Digital Pawprint

Our office conversations are usually pretty fascinating (if I do say so myself) but this week we’ve been really been outdoing ourselves in the animal welfare corridor of the vet school.

What rights do people have over their pet’s image?

Our conversation was, as so many of the best conversations are, the result of some interesting coincidences. Our new e-Learning developer at the vet school was the genesis of Edinburgh University’s ‘Digital Footprint‘ campaign, designed to help staff and students manage their awareness of their online presence. We’ve been thinking about this a lot ourselves as we build more and more e-resources (with our YouTube channels too!).

When we take footage of an animal for educational purposes, we get the owner’s consent. But a lot of the animals we record are strays, who hopefully will go on to become somebody’s pet after they get adopted. We also sometimes ‘misrepresent’, in the loosest sense of the word, what might be happening in a piece of footage.

For example, I have a great piece of footage of Athena scratching my hand, seemingly without warning. I use it to accompany lectures/resources of cat aggression. What this piece of footage doesn’t show is that we had been playing boisterously for a few minutes prior to the scratch and I knew full well what was going to happen. I also don’t show much of her reaction afterwards, where she immediately stops her playing and starts a whole host of affiliative behaviours that is a cat’s version of apologising when it knows it’s stepped over the line. The behaviour isn’t really aggression at all, just one component of Athena’s full behavioural repertoire, the same way that if I swear at my friends it isn’t really ‘aggression’ so much as part of our friendship. But I fully believe that as an educator, the clip I show makes my overall message stronger and a facsimile of the behaviour in question is far better than a visual-less description.

I can do this because I fully understand the implications of what I’m saying and what it means to pair that with an image of Athena. Can an owner do the same? For example, if we recorded a dog in the vet clinic and then were later to use that image to imply the dog was in pain (when in fact we know its pain was well managed and these behaviours actually have another cause), has the owner been able to give full, informed consent for this? The answer is ‘no’, and it makes our job really difficult as we try to find images that we have full control over. Which is why you see our animals more than any others in our MOOCs and videos.

It becomes even more complicated when we use images of animals in shelters. They will go on to become somebody’s pet, we hope. Can we use those images when their new owner has never consented? Worse, could we possibly damage a new pet-owner relationship by showing the animal out of context? If somebody watches one of our videos and sees their new dog being the poster child for ‘aggressive dogs’, will they immediately return their new dog? From a risk management point of view, while the risk severity of this is high, the likelihood of the risk is small. It still preys on our minds though. Our best practice is to seek informed consent, and we’re looking at improving this process as we talk with our MOOC team for super secret future projects that just happen to need lots of footage of cats and dogs . . .

But this argument is not just academic. You may have seen the article in the Guardian where the winners of a Thomas Cook selfie competition were contacted by the owners of the horse who featured in their selfie. The horse is performing a Flehmen’s Response (not ‘sticking its tongue out’ as the article claims), but the owners say they trained the horse to do this. While the owners may not be able to control their horse’s image while it is in a public place, do they have the intellectual property rights to the act of training their horse at all?

To go for another example, if I was to relinquish Athena (perhaps because she had jumped on my bladder one last time on a lazy Sunday morning), and one of her future owners then capitalised on her ability to carry out a conversation, could I claim the intellectual property rights as I was the one who had trained her to do that?

Of course there’s another argument, and that is that the animals themselves own their images. Certainly Wikipedia has been contending that the IP of this particular image belongs to no one, as the photographer is the macaque itself! Animal Rights groups, of course, disagree. (Check out my post ‘Value‘ if you want more chat about the ethics of animal use).

Finally, if I am aware of all of this, and the contention of ownership over image, and I post it on my blog anyway . . .

Monkey takes selfie

By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain],via Wikimedia Commons

 

. . . have I just lost all my ethical street cred?

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When You Know Better than the Expert

John Bradshaw, a scientist at Bristol, wrote two fabulous books: Dog Sense and Cat Sense. They are some of the best popular science books I’ve ever read, and helped me to decide that the Animal Personality book could be a good pop science book. I cite Bradshaw a lot in this blog, if you take a look over the companion animal and cats tags you’ll see his name come up a lot.

So I was interested to see the Guardian’s regular “You Googled It So We Asked the Experts” column had been given to John Bradshaw to answer “Why Aren’t Cats Loyal?

You know from the number of Guardian links that appear on this blog that I enjoy a good Guardian article, but there is the phenomenon “Below The Line” where the Guardian commenters turn their rabid, foaming fingers to the columnist.

In this article I was near in stitches reading the likes of:

I thought that study was pretty superficial. My cat is more out going and more assured when I’m around. It may not be immediate like for a dog but they do miss us. At least mine does.

Superficial, this is why I have decided to go into great depth and talk about my one animal.

My cats have a range of facial expressions and have several vocal expressions to let you know what they want.

Which is why your cats have ten times the facial muscles everybody else’s have . . . oh, they don’t? Perhaps your ability to ‘understand’ them is part of this whole scientific question? Who knew.

The studies are a heap of crap I reckon, my cats are totally loyal more loyal than dogs I’d say without a doubt. With dogs its their nature, cats choose who they are loyal to, there is a big difference when comparing the two.

Science communciation, what a joy.

To all those who read the article and feel their cats were misrepresented, I urge you to pick up Cat Sense which is a sublime read and puts a huge amount of effort into communicating the science, because as another recent Guardian article points out, it is everybody’s responsibility to try and understand the science.

Ethical Eating – The Climate

We’ve come to the last of my three considerations for ethical eating, eating with a climate conscious. Much as we have been discovering throughout this set of themed posts, there is no ‘easy’ answer to this. The climate is a complex system that is definitely heating up, but the best way to mitigate these changes is not so obvious.

It’s common to hear about two main challenges here: the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that come from our agriculture, and the GHG emissions that come from our food transport.

Agricultural GHGs

This has been a huge topic within agricultural science lately, and it never fails to make people giggle because it’s all about farts and burps, and as someone who has regularly been farted and burped on by cattle in my life, I’m aware of their abilities in this area. There’s a fairly old (2007!) article about this in the Guardian which I think lays out the issues well, and then almost the exact same article was run in 2010.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of United Nations, worldwide, the agricultural sector accounts for 18% of our global greenhouse gas emissions (FAO). This is unequally split between methane emissions (35% of global emissions), CO2 (only 9% of global emissions) and Nitrous Oxide (a whopping 65% of global emissions). Check out their comprehensive infographic here.

The methane comes mostly from the digestive process of our livestock (from 2001-2010 they emitted 40% of the agricultural GHGs) and this is what the Guardian articles were getting at when suggesting we should eat less animal products. This is not just meat, but dairy products are a big emitter here. (Seems like dairy just can’t catch a break, and seeing as it certainly makes me emit methane . . . well, less said about that the better I suppose).

There are attempts to mitigate livestock emissions, most often through changing their diet (Boadi, 2004; Beuchemin et al 2007; Several PhDs I know), as the fermentation process inside the gut which produces methane is heavily influenced by the microbiota in there too.

De Vries & De Boer (2009) reviewed the entire life cycle of various products and ranked the production of 1kg of each animal product in terms of their global warming potential. Their ranks end up being:

  • Beef, most global warming potential
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Milk, least global warming potential

However, they are quick to point out the difficulty of comparing all these different life cycles. All the same it’s very convincing evidence that at the very least we need to be drastically reducing our meat consumption.

But what about other produce . . .

Food Miles

Weber & Matthews (2008) have an open access paper looking again at the life cycles of food, but they also investigated transport. Their abstract is really good from a science communication point of view, finishing with a succinct and relateable statement that even non-experts can understand:

Shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.

How can this be the case? Well as the paper details, transport is only a small part of the overall chain. Edward-Jones et al (2008) have a critical review of the ‘buy local’ ethos and point out that without taking into account the whole life cycle (for which information can be limited), you can’t comment on whether local grown is better (in GHG terms) than imported food. But can it really be better for my Braeburn apples to come from New Zealand than England? Gonzalez et al (2011) conducted a study in Sweden investigating this and the culprit is the amount of heat these non-seasonal and non-native products need to grow. Better to grow them in season in their native ranges and fly them over.

Eating Ethically

With all of these posts I think there’s a common theme, which isn’t going to surprise anyone. We need to eat less meat, waste less food, and buy from sustainable sources. The ethics of buying from the right communities is the part that I find the most difficult, but I also know I lack the food-based skills I need to waste less food.

So here are some resources to get me, and maybe you, started:

Have you got any others I should know about?

Cecil the Lion and Trophy Hunting

This week’s horrible animal welfare story comes courtesy of a certain American dentist, yes we’re talking about the trophy killing of Cecil the lion.

I won’t name the gentleman (the Guardian has no such qualms), but according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, he . . .

  • Paid $50,000 for the privilege (Cecil is a well known personality of the park thought to bring in thousands of dollars annually, at a conservative estimate)
  • Spotted the lion in the park and then lured him outside of the park with bait
  • Shot the lion with an arrow, failed to kill it
  • Followed the lion until were able to shoot it with a gun, killing it.
  • Did so with no permit
  • Removed the lion’s radiotracking collar

The Telegraph rightly points out that locals who had been found guilty of hunting without a permit would be imprisoned if found guilty. I sincerely hope rich hunters have to abide by the same legal systems.

I’m not totally against hunting. In cases of overpopulation, a skilled hunter able to kill an animal quickly and humanely in its natural environment is what I would consider a ‘good death after a good life’. The hunter needs to kill the right animals (this is never the big males) and I would prefer if the animal’s body was used after death, but I’m okay with this.  I’m not even necessarily against culling lions, but I want there to be valid conservation reasons behind it. My ethical viewpoint, which is a pretty common one, is that animal use needs to be justified, and one person’s enjoyment does not allow me to approve of the painful and prolonged death this lion suffered. (I talk more about animal use in the Value post).

For a humane death we need to be using the right kind of gear. While it’s very impressive shooting things with a bow and arrow, it’s not the cleanest kill-method. Take the Makah people who live in Washington State. When they were allowed to hunt grey whales again, as part of their traditional hunting, they chose to use high powered rifles to make as quick a kill as possible. I really like the Makah’s story for a number of reasons (and frequently contrast it with UK fox hunting with my students, to varying degrees of success), including that the not all of the tribe were keen on the idea of starting up their hunting again.

A modern bow and arrow is a fearful weapon, but still not one that kill as quickly and reliably as a gun. Guns are extremely effective weapons, and short of being stunned prior to killing, a high caliber bullet to the brain is a quick and painless death.

Despite my disagreements with the method, what’s happening to this hunter right now isn’t right. We protect animal welfare because we want to be better, we should protect human welfare for the same reason. This guy should be prosecuted in a court of law, protected from the internet’s mob-happy vengeance.

Cow Safety

When the manic teaching and marking periods hit my posting schedule falls apart, and even when it goes quiet, because I haven’t built up a backlog of posts, there’s less on the blog. I’m sorry about that, and I hope to have a proper sciencey post up soon before taking a short summer break.

But in the meantime there has been in a story in the news I wanted to talk about.

The Glasgow Herald reports on the inquest into the death of a professor in a field of cows. This is a sad and all-too frequent story. Cows are often put on ‘world’s most dangerous animals‘ lists, particularly used to juxtapose sharks and animals we think we should be afraid of.

The reasons for the number and severity of cattle-related deaths are fairly self explanatory. They are big, powerful animals with high economic impact and who often come into close contact with humans because of how we keep them (Watts et al 2013). Bulls tend to trample and cows tend to kick, both of which cause huge trauma to the human body, sometimes not survivable (Norwood et al, 2000).

Generally these accidents happen when people come into close contact with beef suckler herds, these are the cows we use to raise our beef meat, the calves you see with them in the fields. In Britain at least, if you forced me to be choose which production animal to be reincarnated as, I’d take a beef suckler cow. They have a pretty relaxed and natural life, left to raise their babies, and that’s part of why they become so aggressive when they’re with their calves. They’re simply trying to protect their babies against a perceived threat, because they’re not in regular contact with humans.

By contrast, dairy breeds are more likely to be dangerous because they are so used to contact with humans, and a bolshy dairy cow with no fear is a very frightening thing indeed. I remember taking a pressure washer through a pen one day instead of around it and being chased the whole way by a very angry girl. That’s not a mistake you make twice.

When dealing with cows, even when posing with cows, I always know how I’m going to get out of the pen. I watch them carefully for any warning signs, aggressive behaviours, foot stamping, head tossing, head swinging, vocalisations, and I definitely don’t ever trust them.

If you’re taking advantage of the warm weather this summer, be careful around cows. These girls don’t take no bullshit.

Why Science Probably Hates You

There was a great article on Gawker recently about the Food Babe blog, calling out her bad science.

Now I’ve never come across the Food Babe blog, as a scientist working in agriculture I don’t think our circles mix. The article is really interesting though. I do follow It’s Okay To Be Smart, though, and Joe posted a really interesting question in his reblog of the article.

Anyway, I shared the above article on my personal Facebook page yesterday, and one of my friends left a comment that really made me think. By calling her out, by trashing her ideas and shining light on her unscientific fearmongering, are we actually helping her? To paraphrase my friend Scott, by using scientific expertise as a bullying tactic and by spreading this story around in the Name of Science™, could this be the best PR she could ask for? Does this play into her hands, The Food Babe vs. The Establishment?

Misinformation like this needs to be called out. People should not be lied to and made to fear science. But do articles like this help her more than they hurt? How do we continue to battle misinformation without creating martyrs for the misinformed?

I don’t have the answer, but I do have another component of the question I want to ask. Last week, io9, Gawker’s sister site, posted an article titled “Your Pet Rabbit Hates You”. That was the title on the page, the title on Twitter, the key to making people click on the article. It certainly made me click.

The article itself is an interesting piece on tonic immobility, where some species of animals go immobile when placed on their backs. Jones (1986) describes tonic immobility as an unlearned response, e.g. instinctive, where the animal goes catatonic-like state with reduced reaction to external stimuli.  People like to show off tonic immobility, and it does have a place in animal management, but it’s also related to fear, either causing it, or caused by it (Gallup, 1977) – as a side note, I like the fact that one of the more recent studies linking tonic immobility to a personality trait uses Bayesian statistics. Consider my brain melted (Edelaar et al, 2012).

And this is really just the point the io9 article is making – that people who turn their rabbits upside down are subjecting it to unnecessary and unpleasant stress. That’s good for rabbit welfare on the whole, right? It gives people evidence to come to their own conclusions.

But that title, “Your Rabbit Probably Hates You”, immediately pits the article (and ergo the science) against the rabbit caretaker. Against the people whose behaviour your are trying to change for the good of the animal. It’s what I said last week, it’s what I said in the MOOC, it’s what I’ve been saying for ages.

If you want to improve an animal’s welfare, you have to be an ally of their owner. This smug, click-bait style reporting of scientific news innately pits the uninformed audience against the facts. Hungerford and Volk (2005) talk about the importance of empowering people when getting them to change their behaviours regarding the environment. By giving people solutions and tapping into their attention to act, you may find it easier to change their behaviours.

What if, instead of “Your Rabbit Hates You”, people saw “Your Rabbit Will Love You Even More If . . .”

What if, instead of “The Food Babe Blogger is Full of Shit,” people saw: “The Evidence Behind Food Claims”.

Not as clickworthy, possibly, but would it help people change their behaviours?

Kai: The Case of Paddington Ayr

Scotland’s been abuzz with the story of Kai, the Shar-Pei cross abandoned at Ayr railway station with a suitcase of his belongings. Buzzfeed has more information here.

The SSPCA has taken him in and the attention his story received has meant he has literally hundreds of homes offered to him. I’m sure his story will have a happy ending, the SSPCA are spoiled for choice, they’ll find him a good home, I am sure. The SSPCA are also fixing his eyes (the eyelids are turning inwards, meaning his eyelashes scratch his corneas – a simple surgery to fix), so he’ll find his new home, with good health.

But the ‘why’ of the story truly confuses me. If you’re giving up an animal, why not take it to a shelter? What pride stops you from taking a clearly loved animal to where you know it will be safe? Or is it some way of trying to take it back at the last minute? To return in half an hour to collect the dog you’ve ‘forgotten’, except someone makes the final choice for you? Again, Buzzfeed has an account from the alleged abandoner. I don’t buy it at all.

But the story has raised an interesting side issue. Kai was sold on Gumtree, and quite a few people have come out to say that this is why buying and trading animals online is a bad idea.

I’m not sure I agree.

In some ways, Athena was traded online. My friend Leigh was fostering Athena and her siblings and posting photos of them on Facebook. I remember, distinctly, being curled up under a thin sheet in Bellevue, Seattle, very hungover and trying to ignore the snores of my fellow geeks around me. I saw a picture of Athena cuddled up with one of her sisters. She was the cat of my idle fantasies. You know when you picture yourself as a ‘grown-up’, in a Victorian farm house with a green aga, copper pots hanging in the kitchen, a kitchen island with a sofa on one side of it . . . in my version of that classic middle class dream, there was always a little silver tabby cat sitting on the kitchen island, watching the goings on. While I had been looking for a cat for a year, seeing the perfect kitten in a picture prompted me to message Leigh and the rest is history (history currently sitting on my knee waiting for an opportunity to catch at my earring again).

What’s the difference between Athena’s story and Kai’s? Both were spotted over the internet, after all.

The difference is duty of care. Leigh and the shelter she volunteered for had duty of care of Athena, and when I messaged them hungover, fragile and on the other side of the world, I was still vetted by Leigh. I have every confidence that she would never have recommended me to the shelter if she didn’t believe I could take care of Athena. In fact, in our early days, Leigh had more confidence in me than I did!

This is perhaps where the comparison between Athena and Kai falls apart completely. Athena is lucky enough to have been under the care of people who saw pet owning as a responsibility her whole life. We don’t know what Kai’s owners were thinking. We don’t know what brought him to Ayr Station, although we may wish he had been relinquished in a more responsible manner, and we may wish his previous owners had taken more responsibility for passing him on.

None of these problems come from the medium by which he was traded.

Now if you were to ask me if dog licensing would have helped, there you might find me sympathetic.

The Fashionable Scientist

Science, being the awesome beast it is, recently landed a ten year old probe on a comet. My laptop is three years old and it’s already beginning to groan and whine.

But you’ve probably heard and seen the commotion over one of the scientist’s shirt, which was a gaudy, loud, and featured many half clad ladies on it. On Twitter, a wit said this:

 

And thus began a Twitter storm of epic proportions as ever. On the one side, those who (rightly) feel that the posit03ion of women in STEM fields is a tenuous one and needs direct action, the other those who (rightly) feel that what a scientist wears has little to do with their achievements or even their attitudes to other people.

I was asked by some of my friends what I felt about the issue being both a scientist and a dyed in the wool feminist.

Before I commit my words to the internet it’s important to recognise that my opinions on this are based on my own ethics, my own experiences and they might not necessarily reflect that of all feminists, all women or all scientists – but I also believe my opinion is the right one, hence the fact it’s mine (hey – this is pretty much exactly like animal welfare ethics!)

I think it’s a storm in a teacup. The guy wore a dumb shirt, a woman rolled her eyes, and suddenly we’re onto the death threats. Why is this the default position of the internet? I think it’s sad that the guy was reduced to tears in his apology, I think it’s horrific the tweeter’s life was threatened for pointing out a very real problem. It is frankly ridiculous to say that a shirt overshadowed the accomplishment of the human race. Humans are more than capable of carrying two or more issues in their heads at one time.

Really the only person who address this with any degree of clarity was my guiding light, Hadley Freeman. In her style column she says:

There are so many signifiers of sexism in the world and the science world that to attack a man for his shirt feels a little bit like fussing at a leaky tap when the whole house is under a tidal wave . . .  There is a difference – and I concede, the difference may be fuzzy in some cases – between enjoying the weird fantasy-world depiction of women, and seeing actual women as sex objects. Taylor has the right to wear whatever pig-ugly shirt he likes, and people have the right to be outraged by it. But when that outrage leads to a grown man weeping on TV, perhaps we all need to ask if this outrage is proportionate. My God, I’m a fashion bitch and even I don’t want to make anyone cry over my comments about their clothes.

 

But as it’s the run up to Christmas, there is a silver lining. My wonderful STEM field compatriot has her HauteDog Couture shop on Etsy. We’ve decided at our next meet up we’ll wear dresses made of that shirt material. HauteDog Couture is amazing. Check it out.

Fluffy Friday – Frankenstein MD

Did you know that the first science fiction story was written by a woman? I wrote my advanced higher English thesis on ‘monsters’ and The Modern Prometheus was one of the texts I chose.

So imagine my excitement when the team behind the excellent Lizzie Bennett diaries (a YouTube adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I adored) announced that, in partnership with PBS Digital Studios, they were making Frankenstein MD.

The cool twist is that Victor is now Victoria, which I think is awesome, particularly as women in STEM fields are a problem for us.

Unfortunately the first three episodes have fallen a bit flat for me. They’ve broken away from the Lizzie Bennet ‘video diary’ style and there are multiple camera angles. If you’re going to do that, why have the video diary format at all?

And it may be premature to judge, but I’m terribly worried about how they’ll handle Victoria ‘reaching too far’. Men may have hubris in science fiction, but women always seem to be reaching for knowledge they (or ‘man’kind) shouldn’t. This is an important theme in Frankenstein, but as Frankenstein will ultimately either have ‘reached too far’ or fail to take responsibility for the ‘life’ he has created, I find these troublesome tropes to be laying at the door of a female scientist. Too familiar.

Now I loved the Lizzie Bennett diaries, and I maintain some hope that they will deal with this sensitively (after all, ‘Its Okay To Be Smart’  is the science advisor), but already she’s being dismissive and cruel to her Igor who in this iteration is a man (why not another woman?) and who already appears to fancy Victoria and she seems to know it. Leading to some awkward moment when he kills himself in episode one.

Maybe this will all even out in time. I did think that the Lizzie Bennett diaries would never work. But, that being said, I never got into Emma Approved either.

 

Before I go – I shall say that FluffySciences is on hiatus for the next three weeks as I will be away visiting old friends and family, as well as attending PAX! I’m very excited and can’t wait to be there, so enjoy your summer break all, and see you on the other side.

FoodInc – The Documentary Problem

I have mentioned a few times that I am a big fan of film, but that doesn’t always extend to documentaries. Why is this? Well I have an instinctive distrust of documentaries – I would not consider them a good source of information. In fact this was why I made my post on the Blackfish documentary. Much as I enjoyed it as a story, I wasn’t convinced it used the facts and science to the best possible way it did.

I am no expert in film, but I have spent a lot of my life consuming media and creating media to some extent. I’m a regular on TV Tropes. But it was this video by Every Frame a Painting (a great YouTube channel if you like film theory) that made me able to iterate what it is about FoodInc that makes me uncomfortable. Documentaries use the language of film to create an argument, and I think we have been trained not to argue with the language of film. Do you remember the uproar of Inception’s ending, was it real, was it not? Film critics talk about how the viewer is given no token to tell them where there is a dream and where there is reality in the film – which is unusual, because as audiences we are used to being told what to believe. The language of movies tells us to accept what is happening on the screen – this is suspension of disbelief. If you’re in a superhero movie, you don’t complain about the destruction of property unless it is egregious or you’re making a point.

Documentaries give us emotional reactions to facts – and when I see people bring them up as something to support their arguments, it sets my teeth on edge.

FoodInc is beautifully slick. That opening sequence is so stylish and borrows so much from the language of traditional films it might seem like an odd choice for a documentary. It uses music reminiscent of a psychological thriller. All of these are cues that a piece of fictional film would use to tell you to be afraid of what you’re about to see. It’s a great piece of film making, but it’s not a component of a rational, scientific argument.

It uses amazing infographics and zooms in and out of the labels, tying the identity of the stories to the situation you are used to being in every day – the supermarket. The message is that you should be afraid of this thing in your very own supermarket, like you should be afraid of the axe murderer undoubtedly waiting right behind you in the horror film.

Early on in the documentary there is a very powerful shot of a chicken in the foreground, prone, struggling to breathe, and the others behind it, out of focus. It’s like something from a Western movie, very stylised, not quite Sergio Leone but really striking – and so striking because the rest of that segment is very ‘documentary’, people talking to cameras, very traditional cinematography, and then suddenly this shot. It’s memorable.

The film works in chapters, each one snappily titled. This kind of style is now pretty well used in these kind of documentary cum educational programs, Crash Course comes to mind. The information is held in small, easily digestible chunks – really just a number of short acts strung together, each act with a different message, like each act has a different part of the story to tell.

For me as a scientist, watching something about an industry I am familiar with, FoodInc gives me a strange feeling. To see my industry treated with the language and style of a film, puts me on edge, even though I agree with a lot of its messages. We are much too disconnected with our food.

But documentaries are chiefly enjoyable because they use the language of film to tell us a story, not to teach us.

The final message – buy from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect – is powerful and important. But let’s not forget this film wasn’t Oscar nominated for its message, but the way it tells it.

And fundamentally, this is why I prefer not to use documentaries as evidence in an argument.