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Jul 24 2012

A poll on kitty experimentation

There is an extremely common sort of experiment to understand plasticity of the developing brain. These are important experiments to understand an important phenomenon: the brain does not simply unfold ineluctably to produce a fully functional organ, but actually interacts constantly with its environment to build a functioning organ that is matched to the world it must model and work with. This was one of the very first things I learned as a budding neuroscientist; my first undergraduate research experience was in the lab of Jenny Lund at the University of Washington, where we were given prepared slices of embryonic and infant human brains (the products of abortions, stillbirths, and childhood mortality) and counted dendritic spines in the visual cortex. The brain is constantly remodeling itself, and is especially doing so in young individuals.

Now in those old observations, we weren’t really manipulating either the brain or the environment: you don’t get to do that with human babies! All we were doing was documenting the natural progression of synaptic connection density — which, by the way, declines rapidly as the brain learns and refines. What we could see anatomically is that as young children adapt to their environment, the brain is busily pruning and shifting connections — but what we couldn’t see is what was causing those changes, or what effect those anatomical changes had on visual processing.

For that, you have to tinker. And since you can’t do that with human babies, you have to go to animal models.

And the most common animal models for studying the visual system in humans are mammals: cats (also ferrets, for technical reasons involving some of the pathways). And since we’re interested in the plasticity of the brain in young, developing animals, you can see where this is going.

Neuroscientists do experiments on kittens.

THE WHOLE KITTY-LOVING INTERNET EXPLODES IN OUTRAGE.

Actually, it sort of does. The Mirror just put up an article decrying kitten experimentation, with lots of quotes from celebrities moaning in horror.

Ricky Gervais: “I am appalled that kittens are being deprived of sight by having their eyelids sewn shut. I thought sickening experiments like these were a thing of the past.”

Why, no, Ricky. These experiments go on right now. It’s how we learn to understand the role of sensory input in shaping the function of the visual cortex.

Michelle Thew of The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection: “This is unacceptable cruel research. The public will be shocked to learn of publicly-funded experiments where kittens have been subjected to this.”

Of course they will, because your organization will beat the drum of ignorance and lie about their practice and utility.

Dr Ned Buyukmihci, a vet: “The eyelid procedures would have been painful for the kittens. There are substantial ­differences in cats versus humans. There are ­established methods of obtaining information humanely.”

I’ve done experiments like these in the past, and even more substantial surgical manipulations. The investigators know how to do these experiments humanely: we know about anesthesia, for instance, and anything involving surgery on animals is tightly policed by Institutional Review Boards (actually, they tend to be discouraged by IRBs, but that’s a different complaint), which usually have veterinarians serving on them. If Buyukmihci has evidence that these surgeries were done in a way that did not minimize suffering, he should speak up, and the neuroscience community would join him in deploring them.

But these protocols went through Cardiff University’s ethical review process and the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit. There’s no reason to think they were anything less than impeccable.

Ralph Cook, some politician or bureaucrat: “It’s an academic producing a paper which is meaningless and can’t be transferred to humans. Vivisection is completely wrong.”

No, actually, most of this research isn’t just an abstract pursuit of knowledge (although there’s nothing wrong with that, either). This is research that is directly applicable to alleviating human suffering. Treatment of visual system disorders in children is informed directly by these kinds of experiments: they tell us about the sensitivity of the visual system to abnormalities in inputs and long term effects of sustained aberrations. I had a child with ‘lazy eye’ at birth: the doctors (as well as the parents in this case) knew how important it was to correct this problem as quickly as possible, and gave us protocols (tested in cats!) that we could implement until she was old enough to get surgery.

Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s fanatical nutball: “Not only is sewing shut the eyes of kittens ­ethically and morally abhorrent, it is so crude and cruel that it sets science back decades. The kittens will suffer from having their eyes sewn shut and will also experience psychological distress from being reared in the dark. We learn far more about what happens in humans by investing in state-of-the-art research methods that provide reliable data on human experience.”

Scientists don’t do these experiments to get their jollies torturing kittens. These are experiments that advance our understanding of the wiring of the brain.

I agree that there is an amount of suffering involved, and having done similar work, I also know that good investigators do their best to minimize it. My second job as an undergraduate was as an animal care assistant in a surgery, and one of the things I was paid to do was to spend a few hours a day just playing with post-op cats and kittens, and making sure that their housing was clean and comfortable. These were conscientious scientists. They needed to do these experiments, but they also cared about the animals. I was really impressed with their concern and respect for the animals they had to do experiments on.

(By the way, this was an animal surgery that was also used as a training unit for the medical school. One other thing I learned there was that while Ph.D. researchers were people with a deep affection for their subjects, M.D. students were assholes who didn’t give a damn. I hope they learned some humanity later in their careers, because I didn’t see it at the early stage when they were practicing on animals.)

So, after doing a hatchet job on the research and quoting lots of ignorant celebrity wankers and cranky nobodies, the Mirror has a poll. This will be a challenge: you’re going to have to go up against the whole kitty-loving internet to shift this one.

Is the scientific experiment on kittens acceptable?

Yes 7.44%

No 92.56%

Good luck with that one.

277 comments

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  1. 1
    Pteryxx

    Direct polldaddy link:


  2. 2
    cervantes

    Well, okay — but ultimately this is a value judgment. If someone is morally offended by inflicting suffering on kittens in order to gain knowledge that might help some humans, that’s how they feel about it. You really can’t argue with them. You do try to set people straight on a fact or two, but for a lot of these folks, it really isn’t a matter of degree. They just think it’s wrong, period.

    I find it a bit troubling myself, in fact. That doesn’t make me irrational or anti-science – it just makes me sensitive to the suffering of cats. For humans to treat other humans as means to an end is considered unethical. Some people want to extend that principle to other sentient beings. I agree it’s a slippery slope that ultimately leads to impossible demands, but I can see why some people feel this way.

  3. 3
    Pteryxx

    cervantes: The internet poll doesn’t say “should some limited suffering be inflicted upon animals for research that helps human patients”. That sort of discussion’s for comments, assuming you can find commenters willing to have a reasonable discussion about it.

    By the way, here’s the headline of the article:

    Sew cruel: Scientists stitch up kittens’ eyes in shocking experiment

    No priming bias there, nope nope. *rolleyes*

  4. 4
    G Pierce (Was ~G~)

    PZ- I don’t think you meant IRB but IACUCs.

  5. 5
    Dick the Damned

    Much as i like cats, I voted for the research. I also applied a thumbs-down to the hysterical, ignorant comments.

    I think a whole lot of humans, (& possibly non-human animals as well), who’ll benefit from this, outweigh a few cats. The utilitarian argument is compelling. Arguments from justice don’t apply, because cats aren’t moral agents.

  6. 6
    mythbri

    I’m not going to get involved in this one. Yes, I’m a bleeding heart, and yes, I understand the value in this research, and the applications that could end up helping people. That doesn’t mean I like it.

  7. 7
    Frank Asshole

    Kittens, ferrets, macacques, rats etc. contributed massively to the progress in visual neurosciences, pharmacology, etc. End of story. Without more invasive experiments, which we cannot conduct on humans for obvious reasons, progress will be stopped. Every University has a Research Ethical Comittee which approves or not the procedures used in experiments. It’s not that the scientists are devilish creatures who indulge torture and mutilation to achieve their machiavellian goals. It’s always good to spare the animal unnecesary pain or anxiety. I VOTED YES.

  8. 8
    Zeno

    Perhaps there’s one already there and I missed it, but I am expecting at least one commenter on the Mirror’s site to (a) decry experimentation on kitties because animal experimentation is evil and (b) suggest using incarcerated human prisoners instead because, well, that would be okay, or at least not as bad.

  9. 9
    sundiver

    Anyone opposed to animal experimentation willing to volunteer as an animal replacement? Anybody?

  10. 10
    PZ Myers

    For these experiments, we’d need babies to volunteer. They don’t read the Internet.

  11. 11
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Zeno,

    didn’t go through all the comments, but there’s a yes to (b) on the first or second page. Someone suggested they do it to the “pedos and murderers”.

  12. 12
    Pteryxx

    There’d also be less shock and outrage (not to mention less opportunity for shocking headlines) if these experiments involved, say, strapping darkened goggles to the kittens’ heads or raising them in completely dark rooms. But there’s nothing terrible about stitching eyelids besides the visceral EWWW reaction. People whose eyes have been injured in accidents or from chemicals sometimes have them temporarily stitched shut to protect the eye while it heals.

  13. 13
    skeptifem

    Scientists should really only experiment on ugly animals, that way no one else would really give a fuck.

  14. 14
    pharylon

    I find it a bit troubling myself, in fact. That doesn’t make me irrational or anti-science – it just makes me sensitive to the suffering of cats. For humans to treat other humans as means to an end is considered unethical. Some people want to extend that principle to other sentient beings. I agree it’s a slippery slope that ultimately leads to impossible demands, but I can see why some people feel this way.

    Cats aren’t sentient. Humans are, and maybe a few other primates and dolphins, but those are iffy.

    That being said, sewing a kitten’s eyes shut is kind of disturbing to me too. Why not use cats with normal brains but some sort of visual genetic defect? I mean, it’s just… yeah. I realize no one gives a damn about lab rats subjected to this kind of thing, and it’s a double standard, but I *do* feel there’s something about domesticated animals that’s important. We develop emotional connections to them that cause us to recoil instinctively at this kind of treatment to them, and that kind of empathy isn’t really a bad thing for a society to have, in my opinion.

  15. 15
    johnwolforth

    You said, “I agree that there is an amount of suffering involved.” The rest is just an attempt to justify causing that suffering. You barely touch on the trade off of human advancement vs. animal suffering and never weigh in on how causing animals to suffer is definitely not an advance. If you can’t admit that up front, in much stronger terms than you do here, the rest of your article is not worth reading. (But yes I did read it, FYI)

  16. 16
    cervantes

    True, cats are not moral agents. But many now argue – and I actually think PZ agrees with them – that human free will and moral agency are illusions as well. They are useful illusions, but illusions nonetheless. We cannot conclude that cats have lesser rights than humans because they lack moral agency whereas we have the God-like power of choice. You have to base it on a different principle.

    The only one I can really see is that a sentient being with human DNA has rights that other sentient beings do not. We tend to see species that are more closely related, e.g. chimps, as having more claim to dignity and respect than those more distantly related, e.g. cats. Most people agree with that but if you don’t, you don’t.

  17. 17
    cervantes

    Pharylon — what makes you conclude that cats are not sentient?

  18. 18
    WithinThisMind

    I have an issue with animals suffering more than absolutely necessary.

    Therefore if there is a more humane way to conduct this research, I feel the ethical thing to do is to utilize the more humane way, even if it is more difficult or expensive.

    But if this is the only way, and the information is necessary to further our ability to treat neurological disorders, then the experiment should continue – with the minimum amount of suffering inflicted as possible.

  19. 19
    Pteryxx

    Why not use cats with normal brains but some sort of visual genetic defect?

    Well, first off someone would have to find – more likely, *create* – a genetically blind strain of cats. Then you’d have complaints about creating mutant animals just to suffer, as is argued now about transgenic rodents.

    Second off, a simple genetic defect would be irreversible. Part of the visual experiment is to open the kittens’ eyes at different ages, to find out how effective brain plasticity is at developing normal vision even after a delay.

  20. 20
    PZ Myers

    Yeah, the stitching squicks people out, but it’s actually a gentle procedure for doing this. Goggles and eyepatches drive cats crazy, and torment them more in any procedure to attach them..

    Also, another reason for the stitching is that it’s trivially reversible: snip, snip, stitches come off. And a lot of these experiments involve variable periods of temporary blindness on one side, for instance.

  21. 21
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Now in those old observations, we weren’t really manipulating either the brain or the environment: you don’t get to do that with human babies!

    Of course you get to do that, you just can’t slice the brain afterwards.
    No, I’m joking, but actually that’s exactly what parents do all the time: create an environment they find suitable and give input they think to be correct.

    So, Ricky Gervais, how about the fucking harm you cause to actual human beings by your ableist bullshit? Doesn’t count, people with Trisomia 21 are just fair game I guess.

    And the wonderful Ms. Newkirk telling all those people who were born blind how aweful and totally unworthy their lives are. Oh the humanity.

    I’m always wondering how quickly those people would sacrifice whole zoos if it was about their own child…

    PZ wrote:No, actually, most of this research isn’t just an abstract pursuit of knowledge (although there’s nothing wrong with that, either).
    Well, I’d say that depends. If those experiments were just done for the pursuit of knowledge, I’d say they lose their justification and need to stop. Because causing a significant amount of harm to a non-voluntary subject needs a damn good justification.
    Me, I’m a speciest. I consider humans to be more important than animals, but I don’t think that therefore we can do to animals whatever we want because they obviously experience pain and pleasure

  22. 22
    machintelligence

    The National Institute of Health (NIH) announced last week that they were going to start using lawyers instead of rats in their experiments. Naturally, the American Bar Association was outraged and filed suit. Yet, the NIH presented some very good reasons for the switch.

    1. The lab assistants were becoming very attached to their little rats. This emotional involvement was interfering with the research being conducted. No such attachment could form for a lawyer.

    2. Lawyers breed faster and are in much greater supply.

    3. Lawyers are much cheaper to care for and the humanitarian societies won’t jump all over you no matter what you’re studying.

    4. There are some things even a rat won’t do

    For those who might have missed it…

  23. 23
    PZ Myers

    Genetic blindness is not reversible.

    Also, there is a cool genetic mutation in cats that is often taken advantage of: Siamese cats, in addition to the pigment variations, have an abnormal decussation at the optic chiasm.

  24. 24
    julielada

    “I realize no one gives a damn about lab rats subjected to this kind of thing, and it’s a double standard, but I *do* feel there’s something about domesticated animals that’s important.”

    Lab and pet rats *are* domesticated animals. We have simply subjectively decided that they aren’t as important as dogs and cats, based on absolutely no evidence of decreased capacity to suffer. I say this as a lab animal care technician and vet student planning to practice lab animal medicine who has serious issues with the limitations of the Animal Welfare Act not extending to rodents.

    As for the study in question, as someone with years of experience in animal research, of course I understand both the need for this type of research and the lengths to which IACUC and facility staff go to to ensure that animals are treated humanely. And yes, PZ did not make up that bit about playing with the kittens. It’s called “positive contact” and husbandry staff are required to provide at least 15 minutes of it per day for certain species. Our dogs were also allowed to play with other dogs, and given toys and treats by husbandry techs.

    One thing I have to say my experience differs from PZ’s on is the students vs. PI care and treatment of the animals. Maybe it’s because my experience is from a veterinary perspective, with pre-vet and vet students working as the husbandry caretakers, but the researchers and their grad students were indifferent and neglectful a good deal of the time. In one instance a grad student was directly responsible for an outbreak of MHV in our facility due to not giving a damn about PPE protocols.

  25. 25
    otrame

    My big old white and orange cat is doing his morning job of warming my arthritic hip while I do my morning reading. I love him. I love my other cats. I have no problem with people experimenting on cats, or other animals, as long as the only suffering involved is necessary and the animals are otherwise treated well.

    Oh, and BTW my son had a cat that was accidentally strangled in some computer wires when he was 8 weeks old. He was not breathing when we found him but we got him going again (my son was a vet tech and knew how to do CPR on a kitten) and he lived another 10 years, happy and healthy and BLIND. The fact that he could not see caused him no distress except occasionally when he tried to jump up on a table that didn’t have something on it the last time he had been up there and landed on something he didn’t expect. He had a good memory for that sort of thing. Being blind is a bigger deal for a cat than it is for a dog but they still do just fine.

    In my opinion you don’t get to whine about properly conducted animal experimentation unless you 1) have never benefited from it (i. e., you live in a cave); and, b) have spent time and/or money trying to prevent the worst cruelty domestic companion animals face: being born when there are already too many puppies and kittens in the world. So spend you time and cash helping out at a free spay/neuter clinic, then come talk to me.

  26. 26
    lesherb

    Sorry PZ, I had to vote my conscience. I’m an atheist not a monster.

  27. 27
    Pteryxx

    The poll IS shifting… it’s now 39% “acceptable” to 61% “unacceptable”.

  28. 28
    Dick the Damned

    cervantes #16, if we (or most of us, anyway) don’t have moral agency, our civilization is in deep trouble.

    As for having, or not having free will, i think it’s all down to how one defines it.

  29. 29
    pharylon

    I thought about it a bit more, and I think this is why experimentation on cats is troubling. We as humans feel a connection to domesticated animals, especially house pets. Cats and dogs are a part of our society. In most people’s eyes, while they don’t hold the same rights as humans, they are far more a part of who we are than other animals. If someone shoots a squirrel that wandered into their yard, most people don’t care. If that same person shot a stray cat, most people *would* care (assuming it wasn’t aggressive).

    House pets aren’t just animals. They are a part of our society. They even contribute to our culture. We spend money on them as a luxury, getting doggy beds and cat toys. They sleep with us, and we trust them with our children. Hell, they *protect* our children. I was allowed to explore the woods around my house as a child, so long as our dutiful cocker spaniels followed us.

    Not only that, we made them, in a way. Dogs and cats instinctively trust and love us (at least, it appears they love us, and that’s what matters). Taking advantage of that trust can (and, IMO, should) cause guilt and horror in many.

    Their vocalizations and mannerisms have been honed over thousands of years so that they trip off the parts of our brains that let us know their mood. For instance, I saw on Nova that a study was done where the sounds of dogs barking were played to humans without visual context. They were able to tell if a bark was playful, a warning, a cry for attention, and so on with a high degree of accuracy. There’s a term for such cues influencing our own emotional understanding of another being. It’s called empathy. We have empathy for these animals in a way that we don’t for most other animals. If the suffering of a rat is really ethically different from that of a kitten is a subject of logical debate, but it’s moot because this is an emotional one.

    We emotionally empathize with cats. And wanting better treatment for creatures we emotionally empathize with goes along with that. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

  30. 30
    christophermoss

    while Ph.D. researchers were people with a deep affection for their subjects, M.D. students were assholes who didn’t give a damn.

    Jeez, PZ, you forgot to add the comic sans when you wrote that….

  31. 31
    Jim

    True, cats are not moral agents. But many now argue – and I actually think PZ agrees with them – that human free will and moral agency are illusions as well. They are useful illusions, but illusions nonetheless. We cannot conclude that cats have lesser rights than humans because they lack moral agency whereas we have the God-like power of choice. You have to base it on a different principle.

    We do. Many animals are sentient, cats included, but they aren’t sapient. That’s the critical distinction. They can feel pain, which is where our obligation to minimize unnecessary suffering comes from, but they don’t have the self-awareness and capacity for abstract thought that is necessary for full moral agency.

  32. 32
    pharylon

    Pharylon — what makes you conclude that cats are not sentient?

    I’ve always understood sentience to mean self-awareness and consciousness. Apparently, looking it up just now, some definitions are as vague as “having sense perception,” which puts pretty much every animal on the planet in the sentient category. So I’ll concede the term is much murkier than I realize, and cats could easily be considered sentient by those standards.

  33. 33
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I knew about these experiments.

    I voted No.

    Something to consider:

    To the hypothetical question about saving thousands of people through experiments on limited number of animals [which this research hasn’t - SC], opponents of speciesism can reply with a hypothetical question of their own: would experimenters be prepared to perform their experiments on orphaned humans with severe and irreversible brain damage if that were the only way to save thousands? (I say ‘orphaned’ in order to avoid the complication of the feelings of the human parents.) If experimenters are not prepared to use orphaned humans with severe and irreversible brain damage, their readiness to use nonhuman animals seems to discriminate on the basis of species alone, because apes, monkeys, dogs, cats and even mice and rats are more intelligent, more aware of what is happening to them, more sensitive to pain and so on than many severely brain-damaged humans barely surviving in hospital wards and other institutions. There seems to be no morally relevant characteristic that such humans have that nonhuman animals lack. Experimenters, then, show bias in favour of their own species whenever they carry out experiments on nonhuman animals for purposes that they would not think justified them in using human beings at an equal or lower level of sentience, awareness, sensitivity and so on. If this bias were eliminated, the number of experiments performed on animals would be greatly reduced.

    It is possible that a small number of actual experiments on animals could be justified along the lines of the hypothetical justification I accepted previously, that is, without violating the principle of equal consideration of interests. Although the gains from an actual experiment would never be as certain as in the hypothetical example, if the benefit were sufficiently great, the probability of achieving that benefit high enough and the suffering to the animals sufficiently small, a utilitarian could not say that it is wrong to do it. That would also be true if the experiment were to be done on an orphaned, brain-damaged human being. Whether or not the occasional experiment on animals is defensible, current institutional practices of using animals in research are not because, despite some improvements during the past thirty years, these practices still come nowhere near to giving equal consideration to the interests of animals. It would therefore be better to shift funds now going into research on animals to clinical research involving consenting patients and to developing other methods of research that do not make anyone, animal or human, suffer. (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, pp. 57-8)

    ***

    You said, “I agree that there is an amount of suffering involved.” The rest is just an attempt to justify causing that suffering. You barely touch on the trade off of human advancement vs. animal suffering and never weigh in on how causing animals to suffer is definitely not an advance.

    Yes.

    ***

    (Incidentally, I don’t really know why activists try to claim this research doesn’t lead to knowledge or to put forward alternative existing methods as equally effective. It might be true oin some cases, but it’s not necessary. There’s all sorts of knowledge we don’t have because we lack ethical means of obtaining it, and we acknowledge that when it comes to human suffering. Now, I believe that in general and in the longer run a deeply ethical science would not only be right in itself and indicative of moral progress but also better for the advance of good and useful knowledge and the development of methods of obtaining it. But even if that weren’t the case, accepting that there’s some knowledge we can’t have unless and until we have an ethical means of obtaining it is perfectly valid and desirable.)

  34. 34
    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical

    pharylon:

    I realize no one gives a damn about lab rats subjected to this kind of thing, and it’s a double standard, but I *do* feel there’s something about domesticated animals that’s important.

    You realize lab rats are domesticated, right? Like other domesticated mammals, they’re calmer than their wild cousins, tolerate human handling, breed earlier and have smaller brains.

    The primary differences between lab rats and the fancy rats kept as pets are coloration mutations, which made the fancy rats attractive as pets and show animals. Handling and socializing with humans makes a huge difference–as it does with cats, who will go feral and abhor human contact despite their domesticated roots–but there’s not really much of a difference in domestication.

  35. 35
    kraut

    “I’m an atheist not a monster.”

    Thanks for the help, buddy.

    I hope that all of those who could reap the benefits of medical procedures and drugs appreciate your concern for their welfare which you put apparently way below the welfare of animals.

    I have two complete knee replacement done after suffering – and I really mean suffering – from arthritis. As a former lab tech in the medical field I have to assume that the methodology and the materials where tested on animals before.
    I thank those animals for having made possible the techniques, and I thank the researchers that despite the idiocies of animals rights groups they persisted in their studies.

  36. 36
    cervantes

    Dick @ 28 — As I said, moral agency is a useful, probably necessary, illusion. But you did not make yourself. You were born with a particular genetic endowment, developed in interaction with a particular environment, and became what you are. You believe you make choices but it is the state of your brain at a particular moment in the context of the environment in which you happen to be that generates your behavior. You could not have chosen otherwise than you did, even though it does not seem that way to you.

    But the construction of society requires that we consider people responsible and hold them accountable. That is a feature of the human psyche and an essential basis to the human social order. But it is an illusion.

    As for the self-awareness of cats, who knows? I agree they are capable of little, if any, abstract thought but they can figure out some problems. Is a profoundly retarded human, or a severely demented person, or an infant, worthy of no more respect than a cat? Again, you just can’t base it on that sort of distinction.

  37. 37
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Also, another reason for the stitching is that it’s trivially reversible: snip, snip, stitches come off. And a lot of these experiments involve variable periods of temporary blindness on one side, for instance.

    Until the end of the study when, if the Mirror is correct, they’re all killed.

  38. 38
    Winterwind

    Many have remarked that cats are not moral agents, i.e. they are not capable of understanding moral principles and applying them to their decisions. No one has mentioned that cats are moral patients, beings capable of experiencing harm and suffering, whose interests and welfare should be taken into account by moral agents (humans).

    A six month old baby is not a moral agent but it is a moral patient, and a similar experiment on orphaned* six month old babies would provoke an outcry. (I’m not suggesting that kittens are morally equivalent to human babies, just pointing out that because something is not a moral agent does not mean that its welfare and interests should not be taken into account).

    * I specify “orphaned” to eliminate the argument that experimenting on the baby would cause distress to its parents.

    Giliell:

    Me, I’m a speciest. I consider humans to be more important than animals, but I don’t think that therefore we can do to animals whatever we want because they obviously experience pain and pleasure

    I don’t think you are a speciesist in the strictest sense of the word, which is “assigning special consideration or rights to an individual solely on the basis of its species membership.” If you think humans are more important than other animals because of morally relevant characteristics like a heightened capacity for self-awareness, sense of one’s self existing over time, rich and complex inner mental life, strong and persistent emotional bonds to other beings, etc., then you have a consistent rationale for favouring humans over animals like cockroaches, which lack such characteristics. Presumably if Neanderthals were revived or if an alien species with human-like characteristics arrived on Earth, you would support them having the same rights humans do.

  39. 39
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I thank those animals for having made possible the techniques,

    Don’t thank them. They did not consent.

  40. 40
    pharylon

    You realize lab rats are domesticated, right? Like other domesticated mammals, they’re calmer than their wild cousins, tolerate human handling, breed earlier and have smaller brains.

    The primary differences between lab rats and the fancy rats kept as pets are coloration mutations, which made the fancy rats attractive as pets and show animals. Handling and socializing with humans makes a huge difference–as it does with cats, who will go feral and abhor human contact despite their domesticated roots–but there’s not really much of a difference in domestication.

    OK, granted. But in my later post, you’ll note I used “house pets” as a more precise term, by which I mean dogs and cats.

    There are a lot of animals that are domesticated, but not to the degree of cats and dogs. I’d let a child sleep in the same bed as a cat, but not with a rat or sheep. House pets don’t just have less fear for us, they instinctively trust and (some would say, the science is mixed on this one) love us.

    In the end, my point is just this: House pets are part of our society. They’re part of our tribe. And implicit in our wiring is “YOU DON’T MESS WITH SOMEONE IN MY TRIBE!”

    Not only do I think that’s arguably a good thing (a high level of care about the suffering of beings we empathize with), but I think it doesn’t matter whether you disagree with it, because you’re not going to win an emotional argument with logic.

  41. 41
    rowanvt

    I’m a vet tech.

    How is it horrible and cruel and painful to sew the eyelids shut in such an experiment, but NOT horrible and cruel and painful when we sew the eyelids shut in a small animal practice to help heal corneal lacerations or repair a ‘cherry eye’?

  42. 42
    Ingdigo Jump

    I find it bit odd that blinding cats is wrong but the alternative isn’t considered to be blinding children via a potential cost?

  43. 43
    Matt Penfold

    I should point that the UK probably has the toughest laws and regulations in respect of animal experimentation.

    Every individual involved in animal experiments has to be licensed to do so and every facility has to be licensed as well. These licences can be, and often are, removed for failing to comply with the regulations.

    In addition every experiment requires separate approval, from two bodies. The first is the ethical oversight committee for the lab, and the second is the government regulator. To get permission it must be shown that:

    1) the study will result in new scientific data that cannot be obtained other than through animal experimentation.
    2) the minimum possible number of individual subjects will be use.
    3) The least sentient species possible will be used.
    4) A similar experiment is not already be carried out elsewhere.

  44. 44
    Matt Penfold

    OK, granted. But in my later post, you’ll note I used “house pets” as a more precise term, by which I mean dogs and cats.

    House pets are not used in experiments. How come you do not know this ?

  45. 45
    Anthony K

    Anyone opposed to animal experimentation willing to volunteer as an animal replacement?

    What makes this argument absolutely stupid is that it presupposes that the type of experimentation must continue at all costs.

    It’s scientists’ own stupidity for using animals that people like and care about in the first place. Couldn’t you use members of the so-called ‘rational community’ or do you need brains capable of developing?

  46. 46
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    would experimenters be prepared to perform their experiments on orphaned humans with severe and irreversible brain damage if that were the only way to save thousands?

    Theoretical moral dilemma bullshit.
    As mentioned before, humans with irreversible and severe brain damage are fucking useless for those experiments as explained above.
    There might also be a bit of, you know, historical baggage about using human children declared worthless by scientists as subjects for experiments.

    But funny how those who want to do research to help those children are painted as cruel while those who want them to suffer for the sake of kitties are the compassionate people.

  47. 47
    Manu of Deche
  48. 48
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    In general, when you bring up animal experimentation, my thoughts are that I wish it weren’t needed, but since there are no better methods yet I can live with it. Literally, since a lot of the knowledge that helps us battle diseases has been gained by animal experimentation.

    When you show a specific example like this one, approving becomes more difficult. It’s not just some abstract experiment any more, scientists sewed kittens’ eyes shut. *deep breaths*

    But then again, am I disgusted only because we’re talking about sweet little kittens? Or is it the particular experiment? If I wanted to draw some line that my conscience wouldn’t let me cross, would it be at the kittens or monkeys or rats? Or would it be at some level of pain or suffering that the experiment causes (assuming all the rules that protect animals from any unneeded pain are being followed)… and how to determine what it is?

    If I wanted to be consistent, I would have to come to oppose any kind of animal research. And we need animal research.

    So, I voted yes in the stupid poll. I couldn’t do this myself. (But then again, I get a bit fainty at the sight of blood, so there a lot of things I couldn’t do) Just reading about this makes me cringe. But I can’t deny the benefits.

  49. 49
    Pteryxx

    Some of the mice I cared for as a tech actually were transgenics that developed degenerative, eventually fatal diseases. I was responsible for providing palliative care to them, such as soft food when they could no longer chew and pre-shredded bedding when they could no longer make their own nests; and along with vet staff and a set of strict guidelines, I had to decide when any given mouse had reached the point where I should euthanize it. It’s awful work; but the only reason these mouse models exist is to study *human* diseases, where people’s families have to care for them as they gradually become paralyzed or slowly lose their minds over decades of hopeless suffering. I have a responsibility not just to the mice in my care, but to those people and to future patients; and when the human diseases are gone, the mouse models will be gone, too.

  50. 50
    pharylon
    OK, granted. But in my later post, you’ll note I used “house pets” as a more precise term, by which I mean dogs and cats.

    House pets are not used in experiments. How come you do not know this ?House pets are not used in experiments. How come you do not know this

    Are you serious? The article is about cats being used in experiments. I didn’t mean that the some five year old’s kitty cat was stolen and used in an experiment, I meant that cats and dogs (animals we use as house pets!) are much more domesticated than other domesticated animals, and we have a much deeper connection to them.

    Did you actually read my comments? Or are you just trying to play “gotcha” with one line?

  51. 51
    kraut

    “Don’t thank them. They did not consent.”

    How could they?

    I assume that you are vegetarian, otherwise your response to the article does not make much sense.

    Have you considered the amount of animals killed in the process of food production – cereals, vegetables and fruit?
    If you think no killing is involved there – from the demise of thousands of rodents, deer, birds etc. for field preparation and crop health maintenance – you have no clue as to agricultural crop production.
    And that killing in the name of your nourishment is a lot more cruel than any controlled lab experiment.

    So, be consequent and stop fucking eating.
    Living involves killing – no matter how you try to turn it.

  52. 52
    Manu of Deche

    No idea why the comment borked. Preview was fine. Let’s try this again:

    johnwolforth @ 15

    You said, “I agree that there is an amount of suffering involved.” The rest is just an attempt to justify causing that suffering. You barely touch on the trade off of human advancement vs. animal suffering and never weigh in on how causing animals to suffer is definitely not an advance. If you can’t admit that up front, in much stronger terms than you do here, the rest of your article is not worth reading. (But yes I did read it, FYI)

    Do you know why there are no more nuclear tests done by the USA, the UK, and France? Because they blew up close to 2000 atomic bombs to gather the necessary data to simulate that shit in a computer. There are good chances that we can substitute at least some of the animal experiments in the same way. But since a human organism is slightly more complex than a nuclear explosion, it’ll take time and more experiments. So your claim that “causing animals to suffer is definitely not an advance” is factually wrong.

  53. 53
    pharylon

    What makes this argument absolutely stupid is that it presupposes that the type of experimentation must continue at all costs.

    It’s scientists’ own stupidity for using animals that people like and care about in the first place. Couldn’t you use members of the so-called ‘rational community’ or do you need brains capable of developing?

    This. Cats and dogs are special to humans.

    If you don’t want the research to be controversial, you probably shouldn’t sew their eyelids shut. Use a ferret or a rat instead.

  54. 54
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Winterwind

    I don’t think you are a speciesist in the strictest sense of the word, which is “assigning special consideration or rights to an individual solely on the basis of its species membership.”

    No, you’re probably right. I would even go as far to create an “intermediate category” for animals that have demonstrated a greater cognitive ability like apes and elephants and such, who have self-recognition but still don’t meet the criteria I hold up for gaining human rights. So, at the moment it’s pretty convenient to draw the line at the species.
    If aliens appeared on earth (lets say refugees whose planet git detroyed and who need a new home and people weren’t the homicidal maniacs they currently are), there might be a need to redefine rights and to include species-specific rights depending on that species. Yeah, Sci-fi fantasies and theoretical bullshitting ;)

  55. 55
    rowanvt

    @50-

    I meant that cats and dogs (animals we use as house pets!) are much more domesticated than other domesticated animals, and we have a much deeper connection to them.

    Actually, cats are barely domesticated at all, especially compared to dogs. A feral kitten will try to kill you, whereas a feral puppy typically will not.

  56. 56
    Matt Penfold

    Are you serious? The article is about cats being used in experiments. I didn’t mean that the some five year old’s kitty cat was stolen and used in an experiment, I meant that cats and dogs (animals we use as house pets!) are much more domesticated than other domesticated animals, and we have a much deeper connection to them.

    So why say house pets when that is not what you meant ?

    Look, you fucked up and said something idiotic. Why not just admit as much and move ? Instead we getting more fucking bullshit from you.

    House pet is not a synonym for a domesticated species.

    And please, cut out the fake outrage when you get caught talking craps. It fools no one, and merely means you have more apologising to do in order not to be treated with contempt.

  57. 57
    rowanvt

    @53-

    Is it controversial when it’s done in a veterinary hospital as an actual medical procedure?

  58. 58
    Pteryxx

    House pets are not used in experiments. How come you do not know this ?

    And the corollary is, animals that have been used in experiments cannot legally be retired afterwards to become personal pets. They MUST be euthanized regardless.

  59. 59
    Anthony K

    So, be consequent and stop fucking eating.
    Living involves killing – no matter how you try to turn it.

    Well that’s just a flat out stupid thing to say.

  60. 60
    Matt Penfold

    If you don’t want the research to be controversial, you probably shouldn’t sew their eyelids shut. Use a ferret or a rat instead.

    Why are spouting such shit ?

    The law in UK would prevent them using cats instead of rats unless the experiment required rats. This has already been explained to you, so you have no excuse for your ignorance.

    So just why are spouting such shit you know to be a lie, and we know you know to be a lie ?

  61. 61
    rowanvt

    @58-

    animals that have been used in experiments cannot legally be retired afterwards to become personal pets. They MUST be euthanized regardless.

    This is not strictly true.

    The RVT program I went through would always get beagles from finished experiments. We’d learn our trade using them, and then they would be adopted out to the students.

    Stanford also used to adopt out many of their dogs, until one new owner went to a newspaper and claimed “Stanford ripped out my dog’s vocal cords!”. The dog had been debarked by the *first* person to adopt it from stanford, and stupid new owner decided that the university must have done it. Because of the uproar, Stanford no longer adopts out the dogs and instead euthanises them.

  62. 62
    Matt Penfold

    Here is section 5.22 of the Guidance on the Operation of
    the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The guide essentially sets our what can and cannot be done in animal experiments:

    5.22 The Secretary of State shall not grant a project licence authorising the use of cats, dogs, equidæ (horses, donkeys etc.) or non-human primates unless he is satisfied that animals of no other species are suitable for the purposes of the programme of work, or that it is not practicable to obtain animals of any other species that are suitable for those purposes [Section 5(6)].

    So pharylon, where is you evidence that the experimenters are breaking the law ?

  63. 63
  64. 64
    mythbri

    @pharylon

    If you don’t want the research to be controversial, you probably shouldn’t sew their eyelids shut. Use a ferret or a rat instead.

    That’s not necessarily much different (in a moral sense, not scientific) from experimenting on cats and dogs. Rats and ferrets have also been domesticated, and are also considered house pets. They’re not as popular as cats and dogs, but it’s true. I like both rats and ferrets. I think they’re inquisitive and surprisingly intelligent, fun to watch when they play. If you’ve never seen a baby ferret wrestle with a plush toy, I highly recommend it.

    At this point the discussion becomes a matter of aesthetics. Lots of people don’t like bats. I think they’re fascinating creatures, and I like to watch the colony that lives in my neighborhood feed on the local insects at night. Some people don’t like birds. Some people don’t like snakes and lizards. Some people don’t like spiders and insects.

    We can’t shift this debate with an “argument from cuteness”. The moral implications that we have to consider have to be based on sentience, sapience, and the potential benefits of the proposed research. We can’t just pick “ugly” animals and call it good, because that shouldn’t fundamentally change the nature of the debate.

  65. 65
    Pteryxx

    rowanvt: thanks for correction; I’ll say ‘often’ for now. I do know my institution was really strict about its no-adoption policy and training implied it was US law, but I’m glad SOME adoption goes on.

  66. 66
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Pteryxx

    It’s awful work; but the only reason these mouse models exist is to study *human* diseases, where people’s families have to care for them as they gradually become paralyzed or slowly lose their minds over decades of hopeless suffering. I have a responsibility not just to the mice in my care, but to those people and to future patients; and when the human diseases are gone, the mouse models will be gone, too.

    And I, as somebody with a family history of Alzheimer’s thank you for it.

  67. 67
    pharylon

    So why say house pets when that is not what you meant ?

    Look, you fucked up and said something idiotic. Why not just admit as much and move ? Instead we getting more fucking bullshit from you.

    House pet is not a synonym for a domesticated species.

    And please, cut out the fake outrage when you get caught talking craps. It fools no one, and merely means you have more apologising to do in order not to be treated with contempt.

    I know a housepet isn’t a synonym for a domesticated species. The entire line in question was clarifying that I was talking about cats and dogs, not other domesticated species.

    Look at the line of mine you quoted. I’ll do it here again, highlighting the part that you missed:

    You realize lab rats are domesticated, right? [snip].

    OK, granted. But in my later post, you’ll note I used “house pets” as a more precise term, by which I mean dogs and cats.

    I was using a term “house pet” to clarify that I wasn’t just talking about any old domesticated animals (ie, cows), but those that we trust implicitly. For most people, they don’t trust a cow until they’re sure it’s not going to kick their face in. Nor should they. Most people trust a cat or dog until it proves otherwise.

    I specifically spelled out that I was talking about dogs and cats as a subset of “domesticated animals.” And you either willfully misinterpreted it or chose to take a cheap shot instead of debating the merits of the argument.

    So don’t call me out on bullshit that doesn’t exist just because I pointed out yours. Either just admit you misread my post or that you willfully misinterpreted mine. Because those are the only two options.

  68. 68
    Bernard Bumner

    Humans are used in experimental/pioneering procedures, generally as the first patients to receive a particular treatments. Animal experiments are used prior to that point in order to minimise risk. As a society we clearly value human life over that of other animals.

    The original article places at its heart the fallacy that animal experimentation is useless or a distraction, which is obviously not true.

    If society rejects animal experimentation, then it must be willing to pay the price of slower scientific progress and the potential that some knowledge will forever be unobtainable. SC acknowledges that, and seems willing to pay that price, but that attitude is apparently uncommon amongst those speaking against animal experimentation. SC is unusually well informed in that respect.

    Personally, as someone who still chooses to eat meat (the horrors of steak production being a thing that the Mirror ignores), I certainly have no objection to animal experimentation, which definitely does infinitely more good than me consuming sausages. I wonder how many of those commenting on the article are vegan (or at least minimise their use of animal products where possible)?

  69. 69
    Skatje Myers

    @25-

    In my opinion you don’t get to whine about properly conducted animal experimentation unless you 1) have never benefited from it (i. e., you live in a cave)

    Do you also not get to whine about the immorality of the Nazis’ human experimentations if you’ve benefited from them?

    @51-

    Have you considered the amount of animals killed in the process of food production – cereals, vegetables and fruit?
    If you think no killing is involved there – from the demise of thousands of rodents, deer, birds etc. for field preparation and crop health maintenance – you have no clue as to agricultural crop production.
    And that killing in the name of your nourishment is a lot more cruel than any controlled lab experiment.

    So, be consequent and stop fucking eating.
    Living involves killing – no matter how you try to turn it.

    Yes, no one can be perfect. But consider eating vegetarian, which unfortunately causes the death of animals during harvest vs. eating omnivore which causes the death of the animals you’re eating and all the the animals that died during harvesting the huge amounts of food to feed the animal that you’re eating.

    “Everything causes some amount of suffering anyway!” does not excuse not reducing the suffering as much as possible – be it through dietary choices or being against (perhaps certain kinds of) animal testing.

  70. 70
    Matt Penfold

    I know a housepet isn’t a synonym for a domesticated species. The entire line in question was clarifying that I was talking about cats and dogs, not other domesticated species.

    Except by deciding to use the term “house pet” you did not clarify but obfuscated.

    Given your lack of honesty, and your accusing the experimenters of a criminal offence, please excuse me if I do not think your word that you did not means pets is worth anything.

    Now are you going to address your libel ?

  71. 71
    Gregory Greenwood

    While my first knee-jerk reaction was that of a long term cat servent ‘owner’ – something along the lines of “someone sewing cute kittehs eyes shut? Monsters! *Garrrgh* *Rage*” – after the initial response, my rational side kicked in, and I have to admit that the research is necessary. This is not about creating better cosmetics, this is about developing treatments to prevent suffering and illness in people.

    Like Dick the Damned @ 5, I care a great deal about the welfare of cats, but I care about the welfare of human beings rather more, and a great many people will benefit from this research – research that cannot be acheived without animal testing, before someone suggests that we simply whip out some magical computer model (far beyond our actual technical capabilities) that would make all animal testing unnecessary.

    I haven’t been able to bring myself to vote in favour yet (I swear my cat is giving me the evil eye just for thinking about it…), but I know which option is the socially and ethically responsible one for someone like me who places the wellbeing of large numbers of my fellow humans above that of a relatively small number cats.

  72. 72
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I assume that you are vegetarian, otherwise your response to the article does not make much sense.

    I’m a vegan.

    How could they?

    Have you considered the amount [sic] of animals killed in the process of food production – cereals, vegetables and fruit?

    But funny how those who want to do research to help those children are painted as cruel while those who want them to suffer for the sake of kitties are the compassionate people.

    Theoretical moral dilemma bullshit.
    As mentioned before, humans with irreversible and severe brain damage are fucking useless for those experiments as explained above.
    There might also be a bit of, you know, historical baggage about using human children declared worthless by scientists as subjects for experiments.

    These four comments I judge too stupid to deserve a response (not that I’d bother responding to Giliell’s in any case). I will say, though, that the history of experimentation on black people contains exactly the same (internally contradictory) arguments that are being used today to attempt to justify animal experimentation, and that the “historical baggage” Giliell refers to is itself evidence that the moral question is not theoretical. I’m amazed at the lack of ability or willingness among so many people to put their own views and arguments in the historical context of an expanding moral circle and question whether they’re the reactionaries of their time on an issue.

    ***

    Here’s a real theoretical moral question: If aliens invaded and conquered earth and they heard our protests and cries of pain as so many squeals and squawks, would they be morally justified in using us for their experiments?

  73. 73
    rowanvt

    Every vaccine, the majority (if not all) of new medical procedures, every single drug…. is tested on animals first.

    If you are entirely opposed to animal testing, stop using shampoo and deodorant. Never get a flu shot. Never vaccinate your own pets for rabies or parvo. Never take any medications. Never go to the hospital again.

  74. 74
    pharylon
    If you don’t want the research to be controversial, you probably shouldn’t sew their eyelids shut. Use a ferret or a rat instead.

    Why are spouting such shit ?

    The law in UK would prevent them using cats instead of rats unless the experiment required rats. This has already been explained to you, so you have no excuse for your ignorance.

    So just why are spouting such shit you know to be a lie, and we know you know to be a lie ?

    I’m not sure why you’ve gotten so weirdly aggressive toward me, but they could have used ferrets right? That’s legal, right? That’s the first animal I suggested, right? So, in fact, it’s not a lie at all, right?

    I’m not arguing it’s morally different, really. Look way upstream when I said I was totally aware it’s a double standard. But the point is, we view cats and dogs differently than most other animals. Do you agree that this would be less controversial if ferrets or rats were used? Because if you do, we’re on the same side, mostly.

    Rats or ferrets suffering isn’t more or less moral than cats or dogs suffering, but it is less controversial, so scientists should use those animals to stay in the public’s good graces.

    I’ll take it a step further and say I don’t think it’s bad that we empathize more with cats, even though logically it’s equivalent to a rat or ferret, for reasons I laid out upstream, but that’s the whole of it, really.

  75. 75
    leighshryock

    Quite frankly, the idea of animal experimentation does make me feel ‘icky’.

    But, I’ll be damned if I would have us give it up, as the medical advances that have been possible due to animal experimentation have greatly contributed to our medical knowledge, which has translated to a much better quality of life and length of life.

    That said, I do feel that reasonable restrictions are obviously in order:
    1) Minimize suffering. (That is, do what we’re doing)
    2) Limit the research to necessary research. (That is, do what we’re doing)

    As such, I don’t feel that purely cosmetic research is necessarily a bad thing, but should be limited to actually psychologically damaging cosmetic disorders, and that we should be careful about makeup, etc. testing. (Although such testing could potentially be useful outside of makeup – it’s nice to know what chemicals are going to burn out your eyes when making eye ointments, etc.)

  76. 76
    julielada

    “I’d let a child sleep in the same bed as a cat, but not with a rat or sheep. House pets don’t just have less fear for us, they instinctively trust and (some would say, the science is mixed on this one) love us.”

    That’s because you’re not terribly informed about domestic rats. I slept with mine all the time, although not often because I was more afraid of accidentally injuring one of them. And yes, domestic rats instinctively trust humans as food and care providers as well, and will respond to the presence or sound of a person with the same interest and begging behavior as a dog.

    “1) the study will result in new scientific data that cannot be obtained other than through animal experimentation.
    2) the minimum possible number of individual subjects will be use.
    3) The least sentient species possible will be used.
    4) A similar experiment is not already be carried out elsewhere.”

    That’s in keeping with Russell and Burch’s “3 R’s” of animal research, which most Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees implement in deciding which studies they’ll sign off on.

    “And the corollary is, animals that have been used in experiments cannot legally be retired afterwards to become personal pets. They MUST be euthanized regardless.”

    Incorrect. Flatly, wholly false. It depends on the study and liability for the facility, but MANY of our animals (dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and guinea pigs during my three year tenure) were adopted after their studies ended.

  77. 77
    neoleo

    The aim of the experiment was sensory deprivation. All 26 kittens were put down after the study.

    To be honest, this frankly sickens me, and I agree with Ricky Gervais that it’s cruel. I’m all for science, but at what cost?

    Cats are a part of our extended family. They live, sleep, eat with us, can feel pain, sorrow, joy, and other complex emotions. They give us comfort and kindness without judgment. They’re not stupid, they can judge situations and figure things out, and have their own eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and personalities. They also care about us, and you’d be either naive, heartless or cold to think otherwise. To do this sort of thing to their innocent babies is horrific and repugnant.

    Suppose this experiment WEREN’T done in the name of scientific progress and the potential for advancing human well-being. Well, what would it be? What would we think of the act by itself, sewing shut the eyelids of baby kittens, in the name of achieving no greater goal than satisfying curiosity, or some deranged pleasure? What if instead it were conducted by some morbid fellow tinkering in his basement for giggles? And yet, somehow we should be persuaded that good intentions transform the severity of the act, assuaging it into something positive and palatable? The distinction between an animal abuser and a benefactor of humanity lies in the motivations, but not in the actions? I’ve never seen the line between torture and science so conspicuously blurred.

    I would argue that the act is in and of itself cruel in the unnecessary suffering it inflicts on an unconsenting, innocent sentient being, regardless of the motivations. We draw boundaries everyday for how far we are willing to go in the name of human progress. These activities are reconciled with our conscience and moral compass with what seems a threadbare shades-of-gray reasoning, that compromising a lesser-perceived morality in the name of a greater good is justified, that yes, the one patient may die to save millions. A classic and nuanced philosophical experiment, made all too real.

  78. 78
    pharylon

    Given your lack of honesty, and your accusing the experimenters of a criminal offence…

    OK, now it’s clear I’m just being trolled. Good job, sir. :)

  79. 79
    kieran

    On the poll daddy link its 52 to 48 in favour of yes.

  80. 80
    Matt Penfold

    I’m not sure why you’ve gotten so weirdly aggressive toward me, but they could have used ferrets right? That’s legal, right? That’s the first animal I suggested, right? So, in fact, it’s not a lie at all, right?

    Dog, cats, horses (and related species) and non-human primates can only be used for animal experimentation if no other species will suffice for the experiment.Thus by claiming they could use ferrets you are accusing them of breaking the law, because they used cats.

    So either you are lying when you say they could have used ferrets, or the experimenters lied in obtaining permission, because they will have to have made a declaration that no other species other than the cat will suffice. If you are not lying, you will need to provide evidence they lied to obtain the licence. Please do so, without delay.

  81. 81
    leighshryock

    (As an addendum, research for the advancement of knowledge can be considered ‘necessary research’, in as far as it can be used to expand the knowledge pool, which can be useful in and of itself, as more knowledge gives us more information to work with when formulating methods to cure/treat conditions.)

  82. 82
    roland

    It’s unfortunate that people have become so used to excellent medical care that they don’t know where all that knowledge came from. It’s like children who only eat processed food.

  83. 83
    Matt Penfold

    Suppose this experiment WEREN’T done in the name of scientific progress and the potential for advancing human well-being. Well, what would it be?

    In that case the licence to carry out the experiment will have been obtained under false pretences, and the experimenters will be guilty a criminal offence. If you have evidence they lied, let’s have it. Otherwise, stop libelling the scientists.

  84. 84
    rowanvt

    Suppose this experiment WEREN’T done in the name of scientific progress and the potential for advancing human well-being.

    Then it wouldn’t have been done.

    Look. Sewing the eyelids shut IS NOT PAINFUL FOR THE ANIMAL. We do it fairly often at the veterinary hospital where I work. It’s what we do when an animal has an eye proptose. We sew the lids shut to help hold the eye in place until the attachments heal.

    All the animals used in experiments that end with euthanasia are *eu*thanised. They are typically given an overdose of a concentrated anesthetic. The same stuff that is used when you have to put a pet to sleep.

    Is it sad that their lives have ended? Yes. But the knowledge we gain can help so many, including other animals.

  85. 85
    Olav

    pharylon:

    Cats and dogs are special to humans.

    If you don’t want the research to be controversial, you probably shouldn’t sew their eyelids shut. Use a ferret or a rat instead.

    I see no difference between using cats and/or dogs on the one hand, or using ferrets and/or rats on the other. They are all animals, and they are all bred by us (humans) for a purpose. We should not be cruel to any of them, but if we need an experiment done there is no reason to discriminate on any other grounds than fitness for the specific experiment that is at hand. To do otherwise would be hypocritical.

    You are making one thing clear though: “Cats and dogs are special to humans” means that the whole controverse is not about real concern for the suffering of animals. It is only about us and about our own feelings.

    How many of those who are whining about the poor kittens victimised by evil scientists have no qualms about eating huge quantities of tortured-to-death pigs, cows and other livestock, I don’t even want to know. But hey, bacon!

  86. 86
    Pteryxx

    Incorrect. Flatly, wholly false. It depends on the study and liability for the facility, but MANY of our animals (dogs, cats, ferrets, horses and guinea pigs during my three year tenure) were adopted after their studies ended.

    Heck, I’m glad to be mostly wrong – but I did try to adopt animals from my institution, and I was told not just no, but it’d be illegal and a firing offense if I tried. That was a while ago and I don’t have paperwork for it. Would one of y’all be willing to send me a sample adoption policy, if you have one available? Email’s my nym at gmail if it isn’t public.

  87. 87
    pharylon

    On the poll daddy link its 52 to 48 in favour of yes.

    Sure, we can poll crash all we want, but the original numbers are more in line with how society feels as a whole. I think neoleo laid it out perfectly above at #77 on why scientists should avoid using animals that humans have a high degree of emotional empathy with. It’s bad press.

    Even if you don’t buy into the argument that cats are more special than other animals, it’s bad press. That should be enough to discourage their use.

  88. 88
    Matt Penfold

    That said, I do feel that reasonable restrictions are obviously in order:
    1) Minimize suffering. (That is, do what we’re doing)
    2) Limit the research to necessary research. (That is, do what we’re doing)

    In the UK there are significant restrictions on what experiments can be carried out, and the rules actually go way beyond those you suggested. Essentially, you cannot use cats, dogs, horse or primates unless no other species will suffice, the research must look to significant increase scientific knowledge, the minimum number of subjects must be used, for the minimum period of time, there must be no other means, even if more expensive that can be used to gather the data.

    In addition, every application to carry out an animal experiment must show the harm done from not carrying out (on going suffering in humans and animals) outweighs the cost of doing the experiment (the suffering of the animal subjects).

  89. 89
    mythbri

    @Pteryxx

    I found one for UC Davis:

    http://safetyservices.ucdavis.edu/IACUC/policies/a/adoptions

  90. 90
    julielada

    “Heck, I’m glad to be mostly wrong – but I did try to adopt animals from my institution, and I was told not just no, but it’d be illegal and a firing offense if I tried. That was a while ago and I don’t have paperwork for it. Would one of y’all be willing to send me a sample adoption policy, if you have one available?”

    That may have been your particular facility’s policy, but it certainly isn’t law. Of course no one can provide you with paperwork, as we would be fired if we shared official paperwork on the internet.

    In most cases, it was one of the husbandry staff who adopted one of the animals, having developed quite a bond with them. One coworker adopted three cats (a mother and her kittens) and another one of our horses who later went on to compete in 4H.

  91. 91
    Jason Bosch

    I voted against. There may be times when it is acceptable and this may be such a situation, I know very little about what happened, but as a general principle I’m against it. There are sentient animals, including cats, which can feel pain and suffer and that makes them have moral value. We should act in a way that does not harm other sentient creatures whenever possible. If that means that medical breakthroughs may be delayed then that is just too bad. We shouldn’t abandon what is ethical just for more knowledge.

  92. 92
    rowanvt

    @87-

    We want to develop treatment for FIV and FeLV in cats. This requires experimenting on cats and requires making them contract these nasty diseases.

    I guess we should stop now, because kitties are cuddlywuddlyspeshul?

  93. 93
    Matt Penfold

    pharylon, neoleo, go and read the guidelines for animal experimentation in the UK.

  94. 94
    Bernard Bumner

    Even if you don’t buy into the argument that cats are more special than other animals, it’s bad press. That should be enough to discourage their use.

    The experiments couldn’t be done with other animals to obtains the same the data. Doing the wrong experiments on the wrong animals for the sake of PR is simply repugnant; that very much is unnecessary suffering.

  95. 95
    leighshryock

    @Matt Penfold: Oh, I know that the restrictions in many countries are well above the minimal restrictions that I would put in place. Some might overstep a bit (the UK restrictions seem a bit much to me), but that’s neither here nor there.

  96. 96
    pharylon

    You are making one thing clear though: “Cats and dogs are special to humans” means that the whole controverse is not about real concern for the suffering of animals. It is only about us and about our own feelings.

    Yup.

    How many of those who are whining about the poor kittens victimised by evil scientists have no qualms about eating huge quantities of tortured-to-death pigs, cows and other livestock, I don’t even want to know. But hey, bacon!

    A lot.

    But we empathize with cats. That’s a fact of our culture, and humans care a lot more about things they empathize with. Logically, you’re right. Emotionally, you’re going to lose with that argument in the court of public opinion every single time.

    The only way not to is to either convince humans to not care when something they empathize with has it’s eyes sewn shut and is then put down (I wouldn’t want a society to do that anyway), or teach our society they shouldn’t empathize with cats.

    A much easier solution: don’t use cats.

  97. 97
    mythbri

    @pharylon

    This particular society doesn’t have a high degree of scientific literacy, so I don’t think that arguments made from what society thinks as a whole should be applicable to a debate about the ethical implications of animal experimentation.

    Perhaps we’re talking about two separate issues – you’re talking about public perception and reducing public outcry over necessary scientific research, and I’m talking about how we should frame the discussion regarding conducting this kind of research.

  98. 98
    Matt Penfold

    A much easier solution: don’t use cats.

    It would be more honest for you to say don’t do the experiment.

    Now are you going to address your libelling of the scientists carrying out the experiment ?

  99. 99
    julielada

    “I found one for UC Davis:

    http://safetyservices.ucdavis.edu/IACUC/policies/a/adoptions

    Oh wow. I didn’t realize other institutions actually published things online. Ours was still strictly paper-based and it stayed inside the facility at all times. PETA and other animal rights groups basically force labs to become very insular and threaten their employees with termination for any information leaks that could possibly bring wrath down on the facility.

  100. 100
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    As a thought experiment, I’d love to see a receipt of every medical procedure I’ve received that was developed or tested using animal experimentation. I’m sure that the list is long, and I’m sure that without those procedures I would not be alive today.

    Would I elect to undergo an experimental surgical procedure that hadn’t been tested on animals? Probably not.

    However, thinking about my own kitten being experimented on, even humanely, almost brings me to tears. If I was asked to sacrifice her to be one more data point in some groundbreaking scientific research, I would have to refuse.

    I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas.

  101. 101
    Pteryxx

    mythbri: sweet, thank you.

    julielada: That’s what I was told by the animal supervisor responsible for training, about adoption being broadly illegal. *shrug* I’m glad to have the counterexamples.

  102. 102
    Matt Penfold

    the UK restrictions seem a bit much to me

    Scientists who carry out animal experiments tend to take the view that whilst the regulations are tough, they are not an impediment to doing good science, and that having tough regulations helps keep the public onside.

  103. 103
    interrobang

    This article makes me feel really queasy because I’m a total cat person, but I’m still in favour of animal experimentation. I too would prefer if they used other animals than cats, but that’s my personal bias. To be honest, you will never, ever convince me that a rat is anything other than something to eradicate from your tack room, nor that ferrets are house pets, given that they look like stretch-limo rats, stink even if they’re allegedly “descented,” and one tried to kill my poor old beloved cat Nero years ago. Cats over rodentiae and mustelids, every time. For similar reasons, I won’t eat horsemeat; I know too many horses I like better than some people.

    I would also never consider going vegan, for health reasons — I have a hard enough time (thanks to gut malabsorption issues) getting enough protein, iron, and B12 even eating a lot of meat (my doctor wants me to start getting monthly B12 shots, sigh), and I already take enough pills, I’m not disposed to switch and wind up gulping supplements on top.

    Still in favour of animal research, though; to do otherwise would make me a hypocrite. I may not be able to shut off the irrational, biased parts of my brain, but I can overrule them.

  104. 104
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Yes, no one can be perfect. But consider eating vegetarian, which unfortunately causes the death of animals during harvest vs. eating omnivore which causes the death of the animals you’re eating and all the the animals that died during harvesting the huge amounts of food to feed the animal that you’re eating.

    Problem is that this is, of course, true and false at the same time. Animal produce made via factory farming has that effect and many people who are omnivorous and care about animal welfare actually try to avoid that kind of animal products.
    So, animals not fed with grain that has been produced specifically to feed them do reduce the amount of animals killed.
    But that is, of course, not true for the majority of meat and dairy products.
    But if it’s about reducing suffering the question is whose suffering we consider more imporant: that of the humans who will not get help if the data isn’t collected or that of the animals who will suffer in order to get the data.

    +++

    These four comments I judge too stupid to deserve a response (not that I’d bother responding to Giliell’s in any case).

    Good that you’re not spending your time afterwards doing so. You’re pathetic.

    I will say, though, that the history of experimentation on black people contains exactly the same (internally contradictory) arguments that are being used today to attempt to justify animal experimentation, and that the “historical baggage” Giliell refers to is itself evidence that the moral question is not theoretical.

    Yes, and they were used by the Nazis to justify experiments on Jews and Russians and Asians and such. Which was my point, that this baggage exists amongst our species. The problem is that it doesn’t automatically hold true for other species as well. So, no, you don’t have a leg to stand on there, good you didn’t make that comment in the first place.

    Here’s a real theoretical moral question: If aliens invaded and conquered earth and they heard our protests and cries of pain as so many squeals and squawks, would they be morally justified in using us for their experiment

    Yeah, so, the aliens just don’t get that with all our culture and technology we’re a sapient species, and so on and are just not capable of understanding that and figureing it out despite the fact that they managed interstellar travel.
    So, given that they don’t understand that, yes, they are making an honest mistake. That’s really unfortunate for us, but shit happens.

  105. 105
    pharylon

    @mythbri

    Yes, reducing public outcry is part of it, but to an extent I’m saying I agree with the outcry too.

    Our ability to empathize and feel concern for the well-being of others in our society is very important. I want our society to value the lives, well-being, and happiness of it’s members, even the members we don’t know personally or haven’t met.

    What I’m saying is, for most people cats and dogs fall into that category. The are a part of our society. Maybe not “full” members, but they rank as members of our tribe. And as long as they have that status, I want people to feel that way about their treatment.

    The only way to get rid of public outcry would really be to convince society that cats and dogs aren’t members of the tribe. That’s not going to happen. That’s a huge sea change that we probably can’t affect, and isn’t worth the effort if we could. If anything, we’re currently moving in the opposite direction, where cats and dogs are becoming surrogate children for many, being medially after serious injury or illness instead of put down, being buried in cemeteries, and so on.

  106. 106
    Matt Penfold

    I see pharylon still refuses to address his libel.

    And he was wondering why I was so hostile to him! Maybe his being a liar had something to do with it.

  107. 107
    mythbri

    Humans are completely inconsistent. I get squeamish thinking about people experimenting on kittens, but I’m not a vegetarian. Even though I’m not a vegetarian, there are some products that I don’t eat, like fois gras, veal and lamb. I also don’t eat octopus or squid because I think that they’re pretty damned intelligent for invertebrates.

    Not consistent at all, I know.

  108. 108
    Gregory Greenwood

    neoleo @ 77;

    Suppose this experiment WEREN’T done in the name of scientific progress and the potential for advancing human well-being. Well, what would it be? What would we think of the act by itself, sewing shut the eyelids of baby kittens, in the name of achieving no greater goal than satisfying curiosity, or some deranged pleasure? What if instead it were conducted by some morbid fellow tinkering in his basement for giggles? And yet, somehow we should be persuaded that good intentions transform the severity of the act, assuaging it into something positive and palatable? The distinction between an animal abuser and a benefactor of humanity lies in the motivations, but not in the actions? I’ve never seen the line between torture and science so conspicuously blurred.

    You cannot simply ignore the why behind the action here – the context in which these experiments are being performed.

    These experiments are necessary if treatments for severely debilitating (and, in other cases of animal research, often lethal) human conditions are to be created. These treatments cannot be created without animal testing. As I mentioned @ 71, computer models are not advanced enough yet to take over the role, and without animal testing the research either cannot be performed at all, or you have to be prepared to roll the dice on human lives when determining if the treatment is dangerous or not – a clearly unethical action.

    If one ignores context entirely, then many necessary things can be depicted as immoral;

    Suppose this heart bypass operation WEREN’T done in the name of saving someone’s life. Well, what would it be? What would we think of the act by itself, cutting someone open, cracking apart their rib cage, and transferring blood vessels from one part of the body to another before sewing them up again, in the name of achieving no greater goal than satisfying curiosity, or some deranged pleasure? What if instead it were conducted by some morbid fellow tinkering in his basement for giggles?

    —————-

    Suppose this abortion WEREN’T done in the name of the health, wellbeing and maintainance of the bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman. Well, what would it be? What would we think of the act by itself, destroying a potential human life, in the name of achieving no greater goal than satisfying curiosity, or some deranged pleasure? What if instead it were conducted by some morbid fellow tinkering in his basement for giggles?

    ——————-

    Suppose this removal of a child from its parents WEREN’T done in the name of ending a long series of acts of brutal child abuse. Well, what would it be? What would we think of the act by itself, breaking up a family, in the name of achieving no greater goal than satisfying curiosity, or some deranged pleasure? What if instead it were conducted by some morbid beaurocrat on a power trip?

    Intent is not magic, but context is vital in understanding when an action is necessary or morally justified. You cannot just ignore it in order to try to boost your case.

  109. 109
    Bernard Bumner

    The only way to get rid of public outcry would really be to convince society that cats and dogs aren’t members of the tribe.

    Or to educate the public on the rationale and benefits of animal experimentation.

    Anyway, plenty of people prefer rats to cats, and some societies treat both as meat, it is not universally true that people love cats.

    The public still supports (very limited) primate research, and there is at least as much kinship to be found between humans and apes.

    People are not too stupid to understand the arguments for using cats in research.

  110. 110
    pharylon

    I see pharylon still refuses to address his libel.

    And he was wondering why I was so hostile to him! Maybe his being a liar had something to do with it.

    Persistent troll is persistent!

  111. 111
    mythbri

    @pharylon

    I can see what you’re saying, but I think that the distinction you’re trying to make between cats/dogs and ferrets/rats is arbitrary. It’s essentially an “argument from cuteness”, and doesn’t address the fundamental principles of the discussion.

    I want everyone to treat animals with kindness and respect. I want people to reduce cruelty and suffering to the animals we’ve chosen to make part of our society, including pet animals, work animals and food animals.

    I’m less concerned about public outcry than I am about the fundamental discussion, not just about scientific experimentation, but about our relationships with our fellow animals.

  112. 112
    julielada

    #108 Gregory Greenwood – Thank you. I was about to say exactly the same thing.

  113. 113
    Matt Penfold

    People are not too stupid to understand the arguments for using cats in research.

    Evidence from the UK would support this. In properly conducted opinion polls the majority of people support animal experimentation. The numbers reduce when talking about cats and dogs, and reduce further is respect of primates, but there is still majority support.

    Of course one thing the likes of pharylon ignore is that those cats who are kept as pets would suffer if no animal experiments involving cats could be done. The research that benefits humans also benefits other species, as the result of better drugs and medical procedures.

  114. 114
    leighshryock

    Pharylon:

    Do tell, what makes you think that the experiment on the cats was unnecessary? UK law essentially states that the cat should not have been used, since it’s on the list of banned animals for research – unless it is the only animal that can provide meaningful data.

    You’re either stating that the researchers lied, or you are not stating the truth when you say that they could have used something other than cats.

    UK Law ALREADY gives special consideration to cats (and dogs and horses) due to human social issues with experimentation on them. They’re only allowed to use them if they are the only ones that can provide the meaningful data that we are looking for.

  115. 115
    baal

    @#30

    M.D. students were assholes who didn’t give a damn.

    While my sample is small (~20 MD students), I agree with PZ on this characterization. I had MD students in my PHD classes and about half were less than interested in anything other than the ‘art’ of making patients happy. They frequently decried understanding actual science of medicine and yawned mightily at ethics.

    #pharylon, The standard mode of expression in this blog is generally weirdly hostile. You can get buy in (tribal acceptance?) by being intentionally mean and pointy.

  116. 116
    Matt Penfold

    Persistent troll is persistent!

    You have not explained why you libelled the scientists.

  117. 117
    puppygod

    @87 pharylon

    Sure, we can poll crash all we want, but the original numbers are more in line with how society feels as a whole.

    Actually, no, they probably are not. That’s the point behind pharyngulating Internet polls – to point out how totally random and non-representative their results are. The original numbers were about how very limited, non-random selection of people visiting mirror website and feeling strong enough about issue to bother with voting voted. It tells us… nothing.

    You might assume that is what society feels as a whole, but my guess, based on numbers on animal abuse and abandoned kittens is that society as a whole don’t give a damn.

  118. 118
    Matt Penfold

    leighshryock said:

    UK Law ALREADY gives special consideration to cats (and dogs and horses) due to human social issues with experimentation on them. They’re only allowed to use them if they are the only ones that can provide the meaningful data that we are looking for.

    Pharylon refuses to accept that, saying that ferrets or rats could have been used. Given that if they could the licence for the experiment would have been obtain by deception, he is in effect libelling them by saying the lied in their application.

  119. 119
    puppygod

    BTW – it 57 “yes” vs. 43 “no” now. Poll pharyngulated?

  120. 120
    Matt Penfold

    Oh, and I would add that making dishonest statements to obtain a licence to carry out animal experiments in the UK can result in the scientists concerned loosing their personnel licenses for a long time, and if there was evidence the research facility knew, or that they should have known, about the dishonesty, the lab licence can be withdrawn as well. Not to mention the possibility of a criminal prosecution.

  121. 121
    Pteryxx

    also, @Giliell, thank YOU for your thanks. I don’t think anyone’s ever thanked me before for doing research on animals, and I had to go afk and sniffle for a while before replying. ♥

  122. 122
    leighshryock

    @Pteryxx:

    While that sounds like some mildly depressing work, I feel that the first bullet point (minimizing suffering) is an important part of animal experimentation. I would also like to thank you for making these animals’ lives more comfortable.

  123. 123
    rowanvt

    @ Pteryxx,

    As a vet tech, I too would like to thank you. The work you and others in your field do allows me to help save the lives of many beloved pets.

  124. 124
    PZ Myers

    I’m a little weirded out by the people who object to doing it on kittens, but think it’s a perfectly OK alternative to do it on rats or ferrets. You do know that rats and ferrets are just as friendly/cuddly/affectionate as cats, right? And ferrets are just as intelligent, if not more so? You seem to be making your decision entirely on the basis of subjective emotional preference.

    Freaking out over “sewing eyes shut” as many seem to do is also a weird emotional response. Really, it’s the most humane procedure in this case: no awkward appliances, no discomfort, no pain. It’s a standard veterinary procedure too, well tested and with experienced practitioners.

    And yes, these animals were euthanized afterwards, because the purpose of those experiments was to look at cortical changes. There are also experiments where the eyes are opened, and the animals are tested for behavioral/perceptual changes.

    About MDs vs. PhDs: I know it’s purely anecdotal, but it was so striking at the time that it stuck with me. The Ph.D. researchers or grad students would always check on the animals afterwards, and were very solicitous during the surgeries. The MDs-to-be all seemed to regard the animals as little more than scraps to practice technique on.

    For example, I was usually in charge of anesthesia during these procedures. If an animal so much as twitched, the Ph.D.s would stop, back off, ask me to check the dosage and response. They also worried about post-op recovery. They’d try to work fast and efficiently so they could get the animal into recovery as quickly as possible.

    The pre-meds, if they saw a twitch, wouldn’t care unless it somehow threw off their cutting. They’d extend their procedures and do unnecessary steps “for the practice”. I once sat up with two gung-ho premeds who kept doing more and more and demanding that I keep the animal knocked out for 5 hours, despite my urging that it was going to hurt the cat’s chances for recovery. They didn’t care. They stopped at 6, tossed their gloves away, and told me to finish up the suturing and take care of it. I was in the surgery until midnight trying to nurse the poor animal back to consciousness and keeping it warm and breathing.

    It died the next day anyway.

    I really had bad experiences with pre-meds there.

  125. 125
    tkreacher

    I’m not going to think about it.

    I haven’t formed an opinion on these kinds of animal issues, despite being nagged by them from time to time. I’m not going to think about it because I see only two possible outcomes:

    1. I find animal testing of the sort to be the more reasonable/moral position. I would then immediately become annoyed and angered by what I would then see as anti-scientific hand-wringing from those opposed.

    2. I find animal testing of the sort to be unjustified. I would then immediately become annoyed and angered by such testing.

    The end result could only be more anger and annoyance at some set of people in general. And I have more than enough of that on my plate as it is, and at this point I must be careful in that regard for the sake of my mental well-being.

    So, yeah, despite what my ego often tells me, I’m only human, and have to acknowledge that I am capable and even desirous of willful ignorance on at least one subject.

  126. 126
    John Scanlon FCD

    In the long run, we’re all dead. Cats (or rats or, afaik, ferrets) can have very nice lives (of whatever length) in highly artificial environments with a few hours a week of affectionate human contact, with one eye open or both, and as long as there’s no torture of conscious animals I don’t see these programs as involving any animal suffering (oh, except in sourcing the catfood, which may involve much misery and waste of cattle, poultry or fish, and whatever harm they, in turn, wreaked during their lives, and the lives of those they fed on, back all the way to LUCA’s sister). Where there’s a benefit in therapies or basic science, it’s worth doing; no harm, no guilt.

    (What worries me, though, is ‘conscientious’ scientists employing the young PZ to play with cats. What sort of twisted experimental protocol was that?)

    Anyway, in the world that evolved, there is no reason to think that ‘suffering’ is a quantity that can be minimised.

    And did someone use the word ‘sentient’? The reason I don’t care whether it’s pronounced ‘sentyunt’ or ‘senshunt’ is that it doesn’t mean shit anyway, so the word might as well not exist. All matter processes information, animals especially so, but no cat’s going to paint a masterpiece or earn a Nobel – in the Sciences anyway (maybe an optimistic Peace prize).

    Let’s not even worry about drawing a line (or series of expanding circles, which refute the idea of a line anywhere) on the phylogeny x conservation-status x lifespan x intellectual-cultural space. It takes very special circumstances for a scientist to be able to justify lethal experimentation on hominids, but cats? I do love cats, but I voted Yes.

  127. 127
    rowanvt

    @PZ-

    I once sat up with two gung-ho premeds who kept doing more and more and demanding that I keep the animal knocked out for 5 hours, despite my urging that it was going to hurt the cat’s chances for recovery. They didn’t care. They stopped at 6, tossed their gloves away, and told me to finish up the suturing and take care of it. I was in the surgery until midnight trying to nurse the poor animal back to consciousness and keeping it warm and breathing.

    It died the next day anyway.

    As an RVT, that makes me irate. The callousness makes me hope that I never have one of those people as a doctor.

    Sadly, the arrogance displayed there often appears when we have to treat the pet of an MD. They often think that they can diagnose and treat their own animals. But, surprise! Most often they’re wrong!

  128. 128
    thetalkingstove

    Cats are a part of our extended family. They live, sleep, eat with us, can feel pain, sorrow, joy, and other complex emotions. They give us comfort and kindness without judgment. They’re not stupid, they can judge situations and figure things out, and have their own eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and personalities. They also care about us, and you’d be either naive, heartless or cold to think otherwise.

    Or you’d be aware of the tendency people have to anthropomorphise their pets.

    Cats slaughter birds, frogs, fish, mice…they’re voracious predators. I personally would find it distressing to have a pet that brought you a constant stream of corpses.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong not to want them experimented on. I think it’s a hard issue. But cats aren’t children.

  129. 129
    Pteryxx

    The pre-meds, if they saw a twitch, wouldn’t care unless it somehow threw off their cutting. They’d extend their procedures and do unnecessary steps “for the practice”.

    Urgh… where I worked (research only, no pre-meds there) part of our *training* was to carry out practice surgeries on spare animals, and we had vet department training officers hovering over us to ensure we paid attention to proper anesthesia, limiting duration and operative stress, and recovery – including babysitting our own practice animals until they woke up. More practice meant a new session with a different practice animal.

    Who the frick cares how good the surgeon’s techniques are *if the patient dies as a result*? Holy crap!

  130. 130
    PZ Myers

    I was the one hovering. I was an undergraduate biology major. My rank with two egotistical med students? About nowhere.

    It was incredibly frustrating. If the boss had been there, he probably could have shut them down, but they could keep going because the only person constraining them was the pathetic animal tech.

  131. 131
    cag

    Whenever I see “Not tested on animals” my first reaction is that they are testing on me.

  132. 132
    johnwolforth

    @Manu of Deche;
    It’s “not an advance” in the sense that we are doing something crude. We are harming a defenseless creature for our own benefit. I understand, sometimes you have to punch someone in the nose to save someone else, maybe yourself, but punching someone in the nose is still wrong. I know we will “advance” in some way as a result of this experiment, but do we have to first lower our standards of decency to do it?

    We’ve come this far as a species without having to sew kittens eyes shut, what is so damn important that we have to do it now?

  133. 133
    ChasCPeterson

    PZ: right on.

    SC, your quotations from Singer are not persuasive. At the level of the excerpts provided, at least, it’s pure question-begging. The “principle of equal consideration of interests” and the assump/asser-tion that “species alone” is not a “morally relevant characteristic” seem invented of whole cloth (if not pulled per anum) to prop up the conclusions.
    The fact–an empirical fact–is that our society, as another commenter said, clearly values human life over that of other animals. In other words, most (understatement) people do not draw their moral and ethical lines where you do. Fact. Look, here’s just one example of somebody with different lines in this thread:

    I realize no one gives a damn about lab rats subjected to this kind of thing, and it’s a double standard, but I *do* feel there’s something about domesticated animals that’s important.

    And then other people pipe up to put rats behind their personal line, etc.
    As I said the other day, the animal-rights stance is quixotic. Speciesism is real and natural; there is no brighter line.

    John Scanlon:

    The reason I don’t care whether it’s pronounced ‘sentyunt’ or ‘senshunt’ is that it doesn’t mean shit anyway, so the word might as well not exist.

    yep. There is no coherent definition afaict.

  134. 134
    Louis

    I have a problem, okay I have more than one, but this issue is a major moral quandary for me.

    I’ve read Peter Singer’s work, and a few things besides, but I also work in the pharmaceutical industry, I know for a fact how necessary animal work is in the discovery of certain things. I know how necessary it is to cure human and animal diseases. We have no substitute for whole organism studies and likely never will (doesn’t mean I don’t think people should try as hard as possible to find alternatives and minimise any and all suffering etc, I do).

    I really do think that extending our moral circle to animals has a great deal of ethical, moral, logical and factual force. It’s not an easily dismissed set of arguments. Some days I don’t think it is dismissable at all.

    But, and you knew this but was coming, I can find no better “justification” (which I admit is scant/non-existent really) than I do care more about {generic human} than I do about {generic non-human animal}. I think finding the cure for disease X coming at the price of non-human lives is a price that currently has to be paid. That makes me a monster, a hypocrite and a whole slew of negative things. I don’t, for example, say this in ignorance of how arguments of identical form have been used in purely human history. I can’t do anything but admit that, it’s true. My concern for human suffering outweighs my concern for non-human suffering. It’s a moral choice I have had to make and I have to stand by the implications and consequences of it.

    I could argue that the willingness to trade human lives for animal ones is a reflection of “health privilege”, those of us who can afford the luxury of that extension do so. The same goes for agrochemicals, GM crops and a wide range of things that do harm but also benefit humans.

    The analogy of the badly pasted wallpaper is the one I use. You stick up some wallpaper badly and it will have bubbles all over it. Push on one bubble and it will simply pop up elsewhere. That’s not to fatalistically say that one cannot push bubbles to the edges and remove them occasionally, or even re-lay the wallpaper, one can, but there is a cost (work) involved. We’ve gone so far down the line of improving and sustaining human health, and we have SO far to go, how many billion people live in poverty and starvation? How many billion people have terrible access to healthcare? If it takes the suffering of non-human animals to end that human suffering, I am willing, but reluctant and with every caveat of kindness and necessity possible, at the current time in this current context, to pay that price (even though it ain’t me truly paying it). Flawed as it might be, I really do think these ends justify (not logically, obviously) the means.

    However, I appreciate the logical weakness of that, I appreciate the relative strength of opposing cases and I really, really don’t like it. Yeah, I know, the rats etc will thank me for it from their graves…[/sarcasm]

    I know from working alongside animal researchers that a lot of them hate the necessity of what they do. And what they do really is currently necessary given certain goals, make no mistake. The trade off here is if we have no adequate replacement for this practise, the sum of human suffering will (albeit perhaps temporarily) increase. Pretending the animals don’t suffer is foolish, pretending that given our current circumstances that humans would not suffer as a consequence of abandoning animal testing for medical purposes is obscene.

    Louis

  135. 135
    tomholder

    Thanks for the support everyone. You’ve turned the poll and put in some great comments.

  136. 136
    One Thousand Needles, lumper-splitter

    John @ #126

    Where there’s a benefit in therapies or basic science, it’s worth doing; no harm, no guilt.

    Anyway, in the world that evolved, there is no reason to think that ‘suffering’ is a quantity that can be minimized.

    Would you care to further explain these two points? Because they seem ridiculous on their face.

  137. 137
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Whenever I see “Not tested on animals” my first reaction is that they are testing on me.

    Don’t worry, they’re lying. It just means that they didn’t test it on animals. The ingredients were often tested a long time ago. On animals.

    Louis
    But, and you knew this but was coming, I can find no better “justification” (which I admit is scant/non-existent really) than I do care more about {generic human} than I do about {generic non-human animal}. I think finding the cure for disease X coming at the price of non-human lives is a price that currently has to be paid. That makes me a monster, a hypocrite and a whole slew of negative things.

    This. It’s a choice we have to make.
    You can either say the kitties have to suffer because the research will alleviate human suffering. Or you can say that the humans have to suffer because of kitties. You can’t have your cake and eat it. The future should strive towards no longer needing kitties, but currently that’s pie in the sky.

    I don’t, for example, say this in ignorance of how arguments of identical form have been used in purely human history.

    The thing is that just because an argument/behaviour is wrong with regards to humans, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s wrong with regards to animals. The fact that it’s wrong to sterilize people against their will and without their consent and knowledge because we think they shouldn’t breed anymore/at all doesn’t mean that this holds true for sterilizing animals

  138. 138
    eleutheria

    It’s working! We’re turning the poll around! It’s:

    59.73 for Yes, Save the Kittens!
    40.2% for No, Let the Experimentations Continue.

  139. 139
    DLC

    I vaguely recall reading something about 10 years ago regarding an Army researcher who was conducting experiments on cats, inducing traumatic brain injury and then studying things such as cell death, and potential damage recovery strategies. maybe one of you more biological-minded people recall it. I believe it was lead by Dr Alan Faden of Walter Reed. I also recall there being much protesting about it. I wonder now how many people have been helped by information gained in that research ?

  140. 140
    lostintime

    I think the best moral guideline ever proposed for helping us to make judgements about animal ethics is the argument from marginal cases, and it’s always disappointing to see it nonchalantly dismissed as it has been in many of the comments.

    If we are prepared in theory to subject this amount of suffering on a human infant who is profoundly mentally disabled to the extent that she has the same mental capacities as a cat, then the procedure is justified. That’s the benchmark for me. It’s interesting that people never try to counter that argument with remarks about ‘cute wittle disabled babies’ but think it’s relevant when discussing non-human animal suffering. Incidentally, I do support this research – my Mum has temoral arteritis (a very common condition) and I’m sure she would have gone blind if it wasn’t for medical research of this kind.

  141. 141
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Sorry for fucking up the blockquote. I trust people to figure out what’s Louis’ and what’s mine

  142. 142
    John Scanlon FCD

    Needles: The discussion on proposals to minimise suffering has been had (on Pharyngula, or was it on Tetrapod Zoology?): some philosopher loon seriously considering turning wild carnivores into vegetarians, and the inevitable slippery slope to finding a way to exterminate all life as soon as possible (to prevent future suffering), unless we have a serious prospect of turning back time and preventing the universe from coming into existence in the first place. That’s just fucked up, man. Jonestown, anyone?

    The ‘no harm, no guilt’ takes the absence of (a quantifiable increase in) suffering due to the experiments as a premise, in which case it’s just trivial.

    I do not accept any obligation to maximise the number of cats living on the planet at any one time, or any such quantity of any particular species, including yours.

  143. 143
    leighshryock

    @lostintime:

    Except that a young, disabled child that has significantly reduced mental facilities has significant baggage in that they have human parents, one of which has carried this child to term and has formed a mental bond with it. Regardless of your thoughts on the issue, that presents some significant hurdles to your thought experiment that make it inappropriate to the current conversation.

    It’s like asking someone how they would feel about animal experimentation on their own pets – they have emotional baggage that will obviously bias their answer.

  144. 144
    leighshryock

    (Said mental bond is obviously one-sided, but the hormonal influences are obviously significant.)

  145. 145
    neoleo

    Gregory Greenwood @ 108

    I agree that we don’t live in a black-and-white void where context plays no role in moral considerations, but keep in mind that these experiments on kittens, whether performed by well-meaning scientists or a basement-dwelling psychopath, are in both cases ultimately of no benefit to the cat, and are contrary to its welfare and better interests. The examples you suggest draw dichotomies between operations human beings may undergo either willingly or unwillingly, where the party subjected to potentially harmful procedures MAY in fact personally benefit from the radical activity in question. These cats, however, have no choice, have no recourse to voice their consent or dissent, and ultimately benefit in no direct way from these procedures. They are basically being exploited for the benefit of others.

    Your examples struck me as persuasive initially, but on further consideration may have proven more apropos if the persons subjected to potential suffering would, under any context, ultimately stand to benefit in no way, and ultimately had no right to consent. I think the moral dilemma lies not necessarily in the radical nature of the actions, but in the rights to autonomy, happiness and well-being we recognize and afford ourselves, yet in convenience deny to others whom we purposely subject to suffering for our own benefit.

  146. 146
    leighshryock

    @neoleo:

    Ignoring context out of hand can make many things seem unnecessarily cruel that aren’t. His entire point in ripping context out of beneficial operations is that in doing so, they appear to be cruel. You argue that they aren’t, since they’re beneficial – but that means that you’re thrusting the context back in instead of ignoring it!

  147. 147
    PZ Myers

    I’ve worked with a lab that did work on frog tectal innervation (and am a coauthor on one of their papers). They did optic nerve crushes and cutting. That’s a more extreme surgery than sewing eyelids shut. Does that get the same condemnation? Does it help that frog optic nerves grow back?

    I also knew a guy who did the most horrible experiments ever: he had a machine that slammed a hammer with controlled force into monkey’s heads, causing concussions. That was work with direct biomedical applications, though — he was studying remediation strategies to deal with brain injuries in car accidents. His work actually saved lives and reduced the severity of brain trauma. Where does it stand on the moral scale?

    So work on frogs to understand mechanisms of regrowth and regeneration vs. work on monkeys that directly helped victims of car accidents. I don’t know how to weigh them.

  148. 148
    lostintime

    @leighshryock

    Except that a young, disabled child that has significantly reduced mental facilities has significant baggage in that they have human parents, one of which has carried this child to term and has formed a mental bond with it. Regardless of your thoughts on the issue, that presents some significant hurdles to your thought experiment that make it inappropriate to the current conversation.

    It’s like asking someone how they would feel about animal experimentation on their own pets – they have emotional baggage that will obviously bias their answer.

    You can modify the thought experiement to account for all those caveats – the mother died in childbirth for example, and has no surviving relatives etc.

    @PZ

    I also knew a guy who did the most horrible experiments ever: he had a machine that slammed a hammer with controlled force into monkey’s heads, causing concussions.

    That sounds ghastly. For what it’s worth, I really couldn’t condone that at all for the reasons outlined above.

  149. 149
    leighshryock

    @PZ Myers:
    I don’t know that you can objectively measure such things. Just create a set of factors: if it meets enough of the factors, then it is justified enough to do the experiments.

    Now, whether or not you can justify doing the experiment *yourself* is a different story, and depends on the person.

  150. 150
    neoleo
    Cats are a part of our extended family. They live, sleep, eat with us, can feel pain, sorrow, joy, and other complex emotions. They give us comfort and kindness without judgment. They’re not stupid, they can judge situations and figure things out, and have their own eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and personalities. They also care about us, and you’d be either naive, heartless or cold to think otherwise.

    Or you’d be aware of the tendency people have to anthropomorphise their pets.

    Cats slaughter birds, frogs, fish, mice…they’re voracious predators. I personally would find it distressing to have a pet that brought you a constant stream of corpses.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong not to want them experimented on. I think it’s a hard issue. But cats aren’t children.

    I’m not sure I understand the contrast… humans slaughter other animals on a hitherto unprecedented scale and industry that would put the paltry sum of birds, frogs, fish and mice that cats bring home to shame. Humans and cats alike are both animals, so of course it’s within our nature to eat other creatures, and is a penchant we equally share. I don’t see, however, how attributing the qualities of kindness, empathy, emotion or intelligence to cats somehow “anthropomorphises” them… you seem subtly to suggest these are uniquely human features.

    I agree that cats physically and intellectually aren’t children, though there are many who would mawkishly coddle them as such. But cats are, in their own unique way, family, and despite lacking comparable intellectual muscle undoubtedly share many natural, empathetic, social and emotional qualities with us.

  151. 151
    leighshryock

    @lostintime”

    You can modify the thought experiement to account for all those caveats – the mother died in childbirth for example, and has no surviving relatives etc.

    I’m still going to have to say that I wouldn’t agree to it, even though I agree to animal testing in general, because I don’t feel that it’s a good precedent for wards of the state (as such a child would be) to be experimented on.

  152. 152
    neoleo

    @neoleo:

    Ignoring context out of hand can make many things seem unnecessarily cruel that aren’t. His entire point in ripping context out of beneficial operations is that in doing so, they appear to be cruel. You argue that they aren’t, since they’re beneficial – but that means that you’re thrusting the context back in instead of ignoring it!

    Yes, but beneficial to whom? Certainly not the cats who are the unconsenting subjects of invasive experimentation. As I mentioned earlier, context is indeed germane to moral considerations. Yet it isn’t the radical nature of the procedures that suggests cruelty here, but rather the absence of consent and right to autonomy, happiness and healthy constitution in sentient beings subjected to radical activities where their well-being is unwillingly superceded, not to their own ultimate benefit and with their consent, but for the sake of others and without their approval. I don’t think there’s a context where this may adequately be justified, though I’m trying to think of one.

  153. 153
    leighshryock

    @neoleo:
    You’re ignoring the point of his counter-argument. The whole point was that ignoring context isn’t a good argument in the first place. Yes, we’re talking about different things that can be beneficial vs. things that are generally not beneficial to the recipient. The whole point was that if you take away the context, they all appear to be needlessly cruel.

    Do you want to discuss *actual* animal experimentation within its proper context, or do you intend to continue to use a bizarre argumentation style that rips out context when necessary for you to score a point?

  154. 154
    scottplumer

    I voted yes. I see it as a necessary evil.

  155. 155
    leighshryock

    Now, that said:

    The context of animal experimentation is that we gain knowledge by testing things out on non-human animals rather than testing on human animals. The entire reason why we test on non-human animals first is for ethical reasons, and the knowledge that we gain is worth the ethical costs of doing the research.

  156. 156
    TonyJ

    PZ Myers: You seem to be making your decision entirely on the basis of subjective emotional preference.

    You’re right. I am making my decision entirely on the basis of subjective emotional preference. I am fully aware of my hypocrisy in favoring one animal over another.

    If I’d been born into a different culture I’m sure I’d be able to vote differently. When my wife and I visited Puerta Vallarta a few years ago, we went to the marketplace and saw cats all over the place. My wife was petting them and treating them like housecats, but I could tell by the looks from the people who lived there that, to them, what she was doing was the equivalent of petting a sewer rat.

    I guess what I’m saying is continue your testing on kittens, but don’t tell me about it. Yes, completely irrational, but there you go.

  157. 157
    TonyJ

    Matt Penfold: You have not explained why you libelled the scientists.

    You have not really shown where he libeled the scientists.

  158. 158
    leighshryock

    @TonyJ:

    I’m not sure why you’ve gotten so weirdly aggressive toward me, but they could have used ferrets right?

    He keeps insisting that a non-feline animal could have been used. But according to UK law, in order for cats to be used, they have to show that they couldn’t get the information they needed from anything but cats (or other animals in the restricted list).

    Since the experiment was done on cats in the UK, and was signed off by the people in charge, the scientists did make such an argument.

    For him to insist that they aren’t necessary is to say that the scientists lied.

  159. 159
    TonyJ

    leighshryock: Since the experiment was done on cats in the UK, and was signed off by the people in charge, the scientists did make such an argument.

    For him to insist that they aren’t necessary is to say that the scientists lied.

    Ah! The old “libel via ignorance of UK law” trick. I see now.

  160. 160
    leighshryock

    @TonyJ:

    Matt Penfold detailed the law in several posts in response to pharylon. He refused to respond to such, instead called Matt Penfold a troll.

  161. 161
    shockna

    Stuff like this is why I couldn’t be a neuroscientist or cognitive researcher. It’s 100% necessary, I’ll grant, but experimenting on animals still makes me uneasy; part of my computer science bent is hoping to one day help to increase our computing power to the point where this kind of thing -can- be modeled.

    Maybe I’m just tilting at windmills, but it’s worth trying.

  162. 162
    julielada

    #124 PZ – Like I said, it may very well be that our experiences were so different because in my case the caretakers were pre-vet students and not pre-med. But the PIs and their grad students were definitely the more callous ones in the majority of cases. There were exceptions, particularly with researchers in charge of the equine studies being very lovely people.

    #126 John Scanlon FCD – “What worries me, though, is ‘conscientious’ scientists employing the young PZ to play with cats. What sort of twisted experimental protocol was that?”

    Perhaps you missed the bit where I explained above that this is part of a protocol called “positive contact” (or at least it was in my facility). If a normally social animal cannot be housed with conspecifics, it must be provided with a minimum of 15 minutes of positive social contact with a caretaker each day. I’m not sure why you’re trying to spin it into something nefarious, as it’s meant for the animal’s benefit.

  163. 163
    kantalope

    So, might be trolling it up a bit but, I call it an experiment and justify the suffering caused by over-emphasizing the possible benefits.

    1) Its all ok because some people with considerable career and ethical conflicts of interest will make sure that the experiments are necessary and minimize suffering and all the rules are strictly followed: I don’t recall ever seeing any statistics on how many applications are approved. Where is the cut off? Have to effect the health of 1000 people? 100? How does that balance with basic research? And if I submit my application saying I need 50 kitties to reach 6 sigma — does the panel reduce the number of subjects (kitties) to 20 and declare that 3 sigma is good enough and “suffering has been minimized”. If the standard is nothing more than that the PhD candidate is not dumb enough to put “so I can get a study published” in the goals column is that really much of a standard? And you can follow all of the rules for using a designated hitter — that does not make it right,

    2) The just don’t tell the public about what you do to the kitties argument: Penn State

    3) Can’t test on people, because they are just soooo special: Why not? Just need to minimize the suffering, So use painkillers and antidepressants. Use as few subjects as you can. 3 sigma should be enough. And make sure the outcome could potentially benefit lots of other people. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    4) You eat meat and wear leather shoes: Dawkins re. elevatorgate

    experiment concluded…please kill ( ahem, euthanize) all subjects

  164. 164
    Taz

    I voted no. You didn’t even come close to convincing me otherwise.

  165. 165
    eleutheria

    I got this completely wrong. I thought people were against sewing kittens eyelids shut. But, apparently people are vehemently for it. Personally, I am not for sewing eyelids shut on kittens and then euthanizing them.

  166. 166
    lostintime

    #Julielada
    In defence of John Scanlon FCD, I think he was joking in that part of the comment. Having re-read the post though, almost everything else he said is unreasonable, so I can see why you might point that out.

  167. 167
    swansnow

    Can someone tell me where the cats come from? Are they specially bred? Do they come from animal shelters (i.e. are they unwanted animals)?

    Do people who are squeamish about the fact that these cats are euthanized take into account the vast numbers of cats that are euthanized by animal shelters every day?

    It seems hypocritical to care so much about a relatively small number of animals who are very important for our quality of life (not to mention the veterinary knowledge that is gained by some of these experiments), and yet disregard the horrible lives so many “pets” have.

    I know “x is worse so why care about y” is not a valid argument, but really, this whole thing just smacks of over-emotional hand-wringing, excluding (of course) those people who actually have a sound philosophical argument to offer.

  168. 168
    lpetrich

    I voted “yes” a few minutes ago, and when I did, I got the results so far:

    Yes 55.28%
    No 44.72%

  169. 169
    skeptifem

    This. Cats and dogs are special to humans.

    because some humans anthropomorphize their pets everyone else should pretend along with them? Its a crock of shit.

    If you don’t want the research to be controversial, you probably shouldn’t sew their eyelids shut. Use a ferret or a rat instead.

    because having the research that is the best, that will help the most people, should be second to speshul human feelings about pets.

  170. 170
    Gregory Greenwood

    neoleo @ 145;

    I was going to compose an indepth response to your post, but I see that leighshryock has already covered the ground I wanted to address @ 146 and 153 with great eloquence.

    As xe pointed out – removing context from the situation is a poor basis for argument. You can’t just take it out in one sentence and then reinsert it in another; whatever best suits your own position. Without context, all the examples I gave appear needlessly cruel, even wantonly sadistic, but with the proper context we can see that they are necessary.

    In broader terms, I think our principle point of disagreement is that I am prepared to see animal testing continue as an essential part of developing treatments for humans, where as you are not. You point out that the animals are incapable of giving consent. This is true, but that is a price that I think must be paid, because the alternative is… what?

    Letting people die or suffer due to preventable conditions so that we can feel good about ourselves for not testing on animals? Do you think that ethically acceptable?

    Or maybe using humans to test treatments that could kill or permenantly maim them? Who would volunteer for such a procedure? Is it not likely that it would attract the desperate, poor and disenfranchised from society – the only people desperate enough to take the risk? Is that acceptable to you?

    Would there even be enough volunteers – and if there were not, how do you make up the shortfall?

    Animal testing is not an ideal solution. I am not exactly happy about it, but it is, at this time, the best of a set of rather bad options, and I think that the ethical choice is to go with the lesser of the available evils.

  171. 171
    skeptifem

    Do people who are squeamish about the fact that these cats are euthanized take into account the vast numbers of cats that are euthanized by animal shelters every day?

    It seems hypocritical to care so much about a relatively small number of animals who are very important for our quality of life (not to mention the veterinary knowledge that is gained by some of these experiments), and yet disregard the horrible lives so many “pets” have.

    absolutely!

    Something that completely disheartens me is how little animal control laws actually do. I’ve seen lots of people get in trouble with one set of pets and just get another set of the same animals after their first ones get taken away. Pets are still seen as a “right” in the eyes of the law, pets are seen as property. For example, Laura Fitterman keeps moving from state to state with her animal mill operations:

    http://stoplaurafitterman.blogspot.com/

    There is literally nothing stopping people from doing that kind of shit, and so it keeps going. Meanwhile the tightly regulated experiments of scientists are being put under tons of scrutiny.

  172. 172
    Furr-a-Bruin

    I absolutely adore cats, and I voted “yes”.

    As long as animal research is done ethically I have no objection to it, even if the test animal is a kind I have a personal affinity for. I grant you that I could not personally conduct this research – but then, I had trouble with the classic frog dissection in high school. (I’m a chemist and a computer geek, not a biologist. I’ve also been a vegetarian since I was quite young.)

    As someone who’s lost far too many friends far too young to HIV and cancer, I also don’t have a problem with pharmaceutical testing on animal rights wackjobs who’d rather see humans die horribly than have ethical animal testing going on.

  173. 173
    isilzhaveni

    The scientific ignorance shown in the comments at the Mirror doesn’t surprise me unfortunately (thought the number of people threatening violence against the researchers terrifies me!). However, the level of ignorance here does!

    Animal experimentation is very strictly regulated. Researchers don’t just wake up and decide they’ll sew kitten eyelids shut that day at the lab. LOTS of work, preparation, review is needed before an experiment can proceed. It takes time and has several levels of oversight.

    Perhaps one day we’ll no longer need to use animals for experiments, but we’ll never get to that point WITHOUT using live animals (even kittens) for research.

  174. 174
    pharylon

    Matt Penfold detailed the law in several posts in response to pharylon. He refused to respond to such, instead called Matt Penfold a troll.

    As Tony pointed out, I never, at any point, accused the scientists of breaking the law. Other options might have been: use a animal that’s less optimal, don’t have that law in the first place, and don’t do the experiment in the first place. And all of that aside, I was mostly talking about using cats and dogs in experiments in generalities, not this one specific incident.

    I never, ever, once accused them of breaking the law. I mean, you can freakin’ look at my other posts. I mean, libel? That’s so cartoony of an accusation, I can’t believe you took it seriously. Am I maliciously impugning their good names? No. I’m just suggesting scientists don’t use cats to avoid public outcry!.

    I must sadly report that successful troll is successful. :(

    Anyway, on to other matters.

    This. Cats and dogs are special to humans.

    because some humans anthropomorphize their pets everyone else should pretend along with them? Its a crock of shit.

    No, because they are an integral part of our society, even without being anthropomorphised. Because they trust us, innately. It’s bread into them. Because they might even genuinely love us (in the case of dogs, the science is iffy on this one). Because taking advantage of that feels morally wrong to a lot of people in a way that tests on rats doesn’t.

    I’m not saying it’s right. Rats and cats suffering is probably morally equivalent when you look at it logically. But cats and dogs don’t have to be anthropomorphised to be viewed as special. And in some ways, they actually are. I dunno, myself. I can see the arguments for putting some animals (especially dogs, but I’m a dog person) above other mammals. I feel like we kind of have a duty to them, that since they so trust and look to us instinctively, experimenting on them and euthanizing them afterwards is wrong in a way that it’s not for rats.

    But I do know that the empathy we feel for them as a result of our close interaction with these animals means experimentation and death for these animals is going to be a touchy subject for many, and short of changing human nature, it’s an insurmountable problem for those that feel no compunction about experiments like this one. So it’s better to just avoid them as test subjects and avoid the outcry.

  175. 175
    nohellbelowus

    Courageous post, Professor Myers.

    Tough topic, and you nailed it.

  176. 176
    tkreacher

    skeptifem #169,

    because some humans anthropomorphize their pets everyone else should pretend along with them? Its a crock of shit.

    This grates me. I do not love my dog or find him special because I assign human traits to him.

    Precisely the opposite.

    I fucking hate a great number of people. I love my dog because he lacks many common human traits.

    But I don’t want to get into too big a row over this minor, mostly semantic, quibble, because I don’t want to take a position on the subject overall.

    Heh.

  177. 177
    Roberto Aguirre Maturana

    Has Jerry Coyne remained silent about this issue?

  178. 178
    PZ Myers

    Coyne doesn’t pay attention to cat brains. He’s just waiting for them to speciate.

  179. 179
    Matt Penfold

    You have not really shown where he libeled the scientists.

    Well I did, but let’s pretend you are just a bit stupid rather than totally brain-dead moron, so I will explain it to you.

    pharylon claimed that rather than use cats, the researchers could have have used either rats or ferrets. As to why he alighted on those two species, you would have to ask him.

    UK law on animal research does not allow cats, dogs, horses (and related species) and non-human primates to be used where other species can be used.

    In order to obtain a licence to carry out the experiment, the researchers will have had to complete a complex and lengthy document explaining what will be done, what will be involved and why they are using the species they plan to use. They will have had to explain why cats must used as opposed to other species. This is a legal document. Knowingly making misleading statements in it is a criminal offence, for which you can be imprisoned. It on a par with lying in court.

    Now pharylon claims other species can have been used, which means one of two things. Either pharylon is lying, or the scientists are. He claims he is not lying, which means he is claiming the scientists are. He has offered no evidence that they are. That is libel.

    It is pretty simply, so do keep up.

    And pharylon still has not offered any evidence that the scientists lied.

  180. 180
    skeptifem

    No, because they are an integral part of our society, even without being anthropomorphised.

    If you want to argue it then it would be for the work that they do on behalf of human beings, period.

    Because they trust us, innately. It’s bread into them. Because they might even genuinely love us (in the case of dogs, the science is iffy on this one).

    you claim not to be anthropomorphizing pets, but then say that they may genuinely love us, and that they obey because they “trust”. Uh, ok. You know they have been bred to have a certain response, but then speculate wildly about the nature of their responses.

    Dogs get conditioned to kill too, like dogs used for blood sports. Everyone who engages in it has the same excuse- the dogs “love” killing each other, and it would be cruel not to let them do what they were bred to do. If you’ve researched it you can see why they might think that- the dogs do seem happy when doing things they have been compelled to by their genetics. They don’t whine and they are eager and they wag their tails, a stark contrast to most dogs confronted with a fight. To me it shows that you can breed a dog to display a wide range of behaviors. It has fuckall to do with what dogs feel about anything.

  181. 181
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Bernard Bumner:

    If society rejects animal experimentation, then it must be willing to pay the price of slower scientific progress and the potential that some knowledge will forever be unobtainable. SC acknowledges that, and seems willing to pay that price, but that attitude is apparently uncommon amongst those speaking against animal experimentation. SC is unusually well informed in that respect.

    Louis:

    I could argue that the willingness to trade human lives for animal ones is a reflection of “health privilege”, those of us who can afford the luxury of that extension do so. The same goes for agrochemicals, GM crops and a wide range of things that do harm but also benefit humans.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and unlike some others far from unbearably stupi…ahem…comments. I want to say a couple of things about this. First, I just want to reiterate what I said above: I believe that a truly ethical science might pose some obstacles in the short run but will be better for science itself, its dissemination, and its fair application in the long run. So I don’t really accept the general argument about the “price” of doing ethical science as I see it. (Ethical science in my view isn’t limited to stopping animal experimentation and reinvigorating protections of human subjects, but also a democratic – not government or corporate – form of deciding scientific priorities and a commitment to the democratic dissemination of knowledge and its provision to those who most need it. But I think any one of these individual elements would work in this direction.) That said, even to the extent that there is a price in individual cases, I do recognize that, and maintain my position.

    Second, though, I’m finding some of these arguments about trading off human lives somewhat narrow. There are people dying from diseases we don’t understand and for which science is trying to develop treatments.* But billions of the people dying don’t need more scientific research. They need access to the medications we currently have, and they need their land and water not to be stolen, flooded, or poisoned. No one can know before any study what its findings or effects will be or whether it will contribute to the advance of scientific knowledge at all. We do know, though, that the provision of existing medical care, even more rudimentary, and preventing this destruction and injustice would make a huge difference. I think this has to factor into any moral calculations about commitments to reducing human suffering and priorities.

    ***

    Chas:

    SC, your quotations from Singer are not persuasive. At the level of the excerpts provided, at least, it’s pure question-begging. The “principle of equal consideration of interests” and the assump/asser-tion that “species alone” is not a “morally relevant characteristic” seem invented of whole cloth (if not pulled per anum) [ex culo] to prop up the conclusions.

    Huh?

    The fact–an empirical fact–is that our society, as another commenter said, clearly values human life over that of other animals. In other words, most (understatement) people do not draw their moral and ethical lines where you do.

    You keep making this point. It’s an argument from popularity and nothing more. As I pointed out above, our society throughout its history and others past and present have valued some lives over others and drawn the lines in various places – around their “race,” nationality, sex, and class, for example (or intelligence, abilities,…), determining on this basis who could be used in research, forced to labor, allowed rights, and so on. People who accepted slavery rarely argued that it would be OK to enslave those like them along whatever arbitrary line they’ve accepted. I seriously doubt that you think your “most…people do not draw their moral and ethical lines where you do” would ever have been valid against human slavery. It’s simply an argument from popularity.

    Furthermore, it’s not simply a matter of now drawing the line at the human species (which PZ doesn’t in any case, since he approved of the ban on primate research). As long as there’s any class of beings that is recognizably capable of suffering and experiencing whose exploitation is accepted, all human groups are in danger of being morally “reclassified,” even temporarily.

    *I’ve been thinking about why these threads are so difficult for me. There are other reasons, but part of it is, I think, that people make assumptions about me and then try to use these assumptions as some sort of argument. They’re not. They’re also made in total ignorance. I would appreciate it if, on this thread at least, the assholes who do this (no one I’m responding to in this comment) would not assume that I have no painful experience with currently incurable conditions, and drop the “You don’t care about the people who could benefit from this research” nonsense. I might not feel like dealing with this regardless and just leave the thread, but that would raise the level of discussion.

  182. 182
    Matt Penfold

    As Tony pointed out, I never, at any point, accused the scientists of breaking the law.

    You did. You claimed they could use ferrets or rats.

    Why are you lying ?

    Other options might have been: use a animal that’s less optimal,

    Already addressed. If they could, they were legally required to do so. They didn’t, so either you think they lied, or you are lying and thus libelling them.

    don’t have that law in the first place,

    Not exactly an option open to the scientists, so not relavant and dishonest in this context.

    and don’t do the experiment in the first place.

    This is an option, but you need to be honest and admit that this is your real aim, and do not pretend you are pro-science in anyway. You failed to do that, so again more evidence you are not honest.

    And all of that aside, I was mostly talking about using cats and dogs in experiments in generalities, not this one specific incident.

    Except you were, so again, you are not being honest.

    I never, ever, once accused them of breaking the law. I mean, you can freakin’ look at my other posts. I mean, libel? That’s so cartoony of an accusation, I can’t believe you took it seriously. Am I maliciously impugning their good names? No. I’m just suggesting scientists don’t use cats to avoid public outcry!.

    You accused them of using cats when other species would suffice, so you did accuse of them lying. You fool no one by claiming you did not.

    I must sadly report that successful troll is successful. :(

    It is an odd definition of trolling when you think asking someone who has accused scientists of a criminal offence to support their claims, but then you are clearly not very intelligent, nor honest. Maybe I can let that particular libel rest, given how intent you are in proving me right as regards your libel and dishonesty.

    Now, here is a simple question. Could the research have been done not using cats (or dogs, horses or primates) ?

  183. 183
    petrander

    Sorry, PZ, but I am not with you on this one.

    I voted NO.

    There are just some avenues we should not follow our curiosity onto. I respect your opinion, but I am really disappointed that you denigrate (using comic sans) those people with a functional sense of empathy. Empathy and ethics are the essential glue of our society (and not religion, which has merely taken these moral motivators hostage).

  184. 184
    Matt Penfold

    Whenever I see “Not tested on animals” my first reaction is that they are testing on me.

    Of course what that means on a label is “not tested on animal by us, because others have already done it so there is no need”.

  185. 185
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I know “x is worse so why care about y” is not a valid argument, but really,

    After you’ve already acknowledged that your argument is invalid, which it would be even if the assumptions that it’s based on were true,* you should stop.

    *Funny how people who reject this in the case of feminism are quick to accept it in the case of animal rights.

  186. 186
    Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority)

    pharylon, may I suggest you look up the First Law of Holes?

  187. 187
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    The “principle of equal consideration of interests”

    …is developed in the previous 56 pages. I can’t very well quote the whole book (and it’s not the one I’d like to see at the top of your queue in any event :) – I don’t even like it that much). Although maybe the fact that he’s been influential on Dawkins with regard to animal rights might make you more open to some of the arguments if you did read it….

  188. 188
    oolon

    So close to losing the poll… 50.79 yes and 49.21% no….

    I voted yes, I’m personally pretty sure I would not be able to perform the experiments but I’m in no position to say it *is* wrong. I’m a vegetarian because I don’t think the poor treatment of animals in farms just to feed us is justified – or at least I want to minimise it. If I had to choose I’d say improving medical care is something I’m much more able to justify even if it does result in some animal suffering (I’m pretty sure its a lot less than a typical pig has to endure to end up as bacon). I also hate the way the tabloids pick up on some fluffy animal as if they are more valuable than PZs chosen metazoans just cos the majority rule them cuter than the average cephalopoda.

  189. 189
    strange gods before me ॐ

    skeptifem,

    Dogs get conditioned to kill too, like dogs used for blood sports. Everyone who engages in it has the same excuse- the dogs “love” killing each other, and it would be cruel not to let them do what they were bred to do. If you’ve researched it you can see why they might think that- the dogs do seem happy when doing things they have been compelled to by their genetics. They don’t whine and they are eager and they wag their tails, a stark contrast to most dogs confronted with a fight. To me it shows that you can breed a dog to display a wide range of behaviors. It has fuckall to do with what dogs feel about anything.

    Assuming the truth of previous sentences, the final sentence is false.

    If dogs can be bred such that fighting is an approach-oriented behavior for them, then they’re experiencing it as a positive affect.

    (Of course, it doesn’t follow that it’s cruel to not let them fight, any more than it’s cruel to put a heroin addict on methadone. The dogs have other interests, like living long and healthy lives full of tummy rubs, and the dogs or other animals they’d have harmed have similar interests.)

  190. 190
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I seriously doubt that you think your “most…people do not draw their moral and ethical lines where you do” would ever have been valid against human slavery.

    Er, in favor of human slavery. Sorry.

    (I saved your last comment on that recent thread, by the way. Hope to return to it. Do I really need to provide the best quote from Carson? It’s in a discussion of a program in Illinois to eradicate IIRC Japanese beetles. She talks about the suffering of squirrels and birds* from the chemicals and how regarding it callously makes us lesser human beings. This is amongst other evidence from her work. I can provide the chapter, at least, if I don’t have the time.)

    *She also talks about cat deaths, incidentally.

  191. 191
    leighshryock

    @SC:

    I’ll offer my own reasoning towards animal research. While I don’t expect it to apply to you, at least you can understand my reasoning.

    1) It is more ethical to perform research on non-human animals before conducting it on human animals.
    2) The end result is worth the ethical cost of doing the research on non-human animals in the first place.

    For this reason, I’m personally against some cosmetic research, etc. if it doesn’t have applications in the scientific arenas (unless it has a low risk on animals in the first place, or again, has a place in the scientific arenas).

    So, to summarize: animal testing isn’t the most ethical thing we can do, but it is balanced out by the overall good that it does for humans, which we place on a higher scale than non-human animals.

  192. 192
    leighshryock

    (As an addendum, this all assumes that the animals the research is being conducted on are treated humanely. This means proper care, socialization, etc. so long as it doesn’t violate the research goals.)

  193. 193
    pharylon

    you claim not to be anthropomorphizing pets, but then say that they may genuinely love us, and that they obey because they “trust”. Uh, ok. You know they have been bred to have a certain response, but then speculate wildly about the nature of their responses.

    @Skeptifem

    Are you saying these are emotions that only humans posses? Because I would say that is wild speculation. I’ll admit that the human concept of “love” is up in the air, but they definitely feel something like it. We know that oxytocin is the “attachment” or “bonding” hormone, produced strongly in both infants and parents (especially mothers) after birth, when first falling in love with someone, and in lower levels throughout life from simple things like kissing and cuddling. And dogs produce it too when we pet them and play with them. We know what process that chemical is involved in for us, and I don’t think it’s a stress that, as it’s produced in similar situations with our pets, it affects them similarly too.

    That’s not “wild speculation” or anthropomorphising them. It’s based on reasonable evidence and reasonable extrapolations of it.

    Maybe I can let that particular libel rest, given how intent you are in proving me right as regards your libel and dishonesty.

    @Matt

    ROFL. You’re an idiot. Even if I was wrong (I’m not), me being wrong isn’t libel against the scientists in question. Libel and truth doesn’t even have a strong relation in UK law (since that’s our standard!) But you’re a hilarious troll. Keep using big words that you don’t understand! At least your keeping me entertained! ;D

  194. 194
    Louis

    SC, #181,

    (Aside: I’ve just finished The Emperor’s New Drugs, I’ve collected the references and I am working away on them. Sorry it’s so slow, but there’s…erm…a lot of it! And some of it is out of my field)

    The problem I have with your post is I cannot find much of anything to disagree with! Sorry! (Especially the bits about democratising science. I really like those, well but for one caveat, I want a Large Hadron Collider and I don’t care about the corpses! Okay, okay, I do care about the corpses, but can I still have one? Please?)

    It’s the same problem I have with Singer’s work. The man makes a hell of a lot of sense. I want those moral circles to extend as far as possible. I genuinely do. When I said:

    I can find no better “justification” (which I admit is scant/non-existent really) than I do care more about {generic human} than I do about {generic non-human animal}. I think finding the cure for disease X coming at the price of non-human lives is a price that currently has to be paid. That makes me a monster, a hypocrite and a whole slew of negative things.

    I really meant it. I am not content with my justification. I feel the logical and ethical weakness of it keenly.

    And yet I can’t erase the knowledge I have that our current medicine is very basic, our drug discovery process imperfect, and it really doesn’t meet even our basic needs. I also think that curiosity is enough. Not needless, childish curiosity, but informed, directed curiosity. Do I want a single rat to die for my mere curiosity? No. Do I want a single rat to die for my mere curiosity if the death of that rat is the price that has to be paid for a genuinely useful discovery? Yes. Does that answer change for a horse, cat, dog, or ferret? Gradually…perhaps, again, Singer makes excellent arguments here. Does it change radically for a chimp? Or a person? Yes and yes.

    Politically I think you’re right. I think the most pernicious human and animal damage comes from aspects of the economic and political status quo. I quite agree that these are the big areas that need changing. I’m focussing on what I can change, for which I make (and should have to make) no apology. My interests, expertise and skills are in a relatively narrow area of science. I’m aware it’s not the be all and end all, and I am more than painfully aware it does not come cost free. But thus far it’s got some results, some net non-negative results, and until someone (perhaps even me!) finds a better way, I’m going with what is working even though I know it to be partially flawed. I think more effort should be put into finding new ways of discovering medical treatments, I think there are too many vested interests, just as you do, and I really think that corporations are not the way to go (maybe on a good day, some government…maybe) with healthcare. But until I have a viable alternative developed I am trying to incrementally make the world a slightly better place the only way I have to do so. And I DO try to think up and develop alternatives…I’m just not very good at it apparently!

    Louis

  195. 195
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    So, to summarize: animal testing isn’t the most ethical thing we can do, but it is balanced out by the overall good that it does for humans, which we place on a higher scale than non-human animals.

    That doesn’t reply to Singer’s question that I posted @ #33, even with every assumption about specific good (overall good not being really relevant), which really can’t be made. What is the “morally relevant characteristic that such humans have that nonhuman animals lack”?

    (As an addendum, this all assumes that the animals the research is being conducted on are treated humanely. This means proper care, socialization, etc.

    That’s an enormous assumption, claims in this post and thread notwithstanding. If we consider the treatment of human subjects in the real world, it’s the opposite of skeptical to think the treatment of nonhuman animals can be assumed to be humane.

    so long as it doesn’t violate the research goals.)

    o_0

  196. 196
    Louis

    Leighshryock,*

    I’d heartily second your #191 and #192.

    Louis

    * I started out by misspelling your name “Leighisrock”. Paging Dr Freud…

  197. 197
    John Morales

    Non-human animals can’t give informed consent.

  198. 198
    strange gods before me ॐ

    rowanvt,

    How is it horrible and cruel and painful to sew the eyelids shut in such an experiment, but NOT horrible and cruel and painful when we sew the eyelids shut in a small animal practice to help heal corneal lacerations or repair a ‘cherry eye’?

    In the latter case you have evidence there’s an x% chance that the animal will recover and go on to live a better life.

    In the former case there is a 0% chance of that. There is no possible good outcome for the animal. It is going to be killed. The experimenters are artificially limiting its lifespan and — as the procedure is unnecessary for the animal — they are deliberately harming it prior to killing it.

    Why do people ask questions which contain their own obvious answer?

  199. 199
    strange gods before me ॐ

    (As an addendum, this all assumes that the animals the research is being conducted on are treated humanely. This means proper care, socialization, etc.

    That’s an enormous assumption, claims in this post and thread notwithstanding. If we consider the treatment of human subjects in the real world, it’s the opposite of skeptical to think the treatment of nonhuman animals can be assumed to be humane.

    ! Thank you for saying this so well. It should be obvious but had not occurred to me.

  200. 200
    Louis

    SC,

    If we consider the treatment of human subjects in the real world, it’s the opposite of skeptical to think the treatment of nonhuman animals can be assumed to be humane.

    Ok on this I do disagree. It’s not an assumption if you’ve seen it. And seen it rigorously enforced.

    I’ve seen the animal labs at a couple of pharmaceutical companies (I’m lucky, most people don’t even get to know where they are), and I was always blown away by how good things were for the animals.

    Well…I know…”good”. If one takes the stance that the simple fact of using them in medical experiments is “bad”, then yes, I see that nothing here can be “good” (oversimplification, paging gross oversimplification).

    Louis

  201. 201
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    (Aside: I’ve just finished The Emperor’s New Drugs, I’ve collected the references and I am working away on them. Sorry it’s so slow, but there’s…erm…a lot of it! And some of it is out of my field)

    Great!

    Er…um…

    …uh…

    This one would probably be more suited to you.

    *runs*

    And now I agree with James Croft. It’s a scary day, and I should probably leave the internet.

    :)

  202. 202
    Louis

    Oh btw, the oversimplification above mentioned was MINE, not SC’s or anyone’s.

    Louis

  203. 203
    Louis

    Thanks SC, I’m off to Amazon….again. ;-)

    Louis

  204. 204
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Ok on this I do disagree. It’s not an assumption if you’ve seen it. And seen it rigorously enforced.

    But plenty of people have seen the enforcement of human subjects regulations rigorously enforced as well. And we know that they’re very frequently not.

  205. 205
    leighshryock

    o_0

    Well, to be fair, research that has a negative impact on the animal isn’t necessarily taking ‘good care’ of the animal in an objective way. At least as far as the animal’s livelihood is concerned.

    I would obviously want that all care be taken that the animal’s welfare is looked at as best as it can, so long as any individual action to improve its quality of life doesn’t impact the research goals significantly. (Research, for example, on the effects of vitamin deprivation would be hampered by the diet containing all of the nutrients and vitamins the animal requires, as that would necessarily include the vitamin we are testing for.)

  206. 206
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    How is it not horrible and cruel to cut into poor people with a scalpel to save their lives, and horrible and cruel to cut them open with a scalpel to remove their organs to give to rich people who need transplants?

    ***

    John Morales,

    I’m not sure if I’ve told you this before, but you were a part of my process of becoming a vegetarian (and then vegan). Your story months and months ago about how you pressed down on your chickens because they liked it kind of shook one of the last planks in my thinking (that chickens didn’t have interests or enjoyment or whatever dumb thing I thought). Don’t know how you feel about that, but something about your random anecdote touched me.

    :)

  207. 207
    leighshryock

    What is the “morally relevant characteristic that such humans have that nonhuman animals lack”?

    The ability to understand that question.

  208. 208
    leighshryock

    Err, disregard that last statement:

    The morally relevant item that non-humans lack and severely brain damaged humans have is:
    1) The possibility of recovery for some, but if we assume that they cannot recover, then we move onto the next.
    2) The emotional baggage from family and friends (similar to, but nowhere near the same thing as the emotional baggage that a family pet might have).

    These are morally relevant things. I would never advocate taking people’s pets and performing experiments on them, for example.

  209. 209
    John Morales

    [OT]

    SC, you hadn’t, but it’s not a displeasing side-effect.

    (Thanks)

  210. 210
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    2) The emotional baggage from family and friends (similar to, but nowhere near the same thing as the emotional baggage that a family pet might have).

    Read the Singer passage again.

  211. 211
    leighshryock

    Read the Singer passage again.

    Alright, orphaned, as in completely without family, brain damaged humans who will never recover?

    I dislike the idea of wards of the state being experimented on, as I feel like that would set a bad precedent. (I’ve stated as such earlier in this thread @151) Where do we stop that argument, would it then be OK to experiment on mental patients and people in jail/prison? No, since they have a morally defining characteristic, in that they are significantly more functioning than said example of a brain-dead patient that is unable to recover. I still don’t like the precedent that it sets.

    How do we determine whether or not they can recover? Does the state decide? (Leads us to my issues with the wards of the state issue above)

    I have no problems with studies being done on cadavers, mind you, so long as there aren’t any familial issues (ie. the body was donated to scientific research, and family didn’t object). I just find the ethical dilemma of what constitutes brain-dead-enough-to-experiment-on to be one that is fraught with potential bad precedents.

    So: I’m going to say that it IS a special case, because humans are special, but mostly due to nuances.

    But in a purely clinical manner, if we can definitively prove that an individual is brain-dead and will not ever be able to recover and has no familial or friend associations that would miss said individual, then no, there’s not really any difference between experimenting on said individual than experimenting on an animal.

  212. 212
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I would never advocate taking people’s pets and performing experiments on them, for example.

    More generally, we have to consider beings as having independent moral status. We simply can’t make a being’s moral status contingent on their relationships. It can’t be all about the dominant humans. I encountered this recently when reading a book on rights by a noted scholar who accepted the notion of a woman’s rape being some sort of insult to her father – not just his pain at seeing his child victimized and suffering. This is part of the thinking behind male vengeance and honor killings. A nonhuman animal who’s someone’s pet or “property” has no more moral status than a “stray” or animal bred for research, just as an abandoned or unloved child deserves no less moral consideration than a loved one.

  213. 213
    leighshryock

    A nonhuman animal who’s someone’s pet or “property” has no more moral status than a “stray” or animal bred for research, just as an abandoned or unloved child deserves no less moral consideration than a loved one.

    Sure it does. Human feelings do have meanings. By taking and experimenting on a person’s pet, you are harming that person emotionally. That is why I don’t advocate stealing people’s pets to experiment on them. Not because of the harm done to the pet – the harm done to the human.

  214. 214
    John Morales

    leighshryock:

    By taking and experimenting on a person’s pet, you are harming that person emotionally.

    You really don’t grok that pets aren’t property, do you?

    (Taking someone’s slave and experimenting on them, that would harm the slave owner emotionally)

    Not because of the harm done to the pet – the harm done to the human.

    Because the pet is just a possession?

  215. 215
    John Morales

    leighshryock:

    Human feelings do have meanings.

    What about non-human feelings?

  216. 216
    John Morales

    “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?”

    Animals ain’t things, not any less than people are.

  217. 217
    leighshryock

    You really don’t grok that pets aren’t property, do you?

    They can be purchased and sold, can they not?

    I kid a bit, but, pets are possessions, yes. They are also friends and family to many.

    Because the pet is just a possession?

    Because an animal that isn’t a pet, and doesn’t have a human that is emotionally attached to it like a pet would have, doesn’t cause harm to a human when taken away and experimented on.

    (Note that, as I’ve said upthread, I DO want all experiments to be done as humanely as possible, but I don’t consider the animal’s welfare nearly as much as I do a living human’s)

  218. 218
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    I dislike the idea of wards of the state being experimented on,

    I should hope so.

    as I feel like that would set a bad precedent. (I’ve stated as such earlier in this thread @151) Where do we stop that argument, would it then be OK to experiment on mental patients and people in jail/prison?

    This is a good illustration of what I mean about the continuing potential for human moral reclassification. And the bad-precedent argument assumes the distinction that’s at issue.

    So: I’m going to say that it IS a special case, because humans are special, but mostly due to nuances.

    ?

    I have no problems with studies being done on cadavers, mind you,

    Cadavers are dead. They don’t experience or suffer.

    However…

    Harriet Washington, in Deadly Monopolies, describes:

    Dr. Claude Tarrière, former head of safety research for the French automaker Renault, explained that a child in his laboratory’s tests was an orphaned murder victim. “A single mother had killed her child and then committed suicide. There was no family, so the medical faculty offered us the child’s body.” This child’s unspeakable final indignity may help Renault to create a safer car, and to compete in the market with that safer car, but I can’t help thinking that the callousness of this act diminishes each of us.

    I read this months ago and it still makes me sick. I find it hard to enunciate why.

    OK. I have to go for now.

  219. 219
    leighshryock

    Harriet Washington, in Deadly Monopolies, describes:

    Dr. Claude Tarrière, former head of safety research for the French automaker Renault, explained that a child in his laboratory’s tests was an orphaned murder victim. “A single mother had killed her child and then committed suicide. There was no family, so the medical faculty offered us the child’s body.” This child’s unspeakable final indignity may help Renault to create a safer car, and to compete in the market with that safer car, but I can’t help thinking that the callousness of this act diminishes each of us.

    I read this months ago and it still makes me sick. I find it hard to enunciate why.

    I guess it’s just that we have better human analogs for these kinds of tests nowadays. Human analogs that can give precise readings for these kinds of things, that a corpse isn’t going to give, unless you attach them to them (and even then you get limited use out of the corpse, and have to attach the sensors externally, which may not be ideal). When did this event take place, I wonder?

  220. 220
    Louis

    SC,

    But plenty of people have seen the enforcement of human subjects regulations rigorously enforced as well. And we know that they’re very frequently not.

    Indeed. I suppose I am disagreeing with the (apparently) blanket nature of the original statement. It’s not an assumption to think that the treatment of animals in research facilities is good if you’ve seen it be good. I have no doubt (and plenty of evidence) that that is not universally so.

    The point is that if one’s criterion for supporting animal research is that treatment of animals is humane, then it need not be an assumption that this is the case in research facility X. Extending that knowledge to all facilities without any knowledge is, yes, an assumption, but then that certainly is not what I am doing.

    I’ll grant you I cannot and have not visited every single animal facility, I haven’t replicated the experiments that lead to the recent discovery of the Higgs’ boson either, but I don’t reasonably doubt them. What I do is make sure any facility I work with adheres to practises I know to be of a high standard. In other words, without going into huge and tedious detail, I do my due diligence as far as it is possible for me as a professional in the relevant industry (but not those actual labs) to do. I could not do less and be me!

    (I’m a pest come election time, I insist people read voting records and manifestos…hey, we didn’t get the vote easily, use it as wisely as you can!)

    I’ve quizzed the people who work for me about their views and knowledge of animal testing. I’ve given group meetings and talks on the subject to them and the department (and THAT was controversial, I got rapped on the knuckles for it. Talking about the issue is not popular in some non-science management circles.), I’ve made the weekly group meeting reading about it. Just like I’ve done with patient care, the nature of the diseases we’re working on, the costs and pitfalls of clinical trials, drug development, early stage biology and the economics of the industry. Much in a relatively basic way as some of these are not my field, but I am a very, very firm believer in widening people’s (and my) view.

    As a (now relatively senior and partial senior management) pharma scientist I think we need that. If you’ve done nothing but amide couplings or triazole syntheses for months on end, you need a bit of {ahem} light relief.

    Louis

  221. 221
    John Morales

    leighshryock:

    They can be purchased and sold, can they not?

    Humans could once be purchased and sold. Your point?

    Because an animal that isn’t a pet, and doesn’t have a human that is emotionally attached to it like a pet would have, doesn’t cause harm to a human when taken away and experimented on.

    So, if it doesn’t harm a human, then no harm occurs.

    (Note that, as I’ve said upthread, I DO want all experiments to be done as humanely as possible, but I don’t consider the animal’s welfare nearly as much as I do a living human’s)

    Fine, but remember I don’t consider your welfare nearly as much as I do that of one of my pets.

    Bah.

    (If ever I get the choice, you will be the one upon which experimentation of the painful variety will occur)

  222. 222
    leighshryock

    (If ever I get the choice, you will be the one upon which experimentation of the painful variety will occur)

    What, precisely, have I said that makes me worthy of painful experimentation is done to me against my will?

    Yes, I DO consider human welfare to be more worth than the welfare of any particular animal. I DO, however, also consider animal welfare to be important!

    I just feel that the benefits of animal research to outweigh the ethical costs of performing said research. (So long as the animals are treated humanely, and suffering is kept to a minimum. And the research is sound, and meaningful.)

    Humans could once be purchased and sold. Your point?

    Once again with the comparison of humans to slaves. Please don’t do that, it demeans the suffering and pain that slaves were subjected to.

  223. 223
    leighshryock

    Bah. Subtract an ‘is’ and ‘to’, and change ‘humans’ to ‘animals’ in the last bit there.

  224. 224
    John Morales

    leighshryock:

    Yes, I DO consider human welfare to be more worth than the welfare of any particular animal.

    Where by animal you clearly mean to refer to a non-human.

    I just feel that the benefits of animal research to outweigh the ethical costs of performing said research.

    You should speak in specifics, not in generalities.

    Again: humans are animals; we are but one species.

    Once again with the comparison of humans to slaves. Please don’t do that, it demeans the suffering and pain that slaves were subjected to.

    I think you meant to write ‘animals’ rather than ‘humans’ there.

    And you are the one who attempted to defend the claim that they (non-human animals) are property, since they can be bought and sold (and owned).

    What, you’re about to tell me I shouldn’t speak for them?

    (Because they can speak for themselves, I suppose?)

  225. 225
    leighshryock

    Where by animal you clearly mean to refer to a non-human.

    I’ve made the distinction many times upthread, but did not make the distinction here. Yes. When I say ‘human’, I mean ‘homo sapiens’, and when I say ‘animal’, I generally mean ‘non-human animal’, especially when comparing a ‘human’ to an ‘animal’. I’m well aware that humans are animals.

    You should speak in specifics, not in generalities.

    I don’t discount animal testing as a whole, I can merely submit generic criteria. Does the testing in the OP count? Yes, that meets my criteria, since the understanding that we gain from said research can either inform future research, or help inform future treatments for cases involving sensory deprivation and brain development due to that.

    And you are the one who attempted to defend the claim that they (non-human animals) are property, since they can be bought and sold (and owned).

    They can be bought and sold, and the owner is typically responsible for them. And you made the offensive connection before I even tried to defend property ownership as seen here:

    (Taking someone’s slave and experimenting on them, that would harm the slave owner emotionally)

    As a ‘rewording’ of the following:

    By taking and experimenting on a person’s pet, you are harming that person emotionally.

    And, yes, the comparison IS offensive, please stop making it.

  226. 226
    leighshryock

    What, you’re about to tell me I shouldn’t speak for them?

    Wouldn’t dream of it, free speech, etc. Go ahead and argue all that you want in their favor, so long as it doesn’t escalate past forms of speech.

  227. 227
    John Morales

    leighshryock:

    And, yes, the comparison IS offensive, please stop making it.

    It pleases me that I offend you, slaver.

    (Animals are people, too; I judge people on their merits)

    And you made the offensive connection before I even tried to defend property ownership as seen here:

    (Taking someone’s slave and experimenting on them, that would harm the slave owner emotionally)

    That was a response to your appeal that “By taking and experimenting on a person’s pet, you are harming that person emotionally.”

    Never mind the fucking person that’s being harmed indirectly, what about the entity that’s being harmed proximately?

    You may as well claim that by kidnapping and torturing someone’s spouse, I’m harming the spouse.

    (True, but evasive; what about the proximate victim?)

  228. 228
    leighshryock

    (Animals are people, too; I judge people on their merits)

    A significantly small subset of animal species qualify for personhood. Felis catus isn’t one of them.

    You may as well claim that by kidnapping and torturing someone’s spouse, I’m harming the spouse.

    (True, but evasive; what about the proximate victim?)

    I’ve spelled out my reasoning, if you could read all that I’ve said.

    I don’t disagree with animal research in general, so long as the research is sound, for good reason, and the suffering of the animal is at a minimum.

    I disagree with animal research on human’s pets in particular due to the human emotional attachment to the animals, as that does harm to the human above and beyond whatever harm is done to the animal in testing.

  229. 229
    John Morales

    leighshryock:

    A significantly small subset of animal species qualify for personhood. Felis catus isn’t one of them.

    Spoken like a true slaver.

    I don’t disagree with animal research in general, so long as the research is sound, for good reason, and the suffering of the animal is at a minimum.

    I don’t either, but I recognise it’s self-serving immorality.

    (I make no claims to being a good person)

    I disagree with animal research on human’s pets in particular due to the human emotional attachment to the animals, as that does harm to the human above and beyond whatever harm is done to the animal in testing.

    That’s because you have a slaver’s mentality.

  230. 230
    leighshryock

    Spoken like a true slaver.

    Aaaand, I’m out. At least, that’s the extent of my responses to you, in particular.

  231. 231
    procyon

    I can appreciate the importance of animal research, but sewing kitten’s eyes shut? It seems ghoulish and primitive.
    But then I’m an animal lover.

    What would Leonard McCoy have to say about this?
    “MY God, man. What’s next….scalpels?

  232. 232
    leighshryock

    @procyon:

    PZ Addressed that earlier in the thread. Other ways of providing sensory deprivation to the kittens would either be more invasive (surgically severing the nerve, for example) or more cruel (cats in particular don’t tend to adjust to prosthetics well, for example), and it’s not like this isn’t a standard veterinary procedure that can be performed safely and humanely.

  233. 233
    John Morales

    [meta]

    leighshryock,

    Aaaand, I’m out. At least, that’s the extent of my responses to you, in particular.

    The truth is painful to you; be glad.

    (Ponder this)

  234. 234
    Louis

    Ixchel, #274 on the Rationalia thread page 3:

    From here

    Working from arbitrary assumptions and unknowns that are open to change based on evidence is not irrational or faith based. It’s a basic part of hypothesis forming in science. You’ve ignored the careful caveats and fact that one can know SOMETHING about all of these facets, and acted as if the fact that that SOMETHING is not EVERYTHING means that that SOMETHING is NOTHING.

    I don’t absolutely know that you see the same colour purple that I do. I know your optical system responds to the same frequency of light that mine does when I see what you and I call purple, but the actual sensation of you seeing purple is forever beyond me. I don’t absolutely know that a rat experiences pain in the same way I do, but I know if you stick a scalpel in my hand I scream, and if you stick a scalpel in a rat’s paw it does what appears to be the rat equivalent of a scream. The rat and I are both mammals, we share an evolutionary heritage and various biological systems, it is not a poor assumption that the pain the rat displays is similar to the pain I display under similar circumstances. Not identical, similar. It is an assumption at the limits of knowledge we have, in other words, not faith, not merely irrational. Science produces provisional knowledge, not certainty.

    Ever read any theology Ixchel? Is there any reason (in the philosophical sense) in it? I think there is. Given that priors X, Y and Z are the case, the consequences P, Q and R can be logically demonstrated to follow. The problem with theology is that it does not challenge (typically) its priors. The foundational assumptions of theology are not questioned by it.

    The foundational assumptions I am making, the priors I am selecting, are not perfect, just like theology, and I use what I learn from research to feed back into them, to correct them where possible, totally NOT like theology. I admit they are initially arbitrary because in the absence of complete knowledge everything is to some degree (however small or large).

    If I, in the absence of all knowledge on the relevant subjects, arbitrarily select 100 rats to be worth 1 human, I admit this is not a rational selection. It’s hardly an article of faith, the two are not synonymous. Placeholder awaiting further data =/= faith. If discoveries in neuroscience demonstrate the consciousness of a rat to be (for example) similar to that of a 3 year old human, I can revise that prior accordingly. It’s not unquestionable dogma, it’s a working hypothesis based on the (little/no) evidence available at the time and completely open to modification. This is not, however, the situation we are currently in. More on that in a bit.

    You made a general statement not about “a treatment” but about animal research as a whole. This refers to unknowns:…[SNIP my bit]

    That’s a statement about the whole of medical testing of novel remedies/procedures on non-human animals. But you don’t know how many animals in the world have experienced and will experience how much pain and suffering, and you don’t know how many people have experienced and will experience how much relief. You can only assume as a matter of faith that one is larger than the other. You have no idea. You even admit to having to make up arbitrary numbers because you have no idea:

    Look, I am sorry but this is blitheringly fucking daft. to the point that I am not convinced of an honest reading.

    Let’s say there are 100 drugs in the world. I know what it takes for each drug to be developed in terms of animals (including variations between drugs), I know what the patient cohort is roughly for each disease, the response rates (when these things reach the clinic) and so on and so forth. I, in fact, have a very good idea about much of this data. Extrapolating from one drug to 100 is extrapolating from a finite known number to a larger finite known number. Sorry your assertion that we humans cannot rationally deal with these numbers is horseshit. As is your implication that I have somehow pulled a fast one by going from the general utility of medical testing to the utility of medical testing in a single treatment (both comments are general by the way, I’m comparing like with like, I’ve not mentioned specific numbers for a specific treatment). Please visit your local maths department.

    I can know a huge amount about a drug’s development and its use and the consequences thereof. I might not be able to know with a similar degree of accuracy and certainty about the precise degree of suffering of an individual animal or human, and thus the absolute weight of suffering, but I can make relative estimates based on what I do know about it. I am not claiming that knowledge is perfect. I am not claiming that knowledge, and its comparative lack, are not problematic, it isn’t perfect and it is problematic, that’s why this is a tough area. But that is very, very far from “faith” or mere irrationality.

    You’re basically trying to assert we know nothing about the neurology and neuroscience of animals. Nothing about ethology. Nothing about the psychology of pain in humans (and even perhaps non humans). Nothing about pain chemistry or any topic that touches on the degree and nature of suffering in non humans. Or if you’re not trying to assert that you’re trying to pull a fast one right around it. I call shennanigans!

    You’re right we don’t have absolute knowledge of many of these phenomena. We don’t have absolute knowledge of anything. Never will. Can’t be done. Be we do know something, and given what we do know we can make estimates and predictions and compare the relative sizes of things we know with varying degrees of certainty.

    So the situation is not “is 5x >25y?”, it’s is (x is a multiplication sign here btw, and the reason I’ve expanded things like simple sums is because they may have dimensions, i.e. they are not necessarily raw numbers): 100 + 238742 x 2y > 100 + 5657 x 413z, where y >2 and 3 and <15. Obviously grossly oversimplified. You can calculate the bits you know well, plug in the values you don't know so well and get ranges. We have some knowledge about animal suffering and human suffering. We can make reasonable estimates (as in we can tell a rat does not fatally suffer from a scalpel prick to the paw and more than a human does to the hand) based on experimentally determined limits. We can then, with varying degrees of certainty, weigh the various scenarios. If z is 15 and y is 2, the degree of suffering we think the rat undergoes is too great. If z is 3 and y is 20, it’s not. It’s imperfect, it’s arbitrary to some degree and it’s uncertain, but it’s not faith or irrational.

    If you’re of a mind you can do experiments to determine how “3-ish” z might be and how “2-ish” y might be. You can talk to patients with broken legs and determine their (self described) pain levels. You can then do useful stats with this. You can observe rats with broken legs and see how they move in comparison to prior to the leg break (oh it’s been done) and use that as an arbitrary scale for rat pain when their leg is broken. You can do useful stats with this too. You might find that humans with (untreated) broken legs report a lot of pain but still move around a lot, you might find that rats with broken legs don’t squeak much and move very little. You might then find that treating the leg with a specific treatment in both cases causes no change in the humans’ movement, but lots of change in their pain reporting, and the treated rats move around a lot more and stay relatively squeak free.

    It’s not perfect, I can think of plenty of reasons why injured rats might stay still and injured humans may move, but we’re not comparing rats directly to humans, we’re comparing rats directly to rats. We see X amount of what appears to be mobilisation/pain reduction in rats and we see Y amount of what appears to be pain reduction in humans. We can’t know absolutely, there are many more subtle wrinkles to such experiments than I’ve presented (see 3 am comment), but we can see the relative sizes of X and Y and use them to inform our assumptions. We can use MRI studies, see which bits of brain light up, we can measure cortisol and other stress hormones, we can measure a myriad of different things all of which give us some idea of how perturbed/stressed/suffering a human or other animal is. And we can use those to inform those estimates and relative factors. It’s not perfect but faith and nothing it ain’t. The cavils and complaints you are making would remove population biology, psychology and sociology from rational inquiry into our universe.

    As a utilitarian, I despise the misuse of utilitarian logic that occurs when arbitrary numbers are assigned to unknowns and then conclusions about the real world are drawn from that.

    As a scientist I despise the bloviating of armchair philosophers who know fuck all about the actual science, or are sufficiently ideologically motivated to ignore it. You might want to stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

    Would you be willing to say that I’m being rational about this?

    If you mean “rational by selecting certain priors in such a way that I disapprove of medical research on non humans is rational” then yes. By all means. I think it’s a perfectly rational position to occupy…actually I’ll rephrase that, I think it’s position that is perfectly possible to occupy rationally and arrive at rationally. I don’t think my decision is the only rational one (or even perfectly rational). Very far from it. I am genuinely torn on the issue. Amazingly enough my support for medical animal testing is highly qualified, highly vulnerable to disproof and not something I particularly like. I think it is a necessary evil with all the problems that entails known and understood.

    If you mean in terms of your above post? One so hates to go with a definitive “no”, let’s just go with “I have my doubts”. Is it possible I’m wrong about that? Sure. I usually am!

    Louis

  235. 235
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    Spoken like a true slaver.

    Because cats=black people. Better start making cat-accessible ballets so that we can give them the right to vote.

  236. 236
    Louis

    Oh Ixchel, I forgot, since we’re asking fun, silly, snidey, little questions like “would you be willing to say I am being rational?”

    Could you be wrong about your claims and position?

    Louis

  237. 237
    John Morales

    [OT]

    Shplane:

    Because cats=black people.

    No, because cats are property (at best) and they’re either wild or owned; if owned, their owner can do pretty much anything they want to them. Desex them. Declaw them. Confine them in a cage. Shoot them.

    (You’ve never heard of white slaves? I point you to history)

  238. 238
    ChasCPeterson

    I repeat: There is no brighter line in morality or ethics than the species line. Srsly. It’s a pretty good line.

  239. 239
    leighshryock

    I repeat: There is no brighter line in morality or ethics than the species line. Srsly. It’s a pretty good line.

    I would argue that it could extend as far as the Genus line, but as we’re the only living members of our genus, that’s a point that is pointless.

    Possibly to the Family, but that’s a different subject.

  240. 240
    Shplane, Spess Alium

    You’ve never heard of white slaves?

    I am entirely aware of there having been slaves of pretty much every color the human genome contains.

    Your argument is still silly and seems pretty offensive to groups that were historically enslaved. Abusing one of the worst things human beings have ever inflicted on one another to make a shitty point about how it is totally the same thing, for reals to note that other animals aren’t capable of the same mental activity as humans as it is to claim that historically enslaved groups aren’t as intelligent as historically enslaving ones is absurd and disgusting. The difference between whites and blacks (or whatever other groups in whatever other society) is not even remotely comparable to the difference between other animals and humans.

  241. 241
    John Morales

    Shplane:

    Your argument is still silly and seems pretty offensive to groups that were historically enslaved.

    No, it’s acknowledging the reality of their historical enslavement (they aren’t around to speak of it, so others must).

    (Human slavery is on the wane; its functional equivalent for non-humans ain’t)

    Abusing one of the worst things human beings have ever inflicted on one another to make a shitty point about how it is totally the same thing, for reals to note that other animals aren’t capable of the same mental activity as humans as it is to claim that historically enslaved groups aren’t as intelligent as historically enslaving ones is absurd and disgusting.

    You’re really dim. What salient difference is there, other than non-humans aren’t human?

    (Is my young cat supposedly less intelligent than that senile person in a coma in a hospital?)

    The difference between whites and blacks (or whatever other groups in whatever other society) is not even remotely comparable to the difference between other animals and humans.

    There is no difference between blacks and whites, both are humans and encompass the same abilities.

    (And it was you who referred to black people in the context of slavery, as if that were anything other than a recent historical contingence)

  242. 242
    empiricallyyours

    The Way of the Pharyngulating Master: Using Firefox

    Open ten tabs of the poll that is to be pharyngulated

    1. Ctrl+Shift+Delete then hit Enter

    2. Vote

    Move to next tab and repeat steps 1 & 2

    When the tenth tab is reached, repeat 1. again.

    Then hold Ctrl, right click tab select ‘Refresh All Tabs’.

    Repeat the 1.& 2. process.

    Decent internet speed can result in hundreds of votes in a few mere minutes.

    Caution, RSI can occur. Always take adequate coffee breaks while Pharyngulating.

    Thank you for your attention, this has been a Way of the Pharyngualting Master broadcast

  243. 243
    empiricallyyours

    The Way of the Pharyngulating Master: Using Firefox

    Open ten tabs of the poll that is to be pharyngulated

    1. Ctrl+Shift+Delete then hit Enter

    2. Vote

    Move to next tab and repeat steps 1 & 2

    When the tenth tab is reached, repeat 1. again.

    Then hold Ctrl, right click tab select ‘Refresh All Tabs’.

    Repeat the 1.& 2. process.

    Decent internet speed can result in hundreds of votes in a few mere minutes.

    Caution, RSI can occur. Always take adequate coffee breaks while Pharyngulating.

    Thank you for your attention, this has been a Way of the Pharyngulating Master broadcast

  244. 244
    benjaminsa

    I wonder how many of those outraged are vegan or vegitarian?

    Tens of billions of animals are killed every year, and most of the time it isn’t for anything nearly as useful nor in such a careful and cruel free way that scientists do it. It is for a preference of taste and lifestyle. Before anyone pickets a science lab,I suggest googling factory farming.

  245. 245
    John Morales

    [meta]

    empiricallyyours, you are broken.

    Pharyngulation is a bunch of people personally deciding to speak out, not one person gaming the system.

  246. 246
    Charly

    I confess I haven’t read all comments, but what I read seems somewhat inconsistent to me (on the side “NO” that is, and especially on the off-topic on veganism).

    So I will present just one gedankenexperiment for all to consider.

    Imagine an unknon human and an earthworm on a train track. The train is comming. You can either to pick up the worm or pull of the person, but you cannot possibly manage both in the time available. What will you do?

    I am pretty much sure that all (except for some psychopaths, that is) would give the same answer. Everyone values generic human more than generic earthworm. “Speciecism” is inbred in us via evolution, just like in any other species on the planet.

    Now try to replace earthworm with different animals and you will notice, that some pose virtually no consideration at all (tick, fly, snail) some do, but differ according to cultural/personal preferences (kittehs, puppies) etc. The line is blurred both across cultures and across persons.

    That being said, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make black&white sweeping statements drawing absolutely clear right/wrong line. Minimizing cruelty and suffering throught personal choices and practices? Absolutely, if you get to make that choice! But making generic statements about absolute immorality of animal research or condemning eating meat? No! For example humans are omnivors with high variability by nature and all people do not have equal chocies on their dietary habits. Plus it is possible to grow/kill animals with minimal suffering, as well as it is possible to perform research with minimising of suffering while maximizing its output etc. That is where nazis went wrong – they tried maximizing the output and completely neglected the other side of the equation, the suffering on the input.

    Thats the reason we have ethical commitees evaluating application for such kind of research.

    Some of the arguments and black&white thinking used in these debates are so similar to the tripe being spewed by “pro-lifers” it really is disturbing.

  247. 247
    Old At Heart

    Ugh…

    Vegans who take medications, non-vegans who protest animal testing, pick a side people! Vegans, don’t eat anything derived even partially from animals, that includes many antibiotics. Non-vegans, don’t complain about kittens being taken better care of than your neighborhood ferals while you eat that BLT.

    Vegetarians, get off the fence. Pick a side, we’re at war. :p

    Or, you know, we could just say that what is currently happening is an unfortunate necessity of nature’s conditions, that harming animals is in the nature of other animals, and that our worst is a wasp’s best behavior, but even we can be destroyed by a mere botfly. We test on 20 or so bloodthirsty, amoral killers, so that other bloodthirsty, amoral killers (of both feline and homo persuasions) can live better lives of bloodthirsty killing.

    Coal gives off more radiation than nuclear, local wind turbines kill more birds and bats than local research does, solar panels hurt groundhogs, but do we live in the dark ages? No. I’m typing this on something powered by THE DEATHS OF NATURE’S CREATIONS! Because I’m a bloodthirsty killer, after all, what’s a few bats compared to watching kitten videos on the internet?

    Now that may seem off-topic, but it’s an illustration. A fancy word meaning an example on the subject in order to show a point, being this: Power-use alone, the Large Hadron Collider kills far more wildlife than this study did. Probably some of that wildlife was cute, like bunnies. The survey is only a problem because people like to compartmentalize. Anyone applauding the Higgs Boson whilst decrying this: You’re a compartmentalizing hypocrite, no better than a Jehova’s Witness immunology scientist.

    But as this comment board is too full, I’ll leave this as a comment-and-run.

  248. 248
    loopyj

    Science can be pretty gruesome, which is why I never pursued lab sciences in school. I love cats. I live with four of them. Seeing my late cat suffer when he had cancer was unbearable. I also respect scientific investigation, and I know how stringent the ethics requirements are for reputable labs, and these requirements mean that research animals are usually treated better than food animals. I don’t approve of the torture of animals, but all animals benefit from biomedical research, except perhaps for the ones who are killed for the research, and I think people need to ask themselves whether it’s the treatment or the killing of research animals that really bothers them, because modern civilization was, and continues to be, built on the bodies and lives of animals. Both the treatment and the method of killing animals should be as kind as possible, for both the animals’ sake and our own.

    People who rail against the use of research animals really would be better off putting their energy into improving the treatment of animals raised and slaugtered for food, skin, fur, and the myriad other body products that humans harvest.

  249. 249
    hotshoe, now with more boltcutters

    [meta]

    leighshryock,
    Aaaand, I’m out. At least, that’s the extent of my responses to you, in particular.
    The truth is painful to you; be glad.

    (Ponder this)

    Fuck yourself, John. You’re being an unusually disgusting form of asshole tonight.

  250. 250
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    John Morales
    So, do you consider it imoral to spray and neuter animals? Or to selectively breed them? Because all those are horrible things that were done to humans in the past.
    Does the argument that we consider it a horrible crime when it’s done to humans simply mean that it’s also a horrible crime when it’s done to an animal? Do you consider all people who have their pets sprayed and neutered to be true Nazis like you call leighshryock a true slaver?
    So, either be consistent or give an actual argument other than “it was bad with humans”

  251. 251
    empiricallyyours

    John Morales

    While the act of Pharyngulation is for speaking out via the comment function, not all polls allow comments (or do you not vote in those polls John?). Speaking out is also achieved through the act of voting en masse to skew the poll. To demonstrate the poll has no statistical merit as well as to comment accordingly (comments permitting).

    Your cherry picking of the act of Pharyngulation is both asinine and meritless. Not to mention you sense of humour is basically zero.

  252. 252
    gnocchi

    I’ll happily vote YES on the poll if someone can provide me with one simple thing: a scientifically-based, logically consistent explanation as to why it’s OK to perform this experiment on kittens but not OK to perform it on human children.

  253. 253
    Kristjan Wager

    I should point that the UK probably has the toughest laws and regulations in respect of animal experimentation.

    The EU as a whole has pretty tough regulations about animal experimentation, and it would seem that the UK follows those regulations. Denmark is a bit tougher (e.g. no experimentation related to cosmetics, a ban on excessive suffering with no evaluation of whether the suffering results in a greater good).

    A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have know any of this, but interestingly enough we had a talk about animal testing at the last Copenhagen Skeptics in the Pub, so now I am better informed on the subject.

  254. 254
    madscientist

    Oh boy – the usual ignoramuses with the usual claims. “We can get that information without experimenting on animals.” And of course “there are ethical means of getting the same information” – as if scientists weren’t ethical (nor do they ever elaborate what these other means are). One of the most common problems I’d observed in animal labs is that the experimenters and technicians get so attached to the animals they work with that they’re quite traumatized when they have to dispatch the animal later – of course that’s in the instances where the protocol requires that the animal be killed; in quite a few cases the animals are not subject to anything much more than routine veterinary surgery and the folks adopt their test animals or get friends and family to adopt ‘em. I never understood the folks who adopted rats – and I could never convince folks in an animal lab to let me have rats as kitty treats or snake food, that’s how attached they are to their subjects.

  255. 255
    lostintime

    @ChasCPeterson

    I repeat: There is no brighter line in morality or ethics than the species line. Srsly. It’s a pretty good line.

    Chas, I don’t know if you’re being deliberately obstinate, but the whole point of the last 100 or so posts is to examine our speciesist assumptions, particularly with regard to marginal cases. Just dismissing the whole debate with one insouciant breath (as many people do when it comes to animal ethics) is nethier interesting nor productive. You also happen to be spectacularly wrong if you know anything at all about biology or ethics. That goes for everyone else by the way (quite a few people) who have chosen to either misrepresent or ignore the pricipal of the equal consideration of interests.

  256. 256
    pharylon

    As someone who has been anti-cat experimentation upthread, I want to jump in and say “cats aren’t people.” I think that’s actually pretty obvious! And owning cats isn’t the same as owning slaves. Jebus. Stop making me look bad by agreeing with me. ;)

  257. 257
    Louis

    Oh incidentally, I forgot to mention this last night, speaking from a purely personal perspective, I’d find it personally easier to give up my support for well controlled, ethical-as-far-as-possible, medical research on non human animals than I would to become a vegan or vegetarian.

    I’d really struggle to actually manage to be a vegan, and I commend anyone who does so on ethical grounds.

    That’s not because I don’t see a decent set of ethical arguments for both, in many cases they are the same arguments, it’s just that (despite all those much vaunted vested interests and Big Pharma Shillery I hear so much about. Where’s my Big Pharma cheque eh? I get slapped across the face at the end of the month…PAID? If I wanted that I’d be a lawyer! ;-) ) I’d find it easier to change career than put down bacon sandwiches. And I know how much damage the meat industry does, not just to the obvious animal victims, but to the environment etc etc etc. I know the cost of my sandwich goes beyond what I pay for it.

    Just an aside.

    Louis

  258. 258
    sailor1031

    We’d learn a lot more about sensory deprivation in humans if we did these experiments on humans. And, after all, isn’t that what grad students in Biology are for?

  259. 259
    neoleo

    @leighshryrock & Gregory Greenwood :

    I’m not entirely certain you’ve understood my post. I agreed that context can indeed inform our moral judgments, but in this particular case I don’t see how. Indeed, the point of my original post was that REGARDLESS of context these activities seem morally objectionable.

    You relate an example of someone who undergoes heart surgery. In one instance, at the hospital they’re being treated for some condition and are actually being saved. In another, some random individual is tearing them open, perhaps for some repulsive thrill, but would incidentally be saving the person’s life. In both respects the imagery may perhaps be horrific, but for the individual patient being subjected to physical suffering it is ultimately a life saving procedure. And in at least one context, the patient has a say and may grant informed consent.

    With these kittens, however, whether they’re being treated by a scientist or some basement-dweller psychopath, i.e. regardless of context, the kittens don’t stand to benefit either way. They’re being subjected to invasive procedures (in this case, eyes sewn shut and cameras lodged into their brains) with the only ultimate result of being euthanized. What’s more, these cats have no say in the matter, no voice or consent, regardless of the context. Fundamentally, it’s exploitation.

    The prior contention raised was that context can help determine whether an action is a good or bad thing, with which I agreed, but my point was that, taken from the perspective of the kittens, I don’t see any context where these experiments may be considered a morally good thing, conducted as it were against their will and to their ultimate detriment.

    Our ability to at least try to view this situation from the cat’s perspective is called empathy, empathy we may extend to the suffering of other creatures, which perhaps we may find comparable to our own suffering. And these emergent values which we confer upon others by virtue of our sympathies, the values of autonomy, liberty and happiness that we recognize and appreciate in ourselves, are subtly compromised when we impose arbitrary limits to their extension. Considering how easily and naturally people draw the distinction between humans and animals, as though humans weren’t indeed animals, I can only think it is a human conceit that leads us to ignore, minimize and downplay the suffering of animals as secondary to the suffering of humans. I find it quixotic how people use words like “humane treatment” when, despite sympathetic pretenses of minimizing pain, these creatures are still fundamentally being treated in ways we wouldn’t treat a human.

    Of course it is morally right to help humans and advance our understanding. But it seems that some are confusing the ends with the means, and extend the positive moral judgment associated with the ends to justify the means. To this I say no, this is not a positive means to a positive end, but a negative means to a positive end. No one really wants to do this, we know it’s wrong, but our idealism can’t be reconciled with our harsh realities, and we feel compelled to override some values for others. If we can agree on that, I don’t think there’s need for much further discussion.

  260. 260
    Gregory Greenwood

    neoleo @ 259;

    I’m not entirely certain you’ve understood my post. I agreed that context can indeed inform our moral judgments, but in this particular case I don’t see how. Indeed, the point of my original post was that REGARDLESS of context these activities seem morally objectionable.

    The context here is an experiment designed to help us to accrue greater medical knowledge that will enable us to improve the quality of life of humans – of sapient people. As much as I like cats, I cannot and will not give them equal weighting with human beings. I place greater value on human life because I know that humans have dreams, aspirations and a level of self awareness that is higher than that of a cat. I do not apologise for that.

    As an illustrative hypothetical; if there was a burning building, and I could run in and save either a human child or a litter of kittens, but not both, then I would save the human child every time. Even if one were to imagine that the child would be burned, but would live if I didn’t intervene on their behalf, wheres the kittens would all certainly die, then I would still save the child. I would question the moral compass of anyone who would choose the cats over the human.

    The threat is not as imminent in the case of medical research, but the principle is the same – sapient, self aware human life has to be put first, however distasteful that may sometimes be to us.

    You relate an example of someone who undergoes heart surgery. In one instance, at the hospital they’re being treated for some condition and are actually being saved. In another, some random individual is tearing them open, perhaps for some repulsive thrill, but would incidentally be saving the person’s life. In both respects the imagery may perhaps be horrific, but for the individual patient being subjected to physical suffering it is ultimately a life saving procedure. And in at least one context, the patient has a say and may grant informed consent.

    With these kittens, however, whether they’re being treated by a scientist or some basement-dweller psychopath, i.e. regardless of context, the kittens don’t stand to benefit either way. They’re being subjected to invasive procedures (in this case, eyes sewn shut and cameras lodged into their brains) with the only ultimate result of being euthanized. What’s more, these cats have no say in the matter, no voice or consent, regardless of the context. Fundamentally, it’s exploitation.

    What about my abortion example? We place greater value on the woman’s life, health and bodily autonomy than we do on the life of the foetus becaus the woman is a self aware adult who already has personhood. The idea of placing the wellbeing of the foetus – which has only potential personhood – over that of the woman is repugnant to us. We certainly don’t demand foetal consent that can never be given. Why then is it not equally reasonable to place the personhood of the people who will receive the benefit of the medical treatments developed with the use of animal testing over the wellbeing of cats that, by definition, do not have equal personhood to humans? To extend that anology, the consent issue is not relevant since the cat cannot conceptualise consent and can never give it, but the imperative of protecting the life and wellbeing of humans who possess personhood overrides the lack of consent from test animals that do not in those cases where treatments can only be developed through means of animal testing that must, of course, be performed under strict regulations to prevent needless suffering on the part of ther animals.

    The prior contention raised was that context can help determine whether an action is a good or bad thing, with which I agreed, but my point was that, taken from the perspective of the kittens, I don’t see any context where these experiments may be considered a morally good thing, conducted as it were against their will and to their ultimate detriment.

    And what about the perspective of those who would benefit from the treatments developed with the use of anuimal testing? People who, without those treatments, will have to endure dramatically reduced quality of life, severe pain, or even death – all of which could be preventable? And again, I reiterate the questions I asked @ 170;

    In broader terms, I think our principle point of disagreement is that I am prepared to see animal testing continue as an essential part of developing treatments for humans, where as you are not. You point out that the animals are incapable of giving consent. This is true, but that is a price that I think must be paid, because the alternative is… what?

    Letting people die or suffer due to preventable conditions so that we can feel good about ourselves for not testing on animals? Do you think that ethically acceptable?

    Or maybe using humans to test treatments that could kill or permenantly maim them? Who would volunteer for such a procedure? Is it not likely that it would attract the desperate, poor and disenfranchised from society – the only people desperate enough to take the risk? Is that acceptable to you?

    Would there even be enough volunteers – and if there were not, how do you make up the shortfall?

    If animal testing is to end on ethical grounds, how would you address these issues? Would not the level of suffering caused among humans by such an action be unacceptably high?

    Our ability to at least try to view this situation from the cat’s perspective is called empathy, empathy we may extend to the suffering of other creatures, which perhaps we may find comparable to our own suffering. And these emergent values which we confer upon others by virtue of our sympathies, the values of autonomy, liberty and happiness that we recognize and appreciate in ourselves, are subtly compromised when we impose arbitrary limits to their extension. Considering how easily and naturally people draw the distinction between humans and animals, as though humans weren’t indeed animals, I can only think it is a human conceit that leads us to ignore, minimize and downplay the suffering of animals as secondary to the suffering of humans. I find it quixotic how people use words like “humane treatment” when, despite sympathetic pretenses of minimizing pain, these creatures are still fundamentally being treated in ways we wouldn’t treat a human.

    The hard truth is that we don’t live in a perfect utopia. We don’t even live in a world where human and animal suffering is anything less than epidemic, and that is not going to be fixed by waving some magic wand – it will take decades at a bare minimum, probably centuries or even millennia, before we can credibly talk about creating such a utopia. In the meantime, in a reality such as the world as it actually exists right now, a person has to prioritise – and so I reserve the greater part of my empathy for my fellow human beings. I would not want to be in the position of telling grieving families that their relatives had to die or suffer indescribable agony because our society placed greater value on avoiding animal testing than it did on the lives of their loved ones.

    As I said earlier in my post, I put human life first, and treatments that could save or significantly improve many thousands or millions of human lives cannot simply be cast aside, even if the price is the necessity of testing on a relatively small number of animals, however troubling that reality may be.

    Of course it is morally right to help humans and advance our understanding. But it seems that some are confusing the ends with the means, and extend the positive moral judgment associated with the ends to justify the means. To this I say no, this is not a positive means to a positive end, but a negative means to a positive end. No one really wants to do this, we know it’s wrong, but our idealism can’t be reconciled with our harsh realities, and we feel compelled to override some values for others. If we can agree on that, I don’t think there’s need for much further discussion.

    I refer you again to my post @ 170;

    Animal testing is not an ideal solution. I am not exactly happy about it, but it is, at this time, the best of a set of rather bad options, and I think that the ethical choice is to go with the lesser of the available evils.

    At no point did I suggest that I approved of the means, but in this case I do think that the end is of such a high moral order – the saving of human, sapient life, or the ending or significant mitigation of pain and disability in humans – that the means must be viewed as a necessary evil.

    The only alternative is to effectively place the life of other species on an equal or greater moral footing that that of human life – to use my anology from ealier in this post, to run into the burning building to save the kittens, and leave the baby to die or be horribly maimed for life. That is a morally and ethically abominable position.

    I don’t think anyone here is happy about animal testing, but until a credible alternative is found we have no other acceptable choice. Do we really want to live in a world where people are allowed to suffer and die to avoid such testing, or we have a system where the poor and disenfranchised are desperate enough to play guinea pig for new drugs and treatments? Or even (I am going a bit Orwellian and extreme here to illustrate the point, but bear with me) where criminals or other ‘social undesireables’ are forced to undergo such testing for the benefit of the more ‘productive’ members of society? Are any of the above scenarios a better option? What alternative do you propose that wouldn’t be vastly more morally objectionable than the current system of carefully regulated animal testing?

    Apologies for the lengthy post.

  261. 261
    paddy

    Long-time lurker of the vegan persuasion here.

    It would be hard to improve on anything that’s already been said by Salty Current (and others) and I found his/her gedanken-whatsit about alien species at #72 very interesting. It’s a thinker I’ve concocted in my brain, almost word-for-word, before now. I don’t think Gilliel at #104 gave it the attention it deserves.

    If the aliens thought experiment seems a bit fanciful, Never Let Me Go had some very nice parallels with this debate, I thought. (Human clones who are raised with kindness and treated well but are ultimately killed for their organs.)

    I genuinely don’t understand why the comparisons and analogies between other forms of oppression (be it sexism, racism, whatever) are hard to accept (although I think that John Morales went a bit far in calling someone a slaver – saying stuff like that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind).

    To me (and I realise I see everything through the warped prism of my own beliefs and prejudices) it is shocking to hear feminists – of all people – assert, nay, insist on, their privilege as a human. It strikes me as a blind spot* of the glaringly obvious kind so depressing illustrated by the people over at Rationalia lately.

    And as for Peter Singer, preference utilitarianism, etc., I’d love to specify a reading list (of the kind written by Twisty over at I Blame the Patriarchy) that debaters are asked to digest before discussing animal rights. I feel the same frustration at reading this thread that many of *you* feel when dealing so awesomely and efficiently with newbies on other threads about feminism.

    ———

    * Talking of blind spots, I’m sure there’s a cephalopod-related joke to be had there somewhere. Retinas, nerve cells…

  262. 262
    ChasCPeterson

    the whole point of the last 100 or so posts is to examine our speciesist assumptions

    You misunderstand. I was not expressing an assumption. It was a conclusion, an opinion resulting from thought.

    Just dismissing the whole debate with one insouciant breath (as many people do when it comes to animal ethics) is nethier interesting nor productive.

    *shrug* sez you.
    I say ‘speciesism’ is a brighter, better, and more useful ethical line than any other you can suggest. Primates? Mammals-other-than-rodents? Mammals? Humans-and-species-commonly-kept-as-pets? Tetrapods? Vertebrates? Deuterostomes? Bilaterians? Animals? Opisthokonts? Where do you want to draw lines?

    You also happen to be spectacularly wrong if you know anything at all about biology or ethics.

    Well I can guarantee that I know more about biology (specifically animal biology) than you and Peter Singer put together. As for ethics, by ‘knowing anything at all about’ I think you mean ‘have read (and, implicitly, agreed with) Singer’. Guilty as charged.

    That goes for everyone else by the way (quite a few people) who have chosen to either misrepresent or ignore the pricipal of the equal consideration of interests.

    Well the thing is that nobody who hasn’t read Singer has much of a clue what “the principle of equal consideration of interests” is supposed to really mean, let alone why we should buy it as a “principle”. According to SC I need to read 56 pages of ethical philosophy to get it. Maybe I will.

  263. 263
    ChasCPeterson

    I’d love to specify a reading list

    I bet you would.
    Absent that power, you’re free to offer suggestions though.

  264. 264
    paddy

    “I bet you would.
    Absent that power, you’re free to offer suggestions though.”

    Gah, Chas, why the antagonism from the outset? I should have just said: “There are perspectives other than Singer’s.” I am not an expert, but other than Singer’s Animal Liberation and Practical Ethics, I’ve found Tom Regan and Gary Francione very readable.

  265. 265
    elaineellerton

    What concerns me most is that so much animal research is being farmed out over-seas, specifically China, where who know what kind of protections these animals have. It’s not like they are overly concerned with human rights, so you know the animals don;t have many…as a grad student, there were quite a few chinese grad students and post-docs that used very cruel methods on their animals and it didn’t bother them at all. I was astounded.

  266. 266
    lostintime

    I say ‘speciesism’ is a brighter, better, and more useful ethical line than any other you can suggest.

    In view of the ongoing discussion about so-called marginal humans, why can’t you see that this claim is irrational? Intransigence is not a virtue. Taken to its logical extreme, speciesism would attach greater value to a piece of insensible embryonic material than a fully grown adult chimp. As you’re so preoccupied with lines (a feature of the discontinuous mind and characteristic of prejudiced thinking the world over), how about the ability to suffer? More broadly speaking we could base our moral judgements on the mental characteristics that a being possesses, up to and including reflective self-consicousness, which does indeed set apart (most) human beings from non-human animals. None of these crucial mental faculties that I’ve mentioned are remotely accounted for by species membership alone, which is something you should know as a biologist. The point of the argument for marginal cases (AMC) is not to establish a moral baseline for what is or is not morally acceptible, nor is it to reduce the moral value of human beings, but to establish that many non-humans have the same interests, and that those interests should be considered equally.

    As for ethics, by ‘knowing anything at all about’ I think you mean ‘have read (and, implicitly, agreed with) Singer’. Guilty as charged.

    You’ve not read anything by Peter Singer? Maybe that’s why you keep making categorical claims about the validity of speciesism.

    Well the thing is that nobody who hasn’t read Singer has much of a clue what “the principle of equal consideration of interests” is supposed to really mean, let alone why we should buy it as a “principle”. According to SC I need to read 56 pages of ethical philosophy to get it. Maybe I will

    You don’t necessarily need to read 56 pages to understand the problem with speciesism, but Practical Ethics is a fantastic book. The classic essay ‘All Animals Are Equal’ more or less changed my mind on its own all those years ago.

    http://www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-m/singer02.htm

  267. 267
    Cryptohominid

    Way late to this party, and haven’t had time to read every comment…

    As someone who was an animal control officer, vet tech, and zoo keeper for a large part of my life (animal control being the most germaine here) I wish more kitties were used for useful and humanely managed experiments. Why? Because, thanks to ignorant behavior and the allowance of uncontrolled breeding by the public at large many of these animals are simply put to sleep every day. We need to do much better as a society on that score, but until we do, if these animals can be used to increase human understanding as opposed to just ‘wasted’ (and often seeing far more suffering than would be induced in any well regulated lab) then I for one am for it.

    And while Ingrid Newkirk is surely a loon and they put more adoptable animals into dumpsters than most people know, they did have one policy that I approved of in DC in the early 90′s. Anyone who wanted to work for them was required to survive one whole day riding along with an animal control officer. As you might imagine, most of them couldn’t finish ONE boots on the ground day with an ACO and many illusions about animals and humanity were shattered. Glad I could help.

  268. 268
    ericpaulsen

    I agree with you on the atheist, social, political, and computer platform related stuff but NO – I will not say that repeating cruel experiments over and over again after you have already gotten the data you want is okay. The first time was necessary and the next time to confirm results but after that it is just torture porn.

  269. 269
    Merrily Dancing Ape

    PZ’s premise seems to be that it’s obviously always wrong to experiment upon human babies, but it’s not always wrong to experiment upon babies from other species.

    But it has not always been obvious to all people that it’s wrong to experiment upon human subjects, even human babies. I’ve been reading lately about Unit 731. The experiments conducted by the Japanese during World War II upon their Manchurian prisoners (and some American prisoners-of-war) were beyond appalling. They performed bizarre surgeries without sedating their “patients,” like sewing the esophagus directly to the intestines just to see what would happen. If you are ever a forced to travel back in time and be a prisoner in either Auschwitz or Unit 731, choose Auschwitz.

    The Japanese would have found it unacceptable to conduct such experiments upon their own people. But they had no moral qualms whatsoever about experimenting upon other races.

    I keep asking myself how the Japanese scientists could have participated in experiments that were, to my mind, so clearly immoral. The answer I’ve come up with is that they were simply complying with the culture of Unit 731. They let the culture define their morality for them. When people say, “I was just following orders,” this is what they really mean. It’s the bandwagon effect. Humans are social animals, which means that even our morality is a social phenomenon. We let the group we’re in tell us what is right and what is wrong.

    PZ’s conclusions is that as long as we have protocols and Review Boards, and as long as when we sew their eyes shut we’re *gentle*, then it’s okay to experiment upon kittens, even for so obscure a goal as “knowledge.”

    I notice there are no cats on the Cardiff University Review Board. If I were a kitten and my fate was in the hands of the Review Board, I’d be a little nervous about the fact that the Board is so stacked in favor of humans. Couldn’t they find at least one qualified cat to serve?

    PZ’s conclusion is just reflecting the morality of modern America. There is no philosophically valid reason to place the suffering of animals on a lower pedestal than the suffering of humans, when we have every reason to believe these animals experience suffering in the same way that we do. After all, if we didn’t already believe that the nervous system of a cat is similar to that of a human, then such experiments would be of no interest in the first place, and if the nervous system is the same then the pain is the same.

    I’m not in favor of animal research in most cases, but I will say this…

    Cat research is a MINOR animal rights issue. Supremely minor. The animals are treated relatively humanely, and the number of animals used is relatively low.

    The pet industry, with it’s puppy mills and unregulated raping of coral reefs and other excesses, causes more suffering on a grander scale for stupider reasons. And if we really want to start thinking rationally and compassionately about the way we treat animals, we need to talk about pigs, cows, and most of all chickens.

  270. 270
    torquilmacneil

    Whatever the other merits of Salty Current’s and John Morales’ position against animal research, they don’t do themselves any favours by relying on Peter Singer as a moral authority in this area because Singer supports the use of animals in medical research, including the use of primates for experiments that cause substantial harm. In other words, assuming animals have moral status and that we should give equal consideration to their interests does not oblige us to oppose animal experimentation.

  271. 271
    paddy

    torquilmacneil @ 270: it would be fairer to say Singer’s view is nuanced.

    From p. 40 of my copy of Animal Liberation (second edition):

    But to be opposed to what is going on now it is not necessary to insist that all animal experiments stop immediately. All we need to say is that experiments serving no direct or urgent purpose should stop immediately, and in the remaining fields of research, we should, wherever posssible, seek to replace experiments that involve animals with alternatives that do not.

    From p. 80:

    Would we be prepared to let thousands of humans die if they could be saved by a single experiment?

    This question is, of course, purely hypothetical. There has never been and never could be a single experiment that saved thousands of lives. The way to reply to this hypothetical question is to pose another: Would the experimenters be prepared to carry out their experiment on a human orphan under six months old if that were the only way to save thousands of lives?

    From p. 85:

    Since a speciesist bias, like a racist bias, is unjustifiable, an experiment cannot be justifiable unless the experiment is so important that the use of a brain-damaged human would also be justifiable. [...] If it really were possible to save several lives by an experiment that would take just one life, and there were no other way those lives coudl be saved, it would be right to do the experiment. But this would be an extremely rare case.

    I’ll leave it there, to avoid sounding like I’m obsessed.

  272. 272
    torquilmacneil

    Paddy, the paragraph you quote first from Singer is pretty much a fair summary of the law on animal research in the UK: no non-essential procedures, every care taken to minimise numbers, suffering etc. In other words, Peter Singer is not a philosophical ally of those who seek to ban all animal research. The stuff about human orphans I have always found a bit troll-like, it never seems to me to make the point he is trying to make. But I do agree that we have a duty to avoid using animals in a way that causes them to suffer if we have any alternative (we don’t, though).

  273. 273
    bjarndoolaeghe

    No. Fuck no. Just… No. They’re kittens. Don’t mess with the kittens.

    From the description of the research this could just as well be done on something useless, like Down Syndrome babies. But don’t mess with the fucking kittens. Dammit.

  274. 274
    paddy

    torquilmacneil @ 272:

    Paddy, the paragraph you quote first from Singer is pretty much a fair summary of the law on animal research in the UK: no non-essential procedures, every care taken to minimise numbers, suffering etc.

    The number of animal experiments performed in the UK has varied wildly over the past 60-odd years. The Home Office says in its report for 2011 that: “The overall level of scientific procedures is determined by a number of factors, including the economic climate and global trends in scientific endeavour.”

    At the very least, you must concede that the definition of worthwhile scientific research is a matter of caprice, as is your (or anyone’s) chosen definition of “essential”. I don’t know any better than you what proportion of the 3.79 million procedures performed in the UK in 2011 led (or will lead) to highly cited research papers and cutting-edge treatments for humans, or how many human lives have been/will be saved directly as a result, but I doubt it’s very many. That was the major point of Singer’s book: that a very large proportion of such experiments are frivolous and, on the face of it, horrific.

    What we can say for sure is that, were the same amount of public funding directed towards alternatives, the number of animals experimented on would decrease.

    (The BUAV gives a figure of 8.24 million euros across the EU in 2010 for research into alternatives. I couldn’t find a figure for the total amount spent on animal experiments, but I suspect it’s orders of magnitude greater. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can oblige?)

  275. 275
    allenhall

    Disclaimer: I know virtually zilch about this. This is an entirely emotional response that for whatever reason I felt I needed to express.

    PZ’s anecdote about the MD students personifies why it disturbs me. My aversion has (so far as I can tell) nothing to do with the aesthetic appeal of kittens and ferrets and rats and frogs. It just makes me feel… dirty, as though we’re putting ourselves above the other animals. That’s the best way I can explain it.

    I appreciate and believe PZ when he says biologists try to be as kind about the whole thing as possible, but then those medical students come along, and I’m reminded of the Biblical idea that says the planet is here specifically for us. That’s why I’m uncomfortable with it.

    Does that make sense? I know this is a purely emotional reaction.

    I’d be interested to know how well PZ’s encounter with the medical students represents standard practice.

  276. 276
    gravityisjustatheory

    Since a speciesist bias, like a racist bias, is unjustifiable, an

    The differences between human races are so negligable that many argue the concept of “human races” is meaningless.

    The differences (in awareness, self-awarness, capactity to suffer, etc) between humans and other extant species are substantial.

    Now, if other human species were still around, or if we discovered intelligent aliens, or created sapient AIs, then “species” as such would not be such a useful line in the sand, and we would need to use more fundamental characteristics to decide. But as none of those are true/exist, then “species” is a useful distinction.

  277. 277
    paddy

    gravityisjustatheory

    The differences between human races are so negligable that many argue the concept of “human races” is meaningless.

    Ha, yeah, I agree.

    The differences (in awareness, self-awarness, capactity to suffer, etc) between humans and other extant species are substantial.

    Yes, we are to, say, the other primates as they are to, say, pigs. A is to B as B is to C.

    Now, if other human species were still around, or if we discovered intelligent aliens, or created sapient AIs, then “species” as such would not be such a useful line in the sand, and we would need to use more fundamental characteristics to decide. But as none of those are true/exist, then “species” is a useful distinction.

    *gives up*

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