Let’s say I’m a psychologist who goes into a classroom to observe the behavior of Kindergartners. While the kids are at recess, I notice one child beating up another. I also happen to see that the bully in question has blond hair.
Back inside, I see that the bully isn’t the only blond-haired kid. In fact, there are five blonds in this class of 20 students. As the day goes on, I notice that two of the blond kids behave in ways that strike me as aggressive–say, they burst into a game with other kids and start playing with someone else’s blocks.
As I’m writing my notes from the day, I start thinking about what I saw: one blond-haired kid beating up another child and two others engaging in behavior that might indicate future violent tendencies. But because I’ve been so focused on the kids, I didn’t notice that the teacher is actually being the biggest bully: he’s yelling at the kids and sending them to the office for not sitting quietly in their chairs.
Based on my sample of five kids in one school, and having observed only one actual act of violence, I write an article about my experience. That article, “The Blond Menace,” is published in a magazine with a reputation for being read by intellectuals. My Ph.D. and the fact that I work for a large national organization add credibility to my study. Despite the fact that my sample is minuscule in size and my conclusions are based more on assumptions than actual scientific research, my findings gain traction. Soon, dozens of national publications are taking up my call to action: Blond children must be institutionalized before they start acting on their naturally violent tendencies!
That’s essentially what’s happening in the debate on feral cats. “Apocalypse Meow,” a presentation by Nico Dauphin, a researcher with the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Project, has “gotten legs,” despite the fact that this so-called research is based on a tiny sample of outdoor cats, grossly overestimates the number of feral cats and house cats allowed outdoors, and is based much more heavily on assumptions than actual facts. It also quotes numerous statistics from other studies whose scientific merit is dubious at best.
Never mind that the “science” Dauphin and her sources used wouldn’t earn me a passing grade in an undergraduate biology class, much less produce a credible Ph.D. dissertation.
Never mind that in addition to her work citing bogus claims, Dauphin has proven herself to be anything but a neutral observer in the outdoor cat debate: Earlier this year, she was charged with poisoning community cats near the building where she lives.
Never mind that the real cause of the massive decline in the songbird population is human beings: urban sprawl, habitat destruction and the widespread use of pesticides are doing more to kill birds than even millions of feral cats could do.
It’s the same old story: those who don’t have a voice become the scapegoats so the more powerful can go on about their lives without having to be accountable for their own contributions to a very real problem.
Why make real, meaningful changes in our own lifestyles that would do a whole lot in the long term to restore bird populations when you can just blame the “evil” cats instead?
“Apocalypse Meow?” I think not. “Apocalypse Sprawl” would be closer to the truth.