Animal Rights and Animal Rights Wrongs

Check out these two posts on animal rights issues.

Discourse on Animal Experimentation Marred By Violence

Animal Rights Extremists Wreck Scientist’s House

In the first, Shelley Batts discusses this verbiage from the Animal Liberation Front:

A new era has dawned for those who fund the abusers and raise funds for them to murder animals with. You too are on the hit list: you have been warned. If you support or raise funds for any company connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences we will track you down, come for you and destroy your property with fire.

In the second, have a look at Mark Hoofnagle’s commentary on this issue, with this concept as central to what he is talking about:

The reason I consider animal rights extremists denialists is because like other ideologues with an anti-science agenda, they lie about science to accomplish their goals.

I’m all for animal rights, within reason, and in fact, I’m not against extreme actions under certain circumstances. The threat of violence is a right coopted by the state, and perhaps that is where it should stay. The problem, of course, arises when the state is out of control. But that is another topic.

ADDED: Shelley Batts has correctly pointed out to me that the above paragraph conveys the idea that I’m not against extreme actions by animal rights activists against, say, scientists. Very very bad writing on my part. I do not condone such actions in any way shape or form. The above paragraph should be parsed as follows:

Regarding the topic at hand:

I’m all for animal rights, within reason,


Regarding political action in general:

and in fact, I’m not against extreme actions under certain circumstances. The threat of violence is a right coopted by the state, and perhaps that is where it should stay. The problem, of course, arises when the state is out of control. But that is another topic.

Below, in the comments section, you will see Shelley’s comments and my response to them. Please have a look.

There was an attack by a cell of ALF here at the University of Minnesota several years ago. They broke into labs and “liberated” several lab animals. What was left of many of the animals were found later by police in various parks and other localities, the ones that were still alive freezing and staving to death and wandering around aimlessly.

Lab materials related to research in process and equipment was destroyed as well, and a few graduate students had their work on cancer set back months or a year or so.

I think scientists do have to take more responsibility as a group for better treatment of animals, or even to curtail unnecessary animal research. Especially on primates. Rodents, I don’t care so much about. I mean, I love rodents, but more as objects of wonder than political allies.

Anyway, go check out these much more lucid sources of discussion pointed to above.

Comments

  1. #1 Shelley Batts
    November 5, 2007

    I’m not against extreme actions under certain circumstances. The threat of violence is a right coopted by the state, and perhaps that is where it should stay. The problem, of course, arises when the state is out of control.

    I find this statement extremely upsetting. Given that you’ve quoted my words, I suppose I have the right to respond to this. What qualifies as extreme actions, and what circumstances would they be ‘ok’ in? The issue here is that you just gave some creedence and respectability to actions whose purpose is to terrorize and undermine the very research that we all blog about here. You seem to be making an arbitrary distinction between primates and rodents: shouldn’t all animals who are capable of feeling pain be worthy of our protection? It seems rather unscientific to base your qualifications for concern on an emotional whim.

    As to the state being out of control, I’m not quite sure what you’re suggesting here. The state exerts stringent control over the expectations and standards for animal care and use, and there are multiple entities that provide effective oversight. The ALF is not one of them, and does not deserve any type of rationialization of their actions when they resort to violence.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 5, 2007

    Shelley,

    Thanks for the comments, obviously my statement about “extreme actions” requires some clarifications.

    Let me first state that I’m not ever in support of the kinds of actions that ALF engages in, at least in so far as I know of those particular actions. That is not what I meant, but I admit to having been very vague. My vagueness was partly intentional: I don’t think one can say in advance what is OK or necessary when it comes to political actions. People have taken up arms in causes where they saw no alternative, and one could argue that much of what is held as foundational to a liberal society is the outcome, in some cases, of extreme, i.e. revolutionary action. Those are the terms I was speaking in. As a modern American it is easy to forget that people have died so that you and I can have this conversation. (A great oversimplification perhaps, but this is just a comment on a blog post.)

    I perceive of ALF as being a collection of highly idealistic very misguided individuals who are not ever going to be effective in carrying out their goals, but along the way are capable of doing great damage and being very obnoxious. Their goals probably include some laudable objectives but they are inextricably mixed with irrational and counterproductive objectives, and they have no clue of what they are doing.

    I certainly do not wish to give any credibility at all to ALF or ALF-like organizations. I’ve even been involved in managing and enhancing security in relation to this particular threat.

    The state is very much out of control, but not in relation to animal research or any related issues. You may have noticed that we are engaged, as a state, in a senseless war that is costing countless lives and engendering what could turn into a century of instability. That the state has co opted violence and homicide as its own is clear. You and I can’t kill each other, but the state can take either of our lives if all the proper forms are filled out. If you are doing something I don’t think you should be doing, I can’t wrestle you to the ground, taser you, and bind you in chains. But the state can. We tend to take that in stride and call it the criminal justice system, and for all its faults is is better than, say, the vengeance system that our culture derives from.

    The definition of that war has been expanded (expanded right from the beginning, really) to include the suspension of the usual rights for every citizen when it is convenient to that state. To be a viable Republican candidate for president, you have to say clearly that you are willing to use torture when “needed” even though experts in the area of intelligence gathering and such activities mostly agree that torture simply does not work. Yes, it is out of control. It’s a pretty bad situation. But again, it has little to do with animal research. I brought it up because I think the ALF people see themselves as revolutionaries of a sort, going outside the law because it is, to them, justified. This is the relevant psychology of this situation. Ignore it at your peril.

    (There are, of course, ways in which the state interferes with the research, in areas of stem cell research, the teaching of evolution, and so on, but again, that is a different topic.)

    I doubt we disagree at all on most issues of animal research, but maybe we do. I’m fairly comfortable with the “Biology Discipline Policy Statement on Dissection” recently cited on PZ’s blog.

    I do not view a rat and a chimpanzee as being the same thing for several reasons, which are not arbitrary and not based on emotional whim, including sentience (not pain-sense) and degree of endangerment. Never mind what you do in the lab to the chimpanzee, simply keeping them in captivity is horrific torture (next time you visit a zoo with apes, ask to see the apes they keep in the back if you don’t believe me!).

    I have the same view of unnecessary research on primates as I have of using primates in film and commercial ad settings. Both require captive breeding and keeping of these animals, which has hardly ever been done in a suitable way. We should not do that. One can demonstrate that the rats in the cages are a thousand times less stressed than the primates in the cages.

    I do not view this latter issue as a simple one, and my thoughts about it are certainly not arbitrary, nor are they in any way complete. I don’t think the issue of research on apes is a simple one. I don’t think anyone should be burning down anyone’s house if they disagree on this. If you read the literature on human concepts about other humans over the centuries, and then look at apes, one could get concerned. Humans of dark skin coloring or tropical heritage, female humans, humans with certain chromosomal disorders or a certain level of IQ, humans living on different continents, etc. etc. have all at one time or another been considered as sub human, akin to, close to, or overlapping with our hominoid cousins. This also complicates the issue in social, political, and ethical terms. I’d like to see the apes treated better so that my fellow humans are treated better. Is that logical? The circumstances are not logical at all, but I did not create the circumstances.

    I hope this clarifies my views a bit!

  3. #3 the real cmf
    November 5, 2007

    but…but…Animals are people too….”I love rodents, but more as objects of wonder than political allies.”
    *[second]belly laugh*
    hawhahwhaw….

  4. #4 anon
    November 7, 2007

    “I think scientists do have to take more responsibility as a group for better treatment of animals, or even to curtail unnecessary animal research. Especially on primates. Rodents, I don’t care so much about. I mean, I love rodents, but more as objects of wonder than political allies.”

    You write as if you have no practical experience with lab work involving animals. Scientists do take responsibility for the welfare of the animals used in their experiments. For many reasons: regulations, the validity of the experiment, and not least, scientist are humans too with human feelings. I’ve yet to meet a scientist who enjoys hurting animals.

    Additionally, animal research is expensive and takes much time. Does anyone believe scientists would do experiments on animals if there was an effective alternate method of obtaining results?

    The animal “rights” terrorists are extremists, with no compunctions about destroying reseach and harming real people. Posts like the above have the effect of making them seem reasonable. Perhaps if you educated yourself on the real issues involved you would understand how absolutely stupid and mean these people really are.

    If you really want to address the welfare of animals in experiments, talk about specific cases. You will find these are outliers, and not indicative of the general practices.

  5. #5 Epistaxis
    November 7, 2007

    I think scientists do have to take more responsibility as a group for better treatment of animals, or even to curtail unnecessary animal research.

    I sympathetically disagree. Of all the places where animals are used for human benefit, research labs are among the very most humane (due in large part, I believe, to the efforts of the nonviolent animal-welfare activists over the past few decades). There seems to be a vast amount of misinformation out in the ether. What scientists have to take more responsibility for, as always, is communicating with the general public about what we do and how and why we do it.

  6. #6 AJS
    November 7, 2007

    I would like to see mandatory labelling on all cosmetic and medicinal products which have been, or which contain ingredients which have been, tested on animals, or ingredients derived from living or dead animals.

    Not the wimpy “This product has not been tested on animals” often seen on supermarkets’ own brand products, but “<!> This product has been tested on animals” or “<!> This product contains animal ingredients”.

    Then you’ll see how The Public At Large feel about animal testing.

  7. #7 greg laden
    November 7, 2007

    Epi:

    I’m sure that you are largely correct, and American scientists and scientists in some other countries have done a great deal to change the way animals are handled. This has increased the cost of research, and I think most American consumers are perfectly happy to go along with that. But it also cuts into profits, and thus, we are seeing the beginning of outsourcing of research. This is a concern, and the situation is fairly complicated.

    For example, in China, where research facilities are NOT up to these standards, according to a recent paper by Davey and Wu, Chinese students in the sciences share many of the concerns about animal welfare that American scientists have. It will probably take less work to get China on board and in shape with their research facilities regarding animal research than to transform working conditions for humans in various industries there. But your statement is incorrect unless you specify what country or countries you are writing about. It is not universally true that animals in research labs are OK.

    Also, keep in mind that there are different categories of research facility in the US. Are you speaking about private pharms, that do not receive outside money? Or Universities? Public pressure …. not the violent and idiotic ALF pressure, but regular people expressing concerns … has resulted in even these private labs being up to high standards of animal care, but they are doing that mostly on their own and I don’t trust the pharms as far as I could throw an elephant. These companies are required by law to be profit driven, if they are publoic corporations based in any state in the US. The level of effort and cost associated with animal welfare will be weighed along side benefits for employees, advertising budgets, etc. in the context of the corporation. I may be wrong, but I don’t think there is a universal guarantee of minimal standards with these private corporation, although there are state and other laws that would apply in some cases. But they can always outsource.

    I have not kept up with the state of wild-caught primates and primates in some of the more notorious labs (Coulson, etc.) so I can’t speak for the present. There was a time, not long ago, when one could simply not make the kind of statement you are making here about the chimps in those labs … or any other statement … because the status of the animals was literally classified. I suspect most of those chimps are dead now, and I don’t know if this is an ongoing research program.