Sunday, July 12, 2009

animal experimentation - do crabs have rights?


"No" says Peter Fraser of the University of Aberdeen. So do I and would also like people who say they do to not be so fucking stupid. This sort of "rights creep" is a direct threat to much high quality research that makes use of the lack of authoritarian oversight of invertebrate experiments to do good and interesting science.

Put it this way: If I wanted to manipulate an organism's environment in the lab to test its responses to some stressor (eg. ocean acidification) I could do so with invertebrates (eg. crabs, mussels) without any bureaucratic oversight. The same experiment with vertebrate fish would require a home office licensed facility; a separate licence to be approved for the specific experiment; qualified and registered staff to conduct husbandry, sacrifice the animals and take biological sample and piles more bureaucratic fiff-faff. Now, I'm not saying that animal welfare is not a concern for scientists. I'm saying that some of the legislation designed to produce it is unnecessary and obstructive, costs an enormous amount of money and does not necessarily improve the welfare of the animals as no-one can explain in cold, hard terms exactly what this term means. Animals in the wild are typically perpetually hunted, starved and otherwise stressed to fuck. Putting fish in sterile tanks with no natural features whatsoever is kind of like locking your average human indefinitely in a single room with nice, soft, padded walls and providing them with regular meals but nothing else. And about as humane. Scientifically its absolute bollocks.

Unfortunately the alternative- called mesocosm experiments, where you try to replicate natural communites of organisms in a recreation of their natural habitat- is incredibly complicated and generally produces very complicated results that are difficult to interpret. Also, such experiments are an order of magnitude more space-, resource- and labour-intensive due to the need to study all of the different components of the community in sufficient detail to observe statistically robust differences. I fail to see how this is anything more than a challenge to scientists, however, as the underlying rationale for such experiments and the potential for real insight to be gained from them is clear. Resort to single species tests in sterile, unrealistic conditions is defeatist and cowardly. Unfortuantely the regulations for conducting such tests with vertebrates make mesocosm studies including them almost impossible to conduct robustly.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I won't debase it with smart assery.


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