Calling for Yale to end postdoctoral associate Christine Lattin’s allegedly cruel experiments on sparrows, an animal welfare activist stormed the stage just as University President Peter Salovey began his remarks at an alumni event in Seattle Wednesday night.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, the animal welfare group that organized the demonstration, claims that Lattin has killed 250 birds since 2008 in her experiments, which study sparrows’ responses to stress. Lattin began these experiments when she was on the faculty of Tufts University and continued after arriving at Yale in 2014. PETA also staged a protest against Lattin’s experiments outside a Yale Corporation meeting earlier this month and another demonstration outside Lattin’s home a few weeks ago.

On Wednesday, four PETA volunteers, carrying signs that read “Peter Salovey: Stop Cruel Sparrow Experiments” and “Christine Lattin kills sparrows in cruel tests,” stood at the entrance to Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture as Yale alumni filed in. Just as Salovey began to address the crowd, Marlene Blanco, an animal rights activist who is not affiliated with Yale, took the stage and denounced the University for supporting Lattin’s experiments.

“Yale experimenter Christine Lattin has been traumatizing wild sparrow birds for many years for studies that are meaningless to humans, birds and conservation efforts,” said Blanco, according to a video recording of the protest provided to the News by PETA. “Shame on Yale. Please stop these cruel experiments. Show compassion.”

The video shows Salovey walking over to Blanco from his podium, telling her “you’ve made your point,” and asking her to leave the stage.

But Blanco, brandishing a sign that read “Peter Salovey: Stop Cruel Sparrow Experiments,” continued to march up and down the stage and tell security that they will have to carry her out if they want her to stop.

Blanco told the News that security threatened to call the police if she did not leave.

After two minutes decrying Lattin’s experiments before the crowd of about 100, museum security escorted Blanco out of the venue, she said.

Blanco said she protested both to inform those present of the nature of Lattin’s experiments and to urge Salovey to take action and stop the experiments himself.

“[I was] pleading with the president to stop these experiments because she’s wasting resources and animals lives with these impractical and absurd experiments that have no valuable takeaway for humans or other species including birds,” Blanco said.

In May, PETA filed a complaint with a Massachusetts district attorney to request that the office investigate whether Lattin had violated anti-cruelty laws in her experiments. The activist group alleges that Lattin has used several forms of torture in her experiments, including feeding sparrows crude oil, restraining them in a cloth bag for long periods and inflicting wounds on the bird’s’ legs without pain medication, citing her scientific publications as evidence.

In an email to the News earlier this month, Lattin denied that she “tormented birds in inhumane conditions.” She emphasized that she cares about the well-being of the birds and attempts to minimize any potential suffering or distress in her experiments. She added that her work complies with all existing laws and regulations, as well as the Ornithological Council’s guidelines for the Use of Wild Birds in Research.

According to Speaking of Research, an advocacy group for animal research, PETA’s claims are unfounded and exaggerated. The birds were only fed small amounts of oil in their food, equal to one percent of food weight. And while they were subject to a brief period of restraint in a breathable cloth bag, the birds were given anaesthesia, a form of pain relief, when their legs were wounded.

Although PETA alleges that the results of Lattin’s experiments are inapplicable to humans and other species, Lattin said the hormone and neurotransmitter pathways she studies are similar in all vertebrate animals, including birds and mammals. She added that experiments on stress could lead to the development of new medicines and treatments or save endangered species.

“The reason I use wild birds in my research is that we can’t completely understand stress by only studying animals that were born in a cage, because captive-born animals don’t have the same range of physiological and behaviorial responses to stress that wildlife and humans show,” Lattin said.

University spokeswoman Karen Peart told the News last month that Yale’s animal care oversight officials found that there was no evidence of non-compliance or inappropriate care in Lattin’s research. Subsequently, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, a federal agency, also concluded that PETA’s allegations were unsubstantiated.

In addition to organizing several protests decrying Lattin’s experiments, PETA has also sent letters to the institutions funding the experiments, including the American Ornithologists’ Union and Yale. Tasgola Bruner, the media manager for PETA’s Laboratory Investigations and Regulatory Testing, said more than 150,000 people have called on Yale to cease its support for Lattin’s experiments through the organization’s action alert. PETA veterinarian Ingrid Taylor sent two letters to Salovey detailing instances of animal cruelty in Lattin’s experiments, but University officials have yet to respond, Bruner said.

Yale was most recently accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International in March 2016, according to Yale’s animal research web page.

Hailey Fuchs | hailey.fuchs@yale.edu

  • Lucy_P

    Oversight systems in laboratories favor experimenters and often fail the animals they are supposed to protect. Birds are excluded from the only law that offers any protection for animals in laboratories. No experiment is illegal. That’s why Lattin has gotten away with killing at least 250 birds, as well as chemically damaging birds’ adrenal glands, wounding their legs using a biopsy punch (with no painkillers), rattling their cages every two minutes, restraining them in a cloth bag, and feeding them crude oil. These experiments cause massive suffering and aren’t applicable to conservation, human health, or other birds. It’s time to end them.

    • Sam White

      You know that’s wrong, right? The bit about no experiment being illegal?

  • John H. Gleason

    In the picture on the home page, the protestors are standing in front of a beautiful building. Does anyone know the name of that building’s architectural style?

  • Matt

    PETA’s claims here are purely ridiculous. Dr. Lattin’s experiments conform to the highest institutional standards for animal welfare. Placing birds in cloth bags is standard practice in bird handling – it prevents them from hurting themselves or panicking. If we want to understand the effects of stress, we need to study stressed animals. I recognize that that is uncomfortable and controversial, but attacking responsible scientists like Dr. Lattin who care deeply for their animals is mean, baseless, and unproductive.

  • Karen

    Dr. Lattin’s work is important work with applications across a range of species. Frankly, PETA is doing a great disservice to itself as an organization by focusing on the work of a researcher trying to address issues that will benefit bird species. And honestly their approach is reprehensible.

  • Kim Marie

    This is a great opportunity for Yale to join progressive scientists by ending cruel experiments on animals. Nobel Laureates have spoken out against conducting cruel tests on animals and favor cutting-edge technology that generates reliable and superior results.

    • Sam White

      That sounds really interesting. What’s the technology called?

    • K. Gillingham

      Sounds great. Please tell us all about the new science that generates reliable and superior results to the approaches that cutting-edge scientists have developed.

  • Jonathan

    It seems like PETA is actually against ALL university/scientific research on animals. But its really unfair of them to attack one particular scientist at an event that is literally on the other side of the country. The Yale Daily News should do an article about how and why they’re harassing just one person and talk when lots of science is built on in vivo animal models. Also why are they attacking a postdoc and not some senior tenured person?

  • allison clare

    What’s important to remember is that these birds are born and raised in the wild. Then, suddenly, they’re caught and brought into a laboratory where they’re experimented on. Imagine if you were one of these birds: how scared and frightened would you feel? (Not to mention Lattin kills all of the birds she experiments on at the end of the study). What Lattin is doing is wrong.

    • ms2676

      Again,how do we know all of this? Are you assuming, or is it a fact she kills the birds!

    • K. Gillingham

      What PETA is doing is wrong. Making up stuff. Harassing a young scholar and trying to prevent her from doing important research with direct relevance to improving the welfare of animals. It’s just really deeply unethical. Do you work for PETA too? (seems you might based on a google search). What’s the real motivation here? Money and attention?

  • Craig Shapiro

    Get used to it. These experiments are indefensible and archaic. Yale can, and should, do better.

    • Sam White

      About as archaic and indefensible as PETA’s all-kill shelters….PETA kills animals, so I’m hoping you think they can and should do better. And they also fake their info on what scientists are doing, but that’s another story.

    • K. Gillingham

      This is blatantly incorrect. Have you actually looked at the research? Please stop harassing a young scholar who is doing important work to try to improve the world. What is your motivation? Oh wait, a quick google search shows that you work for PETA. Seems you are just trying to get attention and bring in money. Really sad doing this to a scholar who actually cares about animals.

  • Heather Moore

    Experiments on birds and other animals are cruel and pointless. There are humane and relevant non-animal research methods and these horrible experiments should be stopped immediately.

    • K. Gillingham

      The horrible harassment by a young scholar who cares about animals and the world should be ended immediately. This harassment is cruel and pointless unlike the research Dr. Lattin is doing. Oh wait, do you work for PETA? Oh look, a quick google search shows you do. Are you just trying to bring attention to your organization? Raise money? Very sad what PETA is doing.

  • Ayron Strauch

    I would have expected an R1 university to have actual science reporters cover such a topic. This article is completely one-sided and doesn’t provide any outside expert opinions concerning the actual hypotheses, experiments, research results or conclusions drawn from this research. How can a reader, formulate their own opinion without balanced coverage? This reporter needs to be taken off the topic.

    • ms2676

      I’m glad PETA members aren’t commenting on these articles.
      On a serious note, how does PETA obtain their information on these experiments ? They can’t enter the lab, and most likely don’t work at the University, so how do they obtain their facts? Not defending the work, just trying to determine how vaild their claims are.

  • Sam White

    At what point do we get to rush the stage to protest how PETA kills pets? Check out the investigations by the State of Virginia–in 18 years they killed an average of 85.8% of the animals they took in. Why? They say keeping adoptable animals in no-kill shelters is “cruel” and it’s kinder just to kill them. Try again PETA–not only does this kind of research SAVE animals, you have zero moral high ground here. https://www.petakillsanimals.com

    • Lucy_P

      That site is run by a front group for the meat industry, which has long tried to smear PETA and other animal protection groups in an attempt to distract from the real issues. See http://www.petakillsanimalsscam.com/. Unlike the industries this group represents–which kill animals painfully, so they can make money by selling their flesh–PETA is a shelter of last resort for animals who need euthanasia to end their suffering (many of whom have been rejected by other facilities because euthanizing them would make their “numbers” look bad). This includes dogs who are aggressive and unadoptable because they have been kept chained their entire lives; feral cats dying of contagious diseases; animals who are wracked with cancer; elderly animals who have no quality of life and whose desperate guardians brought them to PETA because they can’t afford to pay a vet to euthanize them; and the list goes on. Euthanasia is a kindness for animals who are suffering beyond hope and have nowhere else to turn. PETA refers healthy, adoptable animals to local shelters and has also found excellent, lifelong homes for many animals themselves. Please watch this short video to see some of the animals PETA has helped in its community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oItn9Rm9_sE

      • Sam White

        Oh, Lucy. That all makes PETA people feel good–but have you actually been to a real respectable shelter? Have you talked to veterinarians and the Humane Society? People willing to put in the hard work to rehabilitate animals and–shocker!–find homes for senior dogs? Just because PETA doesn’t do it, doesn’t mean it’s not possible. PETA is a lazy, fanatical organization caught up in their savior complex of no-animal-should-ever-be-a-pet thing. Which is from their OWN literature.

      • Sam White

        And I assume you have researched all medicines every derived from animal research and you refuse them if your doctor prescribes them?

  • John Dingle Barry

    First they came for the sparrows….

  • Patrick Boe

    There is no basis for the attack that Lattin’s research is “meaningless”. It has tremendous relevance to environmental depredations that impact hundreds of species of birds apart from the invasive sparrows that are its subject. For a lengthy fact check of these allegations, see https://speakingofresearch.com/2017/09/19/the-fact-check-peta-vs-christine-lattin/

  • ShadrachSmith

    If you searched to find somebody less admirable than Salovey…

  • Dr. J

    Typical bloviating responses in support of “research” that tortures and kills animals for no practical purpose…oh, except for the money it brings to Yale and Dr. Lattin. Asking nicely, and presenting daunting evidence against this meaningless and unethical research, accomplishes nothing. Kudos to PETA for taking the battle to the university and the public.

    • K. Gillingham

      Except you are incorrect. Please read her website and her work. There is very real practical purpose and value to this research as the author of the YDN article did a nice job explaining. Let me guess, you work for PETA too? Please stop harassing a young scholar who is doing important research to try to improve the world, including the well-being of animals.

  • ldffly

    So Pres. Salovey doesn’t like a dose of the medicine given to Nick Christakis? Too bad.

  • concerned

    “Speaking of research”…here is some you can do yourself at home, readers, should you have any questions about the experiment…No dead sparrows necessary. 1. Pour yourself a bowl of cereal 2. Spritz on top of it 1% by weight motor oil 3. Enjoy!

    • K. Gillingham

      Ah, as usual, the PETA harassers are out in full force being snarky and pushing misinformation. This article did a nice job summarizing how all reliable sources point to the fact that this is valuable research that is well within the guidelines for humane treatment of animals. Please stop harassing a great scientist who is trying to improve the world!

      • concerned

        Sorry, K.Gillingham, I have nothing to do with PETA and do not have time nor motive to push misinformation on readers of the YDN or anyone else. A great scientist trying to improve the world should be willing and able to handle ethics scrutiny from anyone and not need to play victim of harassment as a sideline.

        • Sam White

          So you know this is the same amount of petroleum (or a lot less) that birds and other animals are *already* ingesting regularly in the area of oil spills, and that oil companies have convinced you not to care about what’s happening in the wild?
          Until we have evidence–which is what Dr. Lattin is doing ethically, as fast as she can–you can’t even start that conversation about clean-up methods or punishing oil companies. You care about that, right?

          • concerned

            Well Sam, bacteria can ingest spilled petroleum in the wild. What kind of toxicity experiments do you believe are needed besides body counts for animals?

          • Sam White

            That doesn’t even make sense. Are you encouraging research into petroleum-eating bacteria? That’s fine.

            In the meantime, how do you suggest getting the evidence to counteract the BS that oil companies are selling? Because this faux outrage position is all well and good, but doesn’t change anything or help animals.

          • Sam White

            What does that even mean? As in, you didn’t read about how the experiment was conducted, did you? It’s like you think that death was the sole purpose and primary outcome.

        • K. Gillingham

          ha, play victim of harassment? You have to be kidding me! Would you like death threats and people picketing outside your personal home? Nice try downplaying the harassment. A great scientist trying to improve the world should be willing and able to handle ethics scrutiny – and this is exactly what Dr. Lattin did in going through all of the appropriate channels and getting her work approved. Your comment was snarky and makes an incorrect analogy, consistent with what the PETA harassers have been doing. So I apologize if I incorrectly assumed that you were just one more of the PETA harassers. Instead you are a non-PETA snarky commenter. Fair enough.

          • concerned

            Perhaps, K. Gillingham, you don’t realize that scientific publications are accessible to everyone for analysis, including the general public. In other words, this “science” cannot be performed in secret at Yale indefinitely. Now we have reactions and feedback to the experiments. I would report death threats to the police for evaluation. Has Yale done this? They should if these publications bear institutional affiliation.

          • K. Gillingham

            Of course scientific publications are accessible to everyone for analysis. The research has never been secret – who ever said it was secret? The feedback from the scientific community has been very positive, underscoring that the work she is doing is valuable research. If you read Dr. Lattin’s publications and her website and have the capability to understand science, then you will understand that it is important science to help animals done completely within the ethical guidelines. What’s unethical is what PETA is doing! They are either completely misguided or they have ulterior motives (fund-raising and attention) or maybe both. The threats have been directly to Dr. Lattin in her own personal home and it is up to her about whether she wants to report them to the police. I don’t know either way, more importantly, the harassment should stop!