Pharyngula

Demonstrate calmly for pro-science

Brianne writes fairly frequently about her experiences as a clinic escort, dealing with shrieking fanatics who stand on sidewalks harassing people going into family planning clinics. They’re hideous and awful and have lost all sense of perspective and humanity, and they’re also remarkably ineffective…unless, of course, their goals are to make other people miserable and to expose their own obsessive inhumanity.

They have a lot in common with another group, animal rights protesters. Sanctimonious assholes, all of them. They’re all over UCLA, and they’re busy protesting researchers’ homes, at least when they’re not too busy planting bombs around the neighborhood or setting cars on fire or vandalizing people’s property.

Look at that person comparing animal experimentation to the Holocaust; it makes me wonder, do they intend to elevated monkeys to the status of Jews, or are they simply equating Jews and monkeys? Can we please not trivialize the murder of humans by pretending it has the same moral equivalency as biomedical research?

I think they, like clinic protesters, have forgotten the difference between expressing an idea/protesting against another idea, and harassment. They also lose all right to put themselves on the side of right in the Holocaust comparison when they say things like this, about UCLA researcher David Jentsch:

And later, the leader of the group whispers to the reporter:

“Wasn’t Jentsch’s car burned or something?” Then, above the din of chants, she adds, “I don’t know how to put this—I only wish he were in it.”

How can they compare researchers to Mengele when this is what they advocate?

I’ll be watching that asshole; I don’t want that piece of garbage and his family living in this neighborhood. He ought to be experimented on.

This weekend, there will be a counter-protest on the UCLA campus. If you value scientific research, you should go. If you believe in ethical research conduct and think these bloody-minded lunatics are actively undermining the responsible monitoring of research, you should go. If you’re just a decent human being who has had enough of idiot fanaticism, you should go.

They’re meeting at 10:15am on 15 February at the Franz Hall lobby on the UCLA campus. Go there, be civil and intelligent, and show people how ideas should be argued — don’t set any cars on fire, don’t harass your opponents’ children, don’t destroy their homes. Not that I’d expect anything less than rational behavior from the science side.

Comments

  1. […] By PZ Myers […]

  2. #2 Jim
    February 13, 2014

    Ah, to seek the great minds in books, and great composers in music, and bar the sleazy outside world.

  3. #3 jane
    February 14, 2014

    Without defending the abusive tactics of these zealots: Comparing animal experimentation to the Holocaust is not “elevating monkeys to the status of Jews” [or Poles, Roma, gays, etc., who are of equal value in many eyes] or vice versa. It is saying that when monkeys are kept in cages for years, deprived of the ordinary social lives they would have had in the wild, and subjected to invasive procedures, treated with toxic drugs, or given cancer, they are as capable of suffering pain and misery as human beings subjected to the same acts would be. They obviously further think that inflicting suffering is in general morally undesirable.

    If you accept those premises, there’s still a major moral problem with our use of animals, though it’s not as bad as it used to be. The real extremists treat non-human animal life as being as sacred as both traditional religion and modern healthism effectively consider human life to be; they would refuse to kill one rat to save one human. Most of us would reject that view. But most of us would also agree that the moral cost of animal suffering is not zero; we would not agree with the opposing extremist who said he would render chimps extinct to save one mortal human life. How small, or how unlikely, must be the human health benefit that might ultimately be derived from the use of each animal’s life before it becomes immoral? What if the likely benefit is solely confined to the padding of human CVs?

    I have friends who do animal studies. Some of those studies have produced very valuable results, although of those, some will never be implemented in humans except under the table by individual consumers because they do not fit into American dogma. Others seemed to me like total wastes of time that inflicted suffering on innocent rodents with very little rationale except that money was available for it, and got the negative results that one could have bet better than even money on. These are nice people. I am sure they treat their animals as humanely as possible given the nature of their work. But some of what they do seems morally troubling. I don’t think that that is automatically a wrong response.

  4. #4 Chris
    February 14, 2014

    As Jane mentions above, what sets the protesters off are examples of needless experimentation and extreme cruelty. For instance, cosmetic testing (grinding cosmetics into the eyes of rabbits to check for bad reactions), and this little gem at the University of Wisconsin: http://www.peta.org/features/uw-madison-cruelty/
    So, labeling all the protesters as “sanctimonious assholes” is a little disingenuous. Professor Myers, I expect better of you.

  5. #5 jane
    February 14, 2014

    Aagh! Yes, that’s exactly the sort of thing I mean. Even if that experiment had produced “results”, how many human lives would ever have been saved by a better understanding of exactly how sound is localized? That doesn’t even sound like they were searching for a cure for profound deafness; it sounds like they were primarily trying to satisfy intellectual curiosity and pad their CVs. When I compare this poor cat’s life of endless confinement and suffering, from which she was freed only by death, to that of a free feral cat, much less my own fat happy housecat … yes, I think to inflict such a terrible life on her for so little reason is plainly immoral, probably ought to be illegal, and certainly shouldn’t be supported with tax dollars.

  6. #6 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 14, 2014

    “how many human lives would ever have been saved by a better understanding of exactly how sound is localized? That doesn’t even sound like they were searching for a cure for profound deafness;”

    …but if you don’t understand how sound is localized, how can you ever hope to give that ability to someone who lacks it?

  7. #7 jane
    February 14, 2014

    OK, I can presume there may be a few people who are able to hear but who are neurologically incapable of telling which direction a sound is coming from, so that when they hear something they have to swivel their heads (more than us “normal” people often must do) to see where it is coming from. That would be a modest evolutionary disadvantage, I am sure. But is it a handicap so tragic that, if I experienced it, I would want dozens of perfectly lovely cats to be subjected to entire lives of caged torment in the hope that it might result in only one tiny step of hundreds that would be needed to possibly, decades later, create a hopefully not too toxic treatment for me, if I were still alive, or more likely for future generations with the same anomaly? [Gloss over the unlikelihood that a research establishment with finite funding would ever actually put that much effort into a rare and relatively minor condition.]

    Really, no, I would not. Quality of life, to me, means more than being as close to physically perfect as possible. One can’t be perfectly virtuous any more than one can be physically perfect (which in many American minds seems to demand immortality), but numerous philosophers have argued that it’s at least as important to strive for good character as to strive for good health, and that happiness can be derived at least as much from the former as from the latter. How you weight those, if they are in direct competition, is, of course, a value judgement. However, a value judgement that said physical health was of infinitely greater value than a humane character, so that even the cruellest actions would be acceptable if they might contribute however infinitesimally to someone’s health, would make no sense in any philosophical tradition that I know of.

  8. #8 Talbert
    February 15, 2014

    You’re an idiot Myers, unequivocally. I had a roommate once who was a strict atheist, she had an intense hatred of woo and was baffled when she encountered an atheist who believed in Ghosts. She also was a rabid animal rights activist who supported the extermination of the human race for all the suffering it inflicts on the environment. Her position from a moral and ethical standpoint is completely rational. Atheism, theism, agnosticism, hell even all the lovely religious categories from catholic to Sihk that you use to look down on others, tells one nothing about the person in question, to you of course it tells less than nothing at all but that’s due to your stupidity, ignorance, and gross bigotry. Atheism solves nothing, it does nothing, its merely a void which paves the way for something new to take its place. If you think that the new will necessarily be better or more “evidence driven” (whatever that bullshit talking bit means) then you have far greater faith than I brother.

  9. #9 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 16, 2014

    I can presume there may be a few people who are able to hear but who are neurologically incapable of telling which direction a sound is coming from

    This probably includes many of those who only hear thanks to their hearing aids.

    then you have far greater faith than I[,] brother

    So you agree that faith is bad?

  10. #10 Talbert
    February 16, 2014

    “So you agree that faith is bad?”

    Is concentration ticklish? Fucking clowns.

  11. #11 jane
    February 16, 2014

    David – I would not have assumed that people who are hard-of-hearing and wear hearing aids in both ears would be incapable of telling the direction of a sound; wouldn’t the left hearing aid amplify a sound on the left side of your head more than the right hearing aid would? (Until recently, it was scientific dogma that humans couldn’t tell the difference between sounds in front of us and behind us, making that issue not a big deal in my book.) But even if that were not so – supposing that you were a hearing aid wearer with such a problem, how many cats would you want to have live entire lives of hopeless misery in the hope that maybe someday it might lead to the production of a modestly better hearing aid (assuming that better understanding of neural wiring would so greatly alter the design of a device that’s not implanted into the brain)? I presume you’d assure me that you would not tolerate the torture of a single human outgroup member to pursue that desirable but not essential end; if so, given what we now understand about animals’ emotional nature and cognitive abilities, it seems hard to argue that no amount of torture to animals could ever be too much.

    When what happens in such labs is hidden from the public and glossed over with “We’re doing Science to Save Lives and improve Human Health”, the public who are allegedly the intended beneficiaries of the research don’t get a chance to express their opinions on whether they consider the cost to be worth the envisioned benefit. It’s comparable to animal abuse in factory farming; we are told that the public wants the cheapest possible meat at whatever ecological and moral cost, but if industry were sure that was true, it would not be necessary to make it a felony to expose those costs to the public. We wouldn’t care. Meaningful public oversight of animal experimentation would also allow independent estimation of how unlikely the promised benefit is to occur in the foreseeable future. Sure, the researchers have a well-practiced line of yack about how their work might let someone, someday, cure some disease or imperfection. Such claims seldom come to fruition and are sometimes extremely unlikely. All of us who have written grant applications in any field of science have felt forced to include some similar species of line knowing that it was almost certainly BS. When only money is at stake, there’s less need to challenge such claims.

  12. #12 Chris
    Salem, MA
    February 18, 2014

    Jane-well said! I wish I were that eloquent.
    BTW, I don’t think the laws against exposure of factory farming methods would stand up to a court challenge.

  13. […] demonstrate how to put on and remove a hand […]

  14. #14 JimG
    February 21, 2014

    Jane – one problem with public oversight is that sadly the great majority of the public is science illiterate. Because of that fact I would not want the general public deciding which specific scientific research projects (using animals or not) is to be conducted. We would then have important decisions regarding the direction of scientific research be based on emotional and ignorant reponses. I agree that “useless” use of animals for research should be policed, but I’d prefer this to be policed by those who understand the scope and possible importance of the research This reminds me of Sarah Palin (who was marketing herself as someone who would, if elected, help oversee genetic research, since she has a son with Trisomy 21) making fun of scientists studying fruit flies. Let’s never forget, if not for animal studies a very, very large number of us would not be here today. We spray our homes with toxic chemicals to kill endless arthropods, we go out of way to kill mice, rats and gophers, but use mice to study the effectiveness of a vaccine and we get our panties in a knot.

  15. #15 jane
    February 21, 2014

    I wouldn’t want non-experts sitting on grant review panels, judging individual proposals, even if general science literacy was as good as could reasonably be dreamed of. (I disagree with the implication that funding decisions by experts are not influenced by their emotions, or that that would even be desirable.) But in a putative representative democracy, the public does have an indirect say in research expenditures. Federal agencies face political pressure to favor some types of research over others. If enough voters believed that NASA was a worthless boondoggle, however wrong they might be, they would ultimately elect legislators and a presidential candidate who promised to zero-fund it.

    Therefore there’s a political need to inform taxpayers about what direct or indirect benefits they might derive from the expenditures of their tax dollars, and in my opinion, a moral need to make sure that some such benefits exist. If the only plausible beneficiary is the grant recipient, then that’s not a good use of tax dollars. I’ll grumble when a grant proposal is rejected because it wasn’t “important” enough, but since research budgets are so limited, I am forced to agree that if other proposals seemed more obviously useful, the panel was right to reject mine.

    With animal studies there is the additional issue that test animals may be subjected to miserable lives primarily to satisfy someone’s mere curiosity or status-seeking drive, and this would be troublesome even if taxpayers didn’t care. Of course many more taxpayers will object to low-value or redundant studies on cats because they have pet cats and don’t need to follow ethological literature to know that cats like freedom of movement and stimulating environments, dislike pain, and value social relationships. But the same are, in fact, true of rats, so in many people’s opinion, their suffering should not be weighted at zero. Yes, most of us have killed mice in our homes (or cheered the cat on while she killed them), but we would find it immoral to get one in a live trap and torment it for six months before finishing it off. Note that I, unlike the extremists described in the blog post, do not argue that the equivalent should never be done in a lab. I’m saying that there should be a darn good reason for it, one that you can explain to a scientifically literate non-expert.

  16. #16 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 22, 2014

    This reminds me of Sarah Palin (who was marketing herself as someone who would, if elected, help oversee genetic research, since she has a son with Trisomy 21) making fun of scientists studying fruit flies.

    That was a completely different species of fruit fly: one that threatened the olive harvest in California. It was the kind of directly applicable science even Palin should be able to understand – she just didn’t even try.

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