Must we choose animals or science?

Lab rat (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

You might have heard about it already but, in April, animal rights activists broke into an Italian lab and released a number of lab animals. All it really accomplished was to slow down research and the animals will almost certainly die in the wild. This is an example of the wrong way to protest animal experiments. That’s not to say I don’t sympathise but I don’t think their methods are particularly constructive.

Just as disturbing is the story of the scientist’s later demonstration with the title, Around Italy, Researchers Rally to Defend Science. I have a problem with this because it’s a false dichotomy. It implies that you either support animal experimentation or are anti-science. That is not the case. Being against experiments on animals is not the same thing as being anti-science. Granted, I imagine many of the people in those activist groups are anti-science in general.

Science doesn’t exist in a vacuum. What we do, as scientists, is not only what is acceptable scientifically but what is acceptable ethically and socially. Those are not the same things. It would be scientifically valid to test experimental drugs on humans, it would even give better results than testing on animals. However, that experiment is not ethically acceptable and so we do not do it, that doesn’t make us anti-science. What we can do scientifically must be constrained by what we can do ethically.

The conflict here was not between those that support science and those that are anti-science, it was between differing views of what is considered ethically acceptable. Those scientists protesting in Italy would say that the benefits of the research is more important than the suffering of the animals while the protesters would say the opposite. There is no right answer, unfortunately, but while trashing a lab is not helping the discussion, neither is trying to claim that one must either support animal experimentation or be anti-science.

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2 thoughts on “Must we choose animals or science?

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