Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dr. Ray Greek as a Critic of Vivisection

Dr. Greek is an ethical vegan who opposes all animal exploitation. He offered a free, excellent presentation at the Hart House, University of Toronto, for our anti-vivisection group there, now called the U of T Animal Rights Club. A number of us were concerned with the ambiguity of some of his remarks on the ethics of animal research. We were perhaps mildly disquieted, but unsure of just what lies behind the confident presentation against predictive animal studies. He also generously offered us copies of the in many ways wonderful FAQs about the Use of Animals in Science. It is a short book published by the University Press of America, Inc. He did not mention that he personally opposes vivisection on ethical grounds.

Additionally, Greek and his co-author of the FAQ about the Use of Animals in Science, Niall Shanks, make relevant moral statements towards the very end of the book. The title of the book, ironically, almost suggests that it covers ethics, because that too is "about the use of animals in science." Regardless, here is what we find on the very second-last page, namely p. 138:

"Our scientific arguments are sound and our position on ethics-related issues is also well-known; AFMA [Americans for Medical Advancement--DS] does not oppose the use of animals in science, but does oppose the use of scientifically invalid methodologies be they animal-based or otherwise. We take no position on issues relating to the ethics of using animals.

"We are also accused by the animal rights segment of society as being pro-vivisection because we acknowledge that there are uses of animals that are scientifically viable.

"We are proud of our history of offending both sides in the controversy and take it as evidence that we must be doing something right."

and on the same page:

"Animals can be used in science for the benefit of humans, but they are not predictive for drug response and disease research."

A few comments:

A. He could have made his ethics position "well-known" by being forthright about it in his presentation; and then there is this kind of stance lurking in the background that does not even reflect Dr. Greek's position.

B. The authors claim that they "take no position on issues relating to the ethics of using animals." That is false since they also say: "AFMA does not oppose the use of animals in science,..." That is taking a position. This impression is reinforced with his noting that animal rights people are offended that Greek and Shanks are pro-vivisection, an observation which the authors do nothing to offset. And all of this comes across as going against Greek's own vegan, abolish-vivisection sort of stance (which is only discoverable if he is asked privately). They cannot pretend to be innocent by-standers who are somehow "neutral." Severe oppression is occurring. And someone is speaking about vivisection in public, failing to reflect that he is a part of the opposition movement against pro-vivisection ethics--which is the only morally acceptable stance from a non-violence perspective. This comes across as being on the side of the violent oppressors. Call it bordering on tacit approval if you will. Their public stance is not "neutral" so far as the animals are concerned because it adds to the flames of violence that metaphorically burn these sensitive creatures alive (and sometimes literally in some weapons or burning experiments, including irradiation studies). Not publicly opposing the use of animals in science really gives it the green light. They are "pro-vivisection" in a passive way, then, as some of their critics charge, even if not so actively pro-vivisection. It is weird because Greek personally is anti-vivisection through-and-through. But there is an active component perhaps too because they are actively speaking out on these issues, failing to condemn medical vivisection on an ethical level, and if you look behind their remarks at the FAQ, you find AFMA "does not oppose" the practice. In most people's jargon, that means they accept it.

C. It is crude at best to say that offending both sides is a sign of doing something right.

D. Stating animals "can be used" is ambiguous, and sounds like scientific validation to scientists, but would come across as ethical approval to some members of a general audience who are not used to making academic distinctions. Keep in mind that this FAQ is written for a popular readership.

E. Allow me to comment on the other uses of animals in research (aside from the two predictive model uses in 1. and 2. pertaining to disease research, and drug/chemical research, respectively) that they enumerate on p. 1 of the FAQ. These other uses are 3. through 9., or seven items on their list which, they note, are scientifically viable:

  1. (nonhuman animals as predictive models for humans regarding diseases)
  2. (nonhuman animals as predictive models for humans regarding drugs and chemicals)
  3. If we used mentally disabled humans as "spare" parts (keeping in mind that the #1 rationalization for using animals is that they are mentally inferior to humans), that would be violent. These beings typically cannot "spare" their parts. The most urgent are the vital organs, after all, such as pig heart valves.
  4. If we use animals as factories, that is violent not least of all because it is slavery, aside from the invasiveness otherwise.
  5. Using animals and their tissues to study basic physiological principles either involves violent experiments or again is slavery.
  6. Using animals to train medical students or anatomy students is both violent procedural use and slavery.
  7. Using animals as heuristic devices (learning tools--DS) for basic scientific research could involve violent experiments even aside from the enslavement.
  8. Using animals to benefit other animals may be full-on vivisection.
  9. Animals used to gain knowledge for knowledge's sake? Ditto.

I mentioned irradiation studies in passing? Uses 5. through 9. could be manifest in radiation experiments, some of the most horrible of all. If we stand for non-violence against animals we might consider using Greek's information but with a critical eye. I do not see coming across as giving the green light, in effect, to violent activities 3. through 9. as "neutral" or "taking no position." Keep in mind, too, that Greek and Shanks come across as people who would subscribe to the first two usages also if they worked scientifically or practically.

They are careful to note on p. 137 that Niall Shanks "eats meat, is partial to eggs and veal, wears leather shoes and uses leather belts to hold his pants up, and is concerned less with animal rights than the destinations of his tax dollars." These are not "neutral" activities either. Why aren't Greek's vegan practices also mentioned?

The authors pontificate about lack of accountability among the animal testing community, and not using critical reasoning skills, but their failure to give a reason for essentially appearing to give the green light to bloody vivisection exhibits none of what they are demanding from their colleagues. It comes across, again, as hypocritical oppression of a dogmatic sort, which is ironic for a pair of scientists. And yet Greek disapproves of vivisection-as-ethical. This is a missed opportunity of colossal proportions to speak out against violence against animals. I thought he was not ethically anti-vivisection after carefully listening to his lecture and reading his FAQ that he co-authored. It would be like giving talks that experimenting on mentally disabled humans does not work, but remaining silent about the ethics involved. I think that would be atrocious, and I transfer this very sentiment to the animal case here in an attempt to remain emotionally consistent and without speciesist bias.

I hope Dr. Greek will not continue to waste the opportunity to speak out for animals. He can briefly indicate that while the AFMA organization does not take a stand on ethical anti-vivisection, because it invites on board scientists who condemn animal studies on purely scientific grounds, he himself is a vegan anti-vivisectionist. He can simply note that he is not an ethicist and will leave it to the experts to debate violence against animals in general. He can say the ethics are irrelevant to the scientific argument, and indeed that his esteemed colleague--Niall Shanks--eats veal, wears leather, and all the rest of it. It would be so easy. To think that AFMA does not look "credible" if it opposes such violence gives the message that ethical anti-vivisection is too unbelievable, ludicrous, or perhaps even contemptible to be made public. It's like being ashamed of Gandhi, or someone like that, and so keeping him in the closet. Dr. Greek's fears show that fear is one of his greatest enemies.

He is perhaps afraid of the child versus the dog question, but not only can he avoid that, he could handle it given a little preparation. See my essay, Anti-Vivisection and Anti-Violence." He could say that he would save his mother over someone else's best friend too, but that does not mean he would submit the latter to vivisection. Or one might save a human who is a helpful genius over another human who is scarcely aware but still has joys and misery, but that does not mean that the mentally disabled lose their rights in normal practices--not one iota. If we have to choose between harms it matters if more harms would result, or indeed if more matters to one being than another. There are more ethical theory statements to be said about this and other problems, but this is perhaps good enough to debase the most key objection from the loyal opposition--loyal to profits and to speciesism that is.

He is also concerned that most of his scientific colleagues are ardent speciesists. That is true, and I am sure his lively perceptions of this are much more wall-like and acute than what is available to me as a philosopher. But if a community is short on anti-speciesist discourse, that makes it all the more urgent to promote, not something to give up. We should never surrender in our struggle against the speciesists. He might be concerned that they will not listen to his scientific arguments if he communicates his veganism. But let's think on that for a moment. Anyone who is so prejudicial as not to listen to scientific arguments if one is a vegan is someone who is so biased, you are very likely not going to convince them anyway. They are also unsophisticated, unable to attend to different kinds of arguments. Worrying about them is being primarily and unduly concerned with the worst or least hopeful constituency. It makes much more sense to hope to convince these people in the long-term than to aim to sway them right away, and to target instead more fertile ground for anti-vivisection growth.

There are two other constituencies it is far more logical to be concerned with:

  1. People who will not agree with the veganism but listen to the science anyway.
  2. Those who might awaken to speciesist violence and renounce it.
Both of these more open-minded populations can potentially be swayed. The second offers untold benefits and can only be reached by speaking on behalf of animals. The first will not be deterred by someone making their vegan position known on medical science. So they might yield a scientific anti-vivisection stance that is a benefit, with Dr. Greek's siding with animal rights resulting in no cost whatsoever. Since you can never tell who will be in the first or second camp, it is necessary to address both constituences above board. And as for their sitting up and taking notice about speciesist violence, it has been known to happen. Sometimes it does not happen right away, and a speaker will not be able to notice immediate change even though it will perhaps be on its way. But taking a passive role and merely hoping that animal rights may happen one day is not enough. Good intentions alone do not cut it. And this form of activism is just registering one's support for animal rights publicly. Analogy: supporting human rights publicly. How could human rights have grown in this world if people remained quiet about it?

Don Barnes used to irradiate monkeys as a vivisector, and then changed on ethics grounds to become president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. Greek is not giving the Donald Barneses and other open-minded folk in his audience a chance, instead catering entirely to the buffoon who will not hear scientific statements from vegans. He is right that they will indeed be put off by making veganism apparent, but that is only one tree. A view of the forest includes also qualitative considerations as to who is likely to change views, and quantitative dimensions including that only a minority of educated audiences tend to be such stubborn, ignorant scoffers who cannot be open-minded towards the word of vegans. It is no accident that there have been recent figures that 20% of university students are vegetarian. Clever people learn to listen and to evaluate arguments with some critical facility.

I hope that he changes his mind about this, because he is a terrific speaker with so much to offer. He is probably one of the most credible scientific anti-animal-testing authorities on the globe. It would be a shame to be blocked by perfectionism. For example, because not everyone will be receptive to veganism, therefore not anyone will be allowed that chance. The audience, in any case, will be impressed with Dr. Greek's acumen, and if he comes across as neutral or pro-vivisection with other groups, his personal credibility may sway people in the wrong direction. I realize that critical thinkers are not supposed to think that way, but people do. The more credulous especially tend to follow the judgments of those they trust. It is so easy not to speak on behalf of animals. As the saying goes, if one is not a part of the solution to animal voices being left mute, then one is a part of the problem. If everyone spoke out, things would change ever so quickly. But failing to bring animal voices to the public mind is one of their mightiest obstacles. Greek is deadly silent here. So much so, that I could not even trust the interpretation I had of Greek's view after carefully attending to his speech and one of his latest books in cahoots with Shanks. There is something wrong here. Only it can be righted.

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