The keystone of Dario Ringach's claim about his intuitive sense that we ought to always choose a human over another animal was illustrated by him at his recent lecture in Madison. He showed a slide that looked something like this this:
He makes the simple claim that the only moral option would be to save the child from the burning house and leave the mouse behind to be burned to death.
That's fine, but he could have used other examples, like this one:
A more germane image would have been one like this:
Ringach says things like: "... those working with animals also feel in such a way, but they also feel for the mothers that fight breast cancer, the children with leukemia, the elderly with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s."
"While searching for answers to difficult problems (such as developing a cure for cancer), it is expected for many paths to lead to dead ends..."
"... cancerous tumors can certainly be grown in humans as they are in mice, but we do not consider the practice morally acceptable."
"... if you learn that a member of your family has terminal cancer, you will suffer in ways that a mouse cannot comprehend. If you are exposed to the sights of millions of children with AIDS in Africa, you will suffer in ways monkeys cannot understand. This is real suffering and it should matter to you."
And he is entitled to his opinions. But his frequent appeals to mothers, children, and cancer, particularly cancer, are indeed odd when considered against the backdrop of his own research. Interestingly, when he was asked various questions, he said more than once something like: "Well, I don't do those things," or "I'm not talking about product testing on animals." Indeed. But he wasn't talking about the things he does do either. This image fairly demonstrates his actual practice:
It looks like the hundreds or thousands of humans in the burning skyscraper matter less to Ringach than the people who might be trapped in the smoking house. He must really hate people. Why else would he decide to spend his time working on theoretical details about ocular dominance rather than try to find a way to cure some mother's baby of cancer? Why does he talk primarily about the diseases that frighten people rather than his actual work? Maybe he intuitively recognizes that most people wouldn't be so quick to choose the human over a mouse, or a dog?
Since about 2000, according to the National Institutes of Health, Dario Ringach has recieved about $5 million in taxpayer dollars to investigate "the nature of ongoing cortical activity, what it represents, and how it interacts with external stimuli to generate a "real-time" response in primary visual cortex." From: 5R01EY012816: QUANTITATIVE STUDIES OF CORTICAL VISUAL PROCESSING. $2,839,896.
"A hallmark of primary visual cortex is its organization into maps of visual space, orientation and ocular dominance. Despite remarkable advances in our ability to measure the structure of cortical maps and their mutual relationships, many important questions remain unanswered. How do these maps develop? Why are maps missing in some species? What role do maps play, if any, in cortical computation? The central goal of our research is to seek answers to these fundamental questions of cortical development, organization and function that have eluded us for decades." From: 5R01EY018322: THEORETICAL STUDIES OF VISUAL CORTEX. $2,083,837.
According to the National Federation for the Blind the number of non-institutionalized, males or females, of all ages, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with all education levels in the United States reported to have a visual disability in 2011 were:
Age 18 to 64: 3,372,400
Age 65 and older: 2,743,600
About 1.2 million people in the U.S. die each year from cancer or heart disease.
No one dies from a visual disability.
Taking him at his word, he'd rush into a burning building and save a child rather than a mouse. But the implication of his actions is that he'd rush into a burning house rather than a burning skyscraper, no matter the number of people who might suffer the consequences of his ethical intuition. It looks to me like his intuition might be colored by the millions of dollars that he thinks is stuffed under the mattress in the house. He studies the arcane details of animals' brains, but defends his choices with appeals to mothers and cancer. It's dishonest, but if he actually used his own work to justify his industry's cruelty, well, even he seems to be less than convinced.