Let's Talk: Why Are Scientists Blaming Insanity on Cats?

Once again, cat phobia is taking the media by storm. The latest outbreak was spawned by an article that appeared in The Atlantic magazine with...

 |  Feb 15th 2012  |   16 Contributions


LOLcat with caption "BRAAAAAAAINSSSSS"
Once again, cat phobia is taking the media by storm.

The latest outbreak was spawned by an article that appeared in The Atlantic magazine with the attention-grabbing title "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy." (Cue the drama button.)

Chezch evolutionary biologist Jaroslav Flegr has published a study blaming cats for everything from car crashes to suicide. Why? Apparently, Flegr says, the Toxoplasma gondii parasite — which is carried by some of our feline friends — is "quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents." Oh, and causing mental illness, too.

Big-name researchers are even giving Flegr's research more credibility. Stanford University neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky says Flegr's studies are well-conducted and he has no reason to doubt them. Schizophrenia expert E. Fuller Torrey says, "I admire Jaroslav for doing [this research] I think it bears looking at. I find it completely credible."

Oh, really.

I guess these geniuses missed the memo: The Centers for Disease Control's article on cats and disease says that people are more likely to pick up toxo from eating raw meat and/or poor food handling techniques, or from gardening.

Run! Run like hell! Don't touch meat or put your fingers in the dirt — you're gonna go crazy and then die!

I'm sick to death of "science" that blames cats for everything from bird extinction to insanity. And I'm especially ticked off that articles like the The Atlantic one get picked up by media outlets all over the world. We're not talking the Weekly World News here; we're talking about mainstream outlets many people would find respectable such as Forbes and Business Insider, and wildly popular blogs like Jezebel and BoingBoing.

There are so many easy ways to avoid getting toxoplasmosis from your cat (assuming that in fact your cat is a carrier; the vast majority of indoor-only cats are not) that the CDC is absolutely right when they say we're more likely to pick up the parasite from not practicing proper food safety.

LOLcat with caption "Zombie Cat: Yes he is cute. He will still eat your brains."
The CDC says that more than 60 million people in the United States may be infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Of those who are infected, most have no symptoms because a healthy person's immune system keeps the bug in check. So, cats or no cats, toxo is out there.

The T. gondii parasite is in the cat's feces, and those feces don't even begin shedding the parasite before they've been outside the cat for a day or more — so if you clean your litterboxes at least once a day, you don't have to worry.

Of course, if you're pregnant or you have an immune deficiency due to HIV or antirejection drugs after an organ transplant, you do need to be a bit more careful: wear gloves and the like.

Let's get real here. Texting and drunk driving cause more car crashes than Toxoplasma ever will. People get mental illnesses because of genetics or serious trauma. Cats have saved the lives of so many people suffering severe depression that it's a shame to blame them for causing people to go insane.

It's crap science, not cat crap, that drives me crazy!

What do you think? Have you had toxoplasmosis? Have you gotten diseases from your cat? And what would you say to those who attribute these illnesses only to cats?

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