Today the British tabloid newspaper the Daily Mirror published a truly execrable piece of animal rights propaganda dressed up as journalism, in an article attacking neuroscience research undertaken using cats at University College London. The article mischaracterized the two research projects, which were published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 2012 and 2013, from start to finish, and as you can see below included a litany of basic errors (or were they deliberate lies?). This is not the first time that the Mirror has got its story very, very wrong.
It’s interesting to see the source of the images of cats used in the report, as they tell you something about what is going on here.
The first image may seem familiar to some readers, as it is an image that PETA have used in a campaign against hearing research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison It is a campaign marked by a mixture of clever publicity and a willingness to distort and misrepresent the facts, and of course two independent investigations refuted PETA’s allegations.
The second image, also from PETA, shows a connector to a 10×10 silicon micro-electrode array first developed at the University of Utah in the late 1990’s, which later formed a key part of the Braingate system. In 2012 the Braingate system enabled a woman named Jan Scheuermann, quadraplegic for over a decade due to a spinal degenerative disease, to feed herself using a brain-machine interface that monitored her motor neuron activity and allowed her to manipulate a robotic arm and hand.
It’s worth noting that valuable to advancing medical science as the implants used in the UW-Madison and University of Utah research are, they were not used in the UCL research that the Daily Mirror is attacking, but when has the Mirror ever let the facts (or truth) stand in the way of a good image*?
UCL has issued a statement on the use of cats in research, which concludes by saying:
Despite advances in non-animal methods it is still essential to use animals where no viable alternatives exist – for both the clinical science which directly informs medical treatments, as well as the basic science which, by advancing understanding of biological processes, is an important precursor to it. The earlier work carried out on cats provided an excellent understanding of how the visual system works. As a result, it is no longer necessary to use cats as the model for this type of work which is why it has been discontinued.
So here goes, a run through of what is – hopefully – one of the worst pieces of yellow journalism that you’ll see this year.
* The Mirror has a long history of distorting research to advance animal rights propaganda. In the late 1980’s they made false allegations against Professor Colin Blakemore of the University of Oxford, and were eventually forced to print a retraction.
Speaking of Research