THE TRAGIC LEGACY OF SCIENCE
Sherri Cavan, Ph.D
Department of Sociology
San Francisco State University
My subject is tragedy: how the noble ideals of science and of medicine
are used to support the practice of animal experimentation. The idea of
vivisection as advanced scientific practice was introduced in France in
the l9th century. It quickly became the foundation of scientific medical
research. While animal rights activists protest the use of animals in scientific
experimentation, proponents of animal experimentation argue the scientific
warrant for the practice. This paper addresses how animal experimentation
reflects the scientific value of control; how it overcame technical and
philosophical reservations to become institutionalized as progressive thought;
some of the unexamined consequences of relying on animal experimentation
as the basis of knowledge for human medicine.
I am interested in how animal experimentation became institutionalized
as a rational practice in the field of medical research and how the assumptions
necessary for animal experimentation are reflected in human medical practice.
The idea of creating a pathology in a healthy animal in the laboratory,
introducing a drug or surgical technique, and observing the results of
this procedure is at the heart of medical experimentation, and medical
experimentation is the scientific basis of contemporary medical practice.
Proponents of this position argue that without the ability to pursue this
practice of animal experimentation, human health will suffer.1
If it were not for the legitimizing belief system of science, what is
done to animals in experimental laboratories would be more universally
defined as cruel and sadistic. Indeed, in almost every community it
is against the law for people to do the things to other species that
scientists do regularly, routinely and with "good reasons." These
"good reasons" transform the meaning of the act. What might appear
to be sadistic and unwarranted in the context of "scientific research"
is to be seen as rational, reasonable, and socially beneficial.
Like every human enterprise science is socially constructed by people
with personal goals and commitments joined in a working consensus by beliefs
and practices that are more or less shared. (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984)
Through various institutional orders of authority the ideas of science
trickle out into the everyday world as what is taken for granted, obvious
Deconstructing science reveals, among other things, the historic origin
of scientific beliefs and practices, the vested interests of the practitioners,
and how---by means of government subsidy, business interests, education
and various forms of communication---this world view became established
as the dominant paradigm.
THE PRACTICE OF SCIENCE
Briefly, the warrant for experimentation as a logic of proof begins with Descartes' Discourse on Method, published in France in l637. In opposition to the traditional methods of knowledge reflected in medieval scholasticism, Descartes taught a new way of knowing that made the idea of human control a central axiom of what eventually was called "the scientific method." The scientific method stood in opposition to slavish devotion to authority--- although as time went on this new way of knowing became the established authority, itself the object of unquestioned respect. (Kuhn, 1962; Gouldner, l976)
This ideal of control is at the heart of scientific experimentation.
Scientists control their data in various ways. One is by isolating the
experimental subjects from extraneous forces or variables; then systematically
applying the experimental variable and assessing the differences between
those subjects who have been exposed to the experimental protocol and those
subjects whose situation is "identical" to the former except
for the variable in question. If as observers we detect a difference at
time two, we conclude that this difference is the effect of the experimental
variable. It cannot be otherwise because we have purposively controlled
all other "causes."2 All sorts of sanctioned variations of this
model exist. Sometimes the experimental subject serves as its own control,
being observed in different situations at different times. When actual
physical manipulation of experimental subjects is not possible, or where
large numbers of subjects are involved, various statistical methods are
applied to approximate this ideal of scientific control. (Campbell &
Like the logic characteristic of every culture and sub-culture, the meaningful and true nature of this scientific ideal results from and is sustained by socialization, reinforcement, and reward. Those who are exposed to the logic but doubtful of its epistemological value soon exit the arena of scientific discourse. Those who are left to do and discuss science are those who accept the fundamental precepts of this logic without question, for these ideas are at the heart of scientific practice. (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984)
For most of the century aspiring sociologists were taught the validity of the conclusions derived from this method of scientific thinking in chapter one of our introductory textbooks and in turn we taught some variety of this catechism to the next generation of students. If we desire money from various public and private agencies to subsidize our research, we learn to build these ideas about scientific control into our proposals. Up until very recently---individually and collectively---we embed these assumptions in what we study, how we study it, how we teach it, how others respond to the results of our research, the publication fate of our work, its reviews, its citations, and ultimately its status as an "idea." Routine research, writing and teaching replicates and reinforces these assumptions. Those interested in epistemological questions about the sociology of knowledge and their counterparts dedicated to the philosophy of science regularly conclude that the scientific method is the one and only valid method of knowing, to the exclusion of all other ways of knowing, past and present and presumably, future, and that this ideal of control separates "scientific knowledge" from "mere observation".
This may not represent everyone in the discipline, but it is the dominant motif.
At the same time as sociologists we learn that there are certain limits to our own "scientific practice." We learn that even though the classic ideal of science is "value free" there are some fundamental values we must respect. We agree to respect the rights and dignity of human subjects, even at the cost of the experimental knowledge that invasive methods might produce. Statements affirming our principled commitments to the rights of human subjects are written and published as part of our association's code of ethics and its bylaws. Our universities have oversight committees that review research proposals and make objective assessments of the consideration being given to our subjects' subjective experiences.
As a discipline we are critical when practices undertaken in the name of science do not respect the subjective dimension of the human being, such as the experiments undertaken by Nazi scientists during the l940s. If we learn about American studies from the 1930s, when African-American men were the unknowing subjects of invasive syphilis protocols; or if we learn of US army recruits who were the unwitting subjects of radioactivity in above ground nuclear testing experiments in the l950s; or if we learn about hallucinogenic drug experiments done on uninformed subjects by U.S. army scientists in the l960s, we express distress and concern. We do not consider this "good science" even though it represents the abstract ideals of good science. (Ruesch, l983)
Even so our responses to these examples are compartmentalized. Knowledge of this dark side of science---what scientists are willing to do in the name of scientific knowledge---does not lead us to question the scientific methodology that justifies these practices in the first place but only to isolate these examples as abuses of an otherwise honorable tradition.
Again, sensitive to the rights of human subjects, sociologists may ignore the rights of subjects who represent other species. Consider introductory sociology textbooks that discuss Harlows' experiments on infant monkeys as an experimental demonstration of the consequences of maternal deprivation. No caveats about methods are appended. This represents experimental knowledge, the scientific ideal. Protocols that would be defined as abusive if they were applied to human subjects are unquestioned when applied to other species.
Outside the subculture of science, and in opposition to this model, are groups of persons variously labeled animal rights activists or sometimes, animal rights "fanatics"---persons who have gone "too far" in pursuit of a noble thing. Individually and collectively these people do not share sanctioned scientific assumptions such as: consciousness is the exclusive monopoly of the human species; only human will and human autonomy counts; the human perspective is the only perspective worth exploring. (Mertig, 1990; Ruesch, 1983; Regan, 1983) The most outspoken critics of this belief system characterize all animal experimentation as cruel and abusive and the scientists who experiment on sentient beings as barbaric sadists. Others with less extreme positions lobby for the humane treatment of laboratory animals, demanding complex, expensive protocols to provide some measure of protection from the most invasive of these experimental practices. (Goodall, 1990) Meanwhile, the interests that dominate the scientific community view all these latter-day anti-vivisectionists as reactionary in their thinking---as people who want to regress knowledge back to a time before the institutionalization of scientific methods, when human knowledge was mired in ignorance, superstition and fallacy and without question, inferior to advanced contemporary thinking.
HOW ADVANCED IS SCIENTIFIC THINKING?
The human idea that the sacrifice of living beings might insure good health---or wealth or happiness or special knowledge---has a long history. (Arluke, 1988; Sharpe, 1988; Detiene & Vermant) Anthropological and archeological evidence documents the ritual killing of animals--both human and other species---in conjunction with religious and medicinal rites. For example, the numerous and various blood sacrifices described throughout the Old Testament document the importance of this ritual in the Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament sacrifice served as a gesture of appeasement when members had transgressed the rules or as an expression of respect during ceremonial occasions or as a gesture of solicitation when favors were desired. The sacrifice of living animals played the same role among the ancient Greeks. In many parts of tribal Africa, the entrails or other parts of a sacrificed animal were closely inspected for signs of a positive or negative nature. The byproducts of the sacrificial animal or perhaps the entire carcass might be processed in some way: dried; ground up; made into a infusion and ingested by the patient. In many parts of Asia poultices of animal parts are applied to the afflicted parts of human suffers. Special parts may prescribed for their curative power; other parts forbidden for their debilitating effects. Ideas relating animal sacrifice to human welfare are neither new nor progressive. They have a long history and a wide cultural distribution.3
The modern idea that experimentation on living animals could
advance the practice of human medicine began in France in l865, with the
publication of Introduction a l'etude de la medecine experimentale
by Claude Bernard. (Virtanen, l960) By Bernard's time the ideals of science
and the scientific method had been institutionalized in the universities,
and the universities had become the established repositories for those
specialized bodies of knowledge necessary for the social claims being made
by academic-based professions like medicine, law and sociology. Furthermore,
Descartes himself had practiced vivisection thereby associating the idea
of experimenting on living animals with the idea of progressive thought.
THE LOGIC OF ANIMAL EXPERIMENTATION
Bernard (1813-1878) came to Paris from the provinces, carried along
by a tide of youthful idealism that characterized the l830s. He had written
a play and hoped to have it produced. But the romantic dreams that brought
him to the city were not realized and he chose a more pragmatic option:
an apprenticeship in a pharmacy. Bright and engaging, his contacts at the
pharmacy encouraged him to go to medical school. By all accounts he was
a lackluster medical student. After he failed to pass the national examination
for certification as a practicing physician he turned to a career in medical
research . (Olmsted & Olmsted, 1952; Virtanen, 1960)
At the university, Bernard studied physiology with Francois Magendie,
who was already practicing vivisection. Magendie used invasive techniques
on living animals as a method of demonstrating and discovering anatomical
structure and function. Magendie's practice of vivisection was casual and
unsystematic. Bernard took these ideas---already accepted in the university---and
elaborated them in a formal, rationalized way. (Hirst, 1975) These ideas
were published in the influential textbook that became the warrant for
the role of animal experimentation in advancing medical knowledge. Furthermore,
Bernard was personally influential in convincing others to share this vision
of advanced scientific thinking: the idea of creating a pathology
or a form of pathology in the controlled setting of the laboratory in order
to study the curative potential of drugs, chemicals and surgical procedures
and the ideal that this controlled experimental method of knowing was more
certain and more true, than other ways of knowing, such as clinical observation.4
Bernard writes in his textbook,
"In leaving the hospital, a physician...must go into his laboratory;
and there, by experiments on animals, he will account for what he has observed
in his patients, whether about the action of drugs or about the origin
of morbid lesions in organs and tissues. There, in a word, he will achieve
true medical science." (cited in Sharpe, 1988, p. 165)
Bernard was an innovator whose ideas about cause and effect, about the
importance of control, and about the legitimacy of animal experimentation
all emerged from and found a receptive climate in the context l9th century
France. However, they did not represent abstract truth; rather, they embodied
and formalized the thinking of the bourgeois society that was characteristic
of the time and the place.
This was an historic context of unprecedented technological innovations.
Knowledge from physics and engineering had encouraged a popular vision
of progress in which control over the bounty of nature was transformed
into economic profit. What simple people had always done for themselves
could be enhanced and improved upon, to be returned back to the community
as a commodity and producing, as a byproduct of this commercial activity,
a profit for those farsighted entrepreneurs who were so clever and enterprising
as to develop the system in the first place. The technology and the ideology
that directed this practice of treating nature as a resource created wealth
by creating markets for commodities that could be produced by bourgeois
Vitalists, anti-vivisectionists, and German romanticists are examples
of some of the 19th century social movements that stood in active opposition
to these bourgeois ideas. But these alternative ideologies failed to influence
the French Academy, the established arbitrator of what was politically
correct and what was not. The scientific laboratory, the experimental method,
and experimentation on live animals were officially sanctioned and formally
institutionalized as the correct place and the proper way to advance scientific
knowledge, and in particular, medical knowledge. Ethnographic field methods,
clinical observation, ethology, introspection, intuition, inspiration,
and all other ways of knowing, past or future, were officially discredited.
TECHNICAL AND PHILOSOPHIC
Various forms of anesthesia were developed in the l840s, and these innovations
overcame some of the technical limitations to laboratory experimentation.
(Ruesch, l983; Sharpe, l988) Nitrous oxide, ether and chloroform provided
means of chemical restraint that controlled the vocal and visible responses
of the subjects of invasive experimental procedures. Bernard was quick
to seize upon the use of chloroform and curare in his own laboratory and
he was an early advocate of the use of anesthesia in human medical practice.
Indeed, without the means of subduing consciousness on the part of their
patients of whatever species, modern surgeons would be severely limited
in the kinds of procedures they could recommend and carry out.
At the same time, the crucial importance of hygiene in medical practice
was revived after centuries of septic ignorance and these renewed ideas
were transferred into laboratory practices. (Ruesch, l983; Sharpe, 1988)
As a result, the chances of survival for experimental animals increased,
as did the chances of survival of the human patients for whom these innovative
treatments were destined.
Anesthesia and hygienic practices overcame technical obstacles to the
institutionalization of animal experimentation in medical research. Scientists
and medical practitioners could undertake the most invasive of procedures
and they could expect their subjects to survive their ministrations.5 These
technical achievements were supported and directed by ethical and logical
assumptions. The former reflects the hierarchy of moral value; the latter
reflects the world view of positivism.
Despite its active opposition and conflict with the religious world
view that preceded it, the unexamined assumptions of European science incorporated
many of those older notions. The terrestrial dominance order was
one idea that was transferred from the old way of thinking to the new.
(Rollins, l988; Tuan, 1984) The religious world view of the Old Testament
demanded blood sacrifice, encouraged domination and control, and tolerated
brutalization of the weak by the stronger. The historic societies that
grew from the premise of terrestrial dominance were societies that domesticated
animals, ate them, hunted them, trapped and exterminated them, subjected
them to the harsh corporeal, psychological and social punishment; saw them
as having no value other than to advance human interests; used their names
to describe what was vile, filthy and unworthy, and otherwise degraded
and destroyed them, including terrorizing them for sport. The world view
that sanctions such behavior does not encourage ethical reservations about
invasive experimentation on other species, especially when those practices
are argued to benefit humanity.
Even so, ethical opposition to this dominant ideology existed in Bernard's
time. His biographers recount the domestic conflict between Bernard and
his wife as an example of these conflicting ideologies translated into
domestic strife. They write that Mme. Bernard was unable to "comprehend"
the significance of her husband's work; they characterize her appreciation
of Bernard's contribution to science as "shallow" by citing how
she upbraided him for the suffering he caused animals in his research.
Another facet of their domestic strife---garnered from Mme.'s meticulously
kept household records---notes that she and their two daughters were regular
contributors to the local Animal Society. (Olmsted and Olmsted, 1952; Virtanen,
The Bernards eventually separated. Freed from the contrary pressures
his wife's objections represented, Bernard dedicated himself to his vision
of a rational, empirical body of knowledge that would serve as the basis
of a scientific medical practice. This was the idea that in the controlled
environment of the scientific laboratory, the suffering of some sentient
beings would bring salvation to others.
"Experiments on animals, with deleterious substances or in harmful
circumstances, are very useful and entirely conclusive for the toxicology
and hygiene of man. Investigations of medical or or toxic substances also
are wholly applicable to man from the therapeutic point of view."
(quoted in Sharpe, l988, p. 166)
The pragmatic, positivist proposals Bernard made about how to pursue
scientific knowledge fit into the bourgeois society that was emerging in
France (and elsewhere) at the time.
The institutionalization of ideas about controlling, manipulating, bending
and transforming nature to some design were a modern thing. Modernity embraced
the idea that everything could be controlled and hence improved upon by
human intervention. (Gouldner, l976) You could be religious and still be
modern. Science merely replaced the divine hand described in Genesis
with the big bang described in the Brief History of Time. In
both versions of creation, forces incomprehensibly beyond the grasp of
humanity bring the material world forth out of the void. The world so created
generates resources for intelligent beings to manipulate. In ancient religious
texts these resources are given to man by the Almighty; man is the rightful
master of the garden, with dominion over everything therein. The scientific
version---whether it be the theory of evolution or the textbooks on laboratory
experimentation--reiterates this inter-species hierarchy. Following Judaic-Christian
religious thought, western science asserts human dominion over the planet
as an unquestioned assumption. Furthermore, all "objective" science
reflects the world view of a single species, and often a single class,
a single gender, and a single style of life. Most "scientific knowledge"
represents knowledge of a single historic moment, the industrial order.
We take pride in the growth curve of scientific knowledge and how it has
increased exponentially in our century. Yet the other side of that curve
is the loss of other ways of knowing as authentic and legitimate alternatives.
Mystics and psychics, people who make claim to talk to the birds or listen
to the stars are dismissed as ignorant and likely to be labeled demented.
We learn to trust the printout of our machines, but not the intuition of
SOME QUESTIONABLE ASSUMPTIONS
I have suggested that the zeitgeist of 19th century Europe encouraged
and rationalized the ideal of scientific control. Wherever European culture
held sway, extolling the scientific method, people came to conclusions
like those of Bernard. The collective outcome of their individual choices
was a widespread institutionalized order that sanctioned these actions
and ideas as reasonable, rational and right. Practitioners of animal experimentation
and defenders of the practice condemned any critique as "anti-scientific"
and thus wrong.
This collective judgment buried from discussion serious logical fallacies
of simplification and generalization.
A. The relationship of the laboratory to the natural world:
the problem of simplification.
Bernard and the experimental scientists who followed him liked the laboratory
as a place and as an idea because it vested complete control with the scientist.
Bernard laments that nature is stingy and erratic in her willingness to
reveal her secrets.6 He believed---and even more important, he was able
to convince others---that the manipulation of the experimental variable
in an isolated setting was efficient, pragmatic, and more certain than
the passive, inefficient observations produced by methodologies such as
clinical observation, ethology, and ethnography. (Hirst, 1975)
The laboratory obviously simplified the complexities of the natural
world. But this fact was interpreted as a virtue and not a shortcoming.
Simplifying the natural world clarified relationships; it eliminated distracting
irrelevancies; it heightened the distinction between cause and effect.
The fact that it was artificially created for the convenience of the observer
was quickly forgotten. It became a concept (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984)
rather than a physical place with an internal environment, an organized
routine, rules, roles, relationships and resources; a human staff with
varied motives and dispositions; metal cages holding animals in isolation,
a feeding time, lab workers, the operative experimental procedures; the
post-operative experience; etc. Most certainly, it was never considered
as a reality from the perspective of the oppressed subjects of the experimental
method---the thousands of animals who were sacrificed in the experiments
of medical research. (Linden, 1986;Wieder, 1980) In sum, the idea
that knowledge learned in the laboratory by invasive experimental methods
might be so limited as to be counterproductive was never a topic
of discussion among practitioners of animal experimentation.
The physical laboratory settings and the conditions of the animals incarcerated
therein have been among the first targets of 20th century animal rights
activists. Such acts of liberation and/or terrorism---depending on the
reader's commitments---strike at the heart of medical research: invasive
experimental procedures practiced on controlled subjects whose consciousness
is not an issue. (Rollin, l988)
The actual laboratory is neither an abstract concept nor a sterile vacuum.
It is a unique social world unto itself. This world of the laboratory may
or may not reflect one or more relevant parts of the world outside of the
laboratory. But the relationship of the scientific laboratory to the natural
(i.e. the uncontrolled) world is rarely a topic of investigation. Furthermore,
becaused relationships observed in the laboratory are replicated in the
same environment---the laboratory---the effects of the experimental setting
on the results of the experiment is neither observed, acknowledged nor
B. How far can you generalize? What
is species specific?
Bernard and the medical researchers who have practiced in his name were
not isolationists. They did not wish to withdraw into their miniature world
of the laboratory. Their goal was to use the discoveries made in the laboratory
to right the wrongs in the natural world, like curing human disease and
alleviating human suffering. Civil and religious law prohibited the practice
of vivisection on human subjects, so other species were substituted in
the laboratory. The cheaper it was to supply the species to the laboratory,
the easier it was to manage the animals in captivity, the more frequently
those animals were used as the experimental tissue for the scientific research
that would direct human medical practice throughout the 20th century. (Ruesch,
1983; Sharpe, 1988)
Some features of vertebrate anatomy transcend species distinctions,
and most of those basic structures along with their associated functions
have been mapped since the beginning of the present century. A great many
physiological features are distinctive. Indeed, this distinctive physiology
is used as the criteria to distinguish different species from each other.
To argue that for purposes of experimentation distinct species can
readily substitute for different species---that the mouse and the
man are close enough for scientific research---requires that scientific
review committees not read such proposals too closely. And indeed they
do not read more closely than they do for all having been socialized to
the same world view, reinforced and rewarded by the same institutional
structures, reviewers and researchers share the same assumptions, the same
commitments, and the same blind spots. Therefore, they come to the same
The tragic story of thalidomide dramatically illustrates these blind
spots. (Mintz, 1965; Ruesch, l983) Synthesized in Germany and tested on
animals in controlled laboratory studies, thalidomide was readily prescribed
in Europe and America as a tranquilizer "safe" for pregnant women
and nursing mothers. At that time (c. 1957) there were already over 1,200
tranquilizers on the German market.
Observations of characteristic anatomical birth defects began to accumulate,
leading to a search for the cause. Epidemiological studies revealed that
one factor the mothers of these children had in common was their perscribed
use of thalidomide during pregnancy. Suspecting that the drug might be
the cause of the birth defects, the manufacturer went back to the laboratory
to test thalidomide on over a million animals representing dozens of species.
In every test---with each species but the species the drug was intended
for ---the results were negative. Other companies replicated these findings.
No matter what the non-lethal dosage, pregnant females in the laboratory
did not give birth to offspring with the characteristic anatomical defects
human children had when their mothers took thalidomide on their scientifically-trained
Eventually it was understood that the same drug affected different species
differently. Had thalidomide been tested in clinical trials instead of
in the laboratory, researchers would have observed only a few birth defects
before the effects of the drug were identified and its sale and prescription
prohibited. Instead, the slavish devotion to animal experimentation as
the most reliable and valid measure of cause and effect resulted in over
l0,000 human children being born deformed and millions of other species
bred, experimented on and destroyed.
Thalidomide produced immediately observable anatomical defects. Not
all drugs tested on animals in the laboratory have immediately observable
toxic consequences for humans. Stilboestrol is an example of a time-bomb
drug. Laboratory tested on animals and then prescribed for pregnant human
women with a history of miscarriage, the drug "permitted" the
women to deliver viable infants. When these children were in their twenties,
many developed genital abnormalities, including reproductive cancers. Again,
none of these effects of stilboestrol were either identified or identifiable
in the laboratory.
Each of these case histories (plus many others) are known in the world
of medical research. Yet knowledge of the devastating human consequences
of animal experimentation does not negate the belief in vivisection as
a valuable method of scientific research, and especially research for innovative
methods of surgery, drug therapies and laboratory assisted fertility. The
medical tragedies are bracketed as the exception, and the established practices
of science are made the rule.
The belief in laboratory methods is so absolute that to date no follow-up
protocals are required once a drug has been cleared for marketing. (Sharpe,
l988) Unless a case can be made against a drug, once it has been authorized
for market, that drug remains on the market at the discretion of the manufacturer.
Hence the human medical disasters that are a consequence of over-generalizing
from experimenting on live animals in the simplified laboratory site are
vastly underreported. The irony is that we do not know the extent of
Patenting genetically altered animals for the purposes of laboratory experimentation has been the most recent advance in vivisection. (Barnum, 1992, 1993a, 1993b) While such animals may eventually overcome some of the problems of species-specific responses, they do not address the problem of simplification. Such experimental animals further blur the distinction between conscious living systems and machines---which we presume are without consciousness, without an inner life. We know little about the consciousness of mice with naturally occurring genetic makeup; we do not even raise the question of the consciousness of patented animals whose genetic structure has been altered.
Thalidomide and stilboestrol are two well known examples of procedures
developed and observed in the controlled environment of the laboratory,
using species different from the species targeted for those medical procedures.
Thousands of such studies go on in thousands of laboratories every year.
It is not possible to calculate the number of living beings that have been
regularly sacrificed in the name of science and in particular, in the name
of medical research.
Ironically, for all the money put into medical research in the past
four decades, the rates for the diseases most heavily funded continue to
increase. When apparently new diseases such as AIDS appear, they are treated
within the same paradigm. In this model, the physician tries to destroy
the disease with some drug or surgical procedure before either the disease
or the treatment destroys the patient. It is a model based on the structure
of animal research, in which a pathology is introduced into a (healthy)
animal and a treatment, controlled by and for the convenience of the researcher,
is administered. The outcome is observed. We do not expect the animal to
be a conscious participant in any activity that effects its life, nor do
we expect the consciousness of the subsequent human patient to play an
active role in the healing process. Indeed, when drugs are tested on human
populations, the "placebo" effect---in which the mind of the
subject effects the health of the patient---is treated as an "error"
and experimental protocols are established to eliminate this factor
from the equation. Here we see very clearly how the assumptions of animal
experimentation are embedded in the practice of modern medicine. Subjective
consciousness is eliminated; control of the practitioner is absolute.
The major advances in medicine in the l9th century did not come out
of the laboratory, as every medical historian is aware. These advances
were associated with public health measures and clinical observation, not
animal experimentation. We must abandon the individual/warfare model of
a passive victim attacked by an enemy disease, revived in a sterile environment
(the hospital or the laboratory) and focus instead on a systemic model
that involves the interaction between the (patient) host, the parasite
(disease) and the larger environment which includes the patient's mind
as well as his/her body; their employer as well as their physician, home
and work as well as hospital. Changing our perspective, it is conceivable
that the next century can match the improvements in the quality of life
that was characteristic of the end of the 19th century and the years of
the present century before the first world war.
There are uncounted environmental problems that affect the good health
of all sentient beings on this planet and no end of cooperative
strategies that could include physician and patient in a conscious relationship
rather than a relationship modeled on that of the laboratory animal---the
image of a patient etherized upon a table, scanned by yet another high
technology diagnostic machine, subject to radical surgical procedures and
a pharmacopia of drugs to arrest the natural reactions to these procedures,
and then more drugs to arrest the side effects of the first drugs. A continued
commitment to animal experimentation as the foundation of medical research
diverts money, attention, and hope away from alternative perspectives while
it legitimizes the suffering of all animals, human and otherwise. An end
to animal experimentation would liberate all species---not just the subjects
of these invasive procedures, but the consumers of products and procedures
that are developed without regard to the unique consciousness of living
Perhaps it is time to reconsider the vitalist's arguments, treating
their demise as a social conquest and not prima facie evidence of the invalidity
of these competing ideas.
l. A very large ad appeared in the San Francisco State University student
paper, Golden Gater (4-28-92, p.2) . It portrays an enormous image
of a white rat and the headline, "Some People Just See a Rat. We See
a Cure for Cancer." The ad is sponsored by the Americans for Medical
Progress Educational Foundation.
2. More precisely, the philosophers of science tell us we can only conclude that it is not the case that the experimental variable had no effect: i.e. we can only reject the null hypothesis. cf. vonMises, l956
3 It must be emphasized that the death of sacrificial animals was always
strictly controlled by ritual and myth. One might propose that laboratory
protocol is a form of ritual and the beliefs in vivisection a form of myth.
I am not familiar with any examples in which sacrificial death is protracted
over time, except medieval torture practices and modern laboratory methods.
4 The role of Bernard's personal charisma in selling animal experimentation
as advanced thinking is important. He was recognized as a national hero
of sorts, becomming the first scientist to be given a state funeral in
France. By mid-twentieth century virtually everyone who had been to medical
school knew his name and his contribution to medical science. His ideas
about laboratory research and his strong endorsement of the role of drugs
in medical practice are the foundation for the role of the pharmaceutical
industry in modern medicine.
5. Eventually this practice came to be called "aggressive medicine"
in which the adjective "aggressive" is used in a positive manner.
The ad mentioned in note 1 goes on to use phrases such as "in the
war against disease" as a metaphors justifying animal experimentation.
6. My colleague, Clay Dumont, points out how Francis Bacon and his peers
advocated "torturing and vexing nature" to get her to give up
her secrets, and generously provided me with a reference, Morris Berman,
The Reenchantment of the Word, Bantam Books, l989.
Able, Theodore, "The Operation called Verstehen," in
H. Feigle and M. Brodbeck, Readings in the Philosophy of Science, Appleton-Century-Crofts,
l953, pp. 677-87
Arluke, A. Sacrifical symbolism in Animal Experimentation: Object
or Pet? Anthrozoos, 2:98-117, 1988
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