Our initial optimism over Huffpo science being a haven for reason in a den of disease-promotion and quackery appears now to be misplaced. It appears the animal rights cranks have made inroads with Bruce Friedrich, a member of PETA and advocate of animal liberation, who has jumped from Huffpo “green” to Huffpo “science”. The science gatekeepers at Huffpo have clearly failed.

Writing about “Speciesism: The Movie”, he exposes the anti-science ideology of the animal rights movement, and Huffpo science doesn’t seem to have noticed:

Every now and then, a movie comes along that is capable of fundamentally changing the worldview of its audience. Speciesism: The Movie, a new documentary by Mark Devries, is that kind of film.

The word “speciesism,” which has been popularized by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, refers to the assumption that a vast gulf exists between the ethical value of human interests and the ethical value of the interests of other animals. At its extreme, we may see ourselves as the only species that matters morally, and view other animals as existing merely for our use: to eat, to make into clothing, to perform experiments on, to be entertained by in circuses and zoos. Like those who grew up having overt racist beliefs assimilated into their worldview, some degree of speciesism has been so well-assimilated into the worldview of most of us that it does not even appear to be worth questioning.

Devries goes to great lengths to put together a thoughtful and entertaining film–whether commissioning an airplane to fly over factory farms’ giant “manure lagoons” with an anti-CAFO Republican from North Carolina, or (somehow) scheming his way into receiving a guided tour of a factory farm.

Along the way, he meets and questions a remarkably broad range of people, including Peter Singer (whom the New Yorker has named “one of the most influential philosophers alive”), Richard Dawkins (the most influential evolutionary biologist of the past century), and Temple Grandin (designer of the animal handling systems used by over half of the slaughterhouses in the United States).

He also speaks with anti-factory farming activists, a man who is dying next to a huge hog farm, a current member of the American Nazi Party, a disability rights activist, a vivisector, quite a few people on the street, and more–all in his quest to thoroughly consider the philosophy that says that bias on the basis of species is unjustifiable. Disclaimer: He also spoke with me.

Above all, Devries confronts some very difficult and uncomfortable questions head-on. For example: How strong are the grounds for believing that humans have special moral worth? How valid are the comparisons between our use of other animals and the slavery of other humans?

My emphasis added. So here we have it on Huffpo science. Believing that our species should be valued over other species is a sin equivalent to racism. Use of other animals is like slavery. Biologists aren’t scientists we’re “vivisectors”. We’re all going to hell.

To be clear, biological science without use of animals is impossible. It’s not just toxicity testing of drugs either, and we are fully aware of the limitations of our animal models, thankyouverymuch. But from the ground up, the study of life depends on the use of living things. From the cells we harvest for culture (we can’t all study wacky immortalized cancer cells you know), to the serum we grow them in, to the antibodies we generate by exposing animals to antigens, to the transgenic animals we use to study genes in vivo, to the model animals that modern surgical techniques and technologies are refined in, biological science is intimately tied to living things. The face transplant I wrote about yesterday? Impossible without prior animal modeling, practice with surgical technique and molecular investigation of immunosuppression. Transplant in general? The earliest investigations of skin grafting and surgical techniques for transplant were honed in animals – with some hefty human experimentation as well. Every major surgical advance, medical advance, and plain basic biological science knowledge comes from our manipulation of the living things around us. But are we in any way noble for our pursuit of knowledge, for yes, explicitly human benefit? No, we’re speciesist, we’re vivisectors.

Well fine, I admit it. I value human life over that of other species. I’ve devoted my life to saving human lives, and as a scientist, I’ve sacrificed animal lives to do so every time I’ve ordered a polyclonal antibody or bottle of FBS. According to radicals like Friedrich that makes me “vivisector”. I’m therefore a monster, like a slaver or murderer.

This is the unexamined ethics and thoughtless smug moral superiority of the animal rights activist. I doubt, when push came to shove they would sacrifice a human for an animal. Or even a large number of animals. Who, after all, swerves to avoid the squirrel and instead hits the kid on the sidewalk? No one. Human life is more valuable to us because we’re human and that’s OK. It’s not wrong to be self-interested or interested in our survival over that of other species. Survival requires a certain amount of self-interest, human survival requires the ingestion of other living things, and agriculture is never going to be cruelty free.

The vegan militia have forgotten that to get their cruelty free vegetables, the land has already been cleared, all competing species have been killed or driven out, those that remain are poisoned (even by organic farmers – they just use “certified organic” methods of pest control or even other animals like ladybugs). We put humans first every time we clear a field, dig a foundation, fence and spray our crops, and burn diesel to harvest and bring them to market. We have said, these resources are ours, we own the land, and all the beetles, voles and deer can go right to hell. Survival is cruel, and will always involve putting ourselves before other species.

The health benefits and technology they enjoy everyday has already been tested and worked out thanks to comparative medicine. It’s easy to feel morally superior about eating greens, and denigrating scientists, now that all that messy stuff has been done and the last time you were on a farm it was to pick a pumpkin in 3rd grade so you don’t know what actually goes into agriculture, even organic agriculture.

This is not to say I agree with CAFOs, food monoculture, the slimey tactics of Monsanto, or any of the extremes of poor infrastructure, corporate malfeasance and environmental stupidity of our food supply. But lets stop pretending that you become morally superior for eating tofu, all the while you happily ignore the habitat destruction, mass removal of unwanted species, and outright extinctions we’ve caused in order to create our agricultural dominance.

So let’s stop calling the people who are trying to understand, preserve and extend human lives speciesist (read racist) and vivisectors. Life is complicated. Living it without cruelty to something either requires you to be oblivious to our constant impact on the living things around us, or to retreat into some Jainist agrarian fantasy world that will never exist. Isn’t it better to have a healthy understanding that human beings survive in competition for limited resources with the species around us? We evolved to the point where we’ve become adapt at manipulating and controlling the natural world, and rather than being ashamed of it, we should accept it as a gift from our ancestors after eons of struggle.

Comments

  1. #1 Robert S.
    March 22, 2012

    Brucey sure buries his COI statement well. 5 words at the end of the second to last paragraph: “he also spoke to me”. No, “I appear in this movie so take my promotion of it with a grain of salt”.

  2. #2 Composer99
    March 22, 2012

    What Friedrich omits is noting that all life forms on Earth exploit other life forms in order to survive and propagate.

    Humans are just better at it than most of the others in some aspects and our exploitative practices are more visible than those of others, generally.

    From this we might conclude that humans have special responsibilities to maintain ecosystem services/ecological diversity, or to see to the welfare of animals used for meat production or experimentation. However it does not follow that we must stop eating meat or using animals for products (e.g. fur, leather & the like) or experiments.

  3. #3 Lee Carter
    March 22, 2012

    Animal Rights is a real issue in this country. Haven’t we always, as a nation, had problems with defining life and what life entails? It started with slavery; we, as a nation, couldn’t figure out whether different humans were the same-we finally figured that one out and all humans were given the same basic right to live. Then came women’s rights to vote and own property and black’s rights to do the same; we fixed that problem to and now everyone has the same rights under the law no matter who you are. More recently, we had some problems with (and are still having problems with) rights in wartime and prisoner’s rights; we are getting closer to figuring that one out-Guantanamo bay getting closed down and all. Now, apparently, we are having troubles with animal’s rights. If you are an evolutionist, the question is a mere question of survival and morals really don’t have anything to do with the matter unless you have a personal preference for moral equality. If you are a Christian (see http://christianpoliticalscience.blogspot.com/2012/03/devolution-part-of-gods-design.html) the question becomes more of a matter of moral standard. What is the Godly thing to do? Becomes the question. So long as you are managing what God has given you, you have done good. The animal’s rights issue is simple to determine the answer to. Simply find a way to manage the animals without waste and you will have succeeded.

  4. #4 Kagehi
    March 22, 2012

    Wait.. You only just *now* figured out that Huffpo is useless when it comes to science or medicine, and isn’t a haven for reason? You mean anti-vax BS and homeopathy didn’t do it for you? Seriously, its been nearly a year since some bloggers like PZ Myers have stated, paraphrasing, “I have concluded that Huffpo is still a good resource for politics, but useless as a resource when applied to biology, or medicine.”

    Its a truly “liberal” site, when it comes to this sort of crap. It doesn’t matter if it works, its true, it makes sense, etc., never mind if its scientific, it just matters of a lot of want to be hippies, or altie-med people, or other “liberal groups” promote it. If they do, Huffpo is there with them. If UFOs, or Bigfoot, or Leprechauns where considered “science” by someone, and it was a liberal position that those things where important to “understand”, there would probably have been articles on them already on Huffpo.

    There is even a sub section of this on rationalwiki:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/The_Huffington_Post#Woo

    “HuffPo suffers the unfortunately common media delusion that science works like politics. Due to this, it is known for shamelessly pushing pseudoscience and woo (especially Deepak Chopra and the MMR scare), and has been caught deliberately lying about doing so.”

    I am flabbergasted that someone would be surprised that delusional nonsense would get posted about science, on something created by Huffpo.

  5. #5 MarkH
    March 22, 2012

    Kagehi, I listed huffpo as denialist in 2007. What was referring to we’re the assurances by the science editor when that section was created that it would be less full of crap. Others, including Orac, also took a let’s wait and see approach. Sure enough they have not been able to wall of the science section from the woomeisters in the others.

    I thought I made this clear in the first sentence. Also note I have a denialism category devoted to huffpo.

  6. #6 Daniel J. Andrews
    March 22, 2012

    Kagehi…we already know HuffPo is a haven for this nonsense. However, they made a big deal out of bringing in a science section, and promised to deal with science, not the usual quackery. They were turning over a new leaf. Perhaps you missed the disturbance in the science blogs about that one.

    Many were skeptical (see Mark`s first link), they said “we’ll see”. Well, it seems we have now seen. Wonder what else will slip through.

  7. #7 Onkel Bob
    March 22, 2012

    Wonder what else will slip through.

    Considering the dam is holding back the headwaters of the veritable mother river of woo, I’m surprised it took this long.

  8. #8 NJ
    March 22, 2012

    LC@3:

    If you are an evolutionist, …. If you are a Christian…

    Note that being a Christian does not preclude one from understanding why evolution is an accurate description of how life achieved its present diversity.

    Being stupid, however, does.

  9. #9 mandas
    March 22, 2012

    While I have some sympathy for the view that factory farming etc is unethical, I have far more disdain for the hypocrisy of PETA, which was beautifully exposed on the Daily Show:
    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-february-15-2012/seaworld-of-pain

    I would also like to ask PETA about their views on ALL animals. I haven’t seen them out campaigning for the rights of insects and spiders, which, last time I checked, were animals. It would seem that PETA is very ‘specieist’ as well.

  10. #10 Nick Johnson
    March 23, 2012

    I don’t know about you, but I never spray my craps. (4th paragraph from the bottom. Heh. Bottom.)

  11. #11 Graham Storrs
    March 23, 2012

    You’re right, of course. None of us have clean hands – and that’s just the way it must be. But on its own, yours is an extreme argument that would justify all kinds of horrors. As a species we’re moral creatures too. Lee Carter might have been tongue-in-cheek when he said, “Manage the animals without waste,” but that really is part of the answer. The other part is to manage them with compassion. With empathy. And that goes for clearing forests for farmland as much as it does for comparative medicine.

  12. #12 MarkH
    March 23, 2012

    Best typo ever. Fixed.

    Graham, I think that goes without saying. But the animal liberation movement would be against all farming, all experimentation etc. I think people don’t realize the extreme of their position and how fundamentally untenable it is in terms of making biology impossible, as well as hypocritical in ignoring the fact that farming has a huge impact on animals.

    I’m all for bringing down CAFOs and eating grass fed beef. In science we manage animals very carefully with extensive oversight from IACUCs and we have to justify every experiment and minimize pain and suffereing. I agree with animal welfare. I just don’t agree with animal liberation, or some bizarre notion of species equality.

  13. #13 Mar
    March 23, 2012

    Mentioning God? A made-up entity to make you feel more comfortable about not understanding the universe and based on a book, literally, written by men, is absurd. If humans want to experiment with life, then volunteer to be a subject, rather than taking advantage of an unsuspecting animal. If you want to eat neat, leave nothing to waste, pretty much as animals do-in fact we could consume, in some way, the entire carcas for some use or another. How myopic and arrogant we are. Humans, in this way, disgust me. We are the most greedy, most intelligent and powerful, most innovative and in so many ways most evil species. We are merely looking for ways to continue the existence of our species regardless of the extermination of other species. How arrogant. Sure, animals eat other animals, but they don’t kill them to the point of extinction to benefit a few people today. We, too, are just an animal and I’m often embarrassed and ashamed to be so. Case in point: this myopic blathering blogger above.

  14. #14 MarkH
    March 23, 2012

    We are the most greedy, most intelligent and powerful, most innovative and in so many ways most evil species. We are merely looking for ways to continue the existence of our species regardless of the extermination of other species. How arrogant. Sure, animals eat other animals, but they don’t kill them to the point of extinction to benefit a few people today.

    I’m detecting some self-hate here. We are an evil species? Nice. And animals do cause extinctions of other animals all the time. Just look at the effect of invasive species like cats, or rabbits in Australia, or mice, or rats, or starlings. They have hunted other species to extinction, and pushed other less-competitive species to the brink of extinction. They’re just unaware of it, doing what they do.

    If humans want to experiment with life, then volunteer to be a subject, rather than taking advantage of an unsuspecting animal

    And here it is. The profound ignorance of the animal rightsist. How, exactly, would we study gene function in a human? Are you suggesting we make transgenic humans? Use humans to generate antibodies? Make gene knockouts in our kids? Please explain how we could study the role of a given gene, say, myocardin, using only human volunteers, with no cell culture (uses animal serum), no antibodies (generated from animals), no model organisms, etc. Explain to me how we can do even basic biology without relying on animal products. Let’s see, we can wait until they’re dead and harvest tissue from their hearts, and do PCR. That’s about it. What would that tell us? Maybe we could tie myocardin expression to different tissue pathologies (this has actually already been done). What do we do with that information? How does myocardin relate to congestive heart failure in enlarged hearts? Is it inhibitory? Is it just a marker for CHF? Is it causative? Is it a potential drug target? How can we identify and test inhibitors of this gene using only humans? How can we determine the gene’s function without cells, antibodies, and genetic manipulation?

    The fundamental ignorance of biology in the movement is staggering. Either that, or they are comfortable with a complete arrest in the accumulation of biological knowledge or wildly unethical experimentation in humans.

    So how about it? Should we just stop all biology now? Or do you have some genius idea about how to study biological science without animal products I don’t know about?

  15. #15 Speciesism The Movie
    March 23, 2012

    Hey Mark,

    This is Mark Devries, the director of Speciesism: The Movie.

    I think you’ll be happy to discover that the movie is very, very different from what you are anticipating here.

    The topic got me attention when I saw an growing number of intellectuals, including some of those I most admire (e.g., Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins) calling into question the assumption (which I had always maintained, without really reflecting on it) that species membership is itself an adequate basis for deciding whose interests ought to be included in our ethical deliberations. I decided to find out if they were onto something. So, the whole discussion of speciesism is exactly the *opposite* of the “unexamined ethics and thoughtless smug moral superiority” that you very rightly oppose. It is about *questioning* our unexamined ethics, and trying to follow the strongest arguments where they lead.

    Also, as a note, opposition to speciesism does not have to require the conclusion that all life is of exactly equal value. “Value of life” questions are a major are of philosophical discussion, and the conclusions discussed are much more nuanced. Similarly, opposition to speciesism does not necessarily require an opposition to all use of animals, e.g., for research. Some anti-speciesists argue for that conclusion, e.g., Gary Francione at Rutgers, and some argue against it, e.g., Peter Singer at Princeton.

    If you get a chance to see the film, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised. You can get an alert when the movie is available by submitting your email address on our website:

    http://SpeciesismTheMovie.com

    Thanks for your continued work defending science and reason,

    Mark

  16. #16 Mike
    March 23, 2012

    @Lee Carter, The main problem with all animal use discussions is the inability of many to differentiate between animal rights and animal welfare. You have listed a number of human rights based problems while ignoring the largest leap forward for the betterment of other animal species, that being the development and implementation of animal welfare just over 100 years ago.

    In regards to any ideology, its validity and longevity hinges on the foundation on which it is built. At its core, animal rights teaches that the human species should separate itself from all other animal species. In my opinion, such an idea is bordering on retarded when you consider ecosystem dynamics and realize no matter what we do, short of killing off the human species, to separate ourselves from other species we will always impact species by merely existing. Of course this is ignoring the underhanded, manipulative and hypocritical nature of animal rights organizations. They state, all animals are equal but then say domestic animals are abominations of human design. PETAs senior vice president, Mary Beth Sweetland uses animal based insulin. PETA, on an annual basis, has killed roughly 70% of the animals they have taken in. The list goes on and on and on. That is animal rights, a half baked ideology formed in the 1960′s which has perpetuated due to misinformation, misrepresentation and ignorance.

    If people want to help animals then they need to get involved with animal welfare, the basis for all laws and regulations we have regarding animal use, an ideology based not in the land of fairy but rather the real world.

  17. #17 Speciesism The Movie
    March 23, 2012

    PS: Excuse the typo, meant to write “The topic got my attention when I saw a growing number of intellectuals…” Too much multitasking here.

  18. #18 MarkH
    March 23, 2012

    Mark Devries, I hope the post doesn’t come off as prejudging the film, which of course I have not seen. For all I know you defend animal research in the film.

    I am mostly objecting the Friedich’s use of language such as “vivisector” to describe biologists, and his comparison of speciesism to racism. I’m also drawing on his history as a writer advocating animal liberation.

    But in particular that word “vivisector” gets my hackles raised. It exposes their contempt for science and biological research and reminds me of every other denialist group with their snotty little terms for scientists like “warmists” or “darwinists”. It’s code, it tells his audience we’re not interested in knowledge or alleviating human suffering and disease but just cruel evil scientists. And it pisses me off.

  19. #19 harold
    March 23, 2012

    @Lee Carter –

    I am non-religious but was raised in non-traumatizing but quite austere church, whose values I respect.

    Some atheists accuse me of committing a “No True Scotsman” fallacy when I specifically single out certain Christians for their hypocrisy, false witness, and arrogant presumptions – all things which are strongly condemned by most traditional Christian theology.

    However, I am not committing that fallacy. I am not denying that you are a self-identified Christian. I am merely noting that relative to most other people, including but not limited to many other Christians, you are repugnantly hypocritical, deeply dishonest, and arrogantly presumptive.

    If you are an evolutionist, the question is a mere question of survival and morals really don’t have anything to do with the matter

    Some people, mainly British, do self-describe as “evolutionists”, but even they mean it in the sense of “chemist” or “physicist” – that they are students of a scientific discipline.

    Life on earth shares common ancestry and evolves. The earth revolves around the sun.

    None of this has anything to do with ethics. The theory of evolution explains how life evolves. It does not tell us what we “should” do, any more than quantum mechanics tells us what we “should” do.

    My ethical system obliges me to at least try not to be a bigoted liar. Therefore I judge my ethical system to be superior to yours, and ironically, as I am not religious, I judge it to be more consistent with the teachings of the Biblical character Jesus than yours is.

    unless you have a personal preference for moral equality. If you are a Christian (see http://christianpoliticalscience.blogspot.com/2012/03/devolution-part-of-gods-design.html) the question becomes more of a matter of moral standard.

    What about the millions or billions of people who are either Christians who accept the theory of biological evolution, or non-Christians who don’t know about biological evolution, you imbecile?

    What is the Godly thing to do? Becomes the question. So long as you are managing what God has given you, you have done good. The animal’s rights issue is simple to determine the answer to. Simply find a way to manage the animals without waste and you will have succeeded.

    So you believe that you get to tell everyone else what the “Godly” way to treat animals is?

    What about the millions of equally religious people who think that you are wrong?

    Who died and made you prophet?

  20. #20 Kagehi
    March 23, 2012

    Kagehi, I listed huffpo as denialist in 2007. What was referring to we’re the assurances by the science editor when that section was created that it would be less full of crap.

    Ah, right, sorry I came on so strong in the comment. It is a bit like expecting Fox to actually have a “fair and balanced” talk show on their network, or betting in the horse race that the one which died the day before will somehow win the race. Actually, even better, expecting the Science network on TV to have something other than gibberish, despite being owned by Discovery. Its only plausible that this would happen if, ***at the same time*** we switched into a parallel universe, where the “audience” for the content of these things where not clueless, ignorant, and/or completely stupid. ;)

  21. #21 Kagehi
    March 23, 2012

    So how about it? Should we just stop all biology now? Or do you have some genius idea about how to study biological science without animal products I don’t know about?

    I can guess. It usually involves, “tissue cultures, instead of whole animals, because I haven’t the slightest clue why this doesn’t work”, or, “computers, because they are like, magic or something, and can just magically figure out all the data, and like, magically generate results, without all that unnecessary stuff, like collecting *data* first, so you have something to base a simulation from.” Because, it was “folding at home” that made a recent major medical discovery, not normal people, who thought that one of the solutions that “computers” had rejected as unlikely to be a correct solution, was probably right.

    But, heh, I am sure the computer would have eventually backtracked through millions of failed results, until it got back to the branch that the correct solution came from. Would have only taken 50-60 years to get there… The people effected would have had no problem waiting, right? Its magic, after all, and so we don’t need all those animals.

    Heck, why not just ask the space aliens real nice, and they could give the information to us. Some of the same people believe that stuff too, so it seems just as logical a solution as anything else they can ever come up with.

  22. #22 KQuark
    March 24, 2012

    AOLHP is a fraud in every way so I’m not surprised by this move at all.

    The greater point is like many issues on the left there is a great chasm between progressive ideology and the practicality of real life in a complex society. On issues like animal rights, energy and national security the ideological left is always naive and devoid of a greater understanding of the world and how things work.

  23. #23 harold
    March 24, 2012

    The greater point is like many issues on the left there is a great chasm between progressive ideology and the practicality of real life in a complex society. On issues like animal rights, energy and national security the ideological left is always naive and devoid of a greater understanding of the world and how things work.

    1) “Progressive ideology” is something of an oxymoron.

    2) The “ideological left” is not the same thing as “progressive”; communists who favor authoritarian government and a command economy are members of the “ideological left” but are not “progressives”. The word “progressive” has changed somewhat in political meaning since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, it didn’t mean authoritarian communist then and it doesn’t now. Also, as far as I know, communists have not historically favored animal rights.

    3) The ideological right in the US today is extremely stupid, reality-denying, and harmful on all of the issues you allude to. They do not strictly oppose animal research, but do tend to support reduced funding for all biomedical research, and pander to evolution denial. On energy they tend to literally deny that fossil fuel resources can be depleted, literally deny that any alternate energy technologies can be developed, and literally deny the downstream costs of fossil fuel use. On national security, they overstretch the military with useless wars of choice, harming national security and harming the economy at the same time.

    4) As a progressive who very strongly supports appropriate animal models in research, I would like to point out that you rely on straw man stereotypes and propaganda slogans to deny the fact that your own ideology is stupid and harmful.

    5) There is nothing hard-headed or realistic about the Fox News/Tea Party/Right wing radio ideology. You can take your Henry Kissinger fantasy and shove it. The contemporary right wing ideology is grounded in reality denial.

  24. #24 Kagehi
    March 24, 2012

    I tend to agree with you harold. KQuark is trying to lump progressives in with the “left”. While its often, correctly, stated that reality has a liberal bias, this is only due to the right having gone so far off the deep end that almost *anything* is closer to reality.

    However, the “ideological ‘left’” isn’t reality based either. It just denies the other half of reality. The right sees things in terms of either politics, economics, or god, and assumes either that god won’t let something happen, or that the right politics/economics will magically solve every problem. This is denial of reality, in that politics is just opinion, and not even opinion which is necessarily based on facts, or truth, or reality, but rather opinions about the opinions of which opinions of those things are true. The economic part is econo-libertarianism, which is the flip side of the communist view. One presumes that if you give everyone power, any imbalances that exist will even out, because somehow the people with power will “work together” to make sure everyone is lifted up equally, well.. except for all the lazy people. How do you know they are lazy? Simple – they don’t have any power.

    The flip side, of course, is that you can just promise everyone equal everything, somehow, and… uh, not real clear on where you go from there… Maybe the universe is supposed to magically rearrange itself so TVs deliver themselves, food grows out of the walls of your house, or, something..? But, it definitely doesn’t involve granting anyone else power, or riches, or rewards, for actually getting shit from point A to point B.

    Its still slightly less delusional than the idea that someone with billions is going to one day wake up, realize that the people on the bottom are not lazy, and, I don’t know, actually make sure they have educations, or loan them money to start businesses, or something, instead of just calling them “lazy”. In fact, equality of opportunity requires something you can’t get to from where we are, without people actually doing something that *removes* the inequalities. There are some limited things that help, like the RepRap/Fab@Home, and the like things, where you still have to buy some parts, and still need to pay an electric company, and someone else still makes the plastic you use to produce stuff, but you might, at some point, with some of these projects, be able to print everything, including the circuit boards, yourself, with a limited starting investment. It still won’t do jack for the guy with no money, except that if you can make one of these for $300, and then sit it in a vendor some place, you might be able to have someone say, “I want a new cup, I broke mine.”, and have them “buy” the thing out of one for 50 cents, a few minutes after they decide what sort of cup they wanted. It also won’t do jack for someone if they don’t know the resource exists, don’t know how to use it, don’t have enough of an education to even think up a way *to* do so, which will help them, and so on.

    This is what “progress” means. Its not instant equalizing of everything, or the idiocy that making 1 person filthy rich will “trickle down” to millions of other people, who probably have a completely different idea of what they want, than what that one idiot has the resources, and willingness, to actually produce for them. Its, “equalizing things over time”, using the best methods we know, and with enough adaptability to adjust, or even throw out, something, if it isn’t working. And the single biggest problem in the path of doing that is the fact that even proponents of such methods can get hung up on what, “should work”, instead what does, and wander off into the twilight zone, instead of dealing in real, solid, testable, facts, about what does and doesn’t work. Truth is paramount to progress, and **vast** numbers of people on both the right, and the left, deal with what they “imagine” works, or “feels good”, or “they have been taught to believe is true”, etc. Reality has jack to do with what they want, or think is needed, or hope to accomplish, or try to do to solve problems. And, how was it someone put it a while back… this was in reference to how the left deals with religion, but it works for damn near anything else where you go for the warm and fuzzy shit, and ignore the practical problems, (paraphrased) “They want to get rid of the organizations, the groups, etc., while keeping the metaphysical, ‘spiritual’ parts. This is the equivalent of throwing out the baby, keeping the bathwater, then telling everyone, ‘look what great bathwater I have!’”.

    This is hardly any more useful that the right’s method, which is to starve the baby, while talking about how properly its been clothed, if the water they bathed it in was the right sort, if the right words where used to praise it, etc. It all has to be “proper”, and no expense should be spared, even while the dessicated corpse gives out its last sigh, because the institution it represents has become useless, or even dangerous to the public good.

    Sometimes you need to ask the question, “Is it even a baby, and if not, maybe we should be trying for something else?”

    I am not the only one that has asked, over and over, “Where is the ‘reality’ party, and when are we going to stop doing everything from politics, to economics, to education, based on some crazy mix of shit we tried before, which didn’t work, and shit we shouldn’t have tried in the first place, because it was based on a complete disconnect from everything we know about how things frakking work?” If you don’t know, there is an excuse for it. If you do know, doing what all the facts say isn’t going to work anyway is stupidity. Denying those facts… borders on insanity.

  25. #25 Joseph Kuhn
    March 24, 2012

    Of course it is essential to avoid needless pain for animals and of course there is to much needless pain for animals in food production or elsewhere. Nobody denies this. But some animal rights activists seem to make a mental transfer like some anti-abortion activists: in their eyes human society is evil, therefore they need a representation of an ideal world. Innocent animals (like the unborn) are suitable for this and defending such an idealization justifies all means. Ironically just this is abuse of animals, too – an abuse for psychological needs.

    By the way: Mark, your e-mail account is crowded, I failed to send you a paper.

  26. #26 CherryBombSim
    March 24, 2012

    The anti-vivisectionist crowd, in particular, seems to attract some people with serious psychological issues. If you read any of their websites and reader comments, it’s pretty clear that some of them are obsessed with the idea of animal torture, and are projecting their own motivations onto those of researchers.

  27. #27 Mark L
    March 24, 2012

    Yep. Tough call what to do with those ‘part-timers’ like police dogs too. Sometimes we hold them above the criminals they are chasing, other times they are wholly expendable. Same dogs too. Heck, wolves are technically the same species, and look how we treat THEM.

  28. #28 harold
    March 25, 2012

    Kagehi –

    I’m sure we are basically in agreement on many things, but there is one issue I would like to raise.

    Precisely, defined in a way that allows me to use the definition myself and get the same results as you, what do you mean by “the ideological left”?

    We both certainly agree that there are many people who would call themselves “leftists” (however accurately), “radicals”, or “anarchists”, with whom we would disagree on some issues.

    Still, my problem here is that while I find your comments about the ideological right to be completely accurate (I could easily demonstrate that you are correct with quotes and citations if you were challenged), you seem to be working from a poorly defined, overgeneralized concept with regard to the “ideological left” (for full disclosure, I’m a pro-democracy, pro-human rights, pro-free market progressive who favors strong social programs including universal health care access, a progressive tax structure, and regulations for the common good, with abundant opportunity for even the most talented and ambitious individuals to achieve their potential).

    I don’t like over-simplified “right versus left” models. I do use the term “right wing”. The reason I use it is out of civility. The combination of authoritarianism, bigotry, self-destructive militarism, regressive crony economics, callous scorn for the less fortunate, anti-intellectualism, and denial of reality where reality conflicts with ideology, has been a common one in many places, and “right wing” is the most polite accurate term for that, so that’s what I call it.

    On the other hand –

    Its not instant equalizing of everything

    As far as I can tell, the “ideological left” being argued against here seems to be some variants of Anarchism. Even the Soviet Union didn’t have an ideology of “equalizing everything”; officially, academically, athletically, and artistically talented people were rewarded with more prestige and resources (and unofficially, cronyism was rampant).

    So let’s define what we mean by “ideological left”, support that definition with evidence, and be clear not to mis-apply the term to those who don’t fit the definition, if we are to use the term at all.

  29. #29 harold
    March 25, 2012

    The anti-vivisectionist crowd, in particular, seems to attract some people with serious psychological issues. If you read any of their websites and reader comments, it’s pretty clear that some of them are obsessed with the idea of animal torture, and are projecting their own motivations onto those of researchers.

    Absolutely.

    Another subset of “animal rights” people are just looking for a chance to justify expressing unjustified anger at targets that won’t fight back. Hence targeting of researchers rather than fur trappers, elephant poachers, or slaughterhouses, and tactics like “freeing” lab animals that will clearly die without support (proving that actual concern for the animals is not a serious factor).

    Some of the resentment against researchers may be related to academic frustrations of college students; researchers symbolize academic success in challenging fields.

  30. #30 ThatSkepticGuy
    March 25, 2012

    What “slip”? The Huffington Rag has always been a haven for the most ludicrous of anti-science quackery, particularly with regards to food and medicine. I remember the very day that Andrew Wakefield was revealed to have made a fortune off of his sick antivax bullshit, they ran a featured article wherein they gave that dingbat Jenny Mccarthy an open soapbox to denounce it all as propaganda being pushed by the “real” profiteers.

    Oh, and there’s NOTHING new about their embracement of PETA. They have been shills for PETA and PETA’s anti-science front the PCRM for as long as they’ve been in existence.

    This on top of anti-GMO hysteria, meat/dairy causes cancer/diabetes propaganda, flirtation with conspiracy theories and a hard-on for any and forms of quack cure-alls, from homeopathy to chiropracty.
    And anybody who would hire Deepak Chopra to so much as mop the floors should immediately be made to surrender any claims or credentials to the scientific over to James Randi or the angry nonexistent ghost of Carl Sagan.

    As long as scientific research and consensus remain contradictory to socio-political dogma that Arianna Huffington and her staff NEED to be true, HuffPo will remain anti/pseudo scientific, sorry to say the actions of bright folks like DJ Grothe are little more than uphill iceskating.

  31. #31 Hank Campbell
    March 27, 2012

    Nicely done. I am not sure why anti-science hippies deny the obvious benefits of animal research but I know why HuffPo trades in crackpottery – a large chunk of their audience thinks the same way.

  32. #32 john werneken
    March 27, 2012

    The HuffPo burns with an apostate’s fire and has never had any value beyond that one. Glad to see some readers of it noticing that when it comes to science, facts and reality take a back seat to Causes. The same of course is true for the sociological and political content as well: inaccurate, contradicted at every hand by reality, wishful thinking to support a discredited cause. Ariana wants us all to join her in the universal victimhood of the woman scorned.

    Apparently many cannot, as they take some facts and realities when they think about biology or medicine or having enough food to eat. Perhaps they feel more competent at, engaged in, or dependent upon proper functioning in those realms than in the spheres the public policy and of the economy. But HuffPo’s sociology politics and economics are just as erroneous and outright wrongheaded.
    If humans are the locally superior species then the Earth must hang in a really really bad neighborhood, lol

  33. #33 Richard Shumberger
    March 27, 2012

    Let me see if I can follow your reasoning. Humans need to live. Living necessarily entails the killing of some animals. Therefor, any attempt to reduce the killing of animals is wrong. So it follows that — We need to drive cars. Driving necessarily involves a risk of hitting small children. Therefor, any attempt to avoid hitting small children is wrong. Glad you made this clear to me, you are so much smarter than those of us who try to live with empathy and compassion.

  34. #34 MarkH
    March 27, 2012

    I see the ARs can only respond with straw men. Nice try.

    I have repeatedly said that animal welfare makes sense, decreasing suffering etc. But it’s not possible to live without prioritizing our existence over that of other species and that’s ok. Saying that “speciesism” is like racism ignores the fact that our survival is dependent on some level of speciesism.

    I never said that “any attempt to reduce the killing of animals is wrong”. That’s a classic strawman. What I said is that equating speciesism with racism is evidence of unexamined ethics and ignorance of how the food supply works. Even the vegetarians are actively engaging in speciesism. Worse, calling scientist vivisectors, is just AR speak to demonize their opponents. They will never address the fact that our continuing understanding of biology requires the use of animals. Instead they deny it, or ignore it, or suggest we’re just engaging in animal torture for pointless curiosity.

    Why don’t you for once address a single one of my questions? Explain to me how you can farm efficiently, to feed the world, without harming any species. Explain to me how you can study basic research questions without using animals?

    If you’re ok with the majority of humans on earth starving to death and an end to biological science, then fine. At least your ideologically consistent. The lie is that it’s possible to have species equality, and animal liberation, while preserving even a fraction of the current human population or without bringing biological science and medical research to a halt.

  35. #35 Andrew B
    March 27, 2012

    Like many issues, I find the extremes to be unhelpful. Yes, we evolved, and this is often a brutal process. And, yes, we should be unapologetic about surviving. Such is the way of the world.

    But to say that any animal, anywhere, can be killed solely in the name of science, is in fact “speciesist.” This, to me, is also an extremist position. I myself am I biological scientist. So your points are well taken about animal research being foundational to our profession. But we as biological scientists also know that things like pain and emotion are not uniquely human. Other species have varying degrees of empathy, loneliness, pain, suffering, depression, etc. Some of this may be anthropomorphizing, but clearly other species have the brain structures that support these functions. Thus, I don’t think that logic along the lines of, “it’s a a dog eat dog world, so I am justified in wantonly killing in the name of science as I see fit,” is ethical.

    I don’t claim that you are advocating this point. But I certainly know other scientists who do. I find it disturbing. It should be not a question of, should we carry forward with science vs. should we live in a non-existent cruelty free utopia? It should be — how can we as scientists find the appropriate line for the ethical treatment of animals in our work? If we need to sacrifice them, how can we do so painlessly. If it is a more evolved animal, such as a non-human primate, there needs to be clear rational as to how injecting/probing/cutting open/lesioning this animal’s brain will substantially advance science. As I am certain you are aware, better animal ethics protocols are aiding the research community in these decisions.

    My main point is simply that I don’t feel an all-or-none argument on this issue is productive. We as scientists should engage the community on their legitimate concerns regarding animal rights. We should reassure them of our commitment to thinking carefully of the ethical ramifications of animal research, while advancing the cause of science and human health.

  36. #36 lance sjogren
    March 27, 2012

    Methinks harold is prejudiced in shoehorning “the right” into a monolithic stereotype, while insisting that one should be fair in recognizing the presence of ideological diversity within “the left”.

    Social conservatives, Neoconservatives, Libertarians, fiscal conservatives, paleoconservatives, metroconservatives, hold fundamental views that vary drastically. In fact, I sincerely doubt that you could find a SINGLE area of public policy in which there would be a consensus among all of those factions of “the right”.

  37. #37 Nathan McKnight
    March 27, 2012

    I eat meat, I wear leather, and I value human life over the lives of other animals. However, I know the difference between my opinion and scientific fact. There is nothing “anti-science” about being particularly enamored of animals–or plants or rocks for that matter. Confusing personal opinions with scientific evidence, and labeling somebody as antiscientific just because they disagree with your *opinion* is anti-science. You want to be pro-science? Stick to the facts, sirs.

  38. #38 harold
    March 27, 2012

    Methinks harold is prejudiced in shoehorning “the right” into a monolithic stereotype, while insisting that one should be fair in recognizing the presence of ideological diversity within “the left”.

    “Methinks” you have misrepresented what I actually said.

    In fact I requested that those who blabbered in a meaningless way about the “ideological left” FIRST define the term, so that it is clear who they are talking about, and second, explain how either opposition to animal research, or science denial in general, is universal among and specific to the people whom they include in this group. Please take a crack at it yourself if you wish.

    Social conservatives, Neoconservatives, Libertarians, fiscal conservatives, paleoconservatives, metroconservatives, hold fundamental views that vary drastically. In fact, I sincerely doubt that you could find a SINGLE area of public policy in which there would be a consensus among all of those factions of “the right”.

    Although I can easily name areas of public policy on which they all seem to agree (social programs for the needy, for example), this is not even remotely relevant, and is not logically connected to any of my comments. I never stated that all right wingers have the same views on all issues. To say that I did is to misrepresent my remarks and construct a flimsy straw man.

    My comments were restricted to how right wing ideologues deal with the issues, originally raised by someone else, of biomedical research, energy policy, and national security.

    I do use the term “right wing”, out of politeness, to describe to the ideology that is shared (or at least claimed) by Fox News, all Republican presidential primary candidates, the Republican party in genral, the “tea” party, and right wing radio hosts. I most certainly do NOT claim that this well understood “conservative movement” ideology is the ONLY right wing ideology, nor do I think that “right wing” is the only term that could be used to describe it, I just think that “right wing” is the most polite accurate term.

    A vast majority of US residents are aware of this ideology and can say how its adherents stand on almost any issue.

    The other right wing ideologies in this country are much rarer, and tend to give support to the Republican party anyway.

    “Libertarians” or “fiscal conservatives” who voted for Bush/Cheney and Republican congressional representatives thus actively supported the Bush/Cheney policies on biomedical science, energy policy, and national security/social policy. Actions speak quite a bit louder than pretentious verbal posturing.

  39. #39 harold
    March 27, 2012

    There is nothing “anti-science” about being particularly enamored of animals–or plants or rocks for that matter. Confusing personal opinions with scientific evidence, and labeling somebody as antiscientific just because they disagree with your *opinion* is anti-science.

    Indeed.

    Fortunately, no-one came close to doing any such thing.

    We can’t have fully developed biomedical science without some animal research; we can make animal research as humane as possible but it is needed for fully developed biomedical research. That’s a fact, not an opinion. If you think that we therefore shouldn’t have fully developed biomedical research for ethical reasons, now, that’s a perfectly valid subjective opinion. I have a different subjective opinion.

    Which raises the question – why did you bother to post a comment criticizing a position which no-one advocated in the first place?

    Were you trying to create an easily demolished pseudo-argument and infer that it was advocated by those who actually advocate arguments you find harder to address? I believe there’s a word for that.

  40. #40 Dave Thomas
    March 27, 2012

    Don’t apologize Mark H. I value human life over other animals as well.

  41. #41 Mijnheer
    March 28, 2012

    “Human life is more valuable to us because we’re human and that’s OK. It’s not wrong to be self-interested or interested in our survival over that of other species.”
    That seems to be the core of your argument, but it’s not a very sophisticated one. As it stands, it has the same structure as an argument made by a racist or sexist. A lot more needs to be added here to make an argument from self-interest anything more than blatant prejudice. Now, the benefits of biomedical research are something few of us would want to forgo. But how to justify it? Personally, I suggest using mentally-handicapped human orphans for such research. They would make better models than non-humans. And it’s hard to think of disinterested ethical grounds for objecting, unless there are non-prejudicial morally relevant differences between such handicapped humans and non-humans of equal or superior mental capacities.

  42. #42 MarkH
    March 28, 2012

    “Human life is more valuable to us because we’re human and that’s OK. It’s not wrong to be self-interested or interested in our survival over that of other species.”
    That seems to be the core of your argument, but it’s not a very sophisticated one. As it stands, it has the same structure as an argument made by a racist or sexist. A lot more needs to be added here to make an argument from self-interest anything more than blatant prejudice. Now, the benefits of biomedical research are something few of us would want to forgo. But how to justify it? Personally, I suggest using mentally-handicapped human orphans for such research. They would make better models than non-humans. And it’s hard to think of disinterested ethical grounds for objecting, unless there are non-prejudicial morally relevant differences between such handicapped humans and non-humans of equal or superior mental capacities.

    Is this a poe? Without the smiley I can’t tell if you’re for real.

    Anyway, taking the first sentence seriously, self-interest is not the core of my argument. The core of my argument is that it is impossible for humans to survive without having a negative impact on animals. To survive, we need to be speciesist, because at a minimum, our use of resources, building of habitat, and use of agriculture will prioritize our survival over the animals we kill, displace, and starve as we feed ourselves. I’m pointing out that it’s impossible to live without impact, and the moral superiority of the ARs is based on a poor examination of their food supply, and how they shelter and support themselves. We are all speciesist, it’s just some of us realize it, and others seem unable to understand that eating vegetables doesn’t clear you of responsibility. I’m making an existential argument for speciesism, and it is only self-interested in that we all want to continue to survive.

    The exact line when putting ourselves above other animals becomes unethical is more challenging to define. Certainly causing extinctions, cruelty, waste, these are generally unethical unless there is a distinct benefit to humans that outweighs this risk. Like when we made the screw worm extinct. I think that was perfectly ethical, the little parasite was a nightmare. But here we were causing the purposeful extinction of an entire species of animal, successfully, in North America, out of human self interest. I would suggest, given the horrific nature of the bug, we should do it again if the need arose.

    Now, about your bizarre experimentation on the mentally handicapped argument, if serious you should consider finding help. Aside from the standard complete ignorance of biological research, the fact that humans aren’t scientifically useful for the majority of basic biological science (our use of animals isn’t just for testing or cells, it’s everything from having inbred strains, to the convenience of their shorter lifespan to our ability to control their genetics), it’s also pretty sick. The mentally disabled deserve the same rights as anyone else, and that is some seriously disturbing reasoning.

    I hope I’m being poe’d.

  43. #43 MarkH
    March 28, 2012

    There is nothing “anti-science” about being particularly enamored of animals–or plants or rocks for that matter. Confusing personal opinions with scientific evidence, and labeling somebody as antiscientific just because they disagree with your *opinion* is anti-science. You want to be pro-science? Stick to the facts, sirs.

    Hey, read for comprehension. This article is anti-science because the author is an animal liberationist, who rejects biological research, who conflated speciesism with racism, and who referred to biologists as vivisectors. Those are the anti-science components. If Huffpo wants to run a science blog, they have no business giving space to Friedrich, or Mike Adams, or Casey Luskin, Steve Milloy, or any of the other anti-science cranks out there. These people have their venues to spew their crankery, but one can’t pretend to be running a “science blog” and then let these cranks show up and starting denigrating biologists, medicine, climate science or whatever.

  44. #44 Mijnheer
    March 28, 2012

    I’m not really in favour of experimenting on mentally handicapped humans. I was trying to make the point that it’s not blatantly obvious why, if some kinds of research on humans are ethically off limits, regardless of the benefits that might result, it is acceptable to treat non-humans (of similar or greater mental capacities) differently.

    Even so, it seems to me that the ethical case against animal experimentation is certainly less strong/clear than that against eating animals. And as for the fact that all food production involves harming animals, here’s a piece worth considering:
    http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc/

  45. #45 Dario Ringach
    March 28, 2012

    @Mark Devries,

    Is this movie really about the concept of speciesism? The trailer seems largely about factory farming rather than anything else. Or do philosophers play a prominent role on this movie? If so, is the opposition represented as well?

  46. #46 harold
    March 28, 2012

    I’m not really in favour of experimenting on mentally handicapped humans. I was trying to make the point that it’s not blatantly obvious why, if some kinds of research on humans are ethically off limits, regardless of the benefits that might result, it is acceptable to treat non-humans (of similar or greater mental capacities) differently.

    To me it is.

    First, you introduce the unjustified command that “mental capacity” be the sole determinant of whether or not an individual organism is used for research. Apparently, you simply take this for granted.

    How do you define and measure “mental capacity”?

    Why should “mental capacity” be the sole determinant?

    This question is actually implied but the above two questions, but, anyway – could you be very specific and explain exactly how you would determine that a “mentally handicapped” (to use your term, that is an anachronistic and stereotyping term that I would not personally use) human has the “mental capacity” of a rat, mouse, fruit fly, or nematode, and why, even if you have perfected a method of achieving that seldom-achieved Holy Grail, a really accurate way to compare “intelligence” or whatever you mean by “mental capacity” across species, this particular “capacity” should be the sole consideration?

  47. #47 Mijnheer
    March 28, 2012

    The idea that mental capacity (particularly in the form of reason and moral agency) should determine moral status — and is what separates humans from animals — is not something I’ve pulled out of thin air: with slight variations, it has been the dominant view since at least the time of Aristotle, through the Middle Ages (Aquinas), into modern times (Hobbes, Locke, etc.), and even today. The problem is that not all humans measure up, and even if we throw in capacities like emotion, self-awareness, the ability to engage in meaningful relationships, many humans score no better than many non-humans. If we turn instead to species membership, we run into more problems: unless one resorts to discredited notions of species essentialism, or divine fiat, it is difficult, if not impossible, to show why simply being biologically human confers special status on a creature. Further, species per se are not rational or moral agents, and the attempt to distribute moral status to atypical members of a group on the basis of qualities possessed by typical members of the group is logically fallacious. Then we get to the contract theory of moral status, which is a version of might-makes-right in which rational contractors who have sufficient power to enforce their agreements arbitrarily decide who gets protected and who doesn’t. This is obviously potentially a double-edged sword that can be wielded against various sorts of humans.

    So, no, it is not blatantly obvious why all humans should be ascribed a higher moral standing than all non-humans. I’m not saying that no plausible case can be made, but things aren’t quite as straightforward as many would like to believe.

  48. #48 R. Dickson
    April 1, 2012

    “Now, about your bizarre experimentation on the mentally handicapped argument, if serious you should consider finding help. Aside from the standard complete ignorance of biological research, the fact that humans aren’t scientifically useful for the majority of basic biological science (our use of animals isn’t just for testing or cells, it’s everything from having inbred strains, to the convenience of their shorter lifespan to our ability to control their genetics), it’s also pretty sick. The mentally disabled deserve the same rights as anyone else, and that is some seriously disturbing reasoning.”

    How is it any different than experimenting on, say, a chimpanzee? It’s a repulsive thought, but I don’t see why an honest discussion can’t be had.