Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Transcript of Prof. Colin Blakemore's ARZone Live Guest Chat

Transcript of Prof. Colin Blakemore’s ARZone Chat

19 February 2011

5pm US Eastern

10pm GMT and:

20 February 2011

8am Australian Eastern Standard Time

 

 

Carolyn Bailey:

ARZone would like to welcome Professor Colin Blakemore as today’s guest interview.

Professor Blakemore is a British Neurobiologist at the University of Oxford, who has specialised in vision and the development of the brain, has published hundreds of scientific papers, a number of books and talks regularly in the media on these subjects and various related topics.

Colin Blakemore is a supporter of the use of nonhuman animals in medical research, recently arguing that animal experimentation is virtually the sole use of animals that can be morally defended on the grounds that such use is the ONLY one not done for pleasure or personal gratification. He has not participated in such experimentation in more than a decade and is known to have been horrified by fishing, to be opposed to hunting for sport and cosmetic testing on nonhuman animal subjects as well as viewing circuses and zoos unfavourably. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00t3vl0/The_House_I_Grew_up_I...)

 

In 1992, along with Les Ward, then director of Advocates for Animals, Prof. Blakemore was a founding member of The Boyd Group, an independent think-tank concerned with the ethics of experimentation on other animals.

The group’s claimed objectives included reviewing the role of institutional ethics committees, refining laboratory animal use, the use of animals for testing cosmetics, genetic engineering, the use of non-human primates, and the use of animals in testing household products.

Speaking in The Observer in 2003, and in the spirit of The Boyd Group, Blakemore has said: 'I believe in openness and dialogue' and it is in this vein that he has agreed to participate in a wide-ranging discussion with the members of ARZone.

Realising the controversy inherent between animal rights and the use of other animals of experimental test subjects, ARZone hopes to bring further understanding of both sides of this controversy to a wide and varied audience.

Whilst ARZone understands that passions may run high in regards to experimentation of other animals, this interview will be about the issues, and members are admonished to remain civil and to be not disruptive.

Would you please join with me in welcoming Prof. Blakemore to ARZone today.

Welcome Professor Blakemore!

 

Maynard S. Clark:

Welcome, Dr. Blakemore.

 

Sky:

Hi

 

Richard Redmore:

Welcome!

 

Barbara DeGrande:

Welcome.

 

Jason Ward:

Good day Porfessor Blakemore!

 

Alex Melonas:

Hi

 

Erin:

Hello

 

Tim Gier:

Hello Professor Blakemore!

 

Brooke Cameron:

Welcome!

 

Sadia Rajput:

Hello Dr. Blackmore how do you do?

 

Will:

Hey

 

Mangus O’Shales:

Hi professor

 

Andre Menache:

Hello

 

Maybard S. Clark

I'm sitting at Harvard Medical School now, in the bioethics area.  Welcome, Dr. Blakemore.

 

Ben Hornby:

Thanks for being here, Prof. Blakemore

 

Roger Yates:

Welcome to ARZone

 

Colin Blakemore:

Goodness, this is overwhelming. Hello to everyone!

 

Debbie Blundell:

Hello and welcome

 

Maria Heidermann:

Hello Mr Blakemore, welcome. great to have you here as our guest :-)

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Prof. Blakemore will be responding to his pre-registered questions first, and then we’ll open the chat up for all members to engage Prof. Blakemore

 

Please refrain from interrupting Prof. Blakemore during his first session, and feel free to send a private message to an admin if you wish to address Prof. Blakemore at any time. I’d now like to ask Barbara DeGrande to ask Prof. Blakemore his first question for today, thanks Barb.

 

Maria Heidermann:

Ok thanks Carolyn

 

Barbara DeGrande:

Thank you, Carolyn. Despite the threats to your own safety, you have remained an advocate for open discussion about science and vivisection. Why is this so important to you?

 

Colin Blakmore:

When I was first targeted with criticism of my research, and later threats and physical attacks, my fellow scientists just told me to keep my head down, on the assumption that the problem would go away.

But I was offended and appalled by the things that were said about me and I thought that not responding to them would imply that I accepted them.

So, I decided to try to engage, to answer the criticisms and to explain why research on animals, although unpleasant, is important for the future health of people and other animals.

If scientists are to be believed and trusted by the public, they must be open and transparent in discussion about what they do and why, even when they are criticized. I think that’s true for all areas of science, but especially fields that raise sensitive ethical questions. Thank you.

 

Roger Yates:

Thanks Professor. The second Q comes from Tim Gier.

 

Tim Gier:

Realizing that you’re not a philosopher, but understanding your work in neuroscience, do you have an opinion on the idea of sentience and its importance relative to the moral consideration of other beings?

 

Colin Blakemore:

Obviously, sentience is centrally important in the ethics of our relationship with other animals. You’re right: I’m not a professional philosopher, but you don’t have to be a philosopher to know that it’s wrong to cause pain and suffering.

Of course, you can’t ever be absolutely certain whether other organisms (even other human beings) have conscious experience like your own. But being uncertain about the nature of animal consciousness isn’t a licence to do anything to them. Exactly the opposite.

The only morally defensible position is to assume that other species are sentient, even though the extent and nature of their experiences might be very different from those of human beings. Thank you.

 

Tim Gier:

Thank you Professor, Ben Hornby is up with the next question, Ben?

 

Ben Hornby:

Thanks, Tim.

In an influential documentary from the 1980s, The Animals Film, animal experimenter Roger Ulrich expresses deep regret for the pain and anguish he inflicted on nonhuman animals he remembered as individuals. Have other animal experimenters expressed anything like such regret to you in their own cases of using animals?

 

Colin Blakemore:

I’ve heard many researchers say that they dislike having to use or kill animals in their work. And, honestly, I’ve never met a researcher who actively enjoyed using animals. I’ve said very publicly that I disliked it intensely and I was very pleased when I gave up animal experimentation about 7 years ago. I’m not saying that I wish that I had never been an animal researcher, nor that I regret the work that I did, but I would have been happier if I had not had to use animals. Thank you.

 

Tim Gier:

Thank you.  Carolyn Bailey would like to ask the next question, Carolyn?

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Tim!

We’ve all seen the terrible videos of the extreme abuse of other animals - such as a young beagle being punched in her face, mice having their toes cut off to identify them, a rat being killed by having his neck broken on the edge of a table - in laboratory settings. Those of us in the animal movement see these rights violations, and certainly everyone would consider each of these actions a rights violation if a human being was the victim. Some claim these videos show isolated examples of abhorrent behaviour. Isn’t it more likely the case that this kind of abuse of “scientific models” is inherent? After all, institutionally, these not-human beings are systematically reduced to the status of “things” in deeply speciesist societies.

 

Colin Blakemore:

It’s important to distinguish between gratuitous acts of harm to animals, which are illegal and totally unacceptable, and legal procedures that look awful in a brief video, without information about the rationale for what is being done and why.

Punching a dog is illegal: I expect that you are referring to the film of a technician at Huntingdon Life Sciences. When that was broadcast on TV in the UK, the first organization to call for legal action to be taken against the technician was the Research Defence Society (a charity that represents the interests of animal researchers).

You will know that that individual was dismissed from HLS, his Home Office Licence was revoked and he was sentenced for the offence. Now, I’ve never heard of toe clipping as a way of identifying mice, but it might be a legally sanctioned procedure. Ear clipping certainly is and although it sounds pretty horrible, mice and rats hardly react to it and show no response that looks like suffering.

The approval of these kinds of techniques is based on an assessment of the actual, measureable pain and suffering caused to the animals (and a comparison with other possible techniques).

Despite all the legal sanctions, the training, inspections and other precautions, there are, I guess, bound to be infringements of this sort, in the same way that no crime is absolutely preventable. But I really believe that cases like the HLS incident are very rare and, if discovered, are treated just as seriously by the scientific community as by the animal rights movement.

I don’t know the video you refer to showing “a rat being killed by having his neck broken on the edge of a table” but dislocation of the neck, which virtually instantaneously kills a mouse or rat, is legally accepted as one of the most humane ways of Killing a rodent. I know that it sounds and looks horrific but if a rodent has to be killed, it is generally accepted that this is the least unacceptable way of doing it. It’s certainly less likely to cause suffering than rat poison or a mouse trap.

I guess that you would say that people who employ such methods to try to rid their homes of rodents are infringing the rights of rats and mice, but I think that most people would find those techniques acceptable to eliminate a threat to the health of them and their children.

Now, of course, everyone in their right mind would find such acts abhorrent if performed on human beings. ‘Human rights’ is a legally convenient way of capturing that generally agreed moral principle.I, and many other people, have criticized the word ‘rights’ and suggested that the principle would be better expressed in terms of the universal responsibilities of humans to each other. Frankly (and I suspect that we’ll just disagree on this) I don’t accept that any other species has precisely the same rights as human beings (any more than we would extend the right to drive a car or vote or go to university to any other species).

I know that the term ‘speciesist’ is intended to be pejorative. I know Richard Ryder (inventor of the word) quite well and we’ve spent time discussing this.

But I accept that I’m ‘speciesist’, in the sense that I believe that different moral worth attaches to different species.

Genetically, morphologically and cognitively, we are distinct from even our closest animal relatives, the great apes. No-one would accept any other species as being just ‘the same’ as human beings. In particular, no-one would dream of expecting other species to exercise responsibilities towards human beings. So, I’m afraid that I don’t accept that animals have rights – certainly not the same rights as all humans. But that doesn’t mean that I think we have no responsibilities towards animals. We have legally binding and morally binding obligations towards animals.

But to suggest that animals are precisely the same as humans in moral worth doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an old philosophical chestnut, I know, but it’s worth asking: “If you had the choice of saving the life of a child or a rat, which would you choose?” I’d be very surprised if you said “The rat” or even that you would toss a coin

The fact that you would save the child surely means that you attach more worth to its life than to that of a rat. That doesn’t mean that you would deliberately want to hurt a rat or that you think that it has no value.

It’s just a matter of ranking. And I don’t think that any other species (even great apes) can be thought of as having exactly the same rank as humans. Thank you.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks for your insightful reply, Colin! Alex Melonas would like to ask the next question. When you're ready, Alex, thanks.

 

Alex Melonas:

A typical defense of animal use in research turns on “necessity,” it is essential…But this is misleading. We can’t argue that animal use is necessary IF necessary is reasonably defined. It is implausible to argue that any instance of useful animal research was necessary in the sense that, strictly speaking, *only* through animal research could we answer question X.

How necessary is generally used, rather, is by implicit reference to existing legal, ethical restrictions, i.e., we could use human beings (and probably get more reliable data), but it is illegal or unethical; in which case the claim of necessity is.

So until we resolve the relevant ethical questions, the public debate surrounding animal research is always kind of muddied from the beginning. Animal research isn’t necessary, strictly speaking, it is a choice. Would you agree?

 

Colin Blakemore:

Well, I don’t think that animal research is necessary in the sense that the world will end tomorrow if animal research stops. But it has certainly been the only available way of making very important discoveries – about both normal bodily function and the causes and treatments of disease.

So, unless and until there are other methods that can lead to the same progress, the choice is to continue properly regulated animal research or neglect the progress of knowledge.

Animal research is a choice, but one that the majority of society accepts is necessary, in these terms. Thank you.

 

Alex Melonas:

My I have a follow-up?

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Sure Alex, if that's OK with Prof. Blakemore

 

Colin Blakemore:

OK by me.

 

Alex Melonas:

Thanks

But that is precisely my point: it isn’t necessary the way you are using the term. It is a choice, laden with important moral questions that we are just assuming are given. We are pretending, that is, that it is ACTUALLY necessary the way you are using the term. And this muddies the public debate. Let’s be honest: it isn’t necessary; it is a choice. And the animal rights challenge is this: defend that choice without pretending that it is, strictly speaking, necessary.

 

Colin Blakemore:

I certainly agree that pressure from those who say we simply MUST do animal research can't be allowed to swamp the moral debate. There are some things that we might do that could provide valuable information but which shouldn't

Be done for moral reasons.

However, there would be no reason to discuss the CHOICE to do research on animals if there were not arguments for the value of doing that research. so, perhaps we should talk in terms of value or utility rather than necessity. Thanks.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks for that, Prof. Blakemore, and Alex. Roger Yates would like to ask the next question, thanks, Rog.

 

Roger Yates:

In a 2010 BBC Radio 4 interview, you mention that some animal experiments involve no pain or suffering because the test subjects are anaesthetised throughout and are killed while still unconscious. As a purely practical matter, does not the logic of animal experimentation suggest that human orphans be used instead? Practically speaking, and putting aside ethical consideration, the results of human experiments would be more relevant than the results from nonhuman animals. Less subjects would be needed overall and useful results would come quicker. Isn’t this the reason the “allies” were so keen to get their hands on the Japanese and German data after WWII?

 

Colin Blakemore:

I don’t think that Japanese and German data (I presume you mean from experiments on unwilling human subjects) were eagerly sought by the allies! Just the opposite, as far as I know. The results of those studies are never cited and have been virtually expunged from the scientific record, I think.

But, to tackle the main point of your question, I do accept the use of animals in research, but I find the idea of using humans (whatever their age or their mental or physical status) as unconsenting subjects utterly repugnant.

This gets back to the question of moral worth, which I tried to tackle in response to Carolyn Bailey’s question above.

But it is worth saying that in research on the development of treatments for disease, experiments on human beings (clinical trials of one sort or another) are absolutely essential.

The preliminary research on animals is intended:

1) to try to discover the basic causes of the disease process, if this cannot possibly be done on humans, and

2) to test the risks associated with any possible treatment, so as to be reasonably confident that the human subjects in subsequent clinical trials are not being put at avoidable risk. Thank you.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Colin.

 

Barbara DeGrande would like to ask another question now, thanks, Barb

 

Barbara DeGrande:

Thank you. Prof. Blakemore, there has always seemed to be an inconsistency in rationales for using animals in medical research: one, that animals are like us in how their bodies function so they make good subjects and two, that animals are unlike us so that it is acceptable to use their bodies against their will. The basis of this argument is a belief in human exceptionalism, yet it would seem if humans were truly exceptional, they would find alternatives to such blatant exploitation of the innocent. From a justice perspective, how do you accept vivisection as fair?

 

Colin Blakemore:

I’ve dealt with some of this in my answer to Carolyn Bailey, above.  I believe vivisection to be fair in the sense that we have greater obligations to our own species than we do to others. Of course the use of animals would be morally unjustified if there were alternative methods available that were just as reliable and effective. And, in most countries with well-developed legislation on animal experimentation, it’s illegal to use an animal if an alternative method exists. I do believe that humans are exceptional (the very definition of a species implies that it’s an exception from all other species). But being exceptional doesn’t mean that you can work miracles. We have an obligation to search for alternatives to animals. But unfortunately many aspects of cell and organ function are so complicated that it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever have alternative approaches that are as complete and reliable as the study of animals. Finally, can I make the obvious point that those who are opposed to animal experiments are also often inconsistent. They argue that, on the one hand, animals are so different from humans that none of the results of animal research are relevant to humans (untrue!!) and that drugs developing on animal ‘models’ are nearly always dangerous for humans; but, on the other hand, animals are so similar to humans that we should treat them as morally the same. Thank you.

 

Roger Yates:

Thank you - and the next question comes from Brooke....

 

Brooke Cameron:

Thanks, Dr. Yates, and thank you Prof. Blakemore for being here today!

You are on record saying that you know of several animal experimenters who have been vegetarians and you once saw a “Vegetarians for Animal Research” banner. It was claimed recently that you had been a vegetarian for the duration of a BSE scare, and you have said that you “do not eat mammals” as a general matter.

You have argued that the moral defence for animal research is strong the one for  humans eating nonhuman animals is weak. It seems then that you believe that flesh consumption cannot be ethically defended, or else its justification is on shaky grounds.  Given all this, have you never considered consistent vegetarianism (veganism would be much better of course)?

 

Colin Blakemore:

There are lots of reasons for not eating mammals. BSE was a pretty good reason for not eating beef, and I haven’t eaten beef since the first newspaper reports of BSE!

But there’s lots of other evidence that over-consumption of meat isn’t good for you. There are also the moral arguments: much commercially available meat comes from animals that have had pretty wretched lives; and mammals have complex nervous systems and almost certainly suffer if they are treated badly.

The totality of these arguments make me unhappy about eating mammals

And I certainly think that eating animals is harder to justify morally than well-regulated research on animals directed at advancing knowledge and reducing human and animal suffering.

A complete vegetarian? I haven’t quite got there. I have to confess that I enjoy eating fish and shellfish. And I hope that they don’t suffer. Thank you.

 

Tim Gier:

A friendly reminder, we are still in the formal pre-registered question portion of the interview, and, time permitting, we will get to additional questions shortly.

Thank you Prof. Blakemore, Carolyn is up with the next question.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Tim.

A common complaint within the animal advocacy movement about the experimentation carried out on nonhuman animals is that a significant percentage of those experiments are trivial and continue only in order for the experimenters to receive the ample grant money available. Do you agree this is occurring, and if so, is it right that it should be?

 

Colin Blakemore:

All scientific research needs funding. So, to say that researchers use animals only to obtain grants isn’t fair. A bit like saying that astronomers use telescopes only to obtain grants. I don’t know any country in the world in which there is sufficient money to provide grants for every project that researchers propose. I was the Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council and our award rate was about 10-20%.

So, I don’t think that much literally ‘trivial’ research gets funded. Of course, not every project works, in the sense that it results in really significant discoveries.

You seem to suggest that researchers propose trivial research on animals because it’s easier to get grant money for animal research. But there’s no evidence that research on animals is less productive or successful that any other area of science. Thank you.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Prof. Blakemore! Tim Gier would like to address you next, please go ahead, Tim

 

Tim Gier:

In an article dated 28 February 2008 in the New Statesman (http://www.newstatesman.com/life-and-society/2008/02/animal-rights-...), Sholto Byrnes says, referring to and quoting you: “He prefers to reframe the whole debate, to talk of responsibilities, rather than rights ‘The reason why I don't mistreat my own cat is not because it has some kind of rights. It’s because I try to be a decent person. Our primary responsibility is to our own species.’” In light of this, would you explain your own contributions to work done on animal ethics? In other words, are you concerned with our responsibilities relative to HOW we are justified in using other animals, or on WHETHER we have the right to use them in the first place?

 

Colin Blakemore:

Again, I’ve tried to deal with some of this in answers above. You ask whether we have the right to use animals in the first place. Well I don’t see the use of animals in any way (eating, circuses, beasts of burden, experimentation etc) as a ‘right’, but rather as an action of human beings to satisfy their own needs, which needs to be morally justified. I believe that the use of animals in well-regulated, well-conducted research, aimed at maximizing the benefit in knowledge and minimizing any suffering to animals can be morally justified.

I’m less convinced that there is adequate moral justification for some of the other uses of animals. Thank you.

 

Tim Gier:

Thanks Prof. Blakemore, I have one more question, which will be the final one in this formal part of the chat.

In the June 2002 Boyd Group paper “The use of Non-Human Primates in Research and Testing” there is this quote:  “The statement does not preclude arguments in favour of special moral status for other, non-primate, species (but the focus of the present discussions is on evidence about non-human primates). Nor does it preclude future agreement within the Group that the ban on use of apes should be extended to particular monkey species (and perhaps all non-human primates) – should further evidence, judged less contestable, mark any of these species out as closer to Great Apes and/or more strongly different from other species in their potential for suffering.”

This appears to suggest that our current use of other animals is justified on incomplete knowledge which is subject to further elucidation. Isn’t it possible then that one day we may look back on all animal experimentation with regret?

 

Colin Blakemore:

I was a member of the working party of the Boyd Group that wrote that report! I must say (and you can see it in other answers) that I’m not happy with the ‘ban’ on the use of great apes (despite the particular sentence that you quote). I believe that the utilitarian philosophy (cost-benefit analysis) that underpins the law on animal research in the UK (and many other countries) deals well with the question of research on non-human primates, including apes.

The ‘cost’ must include an assessment of the potential for suffering and advanced sentience, and non-human primates are high on those scales.

Anthropoid apes are high on many other scales as well – including being endangered. All of these arguments mean that any kind of cost-benefit analysis would rule out the use of great apes, and that a formal ‘ban’ isn’t needed.

However, it is conceivable that if humanity were faced with a new plague for which research on apes appeared to provide a route to preventing the disease, perhaps the cost-benefit equation would tip and research on apes would become justified. A total ban erodes the clarity of our moral distinction between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom (not that you would be unhappy with that, I suspect!). Is it possible that “one day we may look back on all animal experimentation with regret?” Well, perhaps – in the sense that there might conceivably be advances in knowledge or technique (e.g. the development of alternatives) that would mean that some research of the past could be done in different ways, or would be deemed unacceptable.

But that wouldn’t mean that it wasn’t justified at that time. The first complete human DNA sequence cost billions of dollars and took many years. The same can now be done in a day at a cost of about $10,000 or less. But surely this doesn’t mean that the original Human Genome Project was too expensive or took too long. Thank you.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

This completes the formal session of Prof. Blakemore’s chat for today, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Blakemore sincerely for his responses to some difficult questions, and for the respect shown to Prof. Blakemore by ARZone members.

Please feel free to PM one of the admins if you wish to direct a question to Prof. Blakemore.

Andre Menache would like to ask you a question first, Prof. Blakemore. When you’re ready, Andre, thank you.

 

Andre Menache:

Colin, would you agree that non human primates are used in toxicology more for legal reasons than scientific ones? I refer to the Boyd Group report 2002. I invite you to read http://antidote-europe.org//assets/docs/Toxic_Waste_v12.pdf Thank you

 

Colin Blakemore:

I think that it's more than 'legal reasons'. There are body functions for which non-human primates offer the best, perhaps the only model. This is particularly true for durgs that affect the immune system, and many new drugs are antibodies. Thanks.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Prof. Blakemore. Susannah would like to ask a question now, thanks, Susannah.

 

Susannah:

Hello Colin. You have said that we have responsibilities towards members of our own species (humans) that we do not have towards members of any other species. What special attributes do ALL humans possess that NO members of any other species possess which means they deserve this special status?

 

Colin Blakemore:

Well, the attribute that's important, both biologically and legally, is simply that they are humans. That is, they share the same DNA and differ significantly from the genetic make-up of other species.

That is a very simple characteristic to define. Humans just belong to a single species. So, here we are: back at the speciesist argument, I'm afraid. Thank you.

 

Susannah:

Thank you for your answer.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, again, Colin.

 

Roger Yates:

The next question comes from Pearl Lotus.....

 

Pearl Lotus:

Thanks, Roger

Professor Blakemore, T. Colin Campbell, Professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, in his article "It's Time for an NIH Institute for Nutrition", posted: July 9, 2010 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/t-colin-campbell/its-time

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/t-colin-campbell/its-time-for-an-nih-...), writes: "Unequivocal evidence now exists to show that nutrition, when provided by the use of whole, plant-based foods, can control the expression of our mischievous genes that otherwise would lead to serious ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, certain autoimmune diseases and many lesser ailments. There is no other strategy in contemporary health science or medical practice that comes close to the breadth and depth of health benefits achievable by nutrition. We must begin to understand,

communicate and apply this knowledge if we ever hope to reduce health care costs by reducing the burden of disease. We will never do this by depending on outmoded notions of what single (or even a few) genes, single nutrients

 (i.e., drugs) will do to create health. That thinking generates wealth for a few at the expense of health for the many. It is time to recognize the natural and harmonious biological complexity of health processes, and choose the lifestyle strategy that best maintains and restores that harmony.

Nature has had eons of time to work this out. It's also time to develop a professional science of nutrition that serves the biological health of the population, not the economic health of commerce. As for health professionals

who claim they cannot convince patients to change their dietary practices, this is not surprising when the professionals themselves are not educated in this field and are vested in a strategy that is the antithesis of good nutrition."  Would you care to respond to this, thank you.

 

Colin Blakemore:

Wow. That's more like a lecture than a question, Pearl. I read it with interest, and there's a good deal of it that I agree with.

There's certainly a lot of epidemiological evidence that eating lots of red meat isn't good for you. But, interestingly to fish eaters like me, there's some evidence that a fish diet is actually better than a purely vegetarian diet is reducing the chances of getting bowel cancer.

Eating meat, however, has been very important at stages in human evolution, because of the rapidly digested, high-energy nutritional value of meat, especially cooked meet. And the fact is that most cultures prize meat as a special treat in their diet. However, the crisis in food supply in the world (resulting from population increase and climate change) should make us look again at our priorities. I think that there are lots of reasons (quite apart from the animals rights arguments) to cut down on meat consumption in the world. Thanks.

 

Pearl Lotus:

I invite you to take a look at the research presented here: http://www.iol.ie/~creature/BiologicalAdaptations.htm

 

Colin Blakemore:

This is a quick response to Pearl's follow-up. The link you sent refers to Carpolestes, a pre-human species living 60 million. That species was fruit eating, but the record shows a shift to an omnivorous diet from perhaps 5 million years ago.

The discovery of fire (Homo erectus), maybe 2 million years ago, made it possible to cook meat, making it more rapidly digestible. The record appears to show low-yield scavenging in the context of male displays, not for purposes of provisioning. Paleoanthropologists say that this was an important step in liberating humans from time spent searching for a vegetarian diet, and might have been especially important in supporting the emergence of a large brain. Thanks.

 

Pearl Lotus:

Please note the importance of underground plant storage organs (tubers). Thank you

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Ok, we'll move on, Richard Redmore would like to address you next, Prof. Blakemore. Pls go ahead, Richard

 

Richard Redmore:

Thanks! Although animal testing has its purported benefits surely working towards a type of testing based on a “Human model” (but not an actual human) from the very beginning of a new drug would be the overall aim of medical science? From an insiders perspective do you feel that scientists and pharmaceutical companies are doing enough to find new means of testing medicines without the use of non-humans animals,  and if not why not? Complacence cost etc?

 

Colin Blakemore:

I'm not sure what would constitute a 'human model' that isn't a human being. Animals are, of course, used as 'models' of both normal function and disease.

But no animal model is perfect. It would be lovely to have, say, a massive computer program that mimicks every human function. And researchers are indeed working on the 'systems biology' of human function. The problem is that it's hard to imagine making a complete computer model of a human, without knowing everything about a human - in which case we wouldn't need the model!

I don't think that there's resitance to alternatives in the pharmaceutical industry. Indeed, that's where there's been most success in developing alternatives. Animal research and testing is extremely expensive. Drug companies, grant agencies and researchers would love to be able to do the same work at less cost! The legal constraints are a significant factor here, though.

Drug companies have to do all that they can to demonstrate safety, and most regulatory agencies require animal tests. Companies are also reluctant to 'cut corners'. Not testing on animals could leave them open to neglect claims. Thank you.

 

Richard Redmore:

Thanks

 

Roger Yates:

Thanks. The next question comes from Humanism is ugly.... ugly?...

 

Humanism_is_ugly:

Thanks Roger.

Given your own moral distinction between the meat issue and the research issue, do you think animal scientists doing animal research in support of the livestock industry to make animals more productive and the industry more profitable, the sort funded by DEFRA or the BBSRC or directly from industry, are as deserving of research funding as biomedical scientists?

 

Colin Blakemore:

That's a difficult one. But as long as eating meat is legal and it constitutes a significant part of most people's diets, then there is an imperative to make meat production as efficient as possible, balanced against moral constraints.

In any case, research in this area doesn't compete directly for funds with medical research. Thanks.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks again, Prof. Blakemore! Maynard Clark would like to address you next, thanks, Maynard.

 

Maynard S. Clark:

Dr. Blakemore, thank you for your lucid thoughts on topics which concern us ethically, including prudentially.  I cannot say that I agree with you fully, of course, but your analysis is (indeed) lucid.  Thank you.

You have noted that, in most countries with well-developed legislation on animal experimentation, it’s illegal to use an animal if an alternative method exists.  You have also agreed that "We have an obligation to search for alternatives to animals." But don't we have "an obligation to search for alternatives to animals" in ALL areas of our social and ecological relationships with nonhuman persons?

My question builds somewhat upon a few of the previous questions, and perhaps a 'qualitative leap into a new space' is warranted - more existential to history.  But I digress.

How can we make PUBLIC acceptance of that *moral obligation to search for alternatives to using animals* (not only in science, but also in diet and lifestyle) a global and universal agreement?

I will note that I am a 'complete vegetarian' - a vegan (for over half my natural life).  Thank you.

I do work in bioethics here at Harvard.

 

Colin Blakemore:

I do believe that there is a moral movement towards seeking alternatives to animals. Exploitation of animals for labour has largely disappeared in the developed world. Circuses have largely abandoned live animals acts.

Much less fur is worn. Fox hunting has been outlawed in the UK. So, there is a thread of concern about all these areas of animal use.

I'm sure that the movement isn't fast enough or radical enough for you, but the trend is undeniable. Thanks.

 

Maynard S. Clark:

May I follow up?

 

Carolyn Bailey:

We're pushed for time, Maynard, please feel free to leave your follow-up on the transcript post.

 

Maynard S. Clark:

Good.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Brandon Becker would like to ask the next question, thanks, Brandon

 

Brandon Becker:

Since nonhuman animals are legal property, is it not false to claim that the state will actually protect their interests (such as in avoiding suffering or continuing to live) when such interests conflict with human owners who have property rights to treat them as economic commodities - for food, clothing, experimentation, entertainment, and other forms of speciesist exploitation?

 

Colin Blakemore:

I'm not a lawyer, but don't think that ownership negates responsibilities. Farm animals and pets are 'owned' but it's still illegal to mistreat them.

In fact ownership makes responsibility more easily defined in the law. Animals that are owned are more easily protected against abuse that ferral animals, simply because responsibility is defined. Thanks.

 

Brandom Becker:

Who knew slaves had it so well!

 

Tim Gier:

Professor Blakemore, thank you for the indulgence of your time, Debbie Blundell has the final question of the night, please go ahead Debbie

 

Debbie Blundell:

If you were to stop eating any form of meat (meaning fish) would mean you are taking on the responsibility of knowing that any form of animal testing is wrong?  Do you feel this is what is stopping you from becoming vegetarian or vegan?

and thank you Tim

 

Colin Blakemore:

Debbie. No, I think that it is possible and reasonable to put different uses of animals into different moral categories. I am totally opposed to hunting for pleasure. I can just about accept (but am not eager to participate in) hunting for food. I do accept eating animals, although, as I've said before, I think that there are lots of reasons not to eat mammals. And I stoutly defend the use of animals in research (even though I wish that we didn't have to do it) because it's aimed at improving the lives of humans and animals.

I've often said that I find it odd that the only use of animals that’s not just aimed at pleasure and gratification (namely animal research) is the most fiercely attacked aspect of animal use. Thanks.

 

Debbie Blundell:

I truly appreciate your honesty, but I find it highly contradictory.  Thank you.

 

Carolyn Bailey:

This concludes today’s chat with Prof. Colin Blakemore. I’d like to sincerely thank Colin for being so very generous with his time today and going far over the allotted time of one hour.

 

Please feel free to leave any further comment for Prof. Blakemore on the transcript post, once it’s published in a few hours, and Prof. Blakemore will be happy to return to ARZone and reply to those comments, as his schedule permits.

 

Jason Ward:

Thanks again Prof Blakemore for your time here today

 

Will:

thanks Prof!

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Thanks, Colin!

 

Tim Gier:

Thank you Prof. Blakemore, your answers tonight will give us lots to think about and discuss in the coming days and weeks.

 

Debbie Blundell:

Thank you Professor

 

Douglass@UberVegan-Advocacy.com:

Sorry, much more fur is currently being used in industry.  Leather as well.

 

Roger Yates:

Thanks Professor Blakemore.

 

LeeBee!:

Thank you for your time and have a good night!

 

Ben Hornby:

Thanks so much!

 

Pearl Lotus:

Follow-up in transcript comments.  Thanks.

 

Mangus O’Shales:

some of this was over my head, but i'm learning more every week, thank you for your time.

 

Barbara DeGrande:

Thank you!

 

Druid Morrigan Conway-Mucha:

Thx Prof B

 

Roger Yates:

yes, please use the transcript comments folks

 

Savannah:

Thank you for agreeing to come onto this chat.

 

Colin Blakemore:

Thanks to all of you, especiallly for your civility. Sorry to have to duck out now but I had a long flight yesterday and didn't have much sleep. It's past midnight here and I'm going to bed! Good night to all. Colin

 

Douglass@UberVegan-Advocacy.com:

So Carolyn, who's the next amazing guest (and when) on ARZone?

 

Carolyn Bailey:

Douglass, next weekend we are hosting Bruce Friedrich from PeTA

 


ARZone exists to promote rational discussion about our relations with other animals and about issues within the animal advocacy movement. Please continue the debate after a chat by starting a forum discussion or by making a point under a transcript.

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Comment by Brandon Becker on April 20, 2011 at 3:26
And it doesn't matter if some in the industry believe their own propaganda. What really matters is their actions and their actions show a blatant disregard for the suffering and death of other animals.
Comment by Brandon Becker on April 20, 2011 at 3:19
Thanks for this comment, Mildred, I agree.

Alex and Roger: I don't need to believe Blakemore is evil to know his actions are evil. Both of you want to reduce everything solely to beliefs and I've already said that actions matter more than beliefs. The average member of the public may believe humans are superior to other animals but they aren't torturing animals in vivisection labs, operating factory "farms," or otherwise abusing animals. Yes, funding this abuse is wrong, but most are unaware of the scale and horror (as Mildred points out) and those who have tried to learn more often get fooled by speciesist industry propaganda to deny the truth and promote a false vision of "humane" and "compassionate" care of the animals exploited.
Comment by Mildred on April 20, 2011 at 0:37

Just read through the rest of this debate and have given it much thought...

 

There are two main points I would like to make - firstly, I do see those people directly involved in harming animals as different from those that consume them or use products resulting from animal abuse.  For example the thug that beat Anne the elephant is far worse than the people who paid to go and watch her in the circus.  And I think that vivisectors, especially those that promote and publicly argue the case for vivisection, are far worse than people in the general public who go along with it.  Yes the public are not stupid and they know that animal abuse happens, but in my experience many people have no idea of the scale and the horror of it, often do not want to know and cannot emotionally engage with the reality of it.

 

This brings me along to my second point - that Blakemore is a particularly hated figure for many people, because he has set himself up as a public figure, both promoting vivisection and party to the attempted demonisation of the animal rights movement.  I'm sure that the fact he used cats did not win him any popularity points either (but perhaps that's for another debate).  I do not think that his (rather half-hearted) rejection of certain forms of animal abuse in anyway elevates him above other animal abusers.  To me they are all part of the same rotten, stinking system.

 

Comment by Alex Melonas on April 19, 2011 at 12:23
I understand your position Brandon, but I am skeptical of your presumption that those in the industry, say, Blakemore, or an owner of a factory farm, are disingenuous or haven't tried to reason (or in some way, tried to justify) their way to this (bad, silly, prejudiced) conclusion, i.e., that exploiting animals is ethically justified. For your argument to work, you need to presume that the average consumer truly believes, albeit erroneously, industry propaganda, while those in the industry don't also believe the propaganda. I think you presume that b/c you are committed, like many others in the animal rights movement, to the position that people like Blakemore are "evil," that is, somehow morally different people than the average consumer. I'm just not sure there is evidence for that.
Comment by Brandon Becker on April 19, 2011 at 9:22
When a consumer buys "meat" in the store (labeled "pork", "beef", "chicken" or some other euphemism for animal flesh), this is not the same act of raping ("artificial insemination") a pig/cow/chicken, or confining them so tightly they cannot move while suffering so much they want to either get free or die, or sticking a knife to their throat or captive bolt-gun to their head, or the many other atrocities inflicted upon animals enslaved for food. Those running these operations deserve more blame than the consumers who are lied to by industry's propaganda machines. There is no gun to their heads making them continue this blood trade.

The same is true of vivisection. The average person donating to American Cancer Society or purchasing Tide detergent doesn't know the it funds the extreme suffering, torture, and murder of animals in vivisection labs. There are no guns to vivisectors' heads or the CEO's who own the laboratories making them continue this blood trade. Unlike the exploited floor worker of a slaughterhouse (generally impoverished undocumented immigrants, unlike the rich white people who run them), the vivisector has gone through much education to get this job and has many other choices in life. There is no excuse for them to continue this job and we ought not to shift even half the blame on the public who aren't holding the scalpal blades or the consumers who consume out of ignorance and indoctrination.
Comment by Alex Melonas on April 19, 2011 at 8:09

Well, I think your interpretation of what I'm arguing is mistaken. I am not arguing that the hired killer is absolved of guilt; that would be absurd. The argument is, rather, that both parties -- the hired killer, and the person who hired the killer -- are equally guilty. Moreover, I would assume that the person hired the killer precisely b/c he/she couldn't do it him/herself. But that could simply be some pre-reflective response to causing harm; perhaps that makes the hired killer, who lacks that response, a personally "better" person (more "human," say), but, as a matter of moral guilt, I'm not sure it means anything.

So my argument is this: for the reason you gave to differentiate Blakemore from the average consumer (i.e., "support this injustice through socialized speciesism and the false belief that vivisection is sound science and 'necessary' to advance knowledge"), the same reason equally applies to Blakemore. Therefore, unless you presume that Blakemore is simply dishonest, and doesn't really believe any defenses of animal use (no matter how stupid they might be) he's offered, or that there is a moral difference b/n actively doing the harm and passively hiring someone to do the harm, which there isn't, in my opinion, I'm not sure you've made your case.      

Comment by Brandon Becker on April 19, 2011 at 7:22
Yes, there would be a moral difference. Just because someone gets paid to do something doesn't absolve them of guilt. More importantly, it's also likely that if someone was not hired to kill you, the person who paid the hired killer would not be able to commit the murder themself.
Comment by Alex Melonas on April 19, 2011 at 7:18
@Brandon: So if someone hired someone else to kill me, you would argue that there is a moral difference b/n the killer himself and the person who hired the killer to do me in?
Comment by Brandon Becker on April 19, 2011 at 6:27

He may be similar to the average consumer who both have speciesist beliefs, but actions matter more than beliefs. Blakemore is not only a vivisector (maybe not active right now) who tortured and murdered many animals with his own hands and weapons, but he also serves as spokesperson for the vivisection industry - helping socialize others into supporting vivisection and the torture and murder that befalls the innocent victims in the laboratories.

Comment by Alex Melonas on April 19, 2011 at 6:19

@Brandon: I actually haven't bought into that idea. My argument is, rather, that your attempt to morally distinguish b/n Blakemore and the average consumer, i.e., the former is an active participant, while the other is a passive recipient, is unconvincing b/c both Blakemore and the average consumer, to quote you, "support this injustice through socialized speciesism and the false belief that vivisection is sound science and 'necessary' to advance knowledge." You are presuming that Blakemore is simply dishonest about his positions, but couldn't it be the case that he is a sincere speciesist and believer in vivisection (just like many average consumers, I might add)?   

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