic cloves in increasing amounts of mineral oil in order to dilute it, and ultimately found that, even when mixed to be just .00000005% of the solution, dogs could still sniff out just five drops of the garlic mixture with 85% accuracy:

Useful bar trivia, no doubt, if the report had not been maintained as a closely held secret, requiring eight months from request to release and review from multiple components of the Army.

Perhaps a new GRILL FLAME program should be initiated to help requesters sense where their documents are.


Psychic dogs and enlisted men: the military's research into ESP [Michael Morisy/Muckrock]