Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"For the Record"

I’ve just come home from taping a segment for the Sunday morning program “For the Record” on Madison’s CBS affiliate WISC-TV 3. I was on a panel talking about animal experimentation with my colleague, Rick Marolt, and UW researchers Eric Sandgren and Richard Davidson. You should be able to see the segment on line after it airs on June 22, 2008.

The most interesting insight was the result of off-camera discussion. Davidson seemed more than baffled by the primary point: that monkeys are so like us that any rational explanation for why we shouldn’t experiment on non-consenting humans would logically extend to them.

He could only repeat his position that if experiments on monkeys lead to improvements in human health care, then he’s for it. Period. He got a little huffy about it. When asked what characteristics monkeys have or are lacking that make it ok to use them, he would only say that if it helps humans, it’s ok. It’s like he couldn’t get his mind around the question.


Anonymous said...

What characteristics monkeys have that make it wrong to use them?

Rick said...


Anonymous said...

Even social amoeba display altruistic behavior: http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=901

Complex problem solving has also been displayed by a number of different species. Crows and ravens have been shown to use tools (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtmLVP0HvDg) and the jumping spider can plan long detours to reach a prey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salticidae) and has a visual acuity comparable to that of a cat.

Many species show ability to draw causal-logical relations (http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085555)

Fruit flies sleep and can pay attention to particular stimuli (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14945525/ and http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/315/5818/1461h).

Rats dream (http://discovermagazine.com/1992/jul/dreamsofarat76)

Complex social organization is widespread in insects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eusociality)

...and so on.

None of the characteristics you mention are exclusive to monkeys.

You could easily be charged with speciesism for putting monkeys above all other creatures.

Rick said...

Just as rights for women preceded rights for racial minorities, which in turn preceded right for persons with handicaps, rights for all animals may not emerge as a set piece. Chimpanzee and other apes have already been afforded some basic protections. This suggests a stepwise progression.

BTW, the "social amoeba" you point to is actually a slime mold, a group of organisms with uncertain ancestry or taxonomic relation to other species. They are very interesting. I read a paper a few years ago that reported that some slime molds are very good at solving mazes and finding the shortest distance to a food source.

It is well worth keeping in mind that mind isn't at all understood. Stating definitively which organisms have minds and which don't is pure conjecture at this point in time.

The prudent course for all who profess concern for the beings who appear to act with volition is to leave them alone or to help when you can. After a rain, I put earthworms stranded on the pavement back in the grass.

As hard as it is to generate concern for apes and monkeys, dogs and cats, I am not too hopeful that many people will soon have much concern for earthworms or slime molds.