Slicing up monkeys and shocking humans…REALLY???


By Kenneth Justice

~ A few weeks ago at coffee an animal rights activist sat down at my table,

I’m not entirely against people eating certain animals for food, such as fish. I know that typically people who organize protests like myself are 100% against eating any type of mammal or fish; but my main cause in life is to put an end to animal testing in laboratories. It’s the 21st century and yet scientists are still killing untold numbers of animals with no regard to whether it is right or wrong ethically” she said

Yesterday I published an article on the subject of ethics and science which I had written shortly after talking to the young woman I met at coffee; if the comments and handful of emails I received are any indicator of what people thought about my article then I guess most people did NOT like the ideas I postulated. But that is okay, it’s good to have conversations in which we don’t always agree, and if anyone knows me, I’m fairly laid back and open to hearing alterative positions on a subject.

Quite a few people seem to believe that scientists are mere “observers” or “discoverers”, they are nothing more than neutral entities in the annals of human history. This position would say that it’s not Oppenheimer’s fault that the President of the United States made the decision to drop the atomic bomb; Oppenheimer was nothing more than an innocent scientist contributing to the body of theoretical physics and atomic research.

While it might make us feel better to think that scientists are merely impartial observers; are we truly looking at the facts?

—) Whenever polls of scientists are conducted regarding animal research findings demonstrate that overwhelming majority of scientists support using (aka killing) animals in research, and when I say ‘overwhelming’; one study found 90% of scientists supporting animals in research <article>

—) A group of 500 UK scientists went so far as to sign a declaration that using (aka killing) animals in research was essential <article>

Yesterday I quoted the famous Sociologist Neil Postman who was oft to say that modern science rarely asks, “Should we do this?” and almost always only asks, “Can we do this”. While it might make us all fuzzy and warm inside to think that scientists as a whole prescribe to strong codes of ethics; where is the evidence to believe such a thing?

Dialogue concerning whether or not its ethical to use animals in research is almost non-existent within the scientific community. With as many as 90% of scientists backing animal research and entire wings of scientists signing declaration’s that they are going to continue using animals; it’s no wonder why the conversation regarding ethics is coming from outside the scientific community and not from within.

Scientists are mere humans. They are not impartial demi-gods who never commit error in pursuing their line of work,

—-) Just because you “can” kill animals to further your research; should you?

—-) Just because you “can” give Ritalin to children and then observe the effects; should you?

—-) Just because you “can” administer shock therapy to people and then observe the effects; should you?

Why is there an assumption that scientists are somehow nothing more than innocent observers? Why is there an assumption that scientists are somehow more likely to be ethical than politicians or lawyers? Why is there an assumption that scientific research is nothing more than innocent observation?

As I said yesterday, every scientist is first a philosopher; and whatever our worldview is will have a wide range of consequences upon our work.

Just a few thoughts while I sipped my coffee,



Categories: Culture & Society

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26 replies

  1. Just seeing your title can’t make me to read 😣

  2. Hey, I’m first in line!
    As with Oppenheimer, I believe that if it can be done, it will be done. So that it’s better when a society with checks and balances takes the lead. As for animal research, it can be pretty grizzle y, but are they treated any better in the natural world by Mother Nature? Billions of animals suffer from her incursions daily, (worms, funguses, injuries, predators, other diseases of all sort). And I would guess that a lot of veterinary medicine takes its que from what humans prescribe for other humans. So animals do benefit.

  3. The ethics of all of our actions can and will be called into question as long as there is free will and no defined absolute standard to judge what is “right” and what is “wrong” while I may agree that scientists, and anyone really should spend a little more time asking if they should do something instead of if they can do something, that philosophical step wouldn’t necessarily guarantee less destructive actions if the person themselves doesn’t value the concept of “do no harm” as their first priority. This is a messy subject, one worth discussing, but not a subject that will ever realistically be agreed upon because we don’t live in an absolute society.

  4. You are like the Steven King of bloggers today. I performed cell culture experiments for 10 years. The cells are taken from the bodies of mice raised to be used in research. They are euthanised with the same drug that a pet is put to sleep with. The behavior of bone marrow cells in culture from these mice have helped to pioneer bone marrow transplants and many other medical procedures. Yes, scientists disagree with you and that young woman. It does not extrapolate into Scientists do not consider looking for alternative ways to get information.that sick people need. We are not there yet. Computer models DO NOT function like real cells. She is ignorant. Scientists know how to do their job.

  5. Ethics. Never saying Scientist are just observers, they know very well what they do to the animals. The know very well what they want to achieve and are aware of some ethic questions.
    Should we do it? One first have to answer what we should be doing and what we hope to achieve? Should we invent new medicines? Or should we invent better smarter weapons? Should we?
    On both end we CAN do these..

    Now should we test this or can we test this? On let us say HUMANS. The answer is no. We can’t, but how will we know its effect.

    There is an understanding when it comes to animal testing/killing. Should we stop? Will those same activist volunteer to test a drug? What is more ethical? We have rules when it comes to testing on humans, we breed the animals for testing. It is not that we take them from nature.

    Science does not hold every card yet, one cancer cell might react perfectly in a Petri dish to a drug, but when in a mouse reacting violent. What more came into play. Should we just assume that testing in a Petri dish or on a computer is efficient enough to test a drug?

    This is just one example. Out of many questions that are going around in science and politics. Mind you here in our country we have a party in parliament that stands up for animal rights. But I see none of them step up with alternatives or themselves to be tested on. Testing on humans is unethical.

    Maybe we should just stop with all the science all together.

  6. I think we have come full circle to “opinions” by another name. And I am quite chuffed with myself for remembering that post as I was reading these posts!
    Now a question from me: is it ethically okay to charge so much for a few coffee beans, some hot water and a machine that makes a “shcizzwheeeee…snuff…snuff…clearyourthroat” noise?

  7. Drugs need to be tested before they can be used to treat diseases or other medical problems. Should drugs be available that have not been tested ? Would anyone want to take a drug that we did not know if it might either make us better or maybe kill us ?
    Imagine how bad the the ebola outbreak would be if there were no drugs available at all treat it.

  8. Just because you are a blogger should you blog about everything and everyone? … and we’re all back to see you 😀

  9. Dear me.

    Poor Scientists. They’re dammed if they do (and dammed if they don’t).

    How many of you think about the child labour making your clothes in third world countries, or the poor animals giving their lives so they we may eat, or the caged pig, chickens etc which are never allowed to run free and force fed to produce market size in 6 weeks, or ……..whatever.

    Let’s face it. We all make use of modern technology some way or other and most of us give no thought as to how it evolved into what we use today – we just use it.

  10. As a person who used to work in research, we were held to a very high standard on being ethical in using animals. In my opinion, we have to use animals for research… its almost unethical not to, when there are so many cures yet to be found, vaccines yet to be perfected (or created), there’s no way we can test them out on your children first or even really volunteered people (they would die at the beginning!). We have to have to use animals… I really don’t understand why people don’t “get it.”

    But rest assured that research is porbably 98 to 99% always conducted in an ethical way for the animal… there is no unnecessary pain, or prolonged agony, or any cruelty. They are taken care of while in labs, and looked at multiple times a day to ensure when they need to be put down (if the are scoring high in pain or stress).

    • “I really don’t understand why people don’t “get it”” all prejudiced attitudes, a person chooses to make wide sweeping value judgments on a group of very varied persons that are classified together as a group to make their pet point. It is ignorant pridefulness.

    • Its ignorant “pridefulness” to judge something that one knows utterly nothing about or has never truly seen or experienced for themselves.

  11. science is flawed equal to the amount of ignorance put into it by the human element. . . if a scientist cannot even see and understand that which connects us to our environment . . . I would say that man/women, although degreed and post name lettered, truly does not know his ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to much anything.

    It’s not a God that is missing in his equation . . . it is a ‘connection’ that has been hidden by arrogance. . . and . . . because of this lack of wisdom we shall falter and ultimately perish from the earth . . . and the earth will give a huge sigh of relief as we go . . .

  12. In order to ‘get it’ you have to be able to answer this question: Am I my brothers keeper? . . . and: “Who is my brother?” . . . Ultimately as you travel down that road you will forced to draw more and more into your family . . . until you can see in all reality that we are ALL parts of the same damn thing, not chopped up little classifications with man at the top of the heap.

    Most all of man’s diseases have been (and are being) birthed via his own stupidity. Why destroy (humanely or not) some other life form in order to save ourselves when all we have to do is stop all the inane shit that is making us sick in the first place? Anybody bother to check out the state of our oceans lately? or our drinking water? or the skies above our head? or the soil we grow our food in? . . . or . . .

  13. I don’t think scientists are different (more rational perhaps) than any other human being on the planet. We all have a conscience or a moral sense that dictates our behaviour to one degree or another. Some people are ok with eating meat, others prefer to abstain…and sadly, sometimes money overrules our conscience no matter what. Ethics aside, I think it all boils down to personal choice, not necessarily a collective one.
    Whatever path we choose, the question remains; does the end justify the means? And in my experience this question rarely has a definitive answer. What starts out as a good and noble means can quickly turn sour by the end of a quest. What we thought was good and noble turns out to be quite the opposite and so we are back where we started.

    Humans are fickle! Scientists are just more rational about it.

  14. Animal testing – at least here in the UK – is highly regulated, inspected etc. Do I like the fact that animals are used for testing? no I don’t, and if in this day and age there are technical methods that can be used for testing which don’t involve animals I’m all for it. I would hate to use cosmetics that had been tested on animals, but thank goodness there is a huge range available which are not. HOWEVER if I were a diabetic, I would be so thankful that insulin treatment was developed because of testing on dogs. That testing, unpleasant though it may have been at the time, has saved thousands of lives. And that is just one instance where animal testing has benefitted humans.

  15. you’re right in saying that belonging to a particular profession doesn’t exclude people from being unethical. However it doesn’t only extend to scientists. How about doctors who misdiagnose patients or prescribe pills to shut them up….I believe should take people for who they are to us and not for which profession they belong to

  16. As a scientist who works on (invertebrate) animals, I don’t think scientists’ support for animal research indicates a “just because we can” attitude. As far as I know, to do *any* research on vertebrates, you (1) have to justify why you’re doing it, (2) have to ensure that you cause the least possible suffering to your subjects given the constraints of the research. (Just an example I’ve personally encountered, at my department you must be trained in killing fish humanely before they even allow you in the aquarium)

    The relationship of science and ethics is complicated, and no one’s going to find a simple answer everyone can accept. The main issues I see are

    (1) There’s a question of choosing the least evil solution, and suffering caused to humans is generally ranked as more evil than suffering caused to non-humans. Are you willing to test your potentially life-saving new cancer drug in humans without first checking that it isn’t a lethal poison? And how do you do that without risking human lives? Well… mice. That’s the sort of question medical researchers are faced with.

    (2) Many scientific discoveries have two faces, one of which is incredibly useful, the other incredibly destructive (see: nuclear power). Should we shy away from the first because someone down the line might make use of the second? Should the one who makes a discovery really be held responsible for other grown-up people’s actions? Should Darwin and Wallace not have published their evolutionary theory because some idiots might one day twist it into social Darwinism?

    (3) The benefits of a discovery are often hard to foresee. Who could have predicted that a strange mathematical trick to solve the problem of black body radiation would create so much useful technology? Equally, the *harms* of a discovery can be hard to foresee. If you’re a 17th century scientist looking down your primitive microscope seeing cells for the first time, could you guess that one day people might attempt to attack their enemies with microscopic creatures? As a consequence, cost/benefit judgements (which is essentially what ethical judgements are) are very hard to apply to basic research.

    I’m not trying to answer any of the big questions here. I think everyone – scientist or non-scientist – must find their own answers. But trying to force yours on others by bullying and threatening them, like animal rights extremists have been known to do, is definitely not OK.

  17. Well, I’d argue there is a difference between doing something to observe the effects and doing something because you want to cause harm. I understanding using animals for certain (not all) things. Otherwise, initial tests would be done on humans and that would be a worser risk in my opinion.

    I’m divided. I could never do something to an animal I thought would hurt it, let alone do so and then sit and watch it suffer. However, if I thought that, by doing so, I may cure AIDS or cancer, I might be willing to suffer through. Might.

    You ask good questions here, but I don’t think there are easy answers. How can scientists put something out there and say “we think this will work, but we’re not sure. Buy our product!” They might as well pay people to test the drug, it amounts to the same thing.

  18. Why are we so concerned about animals when 20,000 die each day of starvation, children are abused, people are homeless. In the past week, I met 3 people living in their cars. I think that the use of animals in research should be regulated, but why do we stand by and let people be subject to atrocities?

  19. An important discussion, Kenneth. It’s important to question the ethics of scientists. Even in research on people, there are egregious examples of unethical and immoral decisions, exemplified by the Tuskegee Syphilis study: .

  20. One small fact that might have been conveniently overlooked is the largest majority of scientists don’t perform ANY work that requires the use of animal testing. The use of animal testing is in a field that supports large markets. Maybe it’s the scope of those markets or impacted demographics that mislead the external viewer to incorrectly assume the scope of animal testing is equally as large. Another overlooked fact is that a scientist is not required to perform animal testing. Many are technicians under the direction of a supervisor or management structure that may include a scientist(s). It might be a good idea to first understand why an overwhelming percentage of the surveyed scientific community supports animal testing. Do a little root cause analysis and see if the animal rights activist is ethical by subverting the benefits from testing versus the value of the test animals contribution to the world if it were not sacrificed. Maybe a better endeavor would be to campaign against despots and dictators and their ethical behavior.

  21. I think the benefit tends to outweigh the damage these days when it comes to animal testing. As our knowledge increases, it is possible that we could eventually move away from the need to utilize animals in such a way.

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