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Eye Sign: Two Required for Maximum Performance

by Silvio Mattacchione

Why do I write? Good question. I have kept pigeons since I was a very young boy. I started racing together with a friend, Frank Zoratto, at age 13. What do I remember most? My most vivid memory is that of floundering. Those people who were in a position to help a beginner, and a novice, just never bothered to do so! No one really cared, so long as they were winning, so long as they were competing, all was well (for them) in the world. I knew nothing of disease, no idea of canker, cocci. Never imagined that there was anything like E. coli. I had no idea of how to feed or train properly; I just didn’t have a clue. I loved my birds but no one cared, no one bothered, no one thought about the future welfare of this particular young man, nor of the future of this pastime to take the time and effort to actually educate him to be the best possible!

As I got older and began to formulate a rudimentary understanding of how to ask questions, I was confronted with the very real problem of disinformation. You know what I mean: 85 % truth mixed with 15% error. Enough truth to make things sound logical and then more than enough error to ensure that you would never succeed! Believe it or not, this is really the case even today. Truth mixed with enough error to ensure that you do not succeed, and that the person who feeds you this travesty can still, in his mind, hold the high moral ground in your presence. Yes, you actually believe these people to be friends.

Well, here is the reality: most will never help you get ahead because they see you as a competitor. They feel that everyone should learn the hard way—after all, they did! Why should they lay it out for you on a silver platter? Well, they are just dead wrong, shallow, and narrow-minded!

I help anyone who seriously asks for help because it really makes me feel good about myself! Their success is something I can enjoy along with them. Their success ensures the continuation of our hobby and it does so at a higher level than where we all began. Do you or I need to help? Well, no! But it really feels great when you do help someone. In doing so, you have a friend (most of the times, not always) and you ensure the future of our sport.

It is in this vein that I choose to write. I choose to write in order to force you to think! I choose to write to force you to weigh and consider your actions and their consequences. I choose to write so that you can feel your worth now and assist someone else in the future. I choose to help because there was no one out there who chose to help me as a young boy! Now you can choose to read and learn, or read and discard, or read and rant and rave, or read and enjoy, just so long as you choose to read! You now have a choice.

Virtually all theories associated with the keeping of pigeons are utter nonsense! These theories serve someone else but definitely do a disservice to you. Eye sign is the greatest of these vehicles of disinformation, but certainly no more or less destructive than theories regarding one tail feather, gaps between flights, armpit feathers, wing theory, and on and on ad nauseam! All of these theories are dangerous and counterproductive to your future growth and understanding. Once and for all I will give you freely the real secret in the successful keeping of racing pigeons. Are you ready? Here it is: There are no secrets! There it is. Now you have it. Once you learn this, the only real secret in our sport, you are on your way to succeeding to the level that your competence (or incompetence) will allow.

Let me begin by stating that in the writing of this article I have no individuals in mind. My statements and remarks are the result of observations made in the field. My comments are intended to make it abundantly clear to all and sundry, once and for all, that the so-called eye sign theory has nothing to do with science. That, at best, it is a totally subjective and inaccurate series of assumptions made for the sake of argumentation. It has never been logically and systematically studied by anyone. To the best of my knowledge, no range of evidence has ever been amassed nor presented, nor has the scientific method ever been used by any of its proponents. Though in our sport it is presented as fact, no one has ever been able to provide any information that in any way approaches objective reality. Nor has anyone anywhere provided even the most rudimentary material that would be taken seriously by any scientific body. Regardless of all claims to the contrary—and until someone provides hard facts and proves otherwise—this subject is neither based on fact nor on reality. It is fiction, pure and simple!

If these, my words, should bring a smile to your face; there is still hope for you. If, instead of the ability to smile and possibly laugh at oneself, an actual frown should manifest itself on your brow, then all I can really suggest is to pull out your notebooks, investigate what constitutes the scientific method, and prove me wrong. Finally, remember that proving that I am wrong is much different than just saying or stating that I am wrong.

In the sport of racing pigeons one of the greatest myths that we endure is that of eye sign. Eye sign the perfect example of pseudo-science. Eye sign in all its myriad forms. Need I say quackery, pure and simple. The proponents of this fiction (eye sign) will tell you how they have observed pigeons and seriously made a study of their eyes. They will relate how they have all studied books on iridology, pigeon physiology, anatomy of the eye, including eye muscle, eye motion, dilation, etc. In most cases they bamboozle you with anatomical details

It is hilarious to watch and listen as one supposed expert will deprecate all other self-proclaimed experts in order to give credence to their own better, newer, and more powerful, more foolproof system—that is, more foolproof than that of all the other eye sign quacks. All of these windbags deliver their message with an astounding air of confidence and seemingly irrefutable argumentation, a level of audacity that is breathtaking to behold.

Their supposed erudition—or should I insist on lack of—is legendary, and available to us all at just a nominal fee. Just in case you cannot afford to have us come to you, then please wait for the upcoming video or possibly CD and/or book. Their use of—or more accurately, lack of—exact, scientific terminology is astounding. Examples of this non-exacting scientific language are in order, so as to illustrate the exactness of what is being described. Examples of this terminology follow:

1) "The color should look blobbed on"

2) "The blobbier it looks, the better"

3) "You really want it to look like craters and canyons"

4) "Look for metal flecks"

5) "Look for rosettes"

I am sure that you will agree that such accurate, scientific terminology (blobbed, blobbier, craters, etc.) is surpassed only by its descriptive scientific content!

Graduates of MIT and Harvard no doubt! There certainly does seem to be a correlation with belief in eye sign and level of education. Education is extremely important; a friend of mine recently wrote as follows, "(R)eal believers in eye sign are men of little or no education. Education gives one the power to question and reason." Now, I agree with this generally, but not totally. I certainly would be the last person to say that only educated people have good common sense, for in fact, this is often not the case. In fact, education often blinds one in so many other areas that a whole other new set of problems are created. However, having stated this, I agree with my friend that generally (but not always) belief in eye sign and level of formal education are inversely proportional.

I am sure you have all seen the movie called The Flim-Flam Man. Audaciousness, the more incredible the claims, the more mesmerized the average mark becomes. Audacity pure and simple! After all, who is there to call the bluff?

However, before the eye sign experts are exposed, they deliver a powerful story: "You know I have handled 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 pigeons in my lifetime. I have studied the eyes of more birds than you have ever seen. Actually, more birds than I care to ever see." Then these self-same wizards assert that they can remember, if not the eye of every bird they have ever handled, at least 50% of all the eyes of all the birds they have ever handled. Imagine 20,000 to 100,000 eyes committed to memory. No doubt every eye has been photographed, digitized, and color corrected—Adobe Photoshop can work wonders on improving color, depth, and anything else you would like to see in an eye—and placed on file for detailed commentary and future study. What? It hasn’t? The rest of us poor mortals find it hard to describe and illustrate the colors of the eyes of our wives and children! Oh, yes, but then we do not proclaim the special attributes that these pigeon Grand Pooh-bahs do! Yes, this, no doubt, is science.

Now, just in case my brief reference to the design software has left you wondering, here is the reality. When you see a photo of an eye reproduced, a number of steps were required in order to capture it. First, the proud owner contacts a photographer—some good, some not so good. This person may or may not have really good equipment to take these photos. In most cases, whatever he can afford, and rarely the best. The film he chooses to use may or may not be the best suited to the project, in most cases, whatever his budget will allow. He may or may not have appropriate time and/or lighting to do his job well, keeping in mind that he needs to take a lot of photos to make a living. He finally shoots the photo, and guess what? We are one generation away from the actual reality. Next, this photo needs to be digitized. Now we can use a slide scanner, a flatbed scanner, or a drum scanner with many different styles and prices and qualities to choose from. Guess what, people—designers, photographers, or whatever in-between—usually make do with what they can afford. Well, the image is now scanned, we are one more generation away from the eye we started with, and it has taken two or three separate people to get there. Now we need to produce film in order to go to print. You guessed it, another generation away. Finally, the pressman prints it. Now do you honestly believe that that eye that the photographer shot and the end product you are viewing and attempting to make a critical decision on in the magazine are in any way close to the eye of the real bird? I have printed too many books to do anything but smile at this concept. Yes, very pretty, but accurate? I wonder!

The eye sign expert reminds me of the snake charmer who plays a deadly game with the serpent; so long as he rocks back and forth in perfect rhythm and sync he avoids the deadly bite. When the serpent tires of the game he strikes and the snake charmer is no longer eulogized by the masses but rather pitied for his arrogance. He is seen for what he is, vulnerable! The attack has occurred, the bite delivered, and his supreme arrogance and pomposity have been exposed. The result is no less than the instant lose of credibility. Either way, the charm and the charmer have come to an end! In the case of eye sign, when will the deadly bite be delivered that finally brings the absurdity and pomposity to an end?

As far as eyes are concerned, here is what is important: all pigeons should have at least two for maximum performance. This is not necessarily essential, given the results of data collected in tests using frosted lenses, but it is certainly to be preferred!

What has happened to clarity in both thought and definition? What has happened to exactness of meaning over the past two generations? What has happened to one's understanding and use of plain English? Without exactness of language, we are all doomed. No progress can possibly be made without clear definitions understood by all concerned. As was predicted by George Orwell, today in all levels of society the use of newspeak is rampant. Words have become inexact. They carry messages other than the obvious message they were originally conceived of to carry. Today we are no longer sure of where someone stands or what he believes by just listening to the words that he utters. Everything is now relative! Everyone acts as if there are no longer absolutes. You may hear the words, but the real meaning has been successfully obscured. This then gives the obfuscators maximum room to maneuver—to their benefit and to our detriment!

Eye sign has been inaccurately referred to as a theory. The use of the word theory is an attempt to clothe eye sign with a semblance of science and legitimacy. Well, try as they might, this is just not the case, and it is only in looking at and relearning the true meanings of the words used that we can avoid the pitfalls.

The real questions are, "What is science?" and "What is the scientific method?" According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term scientific method dates from 1854 and is defined as, "The principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses."

Yes, even at this very early stage things become clearer and many more questions are raised in our minds than answered: Where are the detailed notes kept by these supposed eye sign experts? Has anyone ever seen any? I certainly have not! I dare say no one has ever seen any because the reality is that none have ever been systematically kept by any of the supposed experts! What procedures have they established? What is the protocol? Can they give evidence of a systematic pursuit of knowledge? All of these questions may be safely answered in the negative. That is, unless otherwise proven, none of the supposed experts has established any procedures or protocols, nor have they given any evidence of a systematic pursuit of knowledge!

Have they recognized and enunciated what the problem really is? Have they tested the hypothesis? These self-proclaimed experts have neither enunciated the problem nor have they even remotely begun to test the hypothesis! As in most things, they have skipped all of these unnecessary trifles and proclaimed a theory—totally untested, totally unformulated, totally stillborn, totally undefined—a newspeak special that is ever changing, totally elastic, always in the state of becoming!

To make many of our readers understand what is being done, I will borrow the computer term vaporware, that which they say exists but in reality does not exist. Now isn’t that more appropriately the enigma? Eye sign is many things, but there is not a hint of science associated with this pastime.

In our dictionary definition of the term scientific method, the word hypothesis appeared. What possible meaning does this word have? How can it help us in our pursuit of the truth? Hypothesis, from the Greek hypotithenai (to put under, to suppose), dates from 1656 and means "An assumption or concession made for the sake of argument." Further, "A tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences." Well, we continue to make progress. Hypothesis implies insufficient evidence to provide more than a tentative explanation, or more to the point, a starting point for the sake of argument, actually just a supposition, in lay terms, a guess. Now, why do they not just say that?

The term theory is always used in reference to eye sign. The word, dating from 1592, theory comes from the Latin theoria. What does it mean? The same dictionary earlier referenced states, "The analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another." Theory implies a greater range of evidence and a greater likelihood of truth. Imagine that our self-proclaimed experts, unable to formulate a hypothesis, move right past "Go" and proceed to use a word that implies a greater range of evidence. Here is a situation where there is no evidence at all tendered, but the implication adopted is one of a greater or weightier degree of evidence!

In preparing for this article, I came across a wonderful paragraph that I transcribed. Since it was very late one night and I was very tired, I failed to note reference to the book from which it was taken. For this lack of care, I beg the author's forgiveness. Here is what he had to say:

"Part of the problem has hinged upon the difficulty that by simply attempting to demonstrate a correlation between two events you do not prove causality. One has to show or demonstrate just what the mechanism is, and objectively demonstrate each step between the two correlated events, before cause and effect are proven. This is in most cases a very wise policy, but it is unevenly applied in sciences. Orthodox theorems are rarely subjected to valid critical review based upon their failures to meet strict criteria."

Why do I insist on the use of the word myth in reference to eye sign? Well, actually, it is quite simple. The etymology of the word, dating from 1830, is from the Greek mythos, meaning, "A popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; an unfounded or false notion." What facts or evidence exist to support the eye sign myth? Well, nothing exists to support this notion! Certainly nothing that I have ever seen presented. Well, then what is the real status of this guesswork on the part of the supposed experts of this non-theory. In one word, it amounts to the words anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal, an adjective dating from the year 1836, means, "Based on or consisting of reports or observations of unscientific observers." Eye sign, therefore, consists of and relates to anecdotes—nothing more and nothing less! Anecdotes are not science, just a series of conclusions based upon inference from presumptive and defective evidence. Just another way of saying, "A conclusion based upon surmise and guesswork!"

I can hear the saber rattling now across the world. The Australians, the British, the Americans, the Canadians, the South Africans, all the experts and their hangers on, all charging one poor Canadian in defense of what? A myth? Put your word-processors down, pick up your dictionaries find out the meaning of the word science. Work diligently, discard all of your anecdotal evidence, observe, prepare, study, and remember that having a temper tantrum and insisting it is so does not constitute fact nor proof! Well, I have called your bluff. Do not come back with anything that is not supported with fact.

To all of you novices out there, you have no further excuse. Be careful not to end up a dupe, meaning "One who is easily deceived or cheated." Learn to really think and discern. Trust above all things your common sense. If an idea or concept—or yes, even a supposed theory—really sounds goofy, then it probably is goofy. Let us really think about what I have said. If there was even a shred of truth to this notion of eye sign, then we should be able to find it being applied to similar breeding and racing activities—regardless of the type of animal being bred—around the world. Therefore, in what other breeding and racing activities is eye sign used? Yes, I can hear the nay-sayers now: "But a pigeon is not a horse or a cow or a dog." I retort that the rules of genetic inheritance do not change because you are a racing pigeon and not a race horse or a race dog! Certainly, we pigeon people are not the only enlightened people in the world.

Since this eye sign theory is so touted by the most learned (I wonder) in our ranks, I should be safe to assume that other industries involved in breeding and racing must be using it as well? Surely, the horse racing industry must use this theory? After all, there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in racing and breeding horses. What’s that you say? Not a chance? Why? Well, because eye sign is bogus. Well, then it must certainly be used in dog racing? Again, not a chance! Why? Well, for the same reason the horse racing people do not use it! It's total nonsense! Not a shred of science that anyone can point to, no evidence, no fact, and no documentation!

Well, maybe these other racing industries are too conservative and not open to radical new theories. Is it possibly used in other industries—possibly cattle production? No, again! I’ve got it; the poultry people must really use this to select their best breeding lines! Ah, you must be kidding. The chicken people do not use our theory either! Well, why not? The answer, pure and simple, is that there is no truth to it, and if these ideas were expressed to breeders of any other performance animals they would seriously wonder whether all of our pistons were firing at the same time!

Can you imagine that we, the pigeon people, have an exclusive on a theory that allows us to select for breeding and racing ability while no other established breeding and racing industry has even twigged to our knowledge! Let us be real about this. Let us not confuse ourselves any more than absolutely necessary. Eye sign is a totally goofy idea with not a shred of evidence or science to support it. Yes, that is a fact! The blind leading the blind!

Whether you are a novice just starting off or a novice who has kept pigeons for 30 years, your road to success does not reside in a theory—any theory. It is certainly not in a bottle marked "Secret Potion." It is in the basics, in the details—what I call the nine-to-five theory! Learn to observe your birds day in and day out, watch for the clues that they give you every day, keep notes, and keep them healthy. Work with your birds every day all year round.

Bring back the love that you had for your birds as a boy. Forget the talk of money—as generally speaking there is none to be made in North America. Forget the need to win at all costs; it really is not worth losing your family, wife, and friends over. Forget everything else.

Treat the sport as an incredible way to find peace and relaxation in an otherwise unforgiving world. Let the love of pigeons—the awe you felt when they first came home—shine through and you will really be the master and champion in all things.

Silvio Mattacchione