Is there a wild animal welfare emergency facilitated by negative linguistic framing in wildlife population control studies?
Emma Frances Randall & Nieky van Veggel
As the world human population continues grow in number and mobility, and the impacts of climate change take effect, the opportunities for problematic relationships with non-human animals multiply. There are escalating threats to health from wild vectors of zoonotic disease, and so called ‘invasive’ species have been identified as a significant direct driver of an unprecedented period of global biodiversity loss. This brings a sense of genuine urgency to control problematic wild populations; in the UK alone, it is estimated that 38 million wild mammals and birds are killed as pests. However, the impact of these animals is not always objectively appraised. Control interventions are often ineffective, may be counterproductive and can cause severe suffering. Decisions about when, where and how to control animal populations can be affected by attitudes and philosophical perspectives, influenced by how language is used.
A systematic review of wildlife population control studies was carried out to determine whether negative linguistic framing of animals was associated with poor welfare outcomes. Framework analysis of titles, abstracts and keywords was used, and assessments made of the welfare impacts of control methods. This analysis revealed language that framed target populations in terms of War, Threat, Place, Victim, Value, Sentience and Naturalness with a range of associated themes. There was a relationship between negative framing and methods with the most adverse welfare outcomes, but the effect was not consistent. It was clear that there are cultural conventions within the science that were reinforced or challenged depending on many factors including the status of the species and the context of the intervention. More work to explore and challenge cultural conventions in describing targeted animals, and robust reporting of the welfare impacts of control methods are needed to tackle this, often disregarded, animal welfare emergency.
Keywords: Wildlife population control; Wild animal welfare; Welfare assessment; Linguistic framing; Invasive species; Pest management; Systematic literature review
Find the abstract here, the conference paper here, and the slides here.
My third Knowledge Summary for Veterinary Evidence was published last week. It is on raw feeding and periodontal health in dogs, and is the result of joint work with James Oxley, who is a Writtle University College Animal Science graduate and is currently working as an independent researcher.
My second Knowledge Summary for Veterinary Evidence was published last week. It is on raw feeding and urinary tract health in dogs, and is the result of joint work with Emma Taylor, who is a Writtle University College Animal Science graduate and is currently finishing an MSc in Veterinary Microbiology at the University of Surrey before starting a PhD at Surrey Vet School.
My first Knowledge Summary for Veterinary Evidence has just been published. It is on raw feeding and periodontal health in dogs, and is the result of joint work with Matthew Armstrong from Natures Menu.
I have had a play around with Amazon CreateSpace self-publishing platform, using my MSc dissertation as a manuscript, and am now the proud author of a self-published book. It is available on Kindle and in hard copy in a few days. The process was pretty straight forward, so I am definitely keeping this in mind for future projects. I am not sure how much value it carries towards my academic career, but I feel self-publishing is a way of sharing information which would otherwise just gather dust.
A good post on the topic of academic self-publishing can be found here. It is worth a read, whether you agree with the concept or not. I kind of enjoyed the process of creating something new, and am happy my early research is now available to the whole world, rather than just the student who happens to come across it in the Writtle University College library.
The following is an excellent read on how the academic peer-review system was abused and cheated, and how a journal editing team takes responsibility, investigates and is completely transparent.
Cohen et al. (2016) ‘Organised crime against the academic peer review system‘. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 81(6), 1012-1017. DOI: 10.1111/bcp.12992
It is a pity this happened, but by going through this route, the academic community can learn from their mistakes, and hopefully make the chance of this happening again smaller. You can never completely prevent these things from happening, because organised crime will always try to find new ways of cheating the system. However, as the authors quite rightly state, a select minority should not be allowed to make life more difficult for the well-intended majority.