The Frontal Cortex

Animal Research

Daniel Engber has a very interesting series of articles over at Slate on Pepper the Dalmation and the use of stolen pets in biomedical research. In 1965, the theft of Pepper from a Pennsylvania farm – she ended up dying in a Bronx lab, sacrificed so that scientists could experiment with cardiac pacemakers – created a media sensation:

The dog-napping of Pepper marked the beginning of the end of canine experimentation. Outrage over her demise, and the theft and killings of other family pets, would soon turn public opinion–and federal law–against the use of dogs in biomedical research. Meanwhile, the rapid growth of American science after World War II had already created a new industry in purpose-bred, standardized lab animals–and the thriving trade in stray mutts and stolen pets would soon be replaced by an assembly line of laboratory flies, rats, and mice. Pepper’s death in the summer of 1965 signaled the end of an era.

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of animals for modern biomedical research. I can’t think of a treatment for humans, be it pacemakers or brain implants for Parkinson’s, that didn’t involve the sacrifice of countless living creatures. Mice die so that we might live a little longer.

On the one hand, this standardization of lab animals – the breeding of rodents is now a big business – is an important advance. Science needs rigorous controls and nobody wants to have a pet stolen. But it also comes with a high moral cost, since we become completely blind to the toll of scientific progress. We might worry about a beloved Dalmation, but who worries about all those rats in metal cages? (And rats are damn impressive creatures.) I personally believe that most animal research is a necessary evil – I’ve got more complicated feelings about primate experimentation – but that doesn’t mean the public should be allowed to forget it exists. Unless you’re a researcher with the proper security clearance, it’s all but impossible to actually see the animals in their sterile environs: they’re hidden away behind a locked corridor. (As a journalist, I typically ask to see the animal room. I’m almost always turned down, for perfectly understandable reasons. Scientists know that even a brief reference to lab animals in an article can lead to violent threats from animal rights extremists.)

I often wonder how history will judge our use of lab animals. My guess is that it won’t look kindly upon it. (Future generations will absolutely abhor our reliance on factory farms, but that’s a different story.) After all, 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 simple truth is that there is no bright biological line separating homo sapiens from every other animal.

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.

There is a tension here that should be acknowledged. We use animals in research because they are so useful, but the reason they are so useful is because they are so similar in design to us.

Comments

  1. #1 Mozglubov
    June 3, 2009

    I have actually started a small discussion specifically on the behavioural and intellectually aspect of the difference between species over at my own blog (the first post can be found here while the more substantive post can be found here ). I would appreciate any additional thoughts and input from others, as it is a topic I think about often in relation to my own studies.

  2. #2 golikewater
    June 3, 2009

    Scientists are not just worried about threats from extremists. I think they’re worried that if most people knew what was going on behind those locked doors they would be horrified.

    Wider awareness of just how many animals are suffering every day (and for experiments that most people would consider marginally useful) could cause a shift in attitudes towards this type of research. And that would be a threat to the livelihood of the people who depend on the research animal industry — in the way that The Omnivore’s Dilemma etc. started a sea change in people’s attitudes about factory farm animals.

    You say that factory farming is “a different story” but it’s not at all. Animal research and factory farming are both manifestations of the belief that non-human animals are here at our pleasure and to serve our needs. History will judge us harshly for both.

  3. #3 Mozglubov
    June 3, 2009

    @golikewater

    There is actually several important differences between factory farming and scientific research utilizing non-human animal models. In factory farming, profit is the central motivator and there is very little ethical oversight (that is gradually changing). In contrast, scientific research undertaken with non-human animals must go through intense ethical scrutinization. The key difference is that one area gains their profit directly from the animals in question, while the other group receives public and private funding in exchange for the generation of intellectual capital. The funding for scientific practices would be readily revoked following violations in their ethical conduct, whereas agricultural practices are much less ruthlessly enforced and slower to change (farm lobbies, for example, are quite powerful in the United States). Yes, both practices have some similarities (and I agree with you that there are abhorrent characteristics of both), but it is overly simplistic to label them as identical.

  4. #4 Mozglubov
    June 3, 2009

    Gah… grammatical mistake at the very beginning…
    ‘There is actually…’ should, obviously, be ‘There are…’

  5. #5 Ncoffee
    June 3, 2009

    As a pro-science atheist & vegetarian, I have to say: this is where the scientific community has failed completely. We’ve stumbled on all the evidence we’ll ever need to show how our treatment of animals is immoral (as nicely outlined in Jonah’s entry above, actually) … and, generally speaking, we’ve completely ignored it all. Nice science, guys.

    Scientists should be on the front lines of the animal rights movement (and some are), but generally, we get the standard “their deaths save human lives” argument … but in light of our close evolutionary relationship with mammals, all the arguments you can make for animal experimentation can basically be made for experimenting on human babies.

    In effect, there’s no moral reasoning that allows me to kill animals/babies, or promote the killing of animals/babies, in order to cure my mother’s cancer. Only a “might makes right” argument works here — which is the exact opposite of an ethical argument.

    They are completely at our mercy — so we show none, and exploit them to whatever extent we wish. But they are weak and they need our help … and we owe them.

  6. #6 Anath
    June 3, 2009

    @5

    Out of curiosity… WHAT do we “owe” them, exactly?

  7. #7 Dacks
    June 3, 2009

    Animal experimentation is a thorny issue. While I support it in the abstract (at least with the oversights we have in place these days) it is sometimes painful to come face to face with it.
    I recently listened to the scientist who carried out the glowing monkey studies: even though these did not include harm to the animals, it was depressing to think about the confined lives of these primates and their offspring. And to actually study disease will involve incorporating disfunctional DNA into the monkeys, certainly causing further suffering.
    On the other hand, factory farming has little to recommend it other than profit, and I firmly believe that we need to aggressively regulate and oversee CAFOS. Besides the inhumane conditions and nasty environmental effects, they give me the willies when I think of the spread of disease and contamination. I made a decision about a year ago, which I have largely kept, to buy only pasture-raised meat. This has lead to us eating less meat, which balances out the extra cost of the better product.

  8. #8 Ncoffee
    June 4, 2009

    Re: #6

    What do we “owe” animals?

    I thought that was obvious — besides the disgusting experimentation discussed above, we’ve taken over and ruined the places where they live, beat them and trained them to be our amusement in circuses, killed them by the millions so we could have hamburgers and leather clothing, the list goes on. We’ve received a whole lot of pleasure and life from a whole lot of their pain and death. So, yes, we owe them.

    If we accept that most mammals, like ourselves, only get a short window to experience this world, each other and their selves and then are dead forever, don’t you think we owe them for any of that? For taking away everything?

    Maybe giving them the freedom to live their lives without the impact of all of these brutal things would be a start. I would say we owe them that at least.

    You can live without killing. Even if it was hard, it would still be the right thing — but as it turns out, it’s fairly easy.

  9. #9 Kurt
    June 4, 2009

    Can you really go through life without killing anything? Plants are living things, and you consume their cells when you eat a salad, don’t you? Even if you don’t kill the entire organism when you eat a mushroom, you are still consuming tissue that was alive at one point and would be still if it hadn’t been harvested for your consumption. I would argue that there is in fact no way to live your life without taking life in some form. After all, you need the carbs, fats, amino and nucleic acids that only life can produce. The line that one person draws as to what constitutes life is going be be different than someone else’s. These distinctions are all completely arbitrary, BS confabulatory explanations we create to satisfy our individual moral consciences (see Jonah’s previous post).

    None of this is to excuse the abhorrent conditions that lab animals must endure for the entirety of their lives. If their lives are going to be taken in order for us to live longer lives with less suffering, then we should act to ensure that the lives that they do lead are not themselves full of suffering. Just to give an example of a simple way to make a big difference, how much evidence does there really need to be that “environmental enrichment”–simply giving rats extra space, toys to play with and social interaction, is beneficial for rats’ health and cognitive capacity before it becomes the standard way for them to be housed? And even from a scientific point of view, doesn’t this come closer to a “natural” situation with more relevance to the real world? Why wouldn’t we want to study biological processes as closely as we can to the conditions of the natural world?

  10. #10 Ncoffee
    June 4, 2009

    Re: #9 Kurt

    1) technically, you can’t live without killing something. That’s true. Also, 2) yes, different people draw different lines when it comes to what counts as alive or not.

    However, to clarify my position:

    1) I don’t have any reason to think plants are conscious of their being alive in any sense, so that kind of “killing” is fine with me. And although this usage of the word is technically correct, I suspect I’d get some weird looks if I said I was going out to “kill” some tomatoes.

    2)everyone agrees that mammals are alive, and that was what I was primarily referring to here. But I could have been more specific, that’s true.

  11. #11 Anath
    June 5, 2009

    Hmm, then viruses and bacteria owe all life on earth a LOT, and we owe THEM a lot for all those horrible antibiotics and medicine. And do not forget, all of us “conscious” beings are in actuality little more than a complex collaboration of specialized bacteria and other microorganisms.

    Seriously, what makes mammals so special? Why do you draw a line between those who are “conscious” of their life and those who are not? If you believe “life” is valuable, then it is certainly valuable in all forms. And certainly you wouldn’t call the exterminator if you found out your house was infested with mice/rats, cockroaches, termites, right? And certainly you wouldn’t slap a mosquito on your arm? You’d let them have the “freedom and pleasure” of raiding your pantry, eating the foundations of your house, consuming your blood to survive…

  12. #12 Kevin
    June 5, 2009

    The frontal cortex is a blog based on animal experimentation. I’m a little disappointed that Jonah wonders “how history will judge our use of lab animals.” I think, by the wealth of information and the progress we’ve seen in all areas of science, that this judgment can already be struck and it is largely favorable. If we wipe out the knowledge gained behind the use of animal experimentation, where would we be? And like any other social institution, animal research has evolved to ensure the welfare of the animal is taken into account when conducting any type of research. Knowledge is not evil nor is ignorance a virtue.

  13. #13 Mozglubov
    June 5, 2009

    Like with many ethical issues, there is a great deal of nuance here that the immediate knee-jerk reaction tends to miss. While I applaud Ncoffee’s sentiment, it ignores some fairly fundamental things about the natural world (namely, that living free from human intervention is generally not a particularly happy way to live, either. Life in all manifestations tends to be “nasty, brutish, and short”, to quote a famous fellow). That said, the argument that not wanting to abuse and destroy life is an unreachable goal and therefore we should stop caring in general is not logically sound. There are important differences between different forms of life (in this case, I don’t think making the line between mammal and non-mammal is very fair, as there are some very intelligent birds out there and we continue to find interesting behavioural and cognitive abilities in other species, even in invertebrates like squid). After all, if one rationalizes the abuse of chickens and pigs because they are alive, but so is a tree, then what about the abuse of another human? We cannot simply abandon our interactions with other species, and, as was correctly pointed out, we have the right to defend ourselves (such as swatting a mosquito), but at the same time we should be aware of the cognitive abilities of other species and take steps to reduce undue suffering and misery. The communication barrier between humans and other animals does pose a challenge, but a challenge is no reason to give up and not try.

    Now, I admit that I sound awfully pretentious, but what the hell. I’m in a pretentious mood today.

  14. #14 Ncoffee
    June 5, 2009

    Re: #11 Anath

    Well, I think you’ve given me a philosophy which allows me to kill anything without being worried about the ethical ramifications. Thanks! Hope the people I end up killing aren’t friends of yours … not that you’d care, they’re just conscious, living mammals.

    Seriously though, I totally understand your point from a biological point of view and I don’t disagree. Yes, people and other animals are just a collection of unconscious cells.

    But. Considering I am one of these collections, I do have a strong, natural bias towards other collections that are similar to my own, and — psychopaths aside, — that’s a bias that’s a not going away for the majority of human beings. Like the color red, it’s a consistent reality to the viewer, whether it exists “out there” or not.

    The nurturing and expansion of this “similar to me” bias, whether it’s technically a delusion or not, is the best, most human thing we’ve got going for us. The progression we’ve made in society in regards to sexism, racism, peace between differing nations, etc, have all been due to our expanding this bias and being more inclusive in our Singer-esque circle of empathy.

    I think it should be expanded just a little further to include other mammals, or in the very least, those that are closest to us. Sure, in one sense, I guess you could say I’m irrationally biased against insects and plants due to my human psychology — I guess I’d have to agree.

    But, sincerely, I’d like to know: how do you manage to defend even basic human rights starting from the philosophy you’re throwing us here?

  15. #15 Ncoffee
    June 5, 2009

    Re: #13 Mozglubov

    Yes, the natural world is red in tooth and claw, for sure, and left to their own devices, animal’s lives are brutal. Agreed.

    But the difference between what happens in the natural world and what we as human beings do is this: we have the cognitive abilities to examine the situation and make a decision before acting. We have a responsibility because of our enhanced mental abilities, wolves don’t.

    And, despite the violence in the natural world, if we make the right decisions, the world really will have a lot less suffering in it. We’ve built giant, global industries on the concept of efficient mass breeding and slaughter, after all.

    And Re: #12 Kevin –

    “Knowledge is not evil nor is ignorance a virtue.”

    I think the question that you’re completely ignoring here is: at what cost? How would you feel about all that awesome knowledge if it was gained by experimentation on human babies? Sure, you’d use the knowledge gained thus far, it’s good, useful knowledge, but would you advocate more of the baby experimentation?

    Or would condemning it be willful ignorance?

  16. #16 Kurt
    June 5, 2009

    It seems to me that despite some of the disparate points of view expressed here on this topic that a reasonable consensus can be reached. I continue to maintain that to make distinctions between–human-made and abstract!–categories of life is utterly and uselessly arbitrary. Scientists draw these lines to aid in the understanding of our world, not to confuse our perception of it. To base such a distinction on a bias against creatures like plants and insects that seem less human than others is no less arbitrary. Not only that but it seems to disrespect the absolutely indispensible contribution that plants and insects make to human existence not to mention the fact that insects like ants and honeybees display “human” qualities like altruism. Things are always more complicated than drawing a line makes it seem.

    To me, this says that I shouldn’t make you live you life according to where the line exists for me, and vice-versa. This works in the context of arguments over the morality of eating meat as well. So, for example, if I feel comfortable including fish in my category of what is morally acceptable to consume, that doesn’t mean that you have to. You draw your line at milk and eggs. As long as you make your decisions with open eyes, cool.

    Now, the killing of living things for the purpose of consumption so that we may live ourselves is a little bit different than the case of using animals for research. That said, I think we all agree that the use of animals and other living organisms for research has benefitted humanity not only in quantity but in quality of life. Where our consensus lies is in that we believe that the use of animals for research should not come to an end because of what we may concede are reasonable moral objections.

    It seems to me that we differ simply in what categories of life are “okay” and which aren’t. This disagreement will not go away and it’s naive to think that it will. So I think that in light of this impasse, going forward we in the science community have to agree that the morality of animal research lies in its ability to aid humankind and yet also accept the moral consequences that entail the slaughter of countless living things. Thus we need to execute our experiments with the utmost care and attentiveness, so that the lives of each and every one of our research animals are not simply thrown away but are put toward that larger goal of aiding humanity. We must thus also treat them with dignity during the lives that they do lead, and not house them in deplorable conditions.

    So what do we do to make policy in this area? I think there’s something to the solution proffered by Bernie Rollin (see part 5 of Engber’s Slate series), that institutions not simply issue “engineering standards” that specify exact conditions for the care of animals, but rather “performance standards,” in which the well-being of the animals is emphasized instead of strict adherence to arbitrary guidelines. Obviously this creates subjective and non-standard care at each institution, but it is also much more flexible and allows for care to change based on circumstance (e.g. splitting up monkeys if they fight). The downfall of this practice is that there is no real training for most animal researchers in what makes a healthy, happy rat/mouse/whatever. And even more importantly, there is no serious effort to engage scientists and force them to truly and honestly confront the moral dilemmas presented by their work. This is where the efforts of those concerned with the care of research animals should focus their efforts.

    Apologies for the horrendously long post. Hope it forwarded the discussion.

  17. #17 Ncoffee
    June 5, 2009

    Re: 16 Kurt –

    I do like where you’re going with all this, don’t get me wrong. However, when you say

    “Scientists draw these lines to aid in the understanding of our world, not to confuse our perception of it.”

    I have to ask: do you think there is a line, morally, between killing a human being and killing an insect?

    Certainly I do (and I’m sure you do as well), but that judgment can only be made by appealing to these (as you say, ultimately arbitrary) lines.

    Within the context of this conversation, if we say there’s no real moral difference between killing a cow and an insect, then we also have to concede there’s no real moral difference between killing an insect and a human being.

    With that in mind, I don’t think I can go forth with your idea of treating these lines as simple preference. Clearly, they are extremely important when we start talking about humans.

    I think this is one of those times when the lines actually do aid in the (moral) understanding of our world, and instead of being thrown away, need to be clarified more so.

  18. #18 Kevin
    June 6, 2009

    Re: 15 Ncoffee

    You asked “How would you feel about all that awesome knowledge if it was gained by experimentation on human babies?”

    To many conservatives and religious people, embryonic stem cells are human babies, since that is where they are derived. So how do I feel about these experiments on human babies? I am excited by this new field of research and their continued progress.

    The problem with drawing lines is the assumption those drawing the lines know their consequences and that is never the case.

  19. #19 hrf
    June 7, 2009

    Re: 17 Ncoffee

    I think that there is a moral difference between killing a cow and killing an insect and similarly, one between killing a cow and killing a human. Basically, I derive my morality from the cognitive differences present between different species and the necessity in killing anything. Of course, in the end, the lines we draw are arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean that they’re meaningless. I’m also more concerned with alleviating suffering during the course of an animal’s life than with whether or not it’s acceptable to kill it. In the future, I hope that we will move towards eating less meat, as our survival does not require the amount we currently consume, and as technology advances, this will permit fewer animal experiments to be performed.

  20. #20 Ncoffee
    June 7, 2009

    Re: 18 Kevin

    Okay, nice, I get your point, but still, I’d like to see you try to answer my question as it was obviously intended (and as non-religious people who actually use the English language properly would understand it):

    “How would you feel about all that awesome knowledge if it was gained by experimentation on (already born) human babies?”

    Re: 19 hrf

    “I’m also more concerned with alleviating suffering during the course of an animal’s life than with whether or not it’s acceptable to kill it.”

    Why is that? While I appreciate your valuing the quality of their lives and agree with your other points completely, this philosophy has always seemed very odd to me … although I do recognize it as the norm when it comes to animals. To me, it’s an inconsistent exception that people make ONLY in the case of killing animals, which is telling.

    Isn’t the question of life or death always the larger issue – or even the largest? When it comes to considering how I’ve treated someone or something, doesn’t my having killed the thing in question pretty much instantly put me in the “treated it very badly” category, regardless of how much food or space I gave them beforehand?

    I guess I just don’t buy this “I treated it good … as long as you ignore the part where I chopped it’s head off or gave it cancer” attitude. A little too doublespeak for me.

    ———–

    Also, at this point, let me say how much I appreciate the debate at this blog. I read it daily and normally don’t get involved, but even with an emotional subject like this, where (I suspect) most here completely disagree with my point of view, I really dig how things have remained civil and reasonable. Thanks for letting me use up all the air on this post, guys! Respect!

  21. #21 LKitsch
    June 7, 2009

    Very interesting conversation. First, before my main point, a word about factory farming, which I find morally repugnant for reasons I will lay out soon. Factory farming is not only about profit (all business is about profit, after all), but also about the application of technology to maximize production, in this case with objectionable results for food animals.

    But you must recognize one important positive benefit of factory farming, and that is the relative low cost of food in the industrialized world. That has given access to nutritional diets to millions, if not billions, of humans. Of course, this does not mean that civilization’s use of cheap food is always good—junk fast food comes to mind first.

    That said, as a society, we have the moral obligation to decide if the mistreatment of food animals in factory farming is a price worth paying for cheap food. The reality is that without factory farming, food would be much more expensive, and we would need to make some choices about what we consumed—much less meat, in all likelihood.

    Personally, I believe that is a worth sacrifice for humanity to make if it means an end to factory farming, and I believe that we are slowly moving in that direction. But expect pushback from many sectors of society, especially advocates of low-income populations, whose access to inexpensive food is only a recent phenomenon (late 20th century). It’s easy for affluent people to decide to make this sacrifice—one I believe we should all make.

    To my main point—it’s about the laws of kashrut, the Jewish kosher laws that govern how to eat. I am not a religious Jew nor do I keep kosher, but one of the fundamental tenets of kosher is very appropriate here—it relates to eating flesh, but can easily apply to research animals.

    Kosher says that animals are God’s creatures too, and as the stewards of the earth, we have both the ability and right to consume them, as well as the critical responsibility to care for them. Kosher says that we must husband (raise) food animals humanely and with compassion, and that we should only slaughter them without pain and distress.

    It’s a simple concept, but if we adhered to it in the way we raise, process, market and eat meat, and in the way we treat lab animals, it would go a long way toward making our behavior morally acceptable and humane.

  22. #22 glow owl
    June 9, 2009

    excellent post, brave topic.

  23. #23 Anath
    June 10, 2009

    I was not attempting to “provide you with a philosophy” of anything, merely draw out your irrational bias. No one has satisfactorily answered why mammals are so special, while “lesser” beings can be burned with a magnifying glass for fun, exterminated in large numbers for our “benefit”, and so on, with no moral repercussions. Everyone argues for the “rights” of lab rats and mice, but no one argues for the “rights” of the experimental cockroaches or fruit flies. It also makes no sense to make claims about the horrible things we have done to animals’ habitats and well being, state that “we owe them”, then refine our definition to “Oh really we just owe other mammals because they’re like us”, rather than accepting the logical conclusion to be drawn by that statement and include ALL ANIMALS. I denounce these contradictions as hypocrisy and irrationality.

    To your credit, least you admit your bias. I do agree that it makes sense to want to nurture our own species, and same-species interaction is the natural justification for human “rights”. It is to our greatest advantage in every category to work together, strive for peace, knowledge, to end needless war, and treat each other equally, and this is the logical justification for human “rights”. But we are the ONLY creature that is truly “conscious” of our lives and actions, and generally it is this higher level of consciousness, ability to understand complex cause-effect, plan ahead, that causes us to attribute “rights” to our species. Once we get beyond humans, HOW do we discriminate which animals deserve “rights” and which don’t? WHY exclude arthropods? They have complex social systems, personalities, a need to survive, and there are even species such as certain desert scorpions, that care for their young.

    And as for the question that no one answers:
    “”How would you feel about all that awesome knowledge if it was gained by experimentation on (already born) human babies?””

    NO DIFFERENT. The important thing is what we have achieved and how what we have achieved can help preserve the lives and well being of millions. The knowledge we have gained “unethically” is invaluable. It is thanks to vivisection of live dogs that we even know how respiration and the circulatory system works, it is thanks to the dissection of criminals, (who may not have “deserved” to die, or who may have been wrongly accused) that we know many other things about the human body, especially the brain. There are many other cases of unethical experimentation that yielded important results in history, even within the past century. We should not go back to Galen and the four humors because the methods used in gaining the knowledge are unsavory. If you replaced “human babies” for animals in all the vivisections and other unsavory practices, I would feel the same disgust for the practice that I feel when we talk about animals in that position, but STILL acknowledge that given the technology and knowledge of the time, the practice was justified. If it weren’t for the horrors of the past, we would NOT have increased our level of knowledge and technology to render them unnecessary.

    This is also not to say that we SHOULD behave unethically in order to achieve these results–IF WE HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE. But really, what IS the alternative? Now that we have mapped the mouse genome it may be possible in the near future to run certain tests on computer programs, but there will be a need for live test subjects in other areas. The same thing applies to us that applies to the old scientists–we are limited by our knowledge and technology. There is no alternative for us in 2009CE. When there is an alternative, and we are committing morally reprehensible and unnecessary acts, THEN history will frown on us. But really, what is the 2009 alternative to an oncomouse?

  24. #24 Ncoffee
    June 10, 2009

    Re: 23 Anath -

    For one, I’ve already condoned using the knowledge uncovered from the (hypothetical) past baby experimentation or animal experimentation (it’s right there in post 15, above) — I’m saying, yes, use that info, it’s there, too late, it’s real and nothing is repaid or fixed by ignoring it … but because the methods are immoral, I’m also condemning future experimentation. Your post doesn’t recognize this, and so a big chunk of what you’re saying doesn’t actually apply to what I wrote.

    And really, the inconsistency is your own. You say we’re the “ONLY creature that is truly “conscious” of our lives and actions, and generally it is this higher level of consciousness, ability to understand complex cause-effect, plan ahead, that causes us to attribute “rights” to our species”

    … but that’s short sighted; those requirements don’t give rights to young children or the mentally impaired, both of which do actually have and need rights in our society. And certainly, higher primates actually do possess many of the attributes you list above, and many other mammals have them to varying degrees too.

    So come on, for someone so devoted to erasing the lines between animals, you’ve certainly tried to draw a pretty sharp one here. Everything is in vague shades of gray when it comes to other animals, but when we’re taking about humans, suddenly it’s all clean-cut, black and white.

    So, uhm, now I “denounce these contradictions as hypocrisy and irrationality”, I guess. (You’re an Objectivist, perhaps? Just a guess.)

    There’s a reason we draw lines between different types of animals, after all, and it’s to help us make distinctions, both scientific and moral. Some animals are more like us than others, and it only makes sense that these would be the ones we relate to and can understand some of what they are going through when they suffer.

    We have no reason to think cockroaches experience suffering, their brains don’t look or operate like the ones that do, so we put them somewhere behind a certain moral line for that reason. The further an organism is from being conscious of it’s own suffering, the worse we can treat it, basically.

    “When there is an alternative, and we are committing morally reprehensible and unnecessary acts, THEN history will frown on us. But really, what is the 2009 alternative to an oncomouse?”

    Well, a brand new human baby or a mentally impaired person would work far better, so there’s the obvious alternative, and in fact, from a practical point of view, that should be our first choice.

    But here’s the important thing: WHY don’t we do that? It would be far more efficient than animal experimentation, we would learn a whole ton of invaluable information, and it would result in many lives saved, dwarfing the amount that were it’s cost (and, as a bonus, all of this experimentation would even be on beings that don’t fit your much lacking criteria for human rights) … but, strangely, we still don’t do it.

    Why? The answer is: because we have absolutely no moral right to do it, due to their ability to suffer. That’s why we don’t experiment on babies, the mentally impaired, and also why we also shouldn’t be doing the same to (most, perhaps all) other mammals.

  25. #25 Anath
    June 10, 2009

    This may be a little out of order but it flows right.

    “Well, a brand new human baby or a mentally impaired person would work far better, so there’s the obvious alternative, and in fact, from a practical point of view, that should be our first choice.”

    NO actually, these subjects would not work better than an Oncomouse. From a practical point of view, it is the ONCOMOUSE that is the logical choice. I speak primarily for cancer research here since I brought up Oncomice, but most of this information is applicable in other areas.

    First of all, an Oncomouse has been specifically modified to carry an Oncogene, making them genetically predisposed to cancer. A standard human baby or a mentally impaired person does not have this advantage, obviously. We could make Oncopeople, sure, but lets look at this from a practical standpoint. The gestation period for a human fetus is 9 months, and humans do not reach sexual maturity for about a decade, can live up to 80-=100 years, the first 2 years of their life require intensive care. When they do breed, they generally have litter sizes of 1 or 2 young. Mice, on the other hand, only live 2.5 years maximum in captivity and frequently less than 4 months in the wild. Their gestation period is about 20 days, and they can have up to 12 young. They are also smaller, require less food and less intensive care, and the scientists can keep their control and variable groups completely isolated and in optimal conditions.

    Additionally, the entire life of an Oncomouse can be monitored. If we were to go around collecting mentally impaired people, we would include a significant amount of variables. Additionally, mice share about 92% or more of our genome so what is applicable to them tends to extrapolate very well. So the practical advantages of using an Oncomouse population over a human population for studying cancer are quite significant. Primarily due to the short gestation and breeding time, large litter size, and short natural lifespan which ensures that many generations of Oncomouse could pass in the time it would take to raise a single generation of human test subjects. Additionally we will get to study all levels of aging by using subjects that live short lifespans, so relatively late-onset effects CAN be quantified, and quickly. Once the data has been quantified in mice, it can be extrapolated onto human volunteers that exhibit the same core problem. Human experimentation is significantly less efficient than animal experimentation. THAT is why we don’t do it, not because there is some sort of moral/ethical barrier. If human experimentation actually WAS more efficient, it is likely a system would have developed to foster it. In areas where human experimentation IS more efficient, such as human psychology or human aging studies, a system HAS been developed to foster it, which relies on volunteers that fit the criteria that the researchers are looking for. The closest thing we get to “animal research on humans” is experimentation on human zygotes.

    Again I ask, is there a 2009 alternative to an Oncomouse? NO. Without an alternative, it is the only answer to CURRENT research. Ideally the results of the research will allow us to create technological developments to render the necessity of live subjects in certain experiments unnecessary, and I am pleased to say that this is slowly becoming a reality. I support finding alternatives because there is no LOGICAL reason to use an inefficient process in research. Compared to the potential of computer simulation, it is a waste of energy and resources to continue to support live animal research in qualified experimental procedures. But we do not have this technology yet, so we will have to take what we can get.

    But also here is a little problem:
    “but because the methods are immoral, I’m also condemning future experimentation.”

    Lets keep this in general terms and say there is a disease or problem among a species (doesn’t have to be us) or potentially destroying an environment. The only research that will yield accurate, usable results involves animal research. By using say, 1000 lives over the course of two years, you will be able to prevent countless deaths and unimaginable suffering amongst those who contract the disease or are exposed to the environmental problem. Would you support the research? Remember that often animal research helps other animals too, its not 100% “human exploitation for sole human benefit.”

    “… but that’s short sighted; those requirements don’t give rights to young children or the mentally impaired, both of which do actually have and need rights in our society. And certainly, higher primates actually do possess many of the attributes you list above, and many other mammals have them to varying degrees too.”

    I do not think you understand my perspective here. I am not talking about individuals but on a larger scale. We, as a species, possess, for example, an enlarged prefrontal cortex among other things. This enables us to think in ways that even other higher primates can not. What I am calling out as fallacious is the constant projection of our abilities onto other SPECIES. It doesn’t matter that the boy next door was born with Down Syndrome and cannot utilize these facilities, and it doesn’t matter that a certain primate somewhere was born more intelligent than other primates and ultimately more intelligent than the boy with Down Syndrome. There are KEY differences between these species. There are things a cow can NEVER think, no matter how hard they might try, simply because they simply lack the brain functions for it. Don’t misunderstand me, this does not make them “lesser” beings, just different. There are things they can do that we can’t. A key example of our difference is the facility you are using — projecting our qualities onto others.

    This end of the debate actually could spiral into incredibly off topic arenas… but really the best presentation of our facility to project our own anthropocentric nature is in Dan Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell”. Most of the book centers around how we have done this in order to create a religious system, but the core concept of anthropomorphizing EVERYTHING can be applied to arguments involving anything that is not human in the first place. The point here isn’t that it is “wrong” to want to give them rights, or that they don’t somehow “deserve” them, but that it is 100% US that believes they do. WE don’t even have “rights” objectively, the entire system is a human construct, with certain altruistic elements.

    “We have no reason to think cockroaches experience suffering, their brains don’t look or operate like the ones that do, so we put them somewhere behind a certain moral line for that reason. The further an organism is from being conscious of it’s own suffering, the worse we can treat it, basically.”

    Why do you base your reasoning on how little or much an organism can suffer? You have not answered this. If animal life has value, and “They are completely at our mercy — so we show none, and exploit them to whatever extent we wish. But they are weak and they need our help … and we owe them.” That should apply to all animals, why do you insist that it only applies to animals that appeal to your bias? The lab roach is completely at our mercy too, as is the lab fruit fly. You mean to tell me that you can say with a straight face: “We exploit animals, so we owe them/should not kill them/should not allow them to suffer” then follow it by affirming that there is no moral problem that “The less CONSCIOUS an animal is of its suffering, the worse we can treat it”… and NOT see the glaring contradiction? Also it fails to acknowledge that just because we are highly conscious of our suffering does not mean other animals are–especially the ones you are trying to “protect” with this argument. If we follow the argument logically, it AFFIRMS what we are doing now, because the creatures we utilize generally do not have the mental WIRING to be conscious of their suffering beyond a certain degree.

    Also on a slightly other tangent, I find it odd that you find no reason to assume that cockroaches and other arthropods suffer… did you ever play with bugs as a kid? They react to “painful” stimuli just as mammals do, by trying to escape or remove the stimuli. If you keep them in a “painful” environment for extended periods of time, you can NOTICE behavioral changes. They suffer just like the life forms you place above them in your hierarchy.

    and I will mention here:
    “So come on, for someone so devoted to erasing the lines between animals, you’ve certainly tried to draw a pretty sharp one here. Everything is in vague shades of gray when it comes to other animals, but when we’re taking about humans, suddenly it’s all clean-cut, black and white.”

    There IS no hierarchy. The reason I drew the line in terms of brain functions has to do with our tenancy to anthropomorphize and attribute our emotions and processes to animals that are superficially like us. Ultimately, the only difference between a cockroach, a mouse, and us is genetic, functional, and developmental. Any other “difference” is a subjective interpretation by humans.

    And no, I am not an Objectivist. Just a skeptic playing devil’s advocate to get you and others to look at other angles.

  26. #26 Mozglubov
    June 11, 2009

    Anath, you seem to be making some fairly strong assumptions about the cognitive limitations of all other species… if a whale or a parrot contemplated some deep philosophical notions of the universe, how would we ever know? As research continues into the cognitive capabilities of other species, we often discover that they do have more abilities than they tend to get credit for (and that includes non-mammals, too, Ncoffee). After all, you first argue that we cannot make any distinctions between species but then you say we can distinguish between humans and all other species (a flaw Ncoffee rightly pointed out).

    I think one of the key differences is communication. After all, people can give informed consent (which is why psychology studies tends to spark fewer incidents of outrage at their practice – after all, the subject volunteered for it… but this could get into a broader discussion of psychological history). Even in the situation where a person cannot give informed consent, our society provides related individuals with the direct power of advocation for the impaired individual, and the advocate tends to have a vested interest in that person’s well-being (even if it is simply a hard-wired genetic need to care for a relative). In the case of non-humans, accusations of abuse and mistreatment become much harder to bring to light and most non-humans do not have a direct advocate on their side (people deal a lot better with specific cases than with general statistics, which is why there is much more of an outcry to stolen pets as the subjects of experiments than dogs or cats in general).

    I think you are correct when you point out that for a vast number of experimental protocols, non-humans are better experimental subjects (and it is the same reason that fruit flies, worms, and snails continue to be experimental subjects and we don’t just use mice and other small mammals exclusively – the model organism depends on the experiment being executed with the available funds). The thing is, though, there are some experiments that would be better suited to humans that are destructive or harmful to the subjects that are therefore not done with human subjects, and that is I think the situation that is not properly addressed by your argument.

    Yes, we do tend to anthropomorphize, but we also have a lot of other heuristic methods of cogitation that can lead to erroneous results. That is one of the reasons we have science, and there are some very strong experimental results that show virtually every aspect of human intelligence to some degree in some other species of animal. As you point out, differences are genetic, functional, and developmental. We can seek to ethically define our treatment based on the functional capacities of other species, and I, in fact, see no other rational way to attempt to do that. It will be a hard and arduous task, as we will have to deal with our own emotional biases, but that does not mean we should give up at drawing the line between people and non-people.

  27. #27 Name Withheld
    January 11, 2011

    To think that science is somehow divorced from money is a bit of a fallacy.. For example, my father’s physician would like to treat his rare cancer with a chemotherapy regimen that costs $80,000 per round. I’m sure others can think of how that fits into a larger financial system. It’s not just the individual scientists who make money from animal experimentation, it’s the associated organizations, corporations and whoever else is doing the funding that usually benefits. The scientists themselves of course can have professional benefits to using animals in research.

    The questions should be generated around what the research is, how the animals are treated during the research, and who is making the decision that the use of animals in this way is acceptable. In addition, it is much different to inject cancer cells into an animal than to treat a cancerous animal with experimental therapies. But who controls that and who makes the decisions? And better yet, what are those decisions based on?

    I think that a lot of it boils down to arrogance. Are we “better” or more deserving of certain rights than other animals and how are those animals hierarchized?

    When it comes to the use of humans in experimental protocols, I can say that with the current Federal laws, there are actually loopholes that allow for unethical experiments. In fact, I can attest to the fact that unethical (decentralized/nonclinical) human experimentation is going on since I’m a victim. I hope that those concerned with the plight of research animals will also remember the plight of research humans – whether or not they have provided informed consent. Then for human experiemntation especially of the nonconsensual variety, it begs the question of what right do researchers have to violate human rights?

    (I am constantly hacked and my internet gets rerouted, so communication with me is risky at best. Not only do I have my human rights violated, but I have the worst kind of communications surveillance and interference.)

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