Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why Animal Experimenters Should Be Vegetarians

By Joel Marks, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of New Haven and a Bioethics Center Scholar at Yale University.

When antivivisectionists protest the use of animals in biomedical research, they are commonly met with retorts like this:

“Our faculty members employ animals only when there are no alternative models for advancing their research; our laboratories comply with or exceed all federal regulations and independent accreditation standards. As we continue to advance modern medicine, and provide hope for millions of patients and their families, [our] scientists will sustain their commitment to the humane use of animals in research.” (Yale University press release, July 13, 2010.)

This press release is in line with the so-called 3Rs – replacement (of animals with nonanimal alternatives), reduction (in the number of animals used when their use is deemed essential), and refinement (in the treatment of animals so as to minimize their pain and distress) – the standard of animal research since the 1950s. Nevertheless, it is possible to question whether the use of animals in laboratories may not have been or at least no longer is crucial to medical advances. And even if it is, it does not automatically follow that it should be done or is even morally permissible.

Why not? Simply consider the human analogue. It would no doubt be even more useful to use human beings for the same sorts of medical research that animals are used for; after all, what could be a better “model” for human disease than a human being? But the contemporary consensus is that that would be unconscionable. But then utility, even to the point of “necessity” (for example, to find the cure for cancer as quickly as possible), does not by itself justify laboratory research on a sentient being.

But let us suppose that animal research were both useful for medical progress and morally permissible due to some relevant distinction between human and other animals. Apparently this is what the medical community itself believes, judging by its support for animal research. What I want to argue now is that it would follow that medical researchers should be vegetarians.
Much more ...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The ABCs of Opinion

Robert Streiffer rightly argues that attributing beliefs to people based on their actions may lead one to false conclusions about their beliefs.
[I]f you are attributing beliefs to people on the basis of their actions, rather than on what they say their beliefs are, it must be kept in mind that the actions in question are not the product of people’s beliefs about the moral status of NHPs taken in isolation. Rather, the actions are the product of (a) their beliefs about the moral status of NHPs, taken in conjunction with (b) their beliefs about the harms of research and (c) their beliefs about the value of the research.
His comment was in response to my claim that those conducting harmful experiments on monkeys or those approving the research – as Streiffer does in his role as an ACUC member – must believe that monkeys have almost no moral status and that even a researcher’s whim is sufficient justification for using monkeys or other animals in ways certain to harm them.

Streiffer strongly denied that he holds such a position. My perception and explanation for why he and others support experiments on monkeys must therefore, he seems to imply, be erroneous.

Helpfully, Streiffer identified three key factors that may influence the opinions of those who engage in or otherwise support primate experimentation (and by extension, the use of all animals):

(a) their beliefs about the moral status of NHPs [nonhuman primates] taken in conjunction with
(b) their beliefs about the harms of research and
(c) their beliefs about the value of the research.

Strieffer seems to be arguing albeit implicitly that words should have precedent over actions when trying to divine a person’s actual beliefs. He has in the past pointed to the language in the regulations governing the use of some animals in some research that appear on the surface to imply some ethical weighing. In actual fact, ethical weighing occurs rarely in research using animals but is overt and required in research using humans. See my essay "The Ethics Underpinning Oversight" November 28, 2010.

People’s actual, operational beliefs about the moral status of monkeys (or any other belief, it seems to me) can be determined or gleaned much more accurately by their actions in settings that give them an option of behaving one way or another. No matter what someone claims, their actions are telling. No matter how honest one claims to be, if he or she repeatedly engages in fraud, theft, plagiarism, lying, etc., claims of honesty will ring hollow.

It is common to hear from the industry that those using animals “respect” them and consider it a “privilege” to use them and wish there was some other way. But how would researchers at a university or elsewhere behave if they genuinely respected the animals they used? At a minimum, it seems reasonable to expect that surgical suites would be kept clean, yet UW-Madison has been cited recently by the USDA for not keeping such facilities clean.

People’s operational, as opposed to their stated beliefs about the moral status of animals can be surmised by observing their actions. In circumstances where one’s beliefs could be expected to guide one’s behavior, that behavior will be a more accurate measure of a person’s beliefs than their public claims.

Streiffer seems to imply that in most instances researchers may believe that the harms to the monkeys and other animals are not very great. But if this is true then they must be ignorant of the use of monkeys on the whole because even monkeys not used in an experiment suffer from chronic diarrhea and signs of confinement-induced stereotypic behavior (pacing, spinning, odd postures, over-grooming, etc) and self-mutilation. Just keeping monkeys in the typical laboratory setting is clearly and demonstrably harmful to them. See for instance Stereotypic and self-injurious behavior in rhesus macaques: a survey and retrospective analysis of environment and early experience. Lutz C, Well A, Novak M. American Journal of Primatology. 2003.

But maybe they actually do recognize that the harm is great, which I believe even a casual observer would recognize. If the harm is great, it appears that only Streiffer’s third point could salvage his claim that vivisectors don’t consider the monkeys used to have a very low moral status:(c) their beliefs about the value of the research.

Presumably, if they believe the research has low value, then we are back to the conclusion that they must not have much moral concern for the monkeys’ lives and experiences. So Streiffer must be arguing that the researchers and those who approve their work believe that the research has high value. (It certainly has high monetary value to the researchers and even greater monetary value to the university, but I take it that he is thinking in terms of benefit to human society and those suffering or who will in the future suffer from some malady that might be ameliorated through the knowledge gained during the experiments.)

The industry and its shills are wont to claim that essentially every advance in healthcare is the result of experiments on animals and moreover, research using animals is a veritable fount of new treatments and cures.

A more sober look at the history of medicine and public health coupled with the current concern over the woeful lack of results (benefiting actual patients) from basic research suggests something much different.

A friend recently asked me for a good citation for my observation that sanitation and providing clean water are far and away the most significant advances in public health, ever. I hadn’t made quite this bold of a statement, but I am now confident in doing so.

At the time, I referred him to Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, 1997. Norton. 426-427 passim, which I quote here:
Interpretations of the retreat first of epidemic diseases, and also of the increase in life expectancy, have been hotly debated. Some maintain the mass of the population was slowly but surely becoming less pauperized, and was enjoying better nourishment and hence improved health. Others argue that improving health was not due to rising prosperity but to better environmental salubrity due to public health measures, reducing the disease risks to which the hungry huddled masses were exposed.

Historians have distinguished between the retreats of epidemics in the eighteenth century and of endemic diseases in the nineteenth. Since plague was probably halted by the cordon sanitaire along the Habsburg border with the Ottoman empire, public health measures (‘medical police’) probably contributed to the reduction of epidemics. Smallpox vaccination from the early nineteenth century served to make epidemics less severe and frequent. The decline of plague and smallpox would thus have nothing to do with nutrition standards but some link with public health action. Endemic diseases such as tuberculosis and infant diarrhoea, by contrast, do seem to have been made more sever by under-nutrition. The reduction in such diseases might be linked to wage improvements. In either case little that personal physicians did was reflected in improved health.

Did public health measures actually do any good? The distinguished epidemiologist Thomas McKeown (1912 – 1988) maintained that reductions in deaths associated with infectious diseases (air-, water-, and food-borne diseases) cannot have been brought about by medical advances, since such diseases were declining long before effective means were available to combat them. Applying much the same argument to sanitary measures, McKeown concluded that resistance to infectious disease must have increased through improvement in nutrition. Overall he mapped out three phases: a rising standard of living from about 1770; sanitation measures from 1870; and better therapy during the twentieth century.

McKeown, however, underestimated the effectiveness of the public health movement. Changing public opinion, the labors of medical officers of health, the creation of filtered water supplies and sewage systems, slum clearance, the work of activists promoting the gospel of cleanliness, and myriad other often minor changes – for example the provision of dustbins with lids, to repel flies – combined to create an improving urban environment.
Porter’s observations are compelling to me, but I wasn’t fully satisfied that he presented the facts in a way that would lead an uncritical reader to the same conclusion as mine. As a consequence, I began reading a little more about the history of public health.

George Rosen’s 1958 A History of Public Health is a classic in the field. It was reprinted in an expanded edition by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 1993. With the expanded and helpful bibliographies (there are two) it is just over 500 pages in length. For those with an interest in this area of study, I recommend it; I have many pages marked and passages starred.

The introduction is written by Elizabeth Fee, Ph.D., Chief of the History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, NIH. In her introduction, she too mentions Thomas McKeown:
Rosen also asks whether the new scientific methods bore any relation to the actual decline in infectious diseases. This question was also to be addressed, and answered largely in the negative, in Thomas McKeown’s enormously influential book, The Modern Rise of Population, (1976.)
This citation first led me to Thomas McKeown and R. G. Record’s “Reasons for the Decline of Mortality in England and Wales During the Nineteenth Century.” Population Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2. (1962), pp. 94-122 which is an earlier less detailed account of McKeown’s thesis and includes some graphical data not in the later work. His thesis is more fully developed and a few potential errors corrected in The Modern Rise of Population.

McKeown’s work is not without its critics. Interestingly, and germane to the discussion here though, is the nature of the controversy. See for instance: The McKeown Thesis: A Historical Controversy and Its Enduring Influence. James Colgrove. American Journal of Public Health. 2002:
The consensus among most historians about the McKeown thesis a quarter century after it first stirred controversy is that one narrow aspect of it was correct—that curative medical measures played little role in mortality decline prior to the mid-20th century...

The ongoing interest in McKeown's ideas, not only among historians but also among policymakers addressing contemporary issues, is striking. What accounts for his work's remarkable durability? Why has the influence of the McKeown thesis persisted even after its conclusions were discredited? In part, his writing continues to generate responses because many scholars believe that although McKeown's analysis was flawed, his underlying ideas regarding the effects of poverty and economic well-being on health were essentially correct. More broadly, McKeown's influence has continued to be felt because his research posed a fundamental question that has lost none of its relevance in the decades since he began writing in the post–World War II era: Are public health ends better served by narrow interventions focused at the level of the individual or the community, or by broad measures to redistribute the social, political, and economic resources that exert such a profound influence on health status at the population level?

... Far from fading in prominence, the questions he raised have assumed new salience at the beginning of the 21st century, especially in debates about how best to confront health threats such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in the developing world. For example, commenting on the recent initiative to provide AIDS drugs in poor nations, a health activist based in Nepal summed up the 2 sides of this debate when he noted, “There has been an overemphasis . . . [on] drugs. The lack of drinking water is a much bigger priority in most countries than anti-retroviral treatments.”
McKeown argued that the dramatic decline in the death rate was due to the decline in mortality from infectious disease. On this point, there is wide agreement. The controversy arose because McKeown argued steadfastly that the largest share of this decline was unrelated to the work of the sanitary movement, but rather due to the decline in tuberculosis which he argued was the number one cause of death from infectious disease and that the decline was due largely to the improvement in diet.

The controversy is of absolutely no consequence to the well respected broadly acknowledged fact that there was a dramatic drop in the death rate from infectious disease prior to any accurate understanding of the cause of these diseases or effective treatments. Thus, experiments on animals played absolutely no role in the most dramatic drop in death rate in human history.

Readers of this blog will know that I am a fan of charts and graphs, and The Modern Rise of Population is full of them. Below is one that demonstrates the decline in deaths from whooping cough (Pertussis)

Keep in mind that the pro-vivisection organizations argue that essentially all medical progress is due to animal experimentation, and whooping cough is no exception. (Just google whooping cough animal research.) The whooping cough example has implications for the larger question at hand, namely the actual opinions of vivisectors vs their claimed opinions. I will come back to this below.In the meantime, consider the dramatic decline in mortality that occurred in the nineteenth century prior to any meaningful medical therapy or prophylaxis, or even knowledge of microorganisms, as a sort of bookend to the history of modern public health advancement, at the other end, is the modern critique of the basic research enterprise.

This second bookend is comprised of recent scientific papers and articles in the popular press such as:

Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science. David H. Friedman. Atlantic Monthly. 2010.

Where Are the Cures? Sharon Begley. Newsweek. 2008.

Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: systematic review. Perel P, Roberts I, Sena E, Wheble P, Briscoe C, Sandercock P, Macleod M, Mignini LE, Jayaram P, Khan KS. BMJ. 2007.

Translation of Research Evidence From Animals to Humans. Daniel G. Hackam, Donald A. Redelmeier, 2006, JAMA.

Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. John P. A. Ioannidis. PLoS Med. 2005.

Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans? Pound P, Ebrahim S, Sandercock P, Bracken MB, Roberts I. BMJ.

Does animal experimentation inform human healthcare? Observations from a systematic review of international animal experiments on fluid resuscitation. Roberts I, Kwan I, Evans P & Haig S. BMJ 2002.

At one end of this tableau is the largest decline in mortality in human history - in the absence of animal research, and at the other end, the promised benefits of the modern basic (animal) research paradigm are apparently lacking.

Between these bookends lies the entirety of modern medical research. I am not implying here that no benefit has resulted from the use of animals. For instance, Robert Koch’s 1879 paper on the etiology or cause of infectious disease was based on his work with animals. While his work resulted in no immediate advance in treatment, it did explain the phenomenal results and gave more authority and impetus to the hygienic/sanitation movement’s efforts.

The point in calling attention to the dramatic progress that occurred prior to Koch is that it demonstrates the real and significant progress that is possible without the use of animals. This severely undermines claims that animal experimentation is necessary. The growing body of systematic reviews and reports questioning the overall results of basic research implies that the value of the research that is taking place is suspect.

This takes us back to Streiffer’s third point: That researchers and their supporters’ beliefs about the moral status of NHPs must be considered in conjunction with (c) their beliefs about the value of the research.

It seems to me that an informed unbiased observer would have to seriously question the value of research with monkeys (or any animals) in light of the history of public health and the crisis the basic research enterprise is facing. Claiming that the value of the research is high seems unreasonable and unsupportable.

Look again at the graph depicting the decline in deaths from whooping cough.

I believe that if there were no vaccine for whooping cough, that research using animals would be underway today in the effort to produce one. This is a hypothetical situation, but given the small number of people afflicted with some of the maladies being studied today, I think it is a reasonable assumption.

If it is, then we can look at the graph as a sort of measure of the actual sympathy and moral concern those who propose, approve, and engage in animal experimentation actually hold for the animals they use.

By the time the vaccine was generally available, the mortality rate had already collapsed. Yet someone asking for permission to use monkeys to develop a vaccine today, assuming there wasn't one, would – without any doubt – be given the go-ahead, even though the disease is no longer a major threat. That is, even a relatively insignificant gain would be deemed adequate justification to infect and kill monkeys.

If you think this is an unreasonable assumption, consider the very limited importance and value of UW-Madison primate vivisector Richard Wiendruch’s caloric restriction studies.

In summary, Robert Streiffer accurately I think observed that when attributing beliefs [about the moral status of monkeys] to people on the basis of their actions, rather than on what they say their beliefs are, it must be kept in mind that the actions in question are not the product of people’s beliefs about the moral status of NHPs taken in isolation. Rather, the actions are the product of (a) their beliefs about the moral status of NHPs, taken in conjunction with (b) their beliefs about the harms of research and (c) their beliefs about the value of the research.

Given the very real demonstrable harms and the information available regarding the questionable value of the research, it is fair and likely accurate to surmise that those using monkeys and approving their use have very little actual sympathy or moral concern for them, in spite of public pronouncements to the contrary.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"Animal usage is not a moral or ethical issue."

In the discussion under my post "The Structure of Cognition," Robert Streiffer asked for some examples of people who have explicitly endorsed the view that I claim is the operative norm within the animal research industry: animals (more specifically monkeys) do not warrant much moral concern from us.

One well-known example is the recently deceased primate head transplantation researcher (and one-time bioscience advisor to the Pope) Robert J. White, who wrote: “Animal usage is not a moral or ethical issue, and elevating the problem of animal rights to such a plane is a disservice to medical research and the farm and dairy industry.” (Hastings Center Report, 1990, Vol. 20, November-December, p 43.)

And then there is Stuart W.G. Derbyshire:
Those of us who research on animals or support that research have made a moral choice to put humans first. We should behave and argue with a conviction that is worthy of the choice. Animal experimentation is a positive activity that advances our appreciation of nature and disease, and defending animal research should be part of a moral campaign that celebrates human knowledge and understanding. Simultaneously advocating animal research while trying to apologize and introduce alternatives is a poor defense of animal experimentation. Successful promotion of animal research can only begin when we withdraw support for the three Rs. "Time to Abandon the Three Rs." The Scientist-Magazine of the Life Sciences. 2006.
And also from Derbyshire, this gem -- that seems to me to characterize an unspoken widely-held position of those within the industry (based on their actions):
In contrast to ourselves, animal behaviour is mechanical, driven by the dictates of nature and immune to the processes of reflective cognition that we take for granted. And it is a black, silent existence that is not conscious of its own processes. All their mental experience, if they have any at all, is diminished relative to ours and this includes all sensations including vision, hearing – and feeling pain. “Animal Experimentation.” Edinburgh Book Festival. 2002.
The passages below are all from Why Animal Experimentation Matters: The Use of Animals in Biomedical Research. Ellen Frankel Paul and Jeffrey Paul, Editors. 2001. While these passages are not as stark as White’s assertion, they do I think suggest strongly that the industry is well populated by those who do not believe that animals warrant much sympathy or moral concern.

Adrian R. Morrison writes: “Human beings stand apart in a moral sense from all other species ...”. (p 51.) To him, there does not appear to be a continuum; it's apples and ... hum, clouds?

Stuart Zola, currently the director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, argues that any use of animals is warranted as long as the experimental design is “good science.” He worries that any other criteria will necessarily be too limiting:
Another way to preserve research possibilities is to reconsider what is meant by “benefits.” For example, one could hold the moral position that while possible benefits to humans and animals are important, the advancement of scientific knowledge is itself a benefit as well. On the surface, this position appears to run the risk of justifying almost any research project. In reality, however, this is countered by the underlying assumption that a permissible project must be based on good science, that is, science that has been peer-reviewed and found to be of acceptable quality. With that caveat in mind, treating scientific knowledge itself as a benefit would seem to be reasonable for a variety of perspectives. .... Therefore, it might not be reasonable to preclude the possibility of carrying out a study simply because it has no obvious immediate relevance, either potential or real. (pp 85-86.)
Jerald Tannenbaum, Professor of Veterinary Science at UC-Davis, characterizes the “traditional approach” to morality and ethics in the lab:
British cancer researcher Harold Hewitt provides a succinct expression of the traditionalist approach. “My concern,” he states,
is really not with the number of animals [used in an experiment], in the sense that I should be more upset by having caused one animal to suffer by my neglect or ineptitude than I should be by administering euthanasia to fifty at the terminatiuon of an experiment in which none had been caused suffering. The question the prospective animal experimenter has to ask himself is whether he considers that the painless taking of an animal is itself an immoral act. For me it is not. (p 96.)
Baruch A. Brady, Professor of Biomedical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine, writes:
What sort of greater significance are human interests given over animal interests in the U.S regulations?

In fact, this question is never directly addressed. This stands in sharp contrast to the U.S. regulations on human subjects in research. These regulations require the minimization of risks, but they also require that the minimized risks be “ reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits, if any, to subjects, and the importance of the knowledge that may reasonably be expected to result.” Nothing like these strictures occurs in the U.S. principles and regulations governing animal research.

Something else can be inferred from the wording of the U.S. principles on animal research. Discomfort, distress, or pain of the animals should be minimized “when consistent with sound scientific practices.” The number of animals used should be minimized to “the number required to obtain valid results.” Unrelieved pain necessary to conduct the research is acceptable so long as the animal is euthanized after or during the procedure. What this amounts to in the end is that whatever is required for the research is morally acceptable. ... There is never the suggestion that the suffering of an animal might be so great – even when it is minimized as much as possible while still maintaining scientific validity – that the suffering might outweigh the benefits of the research. Even when these benefits are modest, the U.S. principles never morally require the abandonment of a research project. (pp 134 – 135)

... All European regulations assume that animal interests in avoiding the harmful consequences of being in a research project have enough moral significance – in comparison to human interests in conducting the research – that in some cases the proposed research is ethically unacceptable. All involve a balancing of animal interests against human interests in a way that allows the protection of animal interests to be given priority in some cases. In this way, they all reject the American pro-research position, in which human interests seem to have priority in all cases. (p 136)
Charles S. Nicoll and Sharon M. Russell, vivisectors associated with UC Berkeley, write:
From an evolutionary perspective, attempts to find moral justification for the use of animals on the basis of our “moral superiority” or otherwise are unnecessary, and the arguments against such justifications are nonsensical. (p. 167)
H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., Professor of Medicine at Baylor School of Medicine, who says that his opinion about animals comes from God’s covenant with Noah, writes:
[H]uman moral experience is not simply richer than that of animals: all of moral experience is placed within human culture. Thus, the significance of animals (and of their pains, pleasures, and experiences) can only be understood in the context of human concerns. (p 177)

As long as a project that involves animal suffering is not directed simply at harming animals, it will not involve malevolence. A hunter who acknowledges that the significance of animals is primarily achieved in their contribution to the delight and experience of humans acts benevolently when savoring not just the chase, but the kill. One can also recognize an important difference in kind between a bull dying at the hands of a matador and the ways one might leave various animals to die or be killed .... (p 187)

From these passages, coupled with the actual practices, it doesn't seem inaccurate to characterize the beliefs of those within the industry as not caring very much about the animals' experiences, or to claim that those in the industry and its supporters feel that animals do not warrant much moral concern from us.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Structure of Cognition

I recently participated in a public forum along with University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Research Animal Resource Director, Eric Sandgren, and John Webster, a UW-Madison professor of bioengineering who experiments on pigs. You can watch a video of the event here.

During the Q&A, Sandgren said that there are differences between humans and monkeys that justify or excuse our use of them. (See the video above at 1:01:54)

I asked him what those differences are and he replied that there is an “incredible literature” on this, and he referred me to that. I followed up with an email asking him if he would give me a title or two from that incredible literature. I cced UW-Madison bioethicist Robert Streiffer who had been in the audience. He chairs one of the university’s five or six Animal Care and Use Committees. (I say five or six because the previously top animal care and use committee, the All Campus ACUC, was recently decertified, disbanded, renamed, de-authorized or something, in some way, by some agency. I have to say some agency, because it’s hard to know as an outside observer just how to weigh the past few years’ multiple USDA Animal Welfare Act violations against the apparently serious complaints to the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. One or the other or both led to a very rare joint inspection by the USDA and NIH. USDA has very recently had a large team of investigators at the university. Or, maybe the repeated serious biosafety violations and issues entered into the equation, or the Michele Basso fiasco, or even something the public doesn't know about. It’s hard to keep up.)

Sandgren never responded to my email, but Streiffer did, to both of us, and pointed to Michael Tomasello and Josep Call’s Primate Cognition. (Oxford University Press, 1997.) To his credit, Dr. Streiffer has been willing to engage in some debate and discussion on this matter, and I thank him for it.

Presumably, neither Sandgren nor Streiffer would argue that the extreme moral distinctions they make differentiating ethical treatment of humans and monkeys (and other animals) are based on gross appearance. Presumably, they would agree that the (extreme always-fatal) distinctions they make are based on mental characteristics.

Tomasello and Call made two lists of cognitive characteristics that distinguish cognition in all primates and cognition in humans. By placing them side by side and comparing these two lists one might be able to see or begin to tease out the salient characteristics of monkey and human cognition that to Sandgren and Streiffer explain the morally relevant differences they claim to see.

The claims and conclusions drawn by Tomasello and Call are sometimes controversial; other researchers have reached other conclusions. My personal experience with chimpanzees (and other animals) leads me to question some of their specific assertions. Tomasello and Call’s claims seem too conservative to me and somehow biased, but for the sake of trying to understand Sandgren and Streiffer’s position, and by extension, the position of others in the industry, we can accept them as written. I have left out the authors’ speculations on how these characteristics might have emerged. Blogger doesn't allow two columns. Here's a link to a readable .pdf of the image below.
Though the elements in each list might be fiddled with, the overall gist and fundamentals must be a fair statement of the reasons for the position held by those who claim that using monkeys in ways harmful to them is moral because of our mental differences.

Apparently, the animals described by the set of characteristics and abilities in the left-hand column are fair game for those described by the set of characteristics described on the right. To those with this belief, it must be that the non-human set of characteristics and abilities is insufficient to warrant much sympathy or moral concern.

In other words, a being with “the basic understanding of space and objects; the ability to discriminate, categorize, and quantify objects; the ability to recognize individual conspecifics and remember past interactions with them; the ability to communicate with and learn from conspecifics; the ability to create flexible strategies to deal with problems in both the physical and social domains based on both learning and insight,” doesn’t warrant much sympathy or moral concern.

I’m stymied. I can’t get past this point. What sort of moral system would exclude a being with the ability to create flexible strategies to deal with problems in both the physical and social domains based on both learning and insight?

The human cognition list waxes on at length about the power of human language, and how learning combines with the use of human language to help make us so cognitively advanced (smart, I would say, but Tomasello and Call specifically argue that intelligence is an inappropriate term to apply to nonhuman cognition. Humans can be smart. Animals are cognitively complex.)

It’s obvious that we are wildly smarter than any other species. But some people are much smarter than others. So what?

(Human) language is a common distinguishing characteristic appealed to in arguments defending the use of animals. But its presence does not seem to be a prerequisite for thinking. Helen Keller must have thought something before she learned to use sign language.

Monkeys don’t have our language ability, yet UW primate vivisector Ned Kalin has said that “[a]nimals do a lot of things instinctively…. But people – and probably monkeys – have the ability to think 20 steps into the future: ‘In the end I’m going to feel great, because I worked hard to get there,’ or ‘I’m going to get a lot of credit for this.’It’s the prefrontal cortex that brings those emotions into play and guides us in our behavior. If we didn’t have a sense of what would be wonderful or awful in the future, we would behave very haphazardly. "Wired For Sadness." Discover. April, 2000.

Imagine trying to plan even three or four steps ahead without some sort of internal dialog. There is either a dialog of sorts going on in a monkey’s head or else he or she is thinking in a mode unlike any I use regularly.

These two lists are interesting and could be the subject of much disagreement and conversation, but I can’t get past the implication that those who defend the use of monkeys in ways certain to harm them, often involving years and even decades of a severely reduced quality of life, and always death, must believe that those “with basic understanding of space and objects; the ability to discriminate, categorize, and quantify objects; the ability to recognize individual conspecifics and remember past interactions with them; the ability to communicate with and learn from conspecifics; the ability to create flexible strategies to deal with problems in both the physical and social domains based on both learning and insight,” simply do not warrant much concern.

It’s worth noting that the being described above by Tomasello and Call isn’t necessarily a monkey. These are what they term “general mammalian cognitive mechanisms.” Primates have additional “cognitive mechanisms.” So what? What is missing in the description above that gives license to our whims or holds up such beings for sacrifice?