Saturday, November 18, 2017

Making Waves, or, How Dickheads are Everyone’s Fault but Women Have the Largest Role to Play in Fixing the Problem

I’ve always spoken up about unfairness and injustice, and it has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion. (I was once arrested twice in one day for having the temerity to defy the authorities. A sense of moral responsibility can be a burden.) I’ll keep doing so.

As an elementary school teacher and an animal rights activist, and coincidentally in other realms, the large majority of my relationships have been with women, both as a superior and as an employee, as a leader and as a follower, and in most cases, as a collaborator. It galls me now to be told that I ought not voice my opinion on the spate of examples coming to light of women being taken advantage of or otherwise harmed by men, because I am a man. But, I’m not a dog, a monkey, or a chicken, and I speak up for them, so I’ll keep voicing my opinions on whatever injustice, unfairness, or misleading claims I think I see, and making suggestions about how to fix the problems; I am after all, a man.

Most recently, I agreed with a man who commented on a FB post that to him it did not appear that Al Franken was actually groping Los Angeles morning TV host Leeann Tweeden. It does not look to me like he is actually touching her. He seem to be miming a grope. If he did touch her after the photo was snapped, then he did. But the photo does not seem to me to show him groping her.

I was chastised for saying this, even though I said that his behavior was inappropriate or juvenile. I was told that if Ms. Tweeden felt like she was being groped then we should just accept that she was. Who was I to question her? I was told to stop defending Franken, even though I commented only on the photo. Franken says he is sorry for having taken advantage of her.

This was the second time that I commented on a FB post related to the rash of women speaking up about their previous experiences with men’s sexual predation. In both cases, I was told that because I am a man, I can’t really know what it would be like to be one of those women, and thus, I can’t have a valid opinion on the subject. But that’s like saying that I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a monkey strapped in a chair and having someone experimenting on my eye. I think I can.

All that aside, here I am writing mostly to affix blame and offer suggestions for how to fix this ugly problem.

Gentlemen, stop being dickheads; treat everyone like you would want to be treated if you were them. If you see or hear about someone acting wrongly, abusing their power, speak up. Tell someone. If something isn’t done about it, yell louder. Make them stop. Do all you can to fix it. Intervene. Don’t be a dickhead.

Ladies, the same thing goes for you. Because you are so often the victims, the burden on you is much heavier, but you must speak up because if you don’t, you may be allowing it to happen to someone else. This isn’t fair, but much in life isn’t. Further, whether we like it or not, essentially every man who treats women or anyone else in their power unkindly, unfairly, or disrespectfully, was raised primarily by a woman. This means that men’s behavior and mores can be changed by the group from which the greatest number of victims come. Fathers, uncles, brothers, or male friends also have a responsibility to instill an ethic of fairness and compassion, but the weight of the solution to the problem again rests more squarely on women’s shoulders.

I wish life was a lot more fair than it is. I’m working on it. I am, after all, a man.

I stand with all the victims, no matter their color, creed, species, gender, sex, or any other damn thing. I will not stand mute. And, finally, if you, dear reader, don’t want to read comments you disagree with about the things you post to FB, well, tough. Want to stay in your bubble? It’s easy to un-friend someone.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"What would happen if all Americans went vegan?"

I am responding here only to the article in Science announcing the publication of "Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from US agriculture" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. I've not read the original because it is not yet available to me. Assuming that Science's reporting is accurate, it just goes to show that dominant paradigms and financial interests are overwhelming confounds in the world of normal science. "The authors declare no conflict of interest," says PNAS.

But given the author's affiliations, it seems matter-of-factly otherwise. Robin R. White is an assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and and Mary Beth Hall is a scientist employed by the US Dairy Forage Research Center, US Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service. Her office is in the Animal Science Building at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In any case, from the Science article:
“Our logic was to start at the extreme scenario [and work backward from that],” says Robin White, the study’s lead author and an animal sciences researcher at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She and fellow animal sciences researcher Mary Beth Hall, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, began by estimating the impact of converting all land now used by the livestock industry to cropland for human food.
What? They began by estimating the impact of converting all land now used by the livestock industry to cropland for human food. Why in the world would they have done that?

Consider this: "Some 40% of the world’s land surface is used for the purposes of keeping all 7 billion of us fed ... And the vast majority of that land — about 30% of the word’s total ice-free surface — is used not to raise grains, fruits and vegetables that are directly fed to human beings, but to support the chickens, pigs and cattle that we eventually eat." (The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production. Time. 2013.)

So, we use about 10% of the world's land surface to grow all the non-animal food we eat. So, following the authors' methods, presumably, if we don't eat meat, dairy, etc., we will need four times the amount of everything else we eat. What? They must imagine a vegan diet as something akin to a county fair all-you-can-eat-contest. Maybe they think we eat out of a big bucket. My evening meal?

They also make the wild claim that even if we eat bucketfuls of nuts, grains, fruits, and vegetables, that we will all have serious vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. You just can't be healthy on a vegan diet say these unbiased animal agriculture professionals:
Looking at the nutritional content of crops now produced, the team also found that a plant-only system wouldn’t be able to meet the U.S. population’s requirements for calcium, vitamins A and B12, and a few key fatty acids. “With carefully balanced rations, you can meet all of your nutrient requirements with a vegetarian diet,” White says. “But the types of foods that seem to do that, we don’t currently produce in sufficient quantities to make it a sustainable diet for the entire population.”
What? We don't currently produce sufficient quantities of brightly colored vegetables and dark leafy greens? Wow. And unexplainably ignorant of basic nutrition.

One of the claims that sounds on its face like it might be a real problem is the questiomn of fertilizer. The authors seem to believe that everyone is fertilizing their fields with manure. As if. Here's what Wikipedia says about the production of modern fertilizers: "Nitrogen fertilizers are made from ammonia (NH3), which is sometimes injected into the ground directly. The ammonia is produced by the Haber-Bosch process. In this energy-intensive process, natural gas (CH4) usually supplies the hydrogen, and the nitrogen (N2) is derived from the air. This ammonia is used as a feedstock for all other nitrogen fertilizers, such as anhydrous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and urea (CO(NH2)2)." No cows or manure involved. Discomfort with the various costs of these processes was an impetus for the organic farming movement.

But if we all embraced a vegan diet and also wanted it to be organic, that wouldn't be an issue either. By freeing up so much land, crop rotation and fallow fields over-planted with nitrogen fixing legumes would easily supply more than the space and fertile soil needed to grow a bounty of foods. And, greenhouse gas emissions would be dramatically reduced, ground water pollution and runoff from feedlots and dairies, etc. would end, people would be much healthier, we would end the farmed animal holocaust. That's win, win, win, win, win.

That's what would happen if all Americans went vegan.

Friday, November 3, 2017

No one should have kids, not even vegans.

A friend asked me to respond to a blogger’s argument that vegans should have kids.

The author, the mother of twins, makes the same argument that most modern somewhat progressive parents who decide to have children rely on. Because they are good people, their children will grow up to be good people. There is at least some evidence that no one can say with much certainty just how their children will turn out.

I’m going to address the arguments she expressed here:
Adoption is often suggested as the solution to overpopulation. Here’s a good breakdown of why that’s probably not true. [linked in the original] Even if adoption were a winning solution to overpopulation, is overpopulation really a problem everywhere equally? In some countries, yes, it’s most certainly an issue; in other countries, the government is offering as many incentives as it can to motivate more couples to have babies. I have two biological children, and I will not be having any more. My husband and I have simply replaced ourselves, and we’re working hard to ensure that our replacements will be kind, thoughtful, compassionate people who choose to remain vegans as adults, who will influence others to do the same, and who will probably do more than I ever have to help animals, the planet, and other humans. I think you’ll forgive me if I don’t feel too guilty about that. I think the world would be a nicer place if more vegans would do the same.
The post she points to as evidence that adoption probably doesn’t help reduce population says clearly and a couple of times that the data is extremely unclear. There isn’t much evidence to draw on. The article is interesting but far from conclusive. (The author of that article has a passel of children -- her own and adopted -- and raises goats.)

In any case, adoption would help with the overpopulation problem if the people adopting would have had children if they hadn’t adopted. It isn’t adoption that reduces population growth, it is not having children that reduces it.

She asks, “... is overpopulation really a problem everywhere equally?” and then answers her question: “In some countries, yes, it’s most certainly an issue; in other countries, the government is offering as many incentives as it can to motivate more couples to have babies.”

But overpopulation is a problem everywhere. Equally. The rainforests in Indonesia are not being destroyed because of overpopulation in Indonesia. Polar bears and penguins are not starving to death because of overpopulation at the poles. Corals are not dying because of too many sailors. Life on earth is interconnected; the population of humans worldwide has created an unsustainable demand for the space and other resources other animals need in order to survive, let alone flourish.

The current U.S, government denies that climate change is caused by us; pointing to governments’ policies as evidence that a problem does not exist is an unwise appeal to authority.

The hope that one’s children will be better people and amount to more than oneself is probably natural and maybe even universal. All sorts of justifications are available to people who decide to have children. None of them are part of the solution to the harm we are causing. Humans are killing the other beings who live here. Fewer humans means less harm. No one should have kids, not even vegans.

Finally, though the best thing we can do for the planet’s other inhabitants is to not have children, once someone is born, a baby, a calf, a kitten, a chick, we have an absolute obligation to treat them as we want to be treated. Once they are here, they count and have rights.

Stand Up to Cancer.

Game 4, 2017 World Series

“Colon cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death in men and women combined, affecting people of all ages. Surgery is often an option for those patients whose cancer is caught early, but sadly, we have just a few lines of treatment for patients with advanced disease. The hope is that our research will one day develop better therapies for patients whose cancer is too advanced for surgery.” Nita Ahuja, M.D., and Nilo Azad, M.D. The State of the Fight: Colon Cancer. Stand up to Cancer. (Here’s some info on the drug they are testing: Griffiths, E. A., et al. "SGI-110: DNA methyltransferase inhibitor oncolytic." Drugs of the future 38.8 (2013): 535.

Eat more hotdogs.

The World Health Organizations classifies processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen. "This category is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. In other words, there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. The evaluation is usually based on epidemiological studies showing the development of cancer in exposed humans.

In the case of processed meat, this classification is based on sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer."

Friday, March 28, 2014 Press Release from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council"
WASHINGTON, D.C.-It's a love affair that has spanned generations and baseball fans will once again make hot dogs their number one choice at the ballparks this summer. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) estimates that fans will eat a whopping 21,357,316 hot dogs and 5,508,887 sausages during the 2014 Major League season, enough hot dogs to stretch from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles to Wrigley Field in Chicago....

This year's total includes a new single season record for most hot dogs at one stadium as the Los Angeles Dodgers anticipate fans will consume 3,077,537 hot dogs, a jump of more than 800,000 hot dogs from last year. That is enough to round the bases at Dodger Stadium 4,274 times and based on last year's attendance, means if everyone had just one, 82 percent of fans at every Dodger home game will eat a hot dog.
Meanwhile, disease mongers define prevention as early diagnosis. Money can be made from studying a disease but not from pointing to an avoidable cause. And there is enough money in "early detection" to motivate it's promotion. But there's not a dime in telling people to stop eating animals. There's no money in it for the pharmaceutical industry, the disease "charities," or the vivisectors and their universities. People can't be told to stop eating animals, the potential monetary costs to the meat industry are astronomical.

It's win-win for everyone but the people who get sick.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Vivisectors Unite!

A friend sent me a new example of the seeming endless stream self-serving pro-vivisection propaganda. (More Institutional Support for Animal Research Is Needed. Opinion. Mar Sanchez. Inside Higher Ed. October 19, 2017.) At first, it seemed pretty typical: Christine Lattin, a morally bereft bird vivisector at Yale University who was called out by Peta, was being defended by Mar Sanchez, a morally bereft monkey vivisector at the Yerkes primate death camp. It was somewhat, if darkly, humorous that monkey vivisector Sanchez, was urging more institutional support for vivisectors. I mean, come on. The institutions already provide them with lavish salaries, require almost no work from them, shield the details of their cruelties and violations from the public, make ridiculous claims about the potential value of their work, spend huge sums to build them laboratories, and provide them with golden retirement parachutes. More support? Yeah, right.

But all that is just the regular bill-of-fare. A vivisector was called out and another vivisector said vivisection is great. What caught my eye was mention of the University of Wisconsin, Madison by Sanchez. She starts out: “The University of Wisconsin Madison is a leading example of institutional openness on animal research and preparedness to respond to animal-rights extremists.”

Now, I don’t expect a Yerkes monkey vivisector to know too awful much about UW-Madison’s openness about it animal research, but it does seem like she would do a little checking before making a claim like that. Or, of course, maybe she’s right and UW-Madison is indeed a leading example of what passes as institutional openness about the atrocities occurring in its labs.

Coincidentally, the very same day that the editorial from Sanchez was published, Oct. 19, 2017, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Animal Legal Defense Fund had prevailed in a lawsuit they had filed almost exactly three years earlier regarding records that the university had refused to give them in response to a public records request. (Animal rights group wins court fight for UW monkey research records. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Oct. 19, 2017.)

The records in question were related to monkey vivisectors Ned Kalin and Richard Davidson, who were planning on maternally depriving infant rhesus monkeys. They claimed it was a well-known and proven method of causing anxiety in infant monkeys, citing the cruelties of his infamous predecessor at the university, Harry Harlow.

After I discovered and publicized their plans, a couple of years of campaigning led to them abandoning that small part of the project with the wild explanation that he had discovered that maternal deprivation really doesn’t cause anxiety in infant monkeys. Paradoxically, Sanchez has cited and used Harlow’s methods in her own nightmarish experiments on infant monkeys to disrupt their “emotional regulatory brain circuits,” precisely what Kalin wanted to do. An aside, when I looked at the piece in Inside Higher Ed, it had one comment. It was from Rick Born, a monkey vivisector from Harvard. He thought it was a great piece.

And, in fact, the University of Wisconsin, Madison has a long, extensive, and well documented history of obfuscation and stonewalling. The exemplar case, involving Ned Kalin’s experiments on the brain chemistry of fear in his monkey victims, was the university’s decision to destroy 628 videotapes and myriad other records documenting decades of research at the Wisconsin primate center to keep the Kalin tape from being seen by the public. Sanchez’s claim: “The University of Wisconsin Madison is a leading example of institutional openness on animal research and preparedness to respond to animal-rights extremists,” was just more of the same confused, inaccurate gibberish fed to a gullible public to advance the fortunes of some of the most unethical and morally bereft people on the planet.

But as quirky and oddly coincidental as all that cruelty and false claims are, they were not what grabbed my attention. In the article, Sanchez pointed to the “the Common Ground on Animal Research Initiative within the university and the surrounding community,” an “initiative” being led by the university’s prior PR front man, Eric Sandgren. That surreal reality warp is what caught my attention.

Eric Sandgren’s “Common Ground on Animal Research Initiative”

(If you are landing on this page, Vivisectors Unite! will provide some context.)

For at least the two previous decades, University of Wisconsin, Madison’s previous chief spokesperson for all things vivisection Eric Sangren’s university webpage has been “under construction.” He had been the director of the university’s Research Animal Resources Center and a part-time vivisector up until 2015. There was a news blurb somewhere that I can’t now locate that quoted him saying something to the effect that he was looking forward to getting back to his research and doing more teaching. He has finally gotten to his webpage and is using it to promote something he is calling the Common Ground on Animal Research initiative.

His description of his “initiative” gives me the creeps. Much of what he says is out of sync with history and much of it is frank propaganda. It suggests some muddled thinking. Maybe after decades of having to twist his words to deflect the public’s concerns it has become hard to think or write in a clear and straightforward manner.

He could have been much more straightforward, but maybe he recognized he couldn’t or oughtn’t. If he had been straightforward he would have said that he found personal satisfaction in defending vivisectors and trying to convince the public that the university’s animal welfare violations, state law violations, cover-ups, stonewalling, lies, and misleading propaganda are not important. He could have said that he misses being a spin doctor and seeing his name in the news.

Secondary to his probable self-interested motives, his initiative’s goal is plainly the public’s acceptance of hurting and killing animals in the name of medical science. The appeal to medical science though is slight-of-hand, perhaps unrecognized even by those using it; it dresses up his, the university’s, and the near-universal moral position on the treatment of animals generally. Sandgren was at one time, prior to its forced dissolution, the chair of a sort of super animal use oversight committee called the All Campus Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. One of the committees under its authority was the College of Agriculture Animal Care and Use Committee. The status quo of animals being food was never questioned in the minutes of the All Campus committee. If an animal’s life is less important than the taste of the sausage she is turned into, an appeal to a cure for cancer seems an unnecessarily highfalutin justification for killing them.

Simply, to Sandgren and the university, animals’ lives are less important than the taste of their flesh. That bedrock status quo makes any defense of hurting them in a lab wholly unnecessary. Why bother with some pie in the sky possibility that in some distant day in the future some terrible thing done to animals will be of benefit to a small number of humans?

Sangdren writes:
As part of the first common ground initiative, I have established a new program of research in the social sciences. Members of the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) are world-recognized experts in studying how people make decisions about complex scientific issues that have strong ethical, political, and social components. Simply trying to “present the facts” does not constitute effective communication.... I will apply what LSC is learning about science communication to the issue of animals in research. ...
Over the years, I’ve noticed that many life science related articles centered on the use of animals that one reads in the popular press are written by people who have come out of university science writing programs. It is my impression that they are largely pro-animal use propaganda. UW-Madison’s Life Sciences Communications program is part of the College of Agriculture. The description of the program and the expected career paths of its graduates reinforces my impression about the nature and intent of these programs:
Undergraduate courses in the Department of Life Sciences Communication focus not only on writing, editing, and producing messages, but also on planning, designing, and evaluating effective communication programs....

About one-third of LSC students pursue double majors, combining their interest in communication with another discipline, such as animal sciences, forest and wildlife ecology, or entomology. These students have been particularly attractive to prospective employers.

Our graduates get jobs as reporters, editors, advertising and marketing professionals, technical writers, broadcast producers, and public information staff at universities, and in many other science- and agriculture-related industries.

Students can complete an undergraduate major in LSC under two concentrations:

Communication Strategy
Focuses on the skills and theory necessary to effectively communicate with audiences in the life sciences context, while satisfying the long-term strategic goals of an organization. This concentration includes courses in advertising, social marketing, and risk communication.

Communication Skills and Technologies
Focuses on the skills required to translate organized information into informative and persuasive messages for a variety of media, such as news writing, documentary photography, publications editing, web design, and video production.
So, apparently, the goal is to produce writers who can write persuasive messages for their employers. That is, by definition, propaganda. So, Sandgren wants to hook up with the Collage of Agriculture’s propaganda writing program to develop “communication models” that “help an audience make good decisions about if, when, and how animal research can be acceptable, and to understand the consequences of those decisions.” Creepy.

But Sandgren has already embraced one of the standard models of hoodwinking the public about the use of animals at his and the other zillion animal labs around the world. Vivisectors have embraced the ruse that the animals in the labs are treated well and that the people who hurt and kill them also care about them. There’s some double-talk for you. Sandgren writes:
The second common ground initiative seeks to measure and improve research animal wellbeing through scientific identification of ways to improve animal care, and development and application of tools to quantify wellbeing. This line of research builds on my training and experience as a veterinarian, and takes advantage of the outstanding animal research capabilities at UW-Madison.
A little more than a decade ago, Sandgren attended a meeting of the Alliance for Animals’ antivivisection committee. One of the first things he told us was that he had just adopted two cats and was very surprised by the differences in their personalities. How could a veterinarian not have known that all animals are individuals? Well, largely and until somewhat recently, schools of veterinary medicine were primarily focused on producing veterinarians to assist farmers. The veterinarians and veterinary students I have known have been in general agreement that the programs are desensitizing and do not promote a caring ethic.

Also, it seems from his CV that Sandgren has never been a practicing veterinarian. He learned a little bit about the biology of a few species, but he seems never to have been responsible for caring for them.

He graduated after four years of study from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. To get a sense of the culture of vet schools during the time Sandgren was a student, he once volunteered his opinion on the Thomas Gennarelli case, at the the University of Pennsylvania which made national headlines in 1984. He said that he didn’t think at the time that there was much going on in the lab to be concerned about.

So, when Sandgren says that one of his goals is to improve animal care, develop and apply tools to quantify wellbeing, and build on his training and experience as a veterinarian, it rings hollow. Particularly in light of him defending every horror at UW-Madison that came to light during his decades of tenure as the chair of the All Campus animal use oversight committee and director of the Research Animal Resource Center. No, this flimflam is the standard bill-of-fare from the vivisectors. Nothing new, just more of the same muddying the waters so the public can’t see what lurks below. Maybe the new part is that he says matter-of-factly that he wants to get the School of Ag’s propagandists more involved. Creepy.

Sandgren writes:
Mission statement for the wellbeing initiative: “When using animals in research, teaching, or outreach, we must acknowledge our responsibility to maximize animal wellbeing, as measured at the level of the individual animal, each animal care and use protocol, and the entire animal program. We have established three objectives that address this responsibility. First, we will support scientific studies to identify best practices in the provision of species-specific medical, environmental, and social wellbeing. Second, we will develop metrics to quantify animal pain, distress, or long-term impairment caused by experimental procedures or animal husbandry. Third, we will demonstrate how to apply these metrics to achieve significant and continuous improvements in animal wellbeing, as consistent with both sound science and rigorous ethical review of every proposed animal use.”
This is a crock. The first step in maximizing animal wellbeing is to stop hurting them. A couple other easy steps: Stop breeding them. Stop buying them. Stop putting them in cages. Stop paying people to hurt them. Stop defending those who hurt them. Just stop.

Rigorous ethical review my ass. Like the lip service given to wellbeing, this is rhetoric intended to hoodwink the public. The last thing the industry wants is rigorous ethical review. Currently, there isn’t any ethical review, rigorous or otherwise. I suspect the vivisectors understand that rigorous ethical review would be a death knell for the industry.

And “sound science,” what the heck does that mean in the context of an animal lab? I suspect that an average reader would assume, if they took a moment to ponder the notion, that at the very least, it would mean not doing the same thing over and over again if what you are doing isn’t working. But, in fact, most of what is happening in the vivisection labs is not sound science. It is dressed up to look like science, but more than not, it is redundant dead-end cruelty that continues only because it is what the vivisectors have always done and other vivisectors in positions of authority keep sending money their way to keep it up. Sheesh.

And here’s the creepiest thing of all:
I have developed a course entitled “Addressing Controversy: The Science, Ethics, and Communication of Animal Research”, to be offered to undergraduate students in the spring of 2017. This course builds on my appreciation for the complexity of communicating scientific issues like research with animals, in which ethical, political, and social considerations may have as much or more impact on people’s opinions as do facts. This course has two overarching goals. The first is to provide a background in the rationale and history of animal use in science, ethical principles relevant to this subject, and key requirements that have been identified for effectively communicating about complex science of this type. Second, the course will give students experience in critiquing and then creating presentations that incorporate both the benefits and costs of animal research. The overall objective is to guide students to develop honest and well-justified views of animal research, and learn how to communicate those views to others. This course is a part of my larger research program that seeks to develop and share validated models of communication about animal research that avoid the “sound bite” approaches typically used in the debate. I plan to develop course alternatives that can be offered to either advanced or beginning undergraduates, as well as students in K-12.
Vivisectors targeting children, using tax-payer money to do so. That sounds unethical to me.

Over and above this unethical use of public funds to promote his personal agenda, I think it is particularly problematic because of the unbalanced power relationship between an instructor and their students. I don’t think it is possible for a dishonest person to guide anyone in an honest evaluation of the very thing that the instructor has lied about.

Sandgren says that he has involved UW ethicist Robert Streiffer in the development of his Initiative. That doesn’t speak too well for the university’s philosophy department. Quite simply, anathema to academic philosophers perhaps, some ethical/moral issues are not complex. Eating animals is not a complicated moral conundrum. Slavery isn’t either. Or raping children. Or nuclear war. There is not meaningful nuance in everything. Some things are plainly wrong. Vivisection is plainly wrong.


Sandgren points to four examples of his public communications and outreach on his website:

“Using Animals in Research: A Debate”, debate at UW-Madison with activist Rick Bogle, 3-23-2006.

“Are Animal Models Predictive for Humans?”, debate at UW-Madison with activist Dr. Ray Greek, 7-26-2007. [Transcript]

“Animal Research Ethics Discussion”, debate at UW-Madison with bioethicist Jeffry Kahn about UW-Professor Ned Kalin’s controversial research with monkeys, 10-9-2014.

“Animal Research Regulations and Oversight”, lecture and panel discussion for UW-Madison FARE, 12-11-2014.

A couple he missed:

Primate Research at UW - For The Record 2008 - YouTube Monkey experiment controversy |

The Ethics of Animal Research
A Forum addressing the topic of animal, and more specifically primate research at the University of Wisconsin. undated
Rick Bogle, Alliance for Animals
Prof. John Webster, Biomedical Engineering
Eric Sandgren, Dir. UW Research Animal Resource Center
Moderator: Michael Schuler Parish Minister
First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin

Friday, September 29, 2017

Killing Dangerous Animals

The article, “Why pit bulls will break your heart,” from the on-line magazine Animals 24-7, was posted to Facebook earlier this week (September 24, 2017); it had been published in the magazine in January. It was written by Beth Clifton, the magazine's social media and photo editor. Beth is married to the magazine’s editor Merritt Clifton, who at one time wrote and published the widely-read Animal People monthly newspaper.

The Cliftons have written numerous articles critical of pit bulls. In an article from January 16, 2017, “Purging the pit bull cancer from the heart & soul of animal advocacy,” they wrote: "At this writing, barely two weeks into 2017, nine of the most recent 30 articles posted to ANIMALS 24-7 have documented various aspects of pit bull proliferation and the consequences thereof."

To an extent, I agree with them. Pit bulls should be banned. (I’d make the unlicensed breeding of all animals illegal, and I’d make it devilishly difficult to get a license.) I think a ban on pit bulls is a reasonable place to start if someone decides to attack the problems associated with keeping pets in general, breed by breed. The fact that pit bulls are so likely to be used in ways that cause them great harm is reason enough to start with them.

Beth Clifton’s article was the story of her experience with a pit bull she adopted as a puppy. She named him Trooper. Trooper had a series of serious medical problems, had an unstable early life, and he was aggressive at times. He was involved in a fight with another pit bull that resulted in serious injury to both. Beth says that she was not comfortable having her grand children be near Trooper. When he “demonstrated” that “he would have done [a] tortoise grave injury,” she choose to have Trooper killed.

Jonathon Paul, a long time animal activist, commented: "Why would you make the choice that this dog must die? What gives you that right? Don't get me wrong as a deep ecologist and a vegan I believe we have to breed out all domestic animals out of existence and allow all the wild ones to thrive, although the difference between us is that I am not going to just kill an animal because I don't think it should be here I advocate more of stopping breeding by spay neuter, and this also includes humans. I do no understand the animal welfarist point of view....."

I commented: "I agree with Jonathan. Sometimes it helps to recast the situation by replacing other animals with humans and looking at the situation. I do not think the State has the right to kill someone convicted of any crime. Dangerous humans might have to be kept in prison, but it seems unethical to me to execute them. If we ought not execute proven very dangerous humans we should not kill potentially or proven dangerous dogs. To me, the philosophy of animal rights is identical to the Golden Rule applied to all sentient beings."

Merritt Clifton replied: "What about the rights to life & safety of other dogs, gopher tortoises, small children, et al? The late Tom Regan and Peter Singer would have made exactly the same choice that Beth did, as Tom explained to me personally when we discussed pit bulls, years before I met Beth. Neither any widely accepted theory of animal rights nor any tenet of the generally pro-life Buddhist and Hindu religions precludes killing a demonstrably dangerous animal to prevent harm to oneself & others, as Mohandas Gandhi, for one, explained at length in an essay specifically about the necessity of killing dangerous dogs."

Merritt’s appeal to authority notwithstanding, his reply unintentionally goes to the heart of the animal rights debate. In general, should we treat other animals the way we think other humans should be treated? I think we should, the Cliftons believe otherwise. This matters because Merritt Clifton has spent a goodly portion of his life writing about things going on in the animal rights movement. He has always appeared to be a part of the movement, though he might think of himself simply as a reporter. In any case, he tries to influence public opinion. On the matter of killing nuisance animals, he runs way off track.

In the U.S., in 2016, only 20 humans were executed. And all of those were killed only after extensive legal proceedings. Nineteen states have banned the death penalty altogether. No state has made inconvenience a capital offense.

Beth Clifton responded to Jonathan Paul: “The answer to your question Jonathan ‘why would I make the choice that this dog must die?’ If you thoroughly read my essay about Trooper and I, you have your answer. And I believe your compassion for animals should be extended to ALL of them, both human and non-human. We don't know each other all that well, but when I met you at the AR conference, you were sincere and I immediately took a liking to you so this is why I am answering your comment. My decision to euthanize Trooper was to protect my family and as the matriarch of my family it was my right and duty! I would do it again. You never knew Trooper, and you don't really know me. And it is so typical of many in the animal rights movement to judge before understanding the issues. You may be willing to risk harm to those around you. I had the intelligence, compassion and empathy to avoid a tragedy that was 100% avoidable!"

Jonathon Paul replied: "I did read the article Beth Clifton. Just don't see eye to eye with you. I am not also the typical animal rights activist however you seem to be the typical animal welfarist. I would agree that domestic animals are and can be a problem mostly because they have been created by humans. As a deep ecologist and vegan I feel we should our breed out of existence all domestic animals but not necessarily exterminate them. The part that makes me the most uncomfortable is the attitude of controlling and deciding the fate of other creatures while we don't even consider the most dangerous and aggressive species on the planet and that is the human race. All I know is that I could not euthanize a dog I raised from a puppy because I wanted to remove a potential problem."

Beth Clifton: "I never claimed to be an “animal rights” anything! Frankly many of you seem to be extremists! Furthermore, public safety is not at the top of their agenda or yours apparently. I consider myself a free thinker and I don’t have to follow anyone’s party line. You seem to be old school ALF. And by saying you are a deep ecologist explains your approval of fighting dogs as pets. If you hold that we as humans are an invasive species, pit bulls will take care of that problem. I feel better about our disagreement Jonathan. You hold extreme beliefs that I could never philosophically agree with."

To me, aggressiveness and inconvenience do not justify killing anyone. I thought that, perhaps, the Clifton’s focus on pit bulls might have led to a sort of ethical myopia, so I tried reframing the matter in other terms. I asked: “Merritt Clifton, what if Trooper had been a lion? Adopted as a cub, with the thought that maybe he could learn to get along with other animals in the house? When Trooper the lion began, well, being a lion, would you recommend killing him?”

Merritt Clifton replied: "If your aunt had balls, would she be your uncle? I deal in realities, not hypotheticals."

His humorous quip and follow-up sidestepped the question altogether, perhaps he could foresee the problems ahead had he tried; he seems to have decided to punt rather than to think. But what if Trooper had been a chimpanzee who had actually hurt a human rather than a dog who might one day hurt a tortoise? Apparently, from the many comments in the thread, those who supported Beth Clifton would have said either, yes, kill the chimpanzee (they would have used the common euphemism no doubt), or else it’s OK to kill a dog but not a chimpanzee. Likewise, they must either support the death penalty for humans, or else argue that the death penalty applies only to animals.

Moreover, with regard to animals, they would have to argue that the decision to kill an animal is the owner’s alone. Convention aside, I do not hold to the notion that I have ever owned any of the animals with whom I have spent my life, and I don't have the right to kill them.

In response to my question about whether she would have chosen to kill an aggressive lion, Beth responded: “Rick, come on, lol, please re-read the article for the details. Susan summed it up very succinctly.”

The succinct statement Beth referred to was this: “Pit bulls are sold to the public as domesticated family pets. It is a lie of course. Many people believe that lie. Normal dogs do not suddenly and with no provocation attack people and other animals. To compare pit bulls to wild animals is accurate but the fly in the ointment is the lies told to the public that pit bulls are perfectly wonderful family pets when they aren’t.”

And that, the Clifton’s et al. seemingly agree, makes it OK to kill them.

Two final things: here's an example of a more respectful way to deal with animals who might pose a danger to others.

There are situations that might morally require us to kill someone. I've read of Jews escaping the Nazis inadvertently smothering their infants when trying to keep them quiet to protect everyone in the group. I've personally killed a few animals whose pain had become unmanageable as the result of aggressive cancers or inoperable terminal conditions involving intractable pain. Killing isn't in and of itself wrong, but killing someone who has become a liability, a nuisance, or an inconvenience, in most instances, definitely is.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Slow News Day at NIH

“NIH-funded mouse study sheds light on neural risks associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.”

“The team administered alcohol to pregnant mice at levels that resulted in peak blood alcohol concentrations approximately like those of people who either drink socially or who have severe alcohol use disorder. They then examined fetal brain cell response to alcohol and two other environmental stressors --hydrogen peroxide and methyl mercury—all known to induce oxidative stress...”.


Project Number: 1R21AA024882-01A1
Total Funding: $207,813.
Direct Costs: $118,750. Indirect Costs: $89,063

Project Number: 1R01AA025215-01
Total Funding: $368,513.
Direct Costs: $210,579. Indirect Costs: $157,934

BIOMARKER FOR INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY IN CHILDREN PRENATALLY EXPOSED TO ALCOHOL [“The Hashimoto-Torii lab will perform the single-cell droplet digital PCR- based biomarker analyses (drop-PCR) with both human and mouse blood samples. The Torii lab will collect the mouse blood samples, perform comprehensive mouse behavior analyses, and statistically evaluate potential correlations between the animal behaviors and drop-PCR results.”] Project Number: 1UH2AA026106-01 Total Funding: $261,791.
Direct Costs: $157,340. Indirect Costs: $104,451


In 2007, it was reported that women who received 10- to 15-minutes of counseling from a nutritionist about the risks of drinking were 5 times more likely to report abstinence during their pregnancy. [O’Connor, Mary J., and Shannon E. Whaley. "Brief intervention for alcohol use by pregnant women." American journal of public health 97.2 (2007): 252-258.]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Up is Down, or Happy Lab Rats

It seems to be a law of human nature that whenever someone or some group is routinely doing something evil, and the public learns of it, the person or group denies it and is compelled to dress it up in a way that is nearly or even exactly the opposite of reality.

The propaganda from people and organizations whose incomes rest squarely on hurting and killing animals in the name of $cience are examples of this phenomena. For as long as I have been reading about the use of animals in science, people like me have have been pointing to the terrible things occurring in the labs, while the people working in or in support of the labs have been claiming that the people hurting and killing the animals care about them and respect them.

Most of the images above come from a somewhat new website created by the not-so-new Americans for Medical Progress, whose name is an Orwellian twist on the group's actual work and goal which is clearly the defense and promotion of vivisection.

This strategy isn't new. Not at all.

As criticism of slavery in the South escalated, pro-slavery propaganda made absurd claims about how much slave owners cared for their slaves and how very happy they were.

The National Holocaust Memorial Museum explains that in response to growing international awareness of Nazi atrocities, that the Red Cross was allowed to visit the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia.

"Elaborate measures were taken to disguise conditions in the ghetto and to portray an atmosphere of normalcy. This footage, showing an orchestral performance, is part of a German propaganda film made following the Red Cross visit to Theresienstadt."

The term used for such intentional deceit, the effort to make those on the outside think things on the inside are much better than they are, is Potemkin village.
To my knowledge, the most extreme case(s) of using a Potemkin village to delude people are the websites run by the vivisection industry's lobbyists and front groups. They vary a bit, but a common deception is the use of images of attractive people holding seemingly happy animals in a friendly manner, but that representation is a facade that hides a cold and gruesome reality.

These images serve the same purpose as the drawings of happy slaves and the Nazi's staging at Theresienstadt. They are intended only to deceive.

It seems that the elaboration of the facades, the absurdity of the falsehoods, increase in step with the degree of horror the perpetrators are trying to hide. Covering up and hiding atrocities is always despicable. It is particularly odious when taxpayer-funded entities become participants. At that point, it is tantamount to government trying to fool the public into believing something that is the opposite of what it is actually doing and paying others to do.

Treason is the term used when a citizen betrays their country; I don’t think there is a word for government hoodwinking citizens, but betrayal comes close.

The reality hidden behind the smiling faces is much different.

USDA inspection reports, the materials and methods sections of published papers, undercover videos and photographs reveal an altogether different world than the happy nonsense and fake news from the industry's propagandists. To them, the animals are disposable.

Plain unalterable facts make it clear that in many cases the animals are treated poorly. And even when they are treated relatively well, it is a prelude to their eventual use. In essentially all cases, their living conditions are severely constrained and commonly bleak.

There is no way to dress up vivisection without a gross misrepresentation of the plain facts.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Speaking of misleading people...

There is a big and important difference between being wrong and trying to fool people. Anyone who writes very much about things done in secret is bound to get things wrong every now and then. But knowing the truth and telling people something different is a whole other matter.

When one knows the truth, but tells someone something different, to financially benefit oneself, it is an example of the worse sort of lying. It will come as no shock to my regular readers to learn that a very recent case of this sort of swindle involves the group of self-interested vivisectors who misleadingly call themselves Speaking of Research.

The group wrote on their website something they titled “Open letter: Private workshop on the “necessity” of monkey research does not represent broad public interests or the scientific community.” (Isn’t everything on a public website an “open letter”?)

They were up in arms that Jeffrey Kahn, Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, had the gall and timidity to convene a workshop centered around the question of using monkeys in biomedical research. How dare he, they complained, since the NIH (forced by concerns from member of Congress) put on a workshop less than a year earlier (“Continued Responsible Oversight of Research with Non-Human Primates”) that came to the (NIH-wanted) conclusion that the use of primates in NIH-funded research was just as it should be.

To understand the fullness of their deceit, you should review what transpired at the NIH “workshop.” It was a sham, a show-trial for those pesky members of Congress.

Continued Responsible Oversight - Part 1
Continued Responsible Oversight - Part 2
Continued Responsible Oversight - Part 3 (Which you might want to read first.)

Speaking made the outlandish claim: “The scientific community has publicly weighed in on the necessity of primate research,” and pointed to hundreds of vivisectors who support the continued use of primates. (Previously, Speaking was all hot and bothered by the change in U.S. policy regarding the use of chimpanzees.) But the “scientific community” has decidedly not weighed in. Moreover, since it is claimed that science per se is morally neutral, opinions held by scientists on moral questions should not have more weight than anyone else’s. Particularly not when the opining scientists have a clear vested interest in the answer to the question. Examples of scientists accepting cash and then providing a wanted scientific opinion for a company or industry are legion.

The claim that the “scientific community” has weighed in is also very misleading. A tiny number, relative to the size of the entire scientific community, have voiced an opinion, and the opinions of those who have, have been cherry-picked by the vivisection community to bolster their claim that without experiments on animals all medical progress will screech to a halt and babies will die.

But nearly all of those who have added their names to the claim that we must keep hurting and killing monkeys are financially vested in the practice or in the practice of hurting and killing other animals. Characterizing this extraordinarily biased constituency as the “scientific community” is either a grandiose delusion or else just simple propaganda, in other words, a lie. Here’s the vivisection community’s spiel which includes a list of the people who signed on in agreement: “Primate research is crucial if we are to find cures for diseases like Parkinson's.” The Guardian, 9-16.

Reading down the list of people who added their names, almost all have clear professional and financial ties to animal experimentation. It’s like saying that the energy production community says that without coal we won’t have electricity and to prove it, here’s a letter saying so signed by coal company executives and miners.

Moreover, Speaking says that the conclusion of the NIH-convened workshop, stacked with those vested in the system, proves that everything is as it should be, but the self-serving nature of the workshop was blatant.

Speaking’s criticism that the Johns Hopkins workshop on the necessity of monkey research did not represent “broad public interests or the scientific community” is ludicrous. Polls show that public opinion is shifting, with a clear majority of women opposed to animal experimentation. Published surveys have shown unequivocally that the general public has significantly more concern over the use of primates than the use of rodents.

It is clear that the Johns Hopkins workshop was much more in tune with broad public interests than the silly and staged NIH workshop, let alone vivisectors’ self-serving endorsement of hurting and killing more monkeys.

In looking at the publications on this topic, I happened across one in Science that reported on the changes in a response that resulted from changes in the words used in the questions asked by pollsters. [How much does the public support animal research? Depends on the question Science 9-14.)] In the U.K., people seem to be more supportive of “animal research” than they are of “animal experimentation.” That begs the question of whether any words can adequately express what is being asked in such polls. It would tell us much more about public opinion if people could get a good idea what they are being asked about.

Let’s educate people about what is done to the animals, how they are stored, and how the data from the experiments is used. They should see videos of the animals in the cages and bins, and of the animals being used, and be provided with an accounting of the clinical benefits or lack thereof that resulted, and then asked whether they are comfortable paying for it all. Don’t hold your breath though, such video documentation is vigorously guarded by the vivisection community; the very last thing they want is an informed public.

Speaking’s protestation notwithstanding, it is awesome that ethicists are looking more seriously at our treatment of those less powerful but no less sensitive or deserving than ourselves.