Supervolcanos, Bison, Meat & Health, and More

April 8, 2014

Bison in Trouble:

A number of articles are making the rounds speculating that videos and reports of the mass exodus of animals from Yellowstone National Park coupled a with recent seismic activity may be sign that the giant Supervolcano that lies underneath the park is ready to blow. If this were to happen it would spell the end for millions and dumps choking ash across a large chunk of the US. But as I have learned, before you attempt to explain a strange phenomenon it is best to establish that the phenomenon exists in the first place. Sharron Hill of Doubtful News traces this story back to an article in the Epoch Times (a paper run Falun Gong adherents) in which the author cites two bloggers as sources. One bloggers was quoted, “Whether I believe this, or whether I don’t believe the story or not, I don’t know. I can tell you this story I saw this morning about the buffaloes running the street … whether or not it’s because of any activity in Yellowstone or not, I don’t know,…But I’ll tell you this, whatever the case may be, that their running away from Yellowstone is an alert of some sort.”

Except that the video cited shows bison running into the park rather than fleeing it. But even if reports of animals leaving Yellowstone are true they would not be unusual. In fact this is precisely the time of year when we should be seeing more such movement. As noted by chief of public affairs for Yellowstone, Al Nash,  “We do have bison, elk and other animals that have moved outside the park recently, but they’re doing that because it’s the depth of winter, food is a little hard to find in places inside Yellowstone, and they tend to migrate at this time of the winter outside the park to lower elevations where they think there might be something to eat that’s easier to get at. When the snow melts off and things start to green up, those very same animals will walk right back into the park.”

But while this latest hubbub is nothing more than wild speculation, not all is well and good with the bison of Yellowstone. Reduced from a population of millions that spanned large portions of the country to a small fraction of that in scattered herds, the vast majority in commercial operations. Only a handful of wild herds still exist with Yellowstone’s being the largest. Over the years these last of the wild bison have been faced a politically motivated assault largely driven by cattle ranching interests with the scientifically tenuous excuse the risk of transmission of brucellosis to domestic cattle. Because of this the bison face being chased back into the park or being shot by hunters when they cross the imaginary boundaries of the park. Inside the park officials also trap the bison where they are then shipped off for slaughter as part of a population management plan. The current plan calls for the slaughter of 600 – 800 bison over the course of the winter.

But these actions have not been without opposition. Perhaps the most active organization on this issue is the Buffalo Field Campaign, who have waged battles in the courts and on the ground to protect the Yellowstone bison. To learn more about the BFC and what you may be able to do to help check out this interview on Animal Voices Radio and visit the BFC website for periodic updates and news.

Vegetarians Vs Meat Eaters:

Ginny Messina, aka The Vegan RD, has taken on the latest piece of research being passed by smug meat-eaters,

Vegetarians Found to Have More Cancer, Allergies, and Mental Health Disorders.” That’s the alarming headline from a website called Science 2.0 (which also declares vegetarianism to be a “fad diet.”)

They are referring to new research in Austrian vegetarians published in the journal PLoS One. The study compared self-reported health among 1,320 subjects who were divided into groups according to the type of diet they consumed. Although the media jumped all over it, there has been plenty of more thoughtful discussion among nutrition experts about the shortcomings of this research…

Please read the full piece here.

More to Chew On:

I think it important for people to challenge themselves. So with that in mind I want to share a recent post from James McWilliams titled, “Veganism’s Shaky Pillars”.
Let me know what you think.

My Interview, Whaling News, & More

April 2, 2014

My Interview:

This past weekend I was interviewed for the Which Side Podcast and the episode has now been released. The show format is pretty casual and we end up talking about everything from skepticism, veganism, Mormonism, to train hopping, and more. You can stream or download it directly here. Give it a listen and let me know what you think

Whaling News:

Big news is making the rounds, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to halt their Southern Ocean whaling program and that while the program “involves activities that can broadly be characterized as scientific research” that “the evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives”. Ultimately concluding that such whaling permits issued by Japan were not “for purposes of scientific research”.

Ive written before about my personal belief that Japan’s “scientific” whaling program is little more than a commercial slaughter operation hiding behind the guise of science. I was not alone in this assessment either, with many conservation scientists saying the same. Now at last there may be some legal vindication. But the way this development has been reported has been somewhat confusing. Does this mean an end for Japanese whaling? What are the actual implications of this ruling? For a clearer picture please check out this great post from the folks at Southern Fried Science where they break it down.

 Oil Pulling:

I’ve been hearing a lot about oil pulling from other vegans lately. If you are not familiar with oil pulling the idea is that you take an unrefined oil and swish it around in your mouth, sometimes for as long as 20 minutes or a half hour. Proponents of the practices cite all sorts of health benefits from improved dental health (the advice to brush well afterwards probably has something to do with that) to detoxifying the body (a nonsense claim) and curing cancer. As evidence they often point to personal anecdotes as well as the ancient origins of oil pulling in Ayurvedic “medicine”. But the plural of anecdote is not data and tradition does not establish effectiveness. To find out what the science actually says about oil pulling please check out this post titled Oil Pulling Your Leg over on the Science Based Medicine blog.


I tend to not follow the whole “vegan” Hollywood/celebrity scene. So I was alerted to this next piece of news by Rebecca Watson of SkepChick. It seems that Ellen DeGeneres has been promoting “psychic” Theresa Caputo, aka the Long Island Medium, on her show. I probably shouldn’t be surprised but I am disappointed. In her post Rebecca calls Ellen out and asks her to not promote such unethical hucksters. You can check it out here.

You may have also heard of how Ellen raised 1.5 million dollars for St Jude’s Children Hospital and Humane Society of the United States with her tweeted selfie from the Oscars while at the same time raising a lot of controversy among animal advocates and the public with her choice of charities. The Canadian Inuit community in particular has taken exception to what they view as an attack on their community by the HSUS campaign against the seal hunt, responding to Ellen’s tweet with their own “#sealfie” twitter campaign. I feel that issues like this can be hard to approach for animal advocates in mainstream culture. I’m not prepared to tackle this issue myself however I highly recommend that everyone read two of Dylan Powell’s pieces on indigenous communities and vegan activism titled, “Veganism in the Occupied Territories: Anti-Colonialism and Animal Liberation” and “Shadowboxing: An Animal Liberationist Perspective on the Conservative Administration, The Commercial SealHunt, and #InuitCounterProtest” and  take some time to reflect. Hopefully a more nuanced conversation can be had in the vegan community along with more bridge building between communities.

Eat My Shorts 5

March 30, 2014

Tony Alamo & Trader Joes:

Readers know that I’m no fan of cults. So I was appalled to learn that Trader Joe’s in Canyon Country, Ca, has been donating food to Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, a cult lead by an imprisoned child abuser. I’m certainly not opposed to charity but as Carrie Poppy explains,

Unfortunately, rather than simply offering the food to those who need it, the ministry (operating under the name 21st Century Tabernacle) gives food only to those who come to its nightly services, then use these services to convince vulnerable visitors to become part of the church, often giving up their entire savings and all of their subsequent income to the church, says a source.

If you have never heard about Tony Alamo and his church then check out this investigation of the church on the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast.

Skeptical Punk Patches:

Got some pants in need of patching? Wanna get your denim vest looking good for the next Skeptics in the Pub? Well Jesse Markus, AKA Juicky Karkass, a punk-rapper based out of Portland has you covered. You can buy these patches by clicking here. The Novellas patch was actually based off a design I suggested. Definitely my favorite…well actually, that NDT patch is pretty awesome too!

Got your own design ideas? Personally I want a Millions of Damn Chiropractors patch.

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014:

The date for The Amazing Meeting 2014 has been announced, July 10th-13th. As with previous years I’m really going to try to attend and organize another vegan meet-up that is bigger and better than ever before. I look forward to TAM all year and am only able to attend because of the generosity of others.

If you want to join me at TAM but can’t afford the ticket price then I encourage you to apply for a grant yourself. It is still fairly early so I think you have a good chance if you apply soon. If you see me there say “Hi”, I’ll be the one with the face full of Ronald’s donuts.

Room for Rod?:

To finish off I want to just leave you with something to chew on with the following piece from Ian Smith titled, Is There No Room for Rod Coronado in the Animal Rights Movement? The Problem with Veganism as the Moral Baseline. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Eat My Shorts 4

March 21, 2014

Meat as Bad as Smoking?:

Articles are making the rounds about a study that supposedly shows that eating meat was as bad for you as smoking. Vegans love this kinda of stuff, it really feeds their confirmation bias (just make sure that confirming evidence is vegan). But the spoilsports over at the National Health Service (UK) are calling foul,

The warning was raised in a press release about a large study which found that for people aged 50-65, eating a lot of protein was associated with an increased risk of dying.

However, the study, which assessed the diets of Americans in a single 24-hour period (rather than long-term), found in those aged over 65 that a high protein diet was actually associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause or from cancer. These differing findings meant that overall there was no increase in risk of death, or from dying of cancer with a high protein diet.

So don’t blindly repost whatever comes across your path on the net. Because chances are it is not what it seems. For a break down of the study please visit the NHS link above.

Oh No Ross and Carrie!:

There are plenty of science and rationalists podcasts out there, however many tend to repeat either the same basic format of a panel chatting about news items or a host interviewing a knowledgeable guest. But then there is the Oh No Ross and Carrie show. Rather than just talk about fringe claims, religion, and pseudoscience Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy (Fun Fact: Carrie is a former PETA spokesperson and current vegan) jump right into the thick of it, joining groups and investigating for themselves. In the course of the show they have joined the Mormon church (LDS), visited the lair of mini-mall Satanists, infiltrated an evangelical cult, hung out with the Sihks, consulted psychics,  and visited quack doctors of all stripes. Perhaps my favorite investigation they did was on the Raelians, a science-loving, free love UFO cult started by a French race car driver. Over all the show is very entertaining and I highly recommend checking it out.

If you like what you hear then please consider making a donation to help fund future investigations.

More Ex-Vegans:

The latest ex-vegan buzz comes from a post over on OXJane where Johanna DeBiase she used to be a “fascist vegan” but is now a conflicted carnivore. See if you can spot some of the things that made me groan,

After six months of subsisting on a purely vegan diet, I began to have seemingly unrelated health issues. I went to a  naturopath who was impressed by my good eating habits. I did not substitute sugar for meat like most vegetarians did, and I ate whole foods. However, I refused to take vitamin supplements due to an aversion toward pills. My doctor introduced me to some great nutritional food supplements and gave me a series of B-12 shots to get me started. Yet as more test results came back, I found out that I had dangerously low cholesterol that no plant could cure.

I broke up with veganism a year later when I broke up with Abe. Maybe this proved that my heart wasn’t really in it. The breakup was bad, and I was miserable. In my misery, what did I crave more than anything? Black tea with cream, not soy milk; thick milky cream. I moved to Alaska, where tofu was as rare as indoor plumbing. I started eating subsistence meat, fresh caught salmon and road kill moose (seriously). I justified this kind of meat-eating; the animal lived a free and wild life. I avoided dairy for a long time, but eventually gave into it when I met my husband. When I became pregnant with my daughter, I had a hamburger for the first time in 20 years and it was really fucking good.

Early last year, I decided to try veganism again and it was nothing like it was in my twenties. I was sick, often. When I ingested homeopathic medicines, they didn’t work and made me feel sicker. I began eating eggs and dairy in hopes that this might help, but they also made me feel sick.

Since then, I have experimented with a variety of cleanses and diets trying to figure out what works best for my body. Through trial and error, I soon discovered that I am unable to digest beans, sprouted or otherwise, and that the only way I can digest eggs or dairy is to eat meat. In other words, being a healthy vegetarian is basically impossible for me at this time in my life.

Naturopath couldn’t help you out? Homeopathic medicines didn’t work? Real shocker there.

But do ex-vegans’ stories make the case against vegan diets? Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD, addresses this question in her aptly named post “Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Vegan Diets“.

Leaflet Study:

The folks at Animal Charity Evaluators have released some results from their Fall 2013 Leafleting Outreach Study. I’m wary of putting much weight on such small studies and think that animal advocacy research is still in its infancy but I am glad to see a more rational approach gain ground among activists. For an analysis of the study see here.

Eat My Shorts 3

March 14, 2014

I’m back with a few more links for y’all.


I’m glad to announce that the Bring Frank N. Foode to Life campaign was more than successful. Not only did they raise enough for their initial goal of producing Frank plush, they also raised the funds to produce a GE papaya friend for Frank. So who is gonna buy me a papaya plush as a gift? No, seriously.

A Vegan Skeptics Guide:

As Ive mentioned before, I’m an avid podcast listener. Probably my favorite podcast is the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. I discovered it a number years ago upon getting my first mp3 player and while looking for science news to keep me occupied at work. I quickly listened through the entire back catalog of shows and have kept up to date with it ever since. So I was glad to hear on the latest episode that Steven Yenzer, a vegan skeptic from the United States, wrote in with the following email,

As a vegan skeptic, I often find myself in arguments with omnivores who seem to rely almost exclusively on logical fallacies to justify their diets. Examples include: – ‘Humans have been eating meat for tens of thousands of years…’ (Argument from antiquity) – ‘Lions hunt and kill animals. Humans are no different It’s natural to eat meat.’ (Naturalistic fallacy) One I hear a lot though, is the question of ‘Well what would we do with all the animals that already exist? Should we just kill them? Stop them from reproducing?’ Of course, this has nothing to do with the question of whether it’s ethically acceptable to raise and kill animals for food. It may be an unsolved problem, but it doesn’t justify a continuation of that policy. So is this just a red herring? Non-sequitur? The latter also appears a lot, as in ‘Harvesting vegetables kills insects!’ and ‘Vegetables are bad for the environment, too!’ Thanks!

The hosts discussed the email and had a small debate over the ethics of using animals for food. One of the hosts who is a pecsatarian wrote her own follow up to the episode to address some point she felt were missed. I have had many of the same experiences as Steven here whenever veganism or animal rights comes up even among rationalists. If I hear one more person ask about the restaurant at the end of the universe I’ll scream. Not much really came out of the discussion on the podcast but I recommend listening to it and responding to the follow up.

More Anti-Vax Nonsense?:

Gary Francione, prominent abolitionist vegan author , apparently doesn’t believe in vaccination according to a new post from Speaking of Research, a staunchly pro-animal research organization. If the video represents his actual words, rather than something taken far out of context, then this is very concerning. Anti-vaccination nonsense is already widespread amount many animal activists to the point that some refuse vaccination not only for themselves but for their companion animals. The last thing we need is for a prominent figure in the movement to fan the flames of irrationality. I’ve discussed the importance of a science-based approach to vaccination here and elsewhere.

If you know when and where the speech in the post took place or know where to access full video then please let me know.

Cranking It Out:

The Pythgorean Crank is back with a post of Quick Cranks with a number of items including one on death by Durian.

Kick the Kale:

Kale is great, though Im no where near convinced that it is anywhere close to as good as some other vegans tell it. In a recent post The VeganRD Ginny Messina writes about why you might want to curb your kale chip habit, “We vegans love our cruciferous veggies—kale, collards, broccoli, and bok choy—in part because they are excellent sources of calcium. But, they are quite a bit lower in potassium than other greens like spinach and chard.” Before you freak out too much she goes on to say that she is, “not suggesting that you stop eating kale (vegan sacrilege!). It’s just a good idea to remember the rule of variety when it comes to fruits and vegetables.”

Eat My Shorts 2

March 6, 2014


By now I’m sure you have heard about Subway Restaurants removing the “yoga mat” additive azodicarbonamide from their bread after a brief campaign by food blogger Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe. What you may not have heard was that it is all based on a bunch of pseudo-scientfic scare mongering. Enjoy your salad on a roll & see Steven Novella’s post on the NeuroLogica blog for the full story.

Viral photos:

Human beings are plauged by confirmation bias and the vegan and animal rights community is no exception. Tim Farley demonstrates this nicely in his recent Skeptool post titled “See how to debunk viral photos in seconds using image search” in which he addresses the following viral tweet that is still making the rounds,

As Tim points out this is not a picture of animal testing at all. Rather the image depicts a large number of cats that were seized from an animal hoarder in a mass spay and neuter clinic in preparation for adoption. Spaying and neutering is something were certainly don’t want to discourage. So read Tim’s post and do you homework folks.

Speaking of Animal Testing…:

Animal Rights activists can often be found making not just ethical but scientific arguments against such research by stating that it is ineffective and can not provide useful data. But such an unuanced position appears uninformed to most working researchers and is unlikely to be convincing. If we are to be viewed as anything more than a luddite fringe then our knowledge and arguments must keep pace with reality. As Noah Lewis states in his essay “Bad Science or Bad Argument: The Role of Science Arguments in the Animal Experimentation Debate“,

When publicly arguing against animal experimentation, the most common strategy criticizes the scientific validity of the experiments (known as “bad science” arguments). Activists claim that animal experimentation is wasteful, redundant, inapplicable, and often harmful to human animals. That an animal rights group would make these arguments seems natural: they simply want to see an end to animal experimentation–how that is achieved is irrelevant. However, the tension arising from attempting to use arguments from within science to question the underlying moral framework does not advance, and ultimately undermines, progress toward animal rights.

I feel that Noah is correct and that activist need to reject bad arguments and be aware of feeding their confirmation bias. In addition to the above essay, the following conversation between Dr Ray Greek, co-founder of Americans For Medical Advancement and prominent animal research critic, and Dr Steven Novella, neurologist and host of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, on this issue is well worth the listen.

Life After the Lab:

No matter how good our arguments are we must recognize that society has a long way ahead on the issue of animal research. It is easy to get angry or frustrated and feel powerless. For the vast majority of animals in labs today there is no hope. They will live out their lives in those cages. But a lucky few will make it out and when they do they could use our help. Currently New Life Animal Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary focusing on helping animals freed from research labs, is trying to raise money to build an enclosure so that they can secure the release of 20-25 pigeons from a psychology lab. So if you can send a few bucks their way.

Whole Woo:

I have a love/hate relationship with Whole Foods market. On the one hand they can be one of the only sources of some specialty products. On the other hand their business is practically centered around pseudoscience. So I was glad to see the following piece titled “Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience” by Michael Schulson calling them out. Check it out when you have a chance and let me know what you think.

Cosmos Premier!:

The popular science program Cosmos is back! I thought it would be impossible to replace the awesomeness that was Carl Sagan but I couldn’t agree with their choice of host more. Astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson will taking the helm of the Spaceship of the Imagination to guide a whole new generation through the wonders of our cosmos. The series kicks off tonight, so check it out.

This last story comes via Sharon Hill of Doubtful News. A picture of an apparently giant ( and dead) monster bat is making the rounds. But as Sharon points out this was actually a peaceful fruit-munching flying fox. People should be better informed about nature. Ignorance like this could lead more people to harm these gentle creatures.

Eat My Shorts

March 3, 2014

As some of my readers may already be aware, since starting this blog I have gone back to school to earn a degree in biotechnology. This decision was in large part inspired by the research done for this blog as well as encouragement from readers. So to everyone who takes the time to read this thing, thank you. Unfortunately going to class has left me with less time and energy to devote to blogging. I have never been a fan of quickie blogging. Thoroughly sifting through information often takes times and I try to do the best job I can when tackling a subject. But I do wish I could post more often. So I’m going to try a little experiment. In the coming weeks I will periodically being posting about recent blogs, news, podcasts, and other items of interest. So let’s kick this off.

Roundup, Roundup, everywhere…:

You may have seen a news item making the rounds online lately stating, “Roundup Weedkiller Found in 75% of Air and Rain Samples, Gov. Study Finds”. This item has been touted by anti-gmo and pro-organic advocates as further proof of the agricultural apocalypse but what does it really say? In a post titled “Roundup in 75% of Air? What the Report Actually Says” on the Biology Fortified blog, Kevin Folta argues that the report has been misrepresented and that,

“Basically, the paper says that when you get into an ag area you can find ag chemicals, if you have sophisticated equipment and plenty of know-how. The authors discuss that they sample two different sites with different crops growing, so that could affect data and account for some of the weirdness and spikes observed.. It does not change the take-home message that agricultural chemicals volatilize and persist in the environment, so it is best to minimize their use, use chemicals with less environmental impact, and choose seeds that require less chemical.

That is exactly what GM crops do, and exactly what the data shows.

The reality is almost always more interesting than the hype. I suggest reading the post for the full story.

The Never Ending Debate:

I’ve written a lot about fluoridation before. It seems there are an endless number of claims from anti-fluoridationists to deal with. So I was pleased to see this in-depth debate between retired research chemist Ken Perrott and the leading voice of the anti-fluoridation movement Paul Connett. The debate takes the form of a series of blog posts and can take a while to get through. But for anyone interested in the subject this isa must read.

Killing Marius:

This piece comes from Canadian activist-powerhouse Dylan Powell on the killing of Marius the Giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo last month. In this piece Dylan urges us to remember “that all of these situations are avoidable. They are problems which we constructed and they are problems which we can dismantle. Although the pictures out of Copenhagen are chilling – they point to the social dynamic of accepting these practices as normal, educational, or inevitable.”

Praise Satan…?:

This next piece I have to admit is just plan weird. I’ve written a good bit about cults on this blog before but in this piece blogger Eisel Mazard lays down an even stranger tale of how a Satanic cult morphed into the nations largest no-kill sanctuary. Truthfully I don’t know what to think about it, you just gotta read it for yourself. And please let me know if you have more information on Best Friends and the Process Church.

Praise Seitan!:

In this piece blogger and RD Ginny Messina tackles anti-grain myths such as those popularized by books such as Wheat Belly. The take home message is, “Grains may not have the robust nutrient profiles or disease-fighting reputations of other plant foods. But whole grains contribute lots of fiber and are a good source of minerals in vegan diets. They are also hearty and appealing. I eat them moderately but I eat them every day. And until the actual research shows me I shouldn’t, I don’t see any reason to stop.”

Vegans with a K?:

I listen to a lot of podcasts, or rather I used to. Lately I’ve been making less time for them, however I still try to squeeze at least a few in each week and keep up with my favorite ones. One of the podcasts I listen to on occasion is Skeptics with a K put out by the Merseyside Skeptic Society. In episode #115 the hosts (all of who eat meat) discuss meat eating and ethics, at times making some cringe worthy arguments. But I recommend listening to it and dropping them a line with your thoughts. Maybe you will be the one to convince them.

Help Bring Frank N. Foode to Life!

February 5, 2014

Update 3/15/14:

Thanks to plenty of generous support I am pleased to see that the campaign to bring Frank N. Foode to life has been successful! They even raised enough money to produce a second plush, a GE papaya.

Donate to Bring Frank N. Foode to Life.

It is no secret that I’m a big fan of the folks at Biology Fortified, Inc. (BFI) and all the work they do to educate and facilitate a rational discourse about plant biology, genetics, and modern breeding technology through their website, social media, and in person. The Biofortified blog, authored by a variety of scientists and students, always has an interesting post and often addresses current controversies in agriculture and biotechnology. The BFI forum also offers a civil atmosphere in which to ask questions and discuss. The folks at BFI have also undertaken the ambitious project of cataloging peer-reviewed research on the safety of genetically engineered crops into a searchable database called the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA).

Now the good people at BFI are embarking on another venture, to bring their spectacled, white haired (or maybe those are tassels) corn mascot Frank N. Foode to life.

Frank N. Foode

The original Frank N. Foode plush was designed and made by Karl Haro von Mogel, a Ph.D. Candidate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics and generally crafty person, and has since traveled the world getting his picture taken while starting conversations about science and agriculture. Right from the start Frank was a real hit!

Michael Pollan w/ Anastasia Bodnar & Karl Haro von Mogel, two of the brains behind BFI, pose w/ Frank.

Frank has been so popular that over the years BFI has received many requests from others asking if they could buy their own plush Frank N. Foode. And after a well executed April Fools prank demand only skyrocketed. I think Frank is so nifty that I even dressed up as him for Halloween one year.

Yes, I am a dork.

Finally you may get a chance to own a Frank N. Foode plushie of your very own! The folks at BFI have set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to redesign and mass produce Frank N. Foode plushies. So if you want to help make this project a reality (and get some cool prizes) then click the link at the top of the page to donate.

A Conspiracy in Zanesville?

January 1, 2014

On January 1st 2014 Ohio’s Dangerous Wild Animal Act restricting the ability of private individuals to “acquire, buy, sell, trade, or transfer possession or ownership” of a variety of wild or exotic species will go into full effect. While this law may not be perfect and is more focused on public safety than the animals’ wellbeing or challenging the property status of animals, it does take a much needed step in a state where laws regarding the exotic and wild animal trade are so loose that Ohio Governor John Kasich likened to the situation to the “wild wild west”. For years activists had been working on pushing such restrictions in Ohio making only a little headway with a temporary ban that Gov. Kasich let expire. That is until a major tragedy shook up the state and put the national spotlight on the wild and exotic animal trade.

Sometime in the evening of October 18,  2011 Zanesville, OH resident Terry Thompson took his own life with a gunshot to the head but not before releasing that majority of the more than 50 exotic and wild animals including big cats, bears, wolves and primates that he kept on his land. Terry had recently been released from a year in prison on federal gun charges and was reportedly “distraught” over the prospect of his impending court ordered home confinement. By the time Terry got out of prison he was feeling overwhelmed with the situation on his farm. Sources close to Terry also reported that he was upset over marital issues and may have believed his wife was cheating on him. Whatever Thompson’s reasons, the way he took his life ended in more than just tragedy for himself.

Police had made dozens of visits to Thompson’s place over the years¹ for the odd loose animal or other violations but when they responded to a call about a bear and lion on the loose at the Thompson farm they had no idea what they would find. As they arrived shortly before dark they attempted to asses and contain the situation, but they soon found themselves overwhelmed. It was not just a single bear and lion on the prowl, it appeared as if Thompson’s entire menagerie of over 50 animals was on the loose. Making matters worse it appeared that Terry had cut the fences of at least a few of the cages making them useless. With little daylight left and little ability to tranquilize the animals (at least one attempt failed) the Sheriff’s Department made the decision to shoot to kill. While some of the deaths may have been avoided, it was a decision later defended by wild animal experts as the only realistic option. I will not go into the gory details here (which you can read for yourself), but in the end 18 tigers, 17 African lions, 6 black bears,  2 grizzles, 3 mountain lions, 2 wolves, and 1 baboon lay dead (1 macaque was missing and presumed by police to be eaten by one of the big cats). Only 3 leopards², 2 primates, and a grizzly bear survived the incident and were later returned to Thompson’s wife Marian.

Activists and lawmakers were spurred into action following the Zanesville tragedy proposing ways to prevent such an incident from happening again. The result was the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act. While definitely not going as far as some animal advocates wanted, this act was welcomed by many. But the act has opposition as well. As one can guess the most vocal opponents are exotic animal owners themselves. Leading the charge is Joe “Exotic” Schreibvogel, president of the United States Zoological Association³, who traveled to Ohio to fight against the legislation. For Schreibvogel  the Dangerous Wild Animal Act was not just a simple case government over-reach nor was Zanesville the tragedy it was reported to be. In  Schreibvogel’s mind Zanesville was a “setup” and Thompson was murdered to further a 25 year conspiracy between animal advocates and state officials to take away the constitutional right to own a lion or tiger. As with many conspiracy theories, this one is based mainly on anomaly hunting and attempting to poke holes in the official story. Writer Vince Grzegorek documents Schreibvogel’s claims in his article Exotic Theories,

Among his concerns: the cages had been cut, not opened with keys; a worker on site was only gone for a little over an hour, not long enough for events to occur as authorities describe them; chicken blood was found around Thompson’s body, but no bucket used to carry the chicken blood was found; the gun Thompson used to shoot himself had been bought from a sheriff’s deputy, but no one has been prosecuted for selling Thompson the gun; and leopards were left in their cages, something only someone with keen knowledge of animals and leopards’ reputation as being the most dangerous big cats would know.

A quick read over the official police reports however demonstrates these claims to generally be misrepresentations or non sequiturs. But that hasn’t stopped others from picking up the idea and running with it. Chris Heath wrote in his National Magazine Award Winning piece on Zanesville,

As for what actually happened on that day in October, I hear all kinds of theories, though most of them sound recklessly far-fetched. Thompson was involved with bad people and had fallen out with them. He was caught up in dangerously illegal black-market animal sales, dead or alive. (Tigers are reputedly worth as much as $20,000 dead when their body parts are illegally sold off.) Drug smuggling. Secret plane trips. The Mexican cartel. His death was part of a twenty-five-year plot to rid America of exotic animals. He was actually found with a pillowcase over his head and a gunshot wound to his stomach. Nearly all of the exotic-animal owners I speak with, deeply skeptical of the official account, identify the same “true” culprit: animal-rights activists.

Perhaps one of these wild hypotheses are correct. Maybe animal rights activists did murder Terry Thompson. But I highly doubt it. I see little evidence to support these alternate explanations and little reason to believe that the tragedy in Zanesville was the result of anything but an emotionally distraught animal collector who chose to go out in a selfish and sensational way. While it may be tempting to blame to death of the animals on the officers who shot them, the situation they faced was one they were wholly unprepared for and they acted in what they believed to be the most rational manner. In the end the ones responsible were Terry Thompson and the society that allowed such a man to own these animals.

If you are interested in learning more about the exotic animal trade please watch The Elephant in the Living Room.


1.  “Since 2004, there had been at least three dozen complaints about Thompson’s animals on the loose: a giraffe grazing by a highway, a monkey in a tree. Typically, Thompson was fined $75. He’d also faced more serious charges of animal mistreatment.” – source

2. One of the leopards later died when a cage door fell on its neck at the Columbus Zoo

3. An organization founded by Schreibvogel in 2008 as an alternative for exotic animal keepers who do not wish to or can not qualify for membership with either the American Zoo Association or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Murkey Waters

October 27, 2013

Last week I was shopping for groceries when I spotted a relatively new bottled product called BLK.

Shelved next to the bottled water, BLK may look odd but is actually just spring water with added fulvic and humic acids. And as the name implies the water really appears black. On sale since 2011, BLK is the (allegedly stolen) creation of Real Housewives of New Jersey brothers Albie & Chris Manzo along with their uncle Chris Laurita. The BLK website makes vague claims of how it is better than plain old water such being packed with electrolytes and having an alkaline pH. But according to skeptical blogger Sharron Hill,

…manufacturers of black water admit that research to support the supposed health benefits of black water is scant; what research has been conducted has focused on the benefits to plant and livestock growth in China and Europe, not to people, and not here in the United States. My Pub Med search confirmed this. Research papers on “fulvic acid supplement” returned 5 results; “humic acid supplement,” 11 results; and, in combination, the two items returned 3 results. By comparison, similar searches for calcium, vitamin D, or iron supplements returned 2,000–4,000 results each. The manufacturers of black water seem to have extrapolated from a few studies and gone beyond them into the land of anecdotes, testimonials, and imaginative tales of the benefits of their products. Another “fact” used to market black water products: Black water has a naturally high pH level of 9. Its low acidity, the black water people say, “balances natural bodily pH levels.” ECLIPSE water [a similar product] coined a new verb out of its water’s pH-balancing abilities, saying that its water “alkalines the blood faster than any other natural product on earth.” Whatever their meaning, drinking water will not affect your blood pH. This pH puffery is associated with alkaline diet claims that promote an alkaline body pH as a cure for cancer. None of these claims is supported by medical consensus.

The drink’s “celebrity” promoters are a little less coy however and make claims about its curative properties for everything from the common cold to autism,

A mother [who] gave her autistic son blk. to drink, thinking its unique color might get him drinking more water. The boy not only drank it, he loved it, but the amazing part, he started behaving. The mother reached out to Albie, shocked, who sent her two more cases to try. Her son has stopped stimming and throwing fits. He also listens and follows directions. The difference, she told Manzo, is unbelievable.

Whats really unbelievable to me is how people buy this stuff. BLK water and it’s competitors appear to be doing little more than repackaging a likely-worthless nutritional supplement hawked by quacks and cranks for years.

Spurred by the autism diagnosis of the Laurita’s son, Nicholas, BLK has now partnered with Jenny McCarthy’s autism organization, Generation Rescue. You may recognize McCarthy and Generation Rescue as the folks that claim that autism is caused by vaccination despite their preposterous claims having been addressed many times over. Nicholas’s mother, Jacqueline Laurita, herself seems conflicted over the vaccine issue but appears to subscribe to the idea “too many, too soon”, stating that she is spacing her sons vaccinations out (despite any evidence of benefit for alternative vaccination schedules). The Lauritas have since become instant mini-stars in the autism advocacy word, being invited to speak at numerous events. No one should be getting medical advice from a celebrity, but unfortunately many people more readily connect with the stories of celebrities than a dry distillation of the medical literature by professionals.

Further Reading:

Black(water) Market: Digging Up the Dirt about Slick Designer Beverages
by Sharon Hill


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