Critical Animal Studies and Confirmation Bias – Climate, Caution and Credibility
By, Richard Twine, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University
This paper reflects upon the relationship between the field of critical animal studies and activism. Specifically, whilst recognising the inherent overlap between CAS and activism, this paper explores the issue of the intersection between pro-vegan and climate activism, and thus the relationship between animal rights and ecology (environmentalism). Inevitably this takes us into the controversy over the global contribution of the ‘livestock’ sector to overall greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution. There is presently a lack of scientific consensus over this contribution and current claims arguably underline the situatedness of scientific knowledge. There is no reliable ‘independent’ or authoritative figure. In lieu of this there are contested claims and counterclaims over the percentage contribution of the sector.
A concern of this paper is that this promotes a context in which activist claims arguably succumb to confirmation bias in which research that argues for the highest contribution of the sector (and so favourably reinforces the views and desires of vegans) becomes the predominant message that vegan environmentalists convey. This can be seen across social media and in alternative documentary media such as the recent film Cowspiracy. These media tend to uncritically argue for the 51% contribution figure which stems from a 2009 report by WorldWatch. This paper argues that all major reports that have looked at this question can be seen as flawed in different ways. Consequently activists should be cautious about owning a particular piece of scientific research just because it confirms their worldview. This has ramifications for the credibility of Critical Animal Studies (CAS) and animal activists generally.
It is vitally important to intersect animal rights and environmentalism and specifically there are several important narratives to outline in the spaces between climate change and animal rights. However this paper argues that CAS has a role in raising the quality of the debate and in acting as a forum for activists to reflect upon their claims and strategies.
Dr Richard Twine is a Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences and Co-Director of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University, UK. He is the author of the book Animals as Biotechnology – Ethics, Sustainability and Critical Animal Studies (Routledge, 2010), and co-editor, with Nik Taylor of Flinders University, Australia, of The Rise of Critical Animal Studies – From the Margins to the Centre (Routledge Advances in Sociology, 2014). He has been very active in ICAS Europe and is also on the board of Minding Animals. He has published many articles and chapters on issues as diverse as veganism, antibiotics, ecofeminism, intersectionality, posthumanism, bioethics and physiognomy. His own web-site can be found at http://www.richardtwine.com