Because there are some conversations you have to have with your kids even if you wish you didn’t have to have them:
Dr. Free-Ride: I wanted to talk to you about a situation that has come up for a friend of mine and is a little worrisome. So, you know I went down to UCLA the other week, right?
Younger offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: Do you know what I was there for?
Elder offspring: A conference?
Dr. Free-Ride: Nope, it wasn’t a conference. It was an event, a dialogue, where people were discussing scientific research with animals. In particular, some people were discussing why they support it and some people were discussing why they’re against it. Some of the people are for it for scientific reasons and some of the people are against it for scientific reasons. Some of the people are for it for ethical reasons and some of the people are against if for ethical reasons. But, we were at this event where we all got to talk about the reasons we thought the way we did, and people in the audience got to ask questions, and it was really useful. But here’s the thing: one of the people who participated in that event, who used to do research with animals, stopped doing that research because people who were very much against research with animals, came up to his house at night in masks, banging on the windows yelling stuff. He was scared for his family, and he decided that he didn’t want to do work that was going to make life that scary for his family, so he stopped doing that.
Elder offspring: Wow.
Dr. Free-Ride: If someone is doing something you don’t like, what do you think of that as a strategy for communicating that you don’t like it?
Younger offspring: I think instead of scaring the people so they will stop doing their work, you should say, “I don’t like your work and I disagree with what you’re doing.”
Dr. Free-Ride: So you’re saying that it’s better to use words to communicate that you don’t like something than to scare someone.
Younger offspring: Yeah.
Elder offspring: I think the guy should find out what the people don’t like about his work and he can try not to do that.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, you know what happened, he was so upset by the fact that his family got dragged into it that he just stopped doing that research at all, even though the research was about understanding how our brains work —
Elder offspring: What was he using?
Dr. Free-Ride: He was using primates — monkeys of some sort, I think — because monkeys, in some ways, are simpler than humans, and they have quicker lifespans, so you can find out some similar kinds of things that it would be hard to find out from research on humans.
Elder offspring: Was he using any endangered species?
Dr. Free-Ride: No, he wasn’t using any endangered species. And while the research he was doing didn’t directly find cures for anything, the more we understand about how our bodies and brains work, the easier it is to help people whose bodies and brains aren’t working as they should.
Elder offspring: Well, if the people just don’t like him doing research with monkeys, maybe he could resume the research with lab rats. I mean, lab rats are pretty intelligent.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, actually, some of these people don’t think that any animals should be used for research at all, even if it could help people. And I understand that view. It’s not my view, but I understand it. But the thing that really bothered me was that they didn’t try to talk with him about it, or try to write to the people who make the laws, to deal with what was bothering them. They decided that the way to deal with him was to scare him. That was almost four years ago. Here’s the part that I’ve been worried about lately: even though he doesn’t do animal research anymore, he was on this panel explaining how animal research can help us in science to understand things, including things about human bodies and human brains and human health. Right before that event, and then after the event, the people who do the protests had protests at his home again — even though he doesn’t do this research anymore, he was just explaining why he thinks animal research can be useful. And the part that bothered me the most is that on a website, some of the people who do protests at his house said, “We found out where one of his kids goes to school, and we’re going to have a protest at that kid’s school.”
Younger offspring: I think that’s very mean, and I’m serious!
Elder offspring: You don’t need to yell.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, your sibling feels strongly about it
Elder offspring: I think … what reasons do the people have to protest? Are they good? Are they bad?
Dr. Free-Ride: I think that may be a separate question from whether they should be protesting the father speaking up about what he believes, or from whether they should be targeting the kid and the kid’s classmates. It seems to me if you have an argument with the parent, you don’t take that argument to the kid. If I did something in my job that people didn’t like, would it be fair for those people to show up at your school with leaflets explaining what a horrible person I was, or how I taught philosophy really badly? To try to get your friends to put pressure on you to make me change?
Younger offspring: No.
Dr. Free-Ride: Here’s a separate question: If someone showed up at your school, some grown-up you didn’t know with a stack of leaflets that they said were good information about something like animal research, and some of the leaflets had really scary pictures on the front of them, if you got one of these leaflets in your hands, what would you think about it?
Elder offspring: Well … you know, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, that’s true. And you know that not every source of information is reliable.
Elder offspring: Yes, but, if the people are reliable … then, I suppose, the leaflets are probably reliable — unless they’re about fairies or gnomes or something like that.
Dr. Free-Ride: So, how do you tell if someone you’ve never met before, who’s handing out leaflets at school, is reliable?
Elder offspring: Check their reputation online?
Dr. Free-Ride: Their reputation among whom? Their friends? Their enemies?
Elder offspring: I’ll Google them.
Dr. Free-Ride: You’ll let Google decide? Google is the arbiter of reputation as far as you’re concerned?
Elder offspring: Well, first I’ll ask them if they have a record of what they’ve done, and if they don’t, I’ll Google them and look for their record.
Dr. Free-Ride: What if they don’t give you their names? What if they just say, “No, this is real information! Look at it. Think about it”?
Elder offspring: Then I’ll check what it is and decide for myself if it’s real or not.
Younger offspring: It might be fake, though.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, if these protesters actually show up at the kid’s school, it could be kind of scary. When they protest at homes they hold up photographs that they say are what animal research looks like. Most animal research I’ve seen does not look like these photographs, but they make it sound like it’s all like the photographs they hold up. ANd, they make claims that all the people who do animal research do it because they like hurting animals, or because they want to make buckets of money. Most of the scientists I know who do research with animals do not make buckets of money, and they actually care a lot about animals. So, I worry that if protesters show up at the schools, even if they aren’t shouting things but are just handing out leaflets, that the pictures in these leaflets are going to make some of these kids really upset.
Younger offspring: The kids could say, “Sorry, I don’t know you, and I’m not going to listen to you, because you’re a stranger!
Dr. Free-Ride: That’s a good point. If you don’t know someone, especially if you’re a kid, you have a hard time telling whether you can trust them or not. Who can a kid trust? Who can a kid look to for more information? Besides Google.
Younger offspring: Friends. Parents.
Elder offspring: Scientists. Vets.
Dr. Free-Ride: Who else, who they might find nearby at a school?
Younger offspring: Teachers. Principals.
Elder offspring: Librarians.
Dr. Free-Ride: Awesome! I know some librarians who are going to give you major props for thinking of that. Librarians are good at helping you do research.
Younger offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK, and I guess I should point out that some of the same people who like these protests at the scientists’ houses are kind of mad at me for coming to this event.
Younger offspring: Why?
Dr. Free-Ride: Because I said that, even though we should not be mean to animals, and we should try our best to be good to animals and take care of animals, I think that sometimes animal research is the right thing to do because it could help other humans who need our help. And, it can also help us help other animals. But some people are mad that I even just said that, even though I don’t do any scientific research at all.
Younger offspring: That’s not fair.
Elder offspring: Well, what I think is that animal research is all right, just … why do we want humans to benefit so much? If the population of humans keeps rising, it will push out other species.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, I think you’re quite right that we need to keep the interests of humans in perspective, and not do things that are just good for humans but drive other species into extinction. But animal research uses relatively few animals for the amount of knowledge it builds. It’s a much smaller number of animals used for science than are used for people to eat, for example. And there’s research that’s aimed at trying to save endangered species, to try to understand what’s pushing them towards extinction in the first place and then try to turn that around.
Elder offspring: I think that’s OK.