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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lies, Danged Lies & Statistics - "The Grey" Gets the PETA Treatment

It couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. Lliam Neeson has been all over the map lately trying to explain why the character Aslan, whom he voiced in the Narnia movies, isn't Jesus and assuring us that he might be thinking about becoming Muslim as his movie characters slaughter terrorists and engage in all sorts of politically incorrect activities.

PETA and other animal activist groups are calling for a boycott of Neeson's new movie "The Grey" because it depicts humans being attacked by wolves, something the pro-wolf faction characterizes as rare to the point of ridiculousness. Activists confidently point out that there are only two documented cases of wolves attacking people in the past hundred years. 

At this point it's time for a little caveat emptor. Before you "buy" this statistic there are some things you should know about the calculations behind it. The two official "deaths by wolf" were :
  1. Candace Berner, a 32 year-old teacher out for a jog near her Alaskan village in 2010. The attack was witnessed and investigated by the sheriff's department. They killed two wolves that they believed likely were responsible. Circumstantial, but enough to get "wolf killing" on the coroner's report.
  2. Kenton Joel, a 22-year old Ontario engineering student in 2005 out for a walk from a construction camp. His body was found a few days after he disappeared. He had been "partially consumed". Some wolves in the area were killed and clothing fibers were found in their stomachs. CSI was satisfied it was wolves what done it. PETA, not so much.
Seem fair to say wolves aren't terribly dangerous does it? If those are the only killings of humans by wolves in a hundred years, how dangerous could wolves be?

Please remember that a single adjective can alter a "statistic". British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics." The quote was so useful, it's been attributed to all sorts of famous wits and sages ever since--from Mark Twain (who claimed to be quoting Disraeli) to Leonard H. Courtney who later became president of the Royal Statistical Society. This "statistic" about wolves,so confidently quoted by PETA and it's ilk, contains the adjective delimiter "documented".

Adding that word means you can only count killings in the past hundred years that were positively done by wolves and which have pictures, DNA or other forensic evidence, two or more witnesses to the attack (which means someone not killed in the attack, only injured or safely up a tree at the time) or a coroner's or police report saying definitively that it was a wolf what killed that particular corpse. Having eaten the corpse doesn't prove the wolf killed the person by the way. Also, note that this statistic only includes people who were "killed" by wolves. It doesn't include wolf attacks where people were mamed, injured or hospitalized. It doesn't include gnarly old trappers who crawled back to their cabins and succumbed later to gangrene or rabies or blood loss and nobody found their dessicated corpses till years later and shoved their bones into a shallow grave without further inquiry as to cause of death. It doesn't include folk gone missing whom the wolves successfully dismembered and hid their leftover bits in some handy wolf den or cave.

Also note the dates -- both within the past 7 years. You're tell me wolves only started killing folk 7 years ago. Not bloody likely!

Wolves are opportunistic feeders. They go after meaty creatures that appear to be vulnerable. Humans are vulnerable-looking meaty creatures (some of us meatier than others). How many people have gone missing in the wild who were torn apart by packs of wolves and had their remnants scattered here there and everywhere. There is little likelihood those sorts of wolf kills will ever be found, much less pass muster as "documented" kills?  The fact that CSI has only investigated two known incidents means nothing. The very nature of wolf attacks, especially successful attacks, means you're not going to have much of a body left to examine.

Remember canines like to bury their bones.

Wolves, you must remember, are not dogs.  A dog can go wild and join a wolf pack if he's been abandoned or mistreated by humans and if it's very large and strong enough to hold its own with the wolves. A wolf, on the other hand, is unlikely to join a human family, unless it has been raised in the family from a pup and even then, he can never be fully trusted.  If you do feed or try to befriend a wolf, you've made a very dangerous friend that you don't want to turn your back on. All the zoologists say so.

It is irresponsible for animal activists to promote this idea that wolves aren't dangerous creatures and that all you have to do to escape a pack of wolves is make yourself look bigger and scarier than they are. Tell that to the skinny engineering student and the petite Alaskan schoolteacher. Oh, wait! You can't. They're dead.

As humans cross paths with wolves, wolves look us up and down to determine whether it's safe to kill us or not. It's what they do. They're predators. If you've got a gun, they'll probably leave you alone. If you look weak?  Well a dog's gotta eat!

In the meantime, Lliam, probably should make a large donation to PETA or his new movie is going down the dumper. He's already got Christians boycotting his pictures for his revisionist take on a Christian children's classic story and by far-right conservatives (a primary audience for Neeson's very violent tough guy films like "Taken") because of his pro-Muslim rhetoric. The way he's going, Lliam's gonna have to bribe a lot of people to make them like him or else the studios may decide to pick themselves a new action hero -- one of those strong silent types that gets along with all the little woodland creatures.

I could help you with your PR problem, Lliam, but it's gonna cost you, dude!

Just one man's opinion.


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