Janet points us to this AP article about how the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine -aka PETA pretending to be doctors (less than 5% of them are actually doctors) – is now suing UCSF over reported violations of the animal welfare act.

I’m sure this is as noble as their attempts to smear McDonalds, or sue the dairy industry or their lawsuits against fastfood chains for serving “carcinogenic” grilled foods, or calling school lunches weapons of mass destruction for containing meat, and on and on.

Does anyone think this is a legitimate attempt to foster reform at UCSF (which was already fined and re-audited by the USDA for the violations) or is it just another sleazy attempt to make basic research more expensive and onerous to discourage the use of animals?

Given their history of lying, smearing, misrepresenting themselves, aligning themselves with terrorist organizations like SHAC, etc., I suspect the latter.

Comments

  1. #1 Jane Shevtsov
    August 1, 2007

    What percentage of the membership of the Union of Concerned Scientists actually consists of scientists?

  2. #2 John
    August 1, 2007

    I’m not sure, but I suspect that it’s a helluva lot more than 5%.

    Why do you ask? Do the positions of the UCS differ substantially from those of most scientists, which definitely is the case for PCRM and physicians?

  3. #3 PalMD
    August 1, 2007

    There were a couple of these folks in med school and residency, but I haven’t met one out in practice yet. I haven’t met anyone protesting the drug industry by holding back on prescriptions and medical devices for their patients.

  4. #4 Ezekiel Buchheit
    August 1, 2007

    I worked briefly for the Austin Animal Research Center here in Austin, Texas, and they had, on the “dirty” floor, a wall dedicated to postings of PETA-revealed research center animal abuse. It was an odd combination of recognition of PETA, recognition of appropriate and humane animal handling, and warning to the researchers and ARC employees that PETA has spies everywhere.

    Everyday before work, waiting for somebody with the key to show up and let me in, I awaited the flying pig’s blood. Never happened.

  5. #5 MarkH
    August 1, 2007

    See for yourself. Their board is almost exclusively scientists including National Academy members Nobel Prize and National Medal of science winners. Those that are not have credentials in relevant areas of policy and politics. Their panel of experts have impressive credentials as well. About 30% of their national advisory board has advanced degrees listed after their names (but that does not preclude more of them being scientists – not all are required to have graduate degrees)

    Compare that to PCRM’s board. Let’s see. I’d say William Roberts is a serious name (formerly of the NHLBI), but sadly, he’s sharing space with Andrew Weil (woo-woo!), toxin cranks like McDougall, Henry Heimlich who in his later life has become an insane crank who purports to treat HIV with malaria! I’m not sure I’m comfortable with Esselstyne and his “heart attack-proof” diet (it just happens to be vegan!). The rest – well, are not physicians. So you have a physicians committee consisting of one member of any repute, wonder what he’s doing there, then a bunch of book-selling “I can cure anything with my diet (or my mind)” cranks.

    I wouldn’t be to quick to visit any of these physicians.

  6. #6 plunge
    August 1, 2007

    This all depends on whether UCSF is violating the act or not. If they are, it doesn’t much matter who is bringing the suit or that the USDA went after them previously (which is not exactly a mark of quality considering how lax the USDA is).

    PETA and other such groups definitely do more harm than good to its claimed interests. There are legitimate areas and cases of pointless cruelty to animals in research, but with their “no research is acceptable, and by the way owning pets is slavery” nonsense allows those legitimate concerns to be swept under the rug. Virtually all of the progress that has come in this area has come from researchers and ethicists working out compromises, rather than butting heads or throwing blood around.

  7. #7 Brian Schmidt
    August 1, 2007

    I have many problems with PETA, but that doesn’t mean that UCSF is the white knight here, c.f.:

    “In another case, the USDA found that researchers cut open the skull of a “non-human primate” without providing pain relief after surgery.”

    That’s from the linked AP report citing USDA, not a PETA allegation. I would humbly suggest it indicates a problem.

    More to the point, the Animal Welfare Act, IIRC, doesn’t allow citizen suits. The AP report suggests a taxpayer suit, probably based on California law and not the AWA, but some more info could be useful.

    As “Plunge” indicates, the USDA is not a good enforcer. AWA is pretty weak law, and upgrading it could remove what justification that PETA has.

  8. #8 Jane Shevtsov
    August 1, 2007

    John and Mark: I made the comparison to UCS (of which I’m a member) to point out that an organization doesn’t need to consist of a majority of scientists or doctors to legitimately use the profession in their name. (The only statistic for scientist membership of UCS that I was able to find was 10%, but the source doesn’t look particularly impartial.) The advisory board of PCRM does have some woo-ish folks on it, but an advisory board of any large organization exists primarily for publicity and is almost always loaded with big names. The real leadership tends to be elsewhere.

    I definitely think scientists should take animal rights/welfare concerns more seriously. Why the knee-jerk, “is it just another sleazy attempt to make basic research more expensive and onerous to discourage the use of animals”? I’m not a big PETA fan and I know that many animal rights advocates are a bit (or heavily) on the wooish side, but that doesn’t mean their points aren’t valid. One would not have an easy time finding a harder-nosed philosopher than, say, Peter Singer.

  9. #9 Steve_HT
    August 2, 2007

    Jane,

    You’re assuming that it’s a knee-jerk response. In fact, some of us who use animals in our research have been dealing with PeTA, PCRM, and other similar organizations for a long time, and know several things about them already. First, their agenda is clearly the abolition of animal research. Like other groups with an absolutist agenda (creationists anyone?) they often grasp on any tiny bit of flotsam and blow it entirely out of proportion, or if that’s not good enough, just plain lie about it altogether (e.g. “thalidomide was thoroughly tested on animals prior to the disaster of the early 60s … oops, did we forget to mention that it was never tested on pregnant animals?”).

    This leads people like me to be very suspicious of many statements regarding animal research. For example, the statement about cutting open monkey’s skulls without post-operative analgesics doesn’t pass my smell test — I’m doubtful for one that a USDA inspector would ever use language like “cut open the monkey’s skull.” I’d want to know the details of the incident before I simply accepted the claim.

    In my experience, animal researchers as a whole have become increasingly pro-active and aware in how we treat animals. I frequently invite non-scientists into my laboratory to see my activities, and am not ashamed of what I do.

  10. #10 MarkH
    August 2, 2007

    Jane, I think Steve sums up my feelings nicely.

    It would be one thing if they said, “we don’t believe animals should be used in research”. Instead, they lie, they misrepresent research (even being censured by the AMA for doing so), they misrepresent their PETA origins, and instead pretend to be interested in health rather than animal liberation.

    I have this little book sitting on my desk, all medical students got them attending a talk this year. It’s a nutritional guide handed out by the PCRM. It’s interesting. It has lots of real information, lots of contributions from real scientists, and to all appearances conveys legitimate information – except when it comes to nutrition. The cure for every disorder is to avoid eggs and dairy, and don’t eat meat. In other words, it’s a very long and complicated propaganda document for veganism (the list of reviewers for the nutrition guidelines is hysterical).

    If you want to promote veganism, go nuts. It’s the deception that pisses me off.

  11. #11 trollanon
    August 2, 2007

    For example, the statement about cutting open monkey’s skulls without post-operative analgesics doesn’t pass my smell test — I’m doubtful for one that a USDA inspector would ever use language like “cut open the monkey’s skull.” I’d want to know the details of the incident before I simply accepted the claim.

    This one sounds pretty bad as several comments have noted. If true the way it sounds, the vast, vast majority of researchers are not going to support this. But here are the questions of interest:

    -did the IACUC “allow” this to happen with full knowledge? Or was it a protocol violation for which the PI was disciplined? if the latter, this suit against the institution/IACUC has no merit. the idea that that such an event critiques the “system” is laughable, catching errors and violations is part of the point of IACUCs.

    -if the IACUC permitted the procedure, well we need to need more detail on why. scientists who actually know something about the way IACUCs operate (as opposed to the usual ranters who in fact do not have any direct knowledge) find it very hard to believe that an IACUC would permit this without some damn good reason.

    -The USDA can come to a dry finding of “failed to provide post surgical analgesia” for a variety of reasons. Including a lack of documenting the provision of analgesics (sloppy, but not quite the same thing as not doing it), a failure to provide the analgesic precisely as specified in the written protocol in terms of timing/dose/analgesic chosen (which is not the same as not providing effective post surgical pain care), a dispute between the vets and iacuc and PI regarding which analgesic, regimen and rationale (provided as needed? by a priori prescription regardless of clinical situation?), etc.

    My point is that researchers who use animals are not just knee-jerking here that there is no merit to the accusations. It is just that we are VERY familiar with case after case in which the PR spin advanced by animal rights activists does not in fact accurately reflect reality (i.e., the actual treatment of animals). We are familiar with the fact that USDA sanction cases against universities have a tendency to get buried in the paperwork (was it documented? was it actually covered sufficiently in the protocol? how do we interpret this vague regulation?, etc) instead of looking clearly into the question of was an animal unjustifiably harmed.

    the extremists obviously feel that this is like getting Capone for tax evasion. because they already “know” that all animal research is bad.

  12. #12 Brian Schmidt
    August 2, 2007

    “My point is that researchers who use animals are not just knee-jerking here that there is no merit to the accusations.”

    Except for you, trollanon, I’d say that much of the comment reaction here and the original post are actually knee-jerking assumptions that the accusations don’t pass the smell test. However, the fact that PETA et al are untrustworthy doesn’t change what the USDA said (btw, it was a report by AP and not a quote, so terminology isn’t an issue).

    A better Animal Welfare Act, particularly dealing with primates, with better enforcement than the notoriously lax USDA, would leave us all a lot better off.

  13. #13 trollanon
    August 2, 2007

    Brian, terminology IS the issue because, as I pointed out, the available short version of the complaint doesn’t clearly convey the nature of the accusation. So it is hard to evaluate without knowing more detail.

    Scientists are very familiar with the way IACUC’s work. Very familiar with what it means to “consider alternatives” what are “duplicative” experiments and the way basic science not obviously connected to a specific clinical issue (to the lay observer) might be so connected. Scientists are also very familiar with the way extremists view this system of oversight which is that it can’t possibly work since animal research is still permitted in this country. So the person being “knee-jerk” is the person who is willing to take the short version of these accusations on face value.

    How do you support a comment that the USDA “notoriously lax” in a way that does not simply reflect “I hate animal research and the USDA should go overboard and shut down a university forever if they step one technical toe over any conceivable legal line”? This is the problem with the extremists, they don’t think the system goes far enough. USDA writes up findings of fault for more than one institute and yet lawsuits and full shut-downs of the institute are rare. What does this tell us? That the controlling legal system does not find these violations as “serious” so to speak as animal rights extremists would like. You can find analogies to this just about everywhere in criminal and civil law. Going about trying to change the law is fine. terrorist acts because you aren’t getting your way? not so fine.

    Dr. Free-Ride posed the interesting question of how animal scientists would react if there were merit to the accusations. A great point in fact. But equally important is how the person disposed to be suspicious reacts when the institute is found guiltless. An unwillingness to accept that there is in fact nothing wrong with the system of oversight, or that no true violations occured, or that gee, there really is not a systematic “problem” with the use of animals in research would reveal the true position.

  14. #14 Brian Schmidt
    August 2, 2007

    Trollanon, you misunderstand my point re terminology. Steve HT said the terminology about cutting into a primate’s skull wasn’t USDA standard, therefore he’s not accepting anything about the claim without more proof. I said the terminology came from an AP report that was not using direct quotes, so his conclusion about terminology not passing the smell test is invalid (on that basis, anyway).

    Now you said it could simply mean a lack of documentation about analgesics. Maybe it means that, or maybe it really means no analgesics. And even if it does mean a lack of documentation, that’s important – I’m not going to assume that a precaution was taken if it’s not proven to have happened. In standard environmental law like the Clean Water Act, if a business fails to document following a safety standard when the documentation is required, the legal treatment is the same as a proven violation of the standard. Treating missing documentation in any other way is an invitation to people to break the law.

    And re USDA, given their archaic and lax standards for human safety in the animals we eat, I have little confidence in them being adequate regulators protecting the welfare of lab animals themselves.

    (Yes, most people will treat animals humanely anyway, but that’s not the issue here.)

  15. #15 Jane Shevtsov
    August 3, 2007

    Steve,

    You’re assuming that it’s a knee-jerk response. In fact, some of us who use animals in our research have been dealing with PeTA, PCRM, and other similar organizations for a long time, and know several things about them already.

    What I meant by knee-jerk is that you assumed that the lab was in the right and PCRM was in the wrong. You don’t have to like the messenger to even-handedly evaluate the message.

    First, their agenda is clearly the abolition of animal research.

    Yes, and I think they’re pretty open about that.

    Like other groups with an absolutist agenda (creationists anyone?)

    Absolutist doesn’t mean wrong. Abolitionists were absolutists, as are people working to get rid of nuclear weapons.

    Let’s try a more constructive question. Under what circumstances, if any, do you believe animal experimentation is wrong?

  16. #16 Jane Shevtsov
    August 3, 2007

    From Johns Hopkins,
    Animals and Alternatives in Testing: History, Science, and Ethics
    Joanne Zurlo, Deborah Rudacille, and Alan M. Goldberg

    “Although the drug was marketed in 1957, reproductive studies on thalidomide in animals were not started until 1961, after the drug’s effects on human fetuses had begun to be suspected (MacBride, 1961 and Lenz, 1961, 1962). Initial studies on rats and mice revealed some reproductive abnormalities, notably reduction in litter size due to resorption of fetuses; however, only when the compound was tested in the New Zealand white rabbit did abnormalities similar to those noticed in human babies occur. Studies on monkeys revealed that they were almost as sensitive as humans to the deformative effects of the drug.”

    http://caat.jhsph.edu/publications/animal_alternatives/chapter3.htm

  17. #17 trollanon
    August 6, 2007

    Brian,
    I am fully aware of the rationale for a legalistic perspective of “if it ain’t documented it didn’t happen”. You, however, should be similarly aware of the vast number of legal situations in which the circumstances of a particular offense may modulate the culpability decision and the punishment, as well. This flexibility outlines the degree to which “the system”, “the government” or “society” views a given instance of apparently criminal behavior to, indeed, be criminal. My comments have tried to outline common “circumstances” which might help to explain why practicing scientists appear “knee jerk” in their unwillingness to take the accusations on apparent face value.

    Jane, you ask “Under what circumstances, if any, do you believe animal experimentation is wrong?” which is of course a formulation that, at best, exposes your bias in this regard. The answer is, of course, “none” since you have asked it in this way; “animal experimentation” is hopelessly nonspecific. Now let us formulate a specific question. “Is it wrong to fail to provide adequate post-surgical analgesia when there is no justifiable experimental reason not to do so?”. The answer there is “yes”. The problem with animal rights extremists is that they feel that the usual answer from scientists is “no”, that scientists just live to do unnecessary and painful procedures and are out to break the controlling law wherever possible. Any actual example is taken as evidence that “they” are all doing bad stuff each and every day; we can see by comments here and elsewhere that even the accusation is taken as a global indictment of animal research.

    so let’s turn it back on you. under what circumstances is “animal experimentation” justifiable in your view? which population of sufferers are you going to condemn to zero medical advance? If you postulate that advances are going to happen “somehow” without animal research, let’s hear a credible explanation of how that is going to happen that differs from “and then a miracle occurs”?

    and what in the heck is your point with the Zurlo et al quote anyway, that we should start with rabbits and monkeys because sometimes the rat data are misleading?

  18. #18 Brian Schmidt
    August 6, 2007

    Trollanon writes:

    “I am fully aware of the rationale for a legalistic perspective of “if it ain’t documented it didn’t happen”. You, however, should be similarly aware of the vast number of legal situations in which the circumstances of a particular offense may modulate the culpability decision and the punishment, as well. This flexibility outlines the degree to which “the system”, “the government” or “society” views a given instance of apparently criminal behavior to, indeed, be criminal.”

    Degree of culpability is an accepted part of environmental law – a negligent offense is punished with a civil fine and injunction, while an intentional offense may be subject to criminal penalties. The fact that most environmental laws are stronger than AWA yet still get violated quite often is again, a reason for strengthening the AWA.

  19. #19 trollanon
    August 6, 2007

    “The fact that most environmental laws are stronger than AWA yet still get violated quite often is again, a reason for strengthening the AWA.”

    as with your assertions vis a vis the USDA being ineffectual I have a question. Why?

    How do you assess whether either environmental laws or the AWA are violated “quite often”? What frame of reference? What is the target rate of acceptable violation and how do you arrive at this number? If your answer is “zero”, well the only way to arrive at this is with highly fascistic societies, isn’t it? Is that what you are after?

    It isn’t so much that I’m not idealistic. I think the target for murders should be zero. Ditto alcohol impaired drivers crossing the midline and killing some innocents. Ditto the target for people’s car alarms going off at 1am and other things that merely annoy me. The question for the reasonable citizen is, “what’s the balance point?”. What degree of fascism (or taxation) are we willing to tolerate to accomplish what approximation of the target? Obviously a lot looser for some goals over others.

    we have a situation here in which you appear to think the tolerance is too high / too loose. So you’d like to strengthen the AWA or the enforcement practices of the USDA, true? Ok, then to bring the middle of the distribution along with you, you need a reason. Certainly to sway those supposedly “knee-jerk” supporters of scientific research, you need a reason. The case at hand is a mere accusation only at present. We have at best a USDA report finding. You seem to be jumping to the conclusion that the accusation is merited, perhaps because of a pre-existing opinion that AWA enforcement is weak and therefore “invites” people to break the law. Where is the evidence for this!?

  20. #20 Rick Bogle
    August 6, 2007

    USDA oversight problems : 10/20/2005 – APHIS Animal Care Program Inspection and Enforcement Activities < http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33002-03-SF.pdf>

    Plous S, Herzog H. Animal research. Reliability of protocol reviews for animal research. Science. 2001 Jul 27;293(5530):608-9.]:
    “Over the past 20 years, the reliability of scientific peer-review judgments has been a topic of frequent debate and scrutiny. However, one area of peer review that has not received much empirical investigation is the system that protects animal subjects from research risks. At most research institutions, studies involving animal subjects must be approved by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). ?

    ? [W]e conducted a study of randomly selected IACUCs from U.S. universities and colleges. Seventy committees were drawn from a master list of 916 IACUCs maintained by the U.S. Office for Protection from Research Risks. Of these 70, 50 agreed to participate in the study. Thirty-four IACUCs came from research or doctoral universities, seven came from master’s colleges or universities, six came from specialized institutions (e.g., medical colleges), and three came from liberal arts colleges. In all, 494 of 566 voting members (151 females and 343 males), or 87% of those approached, took part in the study.

    Each IACUC was asked to submit its three most recently reviewed protocols involving animal behavior, including the committee’s decision on whether to approve the research in question. All information identifying the investigator or institution was then removed from the protocols, and each protocol was randomly assigned to be reviewed a second time by another participating IACUC. Voting members of the second committee were sent packets containing three masked protocols with a request to review the protocols and to send us a completed evaluation anonymously in a prepaid envelope.

    Once we received reviews from individual committee members, the IACUCs were asked to meet as a group and render a final evaluation for each of the three protocols. Committees were asked to follow their standard operating procedures and to discuss the protocols as they would any other research proposal.

    Protocol evaluations from the originating committee and from the second committee were not significantly related to one another?. This absence of a relation was found not only across the full set of 150 protocols, but for relatively invasive research involving procedures such as electric shock, food or water deprivation, surgery, and drug or alcohol research?; for protocols involving euthanasia ?; and for protocols in which the reviewing IACUC expected animals to experience a significant amount of pain?. Thus, regardless of whether the research involved terminal or painful procedures, IACUC protocol reviews did not exceed chance levels of intercommittee agreement?.”

  21. #21 Cleveland
    August 6, 2007

    Glad to see some data, thanks for that. Gives something real to discuss even if there are some flaws.

    So the Plous and Herzog Policy Forum (not peer reviewed I imagine) shows us that IACUC procedures are not very standardized. A fair enough critique and a worthy place to spend your time if you think that this is evidence of a problem with the treatment of animals. You’ll have to start with the AWA and related policies that devolve so much responsibility to the University. In other words it is not the fault of any given IACUC that it behaves differently from another. One still needs to show an actual problem with, e.g., UCSF. One also has to determine in which direction the “error” suggested by the study lies. It could be that the more stringent set of decisions were in fact incorrect.

    There are clear structural problems with the study since it compared one set of real and uncontaminated decisions with decisions that were explicitly part of the study (not blinded, in other words). The individual correlation thing does not and cannot get around this problem as much as the authors would like to convince you otherwise. All told an interesting data set but by no means the best support even for the conclusions advanced. Perhaps this is why it is a policy forum and not peer reviewed.

    This analysis also tells us little about the eventually approved protocol since the (large) majority of decisions were in the “deferred” and “contingent approval” categories meaning that the protocol had to be revised. This fact, combined with the fact that there were denied protocols in the original decisions, is a clear rejection of animal rights extremists’ contention that IACUC’s are rubber stamps. I imagine this was one of the points that TrollerRick was trying to make but thought I’d emphasize it for him.

  22. #22 Brian Schmidt
    August 7, 2007

    Re trollanon’s question, one way I think animal welfare could be improved is if chimps used in medical research were taught enough basic sign language so that they could communicate their needs, pain level, etc. I think that could be reasonably argued under the AWA – under most environmental laws a citizen could go about creating standing to bring a lawsuit, if necessary, but the AWA doesn’t allow that.

  23. #23 Brian L
    August 7, 2007

    Brian S.,

    I don’t mean to sound overly-pessimistic, but teaching an animal to communicate complex information is INCREDIBLY difficult, and usually requires years (if it’s possible at all). The ‘sign-language’-chimp is sort of a hybrid of an urban-legend and a pipe-dream. There may be some examples of it, but it’s still not clear how effective it can be. Making communication with animals a requirement would effectively halt all primate research.

  24. #24 trollanon
    August 7, 2007

    it is a nice thought Brian. keep in mind it is not even clear that chimps can be “taught enough basic sign language” to communicate pain level. and I guarantee you the extremists wouldn’t feel that all the additional research called for to establish this would be necessary. even if it could be done, you’d have to do a lot of training with the full range of painful experiences-isn’t this a contradiction to what you might really be after? minimizing pain, that is?

    not to mention chimps are a vanishingly small minority even of nonhuman primate subjects used in research, not to mention all animal subjects (of which nonhuman primates are a vanishingly small minority, but “a life is a life” types somehow aren’t interested in mice and fruit flies now, are they?). most of the chimp research is behavioral with a smattering of infectious disease work. so the impact of your suggestion is likely to be negligible in terms of numbers.

    you also raise an absolutely fascinating scientific question with respect to the experiential aspects of pain and distress. do you have any concept of how violent the chimpanzee and many macaque species are? In their social interactions establishing dominance, for example ? Ever visited india, bali or some other tourist destination crawling with macaques and actually looked at them for evidence of wounding? it is oft-discussed that wild animals “conceal” injuries and pain. at root this is based on the theological assumption that the experience of pain must approximate human. if animals don’t appear as distressed as a human would be with a given level of injury, they must be “concealing” for some reason. this is circular. some clear thinking is called for when determining “pain and distress” in a research protocol yet it is sadly lacking and there is certainly no national discussion space on this issue.

    even if animals have similar pain detection sensitivity as do humans, it is not clear that they have the same emotional baggage we do. what would limb amputation mean to you and what does it mean to the pigeon hopping around my local mickyDs? determination of “distress” by human analogy may be flawed. the go-to for scientists is to look for ways to determine and measure “distress”. we do so. we make changes to minimize such distress where we can. we re-evaluate. the animal rights extremists are not interested in this discussion and any progress that might have been made because they are categorically against the use of animals.

  25. #25 human
    August 7, 2007

    I was drawn to this site for the definition of denialism and deeply saddened and disappointed by this thread.
    It is pure denialism to discount the suffering of amimals and choose to instead nitpick about textual proof regarding the breaking of guidelines which regulate (!) the systematic abuse of animals.

    The big fallacy of logic here is the underlying assumption that we have any right to impose our will on other species.
    Its an old scientific (extreme rational to the point of excluding all emotional information and spiritual concerns) way of thinking which says as humans we have the right to dominate nature.

    This is the very philosophy that has led us to pollute the earth and even risk the earth’s health and our own survival.
    The alternative may be to try to live in harmony with nature. This could include redirecting all the medical research done with animals into the vastly underfunded and unresearched area of traditional plant medicine.
    The knowledge of these medicines is often held by cultures which could also teach us about living in harmony rather than conflict with plants, animals and earths macro systems.
    The knowledge is oral and experiential- spoken, not in texts and tested on humans, not on animals.

    There is however little or no money to be had in this area- once the research is released anyone may have access to the health benefits with little expense. The plant or seeds to grow it can’t be patented.
    And this is the real reason for otherwise intelligent researchers defense of the indefensible- there is money in the kind of research which requires animal testing.

    Here is an exercise for you to discover if you are making a decision using all your faculties:
    Take the rabbit home and let your child play with it and name it. Explain to her what your God or your conscience says to you about its suffering.
    Then take it and her back to the lab and let her watch you experiment on it- if you can do this then you have made the decision based on all your intelligence- reason, emotion and spirit rather than just reason.

    It takes a denial of the whole self to accept money for inflicting harm on animals.
    By the way I’ve never been involved in any animal rights group or actions- I’m not a scientist or a radical.
    I just think the debate in this thread is reductionist.

    Trying to dominate nature has only caused suffering. There are alternatives. Think about animal testing but try and feel as well.

  26. #26 MarkH
    August 8, 2007

    Hi human.

    What you say for the most part is fine. It’s not denialism to say you don’t want animals used in research or you don’t agree with their suffering. I understand.

    It is denialism to deny the good that animals do for medical research, to suggest that biological research can be done without animals and animal products, or that the biology of other animals has no bearing on human biology – all frequent claims of animal rights extremists.

    Now let’s talk.

    It is pure denialism to discount the suffering of amimals and choose to instead nitpick about textual proof regarding the breaking of guidelines which regulate (!) the systematic abuse of animals.

    We don’t deny that animals may be happier running wild and getting eaten by their natural predators. People who do research on animals simply think humans are more important. We’re speciesists, sorry. Animals have to die to advance human knowledge in biology. They have to die to provide the occasional steak. They also have to die for us to drive cars, build houses, protect crops, shower, walk around, not live in filth, prevent the spread of disease etc. All of these I consider important activities.

    The big fallacy of logic here is the underlying assumption that we have any right to impose our will on other species.

    We don’t have the right to impose our will on other species? Prove it. This is Jainist nonsense.

    The alternative may be to try to live in harmony with nature. This could include redirecting all the medical research done with animals into the vastly underfunded and unresearched area of traditional plant medicine.

    Harmony with nature? Where do you people get this crap. Nature is trying to kill us! All the time. We don’t live in harmony with nature, we live in a constant war with bacteria, parasites, viruses, other animals etc. We’re not holding hands, we’re competing. And how are we going to test this magical plant medicine? How will we obtain and feed the cell lines? Where will we get the antibodies to test changes in protein? How will we determine toxicity before human testing? How will we determine mechanisms of action? Unrealistic and silly, as always.

    The plant or seeds to grow it can’t be patented.

    Human, please google Monsanto and ADM.

    And this is the real reason for otherwise intelligent researchers defense of the indefensible- there is money in the kind of research which requires animal testing.

    And here’s the conspiracy! We don’t do animal research because it’s relevant to human physiology, we do it for money! Yes, all those greedy academic researchers making tens of thousands of dollars a year after educating themselves for a dozen years after high school, toiling away in labs are doing it for the money. Please.

    Take the rabbit home and let your child play with it and name it. Explain to her what your God or your conscience says to you about its suffering.
    Then take it and her back to the lab and let her watch you experiment on it- if you can do this then you have made the decision based on all your intelligence- reason, emotion and spirit rather than just reason.

    Pointless emotional appeal. My first pet was a guinea pig my dad brought me home from his lab at NIH. It has not subsequently changed what I think about the importance of animal research, or my eating habits. Bunnies are cute yes, but they’re also really good for generating antibodies.

    It takes a denial of the whole self to accept money for inflicting harm on animals.

    By the way I’ve never been involved in any animal rights group or actions- I’m not a scientist or a radical.
    I just think the debate in this thread is reductionist.

    Trying to dominate nature has only caused suffering. There are alternatives. Think about animal testing but try and feel as well.

    I’m not denying myself. I am a human. We have had great success from bending nature to our will, not living in agrarian communities in mud huts. I like animals, but I like humans more.

    This is a very naive and uninformed view of nature that is a consequence of sufficient industrialization and quality of life changes that people don’t really encounter nature anymore. We eradicated malaria, the screw worm, and all of our predators. We live in clean temperature-controlled houses, free of pests, and don’t have to fight to obtain food. It’s precisely the loss of contact with nature, brutal, merciless, and ambivalent nature, that has allowed this hippy-dippy worldview to emerge.

    I’ve taken my bunny home and named it (guinea pigs really and three of them – Squiggly, Wiggly and Squeaky). I grew up to understand the importance of science, knowledge, and a realistic view of the world. Animals die, all the time, not just from science and food, but from nearly all of our human activities. Here’s an experiment for you, watch March of the Penguins and Grizzly Man. Nature isn’t a sweet-hearted old grandma. She’s a fiesty bitch who does not care whether we live or die.

  27. #27 TTT
    August 8, 2007

    “Traditional plant medicines”? Why do you presume it right that we kill and eat wild plants for human benefit? Why is that any better–or even any different–than doing it to animals?

  28. #28 Cleveland
    August 8, 2007

    “Take the rabbit home and let your child play with it and name it. Explain to her what your God or your conscience says to you about its suffering.
    Then take it and her back to the lab and let her watch you experiment on it- if you can do this then you have made the decision based on all your intelligence- reason, emotion and spirit rather than just reason.”

    Your experiment has been performed over and over and over again in animal husbandry, dating back to the first domesticated animals. Think Charlotte’s Web. If people tended to agree with your hypothesis than all animal farming should have to be done by people not raised on a farm. A given farm family would last, maybe through the first two kids’ “pet” sheep, pig or calf. Likely, because these “experiments” have been going on for so bloody long, we’d be out of the animal husbandry business altogether. That we are not, as a species, suggests that you are are the one “not using all of your faculties”.

    human, a challenge. one that all animal rights people should have to answer prior to being taken at all seriously. Please detail for us how you eschew all of the benefits of modern medicine that have been derived from animal experiments, how you will hold this line until the day you die and how you will hold this line when *your* child is the one with a lethal-yet-treatable health condition. also, not only how you have eschewed vaccination for yourself and children(you have, right?) but how you go out of your way to expose yourself and your children to pathogens like polio and smallpox so as to avoid taking advantage of the fact that the population has (mostly) vaccinated itself?

  29. #29 Brian Schmidt
    August 8, 2007

    Responding to Trollanon

    “keep in mind it is not even clear that chimps can be “taught enough basic sign language” to communicate pain level.”

    I disagree – we’re talking about something not very sophisticated. Several dozen words should be enough to be helpful, and that’s an order of magnitude less than what’s been demonstrated.

    “even if it could be done, you’d have to do a lot of training with the full range of painful experiences-isn’t this a contradiction to what you might really be after? minimizing pain, that is?”

    No, you don’t have to inflict pain to get an idea of what’s painful and how painful it is. You just talk to the chimps.

    “not to mention chimps are a vanishingly small minority…. so the impact of your suggestion is likely to be negligible in terms of numbers.”

    That’s okay, and it doesn’t eliminate the need to appropriately treat the ones still being used.

    “do you have any concept of how violent the chimpanzee and many macaque species are?”

    Yes I do, and it doesn’t justify treating them poorly.

    “it is oft-discussed that wild animals “conceal” injuries and pain. at root this is based on the theological assumption that the experience of pain must approximate human. if animals don’t appear as distressed as a human would be with a given level of injury, they must be “concealing” for some reason. this is circular. some clear thinking is called for when determining “pain and distress” in a research protocol yet it is sadly lacking and there is certainly no national discussion space on this issue.”

    More reason then to teach language to experimental chimps. I would say though that there’s less need to do it for chimps used in behavioral studies where presumably we’re causing less pain and suffering.

    Everything else Trollanon says basically argues in favor of teaching language to chimps to better understand what we’re doing to them, or is a critique of animal rights people that I don’t really care about, one way or another.

  30. #30 trollanon
    August 8, 2007

    brian,
    with all due respect you have no idea, whatsoever, what it takes to “talk to” an animal. yes, even a chimp. animals in language experiments do not invent things and do not use their acquired symbology flexibly. alex the wonder parrot is the closest thing to an exception to this rule. animals stick to their trained experiences. they stick to their usual discussion space, so to speak. they are not going to have a “word” for pain until a painful experience occurs. All of this you can determine by actually reading the literature. brian l’s characterization is about accurate.

    Your additional misconceptions are in a little more of a specialized area but this is still little excuse. It has to do with what it actually takes to find something out from an animal subject. “just talking to ‘em” doesn’t cut it. There has to be a stimulus and a response and generally a number of data points to assess anything meaningful. I suppose you could wait for spontaneous painful events. it is unlikely that you’ll have enough of these to get a good association. and even if you get this, how do you think you are going to get a magnitude of pain estimate? you are either intentionally missing my earlier point, just plain making sheist up, a concern troll or all of the above.

    the misreading of what I was saying about animals being violent is just plain offensive. it is not clear at all that magnitudes of pain mean the same thing to animals as they do to humans. in fact if you examine animals’ behavioral reactions in the natural environment to painful stimuli / wounding/ etc with which humans are familiar it is most apparent that directly comparing “pain and distress” across species is a tough nut indeed. Not that many or all species might not experience pain and distress, just that it is inaccurate to equate based on “well, I just kinda think so ’cause that’s how I’d feel”. this point was relevant to the methodological difficulty in getting an animal subject to “tell” you to what degree they are in pain.

    look at it this way. you say you “disagree”. but you don’t seem to have any real frame of reference to know what you are talking about and your highly selective reading of my comment is illustrative. this is just exactly like the Bush crowds’ selective reading of environmental/climate science and “disagreement” to deduce “no problem” with their selfish agendas.

  31. #31 human
    August 10, 2007

    Hi Mark, Cleveland,
    You are right- I live in an industrialized country which has eradicated many diseases in a clean(ish!) house etc and I am not battling nature all the time.
    I am alive today because of drugs and vaccinations which were tested on animals and I would kill however many cute rabbits it took to save my child’s life. None of this makes animal testing ethical.

    I also benefit from a long history of horrible experimental treatments done to humans. Thousands apon thousands of failed surgical procedures must have ended in agonizing death for the surgeons to learn how to mend me.
    My life does not make their deaths worthwhile.

    I respect that you name yourself a speciesist- I guess I am not. I take the drugs though and will continue to because I want to live. I am self interested.
    If I had the creature in one hand and my life in the other would I torture it myself to live? Maybe.
    To choose to do it for a profession? Without an intimate and immediate threat to life? I don’t know how that can be okay. Especially when there are other medicinal options that don’t necessitate animal testing.

    When I talk about research into healing plants I am asking you to step outside your science-culture bounds. Many plants don’t need conventional lab testing- the evidence may be oral and experiential rather than from texts or chemical reports. This is where I say to the scientist that oral evidence may be as valid as textual. That testimony from people who use the plants constitutes valid evidence.
    I know, heres where I am shouted down.
    The Scientist:
    “Noo- only my written words, my chemicals and my numbers are real!! Other cultures ways of knowing- Inferior!!”

    If you really want tests there are also hundreds of herbs already known to have low toxicity that can be safely tested on humans but haven’t been. Until these resources are exhausted we have no right to hurt animals. And they are not exhausted.

    As to harmony with nature- many indigenous cultures know how to live in harmony with the natural world. Mark- we really have had not had great success bending nature to our will. Global warming ring any bells?

    I’m not suggesting some kind of anti-technology hippy dippy life in a mud hut- just that we make too many assumptions about the possibilities of our relationship with the rest of earth’s life.

    I grew up on a farm and I saw many animals in pain, slaughtered, dying and being born. Nature is cruel. But humans can try not to be.

    This has been an interesting exchange that has assisted me to clarify some of my ideas- thanks.

  32. #32 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    “Noo- only my written words, my chemicals and my numbers are real!! Other cultures ways of knowing- Inferior!!”

    Yes, actually. They are. What better way of knowing things is there than empiricism? By feeling for truth? Faith? Please. This is nonsense. We’re not going to feel our way out of global warming or pray it away, we’re going to solve it with human ingenuity and what we learn from empirical studies – which is how we identified the problem in the first place.

    As far as herbs working, sure, I have no doubt there are bioactive compounds in plants that we haven’t discovered. As far as randomly testing them on humans? I’ll pass. You can play that game of Russian roulette, but I won’t, and no institutional ethics committee will either.

  33. #33 human
    August 10, 2007

    Could you be more predictable!!?

  34. #34 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    Sorry for believing that science works. I guess I should make my experiments work by directing my feeling energy at them.

  35. #35 Anonymous
    August 10, 2007

    Only if you’re sure your chakras are aligned.

  36. #36 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    That’s what I hate about my chakras, theyre so damned unpredictable! Too much caffeine and they point every which way.

  37. #37 human
    August 10, 2007

    Sorry that was me- and I forgot to suggest a moon chart.

  38. #38 human
    August 10, 2007

    Is it really 5am where you are?
    I have a story for you.

    When my country was colonized the indigenous people were massacred. The colonizers did not record with their words on their paper all the mothers fathers and children they murdered. They recorded in detail only the names and details of around 100 white people murdered by aborigines.
    Denialist historians now argue that because there is little text, few words on paper, no graphs, charts or bound records of killings, there is no evidence. That the lack of evidence points to an unavoidable conclusion: No massacres happened. The only victims were the colonizers.

    The evidence that does exist is the Aboriginal cultural tradition of storytelling- oral history, passed down through the generations. It is here the stories live and it’s here we find the best evidence of the massacres. By asking the survivors. Those with the guns and the poison flour didn’t write books about it.

    My point is that a lack of conventional evidence is not always conclusive.

  39. #39 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    Yes, can’t sleep. Waiting to go to work.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Oral histories should be evaluated as a form of evidence – anthropology would not exist without it.

    At the same time absence of evidence should not necessarily be used to justify that which is is inconsistent with established fact, that is classic argument ad ignorantium.

  40. #40 MartinM
    August 10, 2007

    If I had the creature in one hand and my life in the other would I torture it myself to live? Maybe.
    To choose to do it for a profession? Without an intimate and immediate threat to life? I don’t know how that can be okay.

    So immediate action to save your own lives is OK, maybe, but preventative action to save countless other lives is unacceptable? That’s not ethics, that’s being a selfish jackass. It’s just one big ‘fuck you’ to the rest of humanity.

    Especially when there are other medicinal options that don’t necessitate animal testing.

    Frequently, there aren’t.

    Many plants don’t need conventional lab testing- the evidence may be oral and experiential rather than from texts or chemical reports. This is where I say to the scientist that oral evidence may be as valid as textual. That testimony from people who use the plants constitutes valid evidence.

    Yes. It constitutes valid evidence that some people perceive a benefit from certain plants. It does not constitute valid evidence that the plants actually have an effect. Give the same plant to enough people, and some of them will show improvement at roughly the same time they start taking it, just by chance. Some of those people will believe that the plant is responsible from their improvement, and some of those people will be willing to give testimony to that effect. How do you propose we distinguish between their testimony and that of people who have actually found something which works?

  41. #41 human
    August 10, 2007

    MartinM-
    Not a selfish jackass and don’t appreciate the slur.
    Just trying to be honest.

  42. #42 human
    August 10, 2007

    Mark- Thanks for very interesting discussion, am going to dinner now myself.

  43. #43 MartinM
    August 10, 2007

    Not a selfish jackass and don’t appreciate the slur.

    And I don’t appreciate your apparent willingness to sacrifice other people’s lives on the altar of questionable ethics, especially when you’re unwilling to make the same sacrifice yourself. I, too, am just trying to be honest.

  44. #44 Anonymous
    August 10, 2007

    MarkH – “We don’t have the right to impose our will on other species? Prove it. This is Jainist nonsense.”

    Can you prove that we do have the right to impose our will on other species? I know this sounds like nit-picking, but I really don’t understand the point you make here.

    Essentially, you would never say, “We have the right to impose our will on other races,” but you quite happily assert, “We have the right to impose our will on other species,” without explaining why this should be so.

    I don’t think this is quite so easy to dismiss as just asserting that it is Jainist nonsense and leaving it at that.

  45. #45 hinschelwood
    August 10, 2007

    Sorry, I forgot to sign with my name on the 6:36 post…

  46. #46 Rick Bogle
    August 10, 2007

    Dear Rick,

    The study that Dr. Harold Herzog and I conducted was published by Science as a Policy Forum because the topic of our research concerned policy issues. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, endorsed by the Animal Behavior Society, had the cooperation of 50 randomly-selected animal care committees (making it one of the largest such studies ever conducted), and was rigorously peer reviewed by both NSF and Science. Thus, our critic is factually mistaken in claiming that the research was not peer reviewed.

    The inescapable fact of the matter is that IACUCs and their members do not show strong agreement when asked to evaluate animal research protocols. Indeed, as we pointed out in Science, even when members are given identical protocols under identical conditions, their agreement falls into the “poor” range of interrater agreement. We also reported that at the committee level, 17 protocols were categorically disapproved (not simply “deferred”) by the second committee, even though 16 of these protocols had been approved by the first committee. Equally striking, of the 72 protocols “approved as written” by the first committee, only 6 received that evaluation by the second committee.

    If our critic does not find these results troubling, I would ask two simple questions: (1) What evidence is sufficiently compelling to warrant concern? (2) If the study were done with IRBs (reviewing protocols with human subjects) rather than IACUCs (reviewing protocols with non-human animals), would you be equally unperturbed? After all, a bedrock assumption of the protocol review system is that IRBs and IACUCs are able to reliably reject unethical studies.

    You are welcome to post this response if it would help set the record straight.

    Sincerely,

    Scott Plous
    Professor of Psychology

    At 10:15 AM 8/7/2007, you wrote:

    Dr. Plous,

    I cite your 2001 paper frequently. I recently did so again on one of Seed magazine’s scienceblogs. http://scienceblogs.com/

    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2007/08/the_new_animal_rights_tactic_t.php

    There is an interesting discussion there concerning USDA, the AWA, IACUCS, etc.

    A recent post argues in part that,

    “There are clear structural problems with [Plous and Herzog], since it compared one set of real and uncontaminated decisions with decisions that were explicitly part of the study (not blinded, in other words). The individual correlation thing does not and cannot get around this problem as much as the authors would like to convince you otherwise. All told an interesting data set but by no means the best support even for the conclusions advanced. Perhaps this is why it is a policy forum and not peer reviewed.”

    I’d be very interested in reading any comment you might care to contribute to the discussion there.

    Thanks.

  47. #47 jeffk
    August 10, 2007

    Whenever I see a debate about animal rights or PETA, I always end up thinking about the philosopher Peter Singer, who had a lot of this shit more or less figured out thirty years ago. He makes a great, reasoned argument why animals can suffer, why that is not ethically neutral for us, as well as providing other (environmental, mostly) reasons to eat vegetarian and do less animal research. The problem is that PETA isn’t made up of reasonable thinkers, people who can evaluate the situation and decide exactly what they want and spread the argument for why they should get that. Instead, it’s a bunch of emotional crap that doesn’t hold up.

  48. #48 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    I don’t think that Singer really resolved the debate, he just introduced salami-slicing.

  49. #49 jeffk
    August 10, 2007

    He didn’t solve it in terms of quantitative measures for animal suffering – he wasn’t able to put it on a meaningful scale. He made a convincing argument, to me, that they *could* suffer and it was ethically relevant. But then he basically says, “so I’ve shown animals can suffer, and it must be really important so let’s all make huge lifestyle changes and weaken science”. So yeah, I suppose you’re right – he only went so far. But I think he’s a mostly rational person who lays down the groundwork on which a discussion on this topic should be taking place. PETA, on the other hand, seems to have no interest in any such thing.

  50. #50 Jane Shevtsov
    August 10, 2007

    Hi trollanon,

    Didn’t realize this thread was still active! Your question about when I think experiments on animals are justified is a fair one and I will do my best to answer it.

    Justified:
    Looking for cures for diseases that kill or cause suffering for large numbers of people (AIDS, malaria, common cancers, etc.)
    Non-invasive behavioral research that causes minimal physical and psychological distress to the animal

    Not justified:
    Cosmetics testing
    Developing better acne medication, drugs for “restless legs syndrome”, etc.
    Essentially any medical research on non-human great apes
    Psychological/behavioral research involving shocks, etc.

    Gray areas:
    Research on truly rare diseases
    Testing of many environmental chemicals (we often have sufficient data to take precautionary action without further experiments — but not always)
    Research into mechanisms of conditions we know how to prevent, like fetal alcohol syndrome
    Much basic research

    Your turn!

    BTW, your views on animal communication and the ability to feel pain show you need to do more research. Chimpanzees taught sign language in a naturalistic setting (as opposed to the highly artificial training of Nim) have shown flexible use of language and have even taught sign language to other chimps. Kanzi the bonobo learned to communicate through a computer and understand spoken language without direct training, at least in the initial stages. (His mother was being taught, unsuccessfully.)

    Pain is useful. The ability to feel pain keeps you from injuring yourself — people without this ability don’t do too well. Furthermore, feeling pain can ONLY have this consequence if it is unpleasant. Otherwise, it would serve no aversive function. This, coupled with the fact of evolution and our first-hand knowledge that humans feel pain should lead us to assume that non-human animals feel pain unless shown otherwise.

  51. #51 cooler
    August 10, 2007

    What if a new species evolved from us in 5000 years that was much more intelligent than we were, would they have a right to throw us into slaughterhouses and test on us? I would think not, because as Peter Singer States, its not how intelligent you are, its the amount of pain that you can feel.

  52. #52 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    My least favorite thing about Singer are just those terrible type of situations. They go like, “Imagine an impossible situation (or at least so unlikely as to be absurd), base your ethical principles on how you would feel in this alternate universe.”

    Pffft.

  53. #53 cooler
    August 10, 2007

    Its not that much of an impossible situation, considering that we involved from a monkey, and now we experiment on them, so its possible to occur again.

    Rapists and murderers use this excuse alot, if you tell them “you wouldnt like it if that happened to you” and they respond “its not going to happen to me” They are right in many instances. I guess Singer is saying just because you can get away with something, and if you will never be treated the way your victim is, does not make it right. Just my 2 cents, gonna go play some bball now.

  54. #54 MarkH
    August 10, 2007

    Possible again in what, like 5 million years? 50? One doesn’t pass laws for things that never happen, we don’t outlaw alien abduction by martians. Sure, it could happen, maybe a one in a billion chance, but it’s not a source of good law.

    Similarly, you don’t compose your ethical beliefs on the near-impossible and outrageously unlikely situations. They should be grounded on sensible and realistic scenarios. Not aliens, not some stellar 5,000 year evolution of humans into eloi and morlocks. No. This is stupid.

    Fail. Try again.

  55. #55 Jane Shevtsov
    August 10, 2007

    Mark,

    Ethicists (not just Peter Singer) like silly-sounding thought experiments because they clarify the underlying principles involved in a decision. However, if you don’t like the “would it be ok for a more intelligent species to experiment on us” scenario, I’ll give you a more realistic one.

    Would it be ok to perform the types of experiments commonly done on animals on orphaned infants a month or two of age? (I specify that they are orphans so parental feelings are not involved.) If you wish to invoke future mental capacity in your reply, what about people with severe mental disabilities who are less intelligent than many nonhuman primates?

  56. #56 cooler
    August 10, 2007

    Good point Jane.

    Mark is basically arguing that you can act in any fashion as long as you are not treated the same way you treat another living thing. So his moral values are “if you can get away with it and never experience the same pain under the same cirumstances that you are inflicting on someone else, that makes it ok”

    Mark needs to learn critical thinking skills instead of calling people “cranks” 24/7 with people that dont agree with him.

  57. #57 Brian Schmidt
    August 11, 2007

    Mark, didn’t you write a post that praised Obama for being willing to answer a hypothetical?

    More importantly, the question isn’t whether the situation is realistic, but whether an asserted principle makes sense in all the circumstances under which it’s asserted. If it doesn’t, you need to explain the boundaries of the principle in a non-arbitrary manner (i.e., something besides “it’s okay for humans to kill dumber organisms, but it’s not okay for smarter organisms to kill humans.”).

  58. #58 MarkH
    August 11, 2007

    Oh what a load of horseshit.

    Surely you can tell the difference between a hypothetical like, “What if Iranians develop a bomb or house terrorists” probability = 10-20% probably more. And “what if aliens show up and subjugate us.”

    Not only is the second hypothetical vanishingly unlikely, it’s also incredibly stupid. I suppose it will happen because we subjugate animals we’ll have to just drop our arms and say ce la vie.

    Here’s one for you, “What if aliens show up, and because we’ve become vegatarian sissies, they think we’re wimps so they exterminate us.”

    See, I can come up with idiotic alien hypotheticals too. The point is they have nothing to do with reality, and are only “thought experiments” in the way that potheads thinking about the universe being contained in an atom in your fingernail is a thought experiment. It’s intellectual masturbation.

  59. #59 Ted
    August 12, 2007

    Here’s one for you, “What if aliens show up, and because we’ve become vegatarian sissies, they think we’re wimps so they exterminate us.”

    Already been done. Well, assuming that vegetarianism = wimpdom.

    It’s intellectual masturbation.

    Are you an anti-masturbation prude? Abusing the flesh OK, but abusing the intellect for LULZ not OK? I think both are relatively normal human functions.

  60. #60 Jane Shevtsov
    August 12, 2007

    Mark,

    Your rather strongly worded criticism of hypotheticals would make sense if we were talking about law or policy. Laws need to be based on situations that have a reasonable probability of actually happening, although considering unlikely cases is helpful even there. However, this is not what we are doing. We’re trying to look at ethical principles, and the way you test principles is by stretching them outside their usual field of application. I don’t know of another way of seeing the full implications of one’s beliefs.

    BTW, I did give you a scenario with probability 1 a bit earlier. You might want to take a look at it.

  61. #61 MarkH
    August 12, 2007

    Actually you didn’t provide a hypothetical so much as a question about an existing population. It’s not so much of a hypothetical if you ask me – not that you can’t word it that way, but yes since the population already exists it can be considered.

    As a speciesist, the answer is obviously no. They are members of my species, I value human life over the life of animals. Yes even cute, smart and rare animals are less valuable to me than humans.

    On to cooler:

    Mark is basically arguing that you can act in any fashion as long as you are not treated the same way you treat another living thing. So his moral values are “if you can get away with it and never experience the same pain under the same cirumstances that you are inflicting on someone else, that makes it ok”

    Someone else? Who are these people that I’m hurting? Are you saying animals are people?

    I’m making a judgment, speciesist as it is, that human life is more valuable than the lives of other animals. That is all. We can save lives, expand our species’ knowledge and enhance our species ability to survive with the use of animals in research. I do not value “all life” equally, and most other living things are not worth even a fraction of the value of a single human life to me.

    I also have a question, please answer honestly ARAs because I want to know. Why do humans have less rights than other animals in the kingdom? Why can they kill and make other creatures suffer with impunity, but it’s only immoral when we do it? Why is all life valuable? Why isn’t plant life as valuable as animal life? Why is the high value place on nervous systems? Isn’t that just a value judgment that things like us are more valuable than things unlike us?

    I need to see an argument for your fundamental assumptions – that all life has value and that humans have a higher moral obligation to their fellow creatures than any other predator.

  62. #62 Jane Shevtsov
    August 12, 2007

    Are there any arguments that can be used to defend speciesism but not racism?

    I’ll give you one variety of the animal rights argument. There are others (see Tom Regan), but the utilitarian one I’m about to present is prominent.

    Why do humans have less rights than other animals in the kingdom? Why can they kill and make other creatures suffer with impunity, but it’s only immoral when we do it?

    Humans do not have fewer “rights” than other animals. What we do have that no other animal appears to have to the same degree is the capacity for moral choice. We can think abstractly about right and wrong; other animals can’t. Thus, it is no more immoral for a lion to kill a gazelle than it is for lightning to strike a person. Our big brains give us the capacity to reflect on our actions, and with this capacity comes moral responsibility.

    Why is all life valuable? Why isn’t plant life as valuable as animal life? Why is the high value place on nervous systems? Isn’t that just a value judgment that things like us are more valuable than things unlike us?

    The conservationist position is that all life is intrinsically valuable. This I find hard to defend, despite being an ecology Ph.D. student. To say that animal right is more valuable than plant life isn’t quite a fair statement of the animal rights position. Rather, having a certain kind of nervous system is what counts, albeit indirectly.

    Why nervous systems? Because, to our knowledge, it takes a nervous system to be able to experience pleasure and pain. (Probably not all nervous systems can do this, but those of vertebrates almost certainly can.) Now, here lies the beauty of the utilitarian argument. Pain is INTRINSICALLY bad and pleasure is INTRINSICALLY good. This statement needs no justification because it follows directly from the definitions of “pain” and “pleasure”. From here, animal rights advocates say that causing a nonhuman animal to suffer pain is just as bad as causing a human the same degree of suffering. This is, admittedly, an assumption, but it has the great virtue of simplicity. As Jeremy Bentham said, “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”.

    Peter Singer put it well: “The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because it will suffer if it is.

    “If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering�in so far as rough comparisons can be made�of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience (using the term as a convenient, if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the capacity to suffer or experience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary way. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?”
    http://www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-m/singer02.htm

    I hope this helps answer your questions; feel free to ask more!

  63. #63 MarkH
    August 12, 2007

    No offense but I find the speciesist=racist to be intellectually lazy. You get it every single time in these discussions, but in the end, given a choice, everyone will take a speciesist view. We have a vested interest in the survival of humanity, and if it’s a “them or us” scenario, 99.99% of humans say “us” and we happily make some animal or organism extinct.

    Race is an artificial construct. Humans of different colors are all human, and the differences used to justify superiority of one race vs another were either unimportant, religious nonsense, or false (Gould’s Mismeasure of Man is great on this topic). However, the differences between humans and other species are real, and we have a vested interest in sticking together to the detriment and extinction of other species. For instance, the anopheles mosquito – no one sheds a tear as we try to wipe it out by any means necessary. Other parasites like screw worm or the guinea worm are extinct or near extinct from our purely speciesist desire not to be made uncomfortable (they were rarely life-threatening just painful diseases).

    We may shed a tear for the loss of one species or another, especially if it was something cute like a dolphin or a bird, but in the end, we value our lives, our societies, and our needs more. Racism is a complete red herring, and a completely different concept with a different history.

  64. #64 Rick Bogle
    August 12, 2007

    The ugly sides of speciesism and racism are very much alike. Trying to escape the obvious similarities by denying race altogether is new-ageism in service to old fashioned denialist bigotry.

    An interesting essay on the biology of race, can be found here:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=1&articleID=00055DC8-3BAA-1FA8-BBAA83414B7F0000

    Race is a much less loaded term in zoology than sociology. No one takes offence when ornithologists note regional phenotypic variations among members of the same species.

    Hey Mark, based on Plous and the most recent USDA IG’s report, are you now going to start correcting claims that animal research oversight is stringent, reliable, or meaningful, when your cronies here make these faith-based claims in the future? Or, are you going to deny the evidence?

  65. #65 Jane Shevtsov
    August 12, 2007

    Mark,

    I never said that speciesism was the same as racism; I said they rested on the same logic. Read some of Dawkins’ stuff on the tyranny of the discontinuous mind. BTW, Dawkins is a supporter of the Great Ape Project, which is working to extend certain basic rights, like freedom from torture, to nonhuman great apes.

    Your discussion of wiping out the Anopheles mosquito is a red herring. Utilitarian ethics are about individuals, not species. Species are not sentient and therefore do not have interests. Individuals of certain species ARE sentient and their treatment is, I believe, the subject of this discussion.

    Appealing to the commonness of speciesism is also not a valid defense. The popularity of a belief is not a good measure of its correctness.

    The Biological Species Concept defines species as collections of interbreeding populations. In practice, biologists tend to rely on morphology to determine species membership. Can you tell me why either one of those things is morally relevant?

  66. #66 MarkH
    August 13, 2007

    I’m not denying the existence of race. But as your own cited article discusses, the social concept of race is completely arbitrary and changes from location to location. Yes, there are some small genetic differences between people based on the geographic origin of their ancestors. But that has little to do with the social ideas of race, or the historical and scientific arguments suggesting one group of humans was inferior to another which were totally bogus. Humans are more alike than unalike, and often the big differences have little to do with skin color and physical features – the traits identified most with race – than they do with historical isolation of populations.

    As far as oversight of IACUCs, the only reason I can see for you endlessly harping on it is it’s the only perceived weakness a liberationist like you can latch onto. You compare animal researchers to Nazis and the Khmer Rouge. You regularly deny the utility of any animal research on your blog. I have no interest in debating with you as if you have a valid point of view on any topic.

    Back to Janet

    Your discussion of wiping out the Anopheles mosquito is a red herring. Utilitarian ethics are about individuals, not species. Species are not sentient and therefore do not have interests. Individuals of certain species ARE sentient and their treatment is, I believe, the subject of this discussion.

    Red herring? Really? The planned destruction of various animals by humans seems like a very speciesist behavior that we never are criticized for. What right do we have to decide these species don’t have a right to exist?

    Appealing to the commonness of speciesism is also not a valid defense. The popularity of a belief is not a good measure of its correctness.

    I’m not saying that it’s right because more people believe in it. I’m saying that the majority of people that are critical of speciesism aren’t thinking hard enough about what it means. Ultimately, you find, people overwhelmingly identify with their species more than others, and when you put them to the test, they will side with humanity. I think the idea that other forms of life should be equal to human is really the extraordinary statement, and thought this was an example of how it’s not a firmly held belief even in its proponents.

    The Biological Species Concept defines species as collections of interbreeding populations. In practice, biologists tend to rely on morphology to determine species membership. Can you tell me why either one of those things is morally relevant?

    I don’t get it. Are you saying species don’t exist? There isn’t enough of a difference between us and other forms of life to justify different behaviors?

  67. #67 Jane Shevtsov
    August 13, 2007

    Mark,

    Again, the utilitarian approach to ethics says nothing about a species’ “right to exist”. It could very well be that the destruction of a particular species would cause more benefit than harm. (However, speaking as an ecologist, I must say that it will be essentially impossible to wipe out a whole genus of mosquitoes. You’re better off going after Plasmodium itself.) Some animal experiments would also be allowable; it’s just that the interests of the animals, not just potential human benefits, must be considered in deciding whether (and how) to do the experiment. Again, utilitarianism focuses on INDIVIDUALS. Species and species membership are irrelevant.

    Are you saying species don’t exist? There isn’t enough of a difference between us and other forms of life to justify different behaviors?

    1. No
    2. Huh?

    Species exist, although many are fuzzier than zoologists tend to think. The human species is quite crisply defined, since the intermediates between us and chimps are extinct. I was pointing out that species membership is defined by interbreeding or morphology. The question is whether either of those things is relevant to the moral standing of an individual.

  68. #68 MarkH
    August 13, 2007

    I’m still not getting it Jane. What about species definitions has anything to do with the discussion? I’m not being purposefully obtuse. As you say, there is a clear difference between us and almost anything else. Why do the criteria designed for distinguishing more closely-related species impinge upon this discussion?

    Anopheles was also just an example of something we regularly try to hammer down. There are examples I listed of total extermination from the earth. Pretty remarkable in terms of the ethics of “live and let live” or what have you. If life has a basic worth, it’s something to consider.

  69. #69 Brian Schmidt
    August 13, 2007

    Personally I’m a “sapientist”, like many of the Great Ape Project supporters, with some fuzzy lines on what animal is sapient enough to be treated as having innate moral value. Since I’m not an ARA in general, I don’t feel qualified to speak for them.

    The intelligence levels for the most intelligent of animal species are comparable to young children and people with severe mental disabilities, which would make some people a little less hesitant about being speciesist.

  70. #70 Jane Shevtsov
    August 14, 2007

    What about species definitions has anything to do with the discussion? I’m not being purposefully obtuse. As you say, there is a clear difference between us and almost anything else. Why do the criteria designed for distinguishing more closely-related species impinge upon this discussion?

    The Biological Species Concept is not “designed for distinguishing more closely-related species”. Rather, it is a definition of “species”. (It’s not the only one, but it certainly is the most widespread — and I don’t think we need a discussion of species concepts here!)

    How is this stuff relevant? I asked you previously whether you thought it was all right to experiment on people with profound mental disabilities and you wrote, “As a speciesist, the answer is obviously no. They are members of my species, I value human life over the life of animals.”

    Now, here’s a hypothetical that I think has a decent chance of happening within the next century. (Certainly, the technology will be there to make it happen.) Suppose that somebody creates a genetically modified group of people that have distinctive physical characteristics (say they all have six fingers on each hand). Also, these individuals carry certain alleles that render them fertile with each other but sterile (or producing sterile offspring) in matings with non-modified humans. Finally, let them have the same mental and emotional characteristics as normal humans.

    As you probably realize, a population of such modified individuals would, assuming their modifications were passed down to their offspring, be a new species. Would it be acceptable to experiment on these individuals the way we experiment on other animals?

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