Please leave a comment of support at the bottom of this article for Christine, and please share with your colleagues to raise awareness of the vile and irresponsible tactics of PETA in their targeting of a young researcher at Yale University.
What would someone need to do to deserve threats online, protests at their place of work, and the publication of their image and home address? According to PETA, they would just need to be a researcher that works on animals.
Christine Lattin is a post-doctoral researcher at Yale University who studies birds in order to better understand the impact of stress on animals and humans. In her own words:
The focus of my research is to understand how different neurotransmitters and hormones help animals successfully choose mates, raise young, escape from predators, and survive harsh winters and other challenging conditions. One of the major areas of my research is the stress response. While stress helps animals and humans survive and cope with challenges, too much stress is bad and leads to health problems. Understanding stress in wild animal populations is important because stressors like habitat destruction, climate change, and species invasions now affect most, if not all, animal species.
Christine believes in openness and transparency, which is why she runs a website where she explains more about her research – this can help educate the public on the importance of the work she does. It is well worth a read: www.christinelattin.com. All of Dr Lattin’s work has been approved by the Yale Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and all of it must comply with the Ornithological Council’s ‘Guidelines to the use of wild birds in research’.
PETA do not like animal research, and PETA do not like Christine Lattin. Why did they choose to focus on her? Who knows. Is it because she is young? Female? Not yet tenured? While avian research is not a common target for animal rights groups, the fact she studies stress would fit the typical choice of target.
In May, PETA set up an alert to allow individuals to send emails to administrators at Yale University, demanding that the institution “put an immediate end to Lattin’s experiments on birds”. Her research is presented as cruel, curiosity-driven torture. These misleading claims are put next to images of Christine for any activist to see.
Let us briefly examine some of the claims made by PETA:
“Some birds were fed crude oil, and others’ legs were wounded without any pain relief. After weeks and sometimes months of repeated abuse, they’re then killed. Not only are the experiments extremely cruel, they’re also wasteful because important physiological differences between species make the results inapplicable to humans or other birds.”
The oil research provides an example of how Christine’s research is misrepresented. Context is crucial. The study involved putting small amounts of oil into the food (equal to 1% of food weight) of captured wild sparrows. While there were no obvious outward signs this had any effect, and many potential biomarkers of oil exposure in the blood were also normal, blood sampling revealed that birds were not able to secrete normal concentrations of stress hormones after exposure to a standardized stressor (a brief period of restraint in a clean, breathable cloth bag) and an injection of adrenocorticotropic hormone. Contrary to the PETA claim that such research was not applicable to other species, Christine explicitly states the relevance of her research to other birds in her publication: “as a passerine species, they are taxonomically similar to many birds living in coastal and riparian areas contaminated by oil, such as seaside sparrows (Ammodramus maritimus) and tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).” Furthermore, this research is already being used by other researchers to show health problems and deaths observed in wild dolphins and sea turtles after Deepwater Horizon were due to oil exposure. On the claim that birds’ “legs were wounded without any pain relief”, this is categorically false. A brief glimpse at the original paper shows that the birds were anesthetised (using isoflurane, the general anesthetic recommended by the Ornithological Council because of its safety in birds):
“[W]e administered a small superficial wound to either the left or right thigh of birds using a 4 mm biopsy punch […] Prior to wounding we anesthetized birds using isoflurane.”
The PETA alert began a string of abuse on Twitter:
From the merely aggressive “All you do is torture and slaughter birds for USELESS research” to the outright threatening “She should be put out of her misery” and “I am the bump in the night for you Christine Lattin unless you resign”. One hopes that PETA will be policing these comments and reporting them to Twitter, though I sadly doubt it.
It is worth taking a moment to thank the many people who came to Christine’s aid on Twitter (and there were many people). One user noted:
Bob Calder (@bob_calder) August 18, 2017
Another noted the hypocrisy of PETA, noting a recent incident where PETA had to pay $49,000 to settle a lawsuit after they stole and put down a young girl’s pet chihuahua.
As some might expect, the comments have not been limited to Twitter. As a result of the PETA campaign, Christine has received numerous hateful and threatening emails. No researcher, particularly one still taking their first steps in research, should have to deal with this sort of harassment.
In the latest stunt, PETA activist (note the PETA email address), has organised a protest outside Christine’s home.
There are four things to note from this event:
- A protest is planned outside Christine’s home (where her husband and child also live)
- Inflammatory language and false claims are made in the text.
- It is set up by an official PETA campaigner, Katerina Davidovich. The fact she is an official PETA campaigner is evidenced by her PETA email address.
- She/PETA will be providing all materials for the protest.
PETA are irresponsible in their decision to put the home address of Christine and her family in the public domain, next to false claims. We roundly condemn PETA for their actions and hope they not only remove all details of their upcoming home protest but also issue a prominent apology to Christine for the harassment she has received.
Please join us in condemning this campaign of harassment by PETA. We hope many scientists will leave a message of support for Christine alongside their name, role, and institution.
Speaking of Research