Huffpo Science – already slipping into anti-science

Our initial optimism over Huffpo science being a haven for reason in a den of disease-promotion and quackery appears now to be misplaced. It appears the animal rights cranks have made inroads with Bruce Friedrich, a member of PETA and advocate of animal liberation, who has jumped from Huffpo “green” to Huffpo “science”. The science gatekeepers at Huffpo have clearly failed.

Writing about “Speciesism: The Movie”, he exposes the anti-science ideology of the animal rights movement, and Huffpo science doesn’t seem to have noticed:

Every now and then, a movie comes along that is capable of fundamentally changing the worldview of its audience. Speciesism: The Movie, a new documentary by Mark Devries, is that kind of film.

The word “speciesism,” which has been popularized by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, refers to the assumption that a vast gulf exists between the ethical value of human interests and the ethical value of the interests of other animals. At its extreme, we may see ourselves as the only species that matters morally, and view other animals as existing merely for our use: to eat, to make into clothing, to perform experiments on, to be entertained by in circuses and zoos. Like those who grew up having overt racist beliefs assimilated into their worldview, some degree of speciesism has been so well-assimilated into the worldview of most of us that it does not even appear to be worth questioning.

Devries goes to great lengths to put together a thoughtful and entertaining film–whether commissioning an airplane to fly over factory farms’ giant “manure lagoons” with an anti-CAFO Republican from North Carolina, or (somehow) scheming his way into receiving a guided tour of a factory farm.

Along the way, he meets and questions a remarkably broad range of people, including Peter Singer (whom the New Yorker has named “one of the most influential philosophers alive”), Richard Dawkins (the most influential evolutionary biologist of the past century), and Temple Grandin (designer of the animal handling systems used by over half of the slaughterhouses in the United States).

He also speaks with anti-factory farming activists, a man who is dying next to a huge hog farm, a current member of the American Nazi Party, a disability rights activist, a vivisector, quite a few people on the street, and more–all in his quest to thoroughly consider the philosophy that says that bias on the basis of species is unjustifiable. Disclaimer: He also spoke with me.

Above all, Devries confronts some very difficult and uncomfortable questions head-on. For example: How strong are the grounds for believing that humans have special moral worth? How valid are the comparisons between our use of other animals and the slavery of other humans?

My emphasis added. So here we have it on Huffpo science. Believing that our species should be valued over other species is a sin equivalent to racism. Use of other animals is like slavery. Biologists aren’t scientists we’re “vivisectors”. We’re all going to hell.

To be clear, biological science without use of animals is impossible. It’s not just toxicity testing of drugs either, and we are fully aware of the limitations of our animal models, thankyouverymuch. But from the ground up, the study of life depends on the use of living things. From the cells we harvest for culture (we can’t all study wacky immortalized cancer cells you know), to the serum we grow them in, to the antibodies we generate by exposing animals to antigens, to the transgenic animals we use to study genes in vivo, to the model animals that modern surgical techniques and technologies are refined in, biological science is intimately tied to living things. The face transplant I wrote about yesterday? Impossible without prior animal modeling, practice with surgical technique and molecular investigation of immunosuppression. Transplant in general? The earliest investigations of skin grafting and surgical techniques for transplant were honed in animals – with some hefty human experimentation as well. Every major surgical advance, medical advance, and plain basic biological science knowledge comes from our manipulation of the living things around us. But are we in any way noble for our pursuit of knowledge, for yes, explicitly human benefit? No, we’re speciesist, we’re vivisectors.

Well fine, I admit it. I value human life over that of other species. I’ve devoted my life to saving human lives, and as a scientist, I’ve sacrificed animal lives to do so every time I’ve ordered a polyclonal antibody or bottle of FBS. According to radicals like Friedrich that makes me “vivisector”. I’m therefore a monster, like a slaver or murderer.

This is the unexamined ethics and thoughtless smug moral superiority of the animal rights activist. I doubt, when push came to shove they would sacrifice a human for an animal. Or even a large number of animals. Who, after all, swerves to avoid the squirrel and instead hits the kid on the sidewalk? No one. Human life is more valuable to us because we’re human and that’s OK. It’s not wrong to be self-interested or interested in our survival over that of other species. Survival requires a certain amount of self-interest, human survival requires the ingestion of other living things, and agriculture is never going to be cruelty free.

The vegan militia have forgotten that to get their cruelty free vegetables, the land has already been cleared, all competing species have been killed or driven out, those that remain are poisoned (even by organic farmers – they just use “certified organic” methods of pest control or even other animals like ladybugs). We put humans first every time we clear a field, dig a foundation, fence and spray our crops, and burn diesel to harvest and bring them to market. We have said, these resources are ours, we own the land, and all the beetles, voles and deer can go right to hell. Survival is cruel, and will always involve putting ourselves before other species.

The health benefits and technology they enjoy everyday has already been tested and worked out thanks to comparative medicine. It’s easy to feel morally superior about eating greens, and denigrating scientists, now that all that messy stuff has been done and the last time you were on a farm it was to pick a pumpkin in 3rd grade so you don’t know what actually goes into agriculture, even organic agriculture.

This is not to say I agree with CAFOs, food monoculture, the slimey tactics of Monsanto, or any of the extremes of poor infrastructure, corporate malfeasance and environmental stupidity of our food supply. But lets stop pretending that you become morally superior for eating tofu, all the while you happily ignore the habitat destruction, mass removal of unwanted species, and outright extinctions we’ve caused in order to create our agricultural dominance.

So let’s stop calling the people who are trying to understand, preserve and extend human lives speciesist (read racist) and vivisectors. Life is complicated. Living it without cruelty to something either requires you to be oblivious to our constant impact on the living things around us, or to retreat into some Jainist agrarian fantasy world that will never exist. Isn’t it better to have a healthy understanding that human beings survive in competition for limited resources with the species around us? We evolved to the point where we’ve become adapt at manipulating and controlling the natural world, and rather than being ashamed of it, we should accept it as a gift from our ancestors after eons of struggle.