Respectful Insolence

Animal “rights” terrorism, revisited

I’ve written before about how animal rights cranks have started resorting to terroristic tactics in order to intimidate or frighten researchers into ceasing to do animal research. As you may guess, I have little but contempt for the Animal Liberation Front (is that anything like the People’s Front of Judea or the Judean People’s Front?) and their ilk, who routinely use lies such as the claim that no good has ever come of animal research or the utterly risible claim that we can now somehow replace the use of animals with computer or cell culture models, coupled with vandalism and intimidation tactics, to push their pseudoscientific agenda. Unfortunately, from fellow ScienceBlogger Mark Hoofnagle and other sources, I learn that these pinheads are at it again:

An animal rights group has claimed responsibility for flooding the Westside home of a UCLA professor who uses lab monkeys in research on nicotine addiction.

An FBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency is investigating the claim that the Animal Liberation Front used a garden hose to flood the house of professor Edythe London on Oct. 20 in an attempt to stop her animal experiments.

The FBI, along with UCLA and Los Angeles police, are treating the vandalism as a case of domestic terrorism and are probing possible ties to a June incident in which an incendiary device was lighted, but did not explode, next to a car at the home of a UCLA eye disease researcher, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

In a press release distributed to the media Monday, an underground entity identifying itself as the Animal Liberation Front said it broke a window at London’s house and flooded the residence with a hose. The announcement said the group considered starting a fire there, but did not want to risk igniting brush fires that might have harmed animals “human and non-human.”

UCLA officials said the flooding caused between $20,000 and $40,000 in damage. London could not be reached for comment.

Let me get one thing straight here. Yes, this was “mere” vandalism. However, it was clearly meant to send a message to Dr. Edythe London, as the ALF “communique”, which ends with a further threat, shows:

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.

We are the ALF

The fact that the ALF “thought” about setting fires but didn’t should give you a look into their mindset. Note that they said that they didn’t do it because it might have harmed animals. The qualification of “human and non-human” is obviously an afterthought, and it also shows that they make no distinction between humans and animals. In addition, last year, the ALF put tried to set a the house of researcher on fire with a Molotov cocktail, but bungled the job, placing the firebomb on the porch of an elderly neighbor. Fortunately, they further bungled it to the point where the Molotov cocktail didn’t ignite. However, they achieved at least part of their aim in that one UCLA primate researcher decided to stop doing animal research. Another example that achieved its goal occurred three or four years ago, when a group in the U.K. called the Animal Rights Militia desecrated a grave, stealing the remains of a woman named Gladys Hammond, all in order to intimidate her surviving relatives who ran a farm that breeds guinea pigs for research. In this case, intimidation also ultimately worked.

Not surprisingly, once again, the mouthpiece for ALF, Dr. Jerry “I see nothing, nothing!” Vlasak, a man who has brought shame and dishonor to the profession of surgery in a measure many orders of magnitude greater than even Dr. Michael Egnor ever could, was trotted out to give a disingenuous “defense” of this action:

Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon who is an activist in that press office and who protests against animal euthanasia at animal shelters, declined to say how he received the information about the vandalism and said he did not know the responsible parties.

But Vlasak said Monday that he sent the communique to the media so the incident would “not be dismissed as a random act of violence.” He said he condones the flooding at London’s house “if it is helpful to get her to stop torturing innocent animals.”

About a year ago, Santa Monica police and federal agents raided Vlasak’s Agoura Hills house as part of an investigation into the Animal Liberation Front, which law enforcement officials described as a shadowy network that has sabotaged animal research labs, firebombed properties and made numerous death threats.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, ol’ Jerry came out of the woodwork to justify the attempted firebombing last year, too:

Jerry Vlasak, a practicing physician, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office, and a former animal researcher, said that “obviously the roughly 30 non-human primates [Ringach] was killing every year would be ecstatic” with his decision to halt his work. Vlasak said that when he was an animal researcher, he published papers on his work, but didn’t feel that he contributed anything important to society. As to the Molotov cocktail, Vlasak said that “force is a poor second choice, but if that’s the only thing that will work … there’s certainly moral justification for that.”

Let’s not forget here that this is the same Jerry Vlasak who openly advocated the assassination of animal researchers, saying that he would advocate taking the lives of “five guilty vivisectors” to save “hundreds of millions of innocent animals,” likening the tactic to antiabortion activists killing doctors who perform abortion, about which he said, “I think they [antiabortionists who kill doctors] had a great strategy going.” Vlasak’s also stated outright explicitly that there is a “use for violence in our movement,” which he characterized as “morally acceptable” and an “effective strategy.” Inspired by Jerry, predictably, ALF sympathizers are coming out of the woodwork to attack London as only doing animal research for money because her home was listed for $2.6 million.

I do some, although not a lot, of animal research in my laboratory, mostly using mouse tumor models of cancer. The reason is that the sort of research I do can’t be done any other way. In fact, an example of a new target for cancer therapy that would never have been discovered without animal research is tumor angiogenesis. In fact, any sorts of interactions between tumor cells and the surrounding normal stromal cells can’t be studied well any other way. Personally, I don’t like doing animal research that much, but if it brings us closer to a cure for cancer, I will do it. I will also do my utmost to minimize pain and suffering (although the model we use doesn’t really do much that could reasonably be predicted to cause pain and suffering). It may have been true in the past that scientists took a too cavalier attitude towards the suffering of animals in research, but that has changed markedly in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, minimizing suffering during important research is not what the ALF is about. Banning all animal research is, along with banning the use of animals for meat or even keeping them as pets. Just peruse the Americans for Medical Progress website or the sadly now defunct Animal Crackers blog if you want to see what’s at stake and what tactics groups like the ALF use. If they want to believe that humans should never use animals for their benefit, that’s fine. They are perfectly free to try to convince us with their arguments. But when they turn to thuggish tactics, they should expect nothing more than shunning and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.

Fortunately, Dr. London is not going to allow herself to be intimidated. She’s written a compelling defense about why she needs to use animals to do her research.

Good for her.

Comments

  1. #1 Dennis
    November 4, 2007

    That sounds like a lot of damage, do these people ever get prosecuted?

  2. #2 blf
    November 4, 2007

    In January this year, before joining SciBlogs, Nick Anthis (The Scientific Activist) wrote an interesting report on a animal rights march/protest in Oxford (England):

    http://scientificactivist.blogspot.com/2006/01/caught-in-line-of-fire-animal-rights.html

    The protesters I interviewed were not particularly enthusiastic about the use of violence and intimidation in the animal rights movement …. This puts many of the protesters at odds with the leaders of these organizations, who openly advocate intimidation tactics and who focused much of their speeches at the rally on intimidating and taunting the police.

    Although I thought I might be able to find some common ground between protesters and researchers, I came away empty handed. By calling animal research “torture” and “vivisection” the protesters preclude themselves from participating in any rational discussion on ways to improve animal research to ensure even further that it is humane. Surprisingly, a common sentiment among the activists is that the researchers actually enjoy hurting animals.

    “They go in there because that’s what they want to do: kill animals,” said [one protestor].

    Although the protesters made many good points at the demonstration, this viewpoint regarding the motivation of scientists demonstrates a sharp disconnect with reality. …

    The completely nutty idea that researchers using animals enjoy hurting animals has caused numerous dents in my desk. Which is perhaps why I still recall that almost-year-old post.

    It’s so goofy I’ve a hard time believing it. Or at least believing that it’s a common belief. Perhaps it’s worth noting Nick was talking to people who went to and participated in a protest (and who thus are probably more “committed” than most(?) supporters).

    In the UK, several animal rights groups are considered terrorist cells by the UK police:

    St Andrew’s University terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson says animal rights now tops the list of causes which prompt violence in the UK. A dubious honour won following the easing of tensions over Northern Ireland.

    With 1,200 fire bombings, acts of vandalism and physical attacks last year perpetrated in the name of animal “liberation”, the government is planning a clampdown on the extremist groups responsible.

    The ALF is widely considered to be at the centre of the web of British animal rights terror groups.

    The above is from a report published in 2000 by the BBC (six years ago!), so I presume the “1,200″ count of incidents is now larger.

  3. #3 Beth
    November 4, 2007

    From what I understand ALF and ELF (Earth Liberation Front) don’t get caught or prosecuted much because there is no structure to their groups. A couple people get together and do something. There is no hierarchy that has to be tapped into, no one that approves anything. Truly anarchist in that there are no leaders.

  4. #4 Orac
    November 4, 2007

    That article by Nick was clearly before I discovered his blog. He also also asks an excellent question that I should have mentioned:

    Although this view is consistent with their personal philosophies, it brings up an interesting question. Why does SPEAK rely so heavily on attacking primate research? This is especially misleading, since according to the University of Oxford, 98% of the animals in the new biomedical research center will be rodents or fish. This is true for animal research in general, the vast majority of which is conducted on mice.

    The reason, of course, is obvious. Primates resemble humans much more than rodents or fish. Do you think you’re going to get so many outraged by experiments on mice, rats, or fish? Of course not! Consequently ALF et al emphasize the primate research, even though it represents only small proportion of animal research anywhere. They also tend to emphasize research involving cats and dogs, even though such research is only marginally more common than rodent research.

  5. #5 Ian Findlay
    November 4, 2007

    The anti-Huntington group in the UK were attacking breeders of guinea-pigs.

  6. #6 Frenchdoc
    November 4, 2007

    It’s been noted before but the tactic and rhetoric of the ALF match almost exactly that of the anti-choice movement.

  7. #7 DLC
    November 4, 2007

    Frenchdoc

    it’s been noted before but the tactic and rhetoric of the ALF match almost exactly that of the anti-choice movement.

    Extremist groups do share the same rhetorical meme, even across cultural lines.
    I keep waiting to hear that these fools have released disease-carrying rats into the general population, and have themselves been infected by the disease. Hopefully it won’t happen, or if it does it will be something relatively minor.

  8. #8 Jonathan Dresner
    November 4, 2007

    My great-uncle passed away last week: he spent most of his career as a researcher doing psychological and physiological animal research. A veteran of the Normandy landing and sometimes gruff, Seymour was one of the gentlest, most sentimental men I’ve ever known from that generation. I was always a little worried that the ALF sorts would notice him, but he’s beyond their reach now.

    I myself worked as a programmer in a Hopkins lab which did cell receptor research using mice, and I still remember the dreaded “guillotine days” when the lab tech would harvest the arteries and everyone else stayed out of the lab. It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. (I also remember the day the research-grade cocaine arrived, the closest I’ve ever gotten to that particular drug).

    The number of people who are able to enjoy, or even feel no pangs, when injuring animals are few and far between. It is true that we practice industrial-scale death in our food industry, but medical research is morally defensible and includes enough protections that there has to be other agendas at work.

    Frankly, I suspect ALF would rather go after food operations, but they know that the backlash would be much, much greater.

  9. #9 Diora
    November 4, 2007

    “it also shows that they make no distinction between humans and animals. ”
    I don’t think they do. I’ve seen the interview with one guy on TV. He actually told that to him there was no distinction between humans and animals. He called the practice of distinguishing humans from animals “speceism”. The guy they interviewed on TV didn’t just attack research labs, he also was involved in burning houses in the suburbs to protest “urban sprawl”.

    These people are scary.

  10. #10 PJ
    November 4, 2007

    I’ve never been able to get out of animal rights activists exactly where they draw the line in terms of speciesism; clearly they don’t accord the same moral consideration to insects (I don’t know why, surely that is also speciesism) but do for rodents. Anyone else?

  11. #11 Justin Moretti
    November 4, 2007

    They are fanatics and terrorists, and should be executed as terrorists.

  12. #12 sudders
    November 4, 2007

    “it also shows that they make no distinction between humans and animals”. I think this is exactly what they believe. And to a certain extent they have a point there. Humans are just an animal with a particular set of adaptation to their ecological niche – including the power to reason. Now obviously I act in my day to day life as though there is a difference (although I don’t eat meat or wear leather), it does just feel right. However, I can’t for the life of me come up with a convincing philosphical and moral reason for doing so. It will never be possible to reach a compromise with animal rights activist because the believe animal experimentation it is still wrong however many lives it saves. I wish more of them had the guts to get up and say this.

    PJ asks wehre animal rights activist draw the line. It tends to depend on the philosphy they follow, but if they are adherents of Peter Singers Animal rights, then there is no line. The consideration given of an entity is proportional to its ability to suffer. Thus a chimp is accorded more consideration becuase its ability to suffer is assumed to be similar to that of a human (and I’d be with them here – I believe that it is wrong to perform experiments on chimps that wouldn’t be performed on humans what ever the benefit), while an insect would be accorded less consideration (but still some consideration) as its ability to suffer is judged to be less.

    Persoanlly I’m kinda ambivalent about animal experimentation. I refuse to do it my self (which may have limited my career at several points). There are some wonderful experiments done in animal models that have clearly been of great benefit to mankind. But unneccesary experiments do occur – I know becuase they occur in my institute. A particular case is the speculative experment which goes along the lines of “Wow I have this new gene I just identifed, I wonder what I should do with it now? Let make a mouse knockout and see what happens”. This is taken to the extreme with the Knock Out Mouse Program (KOMP) to create knockouts of all mouse genes – just to see what happens.

    That said any animal rights activists should clearly be focusing on the meat industry rather than the research as the numbers invovled aren’t even with an order of magnitude of each other.

  13. #13 Orac
    November 4, 2007

    A particular case is the speculative experment which goes along the lines of “Wow I have this new gene I just identifed, I wonder what I should do with it now? Let make a mouse knockout and see what happens”. This is taken to the extreme with the Knock Out Mouse Program (KOMP) to create knockouts of all mouse genes – just to see what happens.

    If you characterize it that way, sure it sounds bad. I would counter that creating knockout mice is an excellent way to determine gene function in the whole organism, rather than at the cellular level, often yielding information that can’t be obtained any other way. The key problem is that it’s so resource-intensive that only a fraction of interesting genes are ever knocked out.

    So, I have to strongly disagree with you there. Transgenic mice are of great value, even if the KOMP does sometimes look like a fishing expedition.

  14. #14 Theodore
    November 4, 2007

    I am hesitant to come up with a cohesive model for the morality of animal research. I would certainly agree that it is moral for applied research with the aim of curing disease. Though as Sudders brings up, is it also ethical to use animal models for basic research scenarios? I would argue that it is. Although am having trouble articulating evidence in support of that point. In this case we have exhausted all available chemical ways of understanding genetics but still have a long way to go before wide medical applications; therefore, the intermediate step has to be a living something. Along those lines, we have already pretty thoroughly understood the genetics starting with phages, moving up to bacteria, then to C. elegans and the next step involves mice models. The fact that we have thoroughly tried others options and are using animal research is a testament that makes the KOMP more ethical then the meat industry. Where these militant groups come in is a lack of historical background for these programs.

  15. #15 sailor
    November 4, 2007

    “Frankly, I suspect ALF would rather go after food operations, but they know that the backlash would be much, much greater.”
    The truth is farm and experimental animals exist becase we use them. So if we do find some way to do without experimental animals there will be a lot of animal lives not being lived. Is this what they want?

  16. #16 Mike the Mad Biologist
    November 4, 2007

    The fact that the ALF “thought” about setting fires but didn’t should give you a look into their mindset. Note that they said that they didn’t do it because it might have harmed animals.

    Maybe this will lead to many animal researchers acquiring pets?

  17. #17 Marcus Ranum
    November 4, 2007

    Fine. Let’s use human subjects instead.

    Any volunteers? If you think that guinea pig’s life is so important, you can lay yours on the line, guys… That’s a more moral position than threatening doctors.

  18. #18 MJ Memphis
    November 4, 2007

    Maybe this will lead to many animal researchers acquiring pets?

    Hopefully large and unfriendly ones.

  19. #19 Dianne
    November 4, 2007

    A particular case is the speculative experment which goes along the lines of “Wow I have this new gene I just identifed, I wonder what I should do with it now? Let make a mouse knockout and see what happens”. This is taken to the extreme with the Knock Out Mouse Program (KOMP) to create knockouts of all mouse genes – just to see what happens.

    I’m sorry, but why is this bad? The mice in question would have never existed if not for the program and I can’t imagine that the average lab mouse which is fed, housed, and protected from predators including humans with vitamin K antagonists is any less happy than the average wild mouse that is at constant risk of being eaten, starving, and eating poison that will cause it to die painfully of internal bleeding. I’d love to see lab mice get better conditions (more space, a more interesting environment, etc), if for no other reason than to be able to better see what the genes being studied do under more “natural” conditions, but I can’t see a good argument for not doing these experiments. Lab mice just don’t appear to be suffering all that much. Not even random knock out mice.

  20. #20 Dianne
    November 4, 2007

    The fact that we have thoroughly tried others options and are using animal research…

    I think you nailed it. Animal research is slow, expensive and even getting permission to do it is a cumbersome process. If there were reasonable options available any rational person would take them. Quite frequently, there simply aren’t.

  21. #21 Robster, FCD
    November 4, 2007

    Simply put, animals don’t and cannot have rights. Having rights requires that one be capable of respecting the rights of others. If given the chance and provocation (from its point of view), a chimpanzee will maim or kill a human in a truly terrifying manner. They are wild animals and should be both treated and respected as such.

    That said, animals are deserving of humane treatment as described by animal welfare law and philosophy.

    One of the things that animal rightists don’t understand is that any and every advancement in human medical care is linked to an advancement in veterinary care.

  22. #22 Marcus Ranum
    November 5, 2007

    Robster asserts:
    Simply put, animals don’t and cannot have rights. Having rights requires that one be capable of respecting the rights of others.

    Wow. That’s pretty strong. I have observed behavior in dogs that indicates a notion of “fair” (i.e.: dog A got a treat, dog B expects one) and I have seen some interesting behaviors in my horses, where they will line up for butt-scratching and if one of them gets out of line, the herd boss (my large gelding) will enforce the line-up with the threat of a bite.

    I’m not trying to argue by anecdotal evidence – on the contrary – what I suspect I am seeing is learned behaviors or conditioned response. But maybe you should come down off your cloud and ponder whether your notion of “rights” may also have a lot to do with conditioned response. I see a lot of behaviors in human packs that don’t make me think that human pack behavior is a whole lot more sophisticated in terms of “rights” and understanding of “rights” than a dog pack or a herd of horses. If these are all mostly combinations of instincts and learned behaviors – which they appear to me to be – then the difference between us and dogs or chimps or horses is largely a matter of degree and not much more. I.e.: if animals have no “rights” then humans probably don’t, either.

    Your being so quick to assert that animals have no “rights” seems to me an echo of the dogmatic scientists of days gone by who performed horrifyingly cruel experiments on dogs “since they have no souls they can’t feel pain.”

    Isn’t it ironic that people say “animals deserve humane treatement” – what is the root word of “humane”?? I suspect you don’t really mean to suggest we should treat them as people.

    The whole problem here is that many of us seem to want to ignore the obvious fact that we’re animals, too and their reactions and our reactions are mutually comprehensible because we’re also pack-oriented primates. Would a chimp cheerfully savage a scientist if he got out of his cage? Not anywhere near as badly as I would, Jack. Your anecdote about chimpanzees’ willingness to do violence seems bizzare to me – or were you trying to argue that chimps are as violent as we are?

    We’re all animals.

    Do I support animal experimentation? Absolutely. But, frankly, I think we should be using human subjects far more often than we do. And when we’ve got to use animals, don’t bullsh*t around about “humane” – kill them or don’t kill them but don’t bullsh*t around about the fact that you’re shortening the life of a creature that would dearly like to stick around and enjoy its time on earth a little longer.

    We owe tremendous advances in medicine to the animals that have suffered and died for us. They did not, however, volunteer.

  23. #23 trollanon
    November 5, 2007

    “Would a chimp cheerfully savage a scientist if he got out of his cage? Not anywhere near as badly as I would, Jack. Your anecdote about chimpanzees’ willingness to do violence seems bizzare to me – or were you trying to argue that chimps are as violent as we are?”

    Just one more example of the almost willing ignorance of the animal rights nut that has no real understanding whatsoever of the species that are their favorite topics of discussion.

    Try googling St James Davis and Chimpanzee and you will see what Robster is talking about.

  24. #24 Robster, FCD
    November 5, 2007

    Marcus, it was intended on being an absolute statement based on ancient philosophy. Plato, if I remember my ethics classes. What you are describing with dogs is not a sense of fair play, but opportunism. Horses, pecking order.

    Perhaps you should come off your cloud of anecdote and anthropomorphism. I jest.

    Humans can reason, “What if it was me?” and “How would I feel?” If there is evidence that any other animals besides humans are capable of this, I am completely unaware of it. It is this, the capacity to respond without conditioning, that makes us capable of having rights.

    Your being so quick to assert that animals have no “rights” seems to me an echo of the dogmatic scientists of days gone by who performed horrifyingly cruel experiments on dogs “since they have no souls they can’t feel pain.”

    Perhaps you don’t know that I am a strong and passionate animal welfare advocate and animal lover. All three of my cats are special needs to one extent or another. Only one had a real chance of adoption, and she would have probably been returned to the pound or put down if she had been taken into most other homes. Any research that I have done with animals (rodent models of cancer or addiction behavior) have always included exceptional vet care, housing, and careful, tender handling.

    But we don’t know each other, so no offense taken.

    Isn’t it ironic that people say “animals deserve humane treatement” – what is the root word of “humane”?? I suspect you don’t really mean to suggest we should treat them as people.

    Yes. I am aware of the root of humane. No, I do not find it ironic, and you are correct in your suspicions. In this context, it is a description of the person performing an action. Hence, humane or inhumane treatment is a reflection of the individual treating, not the recipient of the treatment.

    Animals are not capable of acting humanely. Predators tend to kill their prey quickly, not out of humane concerns, but in order to avoid injury to self.

    Your anecdote about chimpanzees’ willingness to do violence seems bizzare to me – or were you trying to argue that chimps are as violent as we are?

    It isn’t an anecdote. It is truth. Human children are occasionally killed and eaten by chimpanzees. Chimps hunt, kill and eat other small primates as well as other chimps. This tends to be exacerbated by habitat destruction, but they remain dangerous wild animals.

    Male chimps can easily be as violent as the worst of humans, and with their great strength (estimated at 5-7x the normal adult human male), large teeth and jaws, I’ll take my chances with humans. For a description of a chimp attack on humans, here is a start. A more detailed and explicit account of the same attack is here. They are not cute cuddly critters in the wild, and animal rightists that portray them as such are ignorant.

    The ones you see in entertainment are usually adolescents, preferably female. Their teeth may be removed to prevent them from biting. When they get too old to be safely trained or handled, and leave their cute days behind, they go to places like those mentioned in the above links.

    But, frankly, I think we should be using human subjects far more often than we do.

    Ethics, cost, few willing participants. Human trials are only begun once we know that the drug in question should work and is most likely safe to use. Skip those steps and kiss research advancements for medicine and vet care goodbye.

    They did not, however, volunteer.

    Are they capable of volunteering? Then it is up to us to use statistics to ensure that the smallest number possible of animals are used, and that their conditions and treatment are humane.

  25. #25 Robster, FCD
    November 5, 2007

    Must have left a tag open. Here is the second link, not for weak of stomach.

  26. #26 sophia8
    November 5, 2007

    I am puzzled by the willingness of Marcus and other animal rights activists to keep pets. If animals have the same rights as humans, then pet-keeping is enslavement.
    It could be argued that pet animals are “paying their way” by providing entertainment or companionship for their human. If so, the human has a problem (as I see it).
    I can see the need to house rescue animals and give them a decent life if they’re unable to be returned to the wild. But beyond that – why keep pets?

  27. #27 sophia8
    November 5, 2007

    (Hit ‘post’ too soon.) To continue….
    I have argued this point with professed animal-lovers. Some of their arguments for personally keeping a pet animal sound uncomfortably close to the arguments you hear from men in cultures where women are second-class citizens (“But you should see our women at home – they rule the roost there!”). They don’t seem to appreciate that the animal is staying with them mainly because it’s a lot easier than scrabbling for a living in the wild, and that they (the human) hold the power in an unequal relationship.
    But this is getting off the point here. Looking at the various animal lib sites, I can’t see much actual evidence presented for the “cruelty” in animal experimentation – just lots of ranting and rhetoric. They would be serving a useful purpose in exposing such cruelty, but they don’t seem to be doing much of that. Perhaps because there isn’t as much cruelty as they imagine?

  28. #28 Sudders
    November 5, 2007

    I think you guys are mis-judging Marcus. He doesn’t seem like an animal rights activists to me:

    “Do I support animal experimentation? Absolutely.”

    As for the KOMP. I’m sure that many of the knock-outs created will yeild very useful infomation, but the vast majority of knock-outs will not (a similar previous program run by … Pfizer I think, was abandoned due to a lack of data), which is of course interesting in itself. The KOMP is a fishing expedition, or at least this is how the people working in it at my institute regard it (not offically of course, but if you sit down for a coffee with them this is how they see it).

    There are plenty of people here that saying that animal research is neccesary becuase we have exhusted all the other options, therefore we *have* to do them. But do *have* to do these experiments? Well you can argue that we do when we can point to the concrete lives that will be saved. But do we *have* to do these experiments when we are just intereseted in the basic science (which of course may lead to medical benefit at some point). Also these arguements from neccessity will not convince animal rights activists because as we discussed earlier “they make no distinction between humans and animals” and the arugement from neccessity would not convince anyone here (apart from perhaps marcus) to do the experiments on humans.

    “The mice in question would have never existed if not for the program”

    True. But is a life lived only for this purpose worth living? Surely it is better not to exist than to exist only to be killed (of course we’re all going to die sometime – i’ve just finished reading “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy which explores just such issues).

    “Simply put, animals don’t and cannot have rights. Having rights requires that one be capable of respecting the rights of others.”

    Well that is true if you follow Rousseau’s arguement for the existance of human rights – the idea that rights emerge from a implicit social pact. There are other theories of rights, including utiltarian philosophies of minimization of suffering, or systems that use denial of expectation to justify rights.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no an animal rights activist. As I said previously I’m ambivalent about such research. Just thinking out loud.

  29. #29 Sudders
    November 5, 2007

    I think you guys are mis-judging Marcus. He doesn’t seem like an animal rights activists to me:

    “Do I support animal experimentation? Absolutely.”

    As for the KOMP. I’m sure that many of the knock-outs created will yeild very useful infomation, but the vast majority of knock-outs will not (a similar previous program run by … Pfizer I think, was abandoned due to a lack of data), which is of course interesting in itself. The KOMP is a fishing expedition, or at least this is how the people working in it at my institute regard it (not offically of course, but if you sit down for a coffee with them this is how they see it).

    There are plenty of people here that saying that animal research is neccesary becuase we have exhusted all the other options, therefore we *have* to do them. But do *have* to do these experiments? Well you can argue that we do when we can point to the concrete lives that will be saved. But do we *have* to do these experiments when we are just intereseted in the basic science (which of course may lead to medical benefit at some point). Also these arguements from neccessity will not convince animal rights activists because as we discussed earlier “they make no distinction between humans and animals” and the arugement from neccessity would not convince anyone here (apart from perhaps marcus) to do the experiments on humans.

    “The mice in question would have never existed if not for the program”

    True. But is a life lived only for this purpose worth living? Surely it is better not to exist than to exist only to be killed (of course we’re all going to die sometime – i’ve just finished reading “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy which explores just such issues).

    “Simply put, animals don’t and cannot have rights. Having rights requires that one be capable of respecting the rights of others.”

    Well that is true if you follow Rousseau’s arguement for the existance of human rights – the idea that rights emerge from a implicit social pact. There are other theories of rights, including utiltarian philosophies of minimization of suffering, or systems that use denial of expectation to justify rights.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m no an animal rights activist. As I said previously I’m ambivalent about such research. Just thinking out loud.

  30. #30 sudders
    November 5, 2007

    Oops, sorry for the double post – i’m having browser and network issues.

  31. #31 blf
    November 5, 2007

    In discussing Nick’s excellent question, Orac comments:

    [PETA et al.] also tend to emphasize research involving cats and dogs, even though such research is only marginally more common than rodent research.

    Research involving cats and dogs is more common than rodents? That strikes me as unlikely.

    And that comment causes me to wonder (just before I go off to lunch and probably devour some (dead) animal(s?)): What is the most common “animal” used in research? I suppose it depends on how you define “common”, and “animal”; i.e., are we taking about the number of experiments, or the number of creatures? And are all (non-plant) creatures “animals”?

    For instance, I’d guess there are both more experiments, and more (individual or colonies of) creatures involved, when the “animal” is E. coli and friends. I don’t know, but somehow I doubt PETA et al. is calling for Microorganism Rights or an End to Microorganism Testing.

    And how many animal experiments result in death, or injury, or harm, or pain, to the animal? That’s a tricky one, since (to a human) caging animals seems harmful. But, yet again, I somehow doubt anyone sees keeping E. coli caged in a petri dish as harmful.

  32. #32 Orac
    November 5, 2007

    Research involving cats and dogs is more common than rodents? That strikes me as unlikely.

    Come on, that was a brain fart. It should read: “PETA et al.] also tend to emphasize research involving cats and dogs, even though such research is only marginally more common than primate research.”

  33. #33 blf
    November 5, 2007

    Orac clarifies:

    … that was a brain fart.

    Brain malfunctions emit GHGs? ;-)

    I guessed it was a mistake, but what was intended was not entirely clear (at least to me). Thanks for clarifying!

  34. #34 jeffk
    November 5, 2007

    I suggest anyone that thinks animals absolutely do not have rights because they are not capable of respecting the rights of others consider the implications of your argument as applied to mentally retarded human beings, or even just human beings less than a year old.

    In fact, by this reasoning, I’m pretty sure Republicans don’t have rights. I guess I could sign on to that.

  35. #35 Nomen Nescio
    November 5, 2007

    animals don’t and cannot have rights

    that’s a bit strong. animals may or may not have rights, but they certainly can have rights, if we assign them such. moral “rights” are, after all, human creations — “nature red in tooth and claw” knows nothing of rights nor does it respect any. we’re the ones doing that.

    the issue is whether or not we should. i tend to think we ought to, in certain specific cases, give certain species of animals at least limited rights. we’ve already de facto granted most whales and primates the right to life, and i tend to think we should go a bit farther, although always carefully.

  36. #36 Dianne
    November 5, 2007

    But is a life lived only for this purpose worth living?

    What makes a life worth living for a mouse? I would think it would be sex and food, maybe children and exploration (not sure if mice enjoy raising their kits or just cope with it and if they enjoy roaming around or are tense until they know their territory thoroughly). Can’t a lab supply all of the above and protect the mice from danger?

    Surely it is better not to exist than to exist only to be killed (of course we’re all going to die sometime

    What’s the average life expectancy of a lab versus a wild mouse? My guess is that lab mice live longer (though I must admit that I don’t know really). And since most mice die by violence anyway is it any worse for a human to kill a mouse for a data point versus a cat to kill it for dinner?

  37. #37 Epistaxis
    November 5, 2007

    What seems to be lost in this game of who can build the silliest strawman (which is a weird game to play, because PETA and ALF put horrible enough things in their own mouths) is that there are reasonable, non-terroristic people out there who consider animals as more than clockwork machines made out of delicious flesh. They don’t necessarily use the word “rights” for either animals or humans; “equal consideration of interests” is a better description (from Peter Singer, who exemplifies this viewpoint). They would have problems with animal research even if they didn’t believe the researchers were a bunch of sadists – and they often don’t believe that. Basically, they don’t see why the same arguments can’t apply to individuals of different species.

    By all means, if all you want to do is pile on PETA and ALF, go ahead, and there probably is someone who believes every ridiculous thing you assume they believe. Just bear in mind there’s an actual discussion to be had here, too.

  38. #38 Epistaxis
    November 5, 2007

    I’ve never been able to get out of animal rights activists exactly where they draw the line in terms of speciesism; clearly they don’t accord the same moral consideration to insects (I don’t know why, surely that is also speciesism) but do for rodents. Anyone else?

    You should have tried asking one.

    Rodents have a much more developed nervous system than insects do and are much more capable of having interests (which we can deny) or experiencing pain (which we can inflict). It turns out cephalopods are surprisingly smart too; I think someone (who’s not PZ Myers) is working on legislation to protect them specifically. By the same logic, brain-damaged humans in a persistent vegetative state are probably incapable of experiencing any sort of pain or loss, so the only interests that matter are those of their loved ones.

    The point is, whether or not it’s okay to harm someone depends on their capacity to experience the harm, not on what group they belong to. In the 21st century I shouldn’t have to defend that.

  39. #39 Dianne
    November 5, 2007

    Just bear in mind there’s an actual discussion to be had here, too.

    I agree. So does the “mainstream”. There are–as there should be–definite rules on how lab animals can be treated and what sort of experiments can be done on them. These rules can be a pain at times, but they are necessary. Any scientist wishing to use animals in her/his experiment must be ready to demonstrate that the experiment is necessary, that there are no reasonable non-animal alternatives, that the animals involved will not suffer unnecessarily, that steps have been taken to ensure that they have adequate food, water, and space, that euthanasia, if it must be done, is painless, etc. For transgenic animals, the need to ensure that the animals won’t suffer needlessly through the genetic alterations is also considered. For primates, the restrictions are more stingent. Among other things, IIRC, primates can not be euthanized at the end of the experiment but must be sent to primate “retirement homes” when there usefulness as experimental subjects is at an end (that may be just for chimps, though.)

    I think people here are a bit disturbed by the incident Orac posted about and are therefore perhaps a bit more militant than they would normally be (though, of course, I can only say for sure about myself). I don’t think that you need despair of there ever being a real dialogue on this issue–indeed, there have been many in the past and they have been successful in reforming practice. If more needs to be done, then by all means make the case.

  40. #40 trollanon
    November 5, 2007

    “You should have tried asking one.”

    We do. Repeatedly. Especially in comment trains on blogs whenever the issue comes up. And much like you have, the question is dodged. Each and every time.

    First we get a lot of blathering about capacity to “suffer” which returns to begging the question. How. Do. You. Know? That the capacity of a monkey differs substantially from the capacity of a rat (for which there is comparatively MUCH less concern) and hews categorically closer to that of a human? There is never any real evidence presented and it always boils down to “well I think so because they are sorta like us and oh by the way no I’ve never even so much as come within a foot of an actual member of the species under discussion”.

    Second, the issue of numbers is never addressed and i mean NEVER. Because it is readily apparent to all who pay attention that one very important underlying philosophy is a life-equivalency. That individual’s rights to not be killed must be respected. Therefore, any reasonable approach says “the more animals used, the worse it is”. In fact this is enshrined, respectively in the “unnecessary experiments” critique and the “Reduction” obligation. This means that for a legitimate activist, they should be more concerned with mouse experiments and less with chimpanzee experiments given the numbers used. And in fact should probably insist that monkeys be used in place of rats in many cases since multiple data points can be obtained from a single monkey that would otherwise require multiple rats.

    Animal rights types get asked these questions all the time. They never answer. Why not? Obvious to me anyway that they cannot answer because then they would have to admit that they have no adherence to any high-minded moral or philosophical position at all but are motivated by other essentially arbitrary factors. A matter of personal preference, taste and theology rather than a matter of a universal correctness of position.

  41. #41 Marcus Ranum
    November 5, 2007

    I am puzzled by the willingness of Marcus and other animal rights activists to keep pets.

    I am not an animal rights advocate. I keep horses and dogs and eat meat. Please don’t make the mistake of shoehorning me into one of your simplistic categories.

    I’ve had a few things happen to me in the last couple years that have made me realize that our relationships with other animals are not always as simple as ownership or companionship. We want to draw a sharp line between “humans” and “animals” – but there isn’t one: we’re all animals and our “feelings” and behaviors are just matters of degree. Yes, I’m smarter than my dogs – but that doesn’t mean they are at the intellectual level of lettuce. We want to believe that animals merely respond to training, but are blind to the fact that human children also require training. Animals fight like hell to stay alive, just like humans do.

    As I said – I support animal experimentation. But I dislike homo-sapien-centric ideology that draws a line between humans and the animal kingdom. We’re all the same thing. We humans are just smarter, more articulate, and more imaginative.

    I think some experiments should be performed on humans, because we communicate and can explain our responses better than other animals. Humans also replace themselves pretty darned quick and, frankly, are no more valuable than horses or dogs or cats. Oh, sure, we’re more valuable to ourselves but, duh, I bet the other animals feel the same way.

  42. #42 MarMarcus Ranum
    November 5, 2007

    trollanon writes:
    Just one more example of the almost willing ignorance of the animal rights nut

    Hey, thoughtless: I’m not an animal rights nut. Simply because I try to think about my relationships with my animals in a way that you don’t agree with doesn’t mean you should pigeonhole me into your neat little categories – you don’t know me at all, as a person, and by stereotyping me like that you’re playing the fool.

    A couple things that have made me think differently about my animals: this summer one of my horses died of colic. His gelding buddy P-nut, who had spent most of his life with him, was extremely upset and carried on with displays that were – well – what were they? I’ve seen humans display similar behaviors when they lose one of their pack. If what humans have are “feelings” then I’ve seen “feelings” in other animals as well. I’ve shot animals that were wounded (barn cat stepped on by horse, old dog that couldn’t walk any more, old cat that was incontinent and was messing up the house) and I’ve observed that animals fight for their lives with the same energy as a human would. Etc.

    With respect to whether the chimps are ferocious or not – no, I wasn’t referring to a specific article. The poster’s comment simply gave me pause to reflect that humans are just as ferocious as chimps, from what I can see, whether we’re being abused or simply left alone. My comment about the cage was a bit of free-association – I had a cat leap out of a cage and rip some pretty deep holes in my arm. A bit of reflection makes me realize that if someone put me in a cage, like I did that cat, I’d probably serve them far worse if I ever got out. That’s all.

    I am not making moral judgements about how people should or shouldn’t treat animals. My view is that people who want to act as if humans are somehow different than other animals are the ones that are making a moral judgement. Because that’s where it ends up: animals can’t feel but people can. Animals can’t care but people can. Etc. That’s nonsense. We are not that superior.

    I eat cows because I can and they taste good. I don’t apologize for this, because it is how I am made to be. But I don’t bullshit myself that the cow doesn’t want to live, and that (for a cow) living is probably sweet and precious.

  43. #43 Marcus Ranum
    November 5, 2007

    Marcus, it was intended on being an absolute statement based on ancient philosophy. Plato, if I remember my ethics classes.

    It sounded like an appeal to authority, to me. But if you’ve got to appeal to authority, a 3,000 year-old philosopher is going to have a lot of useful observations regarding behaviorism.

    What you are describing with dogs is not a sense of fair play, but opportunism. Horses, pecking order.

    Do you understand that the exact same things can be said about human behaviors? It seems to you to be very important to elevate human behaviors to a higher plane than “the lower orders.” But what’s the basis for that? Human children are socialized to “pecking order” – we call it “parenting” and “school.” And I think we’ve all had our senses of “fair play” offended by opportunism in our fellow man. I’ve felt “grief” and I’ve seen animals exhibit behaviors that would be indistinguishable by an outside observer.

    I understand your point about chimpanzees being dangerous and powerful and aggressive and territorial and smart. They’re a handful of whupass. So are humans. Our evolutionary inheritance does not bequeath us the chimp’s muscles or teeth, but we’ve got the brains to make AK-47s. I think you’re actually arguing my point: humans and chimps are both animals and, working within the limitations of their brain-power and other capabilities, we’re more similar than a lot of people are comfortable with. So let’s throw up some arbitrary barriers, shall we? What, chimps have no “rights” because they can’t talk and can only operate with primitive social structures? That’s a dangerous view, because it means my dog (Jake, the smarter one, seems to understand a pretty good range of verbal directives) has more “rights” than an aphasic who can’t speak? Nonsense. My horse, who can perform several fun tricks including “fetch” can do more tricks than some autistic children. Etc. We want to act as if animals are just meat robots that act on instinct and we utterly ignore the fact that our children are born stupid and without language until we program it into them with reward and punishment.

    I challenge the notion that there is anything inherently special about human behavior that makes it different from other, similar, behaviors in other animals.

    Yes, I can see how that position would make a lot of people very uncomfortable. It doesn’t make me very comfortable, either, because it has implications for a lot of what I do. If I’m going to be unfair or cruel (or just plain kill and eat) other animals, I’m going to do it unflinchingly – but I’m not going to bullshit myself that their death-struggles are somehow different or less sincere than mine would be if I was the game.

  44. #44 Epistaxis
    November 5, 2007

    “You should have tried asking one.”

    We do. Repeatedly. Especially in comment trains on blogs whenever the issue comes up. And much like you have, the question is dodged. Each and every time.

    No, you’re dodging the answer, which I gave clearly.

    Our ethical obligation to an individual is proportional to that individual’s capacity to have interests and experience pain. I thought it was implied that this refers to the level of their neurological and psychological complexity. I know chimpanzees have the capacity to suffer the same way I know an infant does. In fact, it’s more than possible that a chimpanzee has the greater intellectual development in that comparison.

    Maybe I confused the issue by replying to the question at all, since it wasn’t really phrased in such a way that it could be answerable if taken literally. Let me put it another way: To me, ethics isn’t about drawing lines between species/classes/sexes/ethnicities to tell me whose interests are worth considering and who can be treated like disposable automata whenever I can get away with it. Self-awareness, unhappiness, and pain are to be respected wherever they’re found.

    Second, the issue of numbers is never addressed and i mean NEVER. Because it is readily apparent to all who pay attention that one very important underlying philosophy is a life-equivalency. That individual’s rights to not be killed must be respected.

    I don’t know what a life-equivalency is, but I don’t think all lives are equivalent, and I don’t use the language of “rights” either. If an individual doesn’t want to be killed, it’s unethical to kill her. I call that an “interest,” like Singer does. A “right” seems to mean an interest that it’s unethical to ignore, as if there were others that aren’t.

    Therefore, any reasonable approach says “the more animals used, the worse it is”

    Then mine must be unreasonable, because I think there are other factors besides the sheer number of individuals you harm. There’s also the intensity of the harm and the duration of the harm, at the bare minimum. Killing a chimpanzee inflicts a more intense harm than killing a mouse, because the chimpanzee has more complex interests that we’d be denying by doing so.

    Animal rights types get asked these questions all the time. They never answer.

    You should be very careful using “Such-and-such group of people refuse to answer this question” as your only argument, because all we have to do is answer it and you lose.

  45. #45 Corey
    November 5, 2007

    [sarcasm]Ban animal testing, I don’t trust a monkey to be able to interpret scientific data! [/sarcasm]

  46. #46 Robster, FCD
    November 6, 2007

    Marcus,

    Do you understand that the exact same things can be said about human behaviors?

    Yet, but after socialization, humans are capable of understanding the emotional position of others, while animals rely on a self or social unit interest level alone.

  47. #47 Calli Arcale
    November 6, 2007

    I think there is a fair distinction to be made between humans and other animals — just as there is a fair distinction to be made between my family and yours. I care a great deal about my fellow humans, but if it comes down to it, and I am forced to make a choice between one of my children and one of yours, I will probably choose one of mine. This has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with family.

    I think we should put our fellow humans before other animals for the same reason. Not because we are smarter, not because we are nobler in any way, but because we are *us*. Loyalty to your own species first. If possible, protect all, but if it comes down to a choice, take care of your own kind first.

    Now, given that, is it possible to justify animal experimentation? Absolutely. If it will save human lives, it is worth it. The world is a cruel place; it is not possible to live without harming another animal. Even if you are a vegan who never wears leather, and even if you eschew modern conveniences, and even if you shun modern medicine, you will harm animals. Live in a cave in the wilderness, and you will have to harm animals in order to live. That is what ALF and ELF blissfully ignore. They are not helping animals at all by doing what they do. Flooding a house doesn’t hurt any animals? They’d better hope there wasn’t an infestation of cute little mice, to say nothing of all the poor defenseless arthropods they annihilated.

    I think that if someone wishes to be good to animals, they should do so. It’s a good thing to always strive to make the world a better place, and reducing suffering, in any capacity, is a good thing. But it is ridiculous to think that zero suffering is achievable, or to suggest that one is putting humans and animals on an equal plane by doing things like this. This doesn’t put them on equal footing. It just causes more suffering.

  48. #48 trollanon
    November 7, 2007

    no, epistaxis, you have most assuredly not answered the question. there is not mystery whatsoever as to what animal righties believe. this is not the question. the question is, why do you believe what you do and what consistent principles may be applied to frame a dialog on the ethical use of animals?

    what you have done here is restate your belief. This is neither science nor ethics but theology. you assert a chimpanzee has “more complex interests”, what the hell does this mean? how do you “know” anything at all about relative capacity to suffer?

  49. #49 Prometheus
    November 8, 2007

    Orac,

    It seems to me that PETA (People for the Ethical Treament of Animals) is misnamed.

    For starters, they don’t seem all that interested in the ethical treatment of humans, and humans are – last I checked – animals, too.

    In addition, they seem curiously limited in the animals that they champion. I haven’t seen anything from them protesting the use of insecticides or fly swatters, yet insects are animals.

    Based on their actions, a more appropriate name for the organisation would be the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Non-human Mammals” (PETNHM) – but that isn’t as lyrical a name as “PETA”.

    They also seem to be a bit wishy-washy on the whole issue of animal research. They encourage (or at least “understand”) the fire-bombing of animal research labs and the intimidation of researchers in those labs, yet a number of their staffers use drugs, medical devices and medical techniques that were only made possible through extensive animal research.

    If they were interested in setting an example, they would lead the way by forgoing these life-saving and life-prolonging medical advances.

    But, that would only happen if they weren’t hypocrites.

    Prometheus

  50. #50 Jim Lippard
    November 8, 2007

    How reliable are animal models in disease and drug research, in an era where we’re starting to see gene-specific medicines that are effective only on a subset of humans?

    It seems like I recently saw reference to a study of animal research that found that a great deal of it ends up *not* accurately applying to humans. Is anyone familiar with such research?

  51. #51 Jim Lippard
    November 8, 2007

    How reliable are animal models in disease and drug research, in an era where we’re starting to see gene-specific medicines that are effective only on a subset of humans?

    It seems like I recently saw reference to a study of animal research that found that a great deal of it ends up *not* accurately applying to humans. Is anyone familiar with such research?