Pharyngula

Once we’ve defeated the creationists (hah!), we’re going to have to manage the next problem: well-meaning but ill-informed animal rights activists. Nick describes a recent article that tries to claim we can reduce animal use in labs — and it even has a couple of respectable scientists signing on to that nonsense.

And it really is nonsense. We don’t understand everything that is going on inside animals, and to figure it out, we actually need to look inside them. There’s no other way. If you want to examine patterns of gene expression inside the developing mouse brain, you have to extract their brains (needless to say, a lethal process) and examine them with a host of tools. Isolated cells in a petri dish aren’t the same thing. To simulate something with a computer, you need to know the parameters of what you’re simulating.

Using our imaginations and inventing what we think might be going on rather easily leads to absurd results … and the way I recognized that they were absurd is that I’ve actually looked at the processes involved.

Comments

  1. #1 Dustin
    August 28, 2007

    And there’s a much more pragmatic bent to this than satiating curiosity. Diseases. Diseases, diseases, diseases. Studying vectors is pretty important.

    Also (and I don’t want to come off as a framer here), hurling molotov cocktails at old women who they mistake for biologists isn’t the best way to win friends and influence people. Getting naked in public is. They should do more of that.

  2. #2 anna
    August 28, 2007

    Even so, it should be required to use anesthesia where doing so would not harm the experiment.

  3. #3 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Won’t someone please think of the suffering of the poor, poor E. coli, being tortured in Petri dishes? Being torn open just to make a plasmid? Can’t you just use a computer?

  4. #4 Sabrina
    August 28, 2007

    I am forced to agree that we will probably never be able to completely eliminate research using living organisms as test subjects.

    However, the patenting of animals altered by testing recently came to my attention, and I am very troubled by the other extreme as well – the complete disregard of any level of dignity for living creatures who are being hurt, even if for virtuous ends. And yes, I recognize that they are often two separate issues – scientific research and economic standards, but because they are closely linked in today’s world, I believe that researchers should be aware of the impact of the research they do.

    I hope that in time we can find a reasonable medium where we can acknowledge both the necessity of such actions and the gravity of those actions.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    August 28, 2007

    If you want to examine patterns of gene expression inside the developing mouse brain, you have to extract their brains (needless to say, a lethal process)

    What? You can’t just take half the brain? We know things with half a brain can live … just check out the comment section at Uncommon Descent.

  6. #6 Dustin
    August 28, 2007

    New Rule: Intelligent design fans can now (finally) make contributions to science. I leave the way in which they make said contributions unspoken, but it might make PETA happier, and PETID sadder.

  7. #7 Dustin
    August 28, 2007

    On second though, extracting Dembski’s brain would not prove to be instructive. So much for that idea.

  8. #8 Stwriley
    August 28, 2007

    The real problem is that the anti-animal testing arguments have outlived themselves. Once, in relation to things like cosmetic industry testing, they had some validity. Many of the original targets of the idea were things (like cosmetics testing) that really didn’t need to be done or didn’t really need to be done that way.

    But now the argument has been extended far beyond it’s original valid scope, to try and include all animal testing, which invades the grounds of the scientifically necessary. I don’t necessary fault those who make some of these arguments, since their motives are invariably moral and they tend to live up to them otherwise (by not consuming animal foods or products, for instance) but that doesn’t mean that they have a lock on the moral equation, either.

    The problem lies in the absolutist nature of the argument coming from the anti-testing side, where the only solution is of the all-or-nothing variety. Scientists, of course, decide on and design animal tests for scientific purposes and treat each in isolation (in a moral sense) based on relative usefulness in exchange for what is required in the way of harm to the animals.

    It’s the old problem of absolutist vs. relativistic viewpoints, with the absolutists refusing to see the utility of the relativistic approach and insisting on a moral standard regardless of consequence. It’s no better than trying to get someone to compromise on any other article of faith, they won’t do it. I’m afraid the only real answer is to try and spread a more relativistic attitude so that animal testing decisions can be made on their own merits.

  9. #9 sailor
    August 28, 2007

    Animal rights is a tough one. At root is an emotional value judgement of what is right or wrong, and unlike abortion, it is rational and not based on some ancient book.
    I think both animal rights activists and biological experimenters could agree on some things: experiments on animals should be done as painlessly and kindly as possible. Captive animals should have as reasonable a life as possible. If something could be done without using animals, that would be the better way.
    Animal experiments cannot be replicated on a computer simulations. Much of what we know today has come from animal studies and they will continue to be a valuable resource.
    However some kind of course and prinicipals of ethics for animal researchers to sign onto may not be a bad thing.
    It is also true that some of the most strident animal rights sentimentalists come from cities and know little about wildlife or animals in general (except for their own kitty).

  10. #10 Melissa G
    August 28, 2007

    I have never, ever known a single scientist who doesn’t respect the gravity of animal testing, nor tried to alleviate potential suffering whenever possible. Unlike common media portrayals of scientists, they are human and respond with typical human empathy even through scientific professionalism. The straw-man Evil Researcher image erected by animal rights activists has little basis in the reality of animal research.

  11. #11 Tom @Thoughtsic.com
    August 28, 2007

    As someone against animal research, I think you hit on a key statement that I would argue against:

    We don’t understand everything that is going on inside animals, and to figure it out, we actually need to look inside them. There’s no other way.

    I agree. But my argument is why do we need to know these things? Just because you enjoy looking at them or understanding them isn’t good enough. Nor is just knowledge. There aren’t many in my boat, but I also exclude medical importance (something you admittedly aren’t taking into consideration with your research which may or may not involve killing animals.

    Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.

  12. #12 Kausik Datta
    August 28, 2007

    I am an immunologist, and I work in infectious diseases. For years and years I have been screaming that it is not possible to reduce all in vivo host systems down to the petridish or a computer simulation (Holy Sh*t! Did I just make an argument for irreducible complexity?). Joking apart, it is not possible simply because the micro-environment of a bunch of cell in a tissue culture flask is not quite same as the micro-environment of the organ in the context of the whole body. Heck, we don’t even know enough of the interactions between components of the immune system to be able to successfully model it on the computer. Again, if one does not have mutant rodent models, how on earth is one going to do predictive loss-of-function or gain-of-function studies?

    It is very easy to adopt a holier-than-thou air and talk about in vitro research and simulations, but for disease research, it ain’t gonna happen. Now, if only someone could get that across purposefully thick skulls of people at PETA. Someone tried to, but are they listening?

  13. #13 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Even so, it should be required to use anesthesia where doing so would not harm the experiment.

    It is required.

    However, the patenting of animals altered by testing recently came to my attention, and I am very troubled by the other extreme as well.

    I have a problem with patenting genes. It seems a little like patenting the liver. Sure, you found it first, but should you get all the rights to it?

    However, patenting engineered animals is something that makes a lot more sense to me. It takes a *lot* of work and a *lot* of money to make a knockout mouse (granted, it takes a lot less than it used to, but still). And someone can steal that work from you simply by acquiring one of your mice and breeding it. Doesn’t the massive amount of work that goes into making it deserve some protection? (We can argue about whether or not the current patent system of 17 years of protection is valid, but it seems to me the initial work should be protected). It’s a crazy amount of money to make a knockout mouse. Larger animals are even crazier amounts of money. One ought to be able to protect an investment like that…

  14. #14 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.

    I hope you live up to that ideal and deny *all* medical treatment to yourself and your loved ones. *All* medical treatment was tested on animals first to tweak it and make it safe for humans.

    May I suggest carrying a card in your wallet (like an organ donor card) that says the following? “As an ardent animal rights activist, I would like to not be treated in a hospital using techniques that were perfected in animals. Please respect my beliefs if I am brought to a hospital unconscious. Thank you.”

  15. #15 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    I’m with Tom here. The justification for the use of animals in research requires a little more than “but knowledge is important” or “think of the lives we’ll save.”

    No matter how you dissect(!) it, it’s speciesist reasoning. That’s fine as long as the underlying assumptions of the approach are examined and found to be reasonable.

    Or are we just happy to appropriate the Abrahamic tenet that God gave man dominion over all the beasts of the earth in this case because it serves us to?

  16. #16 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    Tom- I respect you for at least being honest:

    Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.

    While I disagree with it vigorously, it’s a consistent, non-obfuscated position. As you admit, though, it’s also an extraordinarily unpopular one. Hence the sort of widespread dishonesty that PZ was attacking.

    An additional note completely unrelated to Tom’s post. Whenever this sort of thing is discussed I’m always dismayed to note that many people appear to be quite unaware of the stringent regulations and reviews required for experimental use of any vertebrate. The life-science community needs to a far better job of disseminating this information to the public.

  17. #17 Ty
    August 28, 2007

    “Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.”

    And if you can’t see how ludicrous that position is, then there isn’t really anything left to talk about.

    Bottom line for me is, I refuse to die or watch a loved one die so that you can feel good about protecting animals.

  18. #18 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    There is precious little in the way of medical care that a person taking such an extreme position can receive without being guilty of hypocrisy.

  19. #19 factician
    August 28, 2007

    I think some of the folks here don’t quite understand the implications of what they are saying. Take Brownian’s: “The justification for the use of animals in research requires a little more than “but knowledge is important” or “think of the lives we’ll save.””

    How do you predict which research will give the results most likely to give cures for disease? There’s an awful lot of hope that stem cell work will cure disease, but so far there’s not many cures. Would you deny all the molecular biologists who are working with mice/rats/monkeys who are doing stem cell work the right to do their work? If they can’t immediately cure a disease is their work not justifiable?

    Some of this work may take decades to yield fruit that is usable.

    The other misconception that seems to be common here is that researchers are chopping up animals willy-nilly. I have only once had to do work with animals. I spent a month of my life writing up the animal protocol. In that protocol, I had to define how we would take care of the animals, how we would eliminate suffering and how we would euthanize them if it seemed they were suffering. There is a *lot* of care that goes into this stuff. One is not allowed to deviate far from the existing animal protocol without writing another one. Most universities are *very* careful with how they handle the animals in their care.

  20. #20 raven
    August 28, 2007

    Don’t use dogs and cats for experiments!!!

    Actually scientists use animals only when they absolutely have to. They are expensive and for most, the worst part of research is doing animal experiments. Call it squemishness or empathy or whatever, but it is not pleasant causing animals diseases and then curing them even if is necessary. Its got to be done if science and medicine are to progress. The alternative is to go directly to the large primate model known as human but they, the lawyers, and their relatives object even more to that than animal testing.

    For myself, I do oppose using companion animals for experiments. For the laypeople that is scientific jargon for dog and cats. IMO, we have a social contract with them based on mutualism. Besides which, I just decided long ago that it was unnecessary and immoral and I wasn’t going to do it. The dog and my cats agree with me. There aren’t too many dog and cat models anyway that can’t be done in other species. The very few that are such as hemophiliac dogs can be exceptions to the rule.

    As odd as this might sound, many academic and industrial animal facilities refuse to house dogs and cats for experimental purposes. More power to them.

  21. #21 Bob
    August 28, 2007

    Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.

    What would justify it? Anything reasonable?

    If not, then this claim way too a priori for my taste.

    But my argument is why do we need to know these things? Just because you enjoy looking at them or understanding them isn’t good enough. Nor is just knowledge.

    Again, could anything reasonably satisfy your skepticism? I mean, why do we want to know anything at all? If medical progress or understanding the world isn’t sufficient, then what would be?

  22. #22 PuckishOne
    August 28, 2007

    Quoth Factician: “I hope you live up to that ideal and deny *all* medical treatment to yourself and your loved ones.”

    I could not agree with this more. I have no problem at all if a person believes that the lives of animals are as sacred as those of humans. But to deny others medical treatment based on those beliefs is exactly the same as anti-choice proponents seeking to ban abortion on their moral grounds. If you are against the use of animals used for experimentation, do not support any of the end results. But do not try to remove the option of those treatments for others simply because your morals lead you in that direction.

  23. #23 MartinC
    August 28, 2007

    Speciesist ?
    I’m happy to admit guilt of that particular charge.
    How does anyone live without valuing their or their species life above other species on this planet?

  24. #24 raven
    August 28, 2007

    The comments about not using animals for research are just silly. All new medical treatments and drugs are extensively tested in animal models for safety and efficacy. Without that, drug development and medical research would screech to a halt and never move again.

    Even with the extensive animal testing, potentially lethal drugs still rarely slip through the screens and get tested on humans. You read about it in the headlines of the papers. Patient(s) die in phase 1 trial, clinical trial halted, Vioxx or whatever taken off the market.

    Not seeing much difference from using a dozen mice in an anticancer experiment and eating a Big Mac made from dead cows and pickles or a tuna fish sandwhich.

  25. #25 Pdiddy
    August 28, 2007

    Several good points have already been made. As a scientist that has used animals (mice) in infectious disease research for over 30 yrs. I’d like nothing more than to use valid computer models or tissue culture models instead of mice. Protocols take weeks-months to write and get approved. Mice are extremely expensive ($15-75 each) to purchase and even more expensive to house. Animal costs are always the second largest item on any research budget.

    Also, it’s even more difficult when investigating immune responses to parasitic organisms that cause diseases that cannot be modeled in tissue culture. Not to mention the complexity of the host/parasite interaction with the immune system.

  26. #26 tim
    August 28, 2007

    Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.

    How do you justify killing and eating plants? How do you justify your immune system’s destruction of invading organisms? I don’t pose these questions with hostility. But presumably in a moral debate they demand answers, and I can’t think of any answer that doesn’t seem ultimately arbitrary.

  27. #27 factician
    August 28, 2007

    To make things easier for the non-speciest folks here, I’ve prepared a card you can place in your wallet demonstrating how strongly you hold your beliefs that animal experiments are wrong. You can find it here.

  28. #28 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    factician- excellent!

  29. #29 Amit Joshi
    August 28, 2007

    Sure, but you can’t wave off ethical concerns about cruelty to animals the way you can religious idiocy. I imagine you didn’t intend to, but it comes across like that.

    It’s foolish to ban all animal experiments; it’s not foolish to say that there need to be limits, and “guinea pigs” do deserve humane treatment.

  30. #30 Jeff Alexander
    August 28, 2007

    Janet D. Stemwedel has a recent post on this same topic which is well worth reading:
    http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2007/08/discomfort_with_the_gray_areas.php

  31. #31 Dustin
    August 28, 2007

    I object to eating salads. The belief that a latuca sativa is less important than a homo sapiens is speciest sentiment.

  32. #32 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    It’s foolish to ban all animal experiments; it’s not foolish to say that there need to be limits, and “guinea pigs” do deserve humane treatment.

    What makes you think there aren’t such limitsand such requirements? There are, damn stringent ones at that. Did you bother to read factician @ #19 before posting?

  33. #33 ctenotrish, FCD
    August 28, 2007

    I worked on zebrafish – a vertebrate, non-mammalian, model organism – for several years. Rules at my academic institution were stringent, anesthesia was used, and great care was taken with our animals, even when a study required a formalin-fixed (this kills them) series of fish. Research animals are valuable and expensive to care for, even zebrafish, which are far cheaper and typically easier than, say, mice. People who work with lab animals do not run around saying “la la la I kill stuff today.” Yeesh. Good animals = good data. Sick animals = no chance for good data . . . .

  34. #34 factician
    August 28, 2007

    It’s foolish to ban all animal experiments; it’s not foolish to say that there need to be limits, and “guinea pigs” do deserve humane treatment.

    I agree with you 100%. And in the vast majority of cases, this is already done. I suspect that the folks here that are calling for “more humane treatment” of animals have never seen an animal research facility. They live exceptionally well-treated lives. Their suffering is minimized in every possible way, and experiments are designed in a manner to reduce suffering. Granted, you can never *eliminate* suffering entirely, but in many cases you can reduce it to near zero.

    I grew up next to a beef feedlot when I was younger, and I’ve been in animal research facilities. I guarantee you, that the cattle live an infinitely more miserable life than the relatively Gucci lifestyle of a research mouse.

  35. #35 factlike
    August 28, 2007

    …the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.

    This is why whenever I get an infection, I refuse to take any sort of antibiotic. In fact, I try extremely hard not to recover from any illness, because doing so kills those poor innocent uni-cellular organisms. Granted, cold viruses and streptococci bacteria aren’t nearly as cute and cuddly as puppy-wuppies and kitty-poo-poos, but they are living organisms nonetheless and deserve to live as much as I do. Allowing my T-cells to wantonly murder whole colonies of germs is, for lack of a better word, “speciesist”.

  36. #36 raven
    August 28, 2007

    It’s foolish to ban all animal experiments; it’s not foolish to say that there need to be limits, and “guinea pigs” do deserve humane treatment.

    Most scientists would agree with that. There are in fact, such rules and regulations about humane treatment of animals, using the minimum necessary, housing them properly and so on.

    Scientists don’t use animals because they want to. They use them because they have to or give up progress in medicine and related biological fields forever.

  37. #37 Galbinus_Caeli
    August 28, 2007

    I try to be pragmatic about these things. I think using animals to test a new hairspray is almost certainly unwarranted. Testing a drug, or even the activity of a gene is perfectly valid. Where the are the most appropriate tool for the job they should be used. On the same note, like any tool they should be taken care of and respected, and as living things they should be treated as well as practical. (As noted above, this is pretty much standard practice.)

    Of course treating most animals well is not that demanding. For a mouse, a wheel and a cardboard tube is as good as a playstation and cable tv.

    If someone wants to call be speciesist, then so be it. But if it is going to save my life, or improve the lives of people in general, go ahead and throw the kittens in the blender.

    By the way, I am vegetarian, but I wear leather shoes, they are the best tool for the job.

  38. #38 Dustin
    August 28, 2007

    In all seriousness, the animal rights activists would probably find strong allies among the scientists if they’d stop targeting the scientists and painting them as sociopathic bullies who enjoy vivisecting kittens for nothing more than giggles.

    For example, most of the scientists I know do not eat at KFC. Most have donated time or money to shelters or rescues and have, more than once, helped an injured animal in some way. They are, as a group, probably among the first to decry whaling as inhumane and wrong, and probably out of nothing more than respect for the whale. They’re the ones who give the scientific basis to environmentalism, and the ones who can pinpoint threats to ecosystems. And they aren’t likely to stop acting in a humane and responsible manner because some half-cocked hippies like to raid labs, either.

    Saying otherwis is the same thing as pointing the finger at an Ob/Gyn in some third-world shithole who is only there to help and accusing him/her of being some kind of meniacal eugenecist.

  39. #39 Shaun
    August 28, 2007

    As someone who works with animals on a daily basis (and yes, I do also have to sacrifice them with some regularity) I felt it necessary to build upon what Steve LaBonne alluded to: the lack of public understanding of what goes into animal research.
    A brief explanation of one element:
    Any facility that is using animals for research must, by law, have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) that determines what protocols can be used at that facility. These committees typically consist of scientists, veterinarians, ethicists, lawyers and “citizen advisors” with the aim of have sufficiently varyin viewpoints as to perform an actual regulatory function. They do not simply rubber stamp approvals on research proposals. Every protocol that is submitted must have an adequate justification for the use of animals and a strict accounting of how the animals will be used (i.e. all treatments, surgeries, etc.) with assurances that each animal is necessary for the purpose of the research project in question. It is also required by these committees, and the law, that all measures must be taken to ensure that the absolute minimum of pain is caused to the animals including anesthesia during and analgesia following any invasive treatment. In addition, most reputable facilites place an emphasis on “enrichment” for all animals including items for them to play with when they are in their cages. For anyone who would like to educate themselves more on this topic I would suggest simply googling “IACUC” as I’m sure that will give much better inforlamtion than I’ve provided.
    Now if you would please excuse me, I must return to the butchery that some would accuse me of.

  40. #40 negentropyeater
    August 28, 2007

    I’m sure the bible says something really meaningful about the number of cells that have to be present in a particular organism’s central nervous system to be deemed appropriate or not to experiment with.

    I go for Nx7x2 (see Genesis 7.2).
    I know, still got to determine N, I’m not exactly sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if N is not hidden somewhere in that bible.

    Or is it the number of letters in the Septuagint ?
    Well, if noone contradicts me, it will be deemed peer reviewed…

  41. #41 NeoGothic
    August 28, 2007

    Tom said: “Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.”

    “Not the health of the human race”? I too respect you for being honest and forthright about your position, but I don’t believe that you’d rather let Homo Sapiens go extinct, or even endure widespread suffering, due to some horrible pandemic than run tests and experiments on animals if that’s what it took to find a cure and save humanity.

  42. #42 True Bob
    August 28, 2007

    “You can’t replace animals with petri dishes and computers”

    Truer words were never written. I tried, and you wouldn’t believe the mess it made in the aquarium.

  43. #43 Mike P
    August 28, 2007

    I’m thinking meat; the other animals are (possibly) thinking meat. It’s all just meat doing stuff to other meat. Let’s lose the cosmic significance. We prefer not to kill our own brand of meat because that’s not good for society and surely there are strongly embedded evolutionary reasons not to commit murder against one’s own species. But other animals? We’ve been eating them and killing them for a very long time. I’m edging up to the naturalistic fallacy and I’m trying not to cross that line, but what I’m trying to say is, society has held itself together thus far with the killing of animals–through sport hunting, through medical testing, etc.–so I fail to see why attaining knowledge for its own sake is somehow categorically wrong<.

  44. #44 Fatboy
    August 28, 2007

    Well, it took me a little while to get this written, so some people have already covered some of this (particularly the posts about how animal suffering is supposed to be minimalized during testing), but I’m posting it, anyway…

    This is an issue I’ve grappled with for a long time, and even moreso since I’ve become an atheist. At least when I was a christian, I could say that humans were the most important animal, since we were God’s goal (I believed in theistic evolution). But the way I see it now, we’re just another species on this planet. Sure, we’re the smartest (at least, I’m pretty confident in saying that – I wouldn’t be too surprised if I learned that some species of cetaceans were as smart as or smarter than us in certain areas, but because of their environment and lack of hands, just never developed sophisticated technology), but I’m pretty sure that other animals still experience emotions, and feel physical sensations like pain. So, is their lower intelligence really our only justification in saying it’s okay to experiment on other animals? Would it then be okay to experiment on mentally retarded humans, or infants whose brains haven’t yet developed to the point where they’re very intelligent? Or is our empathy and morality really based on how much DNA an organism has in common with us?

    I understand that some scientific knowledge could be impossible to discover without animal studies, and that certain animal studies can lead to reduced human suffering. But doesn’t that seem a bit Machiavellian, saying that the ends justify the means. Do you take a similar view of human torture, or Guantanamo, saying that because in the end more people are made safe, it’s okay to torture a handful of people? If not, why? And again, what is our justification for saying humans are so much more important than other animals?

  45. #45 Sabrina
    August 28, 2007

    factician – I agree that there may be some compelling grounds to patent an organism or a technique for creating an altered organism FOR RESEARCH. But if you read further in the link I posted, there are animals that were essentially crippled AS A RESULT of testing – a rabbit that was made blind due to damage to its eyes from chemicals tested on it for lethality. There is a signficant difference between those two situations on economic, research, and ethical levels.

  46. #46 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    Well Fatboy, I can only emphasize that if you genuinely believe that, you should be carrying one of factician’s wallet cards. You can’t, on pain of hypocrisy, receive most kinds of medical treatment. Have you really thought seriously about that?

  47. #47 Mollie
    August 28, 2007

    If you want to examine patterns of gene expression inside the developing mouse brain, you have to extract their brains (needless to say, a lethal process) and examine them with a host of tools. Isolated cells in a petri dish aren’t the same thing.

    As someone who does study patterns of gene expression in the developing mouse brain, I’d like to note that even forcing scientists to study only isolated cells in a petri dish wouldn’t eliminate the need to kill mice — to make a culture of embryonic mouse neurons, you need to sacrifice a bunch of mouse embryos and extract their brains in the first place.

    It’s messy, and unpleasant, and frankly, I don’t like doing it. But my animals are happy and well-treated, and my lab is making progress toward understanding the molecular basis of neural development. I can sleep at night.

  48. #48 DaveX
    August 28, 2007

    As a vegetarian, my personal choice is that I contribute to (or support in some way) as little animal abuse as possible. I think it’s reasonable that a biologist or virologist doing front-line study will occasionally have to examine the actual inner workings of animals in order to do their work.

    It is my hope that this work is important, though– and not just smearing shampoo in some rabbit’s eye, or seeing how much of a cleansing agent it takes to make blisters.

    On the other hand, it also seems reasonable that students shouldn’t be presented with actual animals for dissections– these are easily modeled on a computer. It seems to me that many other experiments could be computer-modeled as well.

    ….

    As for the squeamishness of testing on companion animals, etc, it seems to me that this is little more than stupid emotionalism, and no more intelligent than creationists arguing against evolution because they don’t like being “from monkeys.” There is no way to get around the fact that when an animal is being forced to act as a test subject, it is abuse. No matter the outcome, this animal will suffer– and it is only our ability to disengage from this fact that allows us to continue. The more inhuman the subject, the easier it gets… we’ve all surely killed our share of flies and ants and germs, yes?

    The problem is that animal rights folks (and I’d count myself among their number) see how this sort of thinking is on a continuum with the sort of thinking that allows us to wage a senseless war that claims lives of innocent civilians halfway around the globe. Like the otherwise harmless “magical thinking” that writers like Randi and Dawkins see leading mankind towards places we should not go, the animal rights community often sees this us-versus-them mentality of animal research and consumption.

    It is most sad, however, to see the front-line scientists and researchers I mentioned earlier become the first “target” of animal rights attention. I’d sooner see all the more obvious (and less useful) examples done away with first– then get everyone to be a vegetarian– before I bothered with this sort of research, which surely cannot be all that great a percentage of animal abuse in total.

    Oh, and by the way– I hate PETA.

  49. #49 sailor
    August 28, 2007

    Eariler in the posting I said:
    “However some kind of course and prinicipals of ethics for animal researchers to sign onto may not be a bad thing.”
    Clearly things have come along way since my youth and this is very well in place.Thanks Shaun form posting the IACUC.org web
    It was not always that way – sometimes as species we make progress, and this would seem ot one area in which we have.
    Animal rights fanatics should take advantage of facticians cards (#26) and leave the rest of us alone. What they do is not useless – if they can get eveyone to agree there will be no more demand for animal testing and out medical bills will go down. Those willing to sign the card might even get one of the HMO’s to offer heavily discounted medical care rates.

  50. #50 Kausik Datta
    August 28, 2007

    factician, wow! Just wow! I am so impressed by your cogent arguments. Great job!
    Raven, I understand your point about companion animals, and I do believe we don’t really need hairspray or shampoos to be tested on dogs. However, dogs are considered essential for pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic modelling and toxicity testing of new chemical entities in the pre-clinical stage. There is a clearly defined FDA guideline on this.
    But I agree with you and a lot of others here that research needs to use the minimum level of animals needed to get good results. I think, the animal protocols of different institutions are written to emphasize on reduction, refinement and reasonability. Scientists who work with animals are not really inconsiderate, compassionless jerks as they are usually made out to be by the so-called anti-vivisectionists.

  51. #51 negentropyeater
    August 28, 2007

    Fatboy,

    first, there is a difference between killing and torturing.
    Second, for one life form to kill another life form in order to survive is quite(!) common in nature.
    This reminds me a bit the discussion I has with a friend who is a hardline vegetarian. The fact that homo-sapiens exists because it started hunting for food and killing other animals and thereby evolved into a more intelligent being seems to be of no value to him.

    So, if we humans, need to kill (not torture) other life forms (however intelligent) in order to survive (ie find cures for deseases that kill some humans), I do not see a reason why this should be deemed as going against nature.

    Kind regards from a meat eater. (I actually eat a bit of everything, and agree that there is no reason to overdo it on meat, it’s probably even harmful)

  52. #52 John
    August 28, 2007

    Tom wrote:
    “Bottom line for us animal rights activists, even in scientific and medical research, is that the outcome doesn’t justify the means of killing the animal. Not my health, not your health, not the health of the human race justifies it.”

    So what do you choose if you have been in a car accident (you are still conscious), you’ve lost a lot of blood, and the paramedics arrive and want to start a saline iv?

    The saline, needle, bag, and tubing have all been lot-tested for endotoxins using animals, so accepting the iv creates new demand for other animals to be used.

    I’ve heard a lot of people blathering about animals having rights, but strangely, I’ve never heard of anyone turning down a saline iv. Why is that, Tom?

  53. #53 Martha
    August 28, 2007

    We have a long way to go before humans as a whole can live up to the humanity scientists show their research animals.

    Look at the media attention of Michael Vick gets for dog fighting… its all about how he lied, let down his team, engaged in illegal betting and when he’ll be able to return to the NFL, not about the monstrous activity he participated in.

    How can we as a society have serious conversations about animal research when we are so flippant with the express abuse of our “best friends” for entertainment? It may be best to address this seeming indifference to inhumanity before trying to raise the already high standard of animal use in labs.

  54. #54 Fatboy
    August 28, 2007

    First of all, I said it was something I was grappling with, not that I’d actually decided upon. I was trying to point out some issues that a lot of the commenters here were glossing over. I guess my main question, was whether or not the ends justify the means, and it would appear that many of the commenters here do feel that way. Fine.

    The next big question was what makes humans so much different from any other animal – why is it okay to study other animals? I realize it’s the way our society works, and will be for a long time to come, but I wondered if there was any rational basis for it, other than saying humans our closest kin.

    I do understand the difference between killing and torture. Maybe instead of torture, I should have said intentional suffering. Unless I’m missing something, when animals get infected with diseases to test the efficacy of a treatment, they do have to suffer the symptoms of the disease.

    And yes, I am a hypocrite. I haven’t made up my mind on this issue, and in the meantime I go on eating animals. But, factician’s card still seems silly to me. It’s a bit like saying, if you think slavery is wrong, don’t use any of the infrastructure in the south that may have been built by slaves, or else you’re a hypocrite. We can’t change the past. If as a society we were to decide that animal testing were wrong (fat chance), we wouldn’t be compelled to throw out all the knowledge we’d gained up till that point. So if as an individual I decided I didn’t agree with animal testing, why should I be compelled to avoid using any treatments from the past? I could see all future treatments, but then factician would have to make a multipage form, and not just a simple card.

    And finally, as others have pointed out, for the most part, research facilities do treat their animals pretty well, so this is one of the smaller issues in the world today, and it’s not something worth spending too much time on.

  55. #55 raven
    August 28, 2007

    However, dogs are considered essential for pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic modelling and toxicity testing of new chemical entities in the pre-clinical stage.

    Where? We do those studies as a matter of course constantly, part of ADME-tox. Never have used a dog or cat. The FDA requires it for drug preclinical but certainly has no requirement for those two animals. Usually it is rodent and sometimes primate.

  56. #56 John
    August 28, 2007

    Fatboy wrote:
    “Unless I’m missing something, when animals get infected with diseases to test the efficacy of a treatment, they do have to suffer the symptoms of the disease.”

    You’re missing almost everything, not just something. Most animals are not used to test the efficacy of treatments.

    “And yes, I am a hypocrite. I haven’t made up my mind on this issue, and in the meantime I go on eating animals. But, factician’s card still seems silly to me. It’s a bit like saying, if you think slavery is wrong, don’t use any of the infrastructure in the south that may have been built by slaves, or else you’re a hypocrite. We can’t change the past. If as a society we were to decide that animal testing were wrong (fat chance), we wouldn’t be compelled to throw out all the knowledge we’d gained up till that point. So if as an individual I decided I didn’t agree with animal testing, why should I be compelled to avoid using any treatments from the past?”

    This is ignorant and/or dishonest, because accepting any medical supplies directly increases the exploitation of animals, BECAUSE THEY ARE LOT-TESTED. It’s not just science and drug testing.

  57. #57 catofmanyfaces
    August 28, 2007

    2 things. First a horror story for everyone to chew on:

    My grandfather was a research chemist quite a while ago (probably in the 40’s-50’s) and had to take part in some animal testing. I don’t remember what they were testing, but it involved the use of guinea pigs (yes, the animal). I understand it was almost a thousand.

    The testing wasn’t particularly harmful to the animals, but the company he worked for had no use for them after the tests, so they were to be killed.

    seems kinda wasteful enough, neh? but my grandfather who was just an assistant at the time walked in on the project leader as he was doing the dirty deed: apparently, he had decided to cut costs, and not euthanize the guinea pigs by putting them to sleep. No. this jackass was injecting them with air and letting them squirm in pain as it killed them slowly.

    My grandfather relates that he said something along the lines of “what the hell are you doing!?!?”

    in the end he found out that the project leader there was quite religious and believed that God had put animals on the planet for man to do whatever he wanted with them, and thus there was nothing wrong with killing them that way.

    My grandfather could only get him to stop by promising to kill them himself, and had to, by hand, break each one’s neck. A much more humane way to kill them. (but still cheap. yeesh that project leader was an ass.)

    And now i forgot what the second thing i was going to say was.

    Though I think this story shows that we have come a long way in our treatment of test animals.

    P.S. my grandfather is very religous and uses this story to talk about how other christians can sometimes not get it. he hopes that man gets what’s coming to him.

  58. #58 Greg
    August 28, 2007

    I find myself nodding my head in agreement with DaveX. I, too, am a vegetarian for health & environmental reasons. Causing less cruelty is an added bonus. I dislike PETA, even though I try to be as cruelty-free as possible when I consume.

    Someone mentioned animals being a front-line instead of humans, due to our litigious culture (among other things). The truth of it is, if you are an animal rights activist and want to see the end of animal testing, the only substitute will be human testing. Who will agree to be tested upon, perhaps killed, for the sake of science? If we exclude tests that require killing the animal and move on to more even-footed territory, like pharmaceutical assays, what human wants to be a guinea pig for that (pardon the reference)?

    Remember at these early phases, it’s not like it is now. The doctor won’t be coming to you and saying “there’s this poorly tested, possible cure for your condition.” Nope. The conversation would be more like, “there’s this new drug that Pfizer has no idea what it will do to you, but take it, and in a few weeks we’ll cut out your liver and see how it compares to a normal one.” You *can’t* do this testing on humans. We *have* to use animals.

    I was going to post about how there would have to be a trade for legal immunity for human testing if people seriously became interested in banning animal testing… but even then, that just wouldn’t cut it.

    You have on idea how much animal testing has improved your life. None. I’m not only talking about pharmaceuticals, but even food additives, preservatives, and more. Heck, animals were at one point used to test for CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in mines. Are you going to go without electricity (almost all of our plants are coal-burners), or without metal of any kind?

    Saying that one animal life is worth more than the human race is the same kind of twisted argument we are seeing from the Bush administration, which said they would oppose even an HIV immunization due to fears of promiscuity. It’s complete, utter, raving, loony BOLLOCKS.

    And I’m -> <- this close to being a vegan myself.

    So to update, to live completely cruelty-free, in addition to eating no animal products, you must stop using cosmetics and soaps (revert back to ashes and oil, since soap was traditionally made from rendered fat – if we can stop animal testing now, it’s because we so thoroughly tested in the past). Brush your teeth with baking soda and twigs, swear off all modern medicine completely – I see you reaching for that aspirin now, you better stop – and go off the grid completely. In fact, you can’t even generate electricity with a water wheel, because you might knock down some animal habitats when you cut down the tree, and you’ll disrupt fowl and fish ecosystems while you’re using it. You’ll have to grow your own food, and spin your own fibers, because there’s no guarantee of getting cruelty free produce even when it’s organic. Sometimes organic farmers exploit insects to cleanse their fields of pests, and even if not, you can bet that slave horses are having all of their manure stolen to use as fertilizer. You’ll just have to crap in your own field to fertilize it, and eat the bugs off your plants to get a healthy crop. Or can you do that? Could you even kill the insect that’s eating your only food?

    This exercise might never end.

  59. #59 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    I’ll be upfront with you all: I’m neither a vegetarian, nor am I a priori against animal testing.

    However, the speciesism inherent in animal testing has serious implications for many of the conclusions drawn in biology and from evolution itself. We claim all life on the planet shares a common ancestry; we claim the concept of species is a relatively flexible one, particularly when it comes to paleontology and the fossil evidence for evolution; we claim humans share 90-some percent of their DNA with chimpanzees; hell, some of us even claim that genes are somewhat independent agents whose importance in evolution rivals the individual, the population, and perhaps even the species.

    Then, as soon as Grandma’s diagnosed with cancer, we turn around and say “Screw that! I’m human and Grandma’s human, and all the rest of you organisms can go fuck yourselves.”

    Fatboy and Tom have made all the standard arguments against animal testing, and Factician and the others have made all the standard arguments for it. That’s not to say that they’re not good arguments; they are. But if we’re to let our knowledge of the world inform our ethics rather than relying on sky daddy to tell us what to do, then we’ve got to be reevaluating our claims as more information comes to light.

    Fatboy hit it on the head when he asked if “our empathy and morality [is] really based on how much DNA an organism has in common with us.”

    Maybe that’s fine. As a non-photosynthesiser, my very existence so far necessitates the deaths of thousands of organisms. But where is that line drawn? I stated up front that I’m not a priori against animal testing, but I realised long ago that I can no longer justify being a priori against murder either.

    I suspect, based on the comments here, that Martha’s right: “We have a long way to go before humans as a whole can live up to the humanity scientists show their research animals.”

    But do not dismiss out of hand the questions that Tom and Fatboy raise. That’s not rationality; that’s dogmatism.

  60. #60 Tulse
    August 28, 2007

    I have two dogs. I have also had cats in the past. I figure that if there is some act that I wouldn’t want done to them, I shouldn’t want it to happen to other creatures of similar cognitive capabilities. That certainly rules out testing on dogs and cats, but also on any primate (and I haven’t seen them mentioned yet), or pigs, or indeed most mammals. My reasoning may not be sophisticated, and I can’t claim to be fully consistent (I do, for example, feed my dogs meat-based food, although I myself am a vegetarian). But I don’t see why my pets should enjoy special moral status just because I know them, any more than child slavery should be acceptable in kids I don’t personally know.

    And here is Mike P.’s comment, slighted edited:

    White people are thinking meat; the other races are (possibly) thinking meat. It’s all just meat doing stuff to other meat. Let’s lose the cosmic significance. We prefer not to kill our own brand of meat because that’s not good for society and surely there are strongly embedded evolutionary reasons not to commit murder against one’s own race. But other races? We’ve been killing them for a very long time.

    That’s the problem with the standard speciest argument — it can be so easily applied to other, more distateful domains.

  61. #61 Fatboy
    August 28, 2007

    You’re missing almost everything, not just something. Most animals are not used to test the efficacy of treatments.

    I did not say that I thought most testing was done to test the efficacy of treatments. I was bringing up one example I was pretty sure of that did cause suffering in animals, specifically in response to negentropyeater’s comment #50, “first, there is a difference between killing and torturing.”

    This is ignorant and/or dishonest, because accepting any medical supplies directly increases the exploitation of animals, BECAUSE THEY ARE LOT-TESTED. It’s not just science and drug testing.

    So, if as a society we decide animal testing is wrong, we should throw out all the knowledge we gained from it? Or were you referring only to the latter part of that statement, where I make an individual choice. If that’s the case, maybe it is something worth looking into more. I didn’t realize established technologies/treatments/medicines were still regularly tested on animals. I admit to being ignorant to a lot of what goes on in the medical community, particularly on the research side.

    Look, I’m not trying to be a jackass here. I’m not saying that I think animal testing is necessarily wrong. I’m just trying to figure out a rational basis for my morality. Like I said, I used to be a Christian, so I was always told that God was the final authority, and I didn’t spend as much time as I should have thinking about these things.

    I thought of maybe a more succinct way of asking my questions. If the ends justify the means in non-human animal testing, causing the suffering of at least some non-human animals in the present so that there will be less overall suffering in the future, can you similarly justify torturing a human terrorist, which could result in less overall suffering in the future. If not, do you have any rational basis for morality, or is it based mostly on our instictual empathy?

  62. #62 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Brownian,

    I personally didn’t dismiss any of the arguments made by the animal-rights crew. I took them to their logical, non-hypocritical conclusion. What I pointed out was that we are all speciesist, whether we admit it or not.

    I tend to compare the animal-rights crowd with meat-eating hypocrites. They love their steak, but boy they look down their noses at butchers and slaughterhouse workers. One can’t say “I don’t think animal testing is ethical” and then turn around and enjoy the results of those people who are willing to do the animal-testing. It’s hypocrisy.

    Let’s pose the question slightly differently. Imagine a loved one, dying in a hospital. All you need to do is kill a zebrafish to save her. Would you do it? How about a mouse? How about ten thousand mice? How about a guinea pig? Dog? Monkey? I think most of us would do all of those things. If we’re being honest, the question isn’t “Would you do it?” or even “Is it ethical?”. The answer to both those questions is obviously yes. The only question is, “Can you do it in the most humane manner?” and to a large degree, that is being done.

  63. #63 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Let’s extend my earlier analogy a little bit.

    You’re in a burning building. Your dog and your lover are both passed out due to smoke inhalation. You’re only strong enough to take one of them with you…

    Are you sure you’re not speciesist?

  64. #64 markbt73
    August 28, 2007

    And let’s not kid ourselves… those mice would extract our brains in a second, if there was something in it for them.

    (Sorry; I can’t pass up a chance for a good Douglas Adams reference. Carry on.)

  65. #65 dAVE
    August 28, 2007

    If animals are sufficiently similar to us that eating/using them is wrong,
    then
    it is also wrong for them to eat/use each other.
    but
    they do it all the time.

    Therefore – we must not only not use animals, we must stop them from using each other.

  66. #66 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    But do not dismiss out of hand the questions that Tom and Fatboy raise.

    Tom did not simply “raise a question”, he stated quite explicitly that in his moral scale the life of one animal outweighs the lives of all humans put together (that’s the only way I can see to reasonably interpret “not the health of the human race” in his comment). Is that a position you’re willing to take seriously, in all its ramifications?

    By the way, do uncompromising “anti-speciesists” labor under the illusion that even the most “organic” of agriculture can be practiced without harming any animals? Even if you don’t directly injure any with operations like plowing, you’re displacing many animals from their habitat when you bring a field into cultivation, undoubtedly directly causing some to starve or be eaten by predators. “Drawing the line” is going to be a lot more difficult than you think when you really get serious aobut considering ALL the implications.

  67. #67 Cody
    August 28, 2007

    Seems like a good time to revisit an old Onion article:

    World’s Scientists Admit They Just Don’t Like Mice

  68. #68 Flummox
    August 28, 2007

    Then, as soon as Grandma’s diagnosed with cancer, we turn around and say “Screw that! I’m human and Grandma’s human, and all the rest of you organisms can go fuck yourselves.”

    No. I wouldn’t wait. What fucking idiocy. Animal rights is a concept so vacuous philosphically that it is difficult to proceed quickly enough to dismantle this crap.

    This idea that we have to see animals as the ethical and moral equivalent of humans- why? Values are, definitionally, the values of humans. We’re the only ones that, so far as anyone can tell, have values. Dogs are great, chimps are great, but my fellow human being can reason with me. I owe him or her more than the dog or ape because of this, if I expect anyone to respect my values. And there’s the rub- my dog only has rights if we grant them, and cannot assert any arguments himself to persuade us.

    Yes, yes, I hear all the politically correct relativism being hurled, as if ‘speciesist’ ought to sting like ‘racist’ should. Nonsense. Human values are generally worthy of respect not because we cannot naturally order them, but because they are of human origin.

    None of this implies that humans should run roughshod over animals. We are naturally repulsed by this. But we are not living in some ‘peaceable kingdom’ where all species are equal. We are locked in an unending struggle to survive against all others. That we can conceive of it being otherwise is something else to laud about human nature, because you can goddammed well bet no other animal sees it thus. But it doesn’t change the fact that in the course of survival, we can choose to be humane. But to choose to be humane instead of surviving is just stupid.

  69. #69 Mike P
    August 28, 2007

    Tulse,

    Congratulations on missing the entire point of my post. Well done. My agrument is against the categorical imposition of morality in an argument. True, tribalism has been a part of human history for a very long time. In many recent cases, it has involved White (well, Western) people imposing their culture on other cultures. I’d argue that wasn’t a very good thing to do. But saying that it’s somehow categorically wrong for one culture to dominate another culture negates an awful lot of examples you might otherwise agree with; for example, interceding in a case of genocide. My argument is that you have to take a look at things in the proper context.

    Let’s apply that back to my post and your “slight” editing of it. There is a strong contingent of our society that believes that races are equal and people from different races should be treated equally. I count myself among those people. There is a minority (at least I hope it’s a minority) of people who do not share this view. Is our view better than theirs? I’m uncomfortable saying that. But I do have strong moral arguments why those views should be the ones encoded in laws, and apparently enough other people have felt strongly enough about it that it’s the dominant viewpoint, at least legally.

    This same argument hasn’t succeeded for animals. The vast majority of people do not think animals are on equal ground rights-wise as humans. But, for the most part, people think we should animals humanely, and when we kill them, they should be killed humanely. And so, at least in scientific contexts, most are. Here we are again applying our socially-(and no doubt evolutionarily-)derived moral judgments to a situation.

    Do you see now what my point is? Morality can’t be put under the microscope the same way cells can. There isn’t an empirically testable way to determine who is right and who is wrong. Likely, what’s right and wrong is different from person to person, culture to culture. I hate to be a relativist about this, but I don’t see a way around it. Morality isn’t science. And trying to categorically impose morality on science is both wasteful and futile. They’re different domains entirely.

  70. #70 Bill
    August 28, 2007

    PZ, as I’m sure you realize, there are many examples of shrill and unthinking AR activists, and there are examples of unnecessary and abusive animal experiments. Despite this, it is possible to have a reasoned, thoughtful discussion of the most ethical relationship between humans and other sentient beings (though the present stream of comments, sadly, is not an example). I take heart from your description of some AR activists as “well-meaning”, and I wonder – have you considered the impact of your personal actions on the lives of animals? I’m not condemning you (or anyone else in this discussion), only asking whether you’ve thought about it. I would submit that your diet, and to a lesser extent some other lifestyle choices have a much larger impact on the suffering of other sentient organisms than animal research and testing (even including that fraction which a reasonable, dispassionate observer would judge is either not strictly necessary, or causes unnecessary suffering). Recognizing that it is not possible for me to live without having an impact on other living beings, I have chosen to reduce, where possible and reasonable, the suffering that I cause to those beings that appear to be sentient, as well as some for whom the proverbial jury is still out. To do so, I try to be thoughtful about the impacts of my choices, and open to the knowledge that I may have to change my behavior in order to achieve that goal. I would not ask anyone to do more than that.

  71. #71 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    What I would suggest is that ultimately, in attempting serious ethical consideration of what is and isn’t permissible, it will be found that concepts like “humane treatment” and “avoiding suffering” are very useful yardsticks, whereas “speciesism” is decidedly unhelpful. Precisely because if you try to use the latter as a criterion, you will find it impossible to find a defensible place at which to draw that proverbial line.

  72. #72 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Factician,

    Let’s pose the question slightly differently. Imagine a loved one, dying in a hospital. All you need to do is kill a zebrafish to save her. Would you do it? How about a mouse? How about ten thousand mice? How about a guinea pig? Dog? Monkey? I think most of us would do all of those things. If we’re being honest, the question isn’t “Would you do it?” or even “Is it ethical?”. The answer to both those questions is obviously yes. The only question is, “Can you do it in the most humane manner?” and to a large degree, that is being done.

    You’re right. Most of us would do these things. But that’s not a justification, nor is it an insurmountable universal. Someone following the Jain faith wouldn’t sacrifice another life.

    For every hypothetical ‘what would you do’ situation, I can posit both a philosophical position or an example in which the subject chose differently (as in the follower of Jain Dharma). I can also posit a similar situation in which the ethics are not so clear-cut.

    What if your loved one needed a heart, and the only match was a prisoner scheduled for execution a year too late to save your loved one? If possible, wouldn’t almost any one of us have the criminal executed early so that our loved one may live? Does that mean that nearly every person who claims to be against murder is a hypocrite if taken far enough? Does that mean we shouldn’t be against murder?

    To answer some of the other comments here, I and nearly everyone else here have benefited from medical testing on animals. Most of us also benefited from the disparity between the first and the third world and how that’s led to a very priviledged lifestyle. Does that mean I shouldn’t be concerned about poverty in Africa? As a non-First Nations Canadian, I live where I do because the people living here were displaced through invasion and colonisation. Should I then steal from my neighbour because I’ve already benefited from someone else’s theft?

    Again, I suspect researchers are among the most ethical and humane in how they treat the animals they use. I think Steve is right in that better education about animal testing for research might allay some of the public’s fears. I’m just asking that we (as a society, not just the ethicists) honestly and truthfully evaluate our ethical claims.

    To Flummox: thanks for the lesson in political correctness, Flummox. I don’t know how many times I have to say I’m not a priori against animal testing before you’ll read it.

    How about environmentalism of any stripe? I mean, c’mon. That land those fucking gorillas (great as they are) isn’t being used for anything. There’s farmland under all that forest. How about that fucking ocean? Seriously, that’s one big landfill just waiting for us.

    FYI, anyone who sees things so black and white as you appear to isn’t qualified to to suggest anybody else’s claim is “fucking idiotic.”

    None of this implies that humans should run roughshod over animals. We are naturally repulsed by this.

    Are we? The ecosystem of Australia will be glad to hear this.

    For fuck’s sake, dig a little deeper, man.

  73. #73 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Bill,

    Despite this, it is possible to have a reasoned, thoughtful discussion of the most ethical relationship between humans and other sentient beings (though the present stream of comments, sadly, is not an example).

    I hope you include yourself in this.

    I think you will find that the vast majority of animal researchers have spent an awful lot of time thinking about how their lives impact the lives of animals (particularly their experimental animals). As several of us have already posted, one must spend a considerable amount of time and energy writing out our animal protocols for a committee to approve. That means we spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what we are getting ready to do. As several folks have posted, the criteria that we need to use are: 1) what does this animal study tell us that we don’t already know 2) are there alternatives to using an animal experiment 3) have we thought of all the possible ways to minimize discomfort in the animal 4) how will we monitor discomfort in an animal 5) what will be the criteria upon which we base the end of the experiment (including surprise endings – like the animal suffers more than we expected) 6) how will we euthanize the animal to minimize suffering.

    The amount of thought that goes into this is considerable. That is why the folks who do animal work are getting their panties in a bunch over this (I include myself in this). To be accused of being unfeeling, unthinking animal-haters by people who use the results of our work without ever having seen or even thought about how that work is done is a little bit, well, peeving.

    Really, if you are concerned about this, call your nearest university. Tell them that you want to sit on their animal use committee as a citizen of the city. More than likely they will accept. Read the mountains of proposals, and read about all the thought and care that goes into them. Read about *why* people are doing the work, and how they’re working to minimize the suffering of animals. If you still feel the way you do after that, I will be deeply, deeply surprised. At least then no one will be able to accuse you of making statements out of hypocrisy and ignorance. Then it will merely be out of hypocrisy.

  74. #74 Kausik Datta
    August 28, 2007

    John at #51, er… you don’t really need animal testing in order to check for endotoxin on batches of saline bags and tubing. It is done in vitro, using a kit, the LAL test.

    Raven, Beagle dogs, for example, are widely used in pharmaceutical industry for the purpose I mentioned above; advanced preclinical examinations of effect of investigational drugs on QT interval and ventricular repolarization are considered standard. The beagle dog is the preclinical species often associated with the most reliable predictivity for human safety assessment. You can read about it here and here, if your institution’s library has access to these journals.
    I honestly don’t know about cats, except that they are used in some neurophysiological research, of which I, again, don’t know much.

  75. #75 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    What I would suggest is that ultimately, in attempting serious ethical consideration of what is and isn’t permissible, it will be found that concepts like “humane treatment” and “avoiding suffering” are very useful yardsticks, whereas “speciesism” is decidedly unhelpful. Precisely because if you try to use the latter as a criterion, you will find it impossible to find a defensible place at which to draw that proverbial line.

    You’re most likely right, Steve. However, your yardsticks say very little about why we’re adverse to testing on humans.

  76. #76 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Brownian,

    You are not just living in a situation where you are enjoying the results of past animal experiments. You are living in a world where you are enjoying the results of ongoing animal experiments (and in the future, you will live in a world that has new cures that are the result of ongoing animal experiments). Your analogy to First Nations Canadians is not sound. If you knew that there was ongoing genocide in Canada, and you were moving into the homes of those who had been killed, that would be a better analogy. Would you then say, “Well, it was done yesterday, it doesn’t count”.

    You are currently benefiting from animal testing. Every Advil you take, every bottle of saline contact lens solution that you use, every vitamin pill that you use, has been lot-tested for safety. Every modern pharmaceutical that you will use in the future, is currently being tested in animals. Do you still feel you have ethical problems with animal testing? Prove it. Stop using modern pharmaceuticals.

  77. #77 John
    August 28, 2007

    Kausik wrote:
    “John at #51, er… you don’t really need animal testing in order to check for endotoxin on batches of saline bags and tubing. It is done in vitro, using a kit, the LAL test.”

    Kausik, you moron, “in vitro” doesn’t mean “no animals are used.” I wrote that “animals are used,” and you dishonestly changed it to “animal testing.” That is despicable, and demonstrates that you don’t really give a shit about the animals–you are just exploiting them to better demonize other humans.

    Read carefully. The first “L” in “LAL” stands for “Limulus,” which is an animal. Therefore, animals are used. Whether they are used in parts or as whole animals is ethically irrelevant, just as when lying animal-rights loons claim that cell culture is “non-animal.”

  78. #78 factician
    August 28, 2007

    The first “L” in “LAL” stands for “Limulus,” which is an animal.

    But does it count as an animal, even though it’s not fuzzy? ;)

  79. #79 Flummox
    August 28, 2007

    Brownian- the idiocy comment came from conflating your position with the more extreme of Tom up above. Some are a priori against it, which I consider idiotic, without apology. Your position doesn’t warrant that response, and I’m sorry I ran those together. I type too quickly and read too slowly.

    Your point about some not being repulsed by running roughshod over nature is also well taken.

    My point is that whether this issue is ‘black and white’ or not, the human reasoning involved is prior to all else. Not because it is better, but because we’re the only ones doing it, and any hierarchy of rights that includes our own comes out of somebody’s skull. The particular radical egalitarian stance of animal rights/antiexperimentation activists is no different. If one disagrees with animal experimentation or has reservations that could reasonably lead to human suffering rather than that of other animals, and expects everyone to hew to some specific animal rights program, they are privileging one humans opinion, namely, their own, and arguably in a fashion that others with a stake in the argument might reasonably oppose. I wonder how can they presume to do so, when they have already abandoned the ranking of human concerns above those of other species? Black and white it is not. But it will have to be ordered by human values. No other values exist, so far as I can tell.

    And I may have said so poorly, but I think that much of the sentimentality and squeamishness involved in condemnation of ‘speciesism’ is a product of forgetting how hard survival is for us. We are ahead of the game right now, but that could change at any time.

  80. #80 Tulse
    August 28, 2007

    Mike P.:

    The vast majority of people do not think animals are on equal ground rights-wise as humans.

    And in many cultures a majority of people did not think that slavery was wrong. The problem with denying some sort of categorical morality, but instead using some fuzzy, relativist pragmatic criterion like “society has held itself together thus far” is that such a position can pretty much justify any societal arrangement, even ones that we would, from our current perspective, argue are abhorrent. I think ethics means more than just “whatever we feel is good or bad at the time”, and that we can at least ensure consistency in our moral arguments.

    Steve LaBonne:

    concepts like “humane treatment” and “avoiding suffering” are very useful yardsticks, whereas “speciesism” is decidedly unhelpful

    This isn’t very convincing without an argument as to why speciesism isn’t a useful term, and why the analogy to racism and sexism fails. I think there are arguments that can be made, but that ultimately any such argument isn’t going to support the moral uniqueness of humans just because they are members of H. sapiens, and that such arguments will end up assigning moral value to creatures such as other primates.

  81. #81 Mike P
    August 28, 2007

    Tulse,

    I would call that a failing, but not a problem, because I can’t find any way, philosophically or otherwise, around it. I’m not saying I like it, but I’m not going to defer to the imagined existence of some categorical morality simply because I find reality distasteful.

  82. #82 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    This isn’t very convincing without an argument as to why speciesism isn’t a useful term, and why the analogy to racism and sexism fails.

    The reason is very simple: you cannot exist even for a moment without impacting an almost uncountable number of other organisms. I won’t even talk about things like your intestinal flora, but simply refer you to my remarks on agriculture above: even being a vegan will not get you off the hook. You will have to draw a line as to which species it’s “OK” to harm under what circumstances, and I don’t think there’s a logically and biologically defensible place to draw it. It’s a dead end.

  83. #83 robhoofd
    August 28, 2007

    If animal testing could be iliminated, I’d be all for it. Testing on animals is not a pleasant thing to do. But if we want to gather knowledge, vital knowledge, it’s inevitable.

    Meanwhile, think of this: every time you eat a hamburger, odds are you’re eating parts of animals that did have truly terrible, inhumane lives. I have a friend who worked in a lab with a rat. His job was to describe the rat’s behaviour, reactions to new elements in its environment, and so on. I believe the goal of the experiment was to see if there was any effect on the rat’s gliacells (there was). During these weeks of observation, he became attached to the rat, which he had named Jerry.
    When the time came to kill Jerry, my friend did so by painless injection (according to him, with a great lump in his throat). He did all the work that was left to be done, and then he buried Jerry in his backyard, where he still lays today!

    Indeed, my friend was not cut out for animal testing, but still, I find the history of Jerry a lot more humane than that of a hamburger. Perhaps animal rights activists should lay their focus on that hamburger.

  84. #84 Mike P
    August 28, 2007

    Steve LaBonne,

    I think somehow you and I are converging on the same point. Though how I got there from my initial rant about thinking meat, I have no idea.

  85. #85 robhoofd
    August 28, 2007

    That’s “eliminated” in the first line, obviously.

  86. #86 Bill
    August 28, 2007

    Factician,

    Just as you are peeved by the rantings of AR activists who choose to ignore the good work done by researchers who make reasoned and compassionate use of animals, I am upset by the nonsensical references to the suffering of bacteria and plants, and the silly questions that do not advance the discussion. I am sorry that you took umbrage with that statement. Please know that I am not accusing you, and I’m glad that you (and others) want to discuss this topic reasonably.

    I will try to re-state the point that I evidently failed to make in my first note. I acknowledge that an absolutist view of the interaction between humans and sentient animals, though tempting from an emotional standpoint, is unlikely to produce useful guidance for real-life situations. Nonetheless, I believe that a concern for the well-being of sentient beings, and an avoidance of their suffering, is not only noble but, in my personal ethical system, required. I have made certain choices in my own life in accordance with that principle. I try to be open to the possibility that the choices I formerly made may, upon consideration, be revealed to have been in conflict with that principle. I try to avoid regret and recrimination if my personal view of a particular situation changes; for example, I do not condemn myself for having eaten meat for most of my life, though I would never choose to do it now.

    My question to PZ (which, of course, I would be interested to hear any viewpoint on) has to do with the larger question of human interaction with sentient animals, and I tried to emphasize that in my personal estimation the ordinary diet and lifestyle choices of most people cause far more suffering than the sum of all animal-based research, experimentation and testing. I wondered whether he had considered the role he plays in causing, or avoiding, the suffering of sentient beings. It’s only a question, not an accusation; I’m genuinely curious. Of course I hope that anyone who considers this question will choose to reduce that suffering, but I assure you that I respect the opinion of anyone who has made the earnest attempt to think it through.

    Bill.

  87. #87 Tulse
    August 28, 2007

    Mike P.:

    I would call that a failing, but not a problem, because I can’t find any way, philosophically or otherwise, around it.

    Well, at the very least we can seek to examine and understand our moral positions, try to determine the principles that seem to be involved (wherever those principles come from), and ensure that those principles are applied consistently. So, for example, if we think that white people are worthy of moral concern, then to be morally consistent we either need to provide morally relevant reasons why those of other skin colours are not worthy of similar moral concern, or recognize that racial discrimination is morally wrong. It seem to me that this makes far more sense than simply accepting whatever social condition that exists (and the equating of a social condition with some sort of hard-nosed “reality” seems bizarre to me, since culture is largely socially constructed).

  88. #88 Rick Santorum
    August 28, 2007

    Tulse – you’re attitude will lead to men marrying box turtles and man-on-dog action!!!1

  89. #89 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Factician, it seems I haven’t been clear enough. I’ve said before that I’m not a priori against animal testing.

    I work in cancer research as a biostatistician/medical geographer. If the ethics that inform how we protect personal information while balancing the need to use that information for research is at all comparable, I can only imagine how rigorous the ethic considerations into the use of live organisms for research must be. Many of the comments here seem to reinforce that conclusion. I am not claiming that such research isn’t ethical.

    I guess what I am meaning to convey is that the inquiry into what those ethics are, how they’re applied, and most importantly, the reasoning that led to them should never be dismissed they way they seem to be here.

    PZ started this by stating: “Nick describes a recent article that tries to claim we can reduce animal use in labs—and it even has a couple of respectable scientists signing on to that nonsense. And it really is nonsense.”

    What’s nonsense? The actual alternatives posted by the researchers in this case or that someone might suggest that we can or should reduce animal use in labs? Because, if we can make any claim about valuing humaneness, the latter is never nonsense.

    “You are currently benefiting from animal testing.” Yes. I am. If it is at all possible for us to continue to reap the benefits without using animals, then why should (or should not) we attempt to explore such avenues?

    Part of that exploration necessitates asking why we’re okay with testing on invertebrates without anesthesia, why we’re okay with testing on vertebrates but only with anesthesia where possible, and why we’re not okay with testing on humans at all.

    Further, why is it different than Bishop Asshat telling some group of Protestant settlers that it is right and justifiable to transform some new world into a miniature version of merry olde England?

    Ultimately, both draw upon the idea that humans are meaningfully different than all other species and so we are justified in doing things to others that we would not do to each other (at least, not anymore.) Bishop Asshat had the bible on his side as sole justification.

    Surely we can come up with better reasoning than that. The only way I know to make sure that our reasoning is airtight is to poke at any perceived holes.

  90. #90 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Thanks, Flummox. I flew off the handle a little bit and regret it.

    But then, what is the point of this blog if we don’t challenge each other’s core beliefs, huh? ;)

  91. #91 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    What’s nonsense? The actual alternatives posted by the researchers in this case or that someone might suggest that we can or should reduce animal use in labs?

    The former. I’ve never met a biologist who would want to use animals where it’s genuinely avoidable. Even if someone were crassly amoral and unfeeling about it- and I’ve never met a single one who is- they would still have to take into consideration that it’s enormously costly and a major bureaucratic pain in the ass.

    Now that we’ve disposed of that straw man, do you have an actual point?

  92. #92 blf
    August 28, 2007

    Back in January 2006, Nick Anthis (of The Scientific Activist), a biochemistry graduate student at Oxford University (England), got caught up in an “animal rights” protest. He wrote up his experience in his pre-SciBlogs blog:

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

    I remembered that old posting because of this one comment, which then (and now) astonishes me:

    Surprisingly, a common sentiment among the activists is that the researchers actually enjoy hurting animals.

    The entire post is well worth reading.

    (Apologies if someone else has already mentioned this report; I haven’t read all c.80 preceeding comments!)

  93. #93 Kausik Datta
    August 28, 2007

    @#78. Whoa, there, John! Strong words, eh! “Moron”, “Dishonest”, “Despicable”, “don’t really give a shit about the animals”, “Demonize other humans”… All right! In my 11 years of working with animal in infectious disease research, I have never been called these – at least in the context of animal research… Heh!

    If an inadvertent transposition of the word ‘testing’ for ‘use’ has incited so much of ire in you, I wonder if you’d be hopping mad at my next few questions.
    (1) Did you bother to read my entire post and posts in this thread, and I came across to you as against animal research?
    (2) Sure, Limulus is a crustacean in the animal kingdom, but what do you hope to accomplish by calling them ‘animals’ – in the sense being discussed in this thread? Are you going to ascribe them feelings next?
    (3) A cell culture may have an animal source. Again, in the context of this thread’s topic (animal use in research), are you calling a cell culture ‘animal’? What is next, a fetilized zygote, or morulla, or an embryo is a human being/ animal? Do working with the HeLa cells give you the impression that Helen Laykes is sitting right in front you? Or when you work with CHO cells, you see cuddly hamsters running all around you? Or perhaps C6/36 cell lines have bitten you sometimes?

    Simmer down, John. We, who work with animals, all follow established guidelines for ethical treatment and care of experimental animals. There is no need to carry your arguments too far, to the point of ludicrousness!!

  94. #94 factician
    August 28, 2007

    If it is at all possible for us to continue to reap the benefits without using animals, then why should (or should not) we attempt to explore such avenues?

    They are being explored. Constantly. Using animals is an expensive, bureaucratic, pain-in-the-ass. Nobody uses them if there is a viable alternative.

    That’s the flaming strawman here. This is already being done. If we could model human beings electronically, we would do it. But it’s simply not possible for most (all?) of the current animal uses in academic biomedicine.

  95. #95 Tulse
    August 28, 2007

    Steve LeBonne:

    You will have to draw a line as to which species it’s “OK” to harm under what circumstances, and I don’t think there’s a logically and biologically defensible place to draw it.

    I’m not willing to give up on a foundation for morality as easily, because to do so essentially means that literally anything goes, including all sorts of nasty things that humans do to each other (such as slavery and genocide).

    The problem as I see it is that “species” simply isn’t a morally relevant criterion — it doesn’t directly pick out any features that are morally useful, as should be obvious when you compare yourself to, say, Terri Shiavo, or a fetus. In those cases, most of us agree that simply being a member of H. sapiens doesn’t mean that we treat you and Shiavo equivalently. Instead, we generally seem to think that to be worthy of moral concern entails some sort of other criteria, such cognitive capacity and/or an ability to have experiences. We even apply that general criterion to research — we agree that, for example, research animals require some sort of ethical protection, whereas plants and rocks don’t (much to the relief of botanists and geologists), and the reason is presumably that animals actually have experiences (including those of pain).

    So I think that we can reasonably argue over what the proper criteria are for moral concern. But it seems completely obvious that species membership per se is not one such criterion.

  96. #96 jba
    August 28, 2007

    One thing I’m surprised I havent seen anyone mention (although I may have missed it), animals benefit from medical animal testing as well as humans. My brother and his wife work in an MSPCA hospital and there are many animals who get the same expensive, complex treatment for health problems as humans. Not just pampered house pets either, if someone will pay for it (often times a shelter worker it seems, sometimes even the ASPCA itself) they will treat a stray the same as any other creature. Hell, my brothers house is full to overflowing with cats who PETA would have just euthanized. The way I see it, it’s not a ‘the ends justify the means’ issue. It’s a ‘the good outweighs the bad’ issue.

  97. #97 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Steve, my question was not a strawman. PZ never said anything to the effect of “here are the researchers’ suggestions, and this is why they are unworkable” other than some dismissive comment about models being insufficient.

    For those of us not priviledged enough to have non-human subjects to work with, all we get are models. Tough, but we have no choice but to make ‘em work. So to me, saying that models aren’t sufficient is not a cogent critique of the paper.

    I’m afraid that you’re wrong in equating my clarifying two different interpretations of a comment and critiquing one of them without actually ascribing either position to PZ as a strawman tactic.

    Just because you’ve never met a researcher who uses animals without compunction doesn’t mean they don’t exist. History has shown us that there are many individuals who show little humanity, even to other humans.

    That’s exactly why we have ethics review committees. Having said that, I’m sure most researchers would rather not kill or cause suffering if they didn’t believe it was absolutely necessary.

    The point I’m making is that to continually ask whether we’ve progressed enough technologically or changed enough philosophically that such research may not be absolutely necessary is the basis of ethicality.

    Further to Flummox: I’m not suggesting any authoritarian position one way or the other; the development of an ethical stance needs to be a collaborative effort.

  98. #98 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    I’m not willing to give up on a foundation for morality as easily

    Easy or hard, you will have to give up on it eventually. Foundationalism is as hopeless a project in ethics as it is in epistemology. There is no Archimedan point on which to stand, in either discipline. The desire for one is a residue of decayed theism, in my opinion.

    The problem as I see it is that “species” simply isn’t a morally relevant criterion

    I agree, which is why I think the term “speciesism” is a positive hindrance to clear thought. You will find that the kinds of criteria I mentioned, such as “humane treatment” and “avoiding suffering”, will naturally lead to individualized consideration of each species’s degree of sentience and capacity to suffer, and moreover our ethical guidelines will be flexible enough to be subject to updating as we learn more about those things. I’m at a loss to discover, from anything you’ve written, why this kind of flexible, empirically informed ethical project isn’t one you’d endorse (and why you think you and I disagree in any serious way.) It gets us a lot farther a lot faster in terms of improving our treatment of other animals than attempts to derive some grand system via a priori reasoning.

  99. #99 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    The point I’m making is that to continually ask whether we’ve progressed enough technologically or changed enough philosophically that such research may not be absolutely necessary is the basis of ethicality.

    Of course, but it has to be done in an honest and well-informed way. The stuff PZ referred to is neither. And frankly, you need to have a little more humility in listening to people who know a lot more about the issues than you do.

  100. #100 Tulse
    August 28, 2007

    Steve LaBonne:

    the kinds of criteria I mentioned, such as “humane treatment” and “avoiding suffering”, will naturally lead to individualized consideration of each species’s degree of sentience and capacity to suffer, and moreover our ethical guidelines will be flexible enough to be subject to updating as we learn more about those things.

    Steve, I am indeed in general agreement with such an approach, and I apologize if I have misunderstood or misrepresented your position. I should have read your prior posts with more care.

    That said, are you willing to apply those criteria, and only those criteria, across the board, including to humans? Because I’m not convinced that we can create a consistent and acceptable morality purely based on utilitarianism, which is what that would boil down to. And if we’re not going to do so for humans, then I think we need to uncover what other morally relevant criteria we think humans have, and see if other organisms (such as primates) might not also possess those.

  101. #101 Kausik Datta
    August 28, 2007

    #93. You are absolutely right, factician. Alternatives are constantly being researched, though – as you said – at the current status of biomedical research, it will be long before the animal models can be totally eliminated. One, for example, cannot work at host aspects of a disease, if there is no complete, unreduced host, such as a rodent model.

    Somehow, it still surprises me (after all these years) that this aspect – the search for alternatives – is almost never highlighted in anti-animal research rants; veterinary medical research uses almost the exact same protocols, animal models and conditions, but those rants do not touch upon these. It feels strange to hear that animal researchers cannot have compassion, or ethical standards; it is uncannily akin to saying ‘atheists cannot have morals’. WTF?

  102. #102 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Of course, but it has to be done in an honest and well-informed way. The stuff PZ referred to is neither. And frankly, you need to have a little more humility in listening to people who know a lot more about the issues than you do.

    Then maybe PZ should be a little clearer.

    Sorry Steve, but I’m not going to lay down because of an appeal to authority. Even peer-reviewed papers with “a couple of respectable scientists signing on” can be in error, can’t they? Otherwise, what was the purpose of this post?

    Under the assumption that you know more about the subject than I (and that’s probably the case) please explain to me, using only your criteria of “humane treatment” and “avoiding suffering”, that a biologist not directly working in medical research, is ethically able to dissect animals, whereas I, whose job is specifically to reduce the suffering caused by cancer here in Canada, must make do with models, since I’m not allowed to pull people in my lab and cut ‘em open to see what they ate, how much they exercised, or what genes they might or might not have?

    Otherwise, you’re being a little premature in labelling your interlocuters ignorant.

  103. #103 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    I don’t believe in “isms”, at all, including utilitarianism. They always lead to ridiculous conclusions if pushed too far. And none of the historically influential ones were designed with anything but humans in mind, making them even more treacherous guides in this area than they are in considering “traditional” ethical questions pertaining strictly to humans.

    You do realize that human subjects ARE used in research, and that the institutional review committees for animal research were quite consciously modeled on the procedures developed to protect human subjects? So the kind of thinking you call for has actually been going on for a long time. And there have been a lot of changes in animal-care standards as we’ve learned more about animal consciousness; you might be surprised to learn how much stuff there is in the current standards for the “higher” species about things like providing an appropriately stimulating environment to prevent animals from becoming bored and depressed. Thinking on these matters is constantly evolving as we learn more about animal consciousness and behavior, and that’s precisely the advantage of a non-doctrinaire, empirically informed approach.

  104. #104 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    What? You can’t just take half the brain? We know things with half a brain can live … just check out the comment section at Uncommon Descent.

    No, but, seriously… there’s a girl in Germany whose right (I think) brain half is missing. IIRC it was taken out due to a tumor or something. The space is filled by cerebrospinal fluid. A scan of some tomography method was published in the article where I read that, and indeed, half of the head is uniformly black inside. Stunning, eh? Now comes the biggie. The girl has some oddities, but is bilingual in German and Turkish.

    New Rule: Intelligent design fans can now (finally) make contributions to science. I leave the way in which they make said contributions unspoken, but it might make PETA happier, and PETID sadder.

    “Stop animal testing — take the fucking Kellies!”
    — my translation (from German) of a graffito about the Kelly Family.

  105. #105 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    What? You can’t just take half the brain? We know things with half a brain can live … just check out the comment section at Uncommon Descent.

    No, but, seriously… there’s a girl in Germany whose right (I think) brain half is missing. IIRC it was taken out due to a tumor or something. The space is filled by cerebrospinal fluid. A scan of some tomography method was published in the article where I read that, and indeed, half of the head is uniformly black inside. Stunning, eh? Now comes the biggie. The girl has some oddities, but is bilingual in German and Turkish.

    New Rule: Intelligent design fans can now (finally) make contributions to science. I leave the way in which they make said contributions unspoken, but it might make PETA happier, and PETID sadder.

    “Stop animal testing — take the fucking Kellies!”
    — my translation (from German) of a graffito about the Kelly Family.

  106. #106 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    a biologist not directly working in medical research, is ethically able to dissect animals

    As already explained by others, this is a meaningless distinction- we cannot know now what pieces of basic knowledge will ultimately help to reduce future human suffering. And as far as I can see, what you wrote in your comment is simply an emotional appeal that plays on this misconception. For the rest, I can only repeat that you cannot so much as eat a vegan diet without probable harm to non-human animals, so you’re just not going to get very far with an attempt to claim that owe exactly the same ethical duties to them that we do to our fellow humans. It’s one of those things that sounds noble but makes less sense the more you think about it.

  107. #107 Tulse
    August 28, 2007

    Steve LaBonne:

    You do realize that human subjects ARE used in research, and that the institutional review committees for animal research were quite consciously modeled on the procedures developed to protect human subjects?

    Yes, I do realize that human subjects are used for research — I used to test them when I was doing neuroimaging studies and psychiatric research, and I am well acquainted with the process of ethics approval.

    Thinking on these matters is constantly evolving as we learn more about animal consciousness and behavior, and that’s precisely the advantage of a non-doctrinaire, empirically informed approach.

    Empirical work tells us nothing without having ethical principles as to what evidence is relevant. It is an empirical truth that some humans have light-coloured skin and some have dark-coloured skin, just as it is an empirical truth that some living humans possess rich cognitive experiences whereas others are brain-dead. Without some sort of “doctrine”, empiricism alone won’t distinguish between these two situations.

    In any case, it sounds like you do implicitly have some sort of doctrines or principles regarding ethical duties to animals, since you seem to agree that consciousness is a morally relevant feature (as opposed to, say, possessing fur or wings).

  108. #108 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Steve,

    My question did not claim one needs foreknowledge in order to justify research. However, I can claim that my research would likely reduce the suffering due to cancer in a very short period of time, if only I weren’t hindered by the ethical restraints of working with humans. The fact that I can’t, and a biologist whose research is more tenuously connected to saving lives can, is not due to the criteria of the reduction of suffering. Speciesism does. Whether you like the term or not, that’s the only reasoning I can see for why animal testing is palatable to us while similar testing on humans is not. So, apparently, it is a useful yardstick.

    I likewise never claimed we owe owe exactly the same ethical duties to animals as we do to humans. That’s the discussion here. What are our ethical duties? Why is suffering more important than freedom or right to life? (I see upon refreshing the page that Tulse is asking similar questions.)

    I’m not meaning to suggest that those of you who are involved in such research don’t consider these weighty matters regularly and at some length. But without accusing you researchers of being either insensitive or unthinking, is it wrong to ask the questions Tulse is asking?

    That’s all I meant to do.

  109. #109 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    can you similarly justify torturing a human terrorist, which could result in less overall suffering in the future.

    No, I can’t justify that.

    That’s because the terrorist could lie. It is well known that most people will say anything to make the pain stop.

  110. #110 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    can you similarly justify torturing a human terrorist, which could result in less overall suffering in the future.

    No, I can’t justify that.

    That’s because the terrorist could lie. It is well known that most people will say anything to make the pain stop.

  111. #111 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    If not, do you have any rational basis for morality, or is it based mostly on our instictual empathy?

    Oh, the actual question. I don’t think much about my morality; empathy is innate. But if you need something to think about, try your long-term self-interest.

  112. #112 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    If not, do you have any rational basis for morality, or is it based mostly on our instictual empathy?

    Oh, the actual question. I don’t think much about my morality; empathy is innate. But if you need something to think about, try your long-term self-interest.

  113. #113 Jason
    August 28, 2007

    Steve Labonne,

    I have no idea why you think the term “speciesism” is a hindrance to the kind of “clear thought” you describe rather than a promoter of it. The point of the term is to assert that species (like race and sex) is not a morally relevant characteristic, and that if we are to treat an animal in a way we would consider morally objectionable to treat a human being, we need to justify that treatment with a clear argument that rests on morally revelant differences between the animal and a person, not just some hand-wave.

    The rejection of speciesism doesn’t imply that all harmful animal research is wrong or should be banned. But drawing attention to the capacities other species share with us and to which we attach moral significance in human beings–pain, suffering, pleasure, happiness, self-awareness, etc.–is likely to lead to a dramatic improvement in the way we treat animals. Which is precisely why speciesists, especially those with a strong vested professional or economic interest in exploiting animals, resist it so strongly.

  114. #114 hinschelwood
    August 28, 2007

    PZ, have you never looked through a journal, seen a paper and thought, “How on Earth did they get a grant to perform this work? Why did they do it? How did it get published?” Regrettably, some useless rubbish is performed in the name of research, it’s the same in every field.

    Now, if animals are used in this research, you must concede that some animal research is unnecessary and could be done away with. Therefore, the animal rights people (with whom I sympathise, though not to the extent of PETA) must have a point of sorts.

    Of course, that would mean more stringent checks on your own research, but of course, you’ve got your own self-interest to look after in this matter. It would be helpful if you state your own bias before trashing those who disagree with you.

  115. #115 Jason
    August 28, 2007

    David M,

    How does the possibility that a terrorist could lie imply that torture is always unethical? I saw you make this same silly claim in a discussion about Sam Harris’s position on torture. It makes absolutely no sense. Your position seems to rest on the unstated assumption that unless an act of torture is certain to produce information that could prevent a harm greater than the harm of the torture itself, it is never justified. That is an absurd standard. We frequently engage in acts that cause demonstrable harm in the belief that they will lead to some benefit that outweighs that harm, even when the benefit is highly uncertain. Most harmful military actions would fall into this category.

  116. #116 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    I’m not meaning to suggest that those of you who are involved in such research

    For the recored, I am not now a research scientist, and when I was one my work involved either microorganisms or flies. So I do not and never have had a personal stake in research using vertebrate animals, beyond what we all have due to eg. medical research.

  117. #117 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    Sure, Limulus is a crustacean

    ARGH! No, it’s a chelicerate, related to spiders and scorpions.

    While I am at it, several versions for what HeLa might mean are circulating, the one that seems to be most probable being Henrietta Lacks.

    ———————

    and the reason is presumably that animals actually have experiences (including those of pain).

    Way underresearched in plants.

    ———————

    And… human races don’t exist, period.

  118. #118 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    Sure, Limulus is a crustacean

    ARGH! No, it’s a chelicerate, related to spiders and scorpions.

    While I am at it, several versions for what HeLa might mean are circulating, the one that seems to be most probable being Henrietta Lacks.

    ———————

    and the reason is presumably that animals actually have experiences (including those of pain).

    Way underresearched in plants.

    ———————

    And… human races don’t exist, period.

  119. #119 Steve LaBonne
    August 28, 2007

    have no idea why you think the term “speciesism” is a hindrance to the kind of “clear thought” you describe rather than a promoter of it. The point of the term is to assert that species (like race and sex) is not a morally relevant characteristic…

    Precisely. And I’ve explained multiple times now why that’s absurd, and something that not even a strict Jain could actually practice. How can sound ethical principles be derived from an absurdity?

  120. #120 amygdala
    August 28, 2007

    Sorry PZ. I share your views about atheism and science as a whole, however, your argument here is one of perceived convenience.

    To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Lawsuits will NEVER go away, because their are lawyers and other greedy cretins. If animal research puts bread (or grants) or your table, you’d be reluctant to consider alternatives.

    I’m not yet 100% sure where I stand on animal research. I’m working through the logic and it will take some time. There are some excellent points made here as well as some unnecessarily rabid ones (from both sides).

    I personally lean a bit toward nihilism, which in itself is something that is causing me a great deal of thinking and re-thinking. I don’t believe there is any universal meaning; only whatever local and transient meaning we bring into our brief conscious existence. And if this indeed true, then it really doesn’t matter. Things just are as they are. Period. However, I choose to live in a civilized society and not some dog-eat-dog anarchy. So this truly is an important question. Otherwise, I’d suggest we just use lawyers in experiments (just kidding).

    But what bothers me is a hypothetical. What would have been like had another, slightly more intelligent, species co-evolved along side us? Would *WE* have been their experimental subjects? How would that feel, to be persecuted and exterminated in such a way? Certainly, the Nazis felt Jews were something less than human. At what point do we draw the line? Intelligence? Consciousness? I ask this honestly and openly.

    In any event, the answer cannot be driven merely by a species-centric viewpoint. To do so would be as arrogant as anything the Christian Fundamentalist typically throw out.

    Apologies is my rant is laden with contradictions. Now you know why I’m having such a hard time with this issue. It’s hard to say things definitively when one simply does not have the answers. And I certainly don’t. But I feel compelled to keep probing (no pun intended) and asking the hard question until things begin to clarify. That’s what all rational people should do, isn’t it?

  121. #121 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    How does the possibility that a terrorist could lie imply that torture is always unethical?

    “Possibility” is actually not strong enough a word. Terrorists who actually want their bombs to explode wouldn’t even wait for being tortured, they’d lie right away as soon as asked. The probability that a terrorist will a) wait for being tortured and b) then tell the truth is neglibigle. The whole example is such an artificial construction… it’s amazing how short-sighted it is.

    Most harmful military actions would fall into this category.

    Indeed I find very few wars defensible. Is that what you mean?

  122. #122 David Marjanovi?
    August 28, 2007

    How does the possibility that a terrorist could lie imply that torture is always unethical?

    “Possibility” is actually not strong enough a word. Terrorists who actually want their bombs to explode wouldn’t even wait for being tortured, they’d lie right away as soon as asked. The probability that a terrorist will a) wait for being tortured and b) then tell the truth is neglibigle. The whole example is such an artificial construction… it’s amazing how short-sighted it is.

    Most harmful military actions would fall into this category.

    Indeed I find very few wars defensible. Is that what you mean?

  123. #123 John
    August 28, 2007

    Kausik wrote:
    “If an inadvertent transposition of the word ‘testing’ for ‘use’ has incited so much of ire in you, I wonder if you’d be hopping mad at my next few questions.”

    It was neither a transposition nor inadvertent. You simply employed a false bifurcation fallacy.

    “(1) Did you bother to read my entire post and posts in this thread, and I came across to you as against animal research?”

    I read the post in which you misrepresented my position.

    “(2) Sure, Limulus is a crustacean in the animal kingdom, but what do you hope to accomplish by calling them ‘animals’ – in the sense being discussed in this thread?”

    Because they are. Do you call them ‘plants’?

    “Are you going to ascribe them feelings next?”

    Why are you trying to divert attention from your dishonest use of the false equivocation fallacy in pretending that in vitro methods don’t involve animal use?

    “(3) A cell culture may have an animal source.”

    I’m not talking about the source of the cells, MORON. I’m talking about the source of the growth factors in the medium.

    “Again, in the context of this thread’s topic (animal use in research), are you calling a cell culture ‘animal’?”

    Is DMEM + 10% calf serum vegan?

    “What is next, a fetilized zygote, or morulla, or an embryo is a human being/ animal?”

    Nope. The calf (that has just been born in the case of “fetal” calf serum) was subjected to cardiac puncture without anesthesia. Are these calves not sentient beings?

    “Do working with the HeLa cells give you the impression that Helen Laykes is sitting right in front you?”

    I work with HeLa cells, and they came from Henrietta Lane. And you’re still a moron, because I’m talking about the animals used for the medium. Only the ignorant or dishonest try to claim that in vitro = nonanimal. Into which class do you fall, Kausik?

    “Or when you work with CHO cells, you see cuddly hamsters running all around you? Or perhaps C6/36 cell lines have bitten you sometimes?”

    I see the newborn calves who had their blood removed by cardiac puncture. Why can’t you see them?

  124. #124 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Brownian,

    “However, I can claim that my research would likely reduce the suffering due to cancer in a very short period of time, if only I weren’t hindered by the ethical restraints of working with humans. ”

    Even if it were ethically possible to do the work you suggest with humans, you’d be smarter to do *most* of your work with mice. They reproduce faster.

    Jason,

    So, given that you are seeming to claim that you aren’t speciesest, (I admit that I am, I think everyone posting on this blog is, but I think some of you are being hypocritical about it) how would you answer my analogy above? Burning house, your dog and your lover are stuck inside, you only have time to grab one. Which one would you grab? Remember, if you choose the lover, you’re a speciesest…

  125. #125 MarcusA
    August 28, 2007

    I support experimenting on people. A good general doesn’t ask his troops to do something he’s not willing to do. Humans benefit from these animal experiments. Humans should suffer for the cause. Experiment on people. Really. What’s the big deal.

  126. #126 Jason
    August 28, 2007

    Steve LaBonne,

    And I’ve explained multiple times now why that’s absurd, and something that not even a strict Jain could actually practice.

    I’m not sure what it is exactly that you are claiming is absurd. I’m arguing that “speciesism”–discrimination on the basis of species–is wrong, in the same way that sexism and racism are wrong. If this is the position you are claiming is absurd, please point me to one of your arguments for that proposition.

    Your comment about Jains suggests to me that you are misunderstanding the term. It may be ethical to kill an ant in circumstances in which it would not be ethical to kill a human being, but that doesn’t mean the killing of the ant is justified on the grounds that it is a different species.

  127. #127 Jason
    August 28, 2007

    David M,

    “Possibility” is actually not strong enough a word. Terrorists who actually want their bombs to explode wouldn’t even wait for being tortured, they’d lie right away as soon as asked. The probability that a terrorist will a) wait for being tortured and b) then tell the truth is neglibigle.

    I don’t understand the relevance of the “wait to be tortured” remark. As I would support its use, torture would be used only as a last resort, after more conventional methods of interrogation had been tried and failed.

    I would love to see your evidence for your assertion that the probability of extracting true information through torture is “negligible.”

    Indeed I find very few wars defensible. Is that what you mean?

    Yes. Under what circumstances do you find war defensible? If torture is always unethical, why is any military act that causes harm for an uncertain benefit not also always unethical?

  128. #128 mgarelick
    August 28, 2007

    Either position in this debate is “speciesist.” Either you think that homo sapiens is more valuable than other species, or you think that homo sapiens is more virtuous than other species and has a moral obligation that no other species would honor with respect to us or any other species.

    My own inclination is against wasteful violence and suffering, but I hold this position for our own benefit, not for the animals. Maybe that’s incoherent also; if it makes me feel better not to kill an animal, but there’s no inherent moral worth to the animal itself, where does my good feeling come from?

  129. #129 factician
    August 28, 2007

    if it makes me feel better not to kill an animal, but there’s no inherent moral worth to the animal itself, where does my good feeling come from?

    Thanks for succinctly summing up the totality of the animal rights folks’ argument.

  130. #130 mgarelick
    August 28, 2007

    Thanks for succinctly summing up the totality of the animal rights folks’ argument.

    Is that what I did? I guess I should be paying more attention.

    Anyway, it does seem that there’s a reasonable middle ground between wanton disregard and destruction and recognition of entities entitled (trying typing that a few times) to rights.

    There’s also a reasonable position that nonhuman animals have sufficient resemblance to humans that willingness to inflict and witness suffering on animals is evidence and possible causation of an alarming proclivity for violence against humans.

  131. #131 poke
    August 28, 2007

    Peter Singer’s original argument regarding speciesism was that there’s no clear moral dividing line between species and instead we should look at capabilities. Since a human baby probably has similar capabilities to many of the animals we conduct experiments on then either it’s fine to do those experiments on human babies or it’s wrong to do them on both the babies and the animals. Personally I think the argument is sound and conclude that it would be morally acceptable to conduct experiments on humans from conception through very early infancy (as long as they’re destroyed afterwards). It’s just not practical.

  132. #132 RealPolitik
    August 28, 2007

    Ok, everyone who has equated all of us who care about animal welfare with PeTA, everyone who has used the “what about plants/unicellular organisms” trope: Pat yourselves on the back; we’ve never heard that before. You’re being intellectually dishonest and you know it.

    Everyone who has made taunting fun of our particular concern for mammals, honestly ask yourself: Is this cruel and childish of you? Are you really that uncaring?

    Scientists are definitionally clever people, probably the cleverest. That you’re telling me it’s impossible, means you can do it.

    Product testing is not dead. Help us eliminate the needless suffering and many of us will be satisfied, leaving you with a smaller number of opponents for true research.

    Remember that this affects our willingness to go to bat for you on causes like science teaching.

  133. #133 RealPolitik
    August 28, 2007

    opponents for true research

    Er, that should be “people opposed to true research.”

  134. #134 Nomen Nescio
    August 28, 2007

    DaveX, in #48:

    On the other hand, it also seems reasonable that students shouldn’t be presented with actual animals for dissections– these are easily modeled on a computer. It seems to me that many other experiments could be computer-modeled as well.

    let’s leave aside that dissections are used (among other things) to teach surgeons how to operate, a skill that demands an intimate understanding of what a knifeblade cutting through various kinds of flesh feels like when one holds the handle and guides the edge. i’m not a surgeon, so i can’t begin to speak on that matter.

    i’m a computer programmer, and i have some comprehension of what it takes to write a simulation. i do not think you do. it is not possible to computer-simulate a process one does not, first, thoroughly understand.

    true, it is possible to learn things through simulations; if you can simulate a lower level, it’s possible to watch badly understood emergent properties happen in the simulation of massive numbers of interactions of the simpler component parts, which might be understood.

    it’s possible to learn new things about nuclear explosions (really not that well understood, not on a macro scale at least) through simulations of atomic level fission reactions and shockwaves propagating through various materials at the crystalline level, both of which are fairly well understood. but you have to have that underlying knowledge first, and for most of biology, we just don’t — not to a degree needed to adequately simulate the systems involved.

    we can’t gain that understanding without animal testing. once we have gained it, i wouldn’t be surprised to find we couldn’t keep it without more animal testing; unlike most other things you might want to simulate, lifeforms change too much. you can’t simulate the entire biosphere, so exactly which roads mutation and selection settle on is not predictable nor simulatable. the only way to keep up with exactly how lifeforms (infectious diseases, say, or invasive species killing off old native ones, or…) are changing in the real world is to watch what they become, and that takes, you guess what.

  135. #135 Brownian
    August 28, 2007

    Even if it were ethically possible to do the work you suggest with humans, you’d be smarter to do *most* of your work with mice. They reproduce faster.

    You don’t understand epidemiology, do you Factician?

  136. #136 llewelly
    August 28, 2007

    I have been screaming that it is not possible to reduce all in vivo host systems down to the petridish or a computer simulation (Holy Sh*t! Did I just make an argument for irreducible complexity?)

    If so, it is a bad one. Computer simulations can only simulate well-understood laws. There remain both internal and external processes in cells that are not ‘well-understood’. There is no reason to believe they will never be well-understood. As understanding improves, so too will simulations of cells, tissues, organs, etc. Such gains in knowledge of course depend on experimentation on animals. Yes – people like you, who continue to advocate experimentation on animals are providing the data necessary to improve computer simulations. People who try to reduce or eliminate experiments on animals are slowing the improvement of computer simulations.

  137. #137 llewelly
    August 28, 2007

    On the other hand, it also seems reasonable that students shouldn’t be presented with actual animals for dissections– these are easily modeled on a computer. It seems to me that many other experiments could be computer-modeled as well.

    You are declaring that students needn’t be prepared for any career that requires animal experiments.

  138. #138 ProtoGnostic
    August 28, 2007

    Remember that this affects our willingness to go to bat for you on causes like science teaching.

    This almost sounds like unless sicentists work really hard to stop cosmetics company QC techs from testing on animals, you will keep badgering the scientists about using animals in their work.

  139. #139 Jason
    August 28, 2007

    Either position in this debate is “speciesist.” Either you think that homo sapiens is more valuable than other species, or you think that homo sapiens is more virtuous than other species and has a moral obligation that no other species would honor with respect to us or any other species.

    Another stupid claim. Again, speciesism is discrimination on the basis of species. It is precisely analogous to racism (discrimination on the basis of race) and sexism (discrimination on the basis of sex). It is not speciesist to believe that we have a moral obligation to respect the interests of other beings. This is true whether the being is capable of understanding or acting on moral obligations itself or not. A human baby or a severely mentally impaired adult human being may have no greater understanding of morality than an animal, but I somehow doubt you think that means we have no moral obligation towards them.

  140. #140 Geoffrey
    August 28, 2007

    I used to work in biotech R&D. My field was computer modelling; I was happy to be helping provide an alternative to animal testing (and it saved us a lot of time and money) but it made me all too aware that there are things you can’t do that way. A workable computer model always requires estimates of the ‘input data’ and simplifications of the processes involved, and usually needs to be validated against physical experiment to confirm that those estimates/simplifications are acceptable; sometimes we simply don’t understand the systems involved well enough to come up with a viable model.

    Those of my colleagues who used experimental animals were invariably concerned with their wellbeing; one of the most telling things I noticed when I visited the animal facility was that all of them had *names*.

    One unfortunate side-effect of some of the recent campaigning against animal experimentation is to *worsen* standards of animal welfare. I met one group of researchers who were conducting surgical research that required experimentation on primates; they had been doing so in the USA, under very tight restrictions (as discussed by several people above). However, ongoing harassment by groups like PETA had forced them to move their research from the USA to a research facility in China which was less prone to threats of violence… and also far less conscientious about the wellbeing of its animals.

    I do think animal welfare is important and experimentation needs to be carefully justified and policed (as indeed it usually is, in my country), but there aren’t a lot of simple answers. Even if you don’t believe humans should benefit from the suffering of animals… well, the reason my dog is alive and well today is because of antibiotics and surgical techniques that were tested on other animals, and he’s hardly unique in that.

  141. #141 Capt. Underpants
    August 28, 2007

    This is true whether the being is capable of understanding or acting on moral obligations itself or not

    Are you arguing that beings incapable of moral reasoning can have moral obligations?

    Discrimination on the basis of sex and race is not wrong because it is discrimination, but because it is without defensible basis. Whether ‘speciesism’ is discrimination that is indefensible is clearly, from the resulting kerfuffle in this thread, debatable, and invoking it as a rhetorical tactic here sounds a little like you want to shame everyone by analogy to sexism and racism. But if it is merely discrimination, it isn’t de facto wrong, and at this point, I think the question is clearly open. I discriminate against blind people when choosing a taxi driver. I’m a sightist!

    I think there are lots of reasons to value human life more than animal life, while still valuing animal life plenty, and insuring that suffering is prevented if unnecessary to the protection of human life and alleviation of human suffering. We can, and should, vigorously debate where this line is to be drawn, but then we should draw it.

    Personally I think the argument is sound and conclude that it would be morally acceptable to conduct experiments on humans from conception through very early infancy

    There is often a point when some in the extremes of anti-animal testing ranks auto-sodomize themselves by showing that it isn’t their desire to be ‘cruelty free’ that motivates them, but rather, rank misanthropy. (Godwin’s Law strikes again, if anyone else is thinking of Mengele analogies…)

    Remember that this affects our willingness to go to bat for you on causes like science teaching.

    Is that a threat? Because I’m sure animal rights activists would positively thrive in a less scientific and more theocratic society. So back at ya, jimmy.

  142. #142 mgarelick
    August 28, 2007

    Again, speciesism is discrimination on the basis of species. It is precisely analogous to racism (discrimination on the basis of race) and sexism (discrimination on the basis of sex).

    What does “precisely analogous” mean? Does it mean that discrimination on the basis of species is wrong for the same reasons that discrimination on the basis of race or sex is wrong? Ok, what are those reasons? I’m not sure I know them, but I think they have something to do with this: the common characteristics that obligate beings to respect each others’ rights are not negated by characteristics that they do not share. But where does the original obligation come from? I think it’s not unreasonable to think that that it has some basis in an agreement, and that an “agreement” assumes some parity in understanding.

    (I don’t think the “baby or severely mentally impaired” counterexamples are very persuasive; anomolous group members do not negate generally applicable descriptions of the group.)

  143. #143 factician
    August 28, 2007

    Brownian,

    You don’t understand epidemiology, do you Factician?

    Ummm… are you saying it’s faster to do epidemiology in mice or in people?

    Wait, is that a trick question?

  144. #144 Brian Macker
    August 28, 2007

    “You can’t replace animals with petri dishes and computers.”

    Well you can with some scientific studies, but not in a good stew.

  145. #145 Brian Macker
    August 28, 2007

    Blf,

    The full quote being:

    “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.”

    How many other political debates could this be said about. I see many people who are convinced pro-choice doctors enjoy their work, soldiers enjoy killing civilians, or the pro-capitalists want to destroy the environment. They always fail to consider that the other person might be motivated by error, not evil.

  146. #146 Brian Macker
    August 28, 2007

    Mgarelick,

    “But where does the original obligation come from? “

    Answer:Reciprocity.

    I’m not sure the animals can fully reciprocate.

  147. #147 llewelly
    August 29, 2007

    How many other political debates could this be said about. I see many people who are convinced pro-choice doctors enjoy their work, soldiers enjoy killing civilians, or the pro-capitalists want to destroy the environment. They always fail to consider that the other person might be motivated by error, not evil.

    It is much, much harder to demonize someone once you’ve admitted they may have arrived at their position through error. People are much more strongly driven away from those who they believed to be deliberately, gleefully harmful.

  148. #148 Jason
    August 29, 2007

    What does “precisely analogous” mean? Does it mean that discrimination on the basis of species is wrong for the same reasons that discrimination on the basis of race or sex is wrong?

    Yes.

    Ok, what are those reasons?

    Race, sex and species are not morally relevant characteristics.

    I’m not sure I know them, but I think they have something to do with this: the common characteristics that obligate beings to respect each others’ rights are not negated by characteristics that they do not share.

    Right.

    But where does the original obligation come from?

    Our innate moral sense elaborated by reason and experience.

    (I don’t think the “baby or severely mentally impaired” counterexamples are very persuasive; anomolous group members do not negate generally applicable descriptions of the group.)

    I wasn’t describing groups, I was pointing out the inconsistency of those who argue that we have no moral obligation to animals, on the grounds that they do not reciprocate it, but we do have a moral obligation to infant and mentally impaired human beings even though they also do not reciprocate it.

  149. #149 Jason
    August 29, 2007

    Are you arguing that beings incapable of moral reasoning can have moral obligations?

    No, I’m arguing that we may have a moral obligation to other beings even if they don’t have one to us. A human baby is an obvious example. Babies are not moral agents. They cannot distinguish right from wrong and act on that distinction. We nevertheless believe that we have moral obligations towards them.

    Discrimination on the basis of sex and race is not wrong because it is discrimination, but because it is without defensible basis. Whether ‘speciesism’ is discrimination that is indefensible is clearly, from the resulting kerfuffle in this thread, debatable, and invoking it as a rhetorical tactic here sounds a little like you want to shame everyone by analogy to sexism and racism.

    Racism and sexism are also considered “debatable,” or even perfectly proper, in many cultures. This is not an argument.

    But if it is merely discrimination, it isn’t de facto wrong, and at this point, I think the question is clearly open. I discriminate against blind people when choosing a taxi driver. I’m a sightist!

    But I’m not talking about “discrimination” in the sense of rational distinctions on the basis of ability. I’m talking about invidious social discrimination like racism and sexism. Speciesism is also invidious discrimination.

    I think there are lots of reasons to value human life more than animal life,

    There may be valid reasons for valuing the life of one being over another being. That’s not the issue. The issue is speciesism. If one life should not be valued higher than another on the basis of race or sex, why should one life be valued higher than another on the basis of species?

  150. #150 DaveX
    August 29, 2007

    Nomen– It is my understanding that a cadaver is a great “workbench” for surgeons learning to stitch and cut, etc…

    Llewelly– I was thinking less of advanced biology students at college, and more along the lines of kids in high school, junior high, etc, where a computer model would be adequate.

    The problem isn’t that we animal rights folks are usually so absolute, it’s really the animal-using/meat-eating population. You can’t seem to deal with not having chicken on your salad, or allowing 5th graders to have access to fetal pig dissections. Hell, you can find beef fat listed in the ingredients of a frakkin’ Twinkie. If you all met us halfway, and got rid of this easy stuff, I’d imagine things would lighten up. To give you an example of how ridiculous this is, go to Wal-Mart and look at the enormous wall of soups available. Now go try to find 5 kinds without meat in them. Betcha can’t do it.

  151. #151 Kausik Datta
    August 29, 2007

    David M, thank you for calling me on both counts of the mistakes I made. Limulus polyphemus is indeed a chelicerate arthropod and not a crustacean as I mentioned earlier. As for the origin of the HeLa cells, following your correction, I looked up the Johns Hopkins Magazine of April 2000, which details the history of Henrietta Lane. I stand corrected (also, a little embarrassed!).

    John, so your entire argument in calling in vitro cell-culture based techniques ‘animal experimentation’ boils down to the use of FCS/FBS? And you are certain that the blood is drawn from unanaesthetized calves using cardiac puncture? I have never heard of something so brutal, but you have said it after calling me a ‘moron’ – I guess it must be true.

    Dude, check out the new serum free media for your cell culture needs. Completely synthetic; our hybridomas seems pretty happy in them. There is even a new line of ‘animal-free’ media. Oh, wait! They have E. coli-derived animal proteins in there… so that’s animal experimentation, right?

    Why are you trying to divert attention from your dishonest use of the false equivocation fallacy in pretending that in vitro methods don’t involve animal use?

    You use that phrase a lot. I don’t think it means what you think it means!! In vitro methods – obviously – do not involve direct animal use (note the emphasis), certainly not in the context of the animal use or experimentation which this thread was initially talking about. Of course, there may be animal-derived components and supplements to in vitro system. The only people who would deny that – i.e. the people who advocate complete substitution of all in vivo experiements with in vitro testing and computer simulations – are delusional. Any one who has worked with these systems at a lab bench is aware of the difference. What did you hope to accomplish exactly by belaboring (what I had considered) a moot point?

    Seriously, if I overlook your liberal application of invectives, for the life of me, I cannot understand what exactly your beef is with me!!

    Is DMEM + 10% calf serum vegan?

    Who on earth talks about cell culture medium in terms of vegan or vegetarian? John, John, don’t drink it… It is for the cells in that 75mm flask… not for you!

  152. #152 MartinC
    August 29, 2007

    “The issue is speciesism. If one life should not be valued higher than another on the basis of race or sex, why should one life be valued higher than another on the basis of species?”
    Because species is not the same as race or sex.
    It is inevitable, even obligatory that you will contribute to the death of a multitude of organisms of a different species, just by the fact that you are living. Does anyone apart from animal rightists and fascists really think it would be OK to treat members of different races or gender in such a manner?

  153. #153 David Marjanovi?
    August 29, 2007

    So the name is Lane and not Lacks — thank you!

    ————————-

    “Possibility” is actually not strong enough a word. Terrorists who actually want their bombs to explode wouldn’t even wait for being tortured, they’d lie right away as soon as asked. The probability that a terrorist will a) wait for being tortured and b) then tell the truth is neglibigle.

    I don’t understand the relevance of the “wait to be tortured” remark.

    Wouldn’t many terrorists brag about their deed? “Sure, I put a bomb in Congress, right under the Vice President’s chair, and it’s too late, it will explode before you can get it out of there. Ha, ha.” — when the bomb is actually in the White House, and explodes while people are rushing to Congress to defuse the bomb that isn’t there.

    I would love to see your evidence for your assertion that the probability of extracting true information through torture is “negligible.”

    Excuse me?

    We’ve had witch hunts and the Inquisition for centuries. Show me that torture has any significant probability of extracting true information!!!

    Indeed I find very few wars defensible. Is that what you mean?

    Yes. Under what circumstances do you find war defensible?

    Under three, two of which are sanctioned by international law (and the third should be):

    1. In immediate self-defense.
    2. When sanctioned by the UN. What that means should be somewhere at http://www.un.org.
    3. To stop sovereign states from doing things like genocide on their own territory, if all other means (economic sanctions, secret service actions to kidnap the regime, whatever) have failed. (Due to the principle of sovereignty, this is currently not accepted as a reason for the UN to sanction a war.) Of course, this would require a precise definition of “things like”, and I can’t pull one out of my hat.

    If torture is always unethical, why is any military act that causes harm for an uncertain benefit not also always unethical?

    In the abovementioned three cases, the benefit is hardly uncertain, except in the first case, and even then only if you have somehow managed not to have most of the UN on your side.

  154. #154 David Marjanovi?
    August 29, 2007

    So the name is Lane and not Lacks — thank you!

    ————————-

    “Possibility” is actually not strong enough a word. Terrorists who actually want their bombs to explode wouldn’t even wait for being tortured, they’d lie right away as soon as asked. The probability that a terrorist will a) wait for being tortured and b) then tell the truth is neglibigle.

    I don’t understand the relevance of the “wait to be tortured” remark.

    Wouldn’t many terrorists brag about their deed? “Sure, I put a bomb in Congress, right under the Vice President’s chair, and it’s too late, it will explode before you can get it out of there. Ha, ha.” — when the bomb is actually in the White House, and explodes while people are rushing to Congress to defuse the bomb that isn’t there.

    I would love to see your evidence for your assertion that the probability of extracting true information through torture is “negligible.”

    Excuse me?

    We’ve had witch hunts and the Inquisition for centuries. Show me that torture has any significant probability of extracting true information!!!

    Indeed I find very few wars defensible. Is that what you mean?

    Yes. Under what circumstances do you find war defensible?

    Under three, two of which are sanctioned by international law (and the third should be):

    1. In immediate self-defense.
    2. When sanctioned by the UN. What that means should be somewhere at http://www.un.org.
    3. To stop sovereign states from doing things like genocide on their own territory, if all other means (economic sanctions, secret service actions to kidnap the regime, whatever) have failed. (Due to the principle of sovereignty, this is currently not accepted as a reason for the UN to sanction a war.) Of course, this would require a precise definition of “things like”, and I can’t pull one out of my hat.

    If torture is always unethical, why is any military act that causes harm for an uncertain benefit not also always unethical?

    In the abovementioned three cases, the benefit is hardly uncertain, except in the first case, and even then only if you have somehow managed not to have most of the UN on your side.

  155. #155 Steve LaBonne
    August 29, 2007

    Race, sex and species are not morally relevant characteristics.

    The analogy between “speciesism” and the other two is a load of bollocks. 1) The first two kinds of discrimination are wrong precisely because the “races” (if they are properly said to exist at all) and genders exhibit no differences in kind and capabilities that could serve as a rational basis for discriminating between them. This is not true of human beings and mice. 2) It is entirely possible and practicable- and therefore can be an ethical duty- to live without privileging your existence above those of people of other “races” and genders. No species on earth could survive for a moment WITHOUT such privileging relative to other species. 3) If you condemn “speciesism” defined in the way you did, you would be ethically bound to starve to death- you can’t eat that bread- you’re thereby privileging your existence over that of a member of another species. (And worse yet, wheat is a species manipulated by human selective breeding for our purposes.) Moreover, modifying your definition to include only animal species won’t help you- what about those poor field mice who were turned out of their homes by the plow and ultimately starved to death?

    It’s a stupid concept. It will get you absolutely nowhere in determining how to treat animals ethically.

  156. #156 RealPolitik
    August 29, 2007

    Surprisingly, a common sentiment among the activists is that the researchers actually enjoy hurting animals.

    Not surprising at all, considering sneering taunts like Factician’s #27 (wallet card), and #35 Factlike (“puppy-wuppies”). Rational discussion, indeed. Harumph.

    Vivisectionist is a perfectly accurate, though understandably uncomfortable term. Deal with it.

  157. #157 MartinC
    August 29, 2007

    “Vivisectionist is a perfectly accurate, though understandably uncomfortable term. Deal with it.”
    If you are talking about biological researchers use of individual organisms in their work I shudder to think of the number that I have personally killed. Generally the method I’ve used is resuspending them in buffer one, an isotonic sucrose solution to which I’ve previously added RNAse. I then, (heres the nasty part, please avert your eyes if you are squeamish) add a detergent solution containing NaOH ! that rips apart their very cell walls and releases their innards. I neutralize this solution with a salty liquid at a lower pH- but to no avail for those poor vivisected creatures lives. Their remains are spun down and coolly flung into a waste receptable – while I finish my miniprep by isolating the plasmid from a DNA binding column.
    Deal with it ? Its like a Qiagen inspired holocaust each and every day.

  158. #158 Nomen Nescio
    August 29, 2007

    DaveX seems to imply (in #145) a definition of “dissection” that would not well apply to human cadavers, and RealPolitik claims with a straight face (in #150) that “vivisection” is a good description of modern day biomedical research practices (while decrying the general incivility of the debate, no less).

    i’m starting to feel like i feel when listening to a debate between radical feminists; that is, as if there’s some fundamentally different language being used that just happens to utilize the same word list as English, but with treacherously different definitions in play. i suspect the thread will deteriorate further, perhaps rapidly.

  159. #159 demallien
    August 29, 2007

    DaveX,

    The problem isn’t that we animal rights folks are usually so absolute, it’s really the animal-using/meat-eating population. You can’t seem to deal with not having chicken on your salad, or allowing 5th graders to have access to fetal pig dissections.

    Look, I’ll happily give up eating other species, if you can explain to me why it’s ok for other animals to eat other species, but that it’s not ok for humans. I mean, surely, if you don’t like humans eating chickens, you must equally have a problem with sharks eating other fish, no?

    It is totally natural for one animal species to eat another animal species. Note, I’m not saying that there aren’t other very good reasons for cutting down our consumption of meat (the environmental costs associated with producing beef, as an example), but there is no moral imperative to not eat animals.

  160. #160 Steve LaBonne
    August 29, 2007

    I mean, surely, if you don’t like humans eating chickens, you must equally have a problem with sharks eating other fish, no?

    And it would be speciesist not to hold sharks to the same standards as humans!

  161. #161 MartinM
    August 29, 2007

    Look, I’ll happily give up eating other species…

    What, all of them? Remind me never to accept a dinner invitation from you.

  162. #162 hinschelwood
    August 29, 2007

    demallien – You’re right about the environmental aspect of meat farming. Another point is the conditions that animals are kept in factory farms before they are killed and eaten.

    Arguably, there’s just far too much meat being produced and consumed. If everybody ate less meat, not only would there be less environmental impact, the farming methods might also be less intensive and distressing. That should be a good reason for not eating meat without having to even consider the morals of killing animals and eating them. I find the treatment of animals the #1 reason for not eating meat.

  163. #163 Scientizzle
    August 29, 2007

    Animal rights activist often conveniently forget that investigatory science that sacrifices animals has lead to a lot of invaluable information in the veterinary and zoological sciences that undoubtedly benefits many of the fuzzy pretty animals they claim to be fighting for…

  164. #164 John C. Randolph
    August 29, 2007

    PZ,

    Sorry, I’m not about to let you describe “animal rights” activists as “well-meaning”. Creationists are idiots and should be treated as idiots, but animal rights advocates are in a whole different category. They are misanthropes, first and foremost, starting with that crazy bitch Ingrid Newkirk.

    -jcr

  165. #165 John
    August 29, 2007

    Kausik wrote:
    “John, so your entire argument in calling in vitro cell-culture based techniques ‘animal experimentation'”

    I never called “in vitro cell-culture based techniques ‘animal experimentation,'” Kausik. Quit lying. I’m calling any pretense that ‘in vitro or cell culture = no animal USE’ to be a polemic lie.

    Kausik, the issue here is that the AR movement is totally dishonest about this, and that governments and regulatory bodies are dishonest about it too–just less dishonest than the AR movement. My beef with you is that you are being dishonest by parroting the regulatory line.

    There is zero ethical difference between paying someone to provide parts of an animal, like serum, and acquiring those parts yourself or using the whole animal as an experimental subject. There is, however, an enormous regulatory difference, in that the latter two require protocols to be approved and the first instance is unregulated.

    “… boils down to the use of FCS/FBS? And you are certain that the blood is drawn from unanaesthetized calves using cardiac puncture?”

    Yes. Would you want anesthetic in your serum?

    “I have never heard of something so brutal, but you have said it after calling me a ‘moron’ – I guess it must be true.”

    ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is a moronic position to take, in addition to being unethical.

    “Dude, check out the new serum free media for your cell culture needs.”

    “Serum-free” only means that whole serum isn’t used. To use it as an ethical distinction is completely dishonest.

    “Completely synthetic; our hybridomas seems pretty happy in them.”

    So what? You can’t MAKE hybridomas without serum; they start with primary splenocytes that aren’t growth-factor independent. Why did you switch from HeLa cells to hybridomas, Kausik?

    “There is even a new line of ‘animal-free’ media.”

    That’s nice. Most of my experiments involve primary cells. Do they work for them?

    “Oh, wait! They have E. coli-derived animal proteins in there… so that’s animal experimentation, right?”

    Nope. Show me a single paper from the primary literature in which all the cell culture was vegan, if you can.

    “You use that phrase a lot. I don’t think it means what you think it means!!”

    Oh, but it does.

    “In vitro methods – obviously – do not involve direct animal use (note the emphasis), certainly not in the context of the animal use or experimentation which this thread was initially talking about.”

    Whether one uses parts or all of the animal is ethically irrelevant.

    “Of course, there may be animal-derived components and supplements to in vitro system. The only people who would deny that – i.e. the people who advocate complete substitution of all in vivo experiements with in vitro testing and computer simulations – are delusional.”

    Then why are you using their phony framing and bifurcations?

    “Any one who has worked with these systems at a lab bench is aware of the difference.”

    Yes, but the public buys the AR lie about cell culture being a “nonanimal alternative,” when in fact, it is neither. For example, ALL of my experiments for which I have animal protocols involve painless euthanasia and doing the actual experiments on primary cells in vitro; therefore, ALL the animal suffering comes from the production of FCS that I use.

  166. #166 John C. Randolph
    August 29, 2007

    Tom,

    I have several friends and relatives who are alive because of medical advances that required animal testing. Let me just say, FUCK YOU. I would happily eradicate an entire species of the cutest, sweetest, flop-eared, fuzzy little darlings you can imagine in order to save the vision of one human being, and if you wouldn’t, then you are a moral degenerate.

    If I get wealthy, I WILL fund medical research, I WILL equip those facilities with top-flight surveillance systems, and if any of your ALF buddies get caught trying to break in, I sincerely hope that they suffer grievous bodily harm in the process.

    -jcr

  167. #167 RealPolitik
    August 29, 2007

    [Computer ate my earlier attempt to post this]

    Thanks to MartinC in #151 for reinforcing my point about reasearchers creating their own PR problems.

    Research on single-cell organisms and tissue cultures (per se) doesn’t bother me. However it’s clear from the gloating tone of MartinC’s post that he’s using this as a rhetorical surrogate for whole-animal research on mammals.

    Nomen Nescio almost gets it right in #152 when s/he states: “…RealPolitik claims with a straight face (in #150) that “vivisection” is a good description of modern day biomedical research practices (while decrying the general incivility of the debate, no less).”

    Uh, no, I wasn’t decrying the general incivility of the debate, but stating that the term “vivisection,” literally “cutting alive” is an accurate term. Yes it has emotional baggage which I’m sure you’d like to escape, but if the lab coat fits…

    You can’t reasonably expect to be indifferent to animal suffering, and the pain that causes animal welfare supporters, without expecting those people to call you bad names.

    In the world of politics you have to give up something to get something. Reduce the animal use and you’ll find more support and funding.

  168. #168 Kausik Datta
    August 29, 2007

    John,
    Thank you for the information. I, honestly, had no idea how FBS/FCS is produced, and I say that with contrition. According to the article I referred to below, FBS is harvested from bovine fetuses taken from pregnant cows during slaughter and is commonly obtained by means of cardiac puncture without anesthesia. Should the fetuses be conscious during the bleeding procedure, which can occur anywhere from 5-35 min after the death of the mother, it is probable that they are exposed to pain and/or discomfort.

    I don’t know if the fetuses are conscious at that time, but the possibility is real and needs to be considered. If there are newer alternatives to using FBS that work just as well or better, there is no reason why we should not switch. Ethics apart, it makes plain good sense. In fact, it gives a new justification to my moving our hybridoma cell cultures to a serum-free medium.

    I don’t know if SFM works with primary cell lines (since I don’t work with them). But the March 2006 issue of TIBTECH has this article by Megha Shah Even, a scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). If your institution has a subscription to TIBTECH, here is the reference: Trends in Biotechnology, 24(3):105-8, March 2006. If not, please let me know; I can send you the PDF.

    Now, getting back to the original question… You say,

    “Whether one uses parts or all of the animal is ethically irrelevant.”

    Perhaps. But I was speaking strictly from the confines of the idea of primary use of animal in experimentation, animals as a host model; this is the use that PZ mentioned in his post. I did not quite realize initially that you were referring to the secondary use of animals in research, for derivation of components and parts for other use.

    I’m calling any pretense that ‘in vitro or cell culture = no animal USE’ to be a polemic lie.

    On your part, John, you should have made it clear that you meant the secondary use, when you first spoke of endotoxin testing as animal use. This secondary use is something we all know but often overlook, not out of malice, but out of unconcern borne out of regularity. We assume that because ethical guidelines are in place in relation to our direct research, similar guidelines are adopted and enforced in all other behind-the-curtain areas, such as product manufacturers and vendors. This reference to FBS production tells me that we are wrong in making such a blanket assumption.

    ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is a moronic position to take, in addition to being unethical.

    Come on! Honest ignorance equals unethical? That is pompous! The lack of foreknowledge about a not-closely-related process does NOT equate me – no matter what you feel – with people who, out of misguided sentiments and ignorance, willfully disregard all the past, present and future benefits of animal experimentation, and want a blanket ban, or people like PETA who are willing to go on rampages and destruction of intellectual and physical property in order to push their narrow agenda.

  169. #169 Nomen Nescio
    August 29, 2007

    no, RealPolitik, you do not get to state the literal etymological derivation of a word and blithely argue that that is what the word means. etymology is like history for linguists, it might explain how we got here but it doesn’t always do a good job of detailing where we are.

    vivisection was one early procedure for learning about anatomy and physiology. it involved dissecting a subject (usually an animal… usually) while alive, and — since we’re speaking of a largely historical practice here — usually without anesthesia, which was not well developed back in the heyday of this procedure. it was done specifically to get a look at how the insides of an organism functioned while it was still alive. briefly, because vivisection was not survivable.

    past tense, because i can’t think of any reason vivisection should still be used. laparoscopy can show us what it used to, with much less gore and pain, and while letting the subject survive to be laparoscopied another day.

    if you really think vivisection is still in wide use, i want to see good evidence for that claim. if you’re simply using the word for its shock value and/or as an invective, you’re not debating in good faith. the very concept is distasteful to modern researchers, and for good reason. slinging such accusations about without damn good cause is like dropping the N-bomb in everyday conversation; it shuts down any hope of reasoned debate, and demonstrates that reasoned debate is not something you’re even very interested in.

    trying to weasel out by claiming to have meant the word in its most general, most literal sense — as if you were wholly unaware that it is also high invective in its far more commonly used sense — does not fly with me. i don’t let people get away with calling strangers “nigger” if they claim they’re merely referring to skin pigmentation, either.

  170. #170 Fatboy
    August 29, 2007

    Well factician, to answer your burning building question, I would save the person. But, if I was 10 years old again with the family dog I grew up with laying next to a stranger I’ve never met, the answer might be different, and I suspect it would for a lot of people. So, even though emotionally we favor people over other animals, it’s not a huge difference.

    I’ll take you one step further, though. Suppose the building was a lab researching a cure for malaria, and they’d just made a breakthrough but hadn’t yet published their work, and they hadn’t been communicating with other labs for whatever reason (it’s a burning building scenario – I’m allowed to be outlandish). So, on the floor is the researcher who knows the cure, who has the knowledge to save millions of people, and my daughter. I can tell you who I’d rescue, even though I consider it less moral because it would result in more suffering.

    And if you’d asked me the same question 10 years ago with a heterosexual and homosexual person, I’d have chosen the heterosexual. And, as much as I’m ashamed to, I admit that I’m a bit racist. The point is, I recognize those as moral failings and try to address them. I don’t try to rationalize them as being okay just because I happen to be that way.

    I hesitate to post the following paragraph since the rhetoric’s a bit extreme, but considering that after my first post voicing my concerns over animal testing I was told to carry around a card to deny any medical treatment, and considering some of the more recent comments, I don’t think it’s too extreme for this discussion. A lot of this discussion seems to me, like if 300 years ago I’d asked if there was any justification for slavery, and if so, just what the justification was that allowed it to be applied to black people but not white people. And for the most part, most of the responses have been directed at the former part of that, listing all the benefits, how much better most of our lives are, and how, for the most part, there really isn’t all that much suffering that goes on, since there are institutions in place to guard against abuse, and most people practicing it really are pretty good. But really, a lot of the arguments addressed to the second part seem to be of the sort, organisms from group A are obviously better than organisms from group B without much justification for why, or, I’m an organism from group A, and so obviously I feel more empathy towards other organisms from group A, so that’s why group A shouldn’t be used.

    Maybe I missed some, but about the only reasons that seemed somewhat valid to me were the related issues of social contracts, reciprocity, and humans being the only social agents. I think that last part could be argued, but since we don’t really do that much testing on the other great apes or cetaceans, it’s kind of a moot point for this discussion. Regarding reciprocity, I always kind of thought of that as a possible explanation for one of the factors involved in the evolution of our morality, but not necessarily the best basis for it now that we can think rationally about it. It brings up the point of why we should bother to be moral to those people that can’t reciprocate. It also carries shades of a theistic perspective, that we do good deeds only because we expect to be rewarded. Maybe some people are that pragmatic about morality, but I’d rather do something because it’s the “right” thing to do.

    Regarding social contracts, what moral obligations do you owe to someone who chooses not to participate in the same social contract? i.e. criminals, people from other countries that might not like your society, or just plain assholes.

    Oh well, I guess in a world of limited resources, we do place actual values on lives and suffering, human and other animal alike. I guess in that context, a consequentialist approach may not be too bad, especially considering some of the things I’ve learned from this thread about the regulations in place for animal testing. I just want to be sure that we do have good justifications for our actions, that we seriously consider what non-human animals might feel, and we’re not just trying to rationalize things to make ourselves feel better because we’re already doing them.

  171. #171 Kausik Datta
    August 29, 2007

    RealPolitik wrote:

    In the world of politics you have to give up something to get something.

    Not only in the world of politics, my friend… in the real world as well. But do tell – is it your opinion that scientists, particularly who are involved in animal experimentation, are not giving enough to the world, to expect to face a little less idiocy and unsound judgement from ignorant and myopic individuals?

    Reduce the animal use and you’ll find more support and funding.

    So, in order to garner support and attract funding, there should be a blanket reduction in animal use, even if such reduction may not warranted for good science, meaningful results, and overall benefit… that is how you see it, right?

    I would like to hear your enlightened take on how to model a disease system a priori without animal experimentation. Go ahead, humor me.

  172. #172 MartinC
    August 30, 2007

    “Reduce the animal use and you’ll find more support and funding”
    But the vast majority of biomedical researchers do not directly use lab animals in their research. Are the animal rights activists campaigning for more funding for us non-vivisectors? I somehow doubt it.
    Its clear that Realpolitik doesnt have a problem with research on bacteria but draws his or her moral line in the sand elsewhere – as indeed most of us do. Exactly where the line is drawn is essentially intellectually problematic as it entails making a value judgement on the relative worth of different species. For me I don’t hesitate to place humans in a category separate from the rest of life and find it simply distasteful to hear talk of different races equated with animals of different species. I have spoken at length to many animal rights supporters and find two factors that are common within their train of thought. First, they really do equate animal lives with human lives (but not all animals – for the most part they mean just cute furry ones, not flies or worms, animals used much more frequently in research than mice or primates). The idea that you could sacrifice 1 million lab mice to save one human life might seem an easy choice for the rest of us but not to them. The application of the principle of laissez-faire towards life threatening medical problems is apparently the better choice (indeed I’ve noticed that this frequently extends to attitudes regarding human overpopulation). Second, they have a completely denialistic approach to actual research – animals are never good models for human diseases, no advances have occurred through the uses of animals in research etc.
    Animals are used in research purely to try to determine answers to unknowns – what causes cancer? – how can it be cured? etc. Remove those questions and the need for animals in research drops accordingly. The answer is quite simple.
    Realpolitik, if you want to stop cancer researchers using animals in research then all you need to do is cure cancer.

  173. #173 G_S
    August 30, 2007

    I am a biology student and when I started my studies I struggled with the question of animal research myself, is it necessary, is it ethical, ect., and I found that I gained a greater respect for animal research when I got a job in my university’s animal care facility. I had to undergo the IACUC training that the researchers have to take on the procedures for obtaining animals to study, housing, and euthanization processes. I gained a lot of insight from that (which is a course open to the public via the web), and decided that most animal research is conducted with reasonable responsibility.

    Now, it seems like there are 2 main points against it being batted around:
    1. That we don’t use humans for testing and this is wrong because we should be willing to test anything against ourselves.
    2. That we place animals in a hierarchy and this is wrong.

    For science, humans are a horrible model to work with. They are long lived, so time scale would be an issue for the study. Also, they lie and are more behaviorally complex, so it would be hard to get reliable data from them once effects are seen. Finally, they are not as well understood as other systems (say mouse) so any ‘good’ data gotten from them would be had to ascribe to any one cause.

    As for the hierarchy, I do find it interesting that some of you are blasting others for making light jokes about the feelings of E. coli. Currently, I work with marine invertebrates, on an obscure group of animals (Bryozoans) that most people in the BIOLOGY department would not even recognize as animals. There are no protocols on the housing or disposing of my creatures, and I feel that disposing of them instead of placing them back in the ocean is fine, because they are non-native creatures. However, I do feel some invertebrate groups should have some of the levels of protection that the vertebrate groups do (notably, cephalopods), and that not thinking of other groups’ capabilities because they are not terrestrial or vertebrates is somewhat narrow-minded.

    The concept of using one animal over another is endorsed by the IACUC as a way of minimizing impact of the research on the animal. Using the lowest ‘animal’ justifiable is a way to getting to the computer model approach. The hierarchy is based on what that animal would need to feel as comfortable as possible, so primates at the top and fish at the bottom. If the research can use a frog instead of a primate it will because a frog is easier to care for (not to mention cheaper) and keep happy (in terms of enrichment). As others have mentioned, this hierarchy may change when more information on the cognitive abilities of our animals become know, and it may be that there needs to be more ‘steps’ in the hierarchy, as not all groups are equal.

    Two more side notes: Thank you to 96 for mentioning that most animal research benefits animals! The fetal pigs for dissection in class come from slaughterhouses, where the sows were killed for food before they knew they were pregnant. If the biological company didn’t obtain them, they would be thrown away. Having the real thing as opposed to a picture does enhance the learning experience.

  174. #174 Kausik Datta
    August 30, 2007

    The fetal pigs for dissection in class come from slaughterhouses, where the sows were killed for food before they knew they were pregnant. If the biological company didn’t obtain them, they would be thrown away. Having the real thing as opposed to a picture does enhance the learning experience.

    Thank you G_S, for touching upon this important point. The people and the groups who oppose animal use in research subvert this fact, very cleverly, indeed, to put up a false premise that these pigs are killed, and the fetus taken out, primarily for the purpose of demonstration in the classroom.

    It is a shame, because this way they also manage to completely trivialize an important teaching tool.

  175. #175 John
    August 30, 2007

    Kausik wrote:
    “Thank you for the information. I, honestly, had no idea how FBS/FCS is produced, and I say that with contrition.”

    You’re most welcome.

    “According to the article I referred to below…it is probable that they are exposed to pain and/or discomfort.”

    Yes, and that is MORE discomfort than occurs in the vast majority of experiments ON animals. That’s why focusing on animals as subjects and ignoring their exploitation as tools, as the AR movement (and to a lesser extent, the regulatory bodies) does, is pure fraud.

    “I don’t know if the fetuses are conscious at that time,…”

    Biologically, they are fetuses. Ethically, they are calves, because they are no longer inside the cow.

    “…If there are newer alternatives to using FBS that work just as well or better, there is no reason why we should not switch.”

    But “serum-free” is just as deceptive as “in vitro,” because a lot of the growth factors in serum-free media (not all) are purified from serum.

    “Ethics apart, it makes plain good sense. In fact, it gives a new justification to my moving our hybridoma cell cultures to a serum-free medium.”

    Hybridomas are generally growth-factor independent, so that usually works. However, you’ll lose the stabilization provided by albumin in the serum if you are using straight supernatants.

    “…But the March 2006 issue of TIBTECH has this article by Megha Shah Even, a scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).”

    I’ve read it. The article, like PCRM, is a crock of deceptive shit.

    “You say, “Whether one uses parts or all of the animal is ethically irrelevant.”
    Perhaps.”

    No, definitely.

    “But I was speaking strictly from the confines of the idea of primary use of animal in experimentation, animals as a host model;…”

    That’s not the primary use of animals in biomedical research.

    “… this is the use that PZ mentioned in his post.”

    And he wrote, correctly, that the article was nonsense.

    “I did not quite realize initially that you were referring to the secondary use of animals in research, for derivation of components and parts for other use.”

    It’s the primary use, not secondary. Do you realize that many commercial antibodies come from Southeast Asia, not exactly a hotbed of animal welfare?

    “On your part, John, you should have made it clear that you meant the secondary use, when you first spoke of endotoxin testing as animal use.”

    It’s not secondary, and I didn’t use the term “animal experimentation.” Your claim that I had was false, and entirely your fault.

    “This secondary use is something we all know but often overlook, not out of malice, but out of unconcern borne out of regularity.”

    That’s my point. I show more genuine concern for animals than any PeTA member. I have approved animal protocols that all fit PeTA’s definition of “non-animal alternatives.”

    “We assume that because ethical guidelines are in place in relation to our direct research, similar guidelines are adopted and enforced in all other behind-the-curtain areas, such as product manufacturers and vendors.”

    I make no such assumption. I take ethics seriously.

    “Come on! Honest ignorance equals unethical? That is pompous!”

    If you’re making claims instead of asking questions and gathering data before coming to a conclusion, you’re the pompous and unethical one, not me.

    “The lack of foreknowledge about a not-closely-related process does NOT equate me – no matter what you feel – with … people like PETA who are willing to go on rampages and destruction of intellectual and physical property in order to push their narrow agenda.”

    Then quit using PeTA’s deceptive rhetoric. That’s what I’m accusing you of, not equating you with them. If you feel like I’m calling you a duck, check to see if you are quacking.

  176. #176 RealPolitik
    August 30, 2007

    Have not abandoned this debate, but am pressed for time. Will respond tomorrow.

  177. #177 Cornelius J. McHugh
    August 30, 2007

    If my wife and my cat were trapped in a burning building and I could only save one I would save my wife. Ergo I am a speciesist right? Cut and dried.
    If my wife and the local rapist/drug dealer/paedophile/animal abuser or similar lowlife were trapped in a burning building and I could only save one I would save my wife. What then would that make me? Still cut and dried?
    If my wife and a total stranger were trapped in a burning building and I could only save one I would save my wife. What then would that make me? Still cut and dried?
    If my wife and an acquaintance were trapped in a burning building and I could only save one I would save my wife. What then would that make me? Still cut and dried?
    If my wife and another family member were trapped in a burning building and I could only save one I would save my wife. What then would that make me? Still cut and dried?
    Now if my cat and any of the above were trapped in a burning building and I could only save one…………
    I think you catch my drift.

  178. #178 RealPolitik
    August 31, 2007

    Protognostic #133 wrote: “This almost sounds like unless sicentists work really hard to stop cosmetics company QC techs from testing on animals, you will keep badgering the scientists about using animals in their work.”

    Almost, but not quite. Engaging in discussions like this is about the extent of the “badgering” I do. For the record, I don’t support PeTA, ALF, et als. I consider that science, education and product testing are related endeavors, all driven by scientists and the scientific method, so it’s reasonable to ask scientists to decide where to eliminate or reduce animal usage. The overall goal is to reduce suffering.

    I wrote (#127): Remember that this affects our willingness to go to bat for you on causes like science teaching.

    Capt. Underpants (#137) responded: Is that a threat? Because I’m sure animal rights activists would positively thrive in a less scientific and more theocratic society. So back at ya, jimmy.

    Uh, my name isn’t “Jimmy” and I at least have the courtesy to properly address those whom I debate online.

    Sure, you can consider it a threat if you want. A threat to withold financial and political support, and to use the pen and the ballot box to exert pressure. Pretty tough talk, I realize.

    Also, regarding what you wrote about the fundies: I’m not inclined to take strategic advice from a political adversary. It’s a longstanding political principal that the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least for the moment).

    Regarding “vivisection:” I didn’t bring the term to this debate, other posters (#38, #140, et als) brought it to whine about being called that. I merely pointed out that it was literally accurate, and I stand by that because it meets the definition listed in my Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary (1979 ed). Not a term I would initiate, but I’m also not going to let anyone weasel out of the literal meaning, particularly Nomen Nescio.

    Kausik Data (#165): No, you’re not my friend, nor do I wish to be yours. Patronizing does not help move the debate forward. The only point you made which is at all worth a response was: “I would like to hear your enlightened take on how to model a disease system a priori without animal experimentation.”

    I believe that bio-medical research is the most justifiable use of animals. As noted above, I’m calling for an overall reduction in animal use in education, product testing and research. This is a political goal. Rather than say that a certain procedure is bad, or that a certain research project is unnecessary, I’m stating a political goal and leaving it up to scientists to decide how to implement that, or not.

    I find it interesting that the debaters on this thread consistently use the same dishonest, bad-faith debating techniques that are (rightfully) decried when used by creationists.

    I’m offline all this weekend. Will respond on Tuesday if anyone wishes to keep this going.

  179. #179 Christian Carlsson
    September 1, 2007

    If we are going to keep animal testing, there seems to be several arguments in favor of only using humans. Now I am not a biologist, but the results from testing on humans rather than other animals ought to be much more reliable, and it would save time. Also, it would be possible to communicate with the human models, something which, I suppose, is quite hard if you have a mouse or rat. It would probably not be more harmful for the human model than for a rat or mouse. On the downside, they would be more expensive to keep, you would need a relatively large cage or a room.

    As for the legal aspects, some laws would have to be changed. Easiest would probably be to legalize breeding of humans for animal testing. There would have to be a legal framework for how it could be done, my suggestion is to use the one currently in use for animal testing of non-human animals. As it would rarely be needed, animal tests using non-human animals would be outlawed.

    Please give constructive criticism.

  180. #180 anonymous
    September 2, 2007

    The arguments FOR animal testing seem to go like this:

    1. We can’t find out what we want to find out without ripping open a few animals.

    2. Why can’t PETA people realize this?

    The argument FOR human testing seem to go like this:

    1. We can’t find out what we want to find out without ripping open a few humans.

    2. Why can’t PEPA people realize this?

    So, I say we should not let these well-intentioned but ill-informed PEPA people try to tell us that we can’t rip open a few humans to advance our knowledge of the way humans work. Captive humans should have as reasonable a life as possible. I have never, ever known a single scientist who doesn’t respect the gravity of human testing, nor tried to alleviate potential suffering whenever possible. Unlike common media portrayals of scientists, they are human and respond with typical human empathy even through scientific professionalism. The straw-man Evil Researcher image erected by human rights activists has little basis in the reality of human research.

    The other misconception that seems to be common here is that researchers are chopping up people willy-nilly. I have only once had to do work with people. I spent a month of my life writing up the human testing protocol. In that protocol, I had to define how we would take care of the people, how we would eliminate suffering and how we would euthanize them if it seemed they were suffering. There is a *lot* of care that goes into this stuff.

    you get the point

  181. #181 Nomen Nescio
    September 2, 2007

    RealPolitik, you’re not even trying to address my actual point here. the term “vivisection” is a serious pejorative in the relevant context, and your relying on its most literal, widest dictionary definition is a weak and transparent excuse for using it as what amounts to “fighting words” language. that is not debating in good faith. if you were actually interested in honest debate, you would not be using language so. it’s inflammatory, insulting, and casts serious doubts on your intellectual honesty.

    anonymous @ #174: you’re equating human and non-human animal species as if they were exactly comparable, without justification for this point. this point is what you are trying to conclude. you need the supporting steps of the argument too, you can’t just jump blindly all the way to the “QED”.

    Christian Carlsson (#173) at least attempts to provide a justification, but it’s one only a sociopath could agree with. any real-world ethics is supposed to have at least a passing familiarity with empathy and compassion, after all. we do not use pure cost-benefit analyses for ethical decision making, and we normally recognize that being forced to do so by exigent circumstances (such as in surgical triage on the battlefield) is a Bad Thing that civilized society should work hard to minimize.

  182. #182 Christian Carlsson
    September 2, 2007

    Nomen Nescio: What if only a sociopath would agree, would that change anything? That’s hardly an argument; “only a sociopath agrees with x, *therefore* x is bad/wrong/immoral”.

    If we’re not making an utilitarian calculation, and actually I thought that was what vivisectionists said they were doing, would that be a good argument for continuing with not doing it? How are you defending your position? You could give a religious argument* but, as there is no god, that’s a pretty weak argument. Accepting egoism? Impossible, vivisectionists and their supporters aren’t evil (we’re told, and I trust them).

    *And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

    And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

  183. #183 Christian Carlsson
    September 2, 2007

    If the term “vivisection” is considered non-NPOV, vague or wrong, read it as “animal testing” (I didn’t know that was being discussed).

  184. #184 RealPolitik
    September 4, 2007

    Nomen Nescio (#174): For all your bloviating, name-calling and passive-aggressive whining — bottom line is that I’m using the term correctly, and that makes you uncomfortable. Baggage isn’t my fault. Own it!

    BTW, your side brought this term to the debate, something you conveniently choose to ignore. I would never use, or even defend, terms like “torture” or “sadist” in this context.

  185. #185 Nomen Nescio
    September 5, 2007

    RealPolitik, you’re using the term “vivisectionist” in a way that would (correctly, by your logic) have it apply to surgeons. the way you insist on an irrelevant etymology, the guy who took your tonsils out when you were a kid is a “vivisectionist”. who brought the term up is pointless, because you agree with its use in this illogical fashion; you’re wearing the shoe, so clearly it fits.

    if you think it’s “passive-aggressive whining” for me to point out that this sort of linguistic contortionism is senseless and insulting, then whine i shall.

  186. #186 True Bob
    September 5, 2007

    From Vanity Fair:

    “Every salesperson at U.S. Surgical was trained for six weeks with dogs at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, and that was really brutal,” explains a former employee. “They spent days and days with dogs, taking out the spleen or stomach or the lobe of a lung. Then if the dog started moaning or fidgeted, whoever was closest would push more sedative into him from the syringe. It was horrible. Then the dog would be killed with potassium chloride.”

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/09/giuliani200709?printable=true&currentPage=all

    This is in relation NOT to advancement of human knowledge, but in selling widgets. Now there might be a better place to focus your antivivisectionist ire. Vote Giuliani. not.

  187. #187 mouse
    September 25, 2007

    #176: That’s hardly an argument; “only a sociopath agrees with x, *therefore* x is bad/wrong/immoral”.

    Um. Yes, that is a perfectly valid argument. If the only humans–and the entire point of this debate is that humans have a moral obligation to other humans and the depth of that obligation’s extent to the rest of the animal kingdom–who agree with your point are humans known to have morals so diametrically opposed to the most multicultural and generalized morals of all humans (yes, playing to the majority) that they are regularly locked away and drugged to make them less likely to kill/maim/rape/etc, then your position is not a healthy or good one to have, and I’d like to advocate that you join the ranks of the institutionalized.

  188. #188 Christian Carlsson
    September 25, 2007

    It wasn’t diametrically opposed to the Nazi’s morals (and others who have tested on humans), and they got useful information from it (which later became our information too). Either way, what do you mean by “your position”? I said “*If* we are going to keep animal testing, there seems to be several arguments in favor of only using humans”. But I’m not so evil as to support involuntary (human or non-human) animal testing at all (unless the individual is treated very well and not harmed).

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