Merlin Tuttle Bat Flash

Unfairly Maligned Bats Need Your Help! TheScientist, 12/3/2014

Case Closed–No  further action needed. 

Subsequent stories about bats have been mostly positive. Thank you Bat Fans for your participation. May 24, 2016 

A growing avalanche of needlessly scary media stories threatens to undo decades of bat conservation progress. The most recent example, Lurking in the Shadows,  by Bob Grant appeared in the December 1, 2014 issue of TheScientist. Without our clear and prompt protests, such misinformation will continue to circulate till, with sufficient repetition, it becomes “fact” in the public mind. And people who fear bats typically turn from conserving to killing. Here is Merlin’s response.

“Your article, Lurking in the Shadows, by Bob Grant, is full of speculation about bats as potential sources of dread diseases while ignoring the outstanding safety record of bats living near people. I am just one of hundreds of biologists who have worked in very close association with bats, and despite spending countless thousands of hours with them on every continent where they exist, none of us has contracted one of these so-called emerging diseases, nor is there any evidence that even the largest aggregations of bats living in cities have caused public health problems.

Your article includes a photo of 1.5 million free-tailed bats emerging from the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas, but fails to mention that, despite early warnings from health officials, not a single one of the millions of visitors who have enjoyed close-up observations of these bats over the past 35 years has contracted a disease from them.

Unfortunately, as recently noted in Rick Steves’ Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, news media are increasingly relying on scare tactics to boost ratings that turn profits. The same appears to be true for at least a few virologists who have learned that scaring people about bats is far more lucrative (in gaining grants) than helping people overcome unfounded fears of little known, but invaluable creatures of the night. As Steves noted, “We end up being afraid of things we shouldn’t be—and ignoring things that actually do threaten our society.”

Incidentally, there appears to be overwhelming evidence that the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), attributed to be of bat origin in your story, is actually far more closely linked to camels. Since less than one percent of viruses have yet been taxonomically described, it is easy to find new ones wherever we look. Focusing disproportionate attention on bats isn’t likely to make us any safer, though it is perhaps tempting to divert our attention to rare diseases instead of dealing with the real public health killers we’d prefer to ignore.”  Merlin Tuttle

You do not need to be an expert to respond. Editors are hired and fired based on readership sales. You need only to express your strong displeasure regarding this kind of reporting to make a difference.  You additionally can help by calling our attention to such articles as they appear. We will do our best to respond promptly and alert others to do the same.

 For the latest scientific information on MERS go to http://mbio.asm.org/content/5/2/e00884-14.full and http://mbio.asm.org/content/5/3/e01146-14.full. Also note the “Articles citing this article” section at the end of each of these publications. For information useful in evaluating future stories go to the Get Involved section on this website.

Many thousands of people enjoy bats closeup without harm, from America to Australia, Asia and Africa
Many thousands of people enjoy bats closeup without harm, from America to Australia, Asia and Africa