It's been some time now since I've published a blog, what with one thing and another (insert excuse here). Regardless, the time has come for me to get back in the saddle, and ride valiantly into the bloggosphere. To start up, I thought I might begin with a light and cheerful subject - animal experimentation.
This quarter I've been taking a class on Rationality and Emotion, which includes lots of readings (mostly written by the teacher) that, among other things, talk about a variety of experiments done on animals in the area of cognitive research.
I'm not sure what I think of this.
Now, let me be clear, I think animals (and nature in general) should be treated with respect and cared for as much as possible, but I do not think they have priority over humans. As such, I really have no problem with experiments designed to, say, search for cures for cancer... or even for the common cold (though I do think we should do our very best to do as minimal damage in the process as possible).
On the other hand, I'm very strongly against experimentation for frivolities - makeup, for example. I don't think there's anything wrong with makeup per se, but I think it's terribly wrong to test makeup on animals to make sure it doesn't irritate eyes or cause blindness. If that's the cost, makeup can go (or, you know, we could just use the formulas we already have that work fine).
But what about pure research? Certainly, such research is not a frivolity like makeup, but then neither is it directed towards any specific good. Some of the experiments I've read about recently have included creating lesions in bird brains to test if a certain cognitive function still worked, removing parts of monkey brains to find out where the anticipation response lies, and subjecting rats to painful electrical shocks to test how strong their curiosity is. At least on the face of it, this strikes me as unjustified cruelty, yet it's not as straight forward as the makeup case.
For one thing, while such pure research is not directed at any sort of cure, it often results in accidental beneficial side effects. In testing what part of the brain controls a certain cognitive function, we may in fact discover how to restore that function in humans who have lost it.
I think, in general, I'm leaning towards thinking this sort of research is unethical, but I am certainly not totally decided. Thoughts?