Friday, January 28, 2005

Say what you want...unless it is about MY pooch!

My dear friend Alan Beck, director of Purdue's Center for the Human/Animal Bond, has been giving testimony in Ontario about a bill to ban pit bull terriers. He came forth with years of research on why this breed is especially dangerous.

Beck has received an avalanche of hate mail threatening his job and impugning his integrity from, you guessed it, pit bull owners. Though the Canadian bill would not take away any existing pets, it would not allow folks to get any more pit bulls.

I have worked with Alan on a number of projects in the nascent interdisciplinary area he has pioneered, anthrozoology, and we have gotten grants and written about the moral and cognitive dimensions of keeping pets in classrooms. His own cutting edge research dates to the early 70s, and he believed, perhaps naively, that he was merely exercising his academic freedom in offering these data, gathered by him and many other scientists, and reported in peer reviewed journals.

But talking about limiting one's pets raises the heat in a way that is eerily like the abortion debate. And academic freedom can be a casualty of such efforts to intimidate and silence free inquiry.

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