The foundation of animal rights theory is the elimination
of the property status of animals. [I]t is
I think we can talk principles forever, but what
the public wants is not to be sick. And if we help
At times it appears that it will be impossible to
bridge the chasm that separates those who believe
If bridging the chasm described above was Deborah Rudacille's goal in this book, it would have to be considered a failure. But her goal seems to have been more modest, to present a history of, and some of the reasons for, this unbridgeable gap. On this count she definitely succeeds. The resulting book is a terrific primer on the controversies surrounding man's relationship with the animal world, particularly in the field of scientific experiment, but one which steadfastly refuses to make core judgments between the two sides, leaving it to the reader to do so. Though this may have been intended as simple fairness, it also represents a failure to follow the logic of her own presentation to the inescapable conclusions toward which it points.
As a threshold matter, Ms Rudacille does a terrific job of walking the reader through a host of varied topics--antivivisection movements, Nazi medicine and animal laws, the fight against polio, breakthroughs in cloning, and so on--to provide a background against which the moral questions play themselves out. Her technique, of focussing on a couple of the especially interesting personalities involved in each historic episode, makes for almost a novelistic effect; she puts a very human face onto what might otherwise be fairly abstract controversies.
Within each section though, she leaves important moral questions hanging. In the very first chapter she notes that early experimenters agreed with Descartes, who believed that : "Lacking the ability to reason, expressed in language, and unable to reflect on its own nature and existence, an animal was an automaton, a machine that contains its own principles of motion." But that later :
Unlike the French philosopher, who found rationality
expressed in language the hallmark of a
She then notes that :
This crucial distinction, which shifts the focus
of moral significance from the ability to reason to
But there she leaves it. She has certainly identified a "crucial distinction," perhaps the most important such distinction of the past few centuries. The emphasis on feeling over reason represents a fundamental challenge to centuries, even millennia, worth of Western moral understanding. One feels it incumbent on the author to examine this a little more closely to determine the consequences of such a revolution in thought. At a minimum, a moral system should apply generally to all those covered by it; yet animals obviously don't adhere to the ethos propounded by animal rightists; it's not as if they are vegans for instance. Nor can they comprehend such a morality. What justice is there in a system which forbids man to kill cobras, but can not bring any moral suasion to bear on the cobra to stop killing man? Ms Rudacille does not undertake such an examination and thus the philosophical underpinning of the entire animal rights movement is simply accepted as a kind of valid competitor to traditional morality.
Similarly, in the section on Nazi Germany she considers the seeming paradox which saw passage of rigid animal protection laws by a regime that had virtually no regard for human life and which actually used human slaves in medical experiments. As a result, she asks the question :
Does an elevation in the moral status of animals
inevitably result in a degradation in the moral
She acknowledges that such was the case in Nazi Germany, but surely the question must be answered in more general terms. And if, as I would argue, the answer is : yes, then this has obvious ramifications for the whole idea of animal rights. Try a simple thought experiment : the Titanic is sinking and there's room in the lifeboat for one more passenger. The sixty year old animal rightist yields her spot to the pregnant poodle. This is a sensible enough outcome if animals are to be treated as morally equivalent beings to human; yet who would argue that it does not represent a degradation of the moral status of human life?
This omission of serious discussion of core moral issues is really unfortunate. I don't know that it's necessarily a cop out, but it does make one take the book less seriously than one otherwise might. That's too bad because she has provided the raw does evidence and alternatives to make some convincing arguments. For instance, after reading about the conditions which lab animals often face (or faced), about the potentially inaccurate responses that these conditions may produce when the animals are tested, and about the emotional toll taken on people who work with the animals, it is awfully hard not to support the idea of the "Three R's" developed by Russell and Burch : Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement :
Replacement means the substitution for conscious living higher animals of insentient material.
Reduction means reduction in the numbers of animals
used to obtain information of given amount
Refinement means any decrease in the incidence or
severity of inhumane procedures applied to
But nowhere in the book does she tie this all together and make the argument for it, which is particularly odd since she does apparently argue it in professional journals.
The other marked weakness of the book is that she argues that the animal rights movement is on the side of human freedom. She says that antivivisectionists are driven by the "fierce desire to assert human freedom, over and above scientific determinism' and that :
This desire to assert free will over scientific determinacy
is consistently minimized and
This borders on the hilarious. I yield to no one in the belief that science and the claims of scientists should be examined with a skeptical eye (see Orrin's review of The Beak of the Finch). But, though you may hold a rock in your outstretched hand and proclaim the primacy of free will over scientific determinacy to the heavens, your free will governs only your decision of when or whether to release the rock, once you let go, gravity takes over and the rock falls. You needn't bow to Newton's epistemology, but it will function upon you nonetheless. The assertion of an unrealizable freedom from scientific laws is not ultimately a claim of liberty, but rather a departure from reason and from reality.
Moreover, later on she seems to correctly, albeit unintentionally, yield the high ground of defending freedom to those who oppose restrictions on animal research. Towards the end of the book, in a discussion of why the nations of Europe have generally adopted much more restrictive regimes of animal protection, she quotes andrew Rowan, senior vice president for Research, Education, and International Issues at the Humane Society of the United States, who concedes that :
Europeans have grown up in societies more willing
to accept social controls on behavior, while the
We'll pass by the rather novel concept that Europeans "live compatibly," the real insight here is that a system of regulations sufficient to guarantee animal rights would have to drastically impose upon human freedom, impose in such a way that it seems far-fetched to imagine Americans tolerating these governmental social controls.
As I said, Ms Rudacille convinced at least me that adoption of the Three R's is a worthwhile goal. But it should be voluntary and the reasons for adopting them are grounded not in animal rights but in scientific reason and human ethics. It simply makes good sense to treat the animals better in order not to create false data, which might flow from overstressed and mistreated animals. And most importantly, we should try to avoid the coarsening effect that harsh treatment of animals must have on human handlers. If you've ever spoken to anyone who uses animals in laboratory experiments, you'll be familiar with their deep ambivalence about the matter. On the one hand, they recognize the importance of the work, but on the other, they hate what they are forced to do to the animals. And when we consider that a classic sign that a youngster is a potential serial killer is sadistic treatment of animals, we must carefully consider the effects on individuals, and on society as a whole, of potentially unnecessary reliance on animal experimentation.
In the end, the book is well worth reading, especially as a basic introduction to the history of the animal rights movement and as an overview of the conflicts that exist between rightists and scientists. But it could have been a much a stronger book if the author, who was a writer at Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, wasn't trying quite so hard to be impartial. The Twentieth Century was turned into a bloody wasteland by intellectual elites who tried disposing of traditional Western morality and imposing their own new moral vision. Those, like the animal rights crowd, who still harbor the desire to try similar social engineering experiments upon humankind must clear some pretty high philosophical hurdles in order to justify their radical new plans. In trying to be fair to both sides, Ms Rudacille chooses not to put animal rights morality to such a rigorous test. However, the questions that she raises, but leaves unanswered, suggest that they would not easily pass the test. It's possible that her intent is simply to allow readers to reach these conclusions on their own, but it sure feels like she abdicated a moral responsibility by not forthrightly spelling out these conclusions herself.
-Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing
-ESSAY : Development of Alternatives to Animal Use for Safety Testing and Hazard Assessment (Deborah Rudacille, solutions-site.org)
-ESSAY : Animals and Alternatives in Testing History, Science, and Ethics (Joanne Zurlo, Deborah Rudacille, and Alan M. Goldberg)
-ESSAY : The Three R's: The Way Forward (Joanne Zurlo, Deborah Rudacille, and Alan M. Goldberg)
-ESSAY : Public Support For Research Depends On Humane Treatment Of Lab Animals (Joanne Zurlo, Alan M. Goldberg, and Deborah Rudacille, The Scientist)
-BOOK SITE : The Scalpel and the Butterfly : The War Between Animal Research and Animal Protection By Deborah Rudacille (fsb associates)
-REVIEW : of Scalpel and the Butterfly (Rebecca Skloot, Chicago Tribune)