Speaking of Research is an organisation dedicated to upholding the right of scientists to perform experiments on animals. Now, it has been well-argued by many why animal testing, for both scientific and cosmetic purposes, is cruel, wasteful, unhelpful and unnecessary. I for one am not in a position to say – and as such I will not claim that animal testing is always unjustifiable, or that the existence of an organisation like Speaking of Research is necessarily immoral.
However, what irks me to the core about Speaking of Research is that they are liars. Their philosophy is bad. They are ignorant of the repulsive implications of their own conclusions. Let me show you what I mean.
On the Speaking of Research Guiding Principles page they claim that they, of course, only want experiments to occur on animals when there is no alternative and that animals deserve respect. Indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking that Speaking of Research cares for animals, that they too are squeamish when it comes to administering painful experiments and procedures. It’s only that they are reluctant realists, who see that their hands are tied when it comes to the necessity of practising on these creatures. If animals deserve respect then they must have some moral worth, and surely this is what Speaking of Research thinks?
Absolutely not. All we need do is study their response to animal rights philosophy and the whole façade comes rushing down like falling curtains – the nude and ugly truth frozen in the spotlight. According to Speaking of Research animals do not have rights nor do they deserve consideration, for they are ‘amoral beings’ whose inability to partake in morality renders them invisible. They are moral non-entities. Speaking of Research believes that morality is based in reciprocity, our ability to make reasoned decisions devoid of impulse, and our acknowledgement of the moral duties we hold toward one and other. Animals cannot act rationally or understand their moral duties: they cannot engage with us on equal terms, so therefore we owe them nothing.
Animals mean zilch to these people. They are as morally irrelevant as a rock, or a glass of orange squash, or a bellybutton lint. It is justified to presume that if they had their own way they would practice any and every experiment they desired on these creatures. Why would they ‘respect’ creatures which don’t deserve any moral consideration? It’s just plain lip service.
Well I’m afraid we have had a long tradition of treating animals as objects when it comes to science. Take the ‘work’ of Harry Harlow, as described by Peter Singer in the seminal book ‘Animal Liberation. Harlow dedicated long years of his career to seeing if he could produce psychotic monkeys. He raised monkeys from birth in bare wire cages with no contact with living creatures; their primary social response was ‘fear’. He encouraged baby monkeys to become attached to cloth mothers which would attack the infants with compressed-air, rocking, wire frames and metal spikes; the petrified monkeys simply held on tighter. He ditched the cloth mothers because of a stroke of genius: why not make real maternal monsters? He raised females in isolation, impregnated them on his aptly named ‘rape rack’ and saw how they’d treat their progeny: success! The mothers either ignored their crying offspring or murdered them, crushing their skulls with their teeth or smearing them against the floor.
I hope you’ll agree with the words of British psychologist John Bowlby, uttered during a visit to Harlow and company’s Wisconsin laboratory: ‘Why are you trying to produce psychopathology in monkeys? You already have more psychopathological monkeys in the laboratory than have ever been seen on the face of earth.’ Sixty years later Harlow’s sadistic legacy remains influential, even if his ghoulish practices utterly disgrace the Academy.
I’m sure Speaking of Research may well condemn experiments such as these. Yet their philosophy is the same; animals are nothing, we can do what we like to them. These are creatures which can suffer as acutely as us, can love, can fear, have personalities and desires of their own – certainly the desire to be free from entrapment, pain and death. Yet perhaps most macabre of all is the human implications of their contractual conception of morality. From their website, under ‘Animal Rights Philosophy?’ –
“Animals are amoral beings, meaning they stand outside the concept of morality, right and wrong, and thus, rights. Much the same applies to humans [my italics]. A person who, due to severely diminished mental capacity, does not know right from wrong, and who commits a crime […] will not be guilty of the crime.”
It follows that the mentally ill, the severely disabled, the senile and young children can be stripped of their rights. They are fair game to experiment on, provided doing so doesn’t breach some moral contract with a dutiful carer. That is the implication of their words. I leave the ball in their court – if some humans by virtue of their impaired mental states are ‘amoral’ like animals, then why should we not experiment on them? Are you sober researchers or mini Mengeles?
Perhaps there are some experiments on animals which are justified – I reiterate that I am not qualified to opine on such matters. If this is the case, then experiments must be guided by a compassionate understanding that animals are sentient beings who deserve any and all possible protection from pain, fear and death. If intrusive or painful experiments are strictly and absolutely necessary then they should be viewed as necessary evils at best. But Speaking of Research thinks that animals are ethically worthless, objects upon which any atrocity might be performed without justification. Behind their veneer of legitimacy is a rotten morality that states that only mentally developed humans matter, full stop. I do not buy their crocodile tears over individuals who break animal welfare regulations, and I fully suspect that if those laws were repealed these people would be back to torturing monkeys and terrorising beagles.
Animal experimentation wants to be morally credible, to dismiss the criticisms levied at it over the last fifty years; it wants to be let in through the front-door, back into the halls of civilised society. Yet for all its words, it’s pleads and wheedles, even if it occasionally speaks true, it cannot hide its red eyes, long fangs and black heart – and we dine with vampires at our peril.
By Matthew Chalmers