The scientific community is ill-prepared for an increasingly bitter debate over animal research, according to a Newsday (US) feature. Over the past 40 years, the welfare of research animals has improved immensely — but public standards have risen even more. A Gallup poll last year found that only 3% of American believed that animals don’t need much protection because they are only animals — but that 25% thought that they deserved “the exact same right as people to be free from harm and exploitation”.
The Foundation for Biomedical Research and other pro-research groups have recently launched ad campaigns highlighting the medical advances for both humans and pet dogs and cats which stem from research on animals. In response to vandalism and threats from animal rights extremists, the foundation has begun distributing an ad picturing three ski-mask clad activists, one with an axe. “Some people think the best way to protect animal life is to make scientists fear for theirs,” says the ad. But the message doesn’t seem to have much impact.
Part of the problem is that scientists have been unwilling or unable to engage in the philosophical debate over whether animals deserve rights and greater protection, says Newsday. But with the number of newspaper stories about intelligent dogs, gorillas and dolphins increasing all the time, explanations are needed. “It’s hard to argue that bacteria have rights, but it’s not too hard these days to argue that chimps or bonobos have rights,’ says Kenneth Pimple, an ethicist at Indiana University.
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