What on earth are they putting in the water in East Anglia? A few months ago we witnessed the weird behaviour of climate scientists at the university there, behaviour more typical of the secretive researchers in pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, and now we have been given a stern lecture from another of their academics (specialty not known) on the ethics of filming and photographing animals without their consent and so violating their rights. He is particularly concerned about Nature’s Great Events, presented by the saintly David Attenborough who was graciously knighted by HMQ. He does not mention Kate Humble’s Springwatch though the Daily Telegraph sensibly illustrated its article with a large photograph of her looking particularly windswept and interesting. She has not been honoured by HMQ, but in my view she should be sent straight to the House of Lords on the grounds physical beauty in particular, and general allure that appeals to men of all ages, especially mine.
Dr Brett Mills, the UEA academic from whose brain this idea sprang fully formed, an idea doubtless based on evidence in the time-honoured tradition of science, does not to be fair insist on informed consent, but nor does he give any suggestions as to how animals might communicate their consent, or their objections. Are we to suppose that the show-offs such as blue tits are up for a bit of camera work, whereas the shy types, otters for example, are by their diffidence registering an objection? You may think that this piece was published on the first of April – but in fact it was a month later.
Now, I don’t want you to run away with the idea that I am dismissive of animal rights, a “denier” as we now say, but I do think that Dr Mills’s idea has a whiff of lunacy about it, with some potential for harm. Some years ago a then prominent newsreader took some bathtime snaps of her baby, a traditional parental ritual at the time, and was reported to the police by the chemist shop where she took the film to be developed. She was at first suspected of being a paedophile, then scolded for creating images that might fall into the hands of a despicable pederast thereby dangerously exciting his loathesome propensities. Quite sensible concerns about the dangers of child pornography were taken by ill-informed zealots and extended to include and so prohibit harmless if not particularly interesting or original family activity.
It is entirely possible that Dr Mills will attract a following of loopy but vocal sympathisers who might by their relentless and boring determination, supported by unthinking police officers, force upon us regulation that will prohibit the photographing of our pets. It is not hard to imagine a government with an enthusiasm for minute control through legislation giving the force of law to such idiocy. In fact we have recent memories of such a regime. You may not be old enough to remember the vogue in the eighties for seeking out and punishing those guilty of “satanic abuse” of children. Children were siezed from their parents, families were harmed forever, and “hot spots” of satanism were identified where entire communities were demonised on the say-so of crazed social workers whose wrong-headedness was breathtaking. An enquiry was set up under a distinguished judge, which took many months, during which the ferocity of the social workers increased and the idea spread – and many social workers acquired the status of “experts” who were much in demand at conferences. When the report of the enquiry was published the judge revealed that she had found not a shred of evidence that “satanic abuse” existed at all. But by then much harm had been done, all because a few zealots had gone out of control.
Could this happen as a result of Dr Mills’s no doubt well intentioned but foolish pursuit of academic novelty? Could I find myself on some police database because I have published a few photographs of my dog without her permission? Could I get an ASBO for snapping a woodpecker in my garden? I wouldn’t rule it out. In the meantime those funding this at UEA should perhaps look again at the research protocols underlying it, and consider the possibility of better uses of the money