Animal Studies Bibliography

Burghardt, Gordon M. and Harold A. Herzog, Jr. 1980. Beyond Conspecifics: Is Brer Rabbit Our Brother? Bioscience 30(11): 763-768.

Interest in our relationship to nonhuman animals has been raised by awareness of environmental damage and endangerment of particular species, vegetarian arguments about the inefficiency of feeding grain to meat animals instead of to hungry people, questioning of government-supported research, and new awareness of animals' intellectual, communicative, and emotional abilities. This knowledge has damaged the basis of our division between humans and other animals and has led to philosophical debate over the proper use and treatment of animals with no consensus in sight. Along with such debate have come government investigations, litigation, academic conferences, and the formation of public groups dedicated to animal rights and welfare. Critics of experimentation on animals support their claims both with emotional and ethical appeals and with scientific evidence, aiming to create a “consistent, logical, and scientifically acceptable ethical treatment of animals” (764). Many animal rights supporters consider the movement to be fighting speciesism, challenging discrimination against animals as we fought it against women, people of color, and the aged. Much animal use, e.g. cosmetics testing or abuse of calves to produce veal, is being rejected by the public and by groups of scientists alike as unnecessary. Criteria to be used in making moral judgements about the use of animals fall into four categories: human costs or benefits, anthropomorphism, ecology, and psychology. First, controversy occurs over the appropriateness of eating animals (and which ones), of wearing animal products as clothing, of recreational uses of animals (zoos, pets, rodeos, animal fighting like cockfighting, bear baiting, and bull fighting), and of hunting, trapping, or fishing for animals (usually acceptable if they are to be meat). Species labeled “pests” (often assisted by their small size) can usually be killed without requiring justification, as can species that threaten humans (e.g. poisonous snakes, sharks, and disease-carriers) and therefore evoke fear. The “pest” label varies by group. For example, fishermen consider dolphins pests because they damage the nets, while many people consider dolphins intelligent and worthy of protection. Animals domesticated for use as food (e.g. cattle) are different from wild animals (you can kill a cow but not a deer), and both are different from animals domesticated as pets (cats and dogs), which cannot be eaten or used for research. Second, killing or using animals usually requires minimizing their pain, and which animals can be used depends on our perception of which are aware of suffering, although this is perhaps based more on how much gore we have to witness (spilled red blood) than on scientific evidence about the animals' perceptions. We often refuse to use animals that are phylogenetically and morphologically similar to us (e.g. primates, dolphins), that are larger in size, that have longer lives, or that we consider beautiful or cute, with a particular prejudice in favor of baby animals, who have features similar to human babies. Anthropocentric ideas about proper behavior also produce erroneous dislike and praise for various species. Third, we often value endangered species more than common ones but ignore this value when other things, like human lives, are at stake (e.g. the animal provides a needed vaccine), or focus on saving only those endangered species that meet our other value criteria (size, cuteness, etc.). The desire for diversity and ecological balance are important but usually not cited by the public. Fourth, people exposed to animal use are gradually desensitized. We prefer animals we can easily anthropomorphize because they exhibit varied behavior and adaptability/”intelligence.” Religious reasoning is used both to support and to condemn animal use. Urban dwellers may feel a connection with animals based on their desire to return to nature. The complexity of these numerous factors and how they intertwine suggests that finding one set of ethical guidelines about animal use is unlikely. The best solution is to seek alternatives for unnecessary practices and to weigh the rest against our needs using cost-benefit analyses as we do in weighing human lives, pollution, and safety programs. Scientists must “develop an ‘ethological ethics'” (767) to explain clearly the value of some animal research work.


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