Anti-Science

Tigers in Sheep’s Clothing

Back at work today, and within mere hours of returning to my desk I was greeted with a new e-mail, forwarded by Napoleana! It was the “Mother of the Year” forward, showing a tiger allowing pigs wrapped in tiger skins to suckle, along with the following text:

In a zoo in California , a mother tiger gave birth to a rare set of triplet tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to complications in the pregnancy, the cubs were born prematurely and due to their tiny size, they died shortly after birth. The mother tiger after recovering from the delivery, suddenly started to decline in health, although physically she was fine. The veterinarians felt that the loss of her litter had caused the tigress to fall into a depression. The doctors decided that if the tigress could surrogate another mother’s cubs, perhaps she would improve. After checking with many other zoos across the country, the depressing news was that there were no tiger cubs of the right age to introduce to the mourning mother. The veter inarians decided to try something that had never been tried in a zoo environment. Sometimes a mother of one species will take on the care of a different species. The only orphans” that could be found quickly, were a litter of weaner pigs. The zoo keepers and vets wrapped the piglets in tiger skin and placed the babies around the mother tiger Would they become cubs or pork chops??????? ?????? Take a look…….. you won’t believe your eyes!!!!

I immediately knew what the real deal was, since I’ve seen this forward before. It’s kind of sad, really — the Sriracha zoo in Thailand makes money by training the cats to do completely ridiculous things, like the above. The exhibits of animals are more like circus acts than any kind of educational feature, showing tigers jumping through burning hoops or elephants walking tightropes. In addition, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, the animals are not taken care of and the zoo may be illegally breeding and exporting wildlife.

I sent Napoleana an e-mail asking if she wanted to know the real story. “No!” she shouted from her desk. Later she e-mailed:

Even if there is another story u don’t know for sure if its real or not =)

I responded

Well, I do because the story can be verified…

Napoleana:

By the internet =)

Me:

No, you can call the Thailand zoo where the photos were taken if you’d like!

Napoleana:

How do u know everything

Me:

I don’t know everything, just the few things I’ve been interested enough to read about. Common e-mail forwards interest me because I always like finding out what the real story is and why it got changed as it passed along. Like a game of “Telephone.”

She didn’t respond. What I wanted to reply was, “I don’t know everything, I just have a trait called “intellectual curiosity,” which I find sadly lacking in many others.”

She never even asked what the real story was. I didn’t tell her, because I knew she’d get upset that I had replaced what was an endearing story about cuddly animals with one that betrays the cruelty of humanity. The people who claim to love animals and nature can continue to coo over the pretty myth, while the Thai zoo can continue its cruelty unabated.

Ignorance is bliss — for the ignorant.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank God (I do, actually) that I work with fellow scientists all day! A bunch of physicists, yet. Not that we can't be taken in by the occasional urban legend, but on the whole we are a bunch of cynics who enjoy ripping each other's unsupported arguments to shreds! That environment teaches you pretty quickly to not go too far out on the argumentitive limb, so to speak.

    I did clerical work in a in office while I was in college, and the level of "wobbly" thinking in that office was truly astounding to my young and impressionable eyes. Definitely a case of "In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king". People with half a brain could rise pretty quickly in that organization, given their competition. Luckily I escaped with a renewed determination to be VERY careful about my career choices from then on out.

    Rebecca, get out while you still can!

  2. It's really difficult to have a common approach to people who are likely to believe stories like this. I think there are questions; why do people want to believe in whimsical stories? Why don't the want to know the truth?

    It's really complex, but I think part of it is sentimental, and another part is a sense of wonder. I wonder, excuse the repetion of wonder, whether science, or broadly critical thinking, is doing a bad job at conveying a similar sense of whimsy and wonder. Stories people can go 'aaaahhh' to like the baby piglets.

    Most science is delivered to people in the form of shock headlines, and headlines of the form 'a new paper published by A says B' where A is some authoritative sounding professional the public has never heard of, and B is some dubiously sweeping health claim. So people associate science with bad news, doom and gloom, because that's what the media trains people with no direct experience to expect.

    What I think would be fruitful in the conversion of people like your email buddy are simple, easy to understand good news stories about science, if and only if the stories are based on scientific consensus rather than some funding-jockey academic promoting odd-ball theories. Of course, there is already good news in the world of science but the media does a bad enough job of explaining bad science.

    With that in mind I may try sending good news from the world of science to anyone I know is a little, or a lot, woo-woo. It will be interesting to see if it changes their perception of science. It's subversive in a good way, and I didn't mention propaganda once in the last few paragraphs.

    I know for a fact it will be less annoying than tackling their beliefs head-on ;-).

  3. On Snopes, this is the kind of stuff that's labeled as "glurge". Probably about 95% of it is untrue, and the 5% that's actually based on a true story has been embellished so much it actually makes you feel sad when you find out what really only happened, which is the opposite of the effect "glurge" is trying to accomplish.

    Basically, it's feel-good, naive, flowers and sunshine and baby kittens stories having only one purpose, which is making you go "aaaaawwwwww …"

    I'd say it's more than "ignorance is bliss", rather, it's "bliss is ignorance".

  4. I remember driving 120 kph on small backroads through the swamps near Marseille this past summer. On more than one occasion did I listen to the "urge" to slow down for the upcoming hill, unaware of whether the road might continue straight on or suddenly turn. Of course, it did actually continue straight on after every hill I encountered like that, except maybe one or two of them, and those turns were well indicated in advance by signs, IIRC.

  5. If only you knew how many times I’ve been called a freak just because I was able to explain things that people were trying to relate to the paranormal… I have some friends who think I’m weird because I read so many things and do so many research on the internet to find out the truth about certain stories.

    An example… A friend of mine was riding his motocycle one night and at some point, he was climbing a small hill and he told me that some voice told him to stop or slow down… And on the top of the hill, there was a couch in the middle of the road. Some spirit had talked to him. Of course, I started trying to explain what could have happened. Maybe he had some inconscious clues about what was going to happen… Or maybe, in his mind, he just thought “I’m climbing a hill, I should slow down just in case”. It was night, I would be careful too.

    Well… The guy was pissed at me that I was trying to explain this divine intervention in a logical way. His gf was telling me that I’m close minded and weird… I said no… Just trying to explain this in a more logical way instead of using magic… They shut up and changed subject. Anyway, it didn’t affect our friendship but, I’m hoping that slowly, with time, I will make them see things differently…

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