Janet Stemwedel was a participant in a panel discussion on the ethics of animal research. She got her reward: she is now featured on the web page of a deranged terrorist for animal rights, complete with her home address and phone number. These thugs are people who threaten children and carry out violence against researchers, and deserve to be treated as terrorists, fitting the definition perfectly: they use fear and intimidation and violence to compel people to meet their irrational demands.
They are also ignorant, and don’t even want to understand the purpose of basic research. This particular ranting loon made a revealing admission in the complaints about the researchers:
On the left below, are the three individuals [Stemwedel, Blakemore, Ringach] who will be speaking in favor of imprisoning, mutilating and then killing animals under the “guise” of science. NONE OF THEM ARE MEDICAL DOCTORS; repeat, NONE of the three vivisectionists have EVER treated a single patient in their lives and their torture of animals has NEVER helped a human patient.
(Punctuating with frequent use of ALL CAPS is one of the characteristics of this person’s mode of communication, I’m afraid.)
There is so much wrong with that comment. There is a false equation of scientific and medical research; the only kind of research regarded as ‘scientific’ is therapeutic, clinical research that directly makes a human being healthier. It’s fallacious and short-sighted thinking. We need to understand how cells and tissues function in normal, healthy organisms, and for that we need to work on animal models — there are obvious ethical problems with proposing to tinker with the nervous systems of healthy human babies, for instance. The scientists who do fundamental work on how nervous systems work tend not to be M.D.s because they are not trying to do clinical work; the scientists who directly study human disease tend to be M.D.s because they must be to be qualified to work on people. They are both necessary, the first to puzzle out basic mechanisms of biology, the second to apply that knowledge to human beings. Excluding the first from the domain of science because they don’t have the specialized, narrow training needed to work on one species is nonsensical.
One of the panelists, Colin Blakemore, is a perfect example of the importance of basic research.
Colin Blakmore’s claim to fame is experimenting on kittens for YEARS in England. Blakemore is outspoken in his support of the use of animal testing in medical research. He came to the attention of the animal rights movement while at Oxford University in the 1980s, when he carried out research into amblyopia and strabismus, conducting experiments that involved sewing kittens’ eyelids shut from birth in order to study the development of their visual cortex.
Oooh, sewing kittens’ eyes shut sounds so evil, doesn’t it? How could that possibly help people?
Well, it doesn’t if you’re an idiot who begins with the premise that the only true science in this field would require that Blakemore be an M.D. who sews babies‘ eyes shut. But let’s assume you are a rational human being.
My daughter was born with mild strabismus. Our doctor was rightly concerned, and took us aside to explain what happens to the brain in these case, citing the research done on cats (which I was already familiar with, since I was trained as a developmental neurobiologist). The brain is a plastic organ, and even for several years after birth, it is being wired and remodeled — the optic nerves are making connections with specialized targets in the brain. The young brain actually tests for disparities in the signals from the two eyes and makes adjustments to minimize noise in the signal — too much variance, and it automatically starts shutting down confusing inputs. We knew from the work on cats that, while my daughter had two perfectly functional eyes, her brain was going to respond by rewiring to ignore one of them.
She spent her first several years with therapy designed from the perspective of our understanding of how the plastic brain works — understanding directly derived from the work of people like Blakemore. She also had a series of surgeries to adjust and strengthen the muscles of her eyes.
Think about this: you have a baby daughter who needs precise surgeries done on the tiny, delicate muscles of her eyes. Do you want her to be the very first practice surgery the doctor has ever done, or would you rather, perhaps, that the doctor had done his practice surgeries on animals first? Early in my career, I worked as an animal care assistant in a department of surgery, and that’s what most of the animals were used for: teaching medical students the basics of their craft, running students through simple procedures that made them learn how to handle tissues, how to cope with bleeding, how to repair damage, all stuff that you cannot do except on living organisms.
The real monsters are the terrorists at the “Negotiation is over!” website. Even from the title you can tell that they are not open to reason.