Adventures in Ethics and Science

People with concerns about the use of animals in biomedical research should also be concerned about the actions of the Animal Liberation Front and other “animal rights” groups — at least if they want other people to take their concerns seriously.

It seems that ALF views actions like the attack of the home of UCLA scientist Edythe London last week as somehow advancing its cause. This in itself makes it pretty clear to me that they have set aside reasoned discourse as a tool and gone straight to violence and intimidation.


Here’s how the “Animal Liberation Press Office” describes the incident:

Los Angeles- Primate Vivisector Edythe London was added to the roster of animal abusers at UCLA targeted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) for her role in torturing non-human animals to death in outdated and unnecessary experiments. In an anonymous communique received by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, the ALF claimed to target London for her sadistic procedures addicting non-human primates to methamphetamine; she has also published data on primate addiction to nicotine, and addicting baby lambs to cocaine.

The communique claims London’s Beverly Hills home … had a window broken and was flooded by a garden hose. It reads in part: “One more thing Edythe, water was our second choice, fire was our first. We compromised because we in the ALF don’t risk harming animals human and non human and we don’t risk starting brush fires.It would have been just as easy to burn your house down Edythe. As you slosh around your flooded house consider yourself fortunate this time. We will not stop until UCLA discontinues its primate vivisection programe.”

Press Officer Jerry Vlasak, MD states: “London’s research is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, and soliciting money from industry groups to study their retail products is considered unethical by most physicians interested in research that might help their patients. Of course, not being a clinician, London appears to have no interest in helping people, but instead derives pleasure in killing animals to further her own personal goals of academic and monetary enrichment. Why the people of California allow this abuse to continue at their expense is truly a mystery to me.”

I find it interesting that Jerry Vlasak, MD, a surgeon and “former vivisector”, is so confident in his ability to:

  1. Intuit the motives of research scientists (and in particular, the likelihood that they derive pleasure from animal distress)
  2. Objectively evaluate the worth of a research program, and its likelihood of helping patients
  3. Speak on behalf of the people of California, at least insofar as the allocation of their tax dollars is concerned

Each of these, to some extent, would require engaging in dialogue to find something out — whether about experimental design and how a particular piece of research fits into the body of existing knowledge, or about why a particular scientific question seems pressing and a particular experimental approach to answering it seems promising, or about what precisely the taxpayers of the state of California value and what they’re willing to pay for it.

Breaking a researcher’s window and flooding her house is not an especially good strategy for gathering information or entering into a serious dialogue.

(By the way, on the assumption that Dr. Vlasak is still in practice as a surgeon, I trust he’s taken the care to identify all the surgical techniques and devices developed using research with animals, so that he can assiduously avoid them. And I trust that he makes sure his patients are fully informed that he has done so.)

Indeed, it seems like it would have been possible to get more insight into London’s interests in pursuing the research she does by asking her. Here’s how London describes her research in the Los Angeles Times:

I have devoted my career to understanding how nicotine, methamphetamine and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction. My personal connection to addiction is rooted in the untimely death of my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence. My work on the neurobiology of addiction has spanned three decades of my life — most of this time as a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health. To me, nothing could be more important than solving the mysteries of addiction and learning how we can restore a person’s control over his or her own life. Addiction robs young people of their futures, destroys families and places a tremendous burden on society.

Animal studies allow us to test potential treatments without confounding factors, such as prior drug use and other experiences that complicate human studies. Even more important, they allow us to test possibly life-saving treatments before they are considered safe to test in humans. Our animal studies address the effects of chronic drug use on brain functions, such as decision-making and self-control, that are impaired in human addicts. We are also testing potential treatments, and all of our studies comply with federal laws designed to ensure humane care.

While monkeys receive drugs in the laboratory, they do not become “addicted” in the same sense that humans become addicted. Still, we are able to see how changes in brain chemistry alter the way the brain works — knowledge that is vital to the design of effective medications.

My colleagues and I place a huge value on the welfare of our research subjects. We constantly strive to minimize the risk to them; however, a certain amount of risk is necessary to provide us with the information we need in a rigorously scientific manner. Since the incident at my house, our research has gotten a lot of attention. Some anti-smoking groups have raised questions about the fact that our work was funded by Philip Morris USA. Is it moral to allow the tobacco industry to fund research on addiction? My view is that the problem of tobacco dependence is enormous, and the resources available for research on the problem are limited. It would, therefore, be immoral to decline an opportunity to increase our knowledge about addiction and develop new treatments for quitting smoking, especially when teens are involved. Few people are untouched by the scourge of addiction in their friends or family. It is through work like ours that the understanding of addiction expands and gives rise to hope that we can help people like my father live longer, healthier lives.

To the extent that specific uses of animals in specific research projects may be scientifically and ethically problematic, I think that should be dealt with — but the right way to deal with it is by pointing out the problems and engaging in a dialogue about how to address them.

Destroying someone’s house, or threatening someone’s life (of the lives or his or her family members) is not the same as offering good reasons why he or she should not be conducting a particular line of research. Rather, it’s a move that indicates that you don’t believe that the reasons you have to offer in support of your aim are persuasive.

Thuggish displays of force are not terribly persuasive, either.

MarkH has more.

Comments

  1. #1 MarkH
    November 2, 2007

    Forgive me for being a little skeptical about this notion of dialogue Janet. When it comes to animal rights, I simply don’t think there is one to be had, and it’s largely based on actually having discussions with ARAs. They are completely deluded. They don’t understand how science works, they don’t understand how life evolved on this planet, and their thinking is so rigidly moralistic and black and white it’s like having a dialogue with someone who thinks it’s ok to shoot abortion doctors.

    I think there is room for dialogue with people who are interested in animal welfare, but not animal rights. I simply don’t see what the utility would be of discussing things with people like Vlasak. I consider them denialists, who are fundamentally dishonest in debate, and completely incapable of arguing from the facts. They are not worthy of our dialogue, until they change not just their violent tactics, but their rhetorical ones as well.

  2. #2 Janet D. Stemwedel
    November 2, 2007

    Mark, I agree that setting aside violent tactics and “using your words” is not a sufficient condition to enter into a meaningful dialogue. But it is surely a necessary condition for doing so.

    And, I’m hopeful that the public sees the advantages of being engaged on the basis of honest arguments and accurate information rather than threats of violence.

  3. #3 MarkH
    November 2, 2007

    I failed to communicate my point clearly I think.

    There is no value in dialogue because these people have nothing valuable to add to a discussion. The assumption is they’ve escalated to violence because no one will listen to them, true. But they also don’t deserve to be listened to, they’re not honest, they misrepresent science, they have a deluded, Jainist worldview. What can possibly be accomplished by dialogue?

    I see this as arguing with cranks. A futile exercise. You give ARAs too much credit. What we need to do instead is reveal the fraudulent basis of their arguments, marginalize them as a movement, and inform the public about why biomed science needs animals for progress.

  4. #4 Janet D. Stemwedel
    November 2, 2007

    If I’ve made it look like I’m giving any credit to ALF or groups of that ilk, it is I who have failed to communicate clearly.

    I wrote:

    People with concerns about the use of animals in biomedical research should also be concerned about the actions of the Animal Liberation Front and other “animal rights” groups — at least if they want other people to take their concerns seriously.

    I think, generally, people with concerns about the use of animals in biomedical research are just as capable of entering into productive dialogue as people who haven’t given scientific research much thought (and indeed, there are at least some possible ways one could use animals in research that would raise concerns with most scientists). Thinking it might be worth considering where the line is drawn between acceptable and unacceptable uses of animals doesn’t make one a crank, nor does it put one beyond the reach of reasoned arguments.

    Engaging ALF is a waste of time. Engaging the public is not. Scientists ought to take note of this especially in light of the boneheaded ways that organizations like ALF choose to “engage” the public.

  5. #5 MarkH
    November 2, 2007

    That sounds right. I dig it.

  6. #6 Andy
    November 2, 2007

    Hear hear Janet. The point is to get across to the public why animal research is done, what the benefits are, and how it is regulated, in contrast to the propaganda from the ALF, PETA and co.

    These problems have been much worse in the UK, and I think that was at least in part because the scientists went into a defensive crouch and let the ALF supporters have the run of the field. Dr London is to be congratulated for speaking out.

    The other necessary aspects of this are a vigorous response from both university administrations in support of their researchers, and from law enforcement. Fortunately people seem to have woken up to this earlier than they did in the UK.

  7. #7 travc
    November 2, 2007

    I recently had to go through some of the paperwork/review involved with using animals (mammals at least) in research at UCLA. There is a whole bureaucracy to review and monitor such work… hell, the campus vet and other contact numbers are even posted around in various buildings with reminders to report anything that even appears potentially unethical.

    Before any project using mammals gets approved, the proposal has to include an examination of possible alternatives (and why they won’t work) as well as addressing how to minimize the number of animals used and minimize any badness done to them. I just pisses me off that even the non-violent “animal rights” types don’t seem to realize that we have already thought long and hard about these things. And it is those ignorant/delusional people who provide a power base and justification for the violent loonies (much like certain dynamics around religion.)

  8. #8 Clinton
    November 2, 2007

    “I just pisses me off that even the non-violent “animal rights” types don’t seem to realize that we have already thought long and hard about these things. And it is those ignorant/delusional people who provide a power base and justification for the violent loonies (much like certain dynamics around religion.)”

    travc, this is why MarkH calls them denialists. They do know how animal research is really conducted / overseen. The information is readily available and anyone who is really into the issue cannot help but run across it. And yet they only use this information to create straw and untrue arguments, not to really understand. thus, denialists. thus, the position similar to MarkH’s that it is not worth discussing it.

    for the more casual believer in the animal extremist meme, yes, scientists need to engage in discussion. to correct the popular perception that scientists are just doing whatever/whenever with whatever species they like.

    it is indeed frustrating to have to make the same points over and over and over again but it is worth the effort.

  9. #9 Neuro-conservative
    November 2, 2007

    Janet — Even after your clarification, it seems that you are disagreeing with ALF’s tactics, but not necessarily their underlying philosophy. In your various posts on this topic, you always seem quite elusive as to your actual beliefs on “animal rights.”

    I would argue that any philosophy of animal rights is intrinsically anti-humanistic and is likely to end badly. The granting of rights to animals always seems to diminish the rights and dignity inherent in the human as the rational animal.

    Now, I am happy to engage in debate with non-violent proponents of such views, because there is room for persuasion. However, I suspect there is little room for negotiation or compromise with people who actually believe that animals have inalienable rights.

  10. #10 Janet D. Stemwedel
    November 2, 2007

    Neuro-conservative, since you ask:

    My hunch (*) is that animals don’t have rights per se, but that we may have rather more obligations to look after their welfare than most people attend to.

    *I call it a hunch because I don’t have a knock-down argument to support this view (at least, not one that wouldn’t make human rights problematic).

    So, I’m not on the same page with the animal rights supporters philosophically, but I feel like I ought to pay attention in case a really persuasive argument in favor of this position should be presented. (Needless to say, this argument wouldn’t be persuasive if it were based on lies about what scientific researchers actually do with animals, or about what could plausibly be accomplished without using animals).

  11. #11 Neuro-conservative
    November 2, 2007

    Thanks for the clarification, Janet. To clarify further, what is the scope of these obligations, and whence do they arise?

  12. #12 Gerry L
    November 2, 2007

    I’m not an “animal rights” person, maybe more of an “animal welfare” supporter. I’m torn between the good that might come from animal testing and my strong affection for chimpanzees in general and individual chimps I’ve been privileged to know. I’ve met too many chimpanzees who’ve been brutalized and traumatized not only by procedures (e.g., repeated liver punches) but also by the way they are housed. (I’m just returning home from volunteering at several great ape sanctuaries, including some that house former research chimps.)

    That said, there is no excuse for vandalizing someone’s home and threatening them and their families for the cause of animals. Such actions won’t do anything to help animal welfare and may actually be counter productive — and definitely polarizing.

  13. #13 Paul
    November 3, 2007

    Andy “These problems have been much worse in the UK, and I think that was at least in part because the scientists went into a defensive crouch and let the ALF supporters have the run of the field.”

    It’s worth pointing out that the situation has improved a lot in the last couple of years in the UK. This is due in part to determined police action but also to no small extent to movements such as Pro-Test in Oxford which have facilitated demonstrations of popular support for scientists and institutions that are targeted by extremists. Such demonstrations send a powerful message both to the extremists and their targets. Perhaps something similar might be helpful at UCLA.

    One thing I have noticed is that there’s not enough detailed, well referenced information available from organizations that support animal research that shows how important animal research has been and is in medical advances. In some cases the information can found but it’s often oversimplified and scattered. The best site I’ve found so far is the UK based RDS site, though even it doesn’t cover everything. Perhaps a central “Science of animal research” website supported by AMP, FBR etc. would be useful. That way non-specialists could have somewhere obvious to go to look for information debunking AV claims, as it is you tend to have to trawl through many websites and blogs, and often PubMed, to find what you’re looking for.

  14. #14 S. Rivlin
    November 3, 2007

    This topic and many of the arguments that appear here have come up before on this blog and other, but as expected, the discussion, especially on blogs, usually has a short life span, since the blogger expectedly turns to other topics.

    I would like to expand a point regarding the value we assign to different animal species and the “rights” that go with this value. It is an axiom that humans are at the top of the ladder of assigned value, though this sometimes not so abundantly clear from the violent actions of ARAs. Primates and dogs are surely up there on that ladder compared to other mammals. The less an animal is related to humans, either by evolution or domestication, the less we value it. If doctor London had chosen to use Zebra fish in her research she probably would never appear on the ALF’s radar. Sometimes, the value assigned to a specific species depends on the number of individuals of this species being used or killed (either for research or feeding). KFC kills many chickens, thus the higher value that chickens enjoy as compared to quails. Would PETA or ALF members use their scare tactics if snakes where the main research animal species? Do butterflies have more rights than mosquitoes because the former are more beautiful and do not host parasites that could be transferred to humans? The whole idea of animals’ rights, as has been mentioned by others, is rediculous. The humane treatment of animals is a given if we are to consider ourselves humans. If the strict rules for animal use and care, that every researcher who uses animals in his/her research has to abide by, would be followed in some of the care facilities for the elderly and terminally ill around the country, these patients would be much better off than they are today.

  15. #15 Gregory
    November 3, 2007

    I am a proud animal behavior scientist and also a proud animal right activist and vegan. Yet, I must add that the current trend in the style and ideologies surrounding the current animal rights movement are not wholly representative of the idea of animal rights. Animal Rights is simply the extension of fundamental rights and a moral existence to beings who share the common mental criteria that we current allot moral beings. Its neither emotional or irrational ideal but is simply a extension of the shared themes of the enlightenment to the nonhuman realm. With the fall of behaviorism in psychology and ethology, it is now permissible to look upon the mental, cognitive, emotional and neurolo-physiological mechanism of animals as having been formed by natural selection. Thus many of the criteria which we have traditionally held as wholly human is being found with increasing certainty (although in differing degrees) in animals. The science of animal cognition is making it harder and harder to justify the current use of animals in our society as simply a means to an end (even though debate among scientists abound reguarding animal metal experience if you have kept track of the literature you can plainly see which direction the paradigm is moving), and has, and will continue to stimulate debate onto animals place in human society. The science vs animal right dichotomy is neither justified, nor appropriate, but is sustained only by extreme fractions on both sides. There are many animal rights organizations, such as Advocates for Animals, who actively work with scientist to reduce,and replace invasive research on animals with the aim of ending invasive research in the future. So lets stop this silly feud, notice how futile violence and intimidation is, look at some of our shared values (although this may be hard for many in both sides)and work together to end invasive animal research without sacrificing the benefits of the obtaining the necessary knowledge.

  16. #16 A Nonny Mouse
    November 3, 2007

    I don’t see why granting rights to non-human animals is somehow supposed to degrade the dignity and moral status of human animals. I’m not sure rights are the best way to think about animal welfare, but then I’m also not sure rights are the best way to think about human welfare. Either way: I don’t think we are dealing with a zero-sum game here. It’s not clear to me that increasing the moral status of non-human animals decreases the moral status of human animals–why can’t you increase the moral status of one while keeping the other fixed?

    While of course I don’t condone violence of any kind, I do feel that your post does not even try to understand why some people might feel empowered to take such drastic action. If you were convinced that there was an unrecognized level of violence bordering on genocide happening all around you wouldn’t you feel you should do something about it? And furthermore, if you felt that no amount of discussion or dialogue was getting you anywhere, you might start to think you have no alternative but violence. If you want to be utilitarian about it you might try to estimate the amount of suffering caused by your violent action and then compare that to the amount of suffering your action might alleviate in the long run by forcing people to notice your cause. I obviously don’t think this is the right way to go, in part because this kind of violence is pretty unlikely to make anyone sympathetic to your cause, but I’m just trying to understand what might be driving the psychology of these activists. I think they see it as a matter of life and death so they are willing to take drastic steps you and I obviously find repugnant…

  17. #17 Janet D. Stemwedel
    November 3, 2007

    Neuro-conservative, given the hunch-ish status of my commitments here, I’m not at a point where I feel that I could lay out precisely the source or scope of our obligations towards animal. I think we often get a good feel for it looking at the potential trade-offs in particular situations, and by talking these out with other people (so as not to be moved simply by our own gut feelings in making our decisions).

    “Rights” feel to me pretty metaphysically slippery. And I’m inclined to agree with A Nonny Mouse that rights for humans need not necessarily preclude rights for other beings … but the grounding of rights is tricky enough that it’s probably not where I would start. (Other philosophers, especially the political philosophers, may be on firmer footing here.)

    I do think, for those worried about the treatment of animals, the meat industry would be a much better place to start than biomedical research labs. Of course, people who think they can live without new biomedical findings (the broader public I assume ALF is trying to reach with highly publicized attacks) seem not to be able to live without their hamburgers.

    Nonny, I think that at least some of the ALF folks must see themselves as doing harm to achieve a greater good, but what’s striking to me is that they seem to have removed a good number of humans (biomedical researchers, other members of the public) from the moral community that they are insisting should include non-human animals. I’m not sure how they can do that and not have their logical circuitry explode.

  18. #18 S. Rivlin
    November 3, 2007

    Mouse,

    Wrong on all counts. Violent activists do degrade the dignity and moral status of human animals. Just like in any other terrorist organization, none of the “suicide bombers” act on his/her own. S/he follows the leaders’ orders after long training sessions. Frequently, the naive and the unsuspected are the ones that are being chosen to commit “suicide.” Have you noticed that none of the leaders of PETA or ALF ever caught participating in a violent act? It is always the “soldiers” who are sent to die. And last, but not least, there is no chance for a dialogue with a “suicide bomber.”

    As I have mentioned earlier, most mice in a research facility are granted better care and treatment that many elederly and terminally ill patients in care facilities around the country.

  19. #19 coathangrrr
    November 3, 2007

    I’d note a number of things here in regards to animal “rights.” First, I don’t believe in rights in general except in a derivative way, as in Mill talking about why the right to free speech is important, so I can’t say I think animals have rights. What I don’t understand is how we can sit around and say that not only are animals only allowed whatever protections we human animals might feel like giving them, but they are also given zero intrinsic value. They only count insofar as they help us, or we feel close to them. Add to this the fact that they are forced to contribute to society, often in ways we would never think of asking humans to contribute and I think you have a problematic situation.

    It is an axiom that humans are at the top of the ladder of assigned value

    It is a view rooted in the western Christian worldview which has little to no real logical support. Mostly it comes from the fact that the bible says that we get to subdue the earth. Of course, now even atheists take it as axiomatic, because if we are the ones who get to choose what is valuable we must be the most valuable, right?

  20. #20 coathangrrr
    November 3, 2007

    Violent activists do degrade the dignity and moral status of human animals.

    That completely misses the point. If animals were to be granted rights with or without there being the activists who flood people’s homes, then the granting of rights in and of itself need not degrade the dignity and moral status of humans.

    Have you noticed that none of the leaders of PETA or ALF ever caught participating in a violent act? It is always the “soldiers” who are sent to die.

    Complete nonsense. There’s Rod Coronado and Judi Bari, both of whom were leaders and both of whom participated in actions. You really don’t know much about animal rights groups other than the corporate propaganda, do you?

    As for “dialogue,” it is clear that you have no real interest in dialogue, only in accusing pro-animal advocates of being the equivalent of suicide bombers. Way to go.

  21. #21 Neuro-conservative
    November 4, 2007

    Janet — I can appreciate your non-dogmatic, anti-metaphysical approach, and I agree that use of the term “rights” carries heavy baggage that can sometimes hinder effective discourse.

    That said, I must take issue with your statement that “rights for humans need not necessarily preclude rights for other beings.” Bracketing for now any confusions concerning “rights” language, assigning X to animals {where X=rights, obligations, or any other term carrying moral weight} necessarily is meant to constrain human action. I think it is imprecise to call it a zero-sum game, but there is no way to assign moral value to one being without constraining the freedom of another. That is what the “game” is about.

    Perhaps you were making a weaker claim, that simply there is no contradiction between the assignment of some rights (or obligations, or “X”) to animals and some to humans; ie, that there is no reason that rights must be the exclusive province of humans. While this seems like a benign and fairly unobjectionable claim, I would argue that it is not. Ultimately, any basis for assigning rights to animals (whether predicated on their living-ness, sentience, ability to feel pain, or any other attribute) has the tendency to cheapen the moral currency of humans — these are very low common denominators that miss the essential ingredients of our personhood.

  22. #22 Ecpyrosis
    November 4, 2007

    I’m a vegetarian and all in favor of treating animals exactly as they are — beings who can feel pain, fear, etc. Causing these feelings just for our own lesser interest of having a tasty snack because we don’t feel like tofu tonight speaks very poorly of us.

    That being said, curing cancer or treating addiction, or any of a thousand other interests that researchers pursue is not automatically trumped by the suffering of another. We have to be very careful of this of course, it’s quite a slippery slope, but an analysis of the extent to which different species of animals can feel and think is a good place to start. And as has been said here earlier, terrorizing a scientist who believes she is doing the moral thing is cowardly. She doesn’t seem too insane to talk to, so if you have a different point of view, why not talk it out with her?

    THAT being said, “The Animal Liberation Press Office”??? ALPO? As the organization said in the book “White Teeth” (Which deals with, among many other issues, animal rights in the UK in a very accessible way) “We are aware we have an acronym problem”

  23. #23 S. Rivlin
    November 4, 2007

    This has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with evolution. The human position at the top of the ladder is an evolutionary position. As such, it is the human who makes the decisions as to which animal will survive, experimented with or destroyed. This is part of the selection and “survival of the fittest” process. Once it has been recognized that disappearance of animal and plant species could tilt the ecological balance such that it would have an effect on the human animal survival, we enacted the endangered species act – a completely selfish act that aims at promoting our own survival. Likewise, the use of animals in research – all aimed at the human survival. For our own survival as a society and as a species that is sitting at the top, we also chose to treat animals humanely. Still, it is a decision made by the human animal not by other species.

    Animal rights activists are the terrorists who fight scientific research just as Al-Qaida terrorists fight Western democracies. They cannot win or topel their targets, but they still rejoice at the damage they cause and declare victory. They are happy to benefit from the achievements of science (Western sociaties) yet, they aim to destroy science. No difference between AR fanaticism and religious fanaticism.

    BTW, would you fight for the rights of experimental animals such as the snake or the Zebra fish as much as you fight for the primate’s rights? In am asking since it seems that you know much more about the ARAs than I do.

  24. #24 A Nonny Mouse
    November 4, 2007

    I certainly agree that the meat industry is a better place to start re-thinking the place of non-human animals in our human society than biomedical research. In relative terms, I have no doubt the meat industry induces more suffering among non-human animals than biomedical research. But it does not immediately follow that biomedical research ought therefore to be exempt from criticism. That is a separate question, one which requires its own answer. To say that animal rights activists should not worry about biomedical research because the meat industry is so much worse would be like saying that we should not worry about, e.g., political violence in Chechnya because it’s so much worse in, say, the Sudan. But of course we should worry about both!

    I would avoid framing this issue in terms of terrorism because that seems to me to obscure the valid points up for debate more than anything else.

    Of course you are right to point out that animal rights activists who resort to violence adopt a sort of double standard: they want us to treat all animals (including non-human ones) as worthy of serious moral consideration, but at the same time they want to exempt some animals (human animals engaged in certain kinds of biomedical research) from such consideration. But of course the problem for animal rights activists is that most people don’t seem to agree that all animals are worthy of serious moral consideration. (Actually, I would say a lot of people do agree with this to some extent but don’t want to accept the consequences. So if you show people a factory farm they are horrified but then when they go to the supermarket they still don’t want to pay a bit extra for their poultry.) The problem with your critique is that you are pointing out what looks like a logical flaw in their reasoning. This assumes that logic has primacy above other possible considerations. While I agree that logic is important because its absence pretty much precludes any kind of civil society, I think animal rights activists would say that they are willing to accept a bit of logical inconsistency if doing so has a reasonable chance to greatly reduce the amount of suffering in the world. You would then have to convince them that it’s better to accept more suffering for the sake of a higher standard (reasoned discourse) than to accept a lower standard of civil discourse for the sake of a reduction in suffering. As I said, in practical terms I think you have the upper hand because of course these kinds of violent tactics are not only morally repugnant but also practically ineffective. I’m just trying to point out that the disagreement may be more fundamental than you have wanted to admit.

    There is also another possibility that hasn’t come up which I don’t want to elaborate on too much. If you are a really strict utilitarian then you could avoid this logical inconsistency, given a few assumptions about the relationship between human suffering and the suffering of other animals. Let’s say your goal is to reduce overall suffering in the world. Again, I doubt violent tactics by animal rights activists ever succeed in reducing non-human suffering but let’s assume you think they do. In that case you might be willing to live with a bit of extra suffering in human society if you think this would greatly reduce the suffering among non-human animals. This does not require you to remove humans from moral consideration but rather only to include non-humans in your utilitarian calculus. (I should say that I find this kind argument unconvincing because I don’t like such vulgar utilitarianism for separate reasons. But the point is just that if you were sufficiently vulgar in your utilitarianism you it seems to me that could avoid the logical inconsistency you pointed out above.)

  25. #25 Ecpyrosis
    November 4, 2007

    The human position at the top of the ladder is an evolutionary position.

    I’m not attacking the idea that many/most of our policies enacted toward other animals are in our best interest, though one would be hard pressed to show how the humane societies in the UK, Canada, America, and elsewhere, with their successful campaigns to stop animal bloodsports (bear bating, ratting, dogfights, etc.) in the 1800s were selfish, nor how they were anti-progressive nuts.

    What I do call into question is the statement quoted above. In what sense, evolutionarily, are we at the top of a ladder? We aren’t the most populous group, the best adapted to every possible environment on Earth, nor the most diverse (think insects and bacteria for the true winners). You might argue that we are the most “advanced” though not in any sense which supposes a pre-existing state to which all species are striving. Rather, there are different niches which different organisms evolve to fit, in a dynamic process with each other and the environment. Read “The Cognitive Niche” for a good description of how that might have lead to intelligence.

    Anyway, if we are to gain some sort of special place in morality, let alone as the only species worth any consideration, from being the “top” of evolution, I’m afraid that’s impossible. We’re only the top from our own perspective, as presumably every other species would be from theirs (After all, aren’t we just pigeon servants? We’re terrible at flight, or breathing underwater, or asezual reproduction, or…)

    I would say on the other hand our ability, such as it is, of being able to predict future consequences of our actions, and our even more limited ability to put ourselves in the place of other beings does give us a concomitant obligation to minimize the bad results for others we can foresee.

  26. #26 coathangrrr
    November 4, 2007

    Animal rights activists are the terrorists who fight scientific research just as Al-Qaida terrorists fight Western democracies. They cannot win or topel their targets, but they still rejoice at the damage they cause and declare victory. They are happy to benefit from the achievements of science (Western sociaties) yet, they aim to destroy science. No difference between AR fanaticism and religious fanaticism.

    Not to be dismissive, but it sounds as if you know about as much about “al-Qaida” terrorists as you do about ARA “terrorists.”

    BTW, would you fight for the rights of experimental animals such as the snake or the Zebra fish as much as you fight for the primate’s rights? In am asking since it seems that you know much more about the ARAs than I do.

    I’m not fighting for the rights of anything or anyone, but if the question is whether I think that a snake or a primate should have the same protections that a chimp should have then yes, personally I do. Consistent animal rights advocates, which does not exhaust the supply mind you, would say the same thing. If you want some idea of my thought on the matter you can look at my blog, just click my name below, I have a few entries on animals and society. I’m more interested in political justice and animals rather than morality and animals, academically speaking.

    This has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with evolution. The human position at the top of the ladder is an evolutionary position.

    I know someone else already has commented on this, but I have to ask if you actually understand evolution given your apparent belief in an “evolutionary ladder” atop which humans stand. Is that because we are able to do these things? Or is it simply the unfounded assertion that we are better than everything else. Because that last one is what I was talking about as being based in Christian theology, and even further back Greek thought.

  27. #27 S. Rivlin
    November 4, 2007

    Coathangrrr,

    Just a short response to your last point. When it comes to “rights,” we are the only species that is willing to recognize those of other species and it is probably originates in our ability to recognize other human beings’ rights. Consequently, at least based on this particular ability of ours, we are “above” others (I do not categorize this ability as better or worse). Bacteria surely do not consider giving any rights to humans or any other species. I do not claim that humans are better than other creatures. However, seeing the disastrous consequences of disturbing the ecological balance, the human animal can choose to take the necessary steps to avoid such disturbance; the Australian bunny does not have that ability. I do understand evolution, and thus, where the brain evolution is concerned, the human is at the top. The brain is the organ from which the animal “rights” discussion originated. I doubt such discussion takes place among chimps.

  28. #28 coathangrrr
    November 5, 2007

    Just a short response to your last point. When it comes to “rights,” we are the only species that is willing to recognize those of other species and it is probably originates in our ability to recognize other human beings’ rights. Consequently, at least based on this particular ability of ours, we are “above” others

    I’m sorry but normatively being “above” some other organism on the “evolutionary ladder” certainly translates into being better. You obviously meant it that way and think of it that way, or why would you have even brought it up as a justification? Moreover, it seems that the fact that we are able to make moral judgments in truth makes us more responsible for acting moral than it does give us an excuse for harming other creatures. Your attempt to justify our position by claiming that we have reason is nothing original.

  29. #29 Clinton
    November 5, 2007

    “To say that animal rights activists should not worry about biomedical research because the meat industry is so much worse would be like saying that we should not worry about, e.g., political violence in Chechnya because it’s so much worse in, say, the Sudan. But of course we should worry about both!”

    Wrong. If one’s stated concern (say, stopping large numbers of people being killed for political concerns or dying of starvation or whathave you) is addressed best or with greater impact through application to one area than the only justified act is to concentrate on the greatest possible impact. If one chooses to address a related concern elsewhere, with much lower impact this questions one’s commitment to the original concern, i.e., sincerity. If one further engages in acts which don’t even have any good chance of achieving ones’ stated ends this further questions one’s sincerity for the original concern. Furthermore if said behavior seems to serve only to garnish fame, material support and wankerish self-importance burnishing, well, you tell me.

    Bush/Cheney didn’t want to invade Iraq because they care one whit for democracy and the animal rights activist who attacks primate researchers doesn’t give one whit about “animal suffering”. It is exactly the same principle. Ditto jerkwad TV evangelists versus real work-with-the-downtrodden christians.

    Remember it is the activist who sets the terms of evaluation for their own choices. It is they who set the standard. This is not a question of telling people what charitable endeavor they should choose or flavor of soft drink they should like. They are the ones saying that the principles are equivalence of all animals with human and or the universal “capacity to suffer” or some such.

  30. #30 trollanon
    November 5, 2007

    “Of course, people who think they can live without new biomedical findings (the broader public I assume ALF is trying to reach with highly publicized attacks) seem not to be able to live without their hamburgers.”

    I am certain that people who “think” they can live without “new” biomedical uses of animals will very rapidly reconsider their position when being told that they have to go to the non-animal-research care provider for all of their medical problems in the future.

    Now I’m in favor of nationalized health care just so we can identify the animal righties on their health card and make sure they don’t inadvertently contaminate their philosophy with animal-derived health care. Schweeet. A win-win for everyone…

  31. #31 coathangrrr
    November 6, 2007

    I am certain that people who “think” they can live without “new” biomedical uses of animals will very rapidly reconsider their position when being told that they have to go to the non-animal-research care provider for all of their medical problems in the future.

    This is a totally disingenuous argument. I assume you don’t use any tools invented by people who held views you didn’t like? Or tools that were invented using slave labor or that inflicted harm on others. The animals have already been harmed, that can’t be taken back, to not use the knowledge at this point would be even worse than using it.

  32. #32 S. Rivlin
    November 7, 2007

    Coathngrrr,

    As to “being above is better” argument of yours; is the dolphine better than the shark?

    As to the use of knowledge gained through reprehensible activities; whatever knowledge the Nazi doctor Mengele gained through his horrible research, to the best of my knowledge, this is tabu and no scientist or clinician ever used it.

  33. #33 JSinger
    November 7, 2007

    Before any project using mammals gets approved, the proposal has to include an examination of possible alternatives (and why they won’t work) as well as addressing how to minimize the number of animals used and minimize any badness done to them.

    Yes and no. As long as you come to the review board and say “My planned, NIH-funded project requires X rats. It needs rats because I’m studying rats and my power calculation says I need X.”, that’s virtually guaranteed to go through. They might tell you to do your manipulations in a different way, but they’ll never say “That’s a stupid, useless experiment. R01 or not, we won’t let you do it.”

    One doesn’t need to be a violent extremist, or anti-animal research at all, to believe that mammal usage could be cut back by 10-20% with minimal loss in meaningful discovery.

  34. #34 S. Rivlin
    November 7, 2007

    JSinger,

    In the majority of cases, the approval by the institutional committee must preceed the submission of the grant application to the NIH.

  35. #35 Clinton
    November 7, 2007

    Actually, S. Rivlin that’s not correct anymore. There’s this little thing called “Just In Time” now…it allows local institutions to wait and only submit the protocol approvals (and other support documentation) when a potentially fundable score has been received.

    JSinger, there is indeed a distinction made between reviewing animal welfare and the scientific justification. Both grant review and IACUCs address both but the balance on the welfare is supposed to be IACUC and the balance on the scientific justification is supposed to be at grant review.

    The local IACUC (and even more importantly the Attending Veterinarian which is a federally specified role) can and does do exactly as you say. They can tell a PI that no matter what was approved in a grant application they are not going to permit the research to go forward. Because this is devolved to the local institutions actual practices vary tremendously in terms of balance of power.

    This is an area that I think could use some reconsideration in terms of trying to make more nationalized standards for how local institutions are supposed to operate. I think this might even go a long way toward improving understanding on the part of the non-nutso person concerned with lab animal welfare. not going to do much for the crazies but that’s nothing new…

  36. #36 Dave Briggs
    December 6, 2007

    To the extent that specific uses of animals in specific research projects may be scientifically and ethically problematic, I think that should be dealt with — but the right way to deal with it is by pointing out the problems and engaging in a dialogue about how to address them.

    This is a very tough issue! I personally have an inordinate love for cats. Somehow they seem to be able to pass right through the gray matter into the heart for me. :~) I do agree that violence is not the answer. All the people involved have feelings so maybe just as a start if it could be pointed out to the animal people how their lives and the lives of their loved ones have benefited from animal testing it could help?
    Dave Briggs

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