Tag Archives: children

Never Judge An Article By Its Headline

I am occasionally reminded that “news” outlets these days are more in the business of drawing viewers than of actually reporting accurate news.  This is especially dangerous in the area of science — journalists are not often trained scientists and it sometimes occurs that a journalist, in reading an article and trying to pull an eye-catching headline out of it, draws an incomplete or erroneous conclusion from the research and then publishes a “news” article about that conclusion.  Thousands of people read the erroneous headline, never look at the source publication, and pick up, however subliminally, the mistaken message.

Today in my Facebook feed I found these two competing headlines:

Your Baby and Your Dog Light Up Similar Parts of the Brain

Neurobiological basis of human-pet relationship: Mothers’ brains respond differently to images of their child and their dog

Image Source: Dee @ www.morguefile.com

Image Source: Dee @ www.morguefile.com

The first headline says that our brains react similarly when we view photos of our pets and our children, implying that the same mechanisms may influence our relationships with both.  The second headline states that our brains react differently when we view photos of our pets and our children, implying that different mechanisms may influence our relationships with both.

I was somewhat appalled to find that both articles refer to the exact same study, which actually supports both conclusions.  Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital examined the brains of 16 women (14 actually completed the entire study) via MRI while they viewed photographs of their children and their dog, as well as photographs of unfamiliar children and dogs, then compared the women’s reactions to each.  The abstract ends with the following sentence: “Although there are similarities in the perceived emotional experience and brain function associated with the mother-child and mother-dog bond, there are also key differences that may reflect variance in the evolutionary course and function of these relationships.”

So, based on this extremely small (only 14 subjects!) and preliminary study (the official press release indicates that the researchers themselves suggest further research with a larger sample), one can conclude that, well, we use the same bits of our brain to evaluate our relationships with both our pets and our children, but these bits respond differently to pets than they do to children.  Both of our headlines could be true.  Who knows?  This tiny study is only “contribut[ing] to answering this complex question“.

The lesson here?  Always read the source material, and never assume that any single “news” headline is telling you the entire story.  (In defense of both journalists in this instance, the accompanying articles were both much more neutral in tone than the headlines, and both provided reference to either the official press release or the original article.)

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It’s Okay To Shoot Kittens As Long As We Can’t See

Multiple sources.

Multiple sources.

A sadly tiny blip across the “WTF” radar was the shooting of five kittens by an Ohio policeman named Bob (or Barry) Accorti on June 10, 2013.  The story in brief: homeowner has litter of feral cats in her woodpile; calls police; police send Accorti (a “part-time humane officer”, according to the North Ridgeville, OH, police web site).  The homeowner assumes, and Accorti tells the homeowner specifically, that the cats will be “euthanized” as “the shelters are all full”.  Homeowner pictures “euthanasia” involving the cats being trapped and taken to a shelter and euthanized there.  Accorti, however, conforms to the traditional police method of euthanasia (another link, another link) for “nuisance animals” — and instead shoots the 8-10-week old kittens, right in front of the homeowner and her young children who are watching through the windows.

The department has cleared him of any wrongdoing, concluding that the officer acted as required to remove the nuisance animals and that “research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.”  (Well, yes, they do, but “with conditions” and only in “emergency situations”, requiring that personnel be “highly skilled” and that “pre-euthanasia sedation is recommended” because cats “may be difficult to shoot humanely” (section S1.3.3).)  He was, perhaps, extremely tactless about it, but he did the job he was called to do, and did it in a legally acceptable manner.

Using phrases like “screaming kids” and “helpless kittens“, multiple individuals and organizations are trying to get Accorti punished, somehow, for shooting the kittens.  However, they can’t punish him for shooting the kittens, because shooting kittens is, technically, a viable option, and legal (at least in Ohio) — so instead they’re trying to punish him for shooting the kittens in front of the children.

I am of two minds on this point: I believe we should at least be open and honest about the horrible things we do to animals (only by publicly acknowledging that these things are being done can we stop them being done).  If you’re going to shoot kittens, you should not be able to do it in secret — you should have to do it right out in the open so everybody knows it’s happening, and has ample opportunity to object and/or stop you.  However, I also believe there is a required maturity level juvenile humans should reach before being confronted with concepts like “things die” and “sometimes we cause things to die”, and that the officer was not in a position to dictate whether or not those kids were at that maturity level.  In any case, the officer probably should have at least warned the homeowner before firing, so she could choose whether or not she wanted to educate her children about those ideas at that exact moment.

I think the bigger point, however, is this: if we’re offended and horrified by the shooting of kittens, so much so that we don’t want our children exposed to it, and don’t want to see it ourselves — why don’t we attack, and call to ban, “the shooting of kittens” instead of “the shooting of kittens in front of children“?  Officer Accorti, and his actions, are not the problem here — the problem is that our legal system still regards “gunshot to the head” as a viable method of euthanasia for cats (and a bunch of other animals, including dogs).  If we think that’s so horrible that we’re willing to lynch a guy for doing it, maybe we ought to consider passing legislation prohibiting that method of “euthanasia”.