"Science and Self-Doubt," by Frederick K. Goodwin and Adrian R. Morrison (October), presents only one side of a multidimensional issue. Goodwin and Morrison refer to some "successes" in biomedical research that have stemmed from the use of animals, but they neglect the numerous failures. One only has to skim through C. Ray Greek and Jean Swingle Greek's recent book, Sacred Cows and Golden Geese: The Human Cost of Experiments on Animals (Continuum, 2000), to see some of these data.
The use of animal models often creates false hopes for humans in need. It's estimated that only 1 percent to 3.5 percent of the decline in the rate of human mortality since 1900 has stemmed from animal research. Early animal models of polio actually impeded progress on finding a vaccine. A major medical journal has called the war on cancer based on animal research a qualified failure. And over 100,000 people die annually from side effects of animal-tested drugs. It is also important to note that there are many people who believe that animals have rights but who do not condone violence.
As a biology professor, I believe that students do indeed "understand what the scientific method is really all about," but that they deeply believe that science can do a better job and that the numerous nonanimal alternatives that are available are a very promising option. Many are simply unhappy with the blatant abuse of animals in the name of science. Scientists should indeed be reflecting on their practices, and their self-doubt is understandable given the millions of animals used in research. Whether or not one believes that animals have rights, this is a deplorable state of affairs.F
Department of Biology
University of Colorado at Boulder
Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society
Frederick K. Goodwin and Adrian R. Morrison devote much of their article to discussing too-often overlooked data on the importance of animal research to human well-being. Yet since similar gains in knowledge could be had from involuntary experiments on human beings, arguments regarding the medical benefits of animal research are presumably moot if the moral arguments of the animal rights movement are correct.
It is thus disappointing that the most important element of Drs. Goodwin and Morrison's argument is also the most ill-founded. The authors claim that "rights stem from the uniquely human capacity to choose values and principles, then act on choices and judgment." Since, as they note, even the most intelligent animals lack this capacity, the concept of rights just doesn't apply.
Let us assume this account, undefended though it is, is the correct account of rights. Even if it succeeds in justifying animal research, it fails in a broader sense, for it justifies involuntary research not only on animals, but on human beings as well. If the reason animals lack rights is that they are incapable of "comprehending, respecting, or acting" upon rights, then infants, the retarded, and the comatose (to name but a few) lack rights as well.
I believe there is a moral justification for certain sorts of animal research. But the idea that this justification can be made on the grounds that all human beings have certain rights which all nonhuman animals lack remains as undefended today as it was when philosopher Peter Singer criticized it over 20 years ago.
Department of Philosophy
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
University of Arizona
In the spirit of REASON's commitment to clear thinking, the fallacies, non-sequiturs, and blind fundamentalism that pervade "Science and Self-Doubt" should be candidly identified.
Not only do these alleged supporters of science fail miserably to provide any balance in their assessment, but they repeatedly caricature their opposition, creating straw figures which purport to be adequate descriptions of complex and nuanced positions. What they affirm in concept-that we should think clearly-they deny in performance. In fact, their argument suggests they are confident that your readers are ignorant of issues and cannot think for themselves in a mature way.
Take their reference to "a campaign in New Zealand to give the great apes constitutional rights [by] the Great Ape Project, which seeks to award apes the same rights as those possessed by humans." Because The Great Ape Project seeks only certain fundamental protections-life, liberty, and freedom from torture-for gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos, and not the right to vote, the right to travel internationally, etc., the authors' statement here is uninformed.
Further, the authors' fundamentalism, and indeed their superficial commitment to the humility implicit in scientific method, is betrayed by their abject failure to use scientific terminology. Humans are, scientifically speaking, great apes. The view that humans are not great apes and are separate from the animal kingdom had its origin in prescientific and religious thinking.
The authors owe this magazine's readership an apology.