Gallup Poll Puts Majority Behind Animal Research

Mixed news last week with the results of the latest Gallup Poll on the moral acceptability of medical testing. 2% more Americans believe that animal research is morally acceptable than in 2009 (with 2% fewer believing it is morally wrong). This is the second consecutive annual rise in support for this lifesaving medical technique.

However when we graph these numbers we can see that, although relatively stable over time, there has been a slight dip in support over the past decade. However, we must bear in mind that throughout this those who believe it is morally acceptable have held a 25% point lead. Overall these results should indicate that we still have much work to do to ensure that the public remains behind medical research.

The final fact is that although 69% of men find animal research morally acceptable, only 49% of women do (although due to “no opinion/depends” this is still more than those women who believe it is unacceptable). To remedy this, proponents of research should make sure to mention the importance of animals in the development of the recent Breast Cancer drugs (Herceptin and Tamoxifen) and Cervical Cancer Vaccine (HPV Vaccine).

I also do wonder if the numbers would differ if the more accurate term “medical research” was used?



9 responses to “Gallup Poll Puts Majority Behind Animal Research

  1. “What do you mean when you refer to the “patriarchal scientist” perspective?”

    I think you’ve misread in part: I wrote “patriarchal scientistic perspective.” The analysis of the complicity of a certain “scientistic” worldview or ideology with the patriarchy has produced significant insights into the philosophical and moral limitations of this ideology. There’s a robust literature on this both in the context of the moral issues surrounding the use of animals in research and more generally in feminist ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of science. If there is offense at this notion, I’d suggest studying some of this analysis and argument (Splicer’s article “Your Daughter or Your Dog?” might be a good place to start).

    On the question of justice vs. care. Undoubtedly in some indeterminate sense it is true that “a balance must be struck”–and in the literature on the relationship between the two, I doubt you would find anyone suggesting that the latter simply replace the former. The claim is that a moral perspective that involves more than just calculative reason, (i.e. one that draws on the authority of emotion, relies on imaginative sympathy, and attends to context over abstraction) is superior to one that reduces everything to a matter of rights or a mater of aggregate benefit. To say that a justice perspective is a limited and imprecise tool for analyzing many contentious moral issues is not to say that everything is just emotion and opinion. But, that justice may have an authority on some aspects of the question, it does not have authority on all, but needs to be supplemented. The tendency–or ability–to see the inadequacy of calculative reason for responding to aspects of moral situations is what, it seems, is correlated in the research with women (but also with some other “marginalized” groups as well).

    There are two points here that are being confused. First, there is the normative question of whether an abstract perspective (whether it discounts on the basis of biology some interests or not) is adequate to thinking about our moral obligations. It seems like you are suggesting that matters of justice are primary on this question (about which I think most would agree). While the opponent’s view (even a friendly one) would say that justice at best could defend the abstract permissibility of using animals, but the question of the justifiability of using animals involves more than this and in part will rely on empathy and concrete judgments which one might hold will tend away from justifying particular cases of use of animals, even if the abstract “permissibility” in principle is conceded. You however prefer the straw woman here and want to undermine this latter point it seems by suggesting that that “care” brings the specter of the “baying mob” (seriously??? do you mean of women?).

    Second, there is the question whether the significant gender difference on the question of the justifiability of using animals (causing to suffer and die) for research is best explained by PETA propaganda and the greater ignorance on the part of women than men about science, or by the greater prevalence among women of a perspective within which different facts are morally salient.

    This second question is an empirical matter in part. I find the first explanation significantly less plausible than the second, for the sorts of reasons that are virtually explicit in my previous comments.

    Without being able to defend the opinion fully, I’ll point out that the other major gender difference on a hot button moral issue has been on the death penalty (down to 10% in this poll, but in past polls as high as 15%–interestingly it remains even controlling for a huge variety of other differences (economic, religious, past experiences, etc.) (Black/White differential is even higher)). I doubt that the death penalty opponents can be blamed for this. Certainly proponents of the death penalty could react as the original poster has, and a blog could be set up to explain how the death penalty helps women and children, and a propaganda campaign could be created to counter the supposed effects of one’s opponents campaigns.

    There is some evidence that a gender divide on attitudes towards animals is real and substantial: That women are more willing to sacrifice things in order to avoid harming animals, that women are less credulous over the likelihood of the use of animals to be justified by medical benefits, and in general more likely to support the aims of animal protection movements.

    It used to be that scientists could outright dismiss these attitudes with sexist condescension (it’s just women and their emotions), unfortunately the echoes of “patriarchal scientism” can still be distinctly heard. But, that’s, one might want to think, is a different matter. . ..

  2. This is perhaps an attractive explanation–that the reason we see 20% spread in this poll is an effect of PETA’s campaigns against animal research that target young women–but it strikes me as a bit patronizing to explain a difference of moral opinion in the terms that you do.

    I recognize that the going assumption here is that opposition to the use of animals in research must be ascribed to some sort of brainwashing, irrationality, or ignorance (and I’m sure it sometimes is–as I suspect is many cases of support), and you’ve crafted a nice way of maintaining that assumption in terms of women’s greater susceptibility to peer pressure with the help of a little reference to Gilligan’s views.

    I’d be more than willing to bet that if the study had probed more deeply in which cases the use of animals in research is justifiable and in what cases it is not, we’d see that the gender differences are not as monolithic and that there is lots of interesting middle ground where people think killing animals is not justified for, say, developing new cosmetics, or a drug to stop baldness, but is justified to help develop say a therapy to slow alzheimers.

    This is where I think that taking Gilligan’s work seriously (rather than as a tool to explain away the moral beliefs of people who disagree with you) is important–that there are considerations other than those characterized by a sort of poor man’s utilitarianism or egoism that are relevant for making moral judgments, that these considerations are not “immature” (as you seem to suggest), and that there is some evidence to believe that these considerations are both more prevalent among women (and some other marginalized groups) and are not commensurate with a “patriarchal scientistic” perspective. The contextualism, concern with concrete individual lives, emotions, empathy, relationships etc that Gilligan and others have found to form the texture of a more sophisticated moral framework might be expressed in views about animal research that you argue against by appealing to egoist and utilitarian considerations and by explaining to the benighted that scientists who have developed beneficial therapies etc. have used animals. If so, then I think you underestimate the nature of the opposition.

    If I follow the stuff on nature–are you claiming that because women are more likely to have what you seem to think is a silly view of what is “natural” they may be less likely to think the use of animals in research is justifiable, because they take it to be unnatural? If that’s what you’re claiming I find it extremely unlikely that that is a significant factor, though I’m sure a few percentage points might be plausibly ascribed to something like that. It seems like the important thing is to explain away in terms of brainwashing, irrationality, or ignorance a difference of moral opinion, but among your attempts, this seems a little bit far-fetched.

    But, since I doubt we’re going to get much further speculating on the origins or explanations of the gender difference on the question of animal research. . ..

    • c, I agree that the question posed in this particular was over simplistic and did not allow respondants to express more nuanced opinions. For example most scientists I know would not agree with the use of animals in testing cosmetics but would support its use in alzheimer’s research, though of course they would also automatically assume that “medical testing” does not include the safety testing of cosmetics (unlike perhaps some people answering the Gallup Poll). A recent opinion poll in the UK illustrates this point very well, drawing the distinction between conditional and unconditional acceptors of animal research (though even this poll fails to ask a bunch of questions I’d like to have asked…and it doesn’t stratify results by gender)

      Interestingly I’ve yet to meet somebody who does animal research who wouldn’t be described as a “conditional” acceptor of animal research according to the criteria used by the Ipsos-Mori poll.

      What do you mean when you refer to the “patriarchal scientist” perspective? I think a lot of scientists, men and women, would find that very insulting. In my experience scientists are considerably more open-minded and egalitarian than the majority of people I’ve met outside science, though of course scientist’s (and science’s) forthright rejection of the notion that many different points of view can be equally valid does not go down well in many quarters (though of course when pushed almost everyone makes the same distinctions). I’m far from convinced that a moral viewpoint dominated by concern for concrete individual lives, emotions, empathy, relationships etc is necessarily more sophisticated (still less better) than a “male” approach that puts more emphasis on generalities and abstract issue and takes a more detached approach to moral reasoning. There is a balance to be struck. We have double -blind placebo controlled trials for a reason, because science has learned that subjective observations can be very misleading. Science is similar to justice is that when it is functioning as it should it can appear distant, cold and unfeeling, but it is precisely this distance and objectivity that enables it to work, I wouldn’t want science to drift into credulity any more than I would like to see justice replaced by either the baying mob or undue lenience.

      I certainly don’t think that women have been brain-washed or are irrational, but that fairly small shifts in what is viewed the culturally accepted position (itself influenced to a greater or lesser extent by advertising/propaganda) within particular groups can manifest themselves in fairly large differences in opinion poll results, particularly when the question asked is very simplistic. I certainly believe that people can change their minds if they know more about the subject in question. For instance since the late 1990’s scientists in the UK have made significant efforts to improve public understanding of animal research, through encouraging better coverage of medical research in the news and to a lesser extent through a variety of campaigns, and as the Ipsos-Mori poll has shown this effort has been productive in terms of changing peoples opinion of animal research. I suspect that the change seen in the opinion polls is not so much representative of a change in peoples opinion of particular research or testing techniques, but rather a better understanding of what animal research actually involves and a realisation that it simply doesn’t involve a lot of the practices they disagreed with, combined with a better overall understanding of why it is done and the regulation that governs it.

  3. c, I take it that you are suggesting that the differences in approval of animal research between men and women are the result (at least in part) of differences in psycology and approaches to morality. If you are I won’t disagree with you entirely, though I do think such differences are often over stated.

    If you look at the campaigns of animal rights groups, PeTA in particular, you can see that they are targeted disproportionately at teenage girls and young women, and I doubt that it is any coincidence that this is in the age range that Carol Gilligan identifies with the “conventional” stage of moral development when children tend to be at their most eager to please other members of their group and to feel guilt about actions they perceive to be selfish, these tendencies being on average stronger in girls than in boys. PeTA have capitalised on that, portraying animal research as cruel and selfish and having quite a lot of success in making that the default position for this target group, knowing that some women will take moral positions adopted during this period into later life ( it would be interesting to see the results stratified by age group).

    I’d also be interested to know how support for or opposition to animal research correlates to opinions on what is “natural” or “unnatural”, as cosmetic producers, alternative medicine practitioners and groups such as anti-vaccination campaigns also appear to be able to capitalise on very flawed, anti-scientific, view of what is “natural” that appears to be more prevalent among women then men. Whether this view of the “natural” is largely a negative side effect of a psycological outlook that puts more stress on relationships and empathy or is more the result of centuries of conditioning and clever propaganda and marketing is something I’ll leave to others to explore.

    There’s no doubt that many women are happy to benefit, and see their families and friends benefit, from the fruits of animal research. Are they aware that most advances in medicine, both specific to women and not, are the products of animal research? I don’t know, nobody has done a poll on that as far as I’m aware, though I suspect that, as with the population at large, many are not. Proper evaluation of moral choices requires a reasonably good understanding of the positives and negatives associated with the various options (though of course not everyone will agree on what those positives and negatives are), and I believe that many in the population do not have a good enough understanding of what animal research involves, what the benefits in terms of medical progress have been, and why it is still so important to medical research*. By contrast I think that most people have a pretty good idea of what abortion involves and what the implications are for the women, the fetus etc. Abortion is far more immediate to women, who often have had or considered an abortion or know somebody who has, than animal research, which takes place at several steps removed from the women it benefits, and I suspect this immediacy is a factor. It may be easier to disapprove of an action which has – or rather is viewed as having – a moral downside if you are not faced with the immediate need for it in person.

    So I wouldn’t “blame” PeTA, rather I think that despite the excellent efforts of a few the scientific community in general hasn’t done enough to ensure that people, epecially young people have the necessary information to make an informed moral choice about animal research. This needs to change, and more effort on education and outreach are key to that change.

  4. You seem to presume that you know what my view is–where all I have done is suggest that a more careful hypothesis and interpretation of data might be needed than we find in this post and the reply. Imagine that!

    My mind is only made up that the data (showing that the greatest gender difference on moral issues in this country is on animal issues) that is being poorly interpreted is interesting and important.

    But, this seems to be a site for dogmatism not thinking.

  5. The implication of your explanation of the poll is that for some reason women are less well educated about the justification for animal research, or more generally are ignorant about science. I find this explanation to be seriously unlikely and flat out sexist..

    The “blame it on PETA and their lies” is an ostrich response to my mind to serious problems in ethics, sociology, and politics that most defenders of animals research seem ill-equipped to engage.. We need far less knee-jerk blame and far more thoughtful and serious responses. Telling women that there is medical research done on animals that benefits them specifically strikes me as an inordinately silly response to something interesting and important in the data (such as is) Though it pales in comparison to the arrogance of blame it on the ignorance of people you disagree with (ie women)..

    • David Bienus

      It’s not my poll so I don’t have to explain anything to you. You can make of it whatever you want. My only point is that animal research has greatly benefited both men and women in many aspects. It’s my desire to explain these advances to people that may not understand it. I’m not saying anyone is ignorant or incapable of understanding as you so quickly point out.. People not involved in research often don’t really understand it.

      That all said, I don’t think you really care if animal research can save human and animal lives. In my opinion your a lost cause because your mind is already made up. That’s just my opinion. Have a wonderful night.

  6. The poll has a margin of error of +-4% (95% confidence). If there’s a trend–and without doing any actual analysis–it seems like a gentle decrease in support for the use of animals in research, from the mid 60%’s to the upper 50%’s. Perhaps, a decline of 4-5% during the last decade. Reading the 2% increase over last year as significant seems a stretch. The poll continues to show bad news for proponents of animal research. The gender divide is quite shocking on this and should significantly worry proponents of the use of animals in research. The biggest gender differences in the poll are issues involving animals (research, fur, animal cloning). If you wanted to draw any lesson from this it’s that the pro-research community has failed miserably at persuading women that animal research is morally justified, because 45%-53% is not an impressive showing. Your suggestion of a strategy of pointing to some benefits of animal research that might appeal to women seems oblivious to the issues and research that might help us understand this. (Carol Gilligan sound familiar?).

    • David Bienus

      I don’t think that the research community has to justify anything. I do think we need to do a better job of educating the public about research and it’s applications. Our biggest problem is that organizations like PETA and the HSUS are very good at tying obvious animal abuse with research. They’re also very good at shouting loudly and creating disturbances, but have yet to offer viable alternatives which leads me to believe they are not at all interested in helping to make constructive changes. I don’t think many people that support such organizations have truly thought out what it would mean if all animal research were to stop. I’m not sure they care.