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The Ban on Animal Testing. Morally Right, Emotionally Appealing, but Dangerous?
We humans like to think we’re pretty smart, that our intellect makes us special, that with enough careful thinking we can figure out just about anything. Cognitive science research has made starkly clear that this assumption is arrogant and false, and a never-ending stream of examples from the real world demonstrate how this hubris can get us in trouble, especially when it comes to figuring out how to deal with things that might put us at risk.
For nearly 50 years, the animal rights movement has gone from the province of a few intellectuals, through a phase of radical extremism, to a more mainstream acceptance of ideas like granting animals certain basic rights, eliminating all research on human-like great apes (several nations ban or severely limit research on chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans), and drastically reducing the use of toxicological testing on any species. You don’t have to be a radical Vegananarchist to think it’s just wrong to rub a toxic chemical in a caged rabbit’s eye to see if that chemical is safe to put in your shampoo or perfume.
In 2013, with widespread public support, the European Commission banned all testing of potential new cosmetic products or ingredients on animals of any kind. (Other governments have varying restrictions on animal testing, usually focused on testing for non-medical purposes like cosmetics.) For most of the bad things that cosmetics can do to us, like skin or eye irritation from a single application of lipstick or skin cream, that was no problem. Advances in toxicology, many of which had accelerated under pressure to reduce animal testing in general, had already figured out how to test cells in a dish (in vitro) or even to use computer data (what they call in silico testing) to replace in vivo testing on live animals, at least for those more surficial kinds of risks.
But people use lotions and toothpastes and deodorants and perfumes repeatedly. We expose ourselves everyday to hundreds of human-made chemicals, and some of those substances, which also fall under the European ban on animal testing for cosmetics, have the potential to do deeper damage, like cancer, or reproductive damage to the developing fetus. And there are no reliable replacement tests for those serious outcomes.
This now-banned animal testing for the systemic risks from repeated exposure to these everyday products was also a source of important information on the health effects of industrial chemicals generally. Results from cosmetic testing become part of the library of what we know about how industrial chemicals might harm us, no matter what products they’re in.
So the European community has eliminated a way for science to study the risk of industrial chemicals…because it feels right to consider the rights of animals. We have done what feels right, but in the process, without realizing it, we have made it harder to figure out how to keep ourselves safe.
Let me make absolutely clear that I share these feelings. Non-human beings are certainly sensitive to pain and stress (ever had a fish hooked on the end of line, writhing in pain and panic for it's survival?) and we should find every way possible to reduce how much we expose any animal to suffering when it’s not absolutely necessary for human safety…like drug testing, which Europe still allows. And certainly a greater respect for the non-human beings we share the planet with would encourage us to walk a little lighter in the biosphere on which we all depend, humans included.
But while limitations on animal testing appeal morally, the European ban illustrates how our feelings can sometimes conflict with the scientific process of figuring out how to keep ourselves safe. The ban has put limits on toxicology’s ability to study industrial chemicals that help us enjoy our modern lives, but which also sometimes pose danger.
Toxicology was already developing new non-animal methods to test things, and under the pressure of bans that are spreading world wide, development of new methods to test industrial chemicals - including tests for carcinogenicity and reproductive health damage - are accelerating. Those new non-animal testing methods may, in the long run, turn out to be even more precise than the current system of testing chemicals on animals and then assuming that what happens to the rat or rabbit or dog will also happen in humans. But most of those new methods are a least a decade away from being useful for regulatory decision making.
So we may end up taking two steps forward in the study of the toxic effects of industrial chemicals, but right now we’re taking one step backwards to get there, and that has implications for protecting ourselves while these mew methods are being worked out. Like I said…it’s an interesting example of how humans operate far more on instinct than intellect, and how the arrogant assumption that we’re smarter than we actually are can pose risks all by itself.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.