Words matter

September 15, 2022 

Sangy Panicker

Just as starting assumptions matter, words matter. Why? Because language shapes discourse, dialogue, understanding, and opinion. Hence, accurate terms and terminology are critical. And what does this mean in the context of animal research? It means dropping tired old labels and phrases in favor of more apt ones. 

Continuing to use the term “animal rights” is linked to perpetuating the misperception that scientists/researchers are not concerned with or do not care about animal welfare — that only individuals and entities who subscribe to the notion of animal rights are concerned about and are sole authority on animal welfare. First and foremost, “animal rights” is, to some extent, a nonsensical term because it is a misappropriation of the human construct of “human rights.” With rights come responsibilities, and unlike humans, other animals have no similar responsibilities. Thus, we humans, given our unique capacities within the animal kingdom, have the responsibility to strive to ensure the wellbeing of other animals–those under our care (pets, research animals, zoos) as well as those in nature. 

So when we talk about animal rights groups and animal rights activists/extremists in the context of animal research, what we really mean are organizations and individuals who are opposed to animal research. These are people who profess either that no larger societal good has (or ever will) accrue from animal research or that even if there are societal and environmental benefits that might result from such research, it is inherently unethical and should therefore be abolished. In short, such individuals and groups are opposed to any and all animal research, period. 

In the interest of accuracy, transparency, and thwarting intentional or unintentional misperceptions, then, let’s refer to such groups and individuals as anti-animal research organizations or entities.

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