What is your moral baseline?

I was recently invited  to offer a moral justification for the scientific use of animals in medical research at the University of Wisconsin.  After the talk we had over an hour of discussion where we saw everything from some thoughtful questions to nonsensical ramble.

I presented an argument and I expected direct attacks on those arguments. Unfortunately, when some activists find it difficult to attack an argument they quickly change the topic at hand.  In this case, for example, one member of the audience decided to challenge me with the following:

“Are you vegan?  Yes or no!”

I looked back at my slides.  The title of my talk was: “The moral dilemma of animal research.”   It was not “The moral dilemma of the cheeseburger.”   Apparently, even though I was invited to defend the work of medical scientists, I was now being asked to defend the work of fast food companies too. So, I first asked for the reason behind the question.

Because “Veganism must be the moral baseline!,”  he asserted.

I did not see how me being vegan or not was going to prove any of my arguments as being true or false. In any case, I offered what I think was an honest response (Briefly: No, I am not vegan, but I do have serious ethical concerns about how we raise food in this country that have prompted me to modify my behavior.)

What seems curious in retrospect is that if animal rights activists truly hold veganism as a moral baseline so close to their heart, why is that it is not exactly the topic at the very top of their agenda?

Why did animal rights activists demand the creation of a UW forum on the ethics of animal research instead of one the ethics of the cheeseburger?  Doesn’t their moral baseline dictate that one should first ensure everyone switches to a vegan diet above everything else?

And why was the individual that asked the question passing flyers before my talk objecting to the use of animals in medical research at the university, instead of, or in addition to, passing flyers objecting to the use of animals in food?

And why is PeTA devoting huge resources on a campaign against the use of animals in research at the UW, instead of mounting a campaign against serving cheeseburgers in Wisconsin’s taverns?

And why does this individual regularly demonstrate at the farmer’s market against research that has the potential to alleviate human suffering, instead of confronting those that sit right across from him selling bison, fish, beef and chicken, and their customers?

It just does not make much sense.

In contrast, my presentation hinged on a different moral baseline, one that defends the idea that it is ethically permissible  to save the life of a human over that of a mouse in a burning house.  I went on to explain how a very similar dilemma arises in various medical scenarios, including in animal research.

What would animal right activists do when confronted with the burning house scenario?

“Flip a coin!” was the response of the animal rights activist that inquired about my veganism earlier.

And yes, he was serious.

He is not alone. This is the same awful choice that Professor Gary Francione made when challenged to behave in a way consistent with animal rights theory.

This choice is hardly the result of having a moral baseline.  It is the outcome of stepping on a moral abyss.  Animal rights theory has no moral platform to stand on.

Discrimination can arise in two settings.  It can happen if we treat differently living beings who are equal in all morally relevant ways. But it can also occur if we insist on the equal treatment of living beings who differ in  morally relevant ways.

To insist in equal moral consideration of a mouse and a normal human being in a burning house is a form of reverse discrimination. It appears to be more an expression of human hatred than animal love.  A colleague of mine suggested the term “animal supremacism” to refer to this form of discrimination.  I have to say that it sounds not too far away from the truth.

85 responses to “What is your moral baseline?

  1. Shaydon Hayes

    Tom, I’m going to give this baseline concept one more shot taking off from where I think you are from reading your words. I also think doing nothing when it comes to saving or helping someone in trouble is not morally neutral, but that mutual perception of ours does not link in any way to the abstract idea of a moral baseline. The “baseline” has to be the zero space between the two moral hemispheres: one being benevolence while the other is malevolence, otherwise we are left with no baseline, just subjective morality floating in every direction. It is a smart expression – I wish I’d thought of it – that forces us to begin from the same reference point – a neutral baseline that has no subjective potential. In other words it isn’t reasonable to arbitrarily drop the baseline on the “saving a child from drowning in a pool” scenario – even if you and me and the majority of humans decide that is the sweet spot for the baseline – because it is plagued by subjectivity as it has all kinds of possibilities that could include whether someone is even capable of saving the drowning child.

    That is why the moral baseline has to be “neutral,” “point zero,” “non-subjective,” “inactive,” “the abstract nothingness between the ‘active expression to help’ and the ‘active expression to hinder.’” I suspect that you have looked up and thought about the word “truth,” which is another abstract term that means “that which is” People have written books on that single abstract idea and yet many people still can’t grasp it for whatever reason. Many people clumsily use the word synonymously with the word ”belief” and “opinion.” I, for one, am glad that we have these abstract expressions to act as points of reference outside of or beyond the subjective. In this instance with an abstract expression like “moral baseline” we have been provided a universal “neutral” location in which all sides can gather to take that first step into the subjective moral quagmire.

    And I will read the blog you wrote that you highlighted for me. Thanks.

    • Truth is a longstanding philosophical concept, whereas Moral Baseline is a recent idea, I believe invented by Francione to discuss veganism. Moral Baseline is not some revolutionary ethical concept, but rather a (in my view flawed) idea about how morality might work. Look at the diagram I created below.
      Moral concern

      I illustrate your position as (1), where there is a dichotomy between malevolent and benevolent actioins – with a neutral territory in the middle which is the moral baseline. My position, (2), is that most actions have both malevolent and benevolent outcomes (and usually complex intentions behind them which are both selfless and selfish) – we must weigh up our actions in this category.

      You are right that under your system, we can’t easily put saving a child as a moral baseline, there are many variables that must be accounted for. But neither is not saving the child the moral baseline (as most would consider it a malevolent action) – it’s too complex to put all actions into a “good” and “bad” camp – there is a complex interplay between them that cannot be accounted for in your “moral baseline” view.

  2. Shaydon Hayes

    Tom, the moral “baseline” is a fairly simple concept. It doesn’t have anything to do with cultural or religious moral standards or codes, or opinions, etc.. It is that place where subjectivity neutralizes. Think of the baseline as the imaginary line that has no dimension but divides two infinite dimensions – on one side is deliberately harming others and on the other side is deliberately helping others. For example, how many people will drive by an injured bird on the side of the road or ignore a loose dog on the highway? The behavior is morally incomprehensible to my moral code but it is behavior in accord with the moral baseline – the place right in between benevolence and malevolence.

    If someone tries to help the dog then he or she is above the baseline. If someone deliberately drives his car into the dog then he falls below it. We may perceive that doing nothing is below it in our personal code book but that requires subjectivity. Again, the “baseline” is subjectively neutral. It is truly a simple concept that too many people are – for lack of understanding – complicating. Once we all understand that simple division line then from there we can create social moral codes or norms and so on. That is why I continue to iterate the simple fact that veganism resides right on the moral baseline as it doesn’t require anything other than not deliberately acting below the moral baseline. In other words, a person who doesn’t stop for the bird or help the child drowning and who also doesn’t deliberately cross below the moral baseline would still be considered vegan. Although, it is highly unlikely this person exists.

    As for the word “innocence,” you are trying to draw a parallel between a rock and a human, in addition to lassoing it into some philosophical definition you read somewhere, but I need to point out first, that I am not using it in any philosophical context but simply conceptually. Also, the obvious failure in your analogy: a rock is not sentient. A rock does not have the cognitive hardware to instruct itself, instinctually or intuitively, to launch itself at a person. That is why the folks that created the definition added: “not involving evil intent or motive.” “Intent“ is the operative; sentient beings possess sufficient cognitive hardware for “intention” and motive whereas a rock or non-sentient thing does not. A rabbit’s intention to do harm is probably somewhere in the range of a one month old human baby. The word “innocent” adequately helps us “conceptualize” the guiltlessness of all non-humans.

    I would suggest that we don’t lose focus on the relevant issue of suffering. To seek distraction in the nuance of a word is careless and dishonest at best. If you desire to hold firm to the perception that a cow is not innocent then so be it. Moving past the irrelevant to the relevant which is refocusing our attention to the millions of individuals who are being terrorized and tortured and murdered every minute of every day for no valid reason of which self-indulgence at someone else’s expense is not a reason; it is an excuse for bad behavior. I always hear the same set of self-interest excuses as if there is a list out there somewhere that is repeated over and over. I wonder how many hours the people who iterate these excuses have spent developing deep, respectful, intimate relationships with cows and horses or mice or any other species so as to be marginally capable of making a reasoned determination that “they” are exploitable and deserving of such devaluation that they can be tortured and killed without a second thought? I ask because I know the answer: no one. It is the comfort of a lifetime of imprinted ignorance that keeps “them” out of sight out of mind while arrogance maintains the momentum of the animal holocaust. It’s easy to be cavalier and opinionated when you have no skin in the veal crate or the gestation crate or the grinder or the overcrowded prison … it’s easy to smugly iterate self-serving, shallow excuses when it isn’t your child who is being dragged away or tortured in some nightmarish laboratory.

    • Shaydon

      “It is that place where subjectivity neutralizes. Think of the baseline as the imaginary line that has no dimension but divides two infinite dimensions – on one side is deliberately harming others and on the other side is deliberately helping others”

      Your moral baseline is plagued by subjectivity (as it will be on all sides). Doing nothing is not morally neutral – if you leave a baby to drown in a bath your inaction is morally reprehensible – that is not a baseline. My moral baseline doesn’t let the child drown. Letting the child drown is morally disgusting, not morally neutral to me. That is why our baselines are full of subjectivity.

      This simplistic hurt or help dichotomy does nothing to elucidate ethical dilemmas. Animal research may involve harming one animal to help another. Stopping a hawk killing a dove helps the dove and harms the hawk. Stealing break for your family helps you family and harms the shopkeeper. If ethical problems were as simply as choosing the help or harm option we would not have ethical dilemmas.

      “A rock does not have the cognitive hardware to instruct itself, instinctually or intuitively, to launch itself at a person. That is why the folks that created the definition added: “not involving evil intent or motive.” ”

      Your word “intent” will get you into more difficulties. If a hawk kills a dove it intends to do it. Is it a guilty hawk? I would say no, the word is meaninglessly applied because the hawk does not have moral agency. If you believe intent is the key concept then you avoid the guilty rock, but create guilty (and innocent) animals. I believe guilt and innocence is about moral agency, and thus my world has neither guilty rocks nor guilty animals (and thus, no innocent animals either). Ultimately your definition of innocent creates a meaningless word – you say humans exploit “innocent animals”, but your definition of an animal is that it is innocent by definition. You may as well string a list of meaningless (almost tautological) words e.g. humans exploit “innocent, living, breathing, moving, existing, 3-dimensional, not-speaking animals”. The use of innocence when discussing animals gets us nowhere in a philosophical discussion (which is what this whole thread is – a philosophical discussion).

      Why does the ability to suffer grant you a right not to suffer? Read my brief essay on the matter here:
      https://speakingofresearch.com/extremism-undone/ar-beliefs/

  3. Just now a new article appeared on this blog that is related to this very issue:
    https://speakingofresearch.com/2014/07/14/why-is-alcohol-research-with-nonhuman-animals-essential/
    Here, as part of the bio that is aimed at justifying why Jeff Weiner is a good moral compass, it is stated that Jeff Weiner’s income is strongly dependant on animal research and that he clearly is pro-animal research: “Dr. Weiner is the Director of an NIH-funded translational research grant that employs rodent, monkey and human models to study the neurobiological substrates…” and secondly he is a self-appointed (or as it was phrased, a founding co-chair) co-chair of the board that studies the ethics of his specific animal research: “He is also a founding Co-Chair of a new Animal Research and Ethics committee established by the Research Society on Alcoholism.”

    Clearly this man is biased. Would you want a known rapist as a judge on a rape trial?

    And if you go on to read the fluff piece, you will see that the amounts of animals used is not mentioned, the types of tests are not factored in, no statistics of how many beneficial drugs resulted from this are given, no mention of what alternative ways of finding drugs for this disease are mentioned. In short, it seems that the only requirement to justify this testing is whether or not alcoholism can be considered a disease and whether or not there has been any drug with any benefits whatsoever resulting from animal testing.

    This is not the same decision as whether or not to save a child or a mouse from a burning building. It is closer to having a man that can willingly light a match or not light it if he so wishes and a can of gasoline which you have to choose whether to dump it out on the man or onto a million rats, and some monkeys.

    Easy solution that doesn’t involve animal testing, make alcohol illegal! It seems to have worked wonders for other illegal drugs…

  4. Shaydon Hayes

    The author of this blog bounced in every conceivable direction; it was very distracting and incomprehensive on every level. I used to have a girlfriend that did that so I spent most of my time continually trying to keep her on topic. Hair pulling frustration! But people will often do that when they are uncomfortable with a fact that conflicts with his or her perception or behavior. On topic I can put it succinctly this way: Veganism is a disbelief in the omnipresent non-vegan beliefs that support the exploitation and murder of innocent individuals. Veganism is, in fact, synonymous with the moral baseline because it simply means that you refrain (“refrain” is the operative) from deliberately diminishing the well-being of someone who is innocent. Asking who we should torture in research labs or who will we save in a fire are tactical questions specifically designed to distract us from real experiences that involve everyday choices that can make us complicit in imposing suffering on someone else.

    • Your narrative assumes our moral concern for all living beings ought to be the same, something most people reject. “Innocence” is not a concept you apply to living beings that lack the capacity to behave according to rules of behavior. A lion that killed its prey is neither guilty nor innocent. Choosing not to act to alleviate suffering is a choice that also imposes suffering on others. And “refraining” does not imply your action is automatically morally justified. Refraining from advancing medical research to improve the well-being of humans or animals alike is wrong. https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/09/the-morality-of-inaction-reframing-the-debate/

      • Shaydon Hayes

        You misunderstood what I clearly stated. I know why you did but let’s move beyond your keen ability to rewrite in your head what you read. “Refraining” from harming someone has nothing whatsoever to do with subjective “morally justified behavior.” “Refraining is merely maintaining the neutral position – which is why it is called the moral “baseline” – it is in a sense simply “no” behavior. You need to be a more astute listener and avoid mental rewrites that fit your biased view of the world. You have additionally made the commonest of all human blunders in thinking, which is: the presumption that yours, mine or any other human’s “subjective” moral concern is somehow relevant to the “moral baseline,” or, more importantly, is relevant to any innocent sentient being who has zero interest in some delusional human’s prejudicially manufactured, morally justified behavior that causes them to suffer. I assure you that it isn’t.

        Humans are so deeply imbued with arrogance that they can’t resist assigning an arbitrary valuation to individuals based only on ignorant conjecture that includes deliberate lies about the sentient experiences of non-humans.

        Objectivity, fairness and justice all require that we remove our self and our biases from the equation, thus, to state that “you” think it’s better to submit someone of your choosing to unconscionable suffering and death for some research exercise that may or may not in the end – almost always not – be of benefit to those whom you subjectively deem to be better, or, somehow more important than those you arbitrarily appoint to be the victims. Your argument is so imbued with subjectivity and arrogance it is hard for me to believe that someone as clearly articulate as you could be so transparently narrow and biased in your thinking.

        I know where you want to meander with the word “innocent,” as we could easily get distracted by engaging in a mile long discussion on that word since it has subjective and abstract qualities especially in certain contexts related to law or mental health. However, in the context of “intention” we can make evidence-based assertions about innocence as it applies to non-humans and very young human children. There is an apparent reason why a two year old child who suffocates his six month old sister to death is not held to the same standard of guilt as the parent. No one can be held to a standard of guilt if he or she lacks the cognitive sophistication to be able to comprehend someone else’s pain including the more abstract concept of death. If a non-human or very young human child does experience some discord it is still sufficiently crude to avoid the consequence of feeling any remorse (guilt). Thus, they are held guiltless, innocent of deliberately imposing suffering on someone else. For the act, of course, they are guilty; but for the “intention” they are deemed innocent.

        “Innocent” The word is defined in Websters as: 3) not involving evil intent or motive; 6) showing simplicity or naivete … ; 7) uninformed or unaware; ignorant.

        Clearly, by definition, all non-humans are accurately described as being “innocent.”

        • “Refraining is merely maintaining the neutral position”

          No, it is not. If we can cure cancer by experimenting on mice we should do it.

          Refraining, in this case, would actually cause harm to those patients you could have helped — it is not a neutral action at all.

          But I understand your position: (a) humans are bad and arrogant (except for you?), (b) animals are good and innocent. Got it.

      • By nature most species tend to be speciest and it has been shown through history that humans are extremely prone to this kind of thinking – that other kinds of humans are below their kind of human. This is a natural obstacle that every human being must try to overcome on a daily basis.
        There are some humans that realize this and try their best to overcome this base, almost instinctual, reaction that is also re-inforced by society from a very young age. There are others that don’t and just embrace their belief that they are better than others (other humans, other species etc.) and more deserving to live.
        Then there is the arrogance to think that “we” (our species, race, sex, social standing, intellectual field, etc) are so superior that we should decide who lives and who dies, who can be tortured and experimented on and who cannot. For instance, lets experiment on Guatemalans, they aren’t Americans. Or maybe we can experiment on the mentally ill, or we can just infect some prisoners with sexually transmitted diseases since they are bad people.

        The problem highlighted in this very article (and a problem I guess you don’t believe exist) is that currently the people making decisions about the very difficult and intricate moral question about animal testing are those people that are already doing it and already made up their mind. Somebody that can justify eating an animal (in most cases animals that have been raised on factory farms) just because they like the taste is clearly somebody that can justify almost any other use of animals.
        For instance, you seem to think you are a moral compass for what is right and what is wrong. But you have yet to acknowledge (at least that I have seen) that there is anything wrong in the current state of cosmetic testing. You seem to believe that animals should not have any rights. You use an argument that most reasonable people would rescue a child from a burning building instead of a rat if they had to choose to justify testing of cosmetics on animals. I personally cannot make that jump, choosing between a child or a mouse in a burning building does not extrapolate to choosing between the prolonged suffering and death of millions of animals so that a vain human can have less wrinkles. But then again, I cannot justify eating animals because they taste nice, so it would seem that might be the core difference and exactly what this discussion is about.

        • Arnold L Goldman DVM MPH

          Comments like this: “Somebody that can justify eating an animal (in most cases animals that have been raised on factory farms) just because they like the taste is clearly somebody that can justify almost any other use of animals.” belie a multifaceted anti-human, anti-society bias which would be hard to explain if a member of another species was itself able to make the comment. It seems you take it as a given that humans should not favor their own species. I am proud that I do.

          Then an anti-carnivorous diet is mentioned, but using the pejorative pop-culture term “factory farm” which was created and used to elicit an emotional image of animals ground in gears with much pain and horror intended to be imagined. That animal source protein is derived from crops and land unsuitable for crops humans can eat and also used to sustain human societies on otherwise unarable land is ignored.

          Reasonable people may disagree about cosmetic testing, but we all can agree that a litigious society and governmental requirements is what drives the testing that is done. If people would stop using the tested products voluntarily, then the testing will go away. Biomedical research however is unrelated to this testing and must continue for the sake of our species. I make no apologies here, nor would the vast majority of human beings.

          Empathy for our own species first is a hallmark of being human. To most that is a self evident and fundamental fact of life. Woe to the world if human rights is made equivalent to some constitutional construct of animal rights. Such a development would most likely not be an elevation of animals but instead a degradation of humanity. Human nature being what it is, both humans and animals are better off with humans overseeing animal welfare. Equivalency will ultimately lead to human on human slaughter, environmental degradation and animal extinction.

        • For instance, you seem to think you are a moral compass for what is right and what is wrong.

          To the contrary, I said many times that society as a whole should get to decide what is that we consider morally permissible or not. If anything, it is those that oppose the use of animals for any human use that are believe themselves to be the holders of the moral compass.

          But you have yet to acknowledge (at least that I have seen) that there is anything wrong in the current state of cosmetic testing.

          Then you missed it — I don’t support the use of animals to develop new lipsticks.

      • Shaydon – firstly, if you continue with your condescending tone you will find your comments removed (if you unaware of this, then I mean phrases like “You need to be a more astute listener” and “let’s move beyond your keen ability to rewrite in your head what you read”).

        You do need to clearly show what points Dario is being subjective about. He is providing a position, which he explains, in which he provides a (externally) reasoned argument on moral baselines.

        ““Refraining is merely maintaining the neutral position – which is why it is called the moral “baseline” – it is in a sense simply “no” behavior”
        Is watching a child drown in a swimming pool because you are “refraining from action”, a moral baseline? No – inaction is a moral decision not a baseline.

        “presumption that yours, mine or any other human’s “subjective” moral concern is somehow relevant to the “moral baseline,” or, more importantly, is relevant to any innocent sentient being”
        (1) You seem to be reaching for some objective moral system, but have yet provide an explanation or basis for it.
        (2) As mentioned by Dario, you cannot have an innocent (non-human) animal any more than you can have a “guilty” animal – they do not take moral decisions and thus cannot be guilty or innocent (any more than a rock is guilty or innocent).

        “If a non-human or very young human child does experience some discord it is still sufficiently crude to avoid the consequence of feeling any remorse (guilt). Thus, they are held guiltless, innocent of deliberately imposing suffering on someone else. For the act, of course, they are guilty; but for the “intention” they are deemed innocent. ”
        No! For the intention they are neither guilty nor innocent – they are not moral agents. Otherwise you must describe the rock that falls on someone’s head as innocent of intention, whereas it is truthfully meaningless to ascribe guilt or innocence.

        Your dictionary definition of innocent is not suited to application to non-human things. Your definition would include animals, rocks, nothingness, the colour blue, sharks that are currently devouring something, and EVERY other non-human thing. It is meaningless. The dictionary will acknowledge that people have written phrases like “an innocent lamb”, but philosophically it is meaningless. You cannot assign “innocence” if there is no possibility of “guilt” – it would be like describing a coconut of being lazy or a rock as being pain-free – it is philosophically meaningless.

      • Dario, I am glad to see that you are willing to agree that the current situation of animal use in laboratories is not 100% perfect and should be more restrictive, at least in certain countries. I presume this does not mean that you now think animals should have some rights?
        As I was not there, I don’t know whether you did this, but, if not, perhaps you should have clarified in your presentation at the university that you don’t consider yourself as the moral compass and that you are strongly biased in favor of animal testing and just giving your personal views in favor of it.

        As for Arnold L Goldman DVM MPH, I don’t think it is even worth responding. You should perhaps educate yourself about what happens on factory farms (or Intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production, you can call it whatever you like), but from your comment it is clear that you don’t really care.
        I don’t really understand how my statement could be seen as “multifaceted anti-humand, anti-society bias” but anyway, if you are “proud” about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=548FLzqiqPc&feature=kp then I guess there is no point in discussing anything with you more than how tasty your last steak was.
        I am also sure that people that spoke out against the holocaust and slavery were labeled as anti-society by the majority that supported it at the time.

        PS. Note that I don’t support Peta, so no need to even start that flame-war.

  5. Yes, we do believe that welfare reforms work, but only when they are proposed and implemented by the meat industry, to lure caring consumers to their products – not when they are proposed and abetted by animal rights organizations, which are viewed as ethical beacons by their supporters.

  6. Anne Birthistle

    …and a Nobel Prize winner – who suggested that harming the whiskers of a single mouse is not an option. His vision of Man as a highly moral being is sadly skewed by arguments such as yours…. And you do not give your impression of Shopenhauer’s ‘moral baseline’…?

  7. You tend to dwell on one participant’s questioning and to dismiss the overall exercise as a complete annoyance. Your concept of morality is on the shakiest of ground, and is the antithesis of the ‘moral baseline’ of some of the world’s most revered ponderers of such high-minded matters. Victor Hugo (president of the first anti-vivisection society in France), da Vinci, Shaw, numerous others of the highest morality and intelligence viewed experimentation on animals as an abomination.
    “Universal compassion is our only guarantee of mercy”.
    – Schopenhauer.

  8. To start off with I am not vegan but I did study it as part of food technology classes at school. What I learn was that people chose this diet and others for different reasons be it ethical, religious, health or economic but to suggest that this or other diets are suitable for everyone is wrong because everyone’s nutritional needs are different. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10400273/Every-child-should-get-free-vitamins-to-stave-off-rickets-chief-doctor-says.html Also research into nutrition just like all research carries on changing for example- http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/12/good-for-you-butter Now if we were to go 100% vegan as in no animal products being use (food, clothing, medicines, etc) then we might see a rise made from other controversial products such as plastics from crude oil, plants such palm oil or medicines made from genetically modified plants and/or microorganisms such as human insulin http://www.dnalc.org/view/15505-Synthesizing-human-insulin-using-recombinant-DNA-3D-animation-with-no-audio.html

    • And your point being? I presume you are trying to say that if society can just evolve past one of the current major problems in the world namely eating the flesh of other animals we could focus on evolving past these other social issues?

  9. Cheryl,
    Your statement that animal research has produced little benefit is not supported by fact. Take even a couple of areas of scientific understanding and consider what we know and how we came to know about the biological processes relevant to health. From there you can also begin to understand how the animal studies contributed to development of new treatments and how animal testing played a role in evaluating their safety prior to clinical trials. Scientists already use alternatives where they are available. Scientists also develop the alternatives. Substantial funding and scientific effort is already dedicated to the full range of approaches to questions, including animal studies and alternatives. The kinds of questions you’re asking are the same that are addressed on this blog many times. Any of these provide a good start.

    https://speakingofresearch.com/2013/01/23/nine-out-of-ten-statistics-are-taken-out-of-context/

    https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/05/understanding-adverse-drug-reactions-adrs/

    https://speakingofresearch.com/facts/medical-benefits/

    https://speakingofresearch.com/2010/03/22/magic-bullets-and-monoclonals-a-breakthrough-in-bioscience/

    https://speakingofresearch.com/2009/07/13/from-mouse-to-monkey-to-humans-the-story-of-rituximab/

    https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/10/08/reprogramming-of-frog-and-mouse-cells-wins-the-2012-nobel-prize/

  10. Dario, in one of your comments above you say:
    I scold those that want to abolish all animal research because there are so many opportunities to improve the welfare of animals in the planet that choosing the one that will harm animal first is both wrong and deplorable.

    Using this same train of thought you would thus also scold people that want to abolish human trafficing for organs, because there are so many other opportunities to improve the welfare of humans on the planet that choosing the one that will harm other humans is both wrong and deplorable.

    • False analogy. Harvesting human organs is a violation of human rights. I am not an animal rights proponent. I do not believe animals have rights. I do think we owe all living beings moral consideration but not the same to that of a normal human. When it comes to conflicts that involve pitting the live of humans and animals that it is morally permissible opt to save the humans. I view animal research as such an enterprise.

      • The analogy is not meant to question your beliefs, it is an anology to question your reasoning.
        Animal rights activists believe animals have rights. So, they are fighting for all animal rights causes and doing so for a specific animal right cannot be seen as “deplorable” just because the abuse of that right may incur a benefit to a certain subset of humanity in the same sense as fighting for any “lesser” human right cannot be seen as “deplorable” because the abuse of that human right may incur a benefit to a certain subset of humanity.

        I am sure that not so long ago many people defended slavery in similar fashion, stating that people that are against it are deplorable because the use of slaves are essential for efficient farming and feeding millions of humans with more rights than slaves.

      • If only the measure for deciding the morality of using animals in medical testing today was whether human lives will be saved by the test or not.

  11. This is copied and pasted from my blog article: I would be happy to read a scientist’s response:

    At what point do we say that research on animals just is not worth the immense pain, suffering, and death animals face in order to produce an arguably small benefit for human beings? For every 600 drugs that enter the preclinical testing on animals, only 12 advance to human clinical trials. Furthermore, the NIH and FDA report that 9 out of 10 drugs developed from testing on animals fail in the human clinical trial phase. What’s more is that approximately 50% of the clinical failure rate is due to drugs being too toxic. The FDA reports that there are over 2 million Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) each year, approximately 100,000 deaths from ADR per year, making ADR the 4th leading cause of death. What this means is: (1) there is a whole lot of animal suffering, (2) not a lot of human healing, and (3) substantial human suffering from animal research. Not to mention that there are indirect harms of animal research: (1) approximately 588/600 drugs are never tested on humans, despite the fact that they very well might have positive effects in humans (but we will never know, since the mere fact they failed on animals prevents future testing on humans), AND (2) the billions of dollars wasted on animal research could have been spent elsewhere, such as on *prevention* of disease (most of the diseases and sicknesses scientists attempt to cure are human induced by improper eating, laziness, and recklessness) and the time and energy scientists have wasted on animal research could have been dedicated to developing cures and drugs through alternatives such as computer simulations, human-tissue cultures, human stem cell research, in vitro techniques, and mircrodosing (furthermore the funding spent on animal research could have been used to develop alternatives).

    • “At what point do we say that research on animals just is not worth the immense pain, suffering, and death animals face in order to produce an arguably small benefit for human beings?”

      Haha… not short of adjectives and assumptions to set up the question here… you forgot “torture.”

      Well… I will try to respond during the week.

      In the meantime, I am interested:

      1) How close has a normal human being need to be to you so you choose him/her over your cat in the burning house?

      2) How do you think moral disputes in our society ought to be resolved? I suspect our moral boundaries for the (ill-posed) question above will be different. But you seemed to be unwilling to let society as a whole have a say. Explain wh

      3) What was your position on violence? Do you see violence against your own colleagues that differ with your moral views as justified?

      4) Following your format: “At what point do we say that driving our cars is just not worth the immense pain, suffering, and death animals face when they end up as road kill (more animals than in research) to benefit for human beings?”

      • The fact that you respond with “haha” just confirms how scary it is that individuals like you are performing research on animals. I am glad you find my list of “adjectives” so amusing. Nevermind that pain, suffering, and death are all different sorts of harms animals experience at your hands.

        Also, I have no idea what the 4 questions you have asked have anything to do with the original post. If you were to respond in a focused manner by engaging in discourse about the relevant subject at hand, we might be able to have a conversation.

    • You seem to have your facts confused:
      “For every 600 drugs that enter the preclinical testing on animals, only 12 advance to human clinical trials”.
      Actually it’s about 50% of drugs which pass pre-clinical safety tests in animals.

      “the NIH and FDA report that 9 out of 10 drugs developed from testing on animals fail in the human clinical trial phase”
      Please read link below to understand the full context of that statistic (e.g. 86% of drugs passing Phase I trials in humans fail by Phase III – but you wouldn’t suggest humans are bad models for other humans).
      https://speakingofresearch.com/2013/01/23/nine-out-of-ten-statistics-are-taken-out-of-context/

      With respect to ADRs there would be a lot more suffering if we removed animal pre-clinical tests. This step removes certain dangerous drugs from going on to human trials. Read this:
      https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/05/understanding-adverse-drug-reactions-adrs/

      Computer models and in vitro techniques are currently used ALONGSIDE animal research – where do you think most of the computer model data comes from!?

    • ceabbate, you write that “the billions of dollars wasted on animal research could have been spent elsewhere, such as on *prevention* of disease (most of the diseases and sicknesses scientists attempt to cure are human induced by improper eating, laziness, and recklessness) ”

      but earlier wrote:

      “Since I have become vegan, I do not get vaccinations nor do I take any medication that is not natural ”

      thus rejecting one of the preventative measures that has done most to reduce the toll of disease on the human population around the world (with the possible exceptions of clean water and sanitation, and improved food production), to the extent that in many areas diseases that were once feared are considered by many to be so little of a threat by some people that they don’t bother vaccinating (until this happens http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-22443020).

      I also find the implication that some diseases are “human induced” that animal research should not be conducted to develop treatments for them odd, as even very pro-vegan groups like PCRM don’t claim that all heart disease is due to poor diet and other lifestyle choices, even if everyone adopted lifestyles that minimized the risk of developing heart disease (or those cancers where lifestyle is often a contributing factor) there would still be plenty of cases to treat. Are you really saying that people ought to be denied treatment because other people with the same illness don’t meet your elevated lifestyle standards?

      Also I find you’re use of “lazy” pretty offensive, since the people who I’ve known who did develop illnesses that I know were at least partially due to their lifestyle were far from lazy, in fact their problem was taking too little time to look after themselves because they were working too hard looking after those who depended on them. Does poor dietary choice trump all other factors in accessing a persons worthiness of receiving treatment? I would certainly not like to live in a society which worked on this basis (and I’m speaking as a person who is into fitness in a pretty serious way and enjoys a healthy diet).

      There are of course many diseases that are not lifestyle induced, including most neurological disorders, many cancers and of course the huge range of genetic disorders that affect many people, so the truth is that even with all the prevention in the world there will still be a need for effective therapies, and for the development of those therapies.

    • ceabbate, you seem to be under the misapprehension that animal research is somehow separate from other forms of biomedical research, though since this is an impression that anti-vivisection websites like to give it’s probably not entirely your fault.

      The scientists doing animal are in many cases the same ones doing research with human tissue culture, human genetics, computer simulations (something Dario knows very well!), or are part of multidisciplinary teams that include researchers and research collaborators with a variety of specialities. Even those that specialise in animal research spend much of their professional lives communicating with those who use other approaches.

      Stem cell research is a good case to look at. iPS cells certainly have the potential to aid the development of non-animal methods for some pre-clinical screening and safety testing purposes, and of course are becoming very popular as basic research tools in the lab, but iPSC technology was discovered and is being further developed through animal research, and – as Professor Yamanaka himself has pointed out – animal studies are crucial to development and evaluation of iPS cell-based therapies (and for that matter other stem cell therapies) https://speakingofresearch.com/2012/10/08/reprogramming-of-frog-and-mouse-cells-wins-the-2012-nobel-prize/

      The idea that animal research is somehow holding back other areas of research is a myth, though one that animal rights activists are very good at spreading.

  12. Thanks for the link to your article– I have already read it. I actually assigned it as a reading for the health sciences course I am teaching this semester. I have it paired with Francione’s article on “animal research: necessity and justification”– my guess is my students will enjoy yours more.

  13. If you want to justify your “Baloney” statement, please answer the following questions (and I asked these questions during the Q & A of your presentation):

    How may human beings have been saved by animal research?

    How many human beings have been harmed by animal research through false negatives?

    It seems that if scientists could provide an answer to this question (even if it is an estimation), they would be able to dispell many of the claims that animal research is actually harmful. But then again, even if scientists can produce numbers that illustrate that more lives have been saved, they are still left to address the question of indirect harms– i.e. the cures and treatments that could have been available for humans, had we not used animals as models (so for instance, out of 600 drugs tested on animals, 588 will never be tested on humans because they failed in animal testing— for all we know, those drugs could have been beneficial for humans).

    • Data are available in the CDC and FDA websites…

      Please go and look it up.

      Here, you can start with vaccines —

      http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm

      given that you are anti-vaccination like Francione.

      • The Food & Drug Administration tells us that 92% of drugs tested safe and effective in animals fail in human trials.

      • So I will take your answer to my question to be: No: Scientists don’t have any sort of comparative date to back up their claims. Sure, send me links all day about how wonderful the cures we have are. But I have specifically asked if you are able to compare the numbers of humans who have benefited from animal research to the number of humans who have been harmed. Why am I not surprised you send me a one sided response?

  14. 1. I’m confused as to how you think I am prioritizing myself over those who are sick now. I would argue that all medications that have already been discovered can be used by anyone: people who are sick now and people who might become sick in the future.

    2. This is consistent with stating that we should end all current animal research. If I become sick with some disease tomorrow that has no cure, I would stand by this statement.

    3. How do I propose we take into the interests of sick individuals? By developing cures and drugs through alternatives such as computer simulations, human-tissue cultures, human stem cell research, in vitro techniques, and mircrodosing. You act is if animal research is the only way we can help those who are sick– if you read the link to the response to Ringach’s talk I wrote (http://aphilosophersblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/dario-ringach-wrong-again-on-animal-research-2/), you would know that I am highly skeptical of animal research itself and I think it would benefit both humans and animals if it were abolished today. So no, I am not “ignoring the harm” to other humans– I think all humans (sick or not) would be much better off if we transferred the billions of dollars we waste an animal research to non-animal alternatives, or better yet, preventative measures.

    4. Do you mean ACTUAL harm to animals? You oddly write as if research has this “potentional” to harm animals. To answer this question, again, animal research is not simply a matter of weighing human interests against animal interests– animal research involves VIOLATING the basic rights of animals.

  15. It is hard to understand for a number of reasons. The way you’ve pitched it also seems to give little consideration to the people who – unlike yourself, are not healthy right now. How do you propose to represent their interests? In your own comments it seemed you attributed much disease to individual’s choices and, as a result, thought they weren’t deserving of treatment or consideration. Your position does seem to completely ignore the harms – now and in the future – to those who benefit from animal research, testing, or transplantation (e.g., heart valve example). How do you think the weighing of potential harm that would occur in absence of the work should be balanced with potential harm to the animals? .

  16. @ceabbate: You say – “I am vaccinated (but not by choice). Since I have become vegan, I do not get vaccinations nor do I take any medication that is not natural (in fact, I haven’t been sick in the 4 years since I’ve been vegan- imagine that!). But let’s say I do get into an accident and need some medical procedure that was developed from animal research. Yes, I would go ahead and accept medical treatment—but I would also accept the same medical treatment if it were discovered by the Nazi testing.”

    So your position is that you are comfortable benefiting from animal research should you need to do so at some future point in order to save your own life. That seems like an easy position to take in terms of your own interests and consequences to you. You can be sure that your goal of ending animal research– and thus eliminating any benefit– is unlikely to be realized any time soon, so you do not jeopardize your own interest there either. You also clear the way to benefit from all of the basic scientific understanding that has, and continues to, provide the foundation for continued progress.

    But you are also comfortable arguing to stop animal research that is aimed at reducing disease or suffering that affects others now and in the future. The position that you are advancing does contain harm for other people who do need medications and treatments. How do you reconcile that?

    • I am comfortable using the intelligence from past research to save my life, yes. Again, I’m not sure why scientists are attacking animal activists for making this claim when human supremacists ALSO are fine benefitting from the research performed on humans by the Nazis.

      So let me ask you: Are you okay with using the intelligence gained from Nazi experiments? My guess is yes, because it the intelligence gained from these researches helped formulate future scientific hypotheses and such about disease. Does this then mean you are a hypocrite for not promoting human research now?

      There is nothing in the animal rights position that states one cannot use past intelligence from animals who have already been harmed because in using the research one is not violating the rights of animals (unless you are somehow going to argue that animals who have died can have their rights violated according to an animal rights position).

      A quote from scientist: “But you are also comfortable arguing to stop animal research that is aimed at reducing disease or suffering that affects others now and in the future. The position that you are advancing does contain harm for other people who do need medications and treatments. How do you reconcile that?”—— (1) using animals now for research involves harming animals now and in the future
      (2) using intelligence from past research does not involve harming animals now.

      Why is this so hard to understand?

      • I replied already… The Nazi analogy does not hold.

        If you buy a cheap tomato from a producer that exploits Mexican workers then you will be supporting their exploitation. The same applies to your medications.

  17. A very good point is being brought up here. Somebody that can justify the suffering and death of an animal just for his taste preferences should not be allowed to make an objective decision on whether a specific animal research experiment should be approved or not.
    I have been trying for some time to find out what the requirements are on the members of the scientific review boards that approve these research projects but I have not been able to find anything. Is there any requirements? Are there any background checks on the members? Are they chosen randomly from the general public or elected in some way?

    • The committees that approve the work include veterinarians and members of the public. In the case of the UW the chair of the committee is a moral philosopher. I don’t approve my own experiments. Nobody does. And, just to make it clear, I did not justify the use of animals in food. That was not the purpose of my talk nor why I was invited. Perhaps you should wait until the video comes out to see what I actually said. Finally, I don’t think having a vegan philosopher that is ready to flip a coin between a mouse and a human would be good choice for such committees. Nor having a philosopher that thinks that disease is just a personal choice.

    • Assuming that you are talking about the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that considers and approves proposals for animal studies, there are many sources of detailed information. Here is one:

      http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/tutorial/iacuc.htm
      “The IACUC membership must consist of at least 5 members and includes: – one veterinarian with training or experience in laboratory animal science and medicine, who has direct or delegated authority and responsibility for activities involving animals at the institution;
      – one practicing scientist experienced in research with animals;
      – one member whose primary concerns are in a nonscientific area (e.g., ethicist, lawyer, member of the clergy); and
      – one member who is not affiliated with the institution other than as a member of the IACUC.”

      • Isn’t it true that one person could potentially serve as: the veterinarian, the ethicist, and the individual not affiliated with the university. So, hypothetically, an animal care committee could consist of 4 scientists and one ethicist-veterinarian-non affiliated member? Scary.

      • Thanks for the link.
        Unfortunately this does not answer my question. I was wondering whether there are any requirements for somebody to be elected. Like background checks (for instance, a requirement that somebody that has a history of animal abuse cannot be on this kind of board). Also, what the election process is. Are these people chosen randomly, selected by the dean, elected by the student body, chosen randomly?
        The carreer choices of the individuals doesn’t really mean much to me – I know of many cases where vetenarians abuse animals and being a moral philosopher does not have any requirements on the philosophers’s morals. For instance, if this philosopher can justify eating animals, is he/she fit to make decisions concerning animal research?
        All except 1 of the members of the board has a direct interest in the university’s success and continued animal research grants are beneficial for the university. 2 of the 4 are directly linked to the actual animal research facility at the university.
        Is there some vetting done to ensure that the 1 non-affiliated member doesn’t have family/friends affiliated with the research facility?

  18. I have noticed that in most of your posts you try to justify the deaths of an undefined amount of animals to the fact that it could contribute in some way to saving the lives of countless human beings.
    Is this the test that determines whether animal testing should be approved or not? If this was the requirement one could continue to discuss where the moral line should be drawn, but at the moment this is not the case and the moral line is being drawn where the scientists want it to be drawn.
    I would like to know how you justify testing chemical creams on animals that may help alleviate wrinkles? Or just to determine the mortality level of a poison? Or any other non-life-or-death miracle cure drugs?

    • As I said in my talk, the line should be drawn where we, as a society, want it to be drawn. Also, as I said during the discussion, I oppose the use of animals in cosmetics that have no value in improving the well-being of human or non-human animals. But there is no doubt you need to test the safety of chemicals and drugs before you release them into the population. Doing otherwise would be unthinkable.

      • I don’t think I understand what you are saying. Does this mean you think it is justified to test cosmetic chemicals and drugs on animals or not? How do you define “have no value”? I can see how you might argue that a good face cream could save the life of a vain individual that would otherwise commit suicide because she has more wrinkles than if she did not use the cream.
        To prove some chemical has no value whatsover would be impossible.

        • I see your point. If people are really jumping off buildings because of the way they look I think we ought to take a serious look at the cultural values that shape such behavior instead of harming anyone to perpetuate the practice. I see it difficult to accept that a new color lipstick would save human lives, but if anyone wants to argue that this is the case I am willing to listen. Animal research does not take place by default, you have to justify it — every single experiment!

  19. First, thank you for speaking the other night and bringing these issues to public discussion.

    I agree with the above commenters that veganism is relevant. If you’re willing to let an animal be killed just to satisfy your taste preferences (a very minor concern compared to the suffering of animals and the devastation to the planet that results), then your threshold is so low that you must be willing to experiment on animals to any extent so long as there’s a possibility of human improvement. Your not being vegan tells me that you’re on that first end of the spectrum: do whatever we want with animals.

    From the other parts of your talk though, it seems that you do have some limitations to experiments you think are justifiable. And I appreciated you bringing up the marginal cases, but you sort of used it in a strange way. You said that no, we should not experiment on a severely disabled human with capabilities perhaps similar to a mouse, because the other humans would be horrified. That person’s family would suffer for sure, and it’s likely anyone who heard about the experiments would suffer some amount also. That’s not really comparing apples to apples though. The point of marginal cases is to evaluate whether your ethics are speciesist. So put aside the other humans’ suffering. Let’s say you found a severely disabled child, knew that he had no family and that no humans would ever know he existed. In addition, you and the other experimenters would not be emotionally affected. Assuming the child has similar interests and a similar ability to suffer as a dog, and that you could save many “regular” humans from experimenting on the child, would you do so? If not, why not? Just because he belongs to our species?

    Genetic differences do not justify different consideration of equal interests. This is true whether it’s the genetic differences between a man and a woman, a minority and a white person, or a non-human animal and a human animal.

    I hope you do think more about eating animals. Vegetarianism/veganism can be a hard transition for some people, but I encourage you to think more about the ethics there and to investigate the numerous veg-friendly options we have.

    • “Let’s say you found a severely disabled child, knew that he had no family and that no humans would ever know he existed. In addition, you and the other experimenters would not be emotionally affected. Assuming the child has similar interests and a similar ability to suffer as a dog, and that you could save many “regular” humans from experimenting on the child, would you do so? If not, why not? Just because he belongs to our species?”

      Well… that’s a lot of assumptions Gina… But, if I accept your premises, sure — I’d treat that human and the dog exactly the same.

      Now, let me ask you: if you were to find such a child, would it matter to you? Obviously, the audience had a gut reaction when I suggested it should not matter.

      Would you approve of animal research if we simply added cognitively disabled children to the list of subjects?

      Then, we would not be speciesist any more!

      What do you think?

      I hope you devote more time to teaching people about where there food comes from, instead of campaigning against research that saves lives.

      • The reason why the issue of marginal cases continually is presented is because most people who exploit nonhuman animals maintain that all human beings are entitled to dignified treatment, regardless of their cognitive capacities. This is morally inconsistent, which is what animal proponents attempt to point out (the goal is not to extend the pool of victims of research, but rather to narrow it). If you are willing to argue that we can perform medical research on animals AND marginal human beings, then you are at least morally consistent (but this doesn’t mean your argument is right!). But animal rights proponents assume that marginal human beings are also entitled to respectful treatment, and then they build their case for animals from there.

        Also, I’m not sure why you are scolding animal activists for advocating on behalf of lab animals. I, for one, advocate for all animals who are exploited. I leaflet on colleges about factory farming, volunteer at farm sanctuaries, etc. (and I spend most of my activist work doing this), but I also attend talks and participate in discussions regarding the exploitation of lab animals. For one, I learn with each discussion I engage in, and second, I don’t believe the animals in lab animals are any less worthy of our moral attention, just because there are fewer of them and that they might be used to “save lives.”

        • If I am consistent but not right, then explain why I am not right.

          To me the rejection of the extreme views comes first. Once I reject the extremes I know I should not look there any longer.

          I’d rather position myself between the extremes and accept a 1% inconsistency, than position myself at the extremes and be 100% wrong.

          I have no problem with those that want to advocate for animals in Labs so long as they recognize the moral dilemma of the work. I said as much in my talk. In fact, I invited all of them to be part of the process.

          I scold abolitionists because their opposition will hurt humans. As Darwin said — it will be a “crime against humanity”.

          I scold those that want to abolish all animal research because there are so many opportunities to improve the welfare of animals in the planet that choosing the one that will harm animal first is both wrong and deplorable.

  20. The question about whether you are vegan or not is just as relevant as the opening statement about choosing between a mouse or a human to save, but probably the better question to ask you would be, if your son/daugter and another child you did not know at all was in a burning buidling and you could save only one of them, which would it be? Or perhaps, to make it closer to your argument about inherent worth of a living being, if it was your child and another child with Down’s sindrome, which would you save? Or perhaps – if you had a 90% chance of saving your own child by killing another child with and IQ of 50% that of your child, would that be morally okay with you? Or, to put it more in line with the current state of affairs in the animal research world – would you think it morally okay to keep a hundred children with a disability that leaves them with the mental capacity of a 2 year old locked up in small cells while you break their back leaving them paralized (don’t worry, they were properly anesthetised while their backs were broken) administer untested drugs to them with unknown side effects to possibly (lets say 20% chance) find a drug that can reduce bone regrowth time by 20%?
    Also, don’t worry, there are oversight groups (mostly financially invested in the research being conducted) that check that the children are given anesthesia and monitor their behavioural changes and also determine that this is the least amount of children needed to complete the proposed research).

  21. Also, I’m not sure how you got from “equal consideration” to “animal supremacism.” Calling animal rights activists “animal supremacism” speaks to your human supremacism, in that you assume that anytime someone speaks on behalf of animals is necessarily spitting in the face of humanity.

    • The principle of equal consideration calls for giving equal weight to relevantly similar interests. Utilitarian and animal rights theories are both based on the principle of equal consideration and constitute the central theories used to challenge scientific work with animals.

      Is equal consideration violated in biomedical research that use animals?

      Clearly, in animal research, the ultimate cost to animals is the loss of life. Many philosophers agree, however, that the interests of (normal) humans and animals in life are not relevantly
      similar —the same things are not at stake.

      Don’t you agree?

      In recognition of this fact, many animal rights philosophers who would agree that, when faced with a choice between the life of a mouse or a human in a burning house scenario, we might be well justified in choosing the human. The moral status of the mouse is not equal to that of the human.

      Anyone who insists of flipping a coin in such case is discriminating against the human.

      • 1. The principle of equal consideration (PEC) requires that we treat similar interests in similar ways. It does not entail that animals are the same or equal in all respects. So, a mouse has an interest in not experiencing pain and suffering (and I would that a mouse has an interest in staying alive), and so does a human being. The PEC requires, then, that we respect the interests of the mouse in a similar way to how we respect a human when deciding if we should intentionally harm it for purposes of research. If we wouldn’t do it to a human, but we do it to a mouse, then we have violated the PEC. I think it’s best to think of the PEC as requiring that we NOT harm a being in order to maximize social utility/i.e.—the PEC requires that we NOT treat sentient beings as things.

        2. In cases of GENUINE conflict, the question is no longer “should we violate the PEC and cause an animal harm or death for maximizing utility”—the question is, who should we save? And if we look at who has a greater interest in remaining alive, you are right, as far as we know, a rational human would win out. But, saving the rational human being over a mouse when both will die if you do nothing is NOT to treat the mouse as a means. I think one gentleman brought up in your talk that this here is an instance of “letting die,” which is quite different from dragging the mouse into a lab and performing painful research on it.

        3.I know that Francione states one place that flipping a coin MIGHT be an appropriate way to determine who to save in the burning house example, but in other places he also grants that it might be acceptable to prefer the rational human over the animal (see Francione (2000)- An Introduction to Animal Rights (pg xxx). Also, Regan, who is a firm believer in animal rights and is staunchly against vivisection, writes that it is acceptable to save the rational human over the animal in cases of genuine conflict (see The Case for Animal Rights). So, not all animal rights theorists find it acceptable to flip a coin, thus not all animal rights theorists “discriminate against the human.”

        • First, The interest of a normal human in life are not the same as the interest of the mouse. In animal research there is a genuine conflict.

          Second, I am Ok any way you want to call it. In the heart valve scenario you have one of two options. Either Peter dies or the pig dies. What do you say we ought to do? How does it differ to your answer in the burning house scenario? And why?

          Third, if Francione has a theory that should guide our moral behavior then the theory must provide an answer. He cannot go back and forth, unless he is confused about how to apply his own ideas to real life cases. His choice to save the human in “special circumstances” or “genuine conflict” fails — unless he (or you) explain to me exactly what such circumstances entail.

          • 1. I don’t agree that using animals in research constitutes a genuine conflict– see my earlier reply to your other comment.

            2. Why is the pig about to die in the heart valve situation? I don’t believe that is how the scenario went– I thought Peter would die unless we kill a healthy big to harvest its heart valve, in which case I would say that this is completely unethical since it violates the PEC by treating the big as a mere tool or thing. It differs from the burning house example, again, because by not saving the mouse, we are not using it as a means or thing.

            3. I agree that Francione should not go back and forth– but this is a problem with Francione’s application of the theory– not a problem with the animal rights theory itself.

          • 1. We disagree then.

            2. You have to select between two actions. The outcome of the two actions are the same as that in the burning house. I do not see how it is relevant how we got into the situation. You seem to think otherwise. We disagree again.

            3. That is right. You make my point again. Animal rights theory says you must flip a coin. If you cannot live with the consequences reject the theory.

          • 1.Back to the question of conflict: why is it that just because a being has the potential to serve as a tool for human advancement, the being is necessarily in conflict with us? Using that reasoning, every single human being is in conflict with one another. If I need a heart transplant, someone with a healthy heart then is conflict with me. And if this individual happens to have inferior cognitive capacities than mine, am I entitled to chop him up in order to take his heart? Why is it only that animals are in conflict with us, and not other human beings (perhaps marginal orphan humans)? Other humans have the capacity to serve as research models and thereby have the potential to be used as tools to save our lives—they, too, must be in conflict with us, according to your logic.

            2. This again goes back to the distinction of killing vs. letting die. I am not a utilitarian so I do see a morally relevant distinction between the two acts, since consequences are not the only thing of moral importance. If you really don’t see the difference, we can talk about trolley cases. Consider the following scenario: A trolley is barreling down a track headed toward five people who are handcuffed to the track. If you do not do anything to stop it, these 5 people will be run over. But, you see a switch that will allow you to switch the trolley to a different track, where one person is handcuffed. Do you flip the switch? Most individuals will say yes—because you are not directly killing that one person. Now, change of conditions: you are standing on a bridge and below you is a trolley that’s barreling down a track headed toward five people who are handcuffed to the track. If you do not do anything to stop it, these 5 people will be run over. In this case, there is no switch to press, but there is a fat man you can push off of the bridge so that he will fall in front of the trolley, making the trolley come to a halt, thereby saving 5 people. Should you then push the fat man off the bridge? Most of us find something reprehensible about the second option. Why?—the outcomes are the same in both scenarios: 1 person dies, 5 people live. The reason why the second option is problematic is because it is a clear instance of killing a being and treating a being like a means to maximizing utility.

            3.I am not making your point for you because I have continually argued that an animal rights position is NOT committed to flipping a coin in cases of genuine conflict! An animal rights position can consistently maintain that it is preferable to save the rational human in genuine conflicts while still maintaining that nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as a thing or instrument.

          • Humans are full moral agents that, by result of the evolution of cooperation (sorry, evolution again), have decided to play by mutually agreed rules of behavior that we call “rights.” Such rules stipulate the answers to 1 and 2. Nonhuman animals cannot participate in a moral community of equals. The same rules prohibit using relational properties to create special clubs “whites” or “heterosexuals” — as we recognized in “all men are created equal…”

            Not committed? What does this mean? Does animal rights theory in your view allow you to make a choice between flipping a coin or the human?

  22. I do think the question of whether you are vegan is relevant. If you do not find it questionable to harm, abuse, and kill animals for the most trivial reasons, i.e. a gustatory pleasure, you most definitely will not find it problematic to use animals as research tools since these research projects are assumed to be “necessary” (although scientists like yourselves are often confused about the distinction between causal and moral necessity). Also, the fact that you admit that you still eat meat and animal products when living in a developed society with alternatives widely available, speaks to the fact that you are either confused about the concept of necessity or you are an amoralist in which case I’m not sure why you would choose to give talks about the ethics of animal research.

    Also, every single animal ethicist (Regan, Singer, Francione included) time and time again repeat that equal consideration does not entail equal treatment. Regan, who is also an animal rights theorists who by all means is against vivisection, admits that we should save the rational human over the animal in genuine conflicts. But this does still not entail that we can go ahead and perform vivisection on the dog. This is because the dog and human both have inherent value which entails a right not to be treated as a means to maximizing social utility. Choosing to save a rational human over a dog in cases of genuine conflict is not an instance of using the dog as a means maximizing utility.

    If you are interested, I wrote a lengthy response to your presentation, noting where your talk was underdeveloped and the misunderstandings of the implications of an animal rights theory. I would be happy to hear your response.
    http://aphilosophersblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/dario-ringach-wrong-again-on-animal-research-2/

    • Cheryl,

      I assume you are the one that asked me some questions during the talk. I appreciate your interest.

      I will read your blog and try to respond when I have some time (as you know, I have to do some science too.)

      In the meantime, let me address your comments.

      You note that all animal rights philosophers would “save the rational human over the animal in genuine conflicts.”

      Indeed. That was exactly my point.

      I went on to explain why I see animal research as a “genuine conflict.” If you disagree, you have to explain why.

      In any case, you noticed how others that side with you decided to flip a coin even in such cases of “genuine conflict.”

      Who did you choose to save in the burning house?

      Veganism is not relevant to the discussion. Suppose I was vegan. Would that make my arguments all of a sudden valid to you? No. Thus, my being vegan or not is relevant to your assessment of my argument. It is the kind of simple logic that any philosopher should be able to follow.

      In the same vein, whether or not you benefit form animal research does not automatically make your concerns about animal research invalid.

      But tell me… do you vaccinate your children? What about your cat? Or are you anti-vaccination as well?

      I once asked an animal rights philosopher if he had vaccinated her daughter.

      His response “Yes, but in the worst case scenario all that this means is that I am a hypocrite, not that my arguments against animal research are wrong.”

      So, do you benefit from animal research? And if so, what is your response?

      • 1.Yes, that was me who asked you questions during your talk. I also appreciate your willingness to actual engage in the animal ethics literature—this is more than I can say for most scientists (although it’s safe to say you have cherry picked certain claims to discredit every anti-vivisectionist position).

        2. So it looks like we are in a disagreement about what constitutes a genuine conflict. Most of the so-called “conflicts” between humans and animals are manufactured by animal exploiters—in animal research, we drag animals into labs or breed them and then ask the innocent question “should we save the mouse or your child?” This is an artificially created conflict. A genuine conflict, to me, is one that arises in nature and which we have not generated by using one being as a mere thing in the first place. If you think animal research is a genuine conflict, do you think that we are in a genuine conflict with human beings who exploit the environment and contribute to global warming and environmental degradation? If so, should we just start killing off groups of humans since they are in direct conflict with our children’s or grandchildren’s future health and well being?

        3. In most cases, I would choose to save the *rational* human being over the animal. But if you asked if I would save a stranger (rational human) over my cat, you better believe I would save my cat. Is this morally right? Perhaps not. But the point is, your question is going to elicit responses made by emotion, not reason. Of course we would unreflectively choose the human being since we have an emotional attachment to humans who are like us, just like I have an emotional attachment to my cat who I admit, I often anthropomorphize.

        4. If you were a vegan, yes, I would take your argument more seriously in that I would assume that you have some basic understanding of moral necessity. Call this an ad hominem, but I find the actions of self-proclaimed ethicists relevant to the moral arguments they make.

        5.I am vaccinated (but not by choice). Since I have become vegan, I do not get vaccinations nor do I take any medication that is not natural (in fact, I haven’t been sick in the 4 years since I’ve been vegan- imagine that!). But let’s say I do get into an accident and need some medical procedure that was developed from animal research. Yes, I would go ahead and accept medical treatment—but I would also accept the same medical treatment if it were discovered by the Nazi testing. Now let me ask you: have you benefited from the research performed by the Nazis? My guess is yes. So, hi kettle, this is the pot responding  I think there are a couple of things to say here: (1) it’s not fair to forbid animal ethicists from benefiting from research that has already been produced by science—we will never go ahead and re-perform this research using alternatives, even though we very well could have! (2) Secondly, the research is performed in the past: we are not violating the rights of any animals by making use of it now. Perhaps one might argue that it perpetuates the use of animals as research tools—which I would agree, which is why I would never purchase cosmetics from companies that have tested on animals from the past, even if they do not do so now. But again, even if I do happen to benefit from past research on animals, you might call me a hypocrite. But we can say the same of every human who professes to love human beings but then goes ahead and benefits from experiments performed by Nazis.

        • First, I don’t think I misrepresented the views of animal rights philosophers. That is a charge that appears on occasion when they refuse to accept the consequences of their own theories. I guess this is one such case.

          Second, you write “a genuine conflict is one that arises in nature […]” Indeed, the list of diseases that we are confronting are natural diseases. But, as you already mentioned, you seem to have the curious idea that disease is a personal choice. Do you truly understand the position of privilege you seem to be talking from? Well, I think your views might change quickly if one day it is your turn. If you recall, the patient in the video I showed kept asking herself what was she doing wrong.

          Third, do you think emotional suffering is morally relevant or not? It seems to me you want to rule out certain types of suffering but count others. Explain me why would it be wrong for you to firebomb a scientist’s home? (I hope you see it as wrong.) Or would you argue you can do it because my home is nothing more than inanimate matter?

          Fourth…. Really? When you read a philosophical argument you take into account your subjective assessment of the author’s personality? Which of the great philosophers taught you that? If it is important to you, I am sure I can find a vegan scientist to present the same arguments. But we both know we would be wasting the time.

          Fifth, you may want to rethink your answer. Here is why — https://speakingofresearch.com/2011/11/17/opponents-of-animal-research-should-refuse-medical-treatment/ And yes, I will likely call you a hypocrite.

          • You do realize that you are attempting to discredit animal rights activists on the same ground as animal rights activists tried to discredit you—namely, on grounds of *hypocrisy*? So, the whole point of your initial post seemed to be that certain animal activists who attended your talk are misguided because they attacked the fact that you are not a vegan. But, the point of these animal ethicists was to discredit you on grounds that you are a hypocrite: you are presenting a talk an animal ETHICS, which by definition, entails that one should not participate in practices which cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Since you eat meat in a developed world with plentiful alternatives, you were called a hypocrite: you are presenting a talk on animal ethics even though you contribute to the unnecessary harm and suffering of victims of agriculture. But you didn’t like Rick’s point because, as you point out, your talk was about animal research, not consumption of hamburgers.

            Likewise, the question at hand is animal research; not whether animal ethicists should benefit from research that was done in the past.
            So, either we can or we cannot use hypocrisy as a reason to discredit one another. Which is it?

            On another note: the issues at hand are completely different. The question of animal research asks if we can harm a being now in order to receive some benefit.

            The question of benefitting from animal research asks whether we can benefit from research that previously harmed animals.

            If an animal rights advocate receives medical treatment, how is it that they are violating the principles of their own theory? Are they violating the right of an animal? Also, it would just seem absurd to not use the intelligence we have available to us, even given its roots in horrifying practice. I would say the same thing as the research performed on the Nazis (which you conveniently have not addressed): it is horrifying that it happened. Research on humans should never happen again. But we should not throw away the results just because it is a product of inhumane practices. That would just be senseless: why would we not save someone’s life when we have the means to, IF it is not currently harming another being? The best argument you can get against using the intelligence from past research is the one I mentioned: that using past intelligence from research perpetuates the idea that animals are research tools. I’m not sure how strong that argument is.

          • I provided a link earlier but obviously you did not read it.

            Briefly —

            Nazis doctors are no longer around. By benefiting from their findings you are not supporting their work.

            In contrast, animal research is an ongoing practice that you find immoral.

            The practice will continue so long as people consume its products: diagnostic devices, therapies and cures.

            Thus, if you accept to be the beneficiary of such work you are supporting animal research.

            It is wrong to benefit from what you argue is immoral work.

            Doing otherwise would make you a hypocrite.

            This is something another animal rights philosopher understood clearly and accepted the consequences.

            This is all different from me being a vegan.

            For me to be a hypocrite it would mean that I ask believe that the use of animals for food is immoral and yet I go ahead and eat them.

            But I never said I find their use immoral, I said I had ethical concerns about how they are raised for food.

            You may disagree. But we never had a full discussion, did we?

            I was there to have a discussion about the use of animals in medical research. Once I convince people that this use is legitimate, I will be happy to move on and have other discussion.

            Until then, it seems we have gone as far as this discussion can go.

    • “I do think the question of whether you are vegan is relevant. If you do not find it questionable to harm, abuse, and kill animals for the most trivial reasons, i.e. a gustatory pleasure, you most definitely will not find it problematic to use animals as research tools since these research projects are assumed to be “necessary” (although scientists like yourselves are often confused about the distinction between causal and moral necessity). ”

      Wow, are you seriously suggesting that more than 97% of the US population (i.e. the non-vegans) should be excluded from debating the morality of animal research? I’m not a vegan and I certainly think that animal research studies need to be evaluated carefully, not everything will make the grade (as is the case with clinical research).

      While I’m happy for anyone to be vegan if they so choose, I certainly don’t see why it should be a pre-requisite for being qualified to offer a view in this debate. Meat, eggs and dairy are – in moderation – excellent sources of many key nutrients, and I have no moral objection to killing animals for food so long as they are reared and killed humanely. There certainly are environmental and health reasons to moderate consumption of meat and dairy, but this does not mean that it would be desirable to cut them out entirely (though sugar and hydrogenated fat in the US diet is a far greater problem than saturated fat – and one that unfortunately is only likely be solved through regulation).

      • There is a difference between offering a view in everyday discussion and purporting to be a moral authority.

        • There is a difference between participating on a public debate about a moral dispute, and claiming the opinion of the public is irrelevant in achieving a resolution, as you and Bogle did during my talk. Animal rights activists are not offering a view, they are trying to forcefully enforce it on the rest of society claiming to have moral authority.

  23. Arnold L Goldman DVM MPH

    Great post Dario! Your colleague was quite insightful!

  24. It seems like being vegan in and by itself Is not enough. Just as being vegetarian is not enough. Thereafter it looks like extremism leads or dictates. Coupling with animal rights may also be a good trigger for donations. Animal research appears amongst a washlist of issues being opposed to get to no animal use whatsoever.

  25. doug williams

    a simple NO would have been the best answer.. anything else gives them food to attack..