Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Death at SeaWorld: conflicted

In remarkably timely fashion, a new book by investigative journalist David Kirby, Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity,

will be released next week. I knew his name sounded familiar, and was quickly reminded why: his writing about vaccines. Damn.

This is a difficult case for me (as Kirby’s book on factory farming would have been had I known about it). It’s not as if he wrote one short, naïve article early on in the vaccine-autism manufactroversy. He wrote an entire book largely promoting antiscience, and then doubled down. Even years later he was still holding to this line (and possibly still is today). When it comes to any scientific question, It’s difficult to trust a person who could write “I believe that the public lynching and shaming of Dr. Wakefield is unwarranted and overwrought” in 2010.

This is a great demonstration of the problems woo creates. It’s astonishing that, with all of the real damage Pharma does to children around the world, some journalists are ignorant enough to latch onto antiscience causes like the antivaccine movement. This makes it all the more difficult for those of us fighting harmful corporate and government practices. I would say the same thing about people employing woo in the service of animal rights. But this case is maybe a bit more complicated: he’s written some nonsense on one subject, but for all I can tell this book is sound and well researched,* and other reliable sources have made and supported similar arguments. I remain undecided as to whether or not I’ll read this one, but I likely will. With extreme skepticism.

*Unfortunately, Kirby is already saying some silly things in interviews about the new book. “There’s a lot that SeaWorld could do to make my book less relevant,” he suggests, “- one estimate was that 70% of their revenues come from having Killer Whales. That’s billions of dollars, if they had taken that money and dedicated it to saving Whale habitat; well then having a few in captivity is what it takes. Maybe that’s what we would have to do to raise that kind of money to save the Whales in the wild, but of course they are not doing that.” Well, no, of course not. But even if they did, that’s not how ethics works. You don’t do that to some individual animals in the name of helping the species in the abstract. This is why the Declaration of Helsinki (gutted as it's been by pharmaceutical companies) exists.

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