Yale ornithologist Dr Christine Lattin has attracted the ire of animal rights group PETA, leading to threats and intimidation. Lattin's work is helping to save native birds from pollution, climate change, and invasive species, but PETA's actions seldom make sense.
Lattin is a postdoctoral researcher at Yale. In just three years since she finished her PhD, she has published a dozen papers, including in some of the most respected journals in her field. One of her projects demonstrated that even small quantities of crude oil in the diet of sparrows affects their stress responses. The work has been used to highlight the importance of preventing even small oil spills. More recently, Lattin studied the way female sparrows respond to the songs of potential mates and other species, helping conservationists find ways sparrows, although feral, can coexist with endangered natives.
In May, PETA singled Lattin out for attack, demanding Yale halt her work immediately. In June, when Lattin posted a picture of a conference poster to Twitter, she was deluged with abusive responses that accused her of “torturing and killing” birds. Some tweets appeared to be death threats.
Recently, the harassment has included protests outside Lattin's house, presumably a frightening experience for her young child.
Earlier this week, we criticized PETA for their appalling advert trying to link autism to milk consumption. This was based on truly shoddy “science”, but at least it makes sense for an animal rights group to go after the milk industry, given the amount of suffering factory farms cause. However, it is hard to see why Lattin was picked as a target. Not only does her work offer the potential to save endangered species that might otherwise go extinct, but it doesn't appear to be particularly cruel.
There are abundant ethical questions about what sort of pain can justifiably be inflicted on animals in the name of research, but if you want to stop cruelty, Lattin's non-lethal studies, conducted under anesthetic, are surely low on the list. PETA has responded by claiming Lattin's work is done without anesthetic, but produced no evidence to support this. An embarrassment to the rest of the animal rights' movement, PETA long ago chose shock tactics over facts.
In an article drawing attention to the attacks, Professor Kevin Folta (who has suffered much criticism of his own) speculates Lattin has been singled out because, as a postdoc, she is particularly vulnerable. In the light of the stresses postdocs suffer, this would be a vicious basis for decision-making, but apparently PETA don't include humans in the animals deserving ethical treatment.
A page has been established where fellow researchers and members of the public have voiced their support for Lattin.