How I fell for PETA's gay ram scam
Barbara Kay, National Post
Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Hell hath no fury like one journalist bamboozled by another. This journalist was furious when she learned that the Dec. 31 British Sunday Times article "Science told: Hands off Gay Sheep" -- upon whose "facts" she relied for last Wednesday's column, "When feminism and gay rights butt heads" -- was a farrago of misleading data mixed with statements cut from whole cloth. One looks out for this sort of deception when surfing Blogs and obscure news sites; but it is highly unusual to see it happen at a respected, world-class newspaper such as the Times of London.
The Times article declared "Scientists are conducting experiments to change the sexuality of 'gay' sheep in a programme that critics fear could pave the way for breeding out homosexuality in humans." The paper then pointed to research at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), and how it could lead to fetal forecasting in humans, and that in utero alteration of sexual orientation, possibly by means of a nicotine-style "patch," was feasible in the not too distant future. From this putative scenario, I speculated about a future ideological impasse between feminists and gay rights advocates.
I was on a fool's errand, along with other Sunday Times-reading commentators. According to OHSU chief researcher Dr. Charles Roselli, the ability to forecast sexual preference is "so remote that it is in the realm of science fiction." A thoroughly documented debunking of almost every single statement in the Sunday Times article can be found at www.guardian.co.uk/life/badscience/story/0,,1989465,00.html.
Furthermore, the research that provided the few fragile strands of fact in the Sunday Times article had been done years before and found "inconclusive" at best. How then, did the Sunday Times get the story so wrong -- and who was behind the sudden surge of interest in such an old story?
Dr. Roselli lays the blame squarely on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who post the same falsehoods on their Web site: http://getactive.peta.org/campaign/p2gaysheepexperiments. PETA initiated a propaganda campaign against OHSU's Portland, Oregon, facility six months ago. Ever since, instead of doing scientific work, Dr. Roselli and his colleagues have been putting out media brush fires -- including the one I inadvertently started. The real agenda of the "extremely irresponsible" animal rights organization, Roselli declared by e-mail, "is to stop all use of animals for research and [PETA] will do whatever it takes [including supplying false information to the media] to advance their cause."
OHSU is by no means the first research institution to feel the sting of PETA's powerful lash. The largest animal rights organization in the world, PETA claims a million members, boasting annual revenues of about US$25-million. Harassing animal-based research scientists, livestock processors and fast food giants such as KFC and McDonald's, PETA is influential in the militant crusade to end "speciesism." In spite of its signature anti-social stunts --pieing, manure- dumping on public officials' doorsteps, throwing paint on fur-clad women -- PETA h as attracted high-profile celebrities like Paul McCartney, Martina Navratilovna and Dolly Parton to its cause.
Most people are -- and all should be -- advocates for "animal welfare," that is the humane treatment of animals. But "animal rights" groups go far beyond this SPCA template. Supported by such legal heavyweights as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe, they lobby for the legal "personhood" of nonhuman animals. With animal-law courses now taught in 69 of 180 U.S. law schools, serious judicial challenges are a near-certainty -- with any success resulting in cascading consequences to research, animal husbandry and the food industry.
Rational animal lovers gravitate to animal-welfare organizations. Animal rights groups, however, tend to attract extremists. PETA isn't the worst of animal- rights groups -- that dubious distinction belongs to FBI-named "terrorists" such as Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, who torment individual scientists and torch research facilities. But most of PETA's activities, apart from a few positive educational initiatives, range from silly to misleading to truly offensive. To wit:
- The director of PETA asked Yasser Arafat to spare animals when conducting suicide bombings (no mention of humans);
- PETA's "milk sucks" campaign falsely claimed "dairy products are linked to allergies, constipation, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases;"
- The 2005 "Are Animals the new Slaves?" campaign juxtaposed images of black slaves and child labourers with chained elephants and dead cows;
- The 2003 "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign equated six million exterminated Jews with six billion broiler chickens.
Being duped by the Sunday Times is professionally embarrassing, but serving PETA's ends in the process is morally revolting. I hope this column will serve to neutralize the negative effect on the real victim here, honourable scientific research.
It's an interesting read nonetheless. But many here will read through this and start to see why I dislike PeTA more and more.