Digital Pawprint

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

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?

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?

Ethical Eating Month – Introduction

For someone who works in an agricultural college, I struggle with how to eat ethically. As we know, ethics are a personal thing, and my ethics may not be yours. My version of ethical eating is one that provides a good quality of life for the animals I eat, provides a good industry and quality of life for the people involved in the food chain, and minimises my carbon footprint.

So how do I try and eat ethically with these three goals? Well it’s surprisingly hard. In part this is because I am a deeply lazy person and the lure of pre-processed and delightfully packaged meals is hugely appealing, even if it as detrimental to my waistline as it is my world. In part, it’s because I’m also a hedonist (and I believe most people are). I don’t derive much joy from cooking and would rather skip the process entirely, and I get a lot of joy from the taste and smell and process of eating meat.  And in part because I’m a single person household, preparing food ahead of time is not always easy, and I do end up wasting food.

I’m an awful person.

You might have seen in the news further discussion of the price of milk in the UK, especially as Morrison’s has announced they will sell a milk brand ‘for farmers‘, that will pay them what the milk is worth. There was also Monbiot’s latest Guardian column about the difficulty of treating the obesity epidemic. I thought there was a curious parallel in these two stories. In the first, Sean Rickard, former National Farmer’s Union chief economist said:

“I think it’s unrealistic for anyone [receiving £28,000 per annum from the tax payer] to expect us just to pay them whatever price they think is needed to cover their cost of production.”

In the second, after Monbiot details the scientific evidence behind why obesity is so difficult to control, Guardian commenter ScottMa says:

“But for the majority it is entirely controllable. <ore [sic] difficult for some than others due to genes, maybe, but by no means impossible.

Monbiot has just absolved the overweight without a medical cause of all responsibility for their situation. Why does the Left have such a problem with that concept? Always someone else’s fault, everyone’s a victim.”

 

I have got to stop reading Guardian comments. But I think both of these comments share a few elements. Firstly, a great lack of sympathy for the people actually affected by the problems, and secondly, that food really does go hand in hand with opinion.

So many of us have been lectured at by bystanders, well-meaning family members, that one person in work, that we instinctively get riled about food discussions. Just this week I was saying that the ‘One Hour After a Coke’ Infographic that was going around had me rabidly proclaiming Coke as a health drink before I checked myself. We just don’t like being told about food.

I’m not going to tell you about food, but I am going to devote this month to the ethics of my eating, and giving myself time to refresh my understanding of my evidence. Welcome then to Ethical Eating Month, and I hope I don’t enrage you as much as food posts enrage me . . . .

Bon appetit!

Bacon Double Down

There was an interesting pair of articles in io9 last week, the report of double muscled pigs being bred by researchers in South Korea and China, and differences between how American scientists and the American public view science related issues.

Seeing these two articles so closely together was interesting.

The first thing that jumps out is that in America, there is a 51 percentage point gap between scientists and the public regarding whether or not it’s safe to eat genetically modified foods. You can play about with the day at the Pew Research Centre’s site where they have a fun inforgraphic to demonstrate how this changes with gender, age, science knowledge, etc. The story of the double muscled pigs then should evoke some concern in these people, no? Scientists meddling where they don’t belong?

But of course double muscling is old news – in fact we understand it pretty well. It’s a genetic mutation that inhibits the production or uptake of myostatin, a muscle growth regulator. So these animals have big muscles. There are a few breeds of cattle that have been selected for this mutation, such as the Piedmontese breed, and it’s a mutation that occurs in some whippets too. Deliberately adding the gene in a line of pigs is cool, but we also have pigs that glow in the dark.

The concern about double muscled pigs might come from the idea that humans shouldn’t genetically manipulate animals, but seeing as we’ve been doing it for a long time, I think it’s more the tool that some people object to. This innate distrust of the mad scientist.

But what really interested me in the double muscling article was the assertion that this development might help feed the world. I agree that it could, but not because we’re suddenly doubling down on our bacon production. After all, the world’s beef production isn’t purely carried by the Piedmontese and Belgian Blue (although they are important breeds). But the technical capacity we have to engineer our animals, with appropriate ethical supervision, really will help us in one of the theatres of world food production.

We just need to overcome that 50% point difference between us and the public to help us get there.

Your Weekly Sexist Scientist

(Edit: See below for my response to Tim Hunt’s resignation)

Okay, it’s partly because I’m in marking hell right now and don’t have the time to write a big post, but it’s partly because this shit keeps happening.

Nobel prize winner, Tim Hunt, addresses a collection of female scientists and says:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

Alleges the Guardian this morning.

And then of course, after reading this, you get the joy of reading below the line Guardian comments, including such gems as …

  • there is clearly something in what he says

  • In a world of open omnivorous sexuality, it’s all meant to shut down as you walk through the lab door. Hmm.

  • You must have a very low opinion of young women to believe that [this makes science less inclusive]

I don’t know about anyone else but I think I feel the tears happening already. It wasn’t like last week I was saying that each woman needs to decide for herself what she will or will not tolerate. It wasn’t that a few weeks before I was explaining why representation matters in all we do. It wasn’t that a few months ago we had reviewers saying a man should look over a manuscript, just assuming that the foolish women hadn’t already done so, even if it were a legitimate complaint. It’s not that even with the best of intentions, we can’t help but portray women in science as dangerous Eves, meddling just too far for mankind.

While it’s tempting to make a joke here, to leave off with a light hearted ‘see, I’m the fun kind of a feminist’ statement, something like “Who wants to come smuggle some scientists out of Hunt’s lab on a War Rig and paint their forehead black with me?” – I can’t.

I am tired of making the same argument over and over. I am tired of being told by older white men that I should be grateful for inclusion into a field I am damned good at. I am tired of having younger white men start to nod their heads. My beloved science needs to get over its representation problem.

And I bloody well hope that in forty three years time, when I’m advocating for separate human-AI labs, someone tells me to sit down and shut up. Because it won’t be my future I’m jeopardising then.

Tim Hunt has today resigned from his honourary professorship at UCL. Predictably, the radio this morning was full of old men bleating “political correctness gone mad!”.

A few misconceptions to clear up: the man’s contribution to science is not ‘lost’, nor is anyone throwing out what he’s achieved with his Nobel Prize winning innovations. This was an honourary position and so is supposed to reflect what the organisation wants to be. UCL prides themselves on being inclusive, and I think they’re absolutely right to say this resignation fits with their policies. Whether he jumped or was pushed is immaterial. Academic environments need and demand trust and faith in other scientists, you need to be able to evaluate one another on individual merits, not the makeup of your chromosomes.

And finally – no, I actually wish he hadn’t resigned. I wish he’d said “I have caused offense and I don’t understand why, so my employers are supporting me by sending me to equality and diversity training. I want to be open about this process, and we will review the situation after I have attended the requisite courses. I hope you can appreciate my openness and willingness to investigate opposing points of view”.

That, to me, would have illustrated a truly intelligent and incisive mind. And if, after, he maintained that he didn’t understand how he could have caused offence, then the UCL would be at liberty to open the door or push him out. Now he ends his career as a wounded beast, instead of one who is objectively more than clever enough to listen to what others have to say and feel.

Bad Science Careers Advice

Oh, WayBack machine. You were supposed to help us find old Geocities webpages, lost in the midst of time, and now you help us see terrible articles written in Science Careers magazine. How we love you.

Picture this. You’re a postdoc, you’ve just started a new job, and your supervisor keeps staring down your top. You write to Science Careers for help, and the reply is . . .

Well read some of it yourself.

As long as your adviser does not move on to other advances, I suggest you put up with it, with good humor if you can. Just make sure that he is listening to you and your ideas, taking in the results you are presenting, and taking your science seriously. His attention on your chest may be unwelcome, but you need his attention on your science and his best advice.

Jezebel responded by saying it sets the ‘Sexist Incidences in Science’ calendar back to zero. Science Careers quickly pulled the article. I’m not sure what editorial team let it go by to be honest. But then, I think we’ve established that I’m not really au fait with editors in the science world.

We can sit and snipe about this, making funny comments, but here’s the thing – the letter writer is still sitting in this office with someone peering at her tits. So I’m going to answer her as I would answer one of my students:

Dear Alice Fluffy,

Q: I’ve just joined a new lab for my second postdoc. It’s a good lab. I’m happy with my project. I think it could really lead to some good results. My adviser is a good scientist, and he seems like a nice guy. Here’s the problem: Whenever we meet in his office, I catch him trying to look down my shirt. Not that this matters, but he’s married.

What should I do?

—Bothered

Dear Bothered,

Let’s start with the obvious here, this behaviour is bothering you.  You have a choice. Either you adjust your expectations and expect to feel uncomfortable in your place of work, with someone you are supposed to be working collaboratively with. Alternatively, you can raise the issue and hope that both you and your advisor, who is apparently nice, can both behave in such a way that you will both feel comfortable together.

It’s really not for me to tell you which path to choose. I think every woman has to pick her battles. In my career I’ve faced sexual harassment a few times, and I haven’t always taken action against. The truth is that harassment is subjective, and it’s not always a clear cut case of “this is wrong”.

The problem, however, is when someone like you or I wants to speak up, but doesn’t because they’re afraid of the consequences to their career.

As a society, we need to learn how to hear the words “this makes me uncomfortable” and not immediately take huge umbrage. Some people will tell you to put up with this, to live in a work environment that makes you feel uncomfortable. And here’s the thing – if you would rather do that than risk the censure of openly wanting an equal work environment, no one has the right to judge you. You only take on the battles you want to in this life.

But let’s say you do want this fight (because it could well be a fight), here’s how to start.

Do you know what the first aider’s golden rule is?

1) Protect yourself.

Never put yourself in a situation where you feel vulnerable. Start documenting now. Even just a word file with times and dates of meetings, what happened, when, how did it make you feel. Nine times out of ten, no one will ever see this but you.

2) Contact your equality and diversity officer.

All universities should have an equality and diversity officer. They will be in charge of facilitating your institute’s duty of care towards you (and yes, your institute does have one toward you – why didn’t I tell you this earlier? Because it’s their responsibility, not yours. You need to make the decision to do this yourself). They will be able to point you in the direction of further advice, and they may be able to instigate some staff-wide training.

3) Be prepared to say ‘bygones’

So far, your supervisor has irritated you, but they haven’t behaved obscenely. When they learn that their behaviour has made you upset, they’re going to feel bad about it. People respond to this in different ways. People who are genuinely nice will apologise. Slightly less nice people will try to just push through it and change their behaviour. People who are more like me will probably go bitch to their friends and be cool towards you for a while (this is okay, we’re none of us the villain in our own tale). True dicks will try to make things worse for you, that’s when you bring out the documentation and start the whole process again.

The point is, once you have addressed the behaviour, you have to take it as a learning event. Some people learn their lesson, some people don’t. You have to re-evaluate the situation after you have given your input to it, which is, essentially: I am bothered.

Be bothered. You’re allowed to be bothered by this. You’re a scientist, and you should be valued for what that brings to the table.

Good luck, Bothered.

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?

What Doesn’t Kill You . . .

In the words of Bernard Black, this is fantastic.

There’s a great article on Vox.com talking about science reporting and why most news reports claiming there’s a new cure for X, or that Z causes cancer, are wrong.

And I use Bernard Black specifically here for an important reason – he’s smoking and drinking. We [that’s the scientist we] are pretty clear that we know causes cancer. And drinking wine, which we [again, the scientist we] are less clear about.

The article includes a great visualisation for thinking about cancer risk – studies which show an increased and reduced risk of cancer.

I love this graphic so much. I think it communicates so much – but if I’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that science literacy can’t be taken for granted.

So while I think this is a great example of science communication, I want to know from you guys – what do you think? Is this informative?

Will you remember this next week?

Just how, exactly, do our interventions work?