USDA’s Treatment of Laboratory Cats: Breed, Infect, Kill, Repeat

Photos from inside USDA Agricultural Research Service laboratory, courtesy of White Coat Waste Project.

Picture in your mind a Venn diagram: one circle labeled “animal cruelty,” the other “wasted tax dollars.” The intersection, where the two circles overlap, is labeled “USDA Toxoplasmosis in Cats project.” That’s the visual takeaway from an exposé published earlier this week by the White Coat Waste Project, a non-profit whose mission is to “cut federal spending that hurts animals and Americans.” Read more

The Ends Justify the Means?

In a 2011 paper published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, Jeff Horn and his co-authors estimate the home range of owned and unowned cats, arguing that “greater activity levels and ranging behavior suggest unowned cats have a greater potential impact on wildlife than do owned cats.”

“Our results indicate that feeding and owner care modifies the space use and activity of free-roaming cats, information that is important for making decisions on controlling cat populations and the potential spread of disease.” [1]

Although the authors don’t specify which method(s) of control they consider preferable, it’s safe to assume TNR is probably off the table. Consider, for example, Horn’s description of cats as “invasive” and his recommendation that “management steps need to be taken in regards to this species, despite the social and political controversies that surround it.” [2] For Horn and his co-authors (and many of their colleagues in the conservation community), the “management” category seems to include almost exclusively lethal methods.

Of course, anybody proposing the killing of this country’s most common companion animal on an unprecedented scale,* ought to provide some solid evidence—and, while we’re at it, at least one feasible funding mechanism—to advance the necessary public policies. But a review of Horn’s data reveals a number of problems, raising serious questions about the validity of his conclusions and justification for his recommendations. Read more

Is the CDC Ignoring Science When it Interferes with a Cozy Relationship?

When does collaboration cross the line into research misconduct? And why is it bad for public policy, cats, and people care about both of them?

Back in August of 2013, I wrote a post asking whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was doing the American Bird Conservancy’s bidding. As should be obvious, the question was intended to be provocative. As it turns out, though, it was also more than a little prescient.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal a pattern of questionable behavior from CDC epidemiologist Jesse Blanton, whose cozy relationship with various ABC staff resulted in the publication—and extensive promotion—of a paper that’s become one of the go-to tools in TNR opponents’ arsenal (see Note 1).

And yet, despite its glaring flaws and dubious origins—which together raise serious questions about research misconduct—both the CDC and John Wiley & Sons (publisher of Zoonoses and Public Health, the journal in which the paper appeared) have been eager to dismiss concerns over this poster-child for publicly funded junk science. Read more