Archive for November, 2010

Arab Rationalist & Animal Rights Poetry

November 30, 2010

I want to share with you an interesting and inspirational story of a fellow animal rights advocate and rationalist from Syria, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri. He was born in 973CE (died 1057CE) and after losing his eyesight at a young age to smallpox became a philosopher, poet, and freethinker. He was a thorn in the side of the Islamic religious authorities, having once said, “Do not suppose the statements of the prophets to be true; they are all fabrications. Men lived comfortably till they came and spoiled life. The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.” He may have even have wrote one of his later books, Paragraphs and Periods (Al Fusul wal ghayat), as a parody of the Qur’an with it’s “divine” poetry unmatchable by human hand. His snark was not just reserved for Islam though,

“They all err – Moslems, Christians, Jews, and Magians:
Two make Humanity’s universal sect:
One man intelligent without religion,
And, one religious without intellect”

He also wittily poked at creation myths,

“You said, “A wise one created us “;
That may be true, we would agree.
“Outside of time and space,” you postulated.
Then why not say at once that you
Propound a mystery immense
Which tells us of our lack of sense?”

When he was about 30 years old Al-Ma’arri adopted what we would recognize today as a vegan lifestyle*, avoiding all meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. He condemned blood sport, eschewed use of leather and fur, and even wore wooden as opposed to leather shoes. He was also fond of nudism, perhaps he started the first “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign. My favorite poem, I No Longer Steal from Nature, couldn’t be more awesome

You are diseased in understanding and religion.
Come to me, that you may hear something of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat fish the water has given up,
And do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white milk of mothers who intended its pure draught
for their young, not noble ladies.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking eggs;
for injustice is the worst of crimes.
And spare the honey which the bees get industriously
from the flowers of fragrant plants;
For they did not store it that it might belong to others,
Nor did they gather it for bounty and gifts.
I washed my hands of all this; and wish that I
Perceived my way before my hair went gray!

Even by todays standards he was pretty hardcore! After doing the research for this post I’m inspired to track down a book of his writings to learn more about this very interesting figure.

*To be honest I did find a reference to him wearing wool, I’m not sure why he let this one thing slide. It certainly doesn’t jive with his philosophy of not stealing the products of another labor. Given his cultural context I think he was still pretty progressive.

Bill Clinton, Vegan Poseur

November 28, 2010

He certainly wasn’t the first person you would expect, so when the news hit it was all over the veggie blogosphere. “Bill Clinton goes vegan!” the headlines read, “so should you” was the unwritten subtext. Nevermind that he really wasn’t claiming veganism, admitting to eating fish and taking no stances on animal rights.

If the former Big Mac munchin’ president of the United States could go “(mostly)vegan” for heart health and receive such great benefits, why not you. By his own account Clinton after adopting “essentially a plant-based diet…[living] on beans, legumes, vegetables, fruits” he lost 24 lbs and is feeling great. But is this really the best argument for veganism?

As I’ve said before we need to be very careful about health claims, as far too often the media reports one-off, poorly controlled and designed studies while vastly overstating the implications.

By all accounts Clinton’s dietary change is a health experiment inspired by the likes of Dean Ornish whose work he references in interviews, “I did all this research, and I saw that 82 percent of the people since 1986 who have gone on a plant-based, no dairy, no meat of any kind, no chicken, no turkey — I eat very little fish, once in a while I’ll have a little fish — if you can do it, 82 percent of people have begun to heal themselves.”

In a post over on Science-Based Medicine Dr. Harriet Hall explains the study that is the source of this statement:
“He started with 48 patients with angiographically documented coronary artery disease and randomized 28 of them to an experimental group (a 10% fat vegetarian diet, stopping smoking, stress management training, and moderate exercise) and 20 to a usual-care group. Only 20 experimental and 15 control patients completed the 5 year study. The diameter of the coronary arterial stenoses improved by 3.1 percent in the experimental group and worsened by 11.8 percent in the usual care group. Overall, 82% of experimental-group patients had an average change towards regression. They had about half as many cardiac events: 25 in the experimental group versus 45 in the usual care group. None of the experimental subjects were on any cholesterol-lowering medication, but the usual care group allowed cholesterol-lowering prescriptions, and after 5 years the LDL levels of both groups were the same. In short, only 20 patients were on the diet, and it was not a trial of diet alone, but of intensive lifestyle management involving several other interventions. The study has not been replicated.”

Studies like this might point the direction for further research but with such a small sample size and poor controls its nothing to hang your hat on. While the nutritional adequacy and some benefits of a vegan diet are well accepted, many of the specific and sometimes extreme health benefits claimed by advocates have yet to be irrefutably established in the medical literature. Long term diet and nutrition can be a complex issue for study with many confounding variables, more rigorous studies and much more data will be required to establish any real positive (or negative) effects of a vegan diet.

Clinton also cites Caldwell Esselstyn and authors of The China Study, T. Colin Campbell and his son, Tom Campbell as inspiration. Ive previously mentioned the China Study as an example of poor evidence for the nutrition argument and it has been thoroughly torn apart so I will not directly address that book for now. In Dr. Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, he oversteps the evidence to conclude that following his restricted vegan-type diet can prevent “strokes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, adult-onset diabetes, and possibly senile mental impairment, as well … impotence and cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, rectum, uterus, and ovaries.”

Such grandiose promises may appeal to an unskeptical segment of the population already obsessed with health and fad diets, but the claims just are not rational or well supported. Poor reasoning and fallacious arguments in the long run distract from the central cause of animal rights. Once the weight is off or health benefits don’t materialize folks are likely to abandon the diet and be the next poster child of the ex-vegans. As noted by Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD, in a recent must-read-post on supplements, “There are many reasons why people abandon vegan diets, and bad nutrition advice from within the vegan community is probably one of them. “

When promoting veganism our reasons should be clear, it isnt the newest weight loss fad, nor a panacea. It’s a stance that rejects the anthropocentric and speciesist bias of our culture, an ethical choice aimed at reducing suffering and ultimately achieving animal liberation. As Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach had to say, “Ultimately, the bottom line is: Reduce Suffering. Everything has to answer to this. I can’t emphasize this enough: the only thing that matters is to reduce suffering. If you accept this as the What, the next question is, How? At this time, in this country, we choose to promote veganism. However, veganism is not an end in and of itself. We don’t promote veganism because ‘veganism is good.’ Veganism is merely a tool to reduce suffering.”

UPDATE:For more on this topic I highly recommend this new post titled How the Health Argument Fails Veganism by Ginny Messina, the Vegan RD. She pulls no punches in getting to the point,“here is the problem with using the health argument in this way—it’s that there isn’t any health argument for veganism. There is, of course, a pretty good argument for eating more plants (lots more plants) and less animal food, but no one has shown that you must eat a 100 percent plant diet in order to be healthy. So to make an argument for a 100% vegan diet based on health benefits alone, we have no choice but to stretch the truth. We have to overstate the benefits of vegan diets, and sometimes minimize or dismiss the risks. And as soon as we stray from the actual facts, our advocacy is on shaky ground. “

The Tragedy of Dolphin-Safe Tuna

November 25, 2010

A horrific example of the failure of greenwashing and a speciesist approach to animal protection is the problem of dolphin-safe tuna. It hit the public consciousness when various environmental organizations such as the Earth Island Institute and Greenpeace started awareness and lobbying campaigns to stop the then common tuna fishing methods being used in the Eastern Pacific Ocean which they considered cruel and environmentally unsound. You see, schools of yellowfin tuna tend to be associated with dolphins in the EPO, possibly either for protection or to help locate prey, by following these dolphins fishermen were able to easily locate the tuna. Then they would encircle the school of fish, dolphins and all, with purse seine nets. While many crews made efforts to allow the dolphin to escape, numerous dolphin died of asphyxiation, from stress, or were bludgeoned to death, hundreds of thousands of dolphins were killed each year.

The legal campaign was successful and eventually “dolphin-safe” labeling was codified in US law. To prevent unnecessary suffering or death, the new dolphin-safe guidelines essentially banned the technique of “dolphin fishing”, the intentional chasing or encirclement of dolphins. This policy applies only to US boats or boats catching tuna to be sold in the US, for other nations “dolphin fishing” is still common and many foreign vessel have filled the gap US vessels left when many of them were decommissioned or started fishing the west pacific. Since then tuna fishers wishing to sell their tuna in the US have had to go through much greater trouble and expense to locate free swimming schools of tuna, known as “school fishing”, or resort to Fish Aggregation Devices (FAD) also know as “log fishing”. These are floating objects are designed to aggregate marine life to one spot for easy netting, though the reason they attract such a wide variety(over 300 species) of marine life in not fully understood and may vary by species. The more high tech FADs are be equipped with GPS and sonar to allow for remote monitoring of number of fish and one ship can service multiple FADs, a very efficient method to generate large catches. This efficiency comes at a price though. While it does kill less dolphins, compared to netting tuna associated with dolphins, netting tuna around FADs creates significantly more non-cetacean “bycatch”, an industry euphemism for the “unintentional” victims of their nets.

Scientists with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) came up with these estimates of bycatch rates per 10,000 sets of purse seine nets for the three fishing methods mentioned earlier. The method called “school fishing” of netting “immature yellowfin tuna found swimming in schools, will cause the deaths of eight dolphins; 2.4 million small tuna; 2100 mahi mahi; 12,220 sharks; 530 wahoo; 270 rainbow runners; 1010 other small fish; 1440 billfish; and 580 sea turtles.”

Using FADs and catching “immature tuna swimming under logs and other debris will cause the deaths of 25 dolphins; 130 million small tunas; 513,870 mahi mahi; 139,580 sharks; 118,660 wahoo; 30,050 rainbow runners; 12,680 other small fish; 6540 billfish; 2980 yellowtail; 200 other large fish; 1020 sea turtles; and 50 triggerfish.”

And using the old methods to net “mature yellowfin swimming in association with dolphins, will cause the deaths of 4000 dolphins (0.04 percent of a population that replenishes itself at the rate of two to six percent per year); 70,000 small tunas; 100 mahi mahi; 3 other small fish; 520 billfish; 30 other large fish; and 100 sea turtles. No sharks, no wahoo, no rainbow runners, no yellowtail, and no triggerfish and dramatic reductions in all other species but dolphins.”

Rod and reel fishing wasn’t mentioned and while it has low bycatch rates, it is expensive, time consuming, and the large amount of baitfish required would have to be considered. You may also notice that for the first two methods “immature tuna” are referred to where as for the “dolphin-fishing” method “mature tuna” are referred to. This is because the fish attracted to FADs or found free swimming tend to be younger and smaller than schools swimming with dolphins, scooping up these fish will have a greater effect on the tuna population as a whole causing subsequent catches to drop by as much as 25%.

As you can see the current reliance on FADs has resulted in larger kills of sea turtles, rays, juvenile tuna, and at least several endangered species and is a large factor in the decline of some shark populations, an important issue as of late. While some conservationist’s response to this issue is to return to the fishing method of encircling dolphins, the anti-speciesist response would likely be to recognize fishing is inherently cruel and stop altogether. As consumers we can choose the tuna-safe alternative and avoid culpability in the deaths of dolphins, sharks, and tuna.

Ex-Vegans and Cholesterol Skeptics

November 24, 2010

Once again ex-vegans are causing a stir. This time it’s Tasha of the quite popular foodie blog VoraciousEats (formerly VoraciousVegan). In a recent post she describes her health problems of depression, fatigue, dizziness, and other troubles, her subsequent abandonment of veganism, and near instantaneous recovery “My first bite of meat after 3.5 years of veganism was both the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done. Tears ran down my face as saliva pooled in my mouth. The world receded to a blank nothingness and I just ate, and ate, and ate. I cried in grief and anger, while moaning with pleasure and joy…I had only eaten a small piece of cow flesh, and yet I felt totally full, but light and refreshed all at once.” Excuse me if I’m a bit skeptical.

I dont wish to disparage someone with genuine health problems but given the context and tone of the post it is clear that more than just a necessary dietary shift for health reasons has taken place but a total change of philosophy. Tasha arrives at the same “epiphany” as numerous new “happy meat” advocates, that a vegan diet is destructive to personal health and the environment.

That numerous ex-vegans mention reading the likes of Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith(discussed earlier), or even the long de-bunked Secret Life of Plants just prior to their conversion makes me a bit suspicious. Especially when people sometimes appear to self-diagnose by matching their non-specific symptoms to those of a writer with lifelong chronic health problems. The symptoms described by many ex-vegans are reminiscent of “symptoms of life” experienced by imagined sufferers of chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, or gluten intolerance all of which actually do afflict some people but have in recent times become widespread self-diagnosed fads. The non-specific nature of the symptoms mean we must be very careful in ascribing them to any particular pathology. While people can have genuine vitamin deficiencies and medical issues, these things need to be confirmed with a doctor (as Tasha appeared to do) and preferably a dietitian not a nutritionist as the latter is an unregulated title. If you do have a nutrient deficiency you can usually work with a dietitian to find out how to modify your diet or what supplements you need while still remaining vegan.

Importantly we must remember to not put put too much stock into anecdotes about health on the internet. Keep in mind, the plural of anecdote is not data.

Another thing that raises a red flag for me is that many are abandoning veganism not for a traditional western diet but for raw, gluten-free, or paleo diets which are themselves on the fringe with mostly controversial evidence to support them. The attitude of these ex-vegans also does not seem to reflect an anguished anti-speciesist forced into consuming flesh, rather they revel in it as noted by Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD, “I understand that someone who believes they require meat may need to tweak their overall perspective to make it feel ethically okay to eat it. But, there is a big difference between choosing to include small amounts of meat in your diet for health reasons versus absolutely reveling in meat consumption as is reflected in Tasha’s recent twitter post: “Bacon, bacon, bacon…how did I ever live without you for so long?” Or this: “Lunch – bacon egg cheese and jalapeno quesadilla. I’m so happy to be eating food that I love.””

Tasha removed all doubt as to her bias when she dropped this hammer, “I know that the lipid hypothesis is completely fallacious, these animal foods won’t hurt me or cause me ill health in anyway, in fact, the vitamins and minerals they provide, along with the nutritious cholesterol and wholesome saturated fat, will restore my health.” Nutritious cholesterol!? Wholesome saturated fat!? Im sorry but as already stated in this vegan dietitians review of The Vegetarian Myth, “we have no dietary need for either saturated fat or cholesterol—there is no RDA for either. The liver makes all the cholesterol our bodies require. And the two essential fatty acids required by humans—both unsaturated—are found in plant foods.”

The Vegetarian Myth is likely where Tasha got this idea. In her book Keith writes mockingly, “The Lipid Hypothesis—the theory that ingested fat causes heart disease—is the stone tablet that the Prophets of Nutrition have brought down from the mountain. We have been shown the one, true way: cholesterol is the demon of the age, the dietary Black Plague, a judgment from an angry God, condemning those who stray into the Valley of Animal Products with disease.” The resources Keith sites are less than impressive being mostly non-scientific and pseudo-scientific popular sources with little reliance on the medical literature. The lipid hypothesis is the now well supported hypothesis that a major factor in heart disease is the accumulation of lipids on the arterial walls or more generally elevated blood cholesterol levels but Keith is part of a wider movement of “cholesterol skeptics” represented in part by groups such as the Weaston A Price Foundation (“butter is a superfood”) and the The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics (THINCS). In stating their *clearly* unbiased scientific opinion on their home page THINCS had this to say “For decades, enormous human and financial resources have been wasted on the cholesterol campaign, more promising research areas have been neglected, producers and manufacturers of animal food all over the world have suffered economically, and millions of healthy people have been frightened and badgered into eating a tedious and flavorless diet or into taking potentially dangerous drugs for the rest of their lives. As the scientific evidence in support of the cholesterol campaign is non-existent, we consider it important to stop it as soon as possible.”

Just like Anthropogenic Global Warming skeptics, THINCS are skeptics in name only. They place themselves at the fringe of science ignoring vast amounts of peer reviewed literature in the name of supporting or tearing down a hypothesis often seemingly with political or economic bias. Their web page is filled with emotionally charged language alleging a conspiracy to cover up the “truth”. The overreaction from the global warming alarmists or in this case health-nuts doesn’t help matters when they make unfounded health claims of their own or present flimsy evidence such as the China Study. Contrary to what the cholesterol deniers would have you believe there is plenty of evidence for the lipid hypothesis, though they do raise some reasonable concerns about over-prescription of statins and the need for much more research in nutrition, they come off as ideologues.

The debate over the evidence for the lipid hypothesis is still very complex, so we need to be careful about any health claims we make. The most rational position is to not make positive health claims but to just stick with the ADA, “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.” What we need is a measured and rational approach to nutrition, be skeptical of health claims for particular foods and to not overstep the literature.

I highly recommend this article by Harriet Hall over on Science-Based Medicine and this follow up for an in-depth look at cholesterol skeptics by a knowledgeable doctor.
The Skeptic’s Dictionary review of Uffe Ravnskov’s The Cholesterol Myths is also well worth the read

Please go read Theo’s post on our companion blog VeganSkeptic about this incident and how it illustrates a greater need for skepticism in the animal rights and vegan community.

The Institute of Cetacean Slaughter

November 14, 2010

I originally posted this in September but as the Japanese whaling fleet once again prepares to enter Antarctic waters to slaughter whales I feel a need to update this post.

I’m sure by now you have heard about the controversy over Japanese whaling, but just what is going on?

This past season, the Japanese fleet, operated by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), killed 507 whales out of a quota of 1035. The ICR claims it’s due to harassment by The Seas Shepherd Conservation Society(SSCS).* Despite these and other efforts Japan has been able to kill over 7000 whales in the past 20 years. Compare this to the 840 whales taken for scientific research in the 31 years before the moratorium and it sure seems suspicious that as soon as commercial whaling is banned that the number of “scientific” catches sky rocket.

Anti-whaling nations and groups say that the Japanese catch is illegal and exploiting a loophole in the 1986 Moratorium on commercial whaling enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and adding insult to murder they are doing it in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
The ICR says it is hunting for scientific research which is allowed by the 1986 moratorium.
Yet, they seem to be primarily researching data that directly relates to furthering commercial fishing and whaling.

The ICR’s four stated objectives are
(1)Estimation of biological parameters to improve the stock management of the Southern Hemisphere minke whale
(2)Examination of the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem,
(3)Examination of the effect of environmental changes on cetaceans and,
(4)Examination of the stock structure of the Southern Hemisphere minke whales to improve stock management, size, population density, and feeding habits

But, I think Takanori Nagatomo, deputy director at the Far Seas Fisheries Division in Japan,said it much more clearly, if not more bluntly, when he said, “We have been engaging in research whaling to collect scientific data so we can resume commercial whaling.”

This involves killing the whale for analysis of stomach contents and other internal organs such as ovaries to examine reproduction rates, and ear plugs for age verification. Once the data points are collected, the bulk of the carcass is butchered and packaged on board their factory ship for sale in Japan (international sales are illegal) as dictated by IWC convention which says that scientific catches must “so far as practicable be processed.”
But, the meat isn’t always sold through legal channels where the money goes to offset the cost of the operations and pay back subsidy loans. Theft of meat is allegedly rampant, according to two whalers-turned-whistle-blowers, and involves both crewmen and ICR staff members and in a price controlled market(4200 tons are in storage as of 2008) it can be quite lucrative. In 2009, Whale meat illegally sold to an undercover documentary film crew in a Los Angeles restaurant, The Hump, was determined through DNA test to be identical to whale meat purchased in Japan in 2007 & 2008 and most assuredly came from Japan’s “scientific” hunts. Whale meat illegally sold at a Seoul restaurant was also determined to be from the Japanese catch.

The necessity of lethal research is questioned by a vast number of scientists around the world and by the IWC which has issued over 30 resolutions that “expressed its opinion that Special Permit whaling should: be terminated and scientific research limited to non-lethal methods only (2003-2); refrain from involving the killing of cetaceans in sanctuaries (1998-4); ensure that the recovery of populations is not impeded (1987); and take account of the comments of the Scientific Committee (1987).”

The Southern Ocean Research Partnership, comprised of 13 different nations including Australia, New Zealand, and France, have their own non-lethal research program in which biopsies are taken, tracking devices used, and fecal samples examined. They have obtained usable population data and have the full approval of the IWC and offer up their model as an example of a viable alternative to the lethal research.
The value and self-serving nature of the data the ICR is producing has been questioned by many scientists. Dr. Nick Gales, head of Australia’s scientific delegation to the IWC, commented on an analysis of 43 research papers produced by Japan over an 18 year period, describing the research as “really bizarre and strange experiments with sheep and pigs and eggs,” he said. “It’s totally esoteric; very strange indeed.”

All of this comes at a hefty financial cost to the Japanese citizen. It’s estimated that the Japanese government has subsidized the whale hunts to the tune of $164 million since 1988. Japan has the highest Government subsidies for fisheries in the world, this adds to the problem of the profit motive to exploit whales. The Japan Times reported “as of 2007, almost ¥441.8 billion is handed out each year by the Fisheries Agency of Japan. Fish are thus caught and sold at an artificially low price, since the government covers some operating costs, thus encouraging overfishing — what economists will recognize as a tragedy of the commons.”

It seems obvious to me that Japan’s whaling is a thinly disguised commercial whaling/tax swindle program with the stated intention of justifying a full return to commercial whaling. What do you think?

*The issues of the SSCS are many and varied which I will not go into at this time, but for counter balance to this claim and other controversies about SSCS please visit SouthernFriedScinece. They were also gracious enough to post this pro-SSCS response by Craig Nazor. While I have a belief in the necessity and justice of direct action or intervention to save cetacean and other lives and applaud SSCS’s past success in sinking a number of whaling vessels and preventing numerous deaths directly, I think any intellectually honest animal rights supporter should seriously consider some of the more recent controversy and questions surrounding Sea Shepherd and their integrity.

**Update: It now appear the Japanese have at least temporarily conceded to the SSCS and called off the whale hunt for this season. Final kill count is not out as of yet but lets hope its well below last years, as it appears to be by preliminary reports. Even the folks over at Southern Fried Science are cautiously celebrating. Good work Sea Shepherd, stay vigilant and keep up the pressure, this is what direct confrontation and intervention (rather than media hoaxes) can accomplish!

The (bad)Dog Whisperer

November 12, 2010

With his show Dog Whisperer TV, Cesar Milan is probably the most famous “dog trainer” right now, unfortunately his methods are potentially harmful to both dogs and humans. In the show Cesar attempts to resolve behavioral issues with various dogs through asserting dominance as the “pack leader”, using methods such as choking, pinning, shock collars, and other inflictions of pain or stress. Through deceptive editing and and contradictory narration a narrative of rehabilitation is played out.

While negative reinforcement might have been the norm a few decades ago the modern trend is moving toward positive reinforcement and pain-free methods of dealing with even aggressive dogs. The aggressive manhandling of dogs as Cesar does doesn’t make the dog respect you, they just get scared.

Many people and organizations have spoken out against the show and the methods it portrays. The American Humane Association (AHA) requested in 2006 that National Geographic pull the show from the air and called his techniques “inhumane, outdated and improper”. Cesar came out on air attempting to save face saying he invited the AHA on his show and they had changed their opinion. The AHA countered that “American Humane has accepted a courtesy visit with Mr. Millan’s foundation next year in order to discuss why our position differs from his on his training methods, but that certainly does not infer that we are planning to change our position in any way.” As of late they still seem reluctant to fully endorse his show but have said their “hope is that Millan is evolving and eventually will catch up with everyone else.”

One idea Cesar often brings up is that dogs are pack animals, so you have to act like the pack leader. This might make superficial sense…until you consider the evolutionary history of modern domestic canines. By studying recently homeless dogs interact in the wild researcher have determined that dogs tend to not form packs like wolves but rather will team up with another dog only temporarily to secure food or a mating opportunity. The fact is his core principle is based on an outdated view of dog psychology.

Cesar likes to throw around airy new age-y buzz words like “energy”, “spirit”, and “frequencies”. In this blog Cesar talks about a dog channeling another dog’s spirit and pontificates on whether dogs can see ghosts, saying “A dog knows instantly when a human is unstable. Energy is not just a concept to dogs – it’s a language; a way of navigating the world. And since we cannot “see” energy, who knows what else dogs are able to see that we can’t?”
His latest project is to become one of the “super pack” of motivational speakers and work alongside folks like Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and Byron Katie.

I will say two good things about Cesar though, he takes a strong stance against breed specific legislation and in his training system a dog’s three main needs are exercise, discipline, and affection, putting primacy on the exercise.

I’ll just leave you with a quote that pretty much sums it up from Dr. Suzanne Hetts, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
Co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., Littleton, CO
“A number of qualified professionals have voiced concern for the welfare of pet dogs that experience the strong corrections administered by Mr. Millan. My concerns are based on his inappropriateness, inaccurate statements, and complete fabrications of explanations for dog behavior. His ideas, especially those about “dominance”, are completely disconnected from the sciences of ethology and animal learning, which are our best hope for understanding and training our dogs and meeting their behavioral needs. Many of the techniques he encourages the public to try are dangerous, and not good for dogs or our relationships with them .”

For more on the Dog Whisperer check out this episode of the Reality Check podcast.

Ask Your Doctor if Tiger is Right For You

November 10, 2010

save the tigers

Ive been meaning to write a post on Chinese Medicine and the dwindling tiger population but it
looks like I’ve been beat to it. Please read this wonderful post over at the Neurologica Blog on recent a report from the BBC which states “Over the past century, tiger numbers have fallen from about 100,000 individuals to just an estimated 3,500.
The study, which used data from 11 of the 13 countries that are home to populations of Panthera tigris, estimated that between 1,069 and 1,220 tigers were killed to supply the illicit demand for tiger parts.”
In his post Steven Novella rightly ads that
“What the report fails to mention, however, is what is chiefly driving this illegal trade – traditional medicine. Tiger bones have been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries, used in many potions. The Chinese TCM market remains the greatest demand for tiger parts.”

You should also check out this awesome campaign by the World Wildlife Fund that used interactive technology and visuals to promote awareness of the poaching of tigers.

You can also click on the image at the top for a great poster. Here is one for Rhino horn also. Thanks to the The American Institute for the Destruction of Tooth Fairy Science for making these posters.

Urban Foxhunt Hoax

November 6, 2010

The fuzzy green tinted video seemed to show four men drugging dogfood with Xanax as fox bait then chasing the animal through a park and beating it with cricket bats to death. The video was posted by a man calling himself the Lone Horseman saying “This is NOT about inflicting pain or torture to an animal, but about ridding our neighbourhood of a pest.” While also making bloodthirsty and flippant remarks that taken as a whole were clearly satire…or the ravings of mad fox killers. The video was pulled from Youtube and Facebook quickly but you can still see parts here Public outrage erupted, law enforcement began to get involved and it was soon revealed by the creators to be a hoax. So what was this all about?
The Lone Horseman?
This past June two babies girls,Isabella and Lola Koupparis, were mauled in their crib by a fox in a quite rare but tragic event. This sparked off a media frenzy demonizing urban foxes, spinning any story that involved a fox to manufacture fear, whether is was a chewed up shoe or just a sighting. Within two weeks after the attack 6 foxes were caught near the Koupparis home and killed.
Outraged by all this scaremongering the film makers Chris Atkins and Johnny Howorth had an idea. Both being “hardcore lefties” and Chris being a former hunt saboteur, they decided to stage a video hoax designed to bring attention to the brutality of fox hunting. “The film shows what actually happens when foxes are hunted, in contrast to the romanticised image of sprightly gents on horseback carrying out a noble tradition” said Chris.
The video was shot in such a way as to be so ridiculously Pythonesque as to be unbelievable, and a mockery of the childish scaremongering of the right wing. Chris said “We wanted to create something that would be so ridiculous that in any other area it would be immediately dismissed as a spoof, but that news outlets desperate to continue the media narrative against foxes would leap on without any thought as to its authenticity” Coming from Chris this tactic shouldn’t be too much a surprise considering his previous film StarSuckers about media gullibility and celebrity reporting that duped papers into publishing outlandishly untrue stories about celebrities.
Instead of a brutal drugging and beating what they actually filmed was themselves chasing their friends dog Monty through a park, merely acted as if they were beating in a foxes head, and used a stuffed fox borrowed from a film prop company as the dead body at the end. Chris made a video explainable his hoax available here
They didn’t think it would catch on so quickly but within hours of posting online it was causing uproar and in a couple days the Mirror credulously ran the story along with many other news services including the BBC. A bit surprised by the intense response, Chris and Johnny felt they had been successful in getting widespread coverage but were uneasy with having disgusted so many animal lovers, feeling it was getting out of hand they decided to do the reveal, especially after hearing death threats and a reward was put out for info on them.
The hoax took in many well meaning people and animal rights activists including the crew over at the Righteous Indignation podcast but like any good skeptics they were willing to admit they were wrong and in their next episode invited Chris Atkins on for an interview which you can listen to here.


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