The Frontal Cortex

Singer and Animal Rights

It’s ironic that scientific research on animals has ended up becoming an important source of evidence against animal research. After all, it’s only because we sacrifice chimps that we understand the deep connections between the chimp brain and the human brain. If we didn’t experiment on rats, or dogs, or monkeys, then we wouldn’t know about our shared biological architecture. As I noted a few months ago:

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.

But I still don’t think that the inter-relatedness of life is enough to justify a ban on animal, or even primate, research. Call me a blatant speciest, but I think the utility of animal research outweighs the moral transgression. One of the reasons I appreciate Singer, and am always interested in his philosophical opinions, is that he’s one of the last remaining utilitarians. That said, I make a different utility calculation than Singer does when it comes to the worth of animal research. At this point, I think the benefits of research far outweigh the moral transgression of killing animals. The suffering of chimps has alleviated the suffering of millions of humans. That’s an uncomfortable, and even tragic fact, but it’s true.

Of course, grounding animal research in utilitarian calculations has serious implications. For one thing, it suggests that animal research, especially on primates, is not an incontrovertible right. At some point in the future, the suffering of animals might outweigh the medical benefits. But we haven’t reached that point yet. That’s why I find Singer’s subtle shift on animal research so revealing. Hopefully, he’s also come to the reasonable conclusion that some types of animal research are ethically valid, at least in utilitarian terms.

But I still agree with Singer that there is absolutely no way to defend our current animal farming practices. The utility we get from a cheap egg, or a cheap pound of ground beef, in no way justifies the insanely cruel way we raise our chickens and cows. Unlike Singer, I believe people are entitled to eat meat. I just don’t believe they are entitled to eat meat that’s raised in an inhumane fashion.

P.S Thanks for all the great comments on the last post. Let’s keep this discussion going. . .

Comments

  1. #1 Doc Bushwell
    November 29, 2006

    This, and your earlier post, made for interesting reading. Deer culling has been a controvery in Princeton Township, and while Singer protested the net and bolt method, he supported the contraception/sterilization approach. Given that I found a friggin’ deer tick crawling across a conference table Monday morning, I hope the method works.

    With regard to primate research, chimps are incredibly expensive for use as disease models in the pharma industry. When I worked on a target against the hepC virus (now in Phase II), we went “straight to man” and bypassed the only known animal model for the disease, i.e., Pan troglodytes. Chimps were just too damned expensive. So from a pragmatic stance, pharma tends to utilize mice and rats first.

  2. #2 jeffk
    November 29, 2006

    As I think I’ve commented on this blog before, I’m something of a fan of Singer. That being said, he struggles with what I call the “mosquito question”, that is, his justification on where to draw various lines is very mucky. When I saw him speak, he spent too little time on this subject, and it was the only part of his thesis that seemed weak. Then he flubbed the question when he got it at the end of the speech.

    This is why I largely agree with him and yet am not a vegetarian (although I’d like to think I make careful decisions about what meat to eat). It’s all about those lines – balancing the needs of the most complex species (and I would argue, that with far, far greater capacity for pleasure and pain) with the suffering of the others, and only research can acomplish this task. The rare time that I separate from the usual bleeding-heart progressives is when they lack quantitative abilities. Those who knee-jerk against animal research have to consider the scales. Millions of cattle are killed every year to stuff in our mouths and they waste their time trying to stop research on a handful of animals. They need to choose their battles and consider utility, as difficult as that can be.

  3. #3 Devery
    November 29, 2006

    Jeffk:

    Can you cite specific instances of “knee-jerk progressives” who are against “research on a handful of animals” yet “stuff beef in their mouths”? I know a great deal of people who acknowledge that there are benefits from scientific experimentation who abstain from eating anything that has been factory farmed. Since “quantitative abilities” are essential in this calculus, can you offer yours?

    Also, what kind of “careful decisions about what meat to eat” are part and parcel of your moral calculus? I think it would be valuable for this discussion for you to present those as fodder, if you will.

  4. #4 jeffk
    November 29, 2006

    I don’t think I claimed the people eating 2 lbs of beef a day were the same people bombing research facilities. Rather, I suggested that those who are strongly against mistreatment of animals focus their attention elsewhere. (I also acknolwedge that there are plenty if not most who are focusing their efforts in the right places).

    I think the quanitative abilities that are needed are more or less outlined in the post above – I was largely just agreeing. Consider the amount of good done for people by the research-caused suffering of one pig vs. the slaughter of thousands every day to make tasty bacon. This is what I’m talking about. The word “quantitive” may not be quite appropriate here, or at least not literal, but I’m asking that people do some order-of-magnititude calculations of what the real problems are.

    As for my own decisions, I generally try to limit the consumption (with the knowledge that production is resource-intensive) and seek out organically raised meat. This isn’t ideal – the best thing to do is not to eat it at all – but I suppose I’m doing more than most. Maybe I’ll get there eventually.

  5. #5 Tulse
    November 29, 2006

    I make a different utility calculation than Singer does when it comes to the worth of animal research. At this point, I think the benefits of research far outweigh the moral transgression of killing animals. The suffering of chimps has alleviated the suffering of millions of humans.

    So it is utility only for humans that counts? If one is going to be a thoroughgoing utilitarian, surely biasing human experience is verboten?

    And if one is a thoroughgoing utilitarian, surely research on unwilling human subjects could be justified in the same fashion as research on chimps?

  6. #6 jeffk
    November 29, 2006

    So it is utility only for humans that counts?

    I don’t think that was ever the claim. I think it’s a matter of recognizing our very very high capacity for pain and suffering compared to even the average mammal. Without going into many examples, consider for a moment that we’re the animal that’s aware of our own mortality. Trust me, squirrels have it easy.

    The argument is easy to make that if we experimented on other human beings, then we would all live in fear of being experimented on – a serious net cost to our summed happiness.

  7. #7 Jonah
    November 29, 2006

    Biasing human experience isn’t verboten. Because of our cognitive faculties – and probably because I’m a human – I give priority to human suffering over animal suffering. It’s a terrible tradeoff, but it’s one I’m willing to make. That said, we need to be aware that we are making a tradeoff. One of the problems I have with our animal farming practices is that meat eaters are completely divorced from the tradeoff. We just see meat wrapped in seranwrap in our supermarket and never contemplate the bloody act of slaughter, or the inhumane housing conditions of the animals. At least scientists are forced to confront this tradeoff directly. When scientists sacrifice mice, or probe the neocortex of a macaque, they have to do the killing themselves. And trust me, it sucks.

  8. #8 Tulse
    November 29, 2006

    The argument is easy to make that if we experimented on other human beings, then we would all live in fear of being experimented on – a serious net cost to our summed happiness.

    Funny, we tolerated slavery for thousands of years without most people living in fear that they would be slaves. It seems to me that the “fear” argument is mere sophistry.

    And sure, humans have certain cognitive capacities that allow them to prospect more than other creatures, and thus there are certain kinds of negative utility that they can uniquely experience. But surely that is outweighed by the sheer quantity of negative utility experienced by animals for food and research purposes. At the very least, an argument is needed about the calculus involved. Without such an argument, appeals to the peculiar sensitivity of humans (we feel “fear”, we are “aware of our own mortality”) seems like special pleading, a way to claim one is a utilitarian while still being a speciesist.

  9. #9 quitter
    November 30, 2006

    What makes me so sad about arguments like Tulse is making is that it reflects a complete and total ignorance of biological research.

    The discussion seems to reflect an idea that there is a choice about using animals for biological research, and I’m not just talking about drug testing. Everything from basic science in biology to drug studies in preparation for human trials require animals, cells from animals, and other animal products. Without animals, there is no biology, period. So, we can halt all human exploration of biological science, or we can give ourselves a false sense of moral superiority because we kill less than other animals on the planet.

    People who think biology is possible without animals dying simply do not understand how biologic research is performed. Every once in a while I even have an ARA tell me we can do all our biology with computers, sigh.

    It is not wrong to kill animals. Everyone does it whether they are willing to face it or not. If you drive a car, you kill animals (note all those spots on your windshield). If you eat vegetables, you’re still killing animals (seriously, visit even organic farms and see what organic pesticides are – not to mention transport, cleaning, etc.), it simply isn’t possible to survive in this world without killing other things, and not just to survive but for our basic quality of life, comfort, and knowledge.

    When we start arguing against speciesism all I see is this slippery-slope to a misguided Jainist ideal that is impracticle, harmful to humans, and ultimately a laughable view of how nature works and how life came to evolve on this planet. Stop feeling guilty about it, it’s ok to kill animals. And as always, I’m a Nazi in 3…2…1…

  10. #10 Devery
    November 30, 2006

    What makes me so sad about “arguments” like quitter’s is that they brandish the “slippery slope” card as an excuse for intellectual and ethical laziness.

  11. #11 Caledonian
    November 30, 2006

    What I find vexing about most utilitarianists is that they’re not consistent.

    For example: many kinds of medical research would be greatly expedited if research could be done directly on human beings. The alleviated suffering of millions of human beings surely outweighs the suffering of, say, a few dozen Third World children a year. Yet utilitarianists generally reject this course of action, and they virtually always do so for non-utilitarian reasons.

  12. #12 quitter
    November 30, 2006

    Yep, it’s me, the molecular biologist being intellectually and ethically lazy, because I understand that biology is completely dependent on animals.

    How about addressing a single point I made you twit.

  13. #13 Devery
    November 30, 2006

    Well quitter, for one thing, just because biological research is dependent upon animal experimentation does not lead to “stop feeling guilty about it, it’s ok to kill animals.” I think that is intellectually lazy to say. Also just because “everyone kills animals” just by existing doesn’t make any and all animal killing acceptable. I think that should be fairly obvious.

    For example, you can argue that it is okay to sacrifice animals in the name of biological research, because that leads to benefits, but that doesn’t a priori justify wanton animal cruelty, whaling, trophy hunting, factory farming, and a ton of other practices that are cruel and nasty.

    Again, we all end up harming other creatures in order to exist, but that doesn’t excuse people from being conscious of that harm and minimizing it. A “suffering imprint,” if you will, analogous to a carbon imprint. You and your family will starve to death if you can’t drive to work, but that doesn’t mean you need to drive a Hummer and eat Taco Bell every day as you travel back and forth.

    You clearly assert biological research an imperative benefit, [and I do not disagree,] but as the first paragraph of this post declares, that biological research leads each day to evidence that ours and other animals “shared biological architecture,” demands more serious consideration of the ethics of how we behave.

  14. #14 quitter
    November 30, 2006

    Maybe you don’t understand me.

    I’m not even interested in the utilitarian justifications for killing things, or in any way trying to find an ethical framework for making excuses for killing animals. I simply don’t believe there is an ethical quandary here. It is a bizarre ethical invention that somehow humans, unlike any other animal, is not justified in killing things. The real ethical question isn’t whether killing is wrong but why killing other humans is wrong, and when you investigate that you find that even then there is still a great deal of ethical justification for killing. Like war (again justified wars – none going on right now), self-defense, organ donation, and maybe one day voluntary euthanasia in the terminally ill.

    The research I do benefits humanity at the cost of nonhumans. To do this many animals die, to provide tissue, to provide serum to feed cells in culture, to provide proteins critical to study, or as animal models of disease. Animals also die to feed me, when they invade my house, and pretty much whenever they seriously inconvenience me or our society (like deer hunting/culling to control populations or to prevent disease transmission from animal to man or livestock). And I think that’s ok without having to sit around having ethical discussions about the rightness of our actions. Further, I actively support the genocidal destruction of various human pests, especially things like intestinal parasites, malaria mosquitos and other animal vectors of disease without batting an ethical eyelash.

    Making animals suffer? That’s different, but not what we’re talking about and kind of the point of Jonah’s post. Science is nowhere, not even remotely comparable, to factory farming. Scientists do not routinely make animals suffer, and if we do the ACUC will kick our asses unless it’s carefully justified and controlled in an experimental protocol they approve with a very compelling reason to do the study. Whether or not the animal is more complex is irrelevant, I don’t accept that any non-human species of animal deserves exceptional status just because they remind us of ourselves or are smarter than other animals.

    All this obsessing over animal lives just comes from having no more serious conflicts with Nature. It’s a disease of leisure, an unexamined existence, and moral cowardice. Everybody sings a different song when the battle for survival is more readily apparent.

  15. #15 Devery
    November 30, 2006

    “All this obsessing over animal lives just comes from having no more serious conflicts with Nature. It’s a disease of leisure, an unexamined existence, and moral cowardice. Everybody sings a different song when the battle for survival is more readily apparent.”

    No. I think it is a very examined existence, and requires a great deal more moral courage than the stance you are taking. As far as killing humans is concerned, I no one is arguing that that of course there are MASSIVE ethical issues involved. I personally am opposed to capital punishment and most warfare for this very reason. And I don’t see how choosing not to behave as if every minute of my life were a “life or death ” struggle when it is not is somehow moral cowardice in your book. It’s one thing if I am starving in a downed plane in the Andes and I end up eating my dead sister. It’s another thing if I eat her in my apartment for my own convenience, whim or curiosity.

    It just never ceases to amaze me the selective arguments people make in our schizoid relationship to the rest of the animal kingdom. We have reason so we have privileges: we are animals so we can act as we please. I could argue that your pursuit of your scientific career “just comes from having no more serious conflicts with Nature” as well.

  16. #16 Tyler DiPietro
    November 30, 2006

    It just never ceases to amaze me the selective arguments people make in our schizoid relationship to the rest of the animal kingdom. We have reason so we have privileges: we are animals so we can act as we please.

    Strawman. The fact that only we are capable of reasoning and interacting with other humans on the level that we do is what makes ethical questions involving humans different from those of animals. The whole concept of rights is that of a set of privileges and obligations every human shares, and those are things that apply only in a human social context. An animal does not have any rights, and therefore no “right” to be free from testing.

    I could argue that your pursuit of your scientific career “just comes from having no more serious conflicts with Nature” as well.

    And it does, indeed, have something to do with that. Your point?

  17. #17 quitter
    November 30, 2006

    The moral cowardice and lack of examination that I refer to is the complete inability of the ARAs to acknowledge what I’ve been harping about the whole time. Everything we do causes death. We live by killing things. Until we learn to photosynthesize and repel attacks by other organisms by force of will, this will be the case. Further, this knee-jerk anti-war crap is just so typical of why people think liberals have no balls. If you’re not willing to fight and kill for the right reasons, sorry, you’re hopeless. My grandad fought in WWII and I’m very proud of that, as much as I think war should be avoided, every once in a while you gotta go out and kill for freedom just like they did, the North did in the civil war, and our founding fathers did. War is not an absolute evil.

    These are such arguments of convenience and false moral superiority. It fails to acknowledge that death is an essential part of life, it ignores the deaths that people cause all the time (usually on less cute animals), it ignores the continuing conflict we have with nature to survive and the need to occasionally destroy other species for the survival of our own, it ignores the incredible benefit to our species of the pursuit of knowledge, it ignores the human need to struggle for survival against oppression, and finally it just ignores common sense.

    So for me to buy into this BS ARA arguments and kneejerk anti-war crap, first you’re going to have to convince me that killing is wrong. Then you’re going to have to stop driving your car, taking antibiotics, eating food (vegetarian or otherwise), showering, cleaning your house, etc., and maybe then I’ll believe you have anything more than a tenuous grip on the reality of how we exist. Then you’re going to have to convince me why my grandfather was wrong to fight in WWII against the axis powers. Then you’re going to have to convince me that our founding fathers were evil for fighting in the revolutionary war. Then you’re going to have to convince me that every other oppressed group in the world fighting for freedom and dignity is somehow morally wrong.

    So, to sum up. We can’t avoid killing things if we want to survive in comfort, free and happy (I don’t want to live among the rats and cockroaches or fascists thanks). And this “all killing is wrong” and “all war is wrong” crap is just embarrassing to liberals. Knock it off.

  18. #18 Lizzie
    November 30, 2006

    Quitter, I don’t want to upset you any further. However I’d like to add the following: I can see that you’re accepting of the natural order, and saying humans are a part of it, and the cycles of life and death are too. Fine. But what’s odd is that you seem to be more than merely acknowledging these truths, but embracing them. Do you mean to do that? Darwin himself said that nature is a battlefield. But does that make it good? Shouldn’t we use our prefrontal cortices and try to, ahem, rise above the lot we were handed? One can’t really say it’s pointless to try, because in a sense, all of civilization, including the very unnatural discipline of science, is an attempt to rise above nature! We’re trying to make our lives (and perhaps those of other feeling creatures) less brutal.

    I wonder if you might be little more disdainful of the ways of nature than you let on.

  19. #19 Lizzie
    December 1, 2006

    Not to belabor the point, Quitter, as I think you’ve indicated that ethics are tedious to you. (Though of course this is an ethics discussion.) But I wonder if as a biologist you might find the following interesting. It’s the evolutionary theorist George C. Williams discussing human moral response to not just “the natural order” but to the mechanism of natural selection itself:

    With what other than condemnation is a person with any moral sense supposed to respond to a system in which the ultimate purpose in life is to be better than your neighbor at getting genes into the future generations, in which those successful genes provide the message that instructs the development of the next generation, in which that message is always ‘exploit your environment, including your friends and relatives, so as to maximize our (genes’) success,’ in which the closest thing to a golden rule is “don’t cheat, unless it is likely to provide a net benefit”?

    This is why saying something along the lines of “this is just how things are, damn it” doesn’t really make any sense, if one cares about being moral. And again, one may not care, though in that case one’s claims about morality hold zero credibility.

    See also http://www.cuyamaca.edu/bruce.thompson/Fallacies/naturalistic.asp” rel=”nofollow nofollow nofollow nofollow” rel=”nofollow”>naturalistic fallacy.

  20. #20 quitter
    December 1, 2006

    I’ve heard about the naturalistic fallacy, and I’m very well versed in ethics. My argument is that we’re coming to the table with false pretenses. None of you are somehow morally pure when it comes to killing things. If you’re going to say that killing is somehow inherently wrong, you have to first justify to me how you’ve managed to avoid doing it every single day of your lives or how we can continue to survive as a species if we’re going to spend our time trying to accomplish something that’s pretty much impossible.

    What I’m attacking is the total hypocrisy of people who are acting high and mighty like they have such a pure moral code, when all they’re doing is hiding from themselves the fact that they’re responsible for the killing of animals or that they secretly agree that humans should always come first. Really, are any of you all going to allow roaches or rats or mice to invade your house? Or are you going to call an exterminator. Are you going to think really hard about what pesticides are used on your organic crops (yes even organic farmers use “natural” poisons to kill pests) or whether the farmers kill deer, rabbits and other pests to protect their food supply? Or are you going to pretend like your vegetarianism is morally superior and involves no death at all just because you’re eating plants and don’t see how the food supply works? Seriously, every ARA needs to spend a year on the farm. You’re isolated by civilization, protected from the reality of how life works, where your food comes from, how we’ve evolved to survive, and ignore the death of anything that isn’t cute, because hey, if it isn’t cute and mammalian (or you don’t see it die), it doesn’t matter.

    Maybe one day, when we’re all part of the United Federation of Planets, and we can get our food out of magic teleporter devices our food supply won’t involve the death of animals. Maybe one day, when we’re all part of the United Federation of Planets, we will have evolved beyond conflict, and death, and a constant struggle with nature. Maybe one day, when we’re all part of the United Federation of Planets, we’ll have computers that allow us to bypass animal models and animal experimentation and we can be smug and self-superior about how we don’t cause any unnecessary death.

    Until then? I’m going to be a rank speciesist and put humans first. And I’m not going to be called unethical because I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is, accept responsibility for my research, and be willing to kill animals to further human knowledge. All this squeamishness and second guessing and liberal guilt, it’s so pathetic and misplaced. The cowards are the ones who close their eyes to their biological imprint, while demonizing the scientists who are trying to cure disease, expand knowledge, and admittedly do the same thing you’re not willing to take responsibility for.

    Don’t you get it? I’m not arguing the naturalistic fallacy, I’m telling you people that you’re deluded if you think you have any less of a biological imprint than me as long as you’re living and breathing on this planet. I’m just admitting to my imprint, and using it to benefit humanity.

  21. #21 Lizzie
    December 1, 2006

    Quitter you have an unfortunate tendancy toward simplifying the many nuances of the discussion. Which is funny because that was initially my exact point- complexities get overlooked in this topic. Even when others try to bring the discussion to a more in-depth level, you keep repeating your black and white polarizations.

    I’ll just let you tell us that in no way are you ever a hypocrite. I wil tell you, yes, even in my best efforts I’m a hypocrite, every day. Perhaps that will comfort you. I care more about lessening suffering than I do about other people’s hypocrisy or lack thereof, so I’ll let this go for now.

  22. #22 Tulse
    December 1, 2006

    The fact that only we are capable of reasoning and interacting with other humans on the level that we do is what makes ethical questions involving humans different from those of animals.

    Yes, it makes it different, but it doesn’t mean that humans have no ethical obligations to creatures with less rationality and intelligence than we have. After all, we believe we have obligations to human babies, and to the mentally retarded, and to various other members of our species that have less rationality than the average chimpanzee.

    The whole concept of rights is that of a set of privileges and obligations every human shares, and those are things that apply only in a human social context.

    Babies don’t have obligations. We generally don’t hold the developmentally disabled to have the same obligations that non-disabled adults do. Yet it is still wrong to kill those kinds of humans, suggesting very strongly that it is not necessary for an entity worthy of ethical concern to be able to reciprocate that concern. So what it is about the profoundly mentally retarded that killing them is murder, when the average great ape can have mental capabilities beyond them?

    Again, the “rationality” and “social interaction” arguments are, without some kind of justification, just a way to import speciesism into ethics.

    And no, it is not possible for humans, or any other creature, to live on this planet without killing. That has never been the question, any more than it is a question of whether humans can live on this planet without involving some sort of exploitation of other humans, or (at least indirectly) inflicting pain on them. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is not morally preferable to minimize killing and exploitation. (For example, while it may not be possible for me to always purchase goods from manufacturers with sterling records for labour and environmental practices, that doesn’t justify me purchasing a rug that I know was produced by child slave labour in the Middle East.)

  23. #23 Devery
    December 1, 2006

    Quitter,

    No one is arguing that they are somehow morally perfect and lead a harmless existence. The point that I and I believe Lizzie have been trying to make is that it is valid to question the ways in which one can reduce the suffering one causes. I don’t see how that makes me all of a sudden a “twit” or a “knee-jerk” ANYTHING or the person who threw blood on your mink coat. To accuse me of “moral cowardice” for saying that trying to figure out how to minimize the suffering we cause others, human and non, is just base idiocy.

    In addition, the struggle with Nature that we are engaged in now as human beings has changed. The comforts you and I have enjoyed in being able to live lives peaceful enough to earn advanced degrees and leave comments on this blog are worlds away from some Hobbesian caveman existence. And so just because “everything we do causes death” does not then give us license to be sloppy in the deaths that we cause.

    So you can say that WWII was a necessary war, but that doesn’t make Vietnam or Iraq morally defensible. Oh and by the way, my grandfather fought in WWII as well [a 3 star general, if you want to play that way] my dad fought in Vietnam, my mom’s entire family was Air Force and I was raised in a military family.

    You can’t accuse me of coming to the table with false pretenses, as what I have been saying all along is that it is important to examine the consequences of one’s actions and the suffering that they cause, and minimize it when possible and accept responsibility for it. And what I object to is simply your snarky, sloppy dismissal of these questions. And given that I eat nothing that has been factory farmed, I don’t eat animals period, that is one way my biological imprint is smaller than yours. I don’t think I’m some paragon of saintly perfection because I’ve made that choice, but I made it because it is a significant kind of UNNECESSARY suffering that I can refuse to cause. If you or a hippo came rampaging toward my husband, yeah, I’d shoot you in a second.

  24. #24 quitter
    December 1, 2006

    I called you a twit because you suggested I was an unethical idiot without even discussing a single argument I made.

    Again and again the same red herrings and straw men are being asserted, and my points that even a vegetarian existence leads to a significant biological imprint are ignored.

    You talk about killing babies? We were not making the Singer argument that the right to exist is based on intelligence. I was making a raw speciesist argument. Tyler was merely pointing out that animals simple do not have rights under our system of laws. Strawman.

    You talk about how this conversation is about suffering when again and again we explain how scientists don’t sit around making animals suffer. We keep on explaining that suffering isn’t the issue here. The problem is that ARAs are telling us that it is wrong to use animals in research, period. This is not about suffering this is about the survival of biological research. And we keep on saying when it comes to suffering scientists undergo a great deal of oversight from our ACUCs to ensure that we treat the animals humanely, they are supervised by vets every single day, and any time pain is caused it has to be minimized and explained in an experimental protocol approved by the ACUCs.

    This is not an argument about suffering. That is a total and complete red herring. This is an argument about whether or not it’s ok to kill other species for human interests. We all do it, we can’t avoid doing it, we already do minimize it in science (as I keep trying to explain), the question is do we have the right to do it period. The ARAs say no, we say yes.

  25. #25 Tulse
    December 1, 2006

    We were not making the Singer argument that the right to exist is based on intelligence. I was making a raw speciesist argument.

    Speciesism isn’t an argument — it’s just a claim. You need to provide arguments to support that claim, or else it’s meaningless.

    Tyler was merely pointing out that animals simple do not have rights under our system of laws

    Using our current system of laws as a basis for argument is pretty shaky, since under prior instantiations of those laws humans with certain skin pigmentation or mental abilities didn’t have rights. Again, provide an argument.

    (Of course, if you want an argument based on our current laws, I’d point out that restrictions on animal cruelty seem to suggest that as a society we do have an intuition that animals are not objects, but are worthy of moral concern. I’d argue that the problem is we are not consistent in that intuition.)

    This is an argument about whether or not it’s ok to kill other species for human interests.

    It depends on who you talk to — some folks are strict utilitarians, and argue that as long as there is no suffering, it is OK. (Of course, under that view, as long as humans didn’t suffer, all things being equal it would be OK to kill them as well, so I don’t think that argument flies.)

    But I agree that the real issue is not utilitarianism (contra Singer).

    We all do it,

    What an appalling ethical argument.

    we can’t avoid doing it, we already do minimize it in science (as I keep trying to explain)

    I agree that biology researchers have made great strides in animal welfare in their research. I think that’s undeniable. But that doesn’t get at the issue of rights, any more than saying there were slaveowners who treated their slaves well (and that the Southern US economy would have collapsed if the practice was ended) was a justification for the institution.

    To go back to an earlier posting of your, you said:
    I’m not even interested in the utilitarian justifications for killing things, or in any way trying to find an ethical framework for making excuses for killing animals. I simply don’t believe there is an ethical quandary here.

    That seems to pretty well shut down any possibility of discussion with you on this topic. I honestly don’t understand that, because it seems to me that if a practice is obviously morally defensible, then it should be easy to provide the ethical reasoning. But all you seem to offer are angry charges about others, and no real arguments about the issue. That doesn’t seem to me to be particularly helpful.

  26. #26 quitter
    December 1, 2006

    I think my argument is quite clear. And I’m also not convinced that it’s my job to convince you guys that what I’m doing is right or needs to be morally defended. I’m doing research into human disease that will hopefully one day lead to human lives being saved. As far as I’m concerned you’re an obstruction to science just like the creationists. You have no real arguments, you offer no scientific alternatives, you are the real threat to the life I care about – human life. It’s your job to convince us that the status quo is somehow wrong and we should stop doing all biological science for the sake of non-human animals. I still haven’t heard a good argument why killing non-humans is wrong? The best you can come up with is that it will make it ok to kill babies and retards, which is itself retarded as this doesn’t happen as a result of our use of animals (nor has it for the entire history of humans). These arguments are pathetic.

    Humans need to kill to survive, as does nearly every other animal that doesn’t derive its energy from the sun. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it, it’s just the way we evolved, and we can’t help it. I want humans to survive and prosper, and could care less about other species beyond my desire towards preservation of biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem, and I think that is natural and good and proper. All these references to slavery and trying to make me and other researchers sound like Nazis or slave-owners is just so typical of the animal rights advocates. You have absolutely nothing to offer. There are no realistic alternatives to animal experimentation, so basically you’re arguing for the elimination of human life-saving research so you can feel good about yourselves (while deluding yourselves about how where your food comes from – yes even vegetables require killing animals). If there were alternatives, I wouldn’t be making any of these arguments, but sorry, humans come first, and you agree with that whether you admit it or not. You wouldn’t argue against the elimination of an animal disease vector like malarial mosquitos, or the malarial parasites themselves would you? You wouldn’t allow cockroaches, or mice, or rats, or even chimps to invade your house would you? Because you acknowledge that when it comes to survival, to comfort and quality of life, human needs come first.

    You all can sit around and whine and moan and feel guilty about human progress, or you can just get over the fact of how we evolved on this planet. But seriously, if you’re going to continue this argument like you have the moral high ground as you argue against the study of biology, I’m just going to whip out the hypocrite stick and show you how you’re just as guilty as everybody else. Go live on a farm for a year, an organic one, please. And when they’re dumping millions of freeze-dried ladybugs on the crops, and covering them with organic pesticides (which ironically are usually inorganic chemicals in organic farming) and shooting deer to protect the crops and trapping, poisoning and otherwise killing rodent pests you can see that this imaginary high ground you have is illusory. You’re just ignoring the supply chain. If you really want to prevent animals from suffering and dying pretty much the only thing you can do is off yourself. So either get on that, or stop arguing against biological research.

  27. #27 Tulse
    December 1, 2006

    I think my argument is quite clear.

    Then perhaps you could summarize it again, since I can’t make it out from your postings. And this is a genuine request, since I think this kind of dialogue is useful.

    And I’m also not convinced that it’s my job to convince you guys that what I’m doing is right or needs to be morally defended.

    You may not think it is necessary for you to do so, and that’s fine. But there are many people who think that these issues are important, people who can potentially impact what you do. I would think you would want to rationally discuss this in order to convince them. I am certainly genuinely willing to be convinced by a rational argument.

    I still haven’t heard a good argument why killing non-humans is wrong? The best you can come up with is that it will make it ok to kill babies and retards,

    Nice use of language, there…

    which is itself retarded as this doesn’t happen as a result of our use of animals (nor has it for the entire history of humans). These arguments are pathetic.

    No culture has ever killed off babies, or developmentally disabled humans? That shows a profound ignorance of history. In any case, the argument was not that because we do such things to animals, we would do them to people, but rather that, if we are going to be consistent in our ethics, then, if we are not going to b speciesist, that demands that we treat all beings of the same intellectual capacity the same — since we don’t kill babies and the developmentally delayed, we shouldn’t do the same for creatures with similar intellect, such as the great apes.

    Humans need to kill to survive, as does nearly every other animal that doesn’t derive its energy from the sun. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it, it’s just the way we evolved, and we can’t help it.

    First of all, evolution is a lousy argument for ethics. Secondly, we can help it, at least in many contexts. No one is saying that we can go through life without killing, but that we can be aware of it and reduce our impact on other sentient organisms.

    f you really want to prevent animals from suffering and dying pretty much the only thing you can do is off yourself. So either get on that, or stop arguing against biological research.

    Well, OK then. So much for rational discourse.

  28. #28 quitter
    December 1, 2006

    Uggh, this is bordering on denialism.

    Your fisking skills are pathetic Tulse.

    No culture has ever killed off babies, or developmentally disabled humans? That shows a profound ignorance of history. In any case, the argument was not that because we do such things to animals, we would do them to people, but rather that, if we are going to be consistent in our ethics, then, if we are not going to b speciesist, that demands that we treat all beings of the same intellectual capacity the same — since we don’t kill babies and the developmentally delayed, we shouldn’t do the same for creatures with similar intellect, such as the great apes.

    Umm, stop purposefully being obtuse jackass. No one would make that statement in their right minds. The point is, it wasn’t the fact that they were eating meat, or doing research on animals that caused the infanticide as you acknowledged. I’m not ignorant of history, I know perfectly well of the many societies that even ritualized infanticide, killing of the elderly etc., and we can always talk about Nazis – the ultimate crutch of the weak ethical argument.

    I make the argument repeatedly, but you continue to ignore it, and choose to take my comments out of context to make it appear as though I haven’t addressed this again and again and again.

    I am not making the naturalistic fallacy argument. I am saying it is impossible for humans to survive without killing other animals. You continue to say I’m arguing ethics from evolution, I am not. Evolution is why the situation occurred, but we’ve moved beyond many things that were “natural” and that is good, a lot of natural things are universally recognized as awful. I recognize the fallacy. Let me repeat that I recognize the fallacy. Jesus Christ. The argument I’m making is that our life on this planet is simply impossible without killing. Now, if you think our life is good, then accept that we need to kill to survive.

    I continue to point out example after example of how we kill every single day, but people, like you, choose to ignore this and act like the real problem isn’t all the things we kill for comfort, convenience, because they’re ugly or because we don’t see it, but because we are interested in expanding human knowledge, saving human lives and improving the quality of our lives.

    The whole point of my objection to Singer, from the beginning, is that he cast the argument in terms of intellect. This is, I think, the entire problem and where all the utilitarian conflicts come from. Because if it is just about intellect then we should be able to kill the retards. No one accepts this. I think the argument is about the species and our self-interest and we shouldn’t feel guilty about this. If a smarter species appeared and tried to kick us off earth, I wouldn’t just bend over and say, well, they’re smarter, we deserve to die. No, it’s about our species, our survival period. If we acknowledge that death is a part of life, that our immune systems kill, that our bodies kill, that our machines kill, that our farms kill (veggie farms too), that our cars, and trains, and planes, and everything we do results in the deaths of millions of animals every year, then why is it so hard to accept that science can kill?

    Are you going to stop driving to save the bugs and squirrels? Are you going to stop eating to save the ladybugs and deer? Are you going to stop showering to save the mites? Are you going to let lice infest your head, cockroaches, mice and rats infest your house? No.

    So why should we stop doing science? Why is expanding knowledge – which is after all the reason for our species’ success – less worthy?

  29. #29 Tulse
    December 2, 2006

    quitter, I understand you have a very personal interest in this issue. And I agree that, in the grand scheme of things, animal research is far more justifiable than most instances of raising animals for food.

    And sure, it is impossible for humans (or probably any other animal species) to live their life in a way that doesn’t involve the deaths of other creatures. I don’t think any thoughtful person would argue otherwise. But you seem to leap from “it is impossible not to kill” to “so killing doesn’t matter at all”, and that leap is simply unjustified. I think you would agree that dumping baskets of puppies into meat grinders would be an immoral act — my question would be why you (presumably) would think that, and what other commitments that belief would entail.

    if it is just about intellect then we should be able to kill the retards. No one accepts this.

    Apparently, even someone who called developmentally delayed people “retards”…

    I think the argument is about the species and our self-interest and we shouldn’t feel guilty about this. If a smarter species appeared and tried to kick us off earth, I wouldn’t just bend over and say, well, they’re smarter, we deserve to die. No, it’s about our species, our survival period.

    quitter, you’re obviously a smart person, so you should realize that, without an argument, the term “species” could just as easily be replaced by “race” (and historically has been), and the same claims would apply. You still aren’t providing any reasons why it is humans that are the appropriate ethical entities of concern, and not, say, whites, or Christians.

    Are you going to stop driving to save the bugs and squirrels? Are you going to stop eating to save the ladybugs and deer?

    If you want to talk about what criteria we should use to judge ethical concern, then I’m happy to do that. And I personally think that the notion that “all creatures are equal” is silly — I don’t feel much compunction about killing insects, but I wouldn’t kill a gorilla. But it sounds to me like the principles you espouse would let you do whatever you want to a great ape, so I’m not sure that discussing criteria make much sense if we don’t have that kind of common ground.

    So why should we stop doing science?

    No one is saying we should stop doing science — at best, what some people are saying is that we should do science in a different way, in a way that actually recognizes the insights of science that humans aren’t special creations given dominion by God over all other creatures, but simply another animal, one very similar biologicallly (and especially neurologically) to many of the animals that we eat and experiment on.

    Why is expanding knowledge – which is after all the reason for our species’ success – less worthy?

    So why not conduct experiments on humans? If the point is survival of the species, what does it matter if a few individuals of that species perish to advance the overall survival?

  30. #30 quitter
    December 2, 2006

    Well, we do conduct experiments on humans, and they even occasionally die. We just ask permission first.

    And it is clear that some ARAs are talking about ending biologic research. Just the other day that crazy surgeon guy was talking about killing 15 or so scientists would be justified because it would save millions of animal lives. That combined with PETA’s displays in San Fran last year depicting all meat eaters as Nazis, and I’m starting to feel as though we’ve got a serious problem. And if we back down, we’re talking about the end of biology here.

    As far as the jump from our killing of animals to protect our food, and in the course of our daily lives to making it generally ok to kill animals if you’ve got a good reason, I’m not sure how that turns into the slaughter of puppies. In my day I’ve actually ground up some cute animals though (not living ones) but I think your example bypasses a lot of the earlier arguments about the regulation of animals in biological research. I’m not saying wanton slaughter of animals for no good reason is ok. But if you had a compelling reason to feed a (euthanized) puppy through a meat grinder, I’m not going to oppose it. I know researchers who do studies on dogs because they’re a good model for studying a new class of heart medicines that are being used these days after MIs. Yes they’re cute, and it can be heartbreaking to work with an animal that just wants to please humans, but these drugs save tens of thousands of peoples lives a year.

    So, wanton killing makes you a total psychopath and I’m not arguing for that. I’m talking about killing, in a humane way, for a purpose that’s beneficial to humanity. Crazy surgeon guy Vlasak doesn’t think that’s ok and that people like me should be killed to send a message to other scientists. Meanwhile, you bring in this charge that putting the species first is no better than putting your race first (ultimately a meaningless distinction between humans) or your religion first. Or that support for animal research like this could be compared to arguing for slavery. Then Vlasak says things like “No strictly peaceful movement has succeeded in liberation…John Brown dragged slave owners out of their beds and shot them in the street.”

    You see why these claims about whether this is as immoral as slavery or Nazism are dangerous? I think you need to do more work showing why we shouldn’t put our species before others. I don’t mean in everything of course but when we have a serious interest that conflicts with another species most humans would agree that we should come first, and our justification is that because we can, dammit, and that’s the way the world works. Life isn’t fair, some species are going to lose to us, but because I love humans, and don’t think they’re at all equivalent to even our closest relatives, I’m glad it’s unfair to our advantage.

    Bringing up slavery though? Comparing research that saves lives to religious wars? This just encourages the nuts that want to kill us, and aren’t serious arguments.

  31. #31 Tulse
    December 3, 2006

    quitter, thanks for your reply — I genuinely appreciate your passion on this issue, and also appreciate that the exchange has had the rhetorical heat turned down.

    To address your points:

    Well, we do conduct experiments on humans, and they even occasionally die. We just ask permission first.

    Of course we do human experimentation (I’ve done non-biological human experiments myself, including PET scanning), but none of the experiments are intended to kill the subjects, and, as you point out, we do ask permission first. That’s one reason why we don’t experiment on the mentally ill or intellectually challenged, because they are unable to give informed consent. I’d argue that it would be speciesist not to grant the same consideration to, for example, great apes, who possess the same or greater intellectual ability and capacity for pain as some developmentally delayed humans.

    And it is clear that some ARAs are talking about ending biologic research. Just the other day that crazy surgeon guy was talking about killing 15 or so scientists would be justified because it would save millions of animal lives.

    I absolutely deplore violence on the part of animal rights activists — I think it is completely unjustified, and undermines the philosophy that they purport to espouse. But arguing against animal rights because of some nutjob extremists makes no more sense than condemning all of religion because of Jim Jones or the Inquisition. If there are reasonable arguments to be made, they should be considered, even if a tiny fringe of the animal rights movement betrays those arguments.

    As far as the jump from our killing of animals to protect our food, and in the course of our daily lives to making it generally ok to kill animals if you’ve got a good reason, I’m not sure how that turns into the slaughter of puppies

    The point I was trying to make is that if animals really and truly have no ethical value, and are not worthy of any ethical concern, then presumably we should be able to do literally anything we want to them, for any reason, just like we can with inanimate objects. But we don’t think that’s true, as research ethics boards and animal cruelty laws make clear.

    I know researchers who do studies on dogs because they’re a good model for studying a new class of heart medicines that are being used these days after MIs. Yes they’re cute, and it can be heartbreaking to work with an animal that just wants to please humans, but these drugs save tens of thousands of peoples lives a year.

    I live with two dogs, and have for many years. I know them intimately — they have personalities, and experience joy and fear and love and pain. I would never consent to having them used in medical experiments. Given that, it would be hugely hypocritical of me to think that it is fine for dogs who I happen not to know in this fashion to be subjected to things that I would never put my own dogs through.

    And dogs are by no means special in terms of their capacity for those kind of emotional experiences and cognitive abilities. Apes are extremely close to humans in their mental and emotional life — some can learn crude sign language and other linguistic skills. If humans can actually carry on conversations with some apes, how can we possibly justify using others for neurological research?

    I think you need to do more work showing why we shouldn’t put our species before others.

    Because if we do, at least in situations where we can reasonbly choose to do otherwise, our ethical system is inconsistent, and based solely on an irrational preference that has no more justification than putting a race or religion first.

    I don’t mean in everything of course but when we have a serious interest that conflicts with another species most humans would agree that we should come first

    I don’t completely disagree — if it were a question of saving one of my dogs or a baby, I’d save the baby. But I would argue that “serious interest” needs to be far more serious to justify such preference. Killing other sentient beings to extend our own lives is not, I think, such a justified interest.

    Bringing up slavery though? Comparing research that saves lives to religious wars? This just encourages the nuts that want to kill us, and aren’t serious arguments.

    They honestly are serious arguments. It may be obvious to you why humans treating animals as property is OK, but whites treating blacks as property is not, but just assuming that is in itself not an argument. The point of those comparisons is that unless one can identify a ethical principle that distinguishes the two situations, they are equally poorly justified. To this point, I don’t believe I’ve seen an ethical argument attacking this point. Justifications from evolution or expedience aren’t ethical claims, and as far as I can see, that’s all that’s been offered at this point.

  32. #32 quitter
    December 3, 2006

    Killing other sentient beings to extend our own lives is not, I think, such a justified interest.

    Well, we’ve hit a wall there. I’ve got justified interests a lot weaker than that one.

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