The passage below is from Jellyfish age backwards by Nicklas Brendborg.
To test his theory on growth and longevity, McCay designed an experiment using rats. He divided the rats into three groups. The first group was fed normally, while the other two were fed a diet with significantly fewer calories than normal. McCay made sure the rats weren’t malnourished – they got all the vitamins and minerals they needed – just not enough calories. This type of diet has later been named ‘calorie restriction’.
As time went on, the rats in the experiment began to die, and McCay attentively noted their lifespans. After 1,200 days, only thirteen of the original 106 rats remained. Every single one of these rats was from one of the calorie-restricted groups. At the time, they had the dubious honour of being the oldest ever laboratory rats.
The rats seemed to prove McCay’s theory. Calorie restriction made them grow more slowly, and ultimately end up smaller, while also prolonging their life.
However, decades later, in the 1980s, two scientists, Richard Weindruch and Roy Walford, discovered that growth impediment isn’t actually necessary. Calorie restriction still prolongs the life of rodents even if they are allowed to grow to a normal size before their calorie intake is cut down.
Weindruch and Walford also proved that there is a linear relationship between how much you limit calories and how much longer rodents live. Mice fed in abundance live the shortest lives. Mice that are somewhat calorie-restricted live longer. And so it continues until we reach the longest-lived mice of all: those that have been calorie-restricted almost to the point of starvation.
In this passage I cannot grasp why ‘dubious’ was used in this context. I think Dr. McCay could successfully prove his theory that ‘calorie restriction’ leads to longevity. And the long-lived rats that proved that theory should be fittingly honoured for that. Then why ‘dubious’ should be used in this sentence? I’m in the dark.
Thanks in advance.
Stenka25I cannot grasp why ‘dubious’ was used in this context.
"the dubious honour of ..." is almost a fixed expression in English.
The writer here is questioning whether this is really an honour or not. To him it doesn't seem like he would consider it an honour to be the world's oldest rats.
Note in the examples below how the situation marked as "an honour" (AmE, honor) is much less than an honour and can even be more like something to be ashamed of.
He had the dubious honor of being the first person buried at the Payson Cemetery.
Vice President Richard Nixon, in 1961, had the dubious honor of announcing his own defeat.
For decades, heart disease has had the dubious honor of being the leading killer of Americans.
The top county in Illinois for deer-vehicle collisions is Cook, with the dubious honor of 995 accidents in 2007.
For the second year in a row, the dubious honor of America's highest sales tax goes to Tuba City, Arizona.