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Media Response to Centre’s News Release on Animal Language

14th July 2011

The Centre’s news release on the editorial (see here) of the inaugural issue of the Journal of Animal Ethics has caused a minor media sensation.

Many newspapers have taken up the story, including the Times, The Telegraph, the Guardian and the Daily Mail in the UK, and it has been syndicated throughout the world. There are also hundreds of comment pieces on the web. Even Time magazine mentioned the story.

Although the publicity for the new journal was welcome, in most cases the story was misrepresented and spun out of control. We were asking people to consider the common language we use about animals, such as “beasts”, “brutes”, “bestial”, “pests”, “vermin” and the like, and to appreciate that our words convey negative overtones that should be examined.

But it was our suggestion that the word “pet” and “owner” demean the animal-human bond that most aroused hostile comment. We suggested that the words “companion animal” should be used instead. But the story was spun that the word “pets” is “insulting” to them, which is of course absurd because animals cannot be insulted in the way in which human beings can be. Neither did we say that calling animals “pets” affects their behaviour, as some reported. Rather, we argued that we do need to examine our language about animals because a lot of it is derogatory in the sense that it belittles them and our relations with them. We were trying to help people see the connection between what we think and say about animals, and how they are treated. We were simply asking people to think outside the box

That what we said should be so represented is itself a sign of how difficult it is to say something challenging about animals without risking hostile comment, even ridicule. But obviously what we said touched a raw nerve and at least we have started a public debate.

The Journal of Animal Ethics (JAE) is meant to be a cutting edge journal exploring ways in which we need to rethink our moral relations with animals, see here.

We don’t intend to give up on this aim. Indeed, we invite further discussion of the issue in the pages of the JAE, and we ourselves will be picking up this topic in the next editorial in the Spring issue in 2012.

Meanwhile, we would like to thank those people who took the trouble to accurately report what we said and supply thoughtful responses. These include: Pete Wedderburn here, Margo Demello here, and Craig McFarlane here.

Professor Priscilla Cohn also provided a reply to Dr Stan Cohen’s comments in Psychology Today, here.

Comments on our editorial continue on the JAE facebook, here.