Animal Rights Extremism – Explained!

Given the recent rises in animal rights extremism both in the US and elsewhere, SR has decided to dedicate a page to animal rights extremism and how we can tackle it (AR Extremism) – so have a read and tell us what you think.

This new page deals with four important questions:

  • What is animal rights extremism?
  • How can we tackle animal rights extremism?
  • What should you do if you have been targeted?
  • What you can do to protect yourself?

Go to AR Extremism

At the heart of our argument lies the values of Speaking of Research – that speaking up is better than ducking down when it comes to dealing with the animal research issue.

A Novartis executive has his house burned down by the Animal Liberation Front in August 2009
A Novartis executive has his house burned down by the Animal Liberation Front in August 2009



19 thoughts on “Animal Rights Extremism – Explained!

  1. “I still would like to see a percentage of animal research involving AIDS, cancer or Alzheimer’s”

    Actually that would be interesting, but I doubt anyone has such figures for the US, the Department of Agriculture might be the ones to ask.

    The diseases you mention are not the only ones of interest, I’d certainly add malaria, TB and hepatitis to the priority list.

  2. “What is highly problematic is basing such judgements on species membership rather than on individual capacities. In this regard, let me recommend another book:”

    That’s where we differ, I don’t see any problem at all with basing such judgements on membership of a particular species, this is the only practical way of implementing such judgements. Of course there will probably always be arguments as to exactly when a member of the human species becomes and ceases to be a rights bearing person, and which rights are granted at what point in development, but wwhile these arguments on the edges should be handled carefully I don’t think it’s helpful to expand from the “exceptions” to the general population.

    In my view exceptionns and special cases should be treated as exceptions and special cases, any other approach just leads to chaos.

    “Paul, can’t animal rights govern the relationship between humans and other animals? Why separate “non-human animals”?”

    Because there is no possibility of there being a two way relationship. Non-human animals are not going to grow up to be able to appreciate rights and responsibilities in the way that children can. The common statement of animal rights advocates is that some members of the human species, through disability of aga, cannot appreciate the rights of others and their responsibilities towards them, fair enough, but they are still members of a society where the majority of members can appreciate them (even if they don’t always choose to). On the other hand no non-human animals can form such a relationship, so there is nothing to generalise from in these species. I’m all for compassionate treatment of animals and good animal welfare but I don’t believe that the relationship between humans and other animals is one that can be governed by rights.

  3. “So instead of animals, let’s do biomedical research on human orphans whose mental capacities are no greater than those of, say, rats… it pleases animal-rights activists by sparing non-humans”

    Few to no animal rights activists I personally am aware of would be pleased by that, since the main problem is not animals being used per se but sentience, which rats and mentally challenged “orphans” both have. There is also a question of consent, which neither would be able to give properly. There is an exception to every rule, of course, and I’m sure some anti-animal-rights activists would be pleased with this situation as well.

    The fact is that science evolves at a rapid pace to meet challenges. If animals could not be used in research, in silico models and simulations would have already been developed that would perfectly simulate the Crohn’s disease effects on human kidneys, which of course rat kidneys really can’t do. We might already have an HIV vaccine. For now, though, there’s a cheaper way to go, and no matter if it causes a lot of suffering, it’s expedient.

    Honestly, this is like saying to someone in the 1880s or 1890s who protested horses being used to pull carriages that “there is no alternative, horses are the best and only way to get humans from place to place, trains and streetcars are too expensive.” Technology intervened with the car eventually, and that’s certainly the way it’ll go, it’s just whether it will come sooner or later. Since it would be more effective and efficient and end a lot of suffering, I’m on the pro-technology side of this argument, and I want it to come sooner.

    Paul, can’t animal rights govern the relationship between humans and other animals? Why separate “non-human animals”?

    I still would like to see a percentage of animal research involving AIDS, cancer or Alzheimer’s, I don’t mean for general “medical research,” but just these three primary diseases. I apparently “clearly made up” the fact what my source said “recently” about chimps involved in AIDS research when that apparently meant long-term recent, as in 12 years ago or so.

    Is anyone here in support of the Great Ape Protection Act, by the way?

    1. “If animals could not be used in research, in silico models and simulations would have already been developed that would perfectly simulate the Crohn’s disease effects on human kidneys, which of course rat kidneys really can’t do. We might already have an HIV vaccine. For now, though, there’s a cheaper way to go, and no matter if it causes a lot of suffering, it’s expedient.”

      On what possible evidence are you suggesting this. Where on earth do you get the data for these in silico models? You do realise we use computers ALONGSIDE the animal research into diseases like Crohn’s.
      How would we get HIV vaccines from computer models when we are still trying to fully understand the disease.

      And cheaper! Animal research is expensive – FAR more expensive than using computers.

  4. Paul Browne: Thank you for clarifying your meaning. I agree that rights make sense only in the context of human behaviour: more accurately, in the context of the behaviour of moral agents. Rights are valid claims against moral agents. That’s why a falling tree branch, or a hungry lion, cannot violate your right to life and why you cannot have rights against trees or lions. None of this makes nonsense of the idea of human rights — nor does it make nonsense of the idea of animal rights, insofar as animals interact with moral agents. Like mentally disabled humans, and unlike trees or rocks, many animals are what has been called “moral patients”: they have the capacity to suffer or to have their preferences frustrated at the hands of moral agents in ways that may be judged to be unacceptable. Moral or legal claims can in principle, and often in practice, be made on their behalf.

    The very fact that researchers tend to afford greater protection to apes than to monkeys, to monkeys than to mice, etc., implies a recognition of moral standing (and hence potential claims against moral agents) based on judgements about cognitive and sensitive capacities. What is highly problematic is basing such judgements on species membership rather than on individual capacities. In this regard, let me recommend another book:

  5. Taylor my point is that the there is no one reason why we grant rights to humans and not to other species, rather there are a number of considerations involving degrees of sentience , sapience, self awareness, realtionshipesbetween individuals in society etc. that have lead to the developments of the concept of human rights rights. A man living alone on a desert island has no rights, at least not until somebody else shows up. I’m quite comfortable with the concept of rights being an entirely artuificial concept, nothing innate about them IMHO, but as a legal concept they make sense only in the context of governing the relationships between humans within human society.

    My point in referring to the other ethical questions is that they illustrate that there are many situations where we do make the decision that members of the human species are not rights bearing individuals, or that their rights are trumped by those of other humans (and that’s before we get on to war, self defence etc.).

    A similar situation exists with animals, we give greater protection to chimpanzees than to monkeys, and geater protection to monkeys than to mice, and far greater protection to mice than to nematode worms. All this applies only to situations where we they interact with us, we offer no such protection to animals from other animals (except when it suits our purposes). It is the fact that rights can’t ever govern the relationships of any non-human animal (that we’ve yet encountered) with other non-human animal that makes the idea of animal rights a nonsense.

  6. Taylor: Ok then, let’s hear your alternative to animal research. Suppose I’ve just developed a new drug that should help alleviate the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease. How should I make sure that when it’s given to a human it won’t destroy their liver, or kidney’s or drive them stark raving mad?

    Another example. Suppose I’m doing research in nanomedical applications and I’ve developed a nano particle that is designed to bind only to the cancer cells and deliver treatment. Obviously this would be better than chemotherapy because it should only target the cancer cells and not the health ones in the rest of the body. Now, how should I test this? How should I make sure that once injected into your body it only attacks the cancer cells and not something else?

  7. Paul Browne: It’s far easier to bang on about end-of-life decisions, organ/tissue donation, etc., than to actually confront an argument to which apparently you have no rational response. That’s typically the problem with the pro-vivisection position: it tends to based not on reason but on an emotional bias toward those cute bipedal apes.

    At least speakingofresearch makes a good attempt at a rational response by adopting a contractarian (“Let’s make a deal”) position. The Hobbesian version of contractarianism is probably the only ethical stance that can coherently draw a neat line in the sand between all humans and all non-humans. The problem with it, however, is that the line can shift, depending on who’s doing the contracting: racists can decide to exclude blacks (or whites), men can decide to exclude women, etc., as has happened in the past. Live by the sword, die by the sword, so to speak. But, yes, it can be done if you want to go down that path.

    The “AR Beliefs” page of this website deliberately draws a parallel between animals and mentally incompetent humans, but fails to explain why only the latter should be entitled to legal protection. If the answer is that we rational contractors can extend legal protection to mentally incompetent humans, then of course there is no logical contradiction involved in our extending such protection to non-humans too, based on the fundamental rational principle that like cases should be treated alike.

    By the way, as a utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham did not believe in moral rights for either animals or humans. His advocacy of (some) legal rights for animals arose from the consistent application of his utilitarian principles. There are a number of grounds on which moral and/or legal rights for humans (and possibly others) have been based, the notion of contract being only one. And the Hobbesian version of contractarianism has in recent years tended to be superseded by the Rawlsian version, which, as articulated by some, does indeed ground moral rights for animals. See Mark Rowlands:

  8. Ah the old “brain damaged orphan” line, you know sometimes it’s as if the ARAs never heard about the controversies involving end of life decisions, organ/tissue donation for research and transplant, abortion, hESC research etc. i guess they just don’t want to worry about all those difficult ethical decisions that real scientists, doctors and ethics committees have to confront on a daily basis.

    It’s far easier to bang on about hypothetical brain damaged orphans!

  9. Yet the human orphan is still part of the human society and thus protected by civic rights for belonging to it. We all risk being orphaned and for that reason it would appear to be a good “deal” to make a “rule” saying do not kill orphaned children and I will not be killed if orphaned.

  10. Let’s have a compromise that all rational persons should be able to agree upon. The best research models for understanding human diseases are human beings, not (non-human) animals. So instead of animals, let’s do biomedical research on human orphans whose mental capacities are no greater than those of, say, rats. Since there is no rationally defensible morally relevant distinction between such humans and rats, and since the humans would be far superior as research objects, reason dictates that we should use such humans. It’s a win-win choice: it pleases animal-rights activists by sparing non-humans, and it should please scientists who seek to optimize productive research under rigorously defensible ethical guidelines.

  11. LB: You use the same mistake that I’ve seen a lot of animal rights activists make. Not all research is done to find a medicinal cure for some disease. Some is done to advance our basic knowledge. There is still A LOT we don’t know about how the various systems in our body work, the interactions of specific proteins. There is also research being done to advance veterinary medicine. The animal rights activist never want to discuss this side of research because most people support this type of research.

  12. LG, scientists haven’t used chimpanzees in AIDS research since the mid 1990’s, years before the government got involved (if indeed they have, if I remember correctly it was a decision not to fund breeding of chimps for research)), though chimpanzees have been reported to develop AIDS following infection with HIV-1 (Novembre FJ et al. J.Virol Vol. 71, pages 4086-4091,1997) and we have discussed how wild chimps develop AIDS following infection with SIVcpz, a virus very closely related to HIV-`1 Scientists have learned a lot about HIV from studying chimpanzees infected with HIV-1 and SIVcpz, especially concerning the reasons why infection doesn’t always lead to AIDS.

    The reason why scientists stopped using chimps for this was that macaque monkeys infected with SIV turned out to be a more practical model for HIV infection, since they progress to AIDS in a way that closely mimic HIV-1 infection in humans, and from a ethical POV you don’t work with chimps when monkeys will give you the information you require. Developing a vaccine for HIV is very difficult, this is afterall a virus that subverts the immune system that vaccines use to protect against viruses, and the the field has been dogged with oproblems, including some wildly over-optimistic interpretation of partial protection against weakened viruses (eg SHIV) or protection against a very limited range of viruses (e.g using homologous challenge strains only) which doesn’t reflect the diversity of HIV-1 in the real world.

    The overwhelmning majority of scientists who are actually working towards the development of vaccines against HIV (as opposes to AR activists carping from the sidelines) support the use of monkeys (and other animals such as mice) in HIV vaccine research, though as recent commentary by the noted expert Dan Barouch$=citationsensor notes there is a recognition that the hurdles a vaccine candidate should cross before it goes into human trials need to be raised. He suggests the following:

    (1) Use stringent challenge virus (SIVMAC239, SIVMAC251).
    (2) Design study with adequate power and follow-up time.
    (3) Model clinical regimen with vaccine schedule and dose.
    (4) Select rhesus monkeys that lack MHC alleles associated with
    efficient virologic control (Mamu-A*01, Mamu-B*17, Mamu-B*08).
    (5) Avoid the use of a homologous Env antigen.
    (6) Assess promising vaccine concepts against both homologous and
    heterologous viral challenges.

    I agree, in fact I’ve seen similar scientists make very similar suggestions since the late 1990’s, though with the huge pressure to get vaccines into large scale trials it is only now that the more cautious scientists are being heeded…they should have been listened to from the start.

    As to the percentage of research that is for disease, I don’t have the percentages for the US system, but in the UK in 2008 only 2% of animals used were for safety testing of non-medical products, the rest were used in fundamental research (32%), Developing new treatments (translational research and pre-clinical testing) (28%) and breeding of GM animals support research and development of treatments (38%). In the UK breeding of GM animals is counted in the statistics in addition to the use of those GM animals in actual experiments.

    Click to access spanimals08.pdf

    I would expect that the figures for the USA are quite similar.

  13. That’s clearly made up. There is a general move away from using chimps and towards using lower primates (mainly monkeys).

    The government has never insisted the reduction of any primate work on the basis that it wasn’t effective at combattig HIV. How do you think we have all the HIV/AIDS drugs that are currently available (think Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapies) – research on primates.

    Read the recent blog entry – AIDS found in chimps:

  14. “How can we tackle animal rights extremism?”

    Try this: stop experimenting on animals unless it is for a direct and urgent purpose. That will pretty much take care of the problem.

    1. Isn’t Cancer urgent? Isn’t AIDS urgent? Isn’t Alzheimer’s urgent? The funding agencies establish their research directions and what is urgent and high priority. If you don’t like the national priorities for medical research go demonstrate at NIH or write to your congressional representative.

      1. Please tell me what percentage of current animal testing is for cancer, AIDS or Alzheimer’s. Very little. In fact, I believe the federal government recently insisted researchers stop using chimps in HIV research, because it just wasn’t effective.

        If you don’t like the national decisions that this research is ineffective, you can demonstrate in the same places.

  15. Having been at a home that was targeted, I would also heartily recommend that targeted individuals keep video equipment at the ready. First, the extremists almost always tape their protests and release edited versions. Your unedited video may provide an effective counter to their claims. Second, when they see you’re recording them, they tend to behave better.

  16. One thing the State Police suggested to me was using Vonage for your phone carrier because you can choose any active area code and phone number you want. It makes it harder to track you down.

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