Fish don’t feel pain after all, according to a major academic study comparing the nervous systems of fish and mammals. Dr. James D. Rose, a 30-year veteran of neurological science whose paper appears in the Review of Fisheries Sciences, found that fish simply don’t have the gray matter to detect pain. (He has posted a primer on his research here.)

Guess who is displeased with Dr. Rose? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wrote a letter to his boss at the University of Wyoming, “urging him to counter the speculations” of the zoologist’s study. PETA supports its claim that Rose’s work is mere “speculation” by charging — and for PETA this is heady stuff — that Rose likes to fish.

PETA also claims: “Real scientists with no ax to grind have established that fish do indeed feel pain.” But two of the three “neutral” experts cited by PETA are themselves animal rights activists. The first is Donald Broom, a professor of “Animal Welfare,” who believes it is cruel to raise faster-growing cows and turkeys who don’t mate.

Next is microbiologist Frank Hird, who asserts that “it is unthinkable that fish do not have pain receptors,” despite having done absolutely no specific work with fish. Hird also sticks to PETA’s party line in other ways, equating the “lack of justice and compassion to other animals” with human slavery.

Gene Mueller takes PETA to task in the Washington Times for its response. “Rather than admit that it might have been wrong,” Mueller writes, “PETA continues to view sport fishing as a barbaric practice.” The New York Post’s Ken Moran agrees, noting that PETA doesn’t give up its sacred cows easily. “The biggest mistake the angling community could make,” says Moran, “is to snicker at some of PETA’s foolish attempts and not present a strong, unified program to not only defuse PETA’s propaganda, but to go on the offensive.”