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May 31, 2008 4:14 AM   Subscribe

"The Guardian has been granted exclusive and unfettered access to one of the most controversial research facilities at a British university." Caring or cruel? Inside the primate laboratory. Audio slideshow. A necessary evil - Colin Blakemore. Wise monkeys - Gill Langley.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (36 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Colin Blakemore's argument (the "necessary evil" link) has some arguments which are logically flawed: Twiggy supports a ban on animal testing so it must be wrong; The fact that only a small number of animals are used for testing indicates that it is effective. His only real argument is this:
while using animals in the lab is distasteful, it is also vital for the greater good (for animals as well as people) that comes from medical research.
Let's ignore for a moment that here in the U.S. much of the animal testing is for purposes that are spurious or unimportant (cosmetics), or ineffective, or that in some cases there are alternative means. Let's look only at the cases in which the research is important, effective, and for which there is no alternative. It is a fact that least some of the animals in question are intelligent and self-aware. It boils down to the question, is it ok to torture a few for the good of the many? I keep coming to the answer no.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 5:06 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is it too early to invoke Wendell?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:07 AM on May 31, 2008


thanks for this interesting post, fearfulsymmetry

I have to say, though, that I was disappointed with the Guardian report. I expected something a bit more from "unfettered" access. Instead what we got was a bunch of cute photos of marmosets eating marshmallows - no photos of the surgery being done, nothing about possible problems occurring later on, none of critters being euthanized later on when their research potential has been played out, etc.

And the scientists going on and on about how much they love their subjects? It's nice to hear the critters are being treated nicely (again, from what little we see) but I don't see how this really mitigates the fact that they are intentionally inflicting brain damage.

Lastly, the scientists complain that they are misrepresented by animal rights groups using dated photos & materials. Of course, it's not like they've been open & forthcoming about their work - that's the whole point of this piece. You can't work behind a wall of secrecy & then complain that no one really knows what you do.
posted by jammy at 5:10 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


A few animals suffer so that many more can have longer, healthier lives? Gee, there's a hard bit of calculus.

I'll agree that nonmedical testing on animals is disgusting; Mary Kay can spray that shit in her own fucking eyes. But animal research has brought us numerous improvements in our way of life; the fact that diabetics get to live something approaching normal lives is the direct result of animal testing, to name just one example. Put the philosophy of it aside for a moment. If you're against animal testing, you're basically against longer and healthier lives for animals both human and non. You can argue that oh, no, you just don't want the methods all you want, but the fact remains that you cannot take a position and then shy away from its results and implications. Don't want animal testing? Fine. Go tell a diabetic that they should die.

You can't eat your cake and have it, too.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:13 AM on May 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have to say, standards for animal testing have improved quite a bit the "inside" link describes things pretty well. A friend of mine has parents that work in the pharmaceutical industry, and I don't see how they could accomplish anything without testing. It would be like an engineer doing your car's crash tests with computer models only - at some point rubber has to meet the road.

Being a monkey in the wild isn't all that great either.
posted by phrontist at 5:57 AM on May 31, 2008


We tend to abhor cruelty to animals in how close to being like us they are. Thus ap[es and monkeys raise question when used in tests; fish, rats, fruit flies are suffiently distant from humans so we do not care what we do with them or to them. Why not use humans? A few used for "the common good."
posted by Postroad at 5:58 AM on May 31, 2008


"Being a monkey in the wild isn't all that great either."

How could you possible know that?

Being a human in society isn't all that great either, but I still wouldn't appreciate someone deciding that for me, imprisoning me, and drilling holes in my head.
posted by crazylegs at 6:11 AM on May 31, 2008 [5 favorites]


sorry: possibly
posted by crazylegs at 6:13 AM on May 31, 2008


Why not use humans?

We do, in fact, use humans.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:13 AM on May 31, 2008


We are the people of the Stripy Diamond! How long will our standard be plunged into darkness, while those horrible followers of the Flower live the life of ease, sitting around sipping banana milkshakes and disparaging our name?

Rise up, people of the Stripy Diamond, rise up! We will be victorious, by the Great Sky Banana, the Tree of the Tropics, recall, my brothers and sisters, those days before they came with their "precision" brain-cutting tools, how we could choose freely our Stripy Diamond, and how we would drink the milkshakes which were rightfully ours! Those days will be delivered to us again, we will live in freedom again, let us rally to our standard and raise it out of its obscurity, let the peoples of the future know, The Stripy Diamond is the way to the Banana Milkshake of the future, without doubt, without temerity, without the darkness of the horrible Flower!
posted by nervousfritz at 6:48 AM on May 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


Frankly, the only people I think of as having a right to take a moral stance on this kind of thing are vegans. Everyone else is responsible for the deaths of animals. We omnivores eat them and the ovo-lacto-vegetarians share our reliance on farming systems that involve massive culling of unwanted animals in order to operate efficiently.

I've never really understood the argument that some people seem to make, that killing animals for food is OK, but killing animals for medicine is not. I'm all for addressing the animal welfare issues in both cases, but it's clear that for most people (including me) the bar for justifiably killing animals is set at the 'I enjoy meat/eggs/milk' level. And once you decide you're going to kill animals because they (or their byproducts) are just so damn tasty, it seems the height of hypocrisy to get all riled up because someone's sticking an electrode in a cute little monkey's head for reasons that are ostensibly much more defensible than the deliciousness of cheeseburgers.
posted by xchmp at 6:56 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm always bothered that here in the US, greyhound racing as well as fur farming is legal and not even protested that much (at least comparing to the UK anti-vivisectionist protests). These two clear cases of animal abuse carry absolutely no benefit for the society that couldn't be substituted by a movie theater or a nice fake-fur coat. I wish people picked their battles more carefully. Part of it may be that a group of over-educated affluent sinister scientists torturing cute tiny monkeys for no reason is a better outrage image than a bunch of working class guys enjoying a much-deserved relaxing at the dog races.

Little known fact - testing on humans started to be regulated only after WWII. The protection of research subjects, be they animal or human, is a constantly evolving procedure. Simply stopping all research on humans or animals will never be the answer, but constant improvement in terms of humane treatment, minimization of harm and increase of possible benefits is absolutely essential.
posted by Shusha at 7:01 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


That said, I did think the piece was kinda fluff - look at the cute monkeys, they are alive and eating marshmallows! That's hardly the point, is it? I wish they provided a list of psychophysiological discoveries made with the use of primates rather than cute pictures.
posted by Shusha at 7:06 AM on May 31, 2008


I've never really understood the argument that some people seem to make, that killing animals for food is OK, but killing animals for medicine is not.

So do anti-vivisectionists boycott drugs and other lifesaving medical procedures derived from animal experimentation? Because that would surely be the logical thing to do here, wouldn't it? People who object to eating animals don't eat them. People who object to killing them for fur don't wear it.

But I've never heard of people boycotting drugs because they were tested on animals.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:10 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]



You can't work behind a wall of secrecy & then complain that no one really knows what you do.

I know many researchers that would love to share what they are doing with the rest of the world.

However, because of a few dead-ender "activists" doing so is exceptionally dangerous and stupid. There was a researcher who agreed to a debate recieved death threats and all sorts of other asinine behavior from people who are supposedly hold some moral superiority.

When animal rightists start behaving like anti-abortion terrorist, they cede the moral high ground - which is the only real argument they have.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:30 AM on May 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


Being a human in society isn't all that great either, but I still wouldn't appreciate someone deciding that for me, imprisoning me, and drilling holes in my head.

Sit still please. You're making this more difficult than it has to be.
posted by three blind mice at 7:51 AM on May 31, 2008


PeterMcDermott, I'd definitely not take drugs if I knew they'd just been tested on animals because the results are so flawed. Tested on humans is much better, and I speak as someone who's tested two rounds of the same kind of pharmaceutical (note, not because of the limited financial benefit).

Sure, sometimes we're sufficiently like other creatures, and so sometimes the results read across. The fact that treatments for diabetics developed years ago were tested back when we relied more on animals doesn't demonstrate it's the right course of action now.

The thing is, now we know a bit more about how animals experience suffering, a lot more about the flaws and misleading results that animal experiments produce for human treatments, and a fair amount more about the better alternatives to animal testing, largely in vitro cultures and the like.
posted by imperium at 7:52 AM on May 31, 2008


My chief worry isn't that a handful of monkeys are used in research. This is regrettable, especially if you're one of those monkeys, but perhaps ultimately justifiable.

I'm worried that LOTS of monkeys will be used in research. These kinds of things, if not pushed against, tend to result in large scale horrors like U.S. animal agribusiness.

<hyperbole>It's either no monkeys must be brain damaged for medical experimentaion, or all monkeys must be.</hyperbole>
posted by JHarris at 7:59 AM on May 31, 2008


I think a part of this comes down to relativity. Some americans accept the execution of prisoners but not the administration of torment.
These people tend to acquiesce in the execution of cows. They feel differently about the torturously painful administration of experiments on sentient monkeys.
posted by notreally at 8:07 AM on May 31, 2008


imperium, a lot of the animal testing is done at the pre-human stages of drug development and research. No one is suggesting animal testing as an alternative to the usual human pharmaceutical trials, but most drugs that reach that stage have some animal testing behind them. In this case, it is not a drug being tested at all, but an attempt to better understand areas of the brain involved in various disorders, which may be targeted by as-yet-undeveloped drugs. This is not something that could be done using human volunteers, and its not something that can be done using in vitro cultures or computer models.

There are no better alternatives, which is what makes it a difficult question: you have to choose between inflicting a degree of pain on an intelligent primate fully capable of suffering, or cutting off avenues of research that may (or may not, of course) lead to significant gains of biological knowledge and the alleviation of considerable human suffering.
posted by bookish at 8:46 AM on May 31, 2008


Let's ignore for a moment that here in the U.S. much of the animal testing is for purposes that are spurious or unimportant (cosmetics), or ineffective, or that in some cases there are alternative means.

Fair enough. For the sake of keeping the discussion on track I will refrain from mentioning your own role in Tijuana animal entertainment acts.
posted by srboisvert at 9:07 AM on May 31, 2008


I've never really understood the argument that some people seem to make, that killing animals for food is OK, but killing animals for medicine is not.

i think you're oversimplifying. if all we were doing is killing animals for medicine, that would be one thing. i think what many activists are responding to is the tortuous activities that happen before the animal subjects are euthanized.

and as horrific as conditions are in factory farms, i don't think anyone can justifiably equate them with what happens to lab animals.

please don't stomp the messenger: i'm not necessarily saying that i agree with this, i'm just trying to point out why your statement is a bit facile, IMO
posted by CitizenD at 10:37 AM on May 31, 2008


Don't want animal testing? Fine. Go tell a diabetic that they should die.

yeesh, hyperbole much?

the fact of the matter is, not all anti-vivisection activists are mouth-breathing PETA types. many, many activists grapple with the basic premise of your argument. but, rather than just give up, they're struggling to find a middle ground -- a place where alternatives (like computer modeling) are a viable option. furthermore, what many anti-vivisection activists focus on are the horribly unnecessary tests -- we already know that smoking causes cancer, so why are there labs in atlanta that are still forcing dogs and cats to breathe cigaratte smoke...and then performing horrible 'tests' to 'confirm' their 'hypotheses' -- and/or to change practices where we KNOW that animal modeling is ineffective.
posted by CitizenD at 10:51 AM on May 31, 2008


CitizenD, sure I'm oversimplifying. But there's a scale of unpleasantness that humans inflict on animals for their own wants and needs. At one end of the scale there's the organic, free-range kind of farming that emphasizes animal welfare. At the other end of the scale there's the kind of torture that comes to mind when people say 'animal testing'. And in between there's a whole range of activities - various kinds of farming, bullfighting, hunting, etc. And weighed against the unpleasantness inflicted on animals are the reasons we do it.

Almost everyone accepts that a certain level of unpleasantness should be caused to (some) animals. As an extreme example, I suspect most vegans aren't opposed to the efforts to eradicate the guinea worm. What we're arguing about isn't really if unpleasantness should be inflicted on animals for human benefit, but how much unpleasantness is justified for which of our wants and needs.

Most people (including me) accept killing animals for what seems fairly weak reason (my, they're tasty!). And the majority (also including me sometimes), in eating factory farmed products, accept some pretty miserable conditions for the animals involved. Is animal testing in laboratories more unpleasant than factory farming? I'd guess that it often is. But the reasons seem significantly better than something that, for most people, is completely unnecessary to life.

The gap between torture and death seems much smaller to me than the gap between completely unnecessary and having the potential to save lives. Which is why I find it hypocritical to happily eat meat but oppose (all) animal testing. Then again I suspect that most people (though probably not anyone here) think of meat as something that comes wrapped in plastic and are just responding to the child-like faces of the poor little monkeys.
posted by xchmp at 11:53 AM on May 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


Most people (including me) accept killing animals for what seems fairly weak reason (my, they're tasty!).

That's only weak if you find nature itself immoral, or consider humans not to be part of it. All animals kill and eat other animals, or other plants, or both. Humans are omnivores. To claim we're evolving somewhere "better than that" is part of the same specious modernism that has at different times called sex base and animalistic, dreamed of a pill for all nutrition, "refined" flour to be white, and avoided exercise as "lower class."
posted by msalt at 12:47 PM on May 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


Likewise, whenever someone starts discussing "Nature" vs. "humanity," I immediately suspect the discussion has left reason in the dust. Humans are of equally natural origins as monkeys or lab mice, and our actions are equally natural, even if they might be a little more cerebral than eating bananas and swinging from trees. The obvious meaninglessness of that distinction is probably why bioethics has retreated to the dubious framework of dignity, much-discussed over here.
posted by mek at 2:56 PM on May 31, 2008


"You can't work behind a wall of secrecy & then complain that no one really knows what you do."

I know many researchers that would love to share what they are doing with the rest of the world. However, because of a few dead-ender "activists" doing so is exceptionally dangerous and stupid. ^


there's no reason that I can think of as to why they couldn't make their ideology, methods, & procedures more transparent to the public without compromising their personal identities &/or locations - seriously, invite in a film crew with actual "unfettered access" - digitally alter every face & voice afterwards - or whatever, just an impartial observer of some sort - what's the big deal? unless, of course, those animal rightists are everywhere! hiding behind every lamppost! skulking behind every computer screen! just like those darn commies!

this is one of the reasons I thought the Guardian piece was pretty worthless - here was an opportunity for some real transparency & what we get instead is a puff piece obviously biased toward the very people they're supposedly "exposing" with their "unfettered" access - bah! i say - bah!
posted by jammy at 3:46 PM on May 31, 2008


unless, of course, those animal rightists are everywhere! hiding behind every lamppost! skulking behind every computer screen! just like those darn commies!

Google up "Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty" sometime and read up on their exploits and "antics". They're pretty much terrorists who have driven a number of scientists out of the field.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:18 PM on May 31, 2008


People have had their houses and cars firebombed, along with physical attacks, been temporary blinded via sprayed chemicals and numerous death threats have been made against the scientists and their families because they were involved, or thought to be involved in animal testing in the UK. (A legal requirement for drugs before human trials, incidentally)

Huntingdon Life Sciences is the most well known facility, and heavily targeted, but workers at other places have been attacked too. The engineering site where I worked once was sent what was claimed to be a poison by letter (it was a harmless powder) because it was related to a company that contracted out for animal testing, despite that nothing we did had anything remotely to do with animal testing.

Whatever your views are on vivisection and animal testing, I think violence against scientists and their families is not the solution. I wish the guardian article had gone into a lot more depth. There's a lot of secrecy surrounding animal testing because of the serious threat of attack behind it. You really never know when someone in the pub is an animal rights activist who's going to smash your car up in the carpark, or worse.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:14 PM on May 31, 2008


That's only weak if you find nature itself immoral, or consider humans not to be part of it.

"Nature" can be used to justify everything people do: rape, murder, genocide.
posted by me & my monkey at 5:48 PM on May 31, 2008


"Nature" can be used to justify everything people do: rape, murder, genocide.

I don't agree. I'm sure you can find isolated examples of "murder", "rape", or even "genocide" in the animal kingdom, but generally the natural order is extremely functional. Sex is for procreation, killing for defense, territory or food, etc. And an omnivore eating meat is hardly an abberation.
posted by msalt at 6:32 PM on May 31, 2008


msalt
The problem is that you're committing the naturalistic fallacy or the appeal to nature. It's not that humans are above and beyond nature, it's that something is not automatically okay just because it's natural. That doesn't provide a justification for it. Just because it is some way doesn't mean it ought to be.

So, xchmp's point stands. It does seem a fairly weak reason to kill, say, a cow just because you love beef. The fact that in nature animals eat each other does not strengthen it or provide support one way or the other, morally. This does not extend, as you posited, to imply that nature is immoral, because "nature" is not a rational actor, but we are. We can consider and justify our actions. So, is a desire to eat meat a valid justification for the pain caused to the cow? Possibly yes or no, depending on your moral framework, but saying "it's just natural" isn't saying anything.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:50 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good points, Sangermaine. Now I wish I had taken philosophy. This next argument may be a fallacy as well, but I'll hazard that.

It seems like the animal rights position is inconsistent in this way: it starts with the assumption that humans are exceptional and held to a different standard because we are "rational actors". Yet it also holds that there is no valid difference in the way we treat animals as against other humans, despite this exceptionalism. I could accept either, but the combination seems contradictory.

Now personally, I don't accept that the fact that we are capable of reason automatically makes us superior. If anything, our ability to think creates the possibility of irrational thought patterns (as documented by various cults and fads, the People's Temple or colloidal silver or whatever you consider silly) as well as higher sentiments. Who is to say that rejecting our natural omnivorousness (omnivority?), or sentimentality toward other animals, is reason rather than a peculiar and uniquely human dysfunction?
posted by msalt at 1:33 AM on June 1, 2008


In reading your links to those 3 fallacies, I'm not sure that any apply here (at least from my neo-Taoist perspective). The proper "naturalistic fallacy" seems different, and the second meaning just redirects to the "appeal to nature." The "Is/Ought" fallacy (your third link) is a criticism of those making judgments about the way things ought to be on the basis of how they are, without justifying that shift. However, I'm not making any such judgment; I'm merely ciriticizing someone else's Ought, which is indeed not justified by any current Is.

The appeal to nature has 3 objections, at least on Wiki, but I don't think they apply. 1) "the word "natural" is often a loaded term, usually unconsciously equated with normality, and its use in many cases is simply a form of bias." I don't see how this applies to higher primates' consumption of meat, given uncontested anthropological and archeological evidence going back millions of years. 2) " 'nature' and 'natural' have vague definitions and thus the claim that something is natural may not be correct by every definition of the term natural" (ditto)
3)"the argument can quickly be invalidated by a counter-argument that demonstrates something that is natural that has undesirable properties (for example aging, illness, and death are natural)...

Well, I'm not convinced that even aging, illness and death are undesirable. It's a human fallacy to think that we "know better than nature." Time and time again, we have learned that the things we think are undesirable have important value (eg the disease fighting value of fevers during illness, population balance in ecosystems, etc.) I certainly think that the fact that something is universal in nature should create an prima facie case that it is valid.
posted by msalt at 1:57 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


People who believe that all of the animals are experiencing brutal conditions, living in pain, tortured on a daily basis, cognizant all the while, need to examine their assumptions. Many people seem to assume that because some animal was mistreated at some point in some lab at some point in history, all animals must be. People who lack direct knowledge of what conditions are like in these labs manage to assume the worst. i suspect that many people do not want to know what the actual conditions are like because the facts would contradict cherished prejudices. Thus they make it as difficult as possible for researchers to talk openly about what they do.

PS: Humans get electrodes stuck in their brains too (e.g., presurgery). They even get implanted sometimes. And brief electronic impulses are sent to them! They aren't in pain either.
posted by cogneuro at 10:38 AM on June 1, 2008


I know and have worked with many scientists who do animal experimentation, and, by and large, they are working on medical questions directed at alleviating the pain and suffering of hundreds of thousands or millions of human beings. Note that the veterinary world is both the primary sponsor of and consumer of much animal experimentation. And while I believe many commercial enterprises utilize animals for "research" on frivolous products such as cosmetics, without the medical application of such research, it would be impossible to make gains. Of course, to the extent simulation can be used instead, it should be and, in all likelihoood, will be, since it is much cheaper than maintaining animal laboratories. But the simulations can only be used where our knowledge is already good enough to build reliable simulators. And, believe me, our knowledge of the workings of even simple organisms is still pretty rudimentary.

My university has an ethics panel that only reviews the conduct of animal research and examines it precisely for the tradeoff between value and cruelty, trying to maximize the former while minimizing the latter. Beyond this, I'm not sure what is being proposed to protect animals. Do the activists want more seats on these panels? Or do they want to forgo the social benefits of animal research altogether?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:35 PM on June 2, 2008


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