The UCLA Pro-Test is tomorrow. If you live there – go. If not, prepare yourself for inevitable discussions – online and offline – by getting informed. And my fellow science bloggers have certainly provided plenty of food for thought on the issue of use of animals in research.
First, you have to read Janet Stemwedel’s ongoing series (5 parts so far, but more are coming) about the potential for dialogue between the two (or more) sides:
Impediments to dialogue about animal research (part 1).:
Now, maybe it’s the case that everyone who cares at all has staked out a position on the use of animals in scientific research and has no intentions of budging from it. But in the event that there still exists a handful of people who are thinking the issues through, or are interested in understanding the perspectives of those who hold different views about research with animals — in the event that there are still people who would like to have a dialogue — we need to understand what the impediments to this dialogue are and find ways to work around them.
Research with animals seems to be a topic of discussion especially well-suited to shouting matches and disengagement. Understanding the reasons this is so might clear a path to make dialogue possible. Yesterday, we discussed problems that arise when people in a discussion start with the assumption that the other guy is arguing in bad faith. If we can get past this presumptive mistrust of the other parties in the discussion, another significant impediment rears its head pretty quickly: Substantial disagreement about the facts.
As with yesterday’s dialogue blocker (the question of whether animal research is necessary for scientific and medical advancement), today’s impediment is another substantial disagreement about the facts. A productive dialogue requires some kind of common ground between its participants, including some shared premises about the current state of affairs. One feature of the current state of affairs is the set of laws and regulations that cover animal use — but these laws and regulations are a regular source of disagreement: Current animal welfare regulations are not restrictive enough/are too restrictive.
As we continue our look at ways that attempted dialogues about the use of animals in research run off the rails, let’s take up one more kind of substantial disagreement about the facts. Today’s featured impediment: Disagreement about whether animals used in research experience discomfort, distress, pain, or torture.
Today we discuss an impediment to dialogue about animals in research that seems to have a special power to get people talking past each other rather than actually engaging with each other: Imprecision about the positions being staked out. Specifically, here, the issue is whether the people trying to have a dialogue are being precise in laying out the relevant philosophical positions about animals — the position they hold, the position they’re arguing against, the other positions that might be viable options.
I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the ethics of it here; that’s a discussion which has been had hundreds of times in plenty of other places, and there’s really no sense repeating it yet again. But there is one thing I can contribute to this discussion. One of the constant refrains of animal-rights protesters arguing against animal testing is: “Animal testing isn’t necessary. We can use computer simulations instead.”
As a computer scientist who’s spent some time studying simulation, I feel qualified to comment on that aspect of this argument.
The simplest answer to that is the old programmers mantra: “Garbage in, Garbage out”.
To be a tad more precise, like any other computer program, a simulation can only do what you tell it to. If you don’t already know how something works, you can’t simulate it. If you think you know how something works but you made a tiny, miniscule error, then the simulation can diverge dramatically from reality.
Tilting at Animal Rights Activist Windmills:
As we are in the midst of a traditional week-o-ARA-wackaloonery and two days away from the first US Pro-Test rally (at UCLA) this is all highly topical. Why not take some time to do a little bit of reading and thinking about these issues? After all, it is only the continued health and well being of yourself, your family, your friends and neighbors that is at stake.
One of the thornier problems in thinking about the justification of using animals is when two or more laudable goals call for opposing solutions. For today’s edition of virtual IACUC we will consider what to do when Refinement calls for the use of more animals, in obvious conflict with Reduction.
The important thing is the setting of priority. These acts, like the March 2009 bombing of neuroscientist J. David Jentsch’s car, are fundamental crimes against our rule of law as well as being a specific attack on scientific progress and the development of life-saving medical advances. With this announcement, and all of the publicity and news surrounding the UCLA Pro-Test rally in support of animal research scheduled for tomorrow…well, at the very least the wind has been taken out of the ARA sails during one of their big PR weeks.
At a banner making session today (Monday) I decided to ask a few people why they were planning on attending Wednesday’s rally. Here are a handful of responses I got:
As students and scientists at UCLA stand up to support lifesaving medical research, researchers at other institutions are offering their support for the cause. From Wake Forest University to the University of Arizona, from UC Davis to the University of South Dakota, researchers from across the United States have been united in their support for UCLA Pro-Test.
New UCLA Pro-Test Chapter Announces April 22nd Rally:
Unfortunately, researchers at UCLA have become a major target of animal rights extremists over the last few years. This has included various incidents of destruction of property aimed at specific scientists, and this has coincided with a general rise in animal rights extremist activity in the US.
It is important that everyone know that all animals used in federally-funded research, are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure they are used in the smallest numbers possible and with the greatest commitment to their comfort and welfare. The search for cures for devastating diseases depends on cumulative evidence gained from quality research. The appropriate use of animals in medical research has enabled the development of successful therapies and preventive measures for a wide- range of human diseases such as polio, Parkinson’s disease, and hepatitis A and B.