Archive for: February, 2010

Some modest proposals for animal rights supporters looking to make their case without resorting to harassment, intimidation, or violence.

I take it that a good number of animal rights supporters feel that their position is philosophically well-grounded, intuitively appealing, and compatible with the flourishing of humans as well as of non-human animals.
As such, I would argue that animal rights supporters can, and should, advance their position without resorting to tactics that depend on harassment, intimidation, or violence. (At least some animal rights supporters agree.) Especially since the hope is to win the hearts and minds of the larger public to the cause of animal rights, supporters of this position might want to hold on to the moral high ground.
How can they do this? Here are four options that leap to mind:

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26 responses so far

Our cause is good, so our tactics don't need to be?

Earlier this week, I related a situation I found alarming in which a scientist and his children were targeted for harassment because he dared to express the view that research with animals plays an important role in answering scientific questions that matter to scientists and to the public. I was not alone in decrying these tactics. At least one animal rights group also condemned them.
Given that the post was pretty clearly directed at the question of tactics, I am frankly puzzled by this comment from Douglas Watts:

When I see mainstream "science" commit itself to a program which phases out vivisection by date certain, this post would have credibility. Without such a pledge and plan, you are basically saying that scientists are separate from the rest of society and should not be held to the standards the rest of society must live up to. In doing so, you are making the anti-vivisectionists point for them: scientists are unwilling and unable to clean up their own house.

If I'm understanding it, the logical structure of what Douglas Watts is claiming here is something like this:

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27 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: innocence about plants.

Feb 26 2010 Published by under Biology, Garden, Kids and science

Younger offspring: Hey, look what I grew!
Dr. Free-Ride: Wow, those are tall.


Younger offspring: It's a bean plant.

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4 responses so far

There are animal rights supporters who take a public stand against violence and intimidation.

We don't have to agree about whether animal research is ethical or scientifically valuable to agree that some tactics for pursuing your view are harmful to civil society.
Bruins for Animals, the student organization at UCLA that was instrumental in organizing the recent dialogue about the science and ethics of animal based research, understands this, and they are not afraid to call out the people "on their side" who opt for threats and intimidation:

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9 responses so far

Time to get mad. Ways to speak up.

When I told you about the infuriating tactics extreme animal rights activists are turning against Dario Ringach for even daring to express his view that animal research can be important, a number of you asked in the comments, "What can we do besides signing petitions and writing blog posts?"
David Jentsch offers some concrete ideas about where to start making your stand:

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11 responses so far

Time to get mad. Time to speak up.

I need to share with you a situation that is infuriating.
It's infuriating to me, and I believe it should be infuriating to anyone who values a civil society worth the name.
Harassment drove UCLA neurobiologist Dario Ringach out of primate research in 2006. This was not just angry phone calls and email messages. We're talking about people in masks banging on the windows of his house in the night, scaring his kids. Without support on this front from other scientists or from UCLA, Dario abandoned research that he believed to be important so that he could keep his family safe.
Since then, there has been more violence against researchers who work with animals. UCLA started to stand up for its researchers in the face of incendiary devices. Scientists started calling for an end to violent tactics in their journals, and in petitions, and in demonstrations.
As someone with experience being on the receiving end of such tactics, Dario stood up to decry their use against other scientists.

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125 responses so far

Intelligence, moral wisdom, and reactions to the University of Alabama-Huntsville shootings.

From a recent article in the New York Times considering University of Alabama-Huntsville shooter Amy Bishop's scientific stature and finding it lacking, this comment on why so many denizens of the internet think they can understand why she did what she did:

Why did people who knew Dr. Bishop only through reading about her crime make excuses for her?
Joanathan D. Moreno, a professor of medical ethics and the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks reactions have to do with a long tradition that goes back to Plato. The idea, he said, is that someone who is very intelligent is assumed to be "morally wise." And that makes it hard to reconcile the actions of Amy Bishop, with her Harvard Ph.D., her mantle of scientific brilliance.
"There's a common-folk psychology," Dr. Moreno said. "If you are that smart, you know the difference between right and wrong."
"That is what's going on," Dr. Moreno said. "In cases like hers that contradict the framework, we look for excuses."

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12 responses so far

Ask Dr. Free-Ride: True love waits (until the end of the semester).

By email, a reader asks for advice on a situation in which the personal and the professional seem like they might be on a collision course:

I am a junior at a small (< 2000 students) liberal arts college. I got recruited to be a TA for an upper division science class, and it's going swimmingly. I'm basically a troubleshooter during labs, which the professor supervises. The problem is that I've fallen for one of the students, also a junior. Is it possible for me to ethically date her? The university's handbooks are little help--sexual harassment is very strictly prohibited, but even faculty are technically allowed to date their students--and my instincts keep flip-flopping. On the one hand, teacher-student relationships are automatically suspect, but on the other I'm not sure that it's significantly different from TAing the close friends that are in the class.
I obviously have no intention of changing grades or doing anything resembling sexual harassment, and I'm pretty good (sometimes too good) at being objective and keeping work and my social life separate. The grading is also pretty objective, and the professor goes over it to be sure my grades are reasonable. If it is possible, what do I need to look out for? Do I need to inform the professor (she knows I'm friends with the subject of my infatuation)? And in the event that we do go out, do I have to tell her that I grade her tests and labs (it's unusual for a TA to grade in upper division courses in our department)? It seems like it might be easier if she didn't know, but it would be at least lying by omission.
I know this probably sounds like it ought to be addressed to Dan Savage, but I'd really appreciate your advice and any advice your readers might have.
Thanks so much,
"Forbidden Chemistry"

I'll allow as how Dan Savage knows a lot, but when was the last time he thought about the ethical challenges of power gradients in educational and training environments?

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11 responses so far

Ethical use of student labor.

MommyProf wonders whether some of the goings on in her department are ethical. She presents two cases. I'm going to look at them in reverse order.

Case 2: Faculty member is tenure-track and he and I have collaborated on a paper. He was supposed to work on the literature, and sends me a literature review. It reads a little strangely to me, and I check the properties and find that it was actually written by an undergraduate in one of his classes. I write back to him and ask if that undergrad should be an author on the paper, since it would be a fairly major contribution, and he says yes, he forgot. This faculty member is assigned a graduate student each semester. This semester, the faculty member's graduate student comes to me and said his work has included collecting and analyzing all the data and writing substantial portions of the lit review, but the student is not being credited on the final paper.

This case embodies a number of problems of which we have spoken before, at length.
Indeed, it bears some striking similarities to a case we considered a couple years ago. (In that case, an undergraduate research intern was helping an advanced graduate student in the research group to round up the relevant literature background for their research project ... and the undergraduates summary of that relevant literature crept, word for word, into the graduate student's dissertation.) Here's what I wrote about that case:

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12 responses so far

Video of the UCLA panel discussion on animal-based research.

As promised, here's the video of the February 16, 2010 panel discussion at UCLA about the science and ethics of animal-based research, sponsored by Bruins for Animals and Pro-Test for Science.

UCLA Panel on Science and Ethics of Animal Research from Dario Ringach on Vimeo.

The video runs for about 2.5 hours, so you might want to grab a glass of water or a cup of coffee before you launch it.

3 responses so far

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