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Day’s Verse:

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Ps. 141:3

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Title kudos to Ian who, as usual, offers snappy comments at exactly the right moment, like when we survived the walk across campus: “It’s on days like these that I like to take a nice swim across campus.” Ian and I feel savvy today because we bought a 28” TV for $50 off WPI.forsale.

Tonight we went to a debate on animal testing in which the Prof. John Sanbonmatsu, who I named in my notes “Prof. 1,” argued as a philosophically that “Unequivocally, all animal testing should be stopped.” Professor 2, one Prof. Ron Shonat in a biomedical engineering research, took the position that animals welfare should be enforced, but animal rights, Prof. 1’s view, was incorrect.

Briefly, Prof. 1 said that animals should be considered subjects, not objects; that animals are sufficiently similar to us in all relevant ways—having emotions, feeling pain, “loving,” laughing when tickled, and so forth—that testing done on them was causing unnecessary suffering. He said the main question was “Is it ethical to use data collected through torture, coercion, violence and killing?”, relating animal testing to Nazi testing of Jews. He pointed out that Jews were subjected to poison, impregnation, and ultimately slaughter as a means for utility; that this was an instance of the powerful exercising their power on a weaker group. He then outlined the argument that many slave-holders used, and which he said applies today to animal testing; namely, that those who posses power ought to have that power, that the inferior were meant to be inferior, and that “social equality was contrary to divine or evolutionary intention” (this is the Pathetic Fallacy, courtesy of William Morris—evolution cannot have an intention). Similarly, he said, people have power over animals and justify their exploitation of said animals by claiming that species’ inferiority to mankind. Thus, he says the argument goes, “humans are meant to dominate animals.”

BUT, Professor 1 continues, the justification is fallacious in such instances when people claim that because scientific breakthroughs depend on animal experimentation and thus the experiments can’t be stopped. No, he says, we have a paradigm that condones using animals, but we’ve never looked for an alternative. Additionally, many breakthroughs don’t rely on animals. Finally, just because it worked in the past doesn’t mean we should continue on in this vein when we might be able to find better, more viable alternatives. In conclusion, Prof. 1 said that animal testing rests on this fallacy: 1) Animals are like us enough to be necessary for testing. 2) Animals are not like us enough to justify killing them in tests without moral compunctions. That, he says, is the fallacy committed by animal testers and is fundamentally why animal testing is wrong. “Might,” he said, “does not make right.”

Prof. 2 introduced himself as “a scientist,” who tried to stick to “practical things, not philosophy” (this drew a laugh from the crowd—there was, amazingly, a crowd). Professor 2 argued in a different vein, discussing first the difference between animal welfare and animal rights; he defined welfare as the American Veterinary Medical Association did, that it was in brief the humane treatment and taking-care of all aspects of animals. Animal rights, on the other hands, was saying that animals are not ours to be used for any reason whatsoever, as explained by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Right off I saw that this guy, as a scientist, wouldn’t just be making an intellectual argument but would rely heavily on outside sources, and my Analytic Reasoning class mind chimed in, “Appealing to authority!” Later he also appealed to statistics heavily. He focused on the achievements that only animal researching could have brought about, such things as many life-saving vaccines and surgical procedures. Animal research, he said, was “vital in every medical advance, for both human and animal health.” The consequences of stopping animal testing would mean abandoning such worthy research veins as cystic fibrosis, AIDS, cancer, spinal cord repairing, alcoholism, stem cell research, and development of new vaccinations, just to name a few.

The real issue that Prof. 2 emphasized was that animal testing has been declining over the year;, that the vas majority—95%—of testing occurs on rats and mice (not because people find them more easy to stomach since they’re “pests,” as Prof. 1 suggested, but because they reproduce quickly and are easy to maintain); that most animals feel little more pain than a simple needle-stick occasionally, and those that are operated on receive pain medication to reduce their suffering just as with humans in all but seven percent of the cases, where anesthesia would skew the results; and in another appeal to authority pointed out that as of 1996 ALL Nobel Laureates condoned animal research. Ultimately, Prof. 2 said, research should be performed in a way that maximizes the animals’ welfare, but animals don’t have the same rights as people—sending mice into space to simulate the Martian environment is better than sending people or not doing it at all.

Who’s right? I think the two have a fundamental difference of opinion—that animals have rights and testing on them is equivalent to testing on Jews in the Holocaust, or that animals should be treated “humanely” (ironic, that word, isn’t it?) but don’t have any inherent humanlike rights—that neither could resolve. As a result, their debate and the questions posited them by the audience and the moderators tended to dance around the subject, reiterating their individual positions but rarely touching on topics close enough to actually debate. Prof. 1 was arguing philosophically, while Prof. 2 argued from utility. I went to the debate because I’m inherently interested in this, knowing that part of Dad’s job description includes some animal testing of their in-the-works products. Possibly as a result of this bias, I’ve always felt that animal testing conducted in the most merciful possible fashion is OK. Animals shouldn’t be unnecessarily harmed, and any excess testing on animals should be avoided, but I do believe that loss of an animal life is inherently “less bad” (whatever that means) than loss of human life. Killing a dog, or even a chimp, is still better than killing a human being. That’s it.

– KF –

6 thoughts on ““Fox News is the sleazy porn of news stations.”

  1. …as for the killing animals for human benefit, Prof. 1 said that it was wrong no matter what, and he personally didn’t even kill fleas, defenestrating them instead.

  2. I think the entire argument in favor of animal rights as opposed to animal welfare sounds nice, but where is the basis for these changes to be made? I agree that it would be nice to not have to use animals to test drugs, but if the alternative is using humans i have to say that a human life is worth more than an animals. What the animal rights movement is ultimately saying is that if one human is about to kill two animals, you are justified in killing the human as you will be saving life.
    The entire argument is very idealistic, unfortunately idealism has a way of being bitch slapped by reality. Take Prof. 1’s arguments to their full and logical conclusions and you end up in a world where you have the same rights as said mouse. Am i prejudiced against mice? damn right.

  3. Yes. What I cannot fathom is how somebody honestly would rather save two mice than one person – putting equal value where inequality exists…

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