Adventures in Ethics and Science

We don’t have to agree about whether animal research is ethical or scientifically valuable to agree that some tactics for pursuing your view are harmful to civil society.

Bruins for Animals, the student organization at UCLA that was instrumental in organizing the recent dialogue about the science and ethics of animal based research, understands this, and they are not afraid to call out the people “on their side” who opt for threats and intimidation:

Joint Statement by Bruins for Animals and Pro-Test for Science

In an effort to establish a dialogue between those holding different opinions on the role of animals in research, Bruins for Animals and Pro-Test for Science held what, in our judgement and many of our colleagues, was an extremely positive and informative discussion on the science and ethics of biomedical research using animals.  

In the weeks leading to the event, a handful of animal rights activists, with the only goal of preventing this dialogue from happening, harassed UCLA investigators at their homes and ran a campaign of intimidation through websites.  Organizers and panelists on both sides of the event forcefully condemned these attempts at derailing our meeting.  We prevailed.  Dialogue prevailed.  

Unfortunately, this outcome has not been universally received.  Some appear determined to continue with their attempts at interfering with this fresh direction the debate is taking.  In a move that defies logic, these activists are now suggesting children are legitimate targets of their protests.

Nobody should tolerate these renewed attempts at silencing our voices.  Scientists and animal rights activists who are committed to an open dialogue that will allow the public to become better educated on these important issues should now stand up together, publicly condemn such actions and defend the right of everyone to express freely their opinions.

Anyone willing to participate in an honest, rational and open dialogue is welcome at the table.

Jill Ryther, Kristy Anderson, David Jentsch and Dario Ringach

The statement is currently posted at the Pro-Test for Science site and at Speaking of Research, and will also go up soon on the Bruins for Animals site. (They are students and it’s a school day; they will get to it!)

Major props to Bruins for Animals in setting an example of how to stand up forcefully for what they believe without trying to silence people who hold differing views.

Comments

  1. #1 Shaun
    February 25, 2010

    Wow, now that’s classy! I wish more discussions between groups of people holding opposite viewpoints could be like this and made of people of this caliber!

  2. #2 boris
    February 25, 2010

    As a fan of this blog, one of the things I’d like to hear from Janet is some reflection on the kind of community which has been created out of the last three blogposts.

    I see headlines like “Time to get mad”, and then commenters writing “They are not ‘activists’, they are terrorists with an ideology. They need to be locked up where they can do no one in society any harm. Today they terrorize people who use their best ethical practices when dealing with animals in experiments, tomorrow they will be threatening anyone who eats animals.” (which basically strikes me as scarier than anything any of the activists are proposing).

    It is hard for me not to see the moral outrage of the post starting to foster these and other kinds of comments that have appeared on the previous two posts, comments whose imagination seems as violent and uninterested in their opponent as the anti-experimentation activists being vilified.

    Underlying the posts and the comments seems to be a view of scientific knowledge as morally neutral “as such” and benefiting the public good through examples which mostly return to the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t really need to outline all the ways this industry has acted to surface some skepticism about it – it should surely be enough by now for us to note that the bulk of privately funded scientific research “in the public interest” probably won’t be, no matter how many community representatives attend ethics committees (no offence to the people who do excellent work on those committees )

    As I try and work out my own sense of where the ethical behaviour lies in the practice of making the world a better place, my antenna do get raised when I sense a hardening of attitudes toward other points of view, or forms of moral outrage about boundary crossing (e.g. kids and homes are somehow outside the political).

    It seems to me that in posting the statement by “good” activists, there is an unfortunate repetition of the “good feminist” the “good civil rights activist” or the “friendly native” genre. There is an assumption that scientific knowledge is in the right, that the inhumanity imposed on others in the name of science is due to fuckups in scientific method or was in the past and we now know better, and that scientists are the best people to determine what the most ethical way is to treat animals for human benefit.

    I think I’d just feel more comfortable about the whole discussion here if we had more discussion about the political economy of scientific practices and their collusion with a Christian tradition that places a hard separation between human and “nature”, one that is not necessarily held in other cultures.

  3. #3 Rob Monkey
    February 25, 2010

    Boris, I can see some of your points, but I also think your comments represent an extreme fluidity of views, to the point where drawing lines becomes impossible. In answer to the point about “good” activists, I think the line gets drawn at violence/property destruction, which is a line that can be drawn for every single protest group out there, regardless of cause or ideology. Threatening scientists, vandalism, etc. are all “bad” actions, and if you do them in the name of your animal activism, well then you’re not a “good activist” in my book.

    As for the “scientific knowledge is always right” meme, well, not to put too blunt a point on it, but nobody fucking thinks this way. Nobody. No-fucking-body. If they do, they don’t understand science at all. Science is a process, a way of determining facts and causes, and to tease out the secrets of the natural world. It does not prescribe a morality, nor should it! We have ethics in science because science is a way of advancing thought and knowledge, not ethics and good behavior. You can use nuclear tech to make energy for hospitals or bombs. Neither is “right” per scientific standards, because there is no “right” in that arena, only the success/failure of experiments. How we use science is entirely up to us. We can use knowledge to hurt or help, but putting the blame on an idea that science is always right is missing the target. Scientists are NOT the best people to determine ethics, that’s why we have ethicists! That’s why doctors have classes in medical ethics taught by philosophy grads, because the doctors themselves don’t spend their studies concentrating solely on ethics, they’ve gotta learn biology and A & P.

    As for how the pharma companies act, well that’s more a function of capitalism invading on science than anything else. The profit motive is the killer there, not the scientific advancements.

    I completely agree with you on the Xtian tradition thing, it’s as if half the ideas behind that superstition are designed to make humans treat the natural world as a garbage dump. Which is where the bible belongs, interestingly enough ;)

  4. #4 Diana
    February 25, 2010

    “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

    All animal rights supporters oppose violence…namely, the violence carried out in laboratories. When nonhuman victims are added to the tally, it is clear that the casualties in this dispute are almost exclusively on one side. Any violence carried out or even endorsed by activists is virtually nonexistence compared to the constant violence inflicted on animals.

  5. #5 Rob Monkey
    February 25, 2010

    Well Diana, I for one am glad to know that both I and my dog will be treated with excellent medicine because of animal research. I hope you don’t ever utilize modern medicine for yourself or any pets you have, it might seem slightly hypocritical. I’ve worked in the industry, and while toxicology isn’t a cute and fuzzy science, it’s saved countless lives. At least where I worked, the animals were treated with a lot of respect, and no amount of abuse or maltreatment was tolerated. Scientists don’t want labs to treat animals poorly, it reflects badly on the science and mucks up the data. I definitely support IACUC and other animal welfare agencies, but the elimination of animal studies is the elimination of medical science. Unless we start experimenting on humans again I guess . . .

  6. #6 Cleveland
    February 25, 2010

    which basically strikes me as scarier than anything any of the activists are proposing

    Interesting. So saying we should lock up those who commit criminal acts of vandalism is “scarier” than suggesting scientific researchers should be murdered?

    Nice to see you display the entirely disturbed and disgusting moral orientation of even the so called moderate and non-extreme concern troll version of animal rights activism. Careful, your slip is showing…

  7. #7 Debbie
    February 25, 2010

    I have a question! is it legal for humans to kill a dog, in otherwords, put a bullet in it’s head because it killed a chicken? I do not view this proper! I think the person should pay for being ignorant!! after all, the dog is simply being a dog!! Yet, if u can help me, I am very disturbed by this!! somone I know shot a dog because it killed a chicken!!

  8. #8 Anonymous
    February 25, 2010

    re: boris @2:

    It is hard for me not to see the moral outrage of the post starting to foster these and other kinds of comments that have appeared on the previous two posts, comments whose imagination seems as violent and uninterested in their opponent as the anti-experimentation activists being vilified.

    I see this as a response to violent acts and threats intended to cause terror committed by sociopaths. I have seen a lot of comments about fighting back, rather than just meekly giving in to the bullies. I think it is an outrage that domestic terrorists are not taken more seriously by the police.

  9. #9 Robert C. Jones
    March 2, 2010

    I participated in the UCLA panel and would like to state publicly that I endorse the spirit of this letter. Let me make clear, too, that in taking such a “public stand against violence and intimidation” I include also the violence and intimidation that comes in the form of the exploitation and violation of animals in experimental research. That is, I oppose violence in its many forms, especially human-on-human and human-on-animal.