The Frontal Cortex

Arguing with ALF

Jerry Vlasak is a dangerous lunatic, a spokesman for domestic terrorists. He is also a trauma surgeon living in Woodland Hills:

Vlasak’s views are so incendiary that he is banned from ever visiting Britain. He has been arrested on a Canadian ice floe, at a traveling circus, at a Rodeo Drive furrier. In La Cañada Flintridge, he once fended off a furious PTA mom while disrupting an elementary school fundraiser featuring circus animals.

Vlasak, a trauma surgeon who lives in Woodland Hills, takes his belief that animal life is as valuable as human to the extreme — openly arguing that killing scientists to stop animal research would be “morally justifiable.” He has become the public face for underground groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which the FBI deems a significant domestic terror threat.

But here’s my problem: I can’t come up with a rigorous rebuttal to animal rights extremists like Vlasak. They claim that there is no moral difference between killing an animal (especially a primate) and killing a human. Of course, I believe that’s an absurd claim. I also believe that animal experimentation in the name of medical science is usually justified.

But then I remember my biology. One of the great themes of post-Darwinian science is the inter-relatedness of life. From the perspective of our cells, there is little difference between a human and a rat, or even a sea slug. All animals use the same neurons and the same neurotransmitters. Pain receptors in different species share a similar design. Blood and flesh and skin are always constructed of the same elemental stuff. We share 98 percent of our genome with chimps.

The distinctions are just as murky from the perspective of behavior. Ants exhibit altruism. Parrots use symbolic logic. Gorillas mourn the death of a family member. Humans exhibit all sorts of animal instincts. Most neuroscientists who study consciousness believe that it exists in a gradient, and that chimps are not unconscious, but simply less conscious.

So how can we scientifically defend any clear distinction between the moral agency of humans and animals? I’m afraid I can’t come up with a good rebuttal to Vlasak and Peter Singer. Sure, I can mutter something about our swollen pre-frontal cortex, but that seems like an awfully flimsy answer. For me, questions of animal rights lead me in two contradictory directions. On the one hand, my moral intuitions argue that scientists are right, and that animal experimentation is justifiable. On the other hand, the science itself leaves me with little evidence to justify my morality.

I look forward to readers telling me why I’m wrong. How do the facts of biology justify animal experimentation?

P.S. I may be unable to rebut Vlasak’s animal rights philsophy, but I can still condemn his tactics in the strongest possible terms. Take it away PZ


  1. #1 Corkscrew
    September 5, 2006

    I’ve been hitting exactly the same wall for a while now. The only argument I’ve been able to come up with is the argument from sapience – we’ll stop doing experiments on chimps just as soon as they send us an envoy to plead their case in a coherent fashion.

    An elaboration on this argument goes as follows: homo sapiens are the most important species, as seen from the perspective of homo sapiens. Thus, from the perspective of homo sapiens, it’s valid to preferentially do experiments on other species rather than their own. This is all very pragmatic, though – I can’t come up with an answer that doesn’t reek of cynicism.

    And of course they raise further questions. The two major ones are:
    1) Would it be acceptable for chimpanzees to preferentially do research on humans instead of chimpanzees? (We’re assuming they could get NIH funding…)
    2) Is it valid for Aryans to preferentially do experiments on non-Aryans? (Imagine a bunch of very conscientious Nazis, who attempted to minimise the pain suffered by the Jews in their “care”)

    My instinctive response to both of these is “no”, yet, as you say, it’s hard to produce an argument that justifies this.

  2. #2 John M
    September 5, 2006

    Corkscrew wrote:

    “we’ll stop doing experiments on chimps just as soon as they send us an envoy to plead their case in a coherent fashion.”

    In order for them to do that, they have to know it’s happening. How many chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have been allowed to watch experiments being performed on their kin? Or even shown films of this.

    I think we all know the answer, but feel free to surprise me.

  3. #3 Corkscrew
    September 5, 2006

    How many chimpanzees have enquired on the subject? It’s not like we’re keeping it a tightly-held secret – if they can’t be bothered to read newspapers or check the ‘net like normal people, why should that be our problem?

    (Cue cries of “what do you mean, you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? I don’t know, apathetic bloody planet, I’ve got no sympathy”)

  4. #4 J Daley
    September 5, 2006

    That’s exactly the point: one can’t propose a reasonable justification for (most forms of) exploitation of animals. Need to eat? Well, I suppose that’s one thing. Need to factory farm chickens to increase profits? That’s something else entirely.

    I would tend to agree with Corkscrew, namely, that selfish acts on behalf of one’s own species are not necessarily morally deplorable. But when those acts are needlessly petty or cruel – and act on the assumption that animals are there for our benefit alone – they stray into a realm that is indefensible.

    I was going to muse over whether other species ever exhibited altruistic behaviour towards humans – but then I recalled the gorilla at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago who helped the child who’d fallen into an enclosure a few years back; as I’m sure such exapmles are likely abundant, that line of reasoning was out the window.

    Of course, killing humans on behalf of animals, well, I don’t quite understand that idea.

  5. #5 J Daley
    September 5, 2006

    After reading the article on Vlasik, I also don’t really see what these guys are accomplishing. The problem with how humans (namely, I would suppose, post-industrial North Americans) treat the earth and its inhabitants is systemic, and threatening a few research scientists before driving to eat at a fast-food place is extraordinarily obtuse. I fail to see how this kind of cherry-picked radicalism benefits the planet at all.

  6. #6 UndergradChemist
    September 5, 2006

    Why does it have to be science that answers the moral question? Science is an inherently positive philosophy, not a normative one (to use economic terms). It can’t tell us, morally, what we should do; it can only tell us what is

  7. #7 Jonah
    September 5, 2006

    UndergradChemist makes an excellent point. However, I generally try to square my moral intuitions with the empirical evidence. For example, if scientists could conclusively show that first trimester fetuses are sentient or feel pain, I might be compelled to revise my pro-choice position. My problem is that I’m not sure how to reconcile the scientific evidence with animal experimentation. Are scientists bound to take scientific evidence into account when experimenting on primates? If so, what kind of evidence might lead us to ban primate research?

  8. #8 DavidD
    September 5, 2006

    I don’t think it’s accurate to say apes are simply less conscious than humans are. The difference is both quantitative and qualitative. Humans have a capacity for abstraction and seeing beyond the immediate that allows them to experience entirely new levels of suffering than it seems other animals can. There is of course guessing in that. What’s scientific is to to say that our mental abilities are qualitatively more than any other species, but how to translate that into morality is a value judgment, not science.

    I don’t think we should shy away from agreeing that yes, primate research looks something like slavery, just as abortion looks something like infanticide, but one can be rational about drawing a distinction where current laws draw them. The issue is that some put their personal ideas of morality above the law, as if they can’t be wrong. Well they can be wrong, on animal research, on abortion, pro or con, or why their country needs more weapons. All those protests have rational counterarguments. Unfortunately it doesn’t come easily to people to learn to listen to both sides. But there are arguments that they should listen, no matter how radicals ignore them, no matter how those who favor the status quo ignore them. Those arguments are the ones I think we need to learn better and push harder.

    The argument for doing research humanely or using animals for food humanely is that suffering is bad in any animal that can suffer. It’s too cruel to tolerate. ALF or PETA are not interested in my agreement with that. They want to go further. I’m not sure why. But I am sure that it has something to do with denying that human beings are special.

    Yet scientifically human beings are special. Our consciousness is special, even though one still has to be vague about that. Lots of people deny that, whether out of misanthropy or something else. They’re right below the neck, but not above it.

  9. #9 Corkscrew
    September 5, 2006

    DavidD: the problem with consciousness is that it’s extraordinarily difficult to prove that other creatures (say, dolphins) don’t have it. Hence, it doesn’t really help much.

  10. #10 J Daley
    September 5, 2006

    I would disagree with the notion that humans are – from an objective, non-anthropocentric standpoint – special. Certainly we are unique, but so is everything else. Consciousness (as you point out) needs to be defined or else it is a uselessly ambiguous concept here. To that end, wikipedia’s definition of consciousness is

    “a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one’s environment.”

    I would offer that this “quality of mind” is decidedly not unique to humans, and that examples of animal self-awareness abound, especially among the great apes.

  11. #11 quitter
    September 5, 2006

    Eh, all this stuff about trying to say our consciousness or intellect is what justifies killing of animals is pointless.

    My argument is very different. It’s basically that the idea that humans can exist without killing is so fundamentally silly that people like Vlasak just need to get over it and grow up. Humans are walking death machines, formed by a billion years of evolution to be on top of the food chain. We kill constantly, we power ourselves through the destruction of either plant or animal life, our immune system kills constantly to keep the other forms of life from beating us down and eating us, the ones our body can’t get we kill with drugs and I’ll be damned if I have to respect the life of a tapeworm or malarial parasites. We kill animals to eat just like other animals kill animals to eat. We build buildings on top of habitats and birds fly into the windows and die. We drive cars over squirrels, raccoons, deer, possums, the occasional armadillo, and smoosh several billion bugs a year (collectively) on our windshields. We’ve enslaved billions of bacteria in viruses in our gut and on our skin to help us digest food and protect us from other life forms that would do us harm. There is no morality issue here in life. That’s just what life is. All forms of life require the death of other forms of life, and to suggest that life somehow “respects” other life is just not supported by the evidence. Any other view of it is immature or just insane. Until we figure out a way to harness photsynthesis in our skin, we have to destroy other life to survive, whether it be plant, animal, fungus, bacterial etc. We should not feel bad about it, it is what we do, what we’re designed for, and what every other damn animal does. Our feelings for animals shouldn’t have anything to do with intelligence, or cuteness and that’s the slippery slope that Singer and his ilk have made us travel down, because then it’s an issue of slicing the salami. How far down to we go before it’s wrong? Chimps? Gorillas? Rhesus monkeys? Bacteria? My answer is anything non-human is fair game, I think going down the road of deciding which animals morally deserve to live ultimately leads to Jainism, which is just total idiocy. We got to the top of this game through a lot of natural selection, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to cede the high ground because of these jackasses think they can commune with nature and live in peace with it. What a load of crap. Nature’s been trying to kill us for millions of years, and I’m not going to just step aside and let her do it because these people think killing is inherently wrong.

    The real hard question is, if killing animals is not in itself wrong as that is how we were formed by nature, how do we justify not killing eachother? I would say it’s because our fitness as social creatures, as well as our happiness depends on us all getting along, staying out of the passing lane, and occasionally holding a door for someone who’s arms are full. Further, while killing may be justified, it should be understood that cruelty is never justified, and killing for killing sake is just sociopathic.

  12. #12 C. Lathe
    September 6, 2006

    The argument from history or biological imperative as it applies to using non-human animals in factory farms or research etc is abiguous, fraught with fallacies and half-truths and, frankly, slightly egregious in a forum mostly frequented by educated individuals. To say that we have a capability to do something doesn’t mean that we ought to do it; what the study of morality, ethics, tries to do is approach questions like these from as many standpoints as possible. Where one draws the line on ideas of suffering, beneficence, species rights (or speciesism, to use Singer’s term) will influence one’s opinions, but to say that “we have evolved the ability to do X” is to sanction X in such a way as to allow all sorts of abhorrent ideas with the same pretext; I could make the same style of argument and say that since we have come to evolve the ability to make our lives more convenient by polluting constantly, we should continue to do it.

    Also, I, as well as many others, do not agree that cruelty is never justified, as I try to steer clear of universals like that… it’s inherently a vague word, as it depends on contextual cues for it’s applicability; what one person finds cruel, another finds necessary.

    What people really ought to do is to think as objectively as they can about what it means to be human, in the context of interpersonal relations, relations with other animals, and in relations with the entire world. For it to truly work, morality ought to take all these things into consideration, and do what is reasonable, not comfortable.

  13. #13 Adam G
    September 6, 2006

    Humans are indeed killing machines; however, scientists have one goal in mind when it comes to animal research: less death and discomfort in the long-term. Scientists do not perform random experiments on other species just for kicks. Additionally, a great amount of research is done on other humans, especially in fields such as psychology, psychiatry, and medicine.

    That so many drug trials and experimental treatments are performed on humans completely eliminates any speciest argument. Quite simply, people die in experiments that do not work, or die because a treatment was released before all of the side-effects were known.

    The only time animals can be used in research anymore is when the benefits from said research FAR outweigh the costs. Even then, scientists must use the minimum number of animals necessary for statistical significance (the average number required is 20 for many models).

    Human benefit is the first consideration in animal research. For example, can you justify the sacrifice of 10 chimpanzees (say in a multiple sclerosis study) if the results are guaranteed to benefit every human with the disease (~1 in 1000 North Americans have it–that’s hundreds of thousands of people)? Obviously yes. This example is typical of studies involving primates.
    What about animal models for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s? It is extremely common for people between 65 and 85 to develop Alzheimer’s, so the answer is again yes. The Alzheimer’s example is typical of research involving rats, lab bred and reared for this purpose, much like how cows and pigs are farm bred and reared for eating.

    Animal benefit is the second consideration, but is also the reason why scientists and ethicists agreed that animal research can be moral. Research of this nature allows us to learn as much as possible about every species in order to:

    1) Prevent their extinction

    2) Control them if they become pests, as this will result in the endangerment and/or extinction of many other species

    3) Understand how humans are disrupting them so that such disruption can be stopped

    4) Help them repopulate in the wake of declining numbers

    5) Treat them for disease just as if they were people

    For animal research to even be approved (in addition to meeting the above conditions), the animals MUST be treated like gold at ALL times, such that aside from their containment they live in luxury. Any pain or discomfort suffered by the animals must be absolutely necessary for the purpose of the study, otherwise it must be eliminated. If the animals must be sacrificed, they must first be anesthetized to unconsciousness and then killed immediately thereafter. They feel nothing, just like how people feel nothing when put under for surgery.

    Without all of the above restrictions and conditions, animal research would be a horrible and unethical disaster of humanity, but this is not the case. Instead, animal research is the only possible way to save the lives of both humans AND OTHER ANIMALS.

    If you still feel you lack a good moral backing for animal research, consider these last few points:

    – Chimpanzees kill Red Colobus Monkeys for food and status, so they are not the epitome of morality themselves… but of all species, they have the most recent common ancestor to Homo sapiens. It is probable this ancestor killed things for food and status as well, and as much as spoiled, death-free, first world people like to deny it, we evolved from that ancestor too.

    – Almost infinitely fewer animals are used in science than in food production, but almost infinitely more lives have been saved by the knowledge gained from animal research.

    – It is likely that the number of animals killed by farm machinery in the production of grains, rice, and corn, is greater than the number of animals killed by scientists.

    I’ll save the rest for that book I’ll never write (because I don’t want the ALF to kill me).

  14. #14 Wills F
    September 6, 2006

    “It’s the racism, stupid…”
    Every attempt to rebut ALF– both in the above posts and anywhere else–based on the human superiority argument founders because it has its parallel in racist propaganda. ALF’s Achilles heel is in it’s puerile tactics, not it’s basic philosophy.

    We’ll probably never be “morally pure” in our dealings with the rest of the biosphere, but we’re hardly “morally pure” in dealing with each other. Meanwhile, while it may not satisfy ALF dogmatists, two quick suggestions for making animal experimentation more acceptable.
    1). There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing experiments on animal, since, as Adam G. points out (above) experiments are done on human subjects as well. If you would be comfortable having your mother undergo a certain procedure, that’s a pretty good indication that there’s nothing ethically wrong with it. If you would NOT be comfortable, then maybe that procedure needs some re-thinking.

    2). Adam G. also rightly points out that animal research can benefit animals. I would make it a requirement for funding that any research involving use of non-human subjects show some tangible benefits for non-human species. This is the logical corollary to the “human benefit” clauses already present in most funding requirements.

  15. #15 John M
    September 6, 2006

    quitter wrote!
    “My answer is anything non-human is fair game,”

    This is essentially the stance taken by people undertaking or inciting pogrom. If you are convinced that the tribe across the road are animals, whether due to skin colour or social organisation ot whatever, then they are fair game. It’s hardly an attitude of mind to adopt if future holocaust is to be sidestepped.

    Recognition that all living things have a certain basic equivalence doesn’t automatically make one stop being a predator. A number of aboriginal hunter-gatherers behave with extreme deference to their prey.

  16. #16 quitter
    September 6, 2006

    Wow, it didn’t take long before I got called a Nazi. Can I take that as a Godwin’s law violation?

    I didn’t make the argument that we should make animals extinct, or that we should arbitrarily kill them for fun, I said the exact opposite. Further I said suffering should be minimized whenever possible and I think Adam G made an argument similar to mine. I didn’t say animals don’t deserve to live, I like animals. I’m merely saying that the Singer argument about intellect being the distinction that should create a sliding scale of worth is just not valuable and reflects an immature understanding of how life works. Further, I don’t see anyone arguing that my real thesis, that killing itself isn’t inherently wrong, is incorrect. Humans simply have to kill something to survive, often a lot of things. We do it intentionally, unadvertantly and constantly. We’ve done this for all of our history, as has virtually every organism on this planet. We shouldn’t feel guilty about killing to continue to survive, or to increase the survivability of our species as a whole. Acknowledgement of anything less is simply an immature view of how life has evolved on this planet.

    Either all life is evil, or it’s ok to kill in order to live. I’m trying to avoid the progression I see among the ARA arguments towards Jainist ideas of complete sanctity of life which really are absurd. Further the idea that humans being superior to other animals is now wrong? Are we going to turn our government over to the polar bears now? I’m not saying we don’t have a duty to protect the planet and biodiversity, but this idea that humans aren’t superior to other animals is the stupidest thing I’ve heard yet on this thread. Do you take orders from your dog John M and Wills F? The last guy to do that was the Son of Sam, sorry, didn’t mean to imply you were serial killers. Are you honestly telling me you don’t think humans are superior to the other animals on this planet?

    Further you state this requirement for a procedure done on animals:

    If you would be comfortable having your mother undergo a certain procedure, that’s a pretty good indication that there’s nothing ethically wrong with it. If you would NOT be comfortable, then maybe that procedure needs some re-thinking.

    Wow, just that one requirement would end 100% of animal research, since just about every protocol ultimately requires the death of the animal. I’m not cool with my mother being killed for a scientific experiment, but I am cool with lab animals dying for knowledge. Oh damn, I must be a Nazi now. Crap.

    Then #2

    Adam G. also rightly points out that animal research can benefit animals. I would make it a requirement for funding that any research involving use of non-human subjects show some tangible benefits for non-human species. This is the logical corollary to the “human benefit” clauses already present in most funding requirements.

    Damn, that knocks out at least 50-90% of animal research, unless you handwave and say, if we understand human disease better I’m sure it will trickle-down to veterinary medicine (which really would only help our pets). Really, nothing we do in labs to mice, rats, rabbit etc., will ever help those species or most species in a significant way. We’re using them as models of human disease and to understand basics of biology and physiology. Not to cure mouse Hepatitis or Tularemia in rabbits.

    Keep working on those rules. I haven’t heard a real suggestion from an ARA yet that doesn’t involve the complete abandonment of biological science.

  17. #17 Adam G
    September 6, 2006

    Oh damn, I must be a Nazi now. Crap.

    Haha, incendiary.

    It’s true, though, not all animal research can benefit non-human animals, especially research using lab rats or fruit flies (drosophila–the geneticist’s best friend). These species in particular are thoroughly understood, and although that allows us to provide to them the best possible lives, they are still being used and sacrificed for scientific purposes. However, this is only when a question significant to all life, some life, or just human life absolutely requires an animal model to be answered.

    Also, life is about probabilities. Every treatment is a gamble, where winning means ending up in a better or equal position (of health or otherwise). Scientific discoveries made through animal research can only change the odds to be more favorable, there will always be that chance of losing (suffering even more or dying). As such, quitter is very correct in saying that 100% of all animal research would end if put to Willis’ mother test. Yes, your mother may get worse or die from a treatment, but she may also get worse or die if NOTHING is done. She may also get better all on her own. With NOTHING, you may have odds of 50:50 (win: lose), with TREATMENT X the odds might change to 51:49 in her favour. Such a small difference may result in hundreds of thousands of lives being improved or even saved.

    From an ecological standpoint, if the odds of any animal in a given species reaching adulthood and reproducing are less than 50:50, that species will eventually go extinct unless those odds change. Science is the only way to control those odds to be more favourable for both human and non-human animals. With the addition of foresight, animal research is not only ethical, it is downright good.

  18. #18 quitter
    September 6, 2006

    Adam G, Wills was talking about that “mother requirement” being the basis for animal experimentation. At least I read it as saying he thinks any experiment done on an animal shouldn’t be one you would do on your own mother. You’re giving him too much credit.

    His proposal would eliminate:
    1. All gene knockout studies (lets knock a gene out of mom and see what it does! No thanks.)
    2. All Drug toxicity studies.
    3. All investigative drug work.
    4. All experiments requiring killing an animal either for tissues or at the end to analyze the results.
    5. All transgenic studes (lets stick a gene in mom and see what it does! Also, no thanks).

    See, all basic and preclinical research on animals involves things we wouldn’t want for our mom. It’s a shitty and stupid rule, and as usual, it’s clear the ARA advocates are nonscientists or if they are so hopelessly clueless about what is happening in biology.

  19. #19 Wills F
    September 13, 2006

    Not being at ARA advocate, and willing to match my biological credentials against any other reader of this blog, my original post was intended to suggest a middle way at a time when there are ever-increasing demands to shut down all animal research. But reading quitter’s hysterical response to my original post, I’m beginning to think maybe there really is something morally rotten at the core of at least some animal experimentalists.

    If my “mother” rule would shut down 100% of animal research, then animal research needs some serious re-thinking. In fact, field ecologists and wildlife biologists have always worked without the ability to kill their subjects any time they wanted, or to coop their subjects up in substandard living conditions. Yet the advances they have made in all of the five research areas cited by quitter are every bit as important as the knowledge gained in lab experiments. In all probability altering experimental protocols as I suggested would make laboratory experimenting more expensive and time consuming but there are economic, not scientific issues.

    Taking one specific example, leaving animal subjects to expire naturally rather than killing and disecting them immediately after an experiment would introduce time and some complications, but it would hardly make experiments impossible. For one thing, rodents naturally have very short life spans, so experimenters would hardly get old and grey waiting for their results. The objection that allowing animals to live out their lives in the lab would confound test results is not necesarily true. Again, field biologists have to live with these kinds of constraints all the time. It’s more difficult to tease out the effect you’re interested in from background noise but in the field it’s done all the time.

    As I understand the protocols of human experimentation, it’s not unheard-of for people to volunteer for potentially painful and dangerous proceedures. The researchers simply have ways ready to mitigate pain, and shut down experiments before permanent damage occurrs. Extending this courtesy to animal subjects may require some changes to the researchers’ precious One-Factor-Controlled-Experiment protocol, but it hardly shuts down all research potential, at least not for a competent scientist. Changing some of the standard protocols might even have the beneficial outcome of catching some chronic side effects of treatments, instead of everyone being continually surprised when these effects surface in humans taking a supposedly vetted treatment.

    Nor do I find anything substantive in quitter’s complaints about my second rule. I grant that there would be a lot of arm waving, just as there is with the boilerplate about “benefit to society” or “benefits to clientele” in “mainstream” funding applications. Private labs and companies are free to have no part of this, but as something of a biocentrist, I object to my tax dollars funding blind anthropocentrism in science.

    Speaking of arm waving, quitter, I don’t take orders from my kids or students, but neither do I consider them my moral inferiors.

  20. #20 Adam G
    September 15, 2006

    Willis, you pose some particularly interesting arguments that I would like to address.

    Generally speaking, when animals are sacrificed in research it is for a good reason. Hormones*, neurons, RNA, etc. all exists in an animal for a brief period of time. If an animal in an experimental condition is not sacrificed within a certain period (as little as a few seconds), then no data can be retrieved.

    The next problem is with cause and effect. Only in a scientific experiment, with individuals randomly assigned to one of two or more conditions (at the very least), can a cause and effect be established between two variables. For example, to test the effects of an antihistamine on the immune system, rats might be separated in to three conditions: high dosage, low dosage, and control. Also, they might be broken into groups, like sex, or any other variable thought to influence the drug. Now these groups and conditions can be compared, and cause and effect can be established.

    This example is typical of a scientific experiment (any other type of research is referred to as a study, not an experiment). After something like this is done, a full dissection must be completed or else something might be missed. Waiting for the animal to die naturally will result in all physiological changes reverting back to the baseline.

    Research in genetics would be (by far) impossible without sacrificing animals, since creating mice with a particular gene knocked-out (to examine the effects of said gene’s absence) takes a number of generations as well as chance, meaning that a single group of gene-knockout mice might only come about after hundreds of failures. Nothing else can be done with these animals, because if they were to ever get into the wild and reproduce, entire populations would soon have severe genetic defects.

    There is no anthropocentrism in science at all, it’s all about managing life (ALL organisms) and death in an acceptable manner.

    The public notion that scientists are somehow morally inferior, or haven’t thought about the various ethical issues involved, or are anthropocentric, or that their research is meaningless, and so on, is a huge insult that has no basis. There are no new arguments that have not already been the topic of heavy debate within the scientific community and within the scientist him or herself (no offense to those questioning animal research, who have the right to answers due to the ethical issues involved). Animal research is emotionally trying, difficult, stressful, and traumatizing for all researchers involved. It would be impossible for an educated person with any form of conscience to execute such research if it weren’t for the fact that (infinitely) more good than harm comes from it.

    Finally, animal researchers always follow the three Rs: Reduce (the number of animals sacrificed)
    Refine (the procedures used on the animals to maximize comfort and minimize adverse effects)
    and most importantly REPLACE (do not use animals if it can be helped, work towards discovering methods that do not use animals, and replace animals in research with novel technologies as soon as such technologies are available–at any expense)

    * Note that hormones in particular can be retrieved in urine, saliva, blood, or really anything produced by an animal… however, the effects of the hormones on the animal may be temporary. Immediate dissection must be done in these cases.

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