Sure, like many, I enjoy the occasional Supermodel PETA no-fur-just-skin publicity stunt. But, although I have more hair on my legs than on my head and I have a weakness for grumpy-faced Land-Lobsters, I can’t stand People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – the organisation. I’m sorry but I just can’t go there.
PETA and their more extreme cohorts from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are now campaigning against Oregon researcher Charles Roselli. The story of misunderstanding leading to distortion leading to lies is being run in today’s New York Times.
Charles Roselli set out to discover what makes some sheep gay. Then the news media and the blogosphere got hold of the story.
Dr. Roselli, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University, has searched for the past five years for physiological factors that might explain why about 8 percent of rams seek sex exclusively with other rams instead of ewes. The goal, he says, is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of sexual orientation in sheep. Other researchers might some day build on his findings to seek ways to determine which rams are likeliest to breed, he said.
But since last fall, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals started a campaign against the research, it has drawn a torrent of outrage from animal rights activists, gay advocates and ordinary citizens around the world — all of it based, Dr. Roselli and colleagues say, on a bizarre misinterpretation of what the work is about.
The story of the gay sheep became a textbook example of the distortion and vituperation that can result when science meets the global news cycle.
Perhaps most vile is the article run in the British broadsheet, The Sunday Times, in December of last year. They spun the story not only to include gay sheep but mind control. In what can only seen as a very strange form of journalistic excess, the Sunday Times reporters imagined bizarre experiments on sheep brains.
The scientists have been able to pinpoint the mechanisms influencing the desires of “male-oriented” rams by studying their brains. The animals’ skulls are cut open and electronic sensors are attached to their brains.
By varying the hormone levels, mainly by injecting hormones into the brain, they have had “considerable success” in altering the rams’ sexuality, with some previously gay animals becoming attracted to ewes.
Likely the sheep were dead and the sensors were measuring something like hormone levels but that wasn’t important to the reporters at the Sunday Times. Properly packaged anything can be both true and false and sensational enough to sell papers.
Of course the Sunday Times isn’t the institution it used to be. It’s one of the cogs in Rupert Murdoch’s media machine.
Perhaps it’s worst journalistic faux pas was publishing the faked Hitler Diaries ‘discovered’ by the German magazine Stern in 1983. That episode also clearly pointed to the Murdoch philosophy. According to Robert Harris’s Selling Hitler, subscriptions to the Sunday Times rose by almost 50,000 during the early hype. After the fakes were exposed, subscriptions remained 20,000 above pre-hype levels. A win-win situation for Mr Murdoch. (Of course for some reason the Sunday Times never did a book review on the bestselling Selling Hitler. I wonder why?)
Murdoch realizes that sensationalism, true or false sells papers, books and ‘news’ channels. He isn’t concerned with moving information, he is concerned with moving money. And, he does a very good job.
While homosexual behavior in animals is well documented and even the religious right has toned down the “Crime Against Nature” hype in anti-gay rhetoric, the underlying cause for the seemingly anti-evolutionary behavior is still largely unclear. That is the reason people do research.
But there is a language barrier to be overcome. When a scientist talks about discovering the controls for homosexuality in sheep, it doesn’t mean he wants to control the sheep, he wants to understand the mechanism. The activist wants to see evil. The NYT article continues,
In an interview, Shalin Gala, a PETA representative working on the sheep campaign, said controlling or altering sexual orientation was a “natural implication” of the work of Dr. Roselli and his colleagues.
Mr. Gala, who asked that he be identified as openly gay, cited the news release for a 2004 paper in the journal Endocrinology that showed differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual sheep.
The release quoted Dr. Roselli as saying that the research “also has broader implications for understanding the development and control of sexual motivation and mate selection across mammalian species, including humans.”
So scientists are “naturally” trying to control Mr Gala. Note some fairly normal people think the government is naturally trying to control our minds, but that’s something for a different post…and wardrobe. People like PETA and ALF want to see evil everywhere. It is how they generate support; it is how they generate funding.
An excellent example of misplaced activism was the attack on a deer farm in Scotland last year when ALF tore down fences to free the enslaved herbivores. The herbivores were quite happy where they were, thank-you-very-much.
However, none of the 50 to 60 red deer tried to escape.
The farm, run by Fletchers of Auchtermuchty, is free-range and Nichola Fletcher, who owns it with her husband John, said the wrong people were targeted.
The couple pride themselves on their animal welfare practices, and Mrs Fletcher said, “These people have made up their minds without coming to find out about us.
“I would love to invite them for a cup of tea and explain to them what we are trying to do here.
Great. Tea with the enemy. Where are all the dynamite carrying owls when you need them?
Although there are many species that exhibit homosexual behavior, for me, I always think ‘lion’ when I think of non-human gays. (I am also not alone.) So maybe we should just bring these two things together, PETA and gay lions. Preferably in a cage.
So, here’s my solution, let’s feed PETA to the lions.
(And yes, this post was totally about reposting the NRA Animal Terrorist picture again.)