Talk about animal testing without bias


Matt Leming’s column “Silence on vivisection” offended me as a biology major, as a linguistics major and as a vegetarian.

First, the column is couched as a call for discussion on animal ethics, but the stilted language it uses is at odds with anything like openness; the word “vivisection,” for example, is a label used exclusively among those who oppose animal experimentation.

It goes on — the label “pseudoscience” gets tossed into the mix — but I suspect most readers don’t need my help to notice the author’s stance on animal testing.

Second, the characterization of animal experimentation that Matt puts forward is dangerous; the images he evokes are offensive to our human sensibilities, but they represent cases in which the animals are killed while under anesthesia — their experience is no different from pet dogs that are put to sleep — or provided care to veterinary standards, again, no different from the way in which we treat our pets. Indulging in this kind of gut-reaction horror porn causes us to miss the real issues we need to discuss.

Instead of becoming diverted by our particular biases in individual cases, we should look at the standards we use for the systematic treatment of welfare in all animal experiments.

We must especially look at the problem of failure to adhere to or enforce the standards we establish; most animal welfare violations, including a 2002 case at UNC, involve staff that do not follow established procedures, rather than the enforcement of inherently cruel standards.

Without question, there should be debate about how we understand what animals feel and how we weigh that with what we to do them.

We should ask whether some animals, like great apes and other primates, are so unique that they should not be used in testing for any purpose.

As a student of behavioral ecology I can tell you, there absolutely should be an overhaul of how medical scientists understand the impact of the environments in which laboratory animals are kept.

The debate over these matters has not, as Matt suggests, been quashed by a million-dollar conspiracy.

It has been driven into secrecy because when scientists try to bring the debate back into the open, they are met on the one hand by groups that are uninterested in any compromise and on the other hand a society whose experience with animal welfare discussion has been polarized through constant bombardment by those groups.

As a lifelong vegetarian, a conservationist and an ecologist, I care about animals; I also care about the wonder and value of science that lets us learn more about those animals and about ourselves.

I would like nothing more than to see the debate about animals in science open up, but this recent column did not help us move toward that goal.

Eli Hornstein ’14

Thanks for reading.

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